There's such a fine line separating most electronic pop music that it's often hard to accurately describe why one release is better than another (for me, at least). Over the course of the past year, it seems like the genre has really exploded. I think at one time, the 'pop' tag was simply such a bad thing that most artists did their best to avoid it, but I think there really has been a revival in which good pop music is recognized for its musical value and no longer simply looked at what comprises the bulk of Top 40 radio.
Donna Regina is a duo/trio of musicians from Cologne, Germany (home of Mouse On Mars among others), and for the most part Late works in amazingly deceptive ways. It mixes a touch of French lounge here, a bit of Angelo Badalamenti there, and a definite ear for songcraft. Although I haven't heard the first two albums from the group, but the album-titled opening track of "Late" is easily one of the best pop tracks that I've heard this year. Brushing along with a desert-dry guitar and some minimal chugging percussion, the track is a perfect accompaniment to the breathy vocals by Regina Janssen. Towards the end of the track, a filtered guitar shimmers over the entire thing, adding a breathless quality as it winds down. It's all over in under three minutes, but it's one of those short tracks that you'll find yourself playing on repeat.
From there, the group explores several different musical ideas, and mostly come out well. "Fountain Of Love" is slightly more orchestral, mixing bubbling electronics and piano, while "Passerby" drops a bit of a thump with a heavier percussion and a wobbly bassline. "Rain" appropriately mixes sounds of a puddle splashing over an almost minimal house backdrop, while "You Better Believe" takes an almost completely straightforward approach, pacing itself with several layers of acoustic guitar and a fairly standard song structure.
The few stumbles on the album mainly have to do with the lyrical content, which is one of the biggest weakspots in the genre. "Not A Girl Anymore" arrives midway on the album, and while the backing instrumentation is fairly compitent, the somewhat defiant lyrics sound like something Madonna would pen. When the group is on, though, they're on, and the album is mostly a light-spirited fun affair full of warm female vocals (courtesy of Janssen) and well-produced music. For fans of everyone from Lali Puna to Beth Orton.