If any publicity is good publicity, then a cease and desist from Kevin Spacey must in some perverse sense qualify as a celebrity endorsement. Homebrew electro project Cassettes Won’t Listen can’t have done badly out of the actor’s very public demand that his name should not be used as a title. Jason Drake’s sly compliance in dropping only the “K” from the name is supposedly meant to preserve his original reference to how much more open and “spacey” he finds Los Angeles as compared to his native New York. Tenuous as that may sound at first, there is a degree of evidence for it in the songs, which are brighter and more dynamic than Drake’s previous work.
There is also evidence, however, that the Brooklyn multi-instrumentalist has overstepped himself on Evinspacey. There are tracks here which hint at a party environment (‘Pick Me Out’), pop radio (‘Perfect Day’) and even a film soundtrack (‘Kingdom’) but Drake does not yet have the ability to make all of these styles work effectively. Also unhelpful is that one of the album’s uniting features, the greatly increased emphasis on vocals and lyrics, actually works to its detriment because Drake is a much better composer of songs than he is a singer. Except in the case of his crisp vocal loops on the sunny potential single ‘Perfect Day’, Drake’s voice is just too weak and unremarkable to carry many of these songs.
Evinspacey is much more effective when Drake allows his experience with carefully crafted beats and diverse instrumentation to come to the fore. Although ‘Kingdom’ is a real oddity, its addition of thumping beats and tense horns to an erratic synth figure create something truly cinematic. That Drake gives the track barely a minute and a half to develop before moving onto the somewhat drab vocal spot ‘The Night Shines’ is a source of real disappointment and a symbol of the misplaced focus of this record.
There are other impressive moments where vocals take a back seat, as on promising opener ‘Friendly Float’, but sadly Drake’s uninspiring lyrics and delivery pervade and damage the great majority of his otherwise enjoyable electronic soundscapes. Perhaps the addition of a new singer would push the project forward, or maybe Drake would be better advised to back up into instrumental territory – less like a retreat, and more like wisely focusing on his strengths. In any case, something must change for Cassettes Won’t Listen, and it’s more than the dropping of a “K”.