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The Ting Tings, ‘Sounds From Nowheresville’ (Sony)

SPIN Rating: 3 of 10
Release Date: March 12, 2012
Label: Sony

Back in 2008, the bratty British duo of Katie White and Jules De Martino hit the South by Southwest festival with a vengeance. They were the “It” band in Austin that year; their playfully snotty dance-pop going down well after too many Shiner Bocks and too many ribs. Subsequently, hip-enough ad execs and music supervisors scooped ’em up, the kids devoured it, and the band’s debut album, We Started Nothing, started, well, something.

But that was almost a half-decade ago, an eternity on the Internet-buzz continuum. Remember the Caesars? The Fratellis? They too once helped sell iPods. (There’s got to be some subterranean corner of Apple HQ where these bands just play incessantly, as a form of interrogation.) The Ting Tings quickly became a memory. But guy-gal, hip-enough pop duos are still the rage, so here comes Sounds From Nowheresville, another cynically titled record. And while Nothing may have been somewhat bipolar, this follow-up crosses over to straight-up schizophrenic. Militaristic snare trills, punk-rock guitar, tolling bells, flaccid raps, elegiac strings, squelching synths, horn wails, a squeaky rocking chair, a reggae groove, a song that sounds straight out of Grease — it makes you wonder if Nowheresville is actually sort of abandoned playground for deranged children.

Opener “Silence” features a pummeling by layers of synthesized dissonance. White even seems apologetic about it — “No need to listen to yourself / Or to anybody else.” And this isn’t the last time she’ll mention the dangers of using one’s own judgment and ears: “We should never listen / Not necessary at all,” she robotically drawls on the Depeche Mode-ish “One by One.” Take the hint.

It gets stranger on “Hang It Up,” which, for a millisecond sounds like “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” but soon turns into Red Hot Chili Peppers-style funk, graced with truly head-scratching raps from both White and De Martino: “Live by tricks when you don’t have a thing / Live like a hippie if you wanna be king”; “Could’ve been a lawyer, take what you can / Never been happy since time began.” Some genuine emotion doesn’t come until album’s close: Elegant dirge “In Your Life” burns with mournful strings and White’s smoky pipes, which she needs to show off more.

With Sounds From Nowheresville, White and De Martino are clearly chasing Sleigh Bells’ ear-bleeding trail — blending testosterone-fueled noise with feminine flair. Yet White hasn’t perfected the sexy-cheerleader-gone-bad pout of Alexis Krauss, and in fact, she often comes off as the mean girl, apathetic and aloof. On “Guggenheim,” she bitches about finding her guy in bed with another girl, then can only shout nonsense with spoiled-brat precision: “I’m gonna get it right / I’m gonna play my bass at the Guggenheim!”

So why exactly have we waited four years to hear this? Story is White and De Martino deleted nearly everything they originally recorded for their second album (intended for a 2010 release) because the label loved the material. Yes, because they loved it. A punk move? Sure. Maybe the Ting Tings have pulled some sort of Lou Reed maneuver here. Maybe this is their Lulu.