Dance music is a strange thing: it demands more from the listener than simply an attentive ear… the goal, of course, is to make people move. Producers can aspire to turn this undertaking into something ambitious and cerebral, or they can resign themselves to the silliness and make something straightforward and fun; Janet Planet, Sugar Bones, Reggie Goodchild and Clarence McGuffie (pseudonyms, naturally), AKA Confidence Man, are firmly in the latter camp. Having signed to Heavenly Records on the strength of their compellingly cruel single ‘Boyfriend (Repeat)’, the Australian indie-rockers-turned-dance-pop-outfit offer a debut that both refuses to take itself seriously and – appropriately – oozes confidence.
Confident Music for Confident People is buoyant and unreserved, dabbling in house, big beat, trip hop and nu-funk across its 11 tracks. On vocal duty are Janet and Sugar, the former of whom typically occupies a droll, pseudo-dominatrix persona, sometimes singing, sometimes chanting, sometimes just talking as she dismisses her unfortunate beau on ‘Boyfriend’ or issues commands on ‘Better Sit Down Boy’. Sugar Bones’ character is less fully-formed, often playing backup vocalist to Janet, but takes an eccentric spotlight on a handful of tracks including ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ and ‘Catch My Breath’. Confidence Man’s vocalists don’t seem particularly concerned with baring their souls lyrically, settling into a comfortably superficial tone early on and largely sticking to it.
There are cartoonish chants that channel the early days of Gorillaz, and streams of rubbery synth that faintly recall the Surrender era of the Chemical Brothers
Instrumentally, there are few major surprises once one has acquired a sense of the band’s musical palette; colourful synths, propulsive drums, a guitar here and there. ‘Better Sit Down Boy’ is a particular highlight, Janet’s energetic performance supported by thunderous drum loops, glass percussion and scratchy rhythm guitar. ‘Sail Boat Vacation’ largely eschews vocals in favour of a brief, slightly dreamy synth odyssey, while the impatient strut of ‘Don’t You Know I’m In A Band’ feels like a homage to Yello’s ‘Oh Yeah’, complete with pitch-shifted vocals and “chicka-ahs”. Confidence Man displays a knack for basslines (particularly on ‘C.O.O.L. Party’, ‘Try Your Luck’, and ‘Boyfriend’) and polished production values, keeping the mix vibrant and largely avoiding clutter.
Stylistically, the album feels particularly indebted to dance music from the turn of the century; frontwoman Janet Planet cites Fatboy Slim and Groove Armada as influences, and it’s easy to hear the imprint of a track like ‘Praise You’ on the big beat stomp of ‘Out the Window’ or ‘Fascination’. There are cartoonish chants that channel the early days of Gorillaz, and streams of rubbery synth that faintly recall the Surrender era of the Chemical Brothers.
Yet elsewhere, particularly vocally, Confidence Man feels spiritually closer to more contemporary acts; there is a touch of James Murphy in Sugar Bones’ performance on ‘Catch My Breath’, while the band’s clean, colourful sound and Janet’s performance on a track like ‘C.O.O.L. Party’ call to mind the pristine pop of pre-2018 Kero Kero Bonito.
These songs are undoubtedly confident in their execution, but this is largely because Confidence Man do not set their sights terribly high in the first place
The extent to which the band flaunts its influences is not unusual for a debut but combined with the shallow characters that Janet and Sugar project, it leaves Confidence Man without much in the way of a strong identity. Though most of these tracks are enjoyable, it’s hard to escape the feeling that they have a little too much in common with one another. The band are competent enough to be taking risks, but more often than not, their pursuit of a ‘good time’ is a little formulaic.
These songs are undoubtedly confident in their execution, but this is largely because Confidence Man do not set their sights terribly high in the first place. Maybe that’s not so awful. If there is a formula, it mostly works, and it’s just a bit of fun, so who cares? But entertaining, danceable music (which this is) and brave, innovative music (which this isn’t) aren’t mutually exclusive, and Confident Music for Confident People showcases a band with the potential for something bigger and better. Hopefully, they have the confidence to strive towards that going forward.