Pop & Hiss

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La Roux talks faking it, the joys of distortion and your name in lights

July 24, 2009 |  3:08 pm

Laroux250 There are perks to having a single debut atop your home country's pop chart. For Elly Jackson, the young English singer behind the synth-pop duo La Roux and the irresistibly sassy "Bulletproof," these include having your name in lights. Very big lights, immediately behind you, every time you play your hometown.

"In London, the shows are massive, so for our last three shows there we had this big wall of red bulbs and floodlights that spell out 'La Roux' on stage," Jackson said during a phone call from backstage at a German festival. "It really helps; I have to fill a lot of space on the stage when we play."

The light rig won't be with her when she plays the Troubadour tonight, but she will have a number of other options for realizing her practically flawless self-titled debut, full of meticulously chintzy keyboards, joint-snapping beats and regally soulful vocals. The last time she came to L.A., the band performed as a two-piece, with Jackson prowling the Roxy stage while producer Ben Langmaid manned the electronics. Tonight, La Roux will sport an additional keyboardist and a live drummer. "La Roux," out Sept. 29, is a busy, hissing little pop record that rewards both close listening and top-down singalongs. 

For Jackson, striking that balance between inventive arrangements and instant sugar was the backbone of the album.

"The hooks were the things we always worked the hardest on. We like the feeling that you're instantly rewarded," Jackson said. "But practically every sound on much of the record is distorted. We really loved the combination of these cold, tinny sounds with warm vocals."

And warm they are -- Jackson's an inviting vocalist and an adept arranger (check out the closing counterpoint melodies to "Cover My Eyes") that makes what might have been a deadpan Pet Shop Boys melange into something new and effortlessly winning. And Jackson is only getting better at cutting a kind of Annie-Lennox-via-"Knight Rider" figure at live sets.

Many young female peers of hers are playing with performance as an ethic, where artificiality is revealing in its own right. La Roux is a purposefully stylized act, from the album art on down, but the avant-garde haircuts and formidable eyeshadow in La Roux's videos are the flip side of a nuanced and evocative lyricist. Scenes like the noirish love triangle of "Quicksand," where a taken lover has "moved into my mind again, walking around rent-free," are all taken from her own life.

But it's useless to draw a line between stage and sincerity; Jackson is very good at performing as her complicated self. It's all part of La Roux and it's as easy or flinty as you want it to be.

"Whenever I'm happy, I'm always really aware of that feeling, that I'm happy to be happy," Jackson said. "When I'm down, I'm really aware of that too. The lyrics are all Elly, but onstage it's La Roux. We'd need a two-hour conversation to really figure it out."

--August Brown

Photo courtesy of Press Here Publicity