We can never get enough guilty pleasure pop music and British-born pop artist Darren Ockert is giving us our recommended daily dose. Ockert may not be world renowned at the moment, but with the release (Nov. 12) of his official second studio album, Short Story Long, that will surely change in a heartbeat.
With an impressive talent for crafting infectious hooks and incorporating attention-grabbing production, the Miami-native’s new effort is the true definition of synth-pop. Preceded by two diverse singles, the crisp and uplifting “You Don’t Know Me” and the darker, somewhat depressing “Crumbs”, Ockert moves smoothly across 12 tracks of guilty pleasure yet meaningful pop that highlight intriguing vocal performances and an ear for catchy, radio friendly tunes.
Taking a page or two straight from Owl City’s colorful book, Ockert incorporates sparkling production on the effort’s uplifting, positive lead single “You Don’t Know Me” as well as the tongue-in-cheek “Can’t Think Straight”. Both are commendable performances which open the album up rather nicely, but the latter is unfortunately weighed down by mediocre, eye-rolling clichés.
Chosen as a finalist in the 2012 UK Songwriting Contest, “Force of Gravity” is a piano-driven moment where the spotlight certainly shines down on Ockert’s vocals. The writing is top notch, the production gives an eerie, 80s-sounding vibe which shifts into pure mid-tempo pop heaven when the chorus comes up. Safe to call a ballad, the track is one of the main reasons the album should be discovered.
The artist’s use of instrumentals on the new album is successful and quite lovely. The guitar-driven “Back For More” is another effort containing questionable lyrics, but they work this time around. “Like a kid drawn to a candy store, I’ll be back for more,” he sings on the slightly romantic, don’t know when to give up, sugary pop song. The sound of a piano sets the mood for the semi-ballad “Running Out of Love”, which has the artist contemplating throwing in the towel on his relationship. Pairing gorgeous instrumentals with a soft electronic beat, the song becomes a heartbreaking, emotional peek into Ockert’s personal life.
“The Modern Life (1984)” is a bizarre throwback of a track, another rebellious anthem for the down trotted and defeated. Who can blame you for having the time of your life? This is Ockert’s question on the upbeat creation which truly does a great job at not falling into a particular category. It’s a bit pop, it’s dance, it’s New Wave, it’s campy, it’s fun.
Not every album comes without its slight slip ups. “Center of Attention” just happens to be the bump in the road for the artist’s new release. The sound is intriguingly different, nothing that would play on Top 40 radio today, but it completely kills the energy and style presented by the rest of the album. Vocally, the artist seems a bit bored, just going through the motions.
Thankfully the album finishes off strong. “Everybody’s Lonely”, is a pulsating, techno experiment where the artist proclaims that everybody does hurt. Besides upping the production on the dance worthy chorus, the rest of the track keeps a fairly simple pace, never getting overpowered by unnecessary noise. The heartfelt and relatable “I’ve Moved On”, the true highlight, has the artist reminiscing on a former flame just to say goodbye once and for all. “Living in the silence, loving through the violence, waiting for you,” Ockert sings with strength, but also with a dose of vulnerability and despair. For the final track, the artist ends things on an extremely high note, promising bigger and better things in the future.
Short Story Long is an album which truly deserves to be found, a synth-pop experiment that highlights an artist’s strong vocal abilities and story-like songwriting. Darren Ockert’s second try at a pop release soars to certain highs, stumbling only once. Yes, some of the lyrics may sound like they are coming for a pre-teen, but just like Cher, Ockert allows any cliché to become a romantic and heartfelt telling of personal issues.
While production on many pop efforts can get out of hand, the artist uses catchy, infectious beats to assist in making an impact on the listener. The fun, diverse effort comes completely out of left field to become quite the pop gem. Ockert gives fantastic vocal performance, incorporates interesting production techniques and never takes himself too seriously. Job well done.