Chew Lips may sound like a simple Little Boots or (especially) La Roux clone, but the London based trio actually formed in early 2008, roughly around the same time that their respective current musical projects came into fruition. After playing several shows and garnering support from numerous area DJs, the band was signed to the French independent label Kitsuné Music, home to like-minded electronic pop acts like the earlier mentioned La Roux and Yelle. Chew Lips is a bit easy to lump in with their contemporaries, as they have the same reliance on bright poppy synth melodies, and vocalist Tigs does not sound terribly different from other singers of the same style. However, multi-instrumentalists Will Sanderson and James Watkins give Chew Lips a somewhat minimalist and slightly dark sound, and while it doesn't always surface as prominently as it could, it's definitely a step towards standing out.
Unicorn gets off to a somewhat weak start with Eight. The synth melodies are basic and boring, and the generic pop chorus beginning of "a high speed chase on your wedding day" is incredibly uninspired. The only part of the opening track that is really indicative of how the rest of the album sounds is the effect-blotched break about two minutes in, an interesting but all-too brief section that hints at some of the intricacies later to come. In particular is the immediately following Play Together, which is leagues away from Eight, and an outstanding choice for lead single. It opens with threadbare bleeps and light percussion, but quickly switches into the verse's fuzzy synth and the extremely catchy, almost Kraftwerk-esque chorus. Toro is another example of a great, catchy tune, driven by a funkish bass, dance-punk beat, and a fun sing-a-long ("it's yoooooouuuuuu, it's yoooooooouuuuu") chorus, although the pre-chorus does go on a bit longer than it really needs to.
Slick finds Tigs sounding oddly like Karen O and the band toying with synths both bright and dirty along with a clean piano and a lot of progressing echoed harmonizing, which seems to rely a bit too much on a scant few melodies over nearly five minutes, but the layering is extremely well done and keeps the song interesting. This is also used to great effect in the beautiful Gold Key, a slow burner that progresses masterfully and has perhaps Tigs' best vocal on the whole album. Unfortunately the songwriting itself isn't quite always this sharp. Without the random effects tossed onto Karen, it sounds like a decent but generic alternative song, while Too Much Talking sounds more concerned with being lush than memorable. Two Hands is somewhat uneven as well, with a great chorus but little else to keep the song going (though the short length does help).
Unicorn isn't a flooring debut, or even a particularly exciting one, but to say that there's nothing here would be unfair. The darker tone is definitely something that would be interesting to see explored, as well as the capable instrumentation and toying with electronic effects. The hooks are very hit or miss, however, and without more work on their melodies, they're going to continue being uneven no matter how much they deviate from their starting point. Chew Lips' sound isn't quite developed yet, and while they have a few components unique to them, for the time being they're just another electro-pop group with a few good songs.