Norwegian Fred Ball is kind of like Stuart Price (Les Rhythmes Digitales, Zoot Woman) or Trevor Jackson (Playgroup), a talented producer who performs under a pseudonym and corrals in famous friends to sing on his records. I really liked about half of Pleasure‘s 2003 debut, a record that went under most people’s radar. I only knew about it because the single "Don’t Look the Other way" (featuring Justine Frischman) was inescapable on BBC 6Music that summer.
What’s strange is, Ball is much better at the Air-ish mood music than he is at the dancefloor fodder. The best two songs on the debut were "Stories" (with Cerys Matthews) and especially "From the Country to the City" (Ed Harcourt on vocals) — both of which have this sexy, sinister undercurrent and gorgeous strings. He is quite adept at finding the right vocalist on each of his songs.
This holds true again for Pleasure 2, which is out now in Europe. (Buy it) The dance numbers are more, um, pleasurable this time out, especially the sunny "Out of Love" featuring Gus Gus singer Heidrun Bjornsdottir. Ball also indulges in his love of Prince with "Bite the Beat" which is not a cover of the Vanity 6 song (which actually sort of sounded like the Go Gos) but is a funk fest with a does of Herbie Hancock synth and scratching. Still, they’re no match to the dreamy songs. The album’s real stunner, and first single, is the lush, glammy "Back to You," with a killer vocal performance by Bret Anderson. (Ball is producing Anderson’s new solo album, which I’m now excited to hear.) When the chorus hits, it’s like gravity has temporarily lost its pull.*
*at least till that sax kicks in at the end, mixed way too loud.