For a band that named itself after the first dog in outer space – and previous albums called Sounds of the Satellites and Silver Apples of the Moon – you'd think Laika would make spacey ambient music with a focus on quirky beats. And they do, sometimes. The emphasis, though, of Good Looking Blues, the London quartet's third album, is to give equal attention to Margaret Fiedler's smooth, somewhat gothic-and-soul-influenced vocals and the band's mixture of rock, slow electronic, and sit-on-your-couch dance music. Fiedler, who went to grade school with Liz Phair in Winnetka, Illinois and later played in a Smiths-sounding college band with Moby, speak-sings dark fictional stories about life's basic themes: love, sex, death, and work. But it's not quite that simple. For instance, on one of the album's standouts, "Black Cat Bone," she tells a story of a woman who kills her evil husband with voodoo: "Rocks for my pillow and sand for my bed/For better or worse, I left him for dead." Laika's talent is crafting a particular mood.
To open this oddball supergroup's debut, Paul Simonon hints at "Guns of Brixton," and when Tony Allen's flex rhythms come in, there's a shadow of Fela Kuti, too. Then Damon Albarn's slow grit of a voice enters–framed by Simon Tong's flecked guitar. And collectively, The Good, the Bad, & the Queen is quickly sui generis, adamantly different than anything you think you've heard. A band with this much power has at least two options: to cut loose raucously or to mute their overt power for a more covert, dub-inflected atmospheric potency. Smartly, Albarn and his crew opt for the half-light of elastic bass lines, the clouds between the parentheses of drums–the covert. It's not until "Kingdom of Doom," the erstwhile 'single' of the album, that motion expands beyond the languorous. And even then, Tony Allen largely sits out. You get the full flush of Simonon and Allen on "Three Changes" shuffling time even while holding the tempo to a dubbish gait. It's not Blur, the Clash, Fela, the Verve, or Gorillaz. It's more than just names on albums.