My introduction to Hank & Cupcakes was accidental. I attended a show in New York with some companions, arriving at 7 for doors to open, only to discover there were two opening acts on the bill. We opted to stay and catch the opening acts, and an eye-opening experience followed.
Hank & Cupcakes took the stage at 8 and brought down the house. A drum-and-bass duo originally hailing from Tel Aviv, the pair had an electric presence on the stage, playing an eclectic, catchy set that saw Cupcakes manning the drums and the mic simultaneously with Hank joining her on bass and additional electronic effects – a unique presence and incredibly awesome. Among the highlights was an inspired version of the Far East Movement track “Like a G6.” I immediately grabbed the EP, finding a lot to like, and discovered once I got home that their debut album was on the way.
Fast forward a couple of months to the release of that album, “Naked,” featuring about a dozen tracks, including reworked versions of a couple of the EP songs along with a batch of other recordings.
The good news is that their presence on record is quite enjoyable, although some of the live edge is lost in translation. The quality of the recordings, the result of laying down tracks in the famous Hansa Studios followed by six months of mixing, is top notch for an indie recording and is a nod to the professionalism of the duo.
Of course, it’s all about the music, and the songs are quite enjoyable. Most of the songs are upbeat, mid-tempo jams that rock out quite a bit. First single “Liquid Mercury” exemplifies the sound, with a strong rhythm and vocals from Cupcakes, backed beautifully by Hank’s playing. The song “Hit,” carried over directly from the EP, has a more airy sound than some of their others (probably due to being from a different period), “Jersey Girl” encompasses a faster beat and more danceable, and “Fly” subdues the beat a bit to bring Cupcakes’ vocals front and center. The only true ballad on the song, “Tame the Fool,” is a highlight, a beautiful vocal take by Cupcakes with a vivid musical palette surrounding her.
Previous releases “Ain’t No Love” and “Pleasure Town” get reworked on the release; of the two, “Pleasure Town” benefits most from the upped production values and has a lead-in “Pleasure is a Drug” to build up to the song; “Ain’t No Love” definitely rocks more, although the loss of the rap in favor of the much more repetitive chanting of “Ain’t No Love” feels like a slight step back (although it more mimics the live set).
Having had the album for a few weeks now to digest, I’ve found it immensely listenable with a high replay value; for a debut set, the songs are surprisingly varied and hold up well on repeat listens. I’ve found myself continually gravitating back to the tracks “Born Again,” which leads the album, “Fly,” the “Ain’t No Love” rerecording, the infectious “Jersey Girl” and the ballad “Tame the Fool.”
This is a worthy debut; at this point it’s not available on iTunes but is available at their website, hankandcupcakes.com, as a physical CD for $13 or as a digital download (sent by hand by the duo; they’re still a small operation!) for $10.
As mentioned earlier, the album doesn’t quite capture the live experience; for that, you’ll have to catch a live show. The good news is there’s ample opportunity in July, starting with their official record release party July 6 at Mercury Lounge in New York, followed by a stop at the Outer Space in Hamden, Conn. on July 8 and a free concert at the Levitt Pavilion in Westport July 13. If you’re looking for an enjoyable way to spend a portion of your summer, you can’t go wrong with a dose of Hank & Cupcakes.