The Ting Tings’ Pet ‘Sounds’

From the name on down, The Ting Tings’ second album, Sounds from Nowheresville, shows that remarkably little has changed for the pop duo since their platinum-selling debut, We Started Nothing (2008). It took four years for Katie White and Jules de Martino to shake off their success and return to the margins, where their creativity apparently thrives.

Those Nothing and Nowhere titles showcase White and de Martino’s proud refusal to fulfill music industry and media expectations. On the new album, they plant their flag wherever they like within the pop universe, without regard for consistency. The Ting Tings say their overarching inspiration on Nowheresville was the albums of Malcolm McLaren, which radically extended punk’s aesthetic to encompass the full range of ’80s-’90s street sounds and styles.

Nowheresville’s chaos of influences coheres over the course of its blessedly tight 33 minutes, even though the track-by-track contrasts can be head-spinning. The caffeinated punk-pop of the first few songs gives way to a suite of softhearted dance tracks, which leads into a closing pair of yearning ballads. Pop signifiers are celebrated, deconstructed and thrown together in joyous fashion, as in “Give It Back”’s refrain—“Give me back my hi-fi, give me back my boots/Give me back my life, give me back my roots.”

A sonic detail from Nowheresville’s sweet center spooked one U.K. critic, who wrote: “‘Soul Killing’ [is] a bouncy bit of pop-reggae rendered unlistenable by the teeth-gritting squeak of de Martino’s drum stool.” But that uncanny creak brilliantly symbolizes the leisure time mentality that underpins white reggae, evoking a variety of downtime pursuits, from rocking chairs to rocking horses to telltale bedsprings.

Critics who don’t read pop music as White and de Martino do will likely miss out on the pleasure of Nowheresville’s path from anger to sweetness to sadness. They may interpret the four-year break between albums and the new release’s brevity as diminishing returns. White addresses that issue on the lead single, “Hang It Up,” singing, “Live like a hermit if you want to be king.”

At a time when most overhyped indie acts (think Sleigh Bells) bid for “originality” by slamming together the same old influences into superficially new configurations, The Ting Tings are humble enough to refuse modesty. Their new album presents a fully rounded pop experience from outta nowhere and nothing.