It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Reflektor by Arcade Fire.
Arcade Fire is a band that provokes feelings, though listening to this new record I’m not exactly sure why. Not that it isn’t a good record, it basically is, but the teeth-gnashing and the holy hosannas flung their direction seem wildly out of range for what is actually happening in the music. I haven’t really been paying attention to the pre-release hype except in a dim and unfocused way; like I am aware that obviously there must be some and my social network feeds were full of people sucking their own dicks about how excited/enraged over the mere existent of this record for a couple days. And I haven’t been watching web-clips or TV, so if they were performing wearing ding-dong outfits with Blade Runner make-up on I haven’t been subjected to it (okay, truth-attack: I have and they do, but I listened to the record first). They tread in the realm of big budget, rock think piece-bait, a la U2, Bowie (I thought that was the Dame himself on “Reflektors” and hey it is), the Clash, Radiohead, et al, which really blows some folks’ skirts up and pisses off others apparently. I’ve heard the other Arcade Fire records but I can’t tell you what they sound like, I’ve seen them in concert and can’t remember much about it, other than it seemed like they were really going for it in an old-school, production value sort of way. So there’s that.
Reflektor is a pretty good record, especially the first half (I’m ignoring the 10 minute “hidden track” and the tacked on last 5 and half minutes of “Supersymmetry” of tones, synth washes, strings and honest-to-god backwards tape sounds…really? Really? I guess that’s one of those things that no one tells you are stupid after you win a Grammy). At it’s best its kind of LCD Soundsystem-esque (James Murphy produced it) Rock Music, with some multi-kulti flourishes and 80’s retro moves color (I have realized the 1980’s act as a kind of retro-futuristic signifier for this generation that the 1950’s did for a previous one). Kind of like a less messy Sandinista, kind of. Even though parts remind me of the Faint you can’t really deny that “Joan of Arc” or “Reflektor” or “Normal Person” are all good, catchy rock songs. Not positive what any of them are about as the lyrics are pretty vague, but are overall fine. At the same time I can’t shake the feeling that if I did give a close read to the lyrics I might want to punch the guy, like on the Depeche Mode rip “Porno”.
Its way too fucking long though. Even slicing out the extraneous 16 minutes of straight filler (Jesus Christ) it really starts to plod in the second half. Though oddly none of the songs are exactly awful, it’s all just too much. I thought that the new Digital Age meant we weren’t going to have to suffer through 85 minute double albums anymore? There are some nice sonic details on the second half, “Afterlife” is pretty good. “It’s Never Over (Oh Orpheus)” is a cod-Prince/New Romantic synth action that sort of steals from a Make-Up song and pretty much lives up to the title. Mostly, the band just indulges their desire for sweeping, big feeling, important music a bit too much for my taste. Ditching a few songs and re-sequencing might help.
Oh and it’s a concept record, not that I could tell, which makes it like every other rock concept record ever. Overall, every song is kind of pleasant and well-executed and not really bad. If you haven’t already decided you hate it.
Whenever you’re crossing more than one album’s worth of music that you feel it needs to be done in two albums, you’re chancing your music. However, on the Arcade Fire’s fourth album, you’d never expect that a trip to Haiti and Jamaica to make the double album would produce the results you hear on Reflektor. Thankfully the double album isn’t extremely bloated (13 songs at a total running time of 85 minutes) and each side is enough to allow you to digestReflektor as a whole rather than the sum of its parts. Starting off with the fiery fun title track, things then take an interesting turn to such as the nice groove on “We Exist,” and you can feel the dancehall vibes on “Flashbulb Eyes.” Matter of fact, the only thing that sounds even remotely close to vintage Arcade Fire you’d expect is reflected in “Normal Person.” The second disc is a bit more adventurous and plays with the sounds in a much more experimental fashion, such as the slow cooker “Here Comes The Night Time II,” or the almost Bowie meets The Clash take on “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus).” It’s really hard to deny the grooves and the really good structures and ideas presented on Reflektor, and shows if anything, that Arcade Fire can still make great songs come to life.
My feelings about the title track that opens Reflektor pretty much sum up my feelings about the records as a whole. It is a great song, mixing the theatrical pop of Bowie with some Talking Heads-esqe grooves, but it simply is too much after multiple breakdowns and buildups. The 80+ minute album mirrors the song in that I can’t really say anything bad about it other than my ability to stay excited about something expired before the song (& album) had concluded, which generally isn’t a good thing. Some movies that are 3 hours should really be 2 hours. Most pop albums should be <60 minutes. “Afterlife” might be the best song they have ever written, and “Normal Person,” “We Exist” and “Joan of Arc” are all brilliant, dynamic tracks, but 80+ MINUTES of high density orchestrated pop music! As is the case with their “dress formal for our shows” bit, Reflekor gives me a sneaking suspicion the band are quickly becoming the U2 of my generation. They aren’t even close to “Beautiful Day” type drudgery yet, but the hype and over indulgence of this record leave me worried that we may be headed in the a similar “biggest band in the world” direction. All that being said, Reflektor is easily my favorite Arcade Fire record since their seminal debut LP, and when it hits it is one of the most engaging and exciting major label LPs I have heard this year. In an area where we can mass consume one song from each album, Arcade Fire attempted to draw us in with a massive project that defies the instant gratification and short attention span of a Pandora radio world. For a good chunk of this record, they came pretty damn close, but in the end their grandiose attempt felt like it was teetering on the edge of collapsing under its own weight.
The Monday Mixtape is a feature where Reviler staff, friends and outside music lovers make an online mixtape around a theme of their choosing. And release it on Monday. If you are like us, we know you need some compelling reason to get out of bed to start the week, and what better then some kick-ass mixes from people who spend way too much of their life thinking about shit like this? Stream the mix below and please, if you like some of the tunes, support the artists by BUYING their music. If you have an idea for Mixtape Monday, shoot us an email. Enjoy!
I am guessing most people have a general framework for what they would hear if I said they were going to listen to “religious” music. A choir, some acoustic guitar and people in pews with their hands raised to the sky, right? Even with changes in the last decade to the “genre,” adding in hard rock, country and even rap, “religious” music still carries with it an interesting connotation. The thing that is most fascinating to me is that, despite being someone who has never intentionally listened to “religious” music, a large swath of songs I enjoy seem to come back and focus on this very subject. This mix is 10 songs that, other than the last song featuring Mavis Staples, most people would not identify with religious music. But why not? These songs directly talk about God, Jesus and religion. Some are clearly made by people who are faithful (Floorplan’s epic “We Magnify His Name” and Brother Ali’s thankful “Good Lord”), others by people who clearly are not (XTC’s snarky “Dear God,” The Beulah kiss-off “Me and Jesus Don’t Talk Anymore” & the dark Spiritualized jam “No God Only Religion”), while others reference a deity without really fleshing out any particular opinion. “Only God Can Judge Me” and “God Only Knows” are both songs that wrap religion into pop songs, both in some ways about relationships here on earth. “God is Dead?” by Sabbath seems, by its title, to be a screed against religion, but like a lot of their work, it is much more complicated than that. The Wesley Willis song is a Wesley Willis song and should be taken as that. While I don’t think this mix will change our thinking about what is “religious” music, I found it an interesting endeavor to take a step back and see how much religion really soaks into the fabric of popular songwriting, even if it doesn’t fit nicely into a genre I think most people, including myself, have neatly constructed in their brains.
You may have seen recently both the National and Jay-Z did six hour versions of songs from their new albums, because apparently doing something for six hours in a row is now considered “art.” We decided to ask friends of Reviler what songs that they would like to hear if they had to curated a six hour song event, and you can see their choices below. What song would you choose?
Hours and hours of this beautiful song would be a magical, jam out session. Ideally the song would be performed into the late hours of the night outside in a big field, out in the country in North Dakota. The audience would arrive as the band was finishing setting up. Encircling the band as they played, each audience member would light the performance with handheld lights and candles. This version would include extra band members for the evening to add a huge wall of percussive sound including extra drums, tambourines, chimes, and maracas. After a few extra verses written for this occasion, spread throughout hours of the performance, the song would end with everyone singing together in a trance like state of peace and wistful longing. Only a few people will have fallen asleep, but their dreams would be really cool.
We’ve all been there. A nice, relaxing evening watching your sport of choice at your watering hole of choice ruined by some jackhole hell-bent on playing Akon or Pitbull or Katy Perry continuously on the mobile TouchTunes digital jukebox. There’s a simple solution, though, and her name is “Spiders (Kidsmoke),” the prodding, driving, screeching, blistering 10:41 behemoth of a track off of Wilco’s sensational 2004 effort, A Ghost is Born. See, when some ill-informed 15-year old keeps dropping dollar after dollar of easily-earned allowance into the juke, there’s only one way to stop it. Pop in your own $10, go to the ‘Super Search’ function (cause they sure as hell won’t have “Spiders” as a selectable option on the regular catalog) and select ‘Play It Now’ 5 times in a row. There…I just saved you nearly an hour of pain and gave you a back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back earworm that likely only you and some mysterious, bearded gentleman at the bar will truly appreciate.
But what of 6 straight hours of “Spiders?” The song is an abstract masterpiece, and a distinct reminder of the era when Wilco made a gigantic leap in not only their technical approach to records, but also how those songs transferred to a live setting. When Wilco plays it live these days, they tend to stretch it out into an easy 15-minute onslaught, and I would have every ounce of confidence that, if given the opportunity to dabble in this marketing platform du jour, they would not even bother to play “Spiders” over and over again, but would rather create a spectacle that would have an insane amount of Nels Cline’s hypnotic guitar solos, breaking up John Stirratt’s pulsing bass and Jeff Tweedy’s poetic take on the English language, resulting in a single 6-hour version of the song that would surely get you kicked out of a bar if you ever attempted to recreate it on the juke.
I would like to see Wolf Lords – Permission for six hours for a plethora of reasons. The first is that I don’t think I could get sick of Aby Wolf’s soaring echos and that distinguished smoky sexiness probably only gets better with exhaustion. Another reason is the hope that after the first three hours of head-bobbing in a ghilly suit, Grant Cutler would instinctively devolve back into the indie-punk roots and give us some Passions-esque support vocals (Passions was a band of Grant’s, several iterations ago). The world needs more indie-punk Cutler.
This one is easy. It’s “Tank!,” written by Yoko Kanno and performed by the Seatbelts. It’s famous because it’s played during the opening credits of the TV show Cowboy Bebop. Aside from just being the most bad-ass piece of music ever written, its structure lends itself to a six-hour performance; there’s an endless amount of crescendos, breakdowns, bridges, fake-out endings, and other dynamic stuff you can do with this song. It’d be absolutely exhausting, like six hours of sex or something, but it’d never get old.
When listening to a song for six hours, there are a few things I need. First of all, the band must be able to power through without slowing down or crying like Justin Bieber. My Morning Jacket has enough power to raise the roof when necessary, yet they also possess extreme patience and finesse — so they won’t burn themselves out in the first hour. Secondly, I need an interesting song with varying pieces to it. “Dondante”, from the band’s 2005 masterpiece Z, is not only a slow dynamic-building beast, but it rocks so hard across the bridge that it would be hard to get bored. The song finally ends with guitarist Carl Broemel picking up the saxophone and taking the song out as the dynamics die to nearly nothing. I could see Jim James filling these spaces beautifully with his unique and soulful voice, and there is more than enough room for the band’s signature guitars and big drums. It would be awesome.
The power trio of John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, and Josh Homme that makes up Them Crooked Vultures is each rock-n-roll royalty in their own right. That alone would make it worth sitting though a six hour song. Any song off of their 2009 self-titled album would do for me, but I chose the opening track “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I” because I would love to see Grohl hammer the drums for hours on that straight up heavy rock beat that ends the song. Homme’s guitar and vocals, and Jones’ bass would be icing on the cake. Them Crooked Vultures have enough strength to pound out a six hour song, then come back for a two hour long encore, while barely breaking a sweat. I would be overjoyed.
When thinking of a song that I could enjoy for six hours, I wanted a few things. Minimal moving parts. A deep groove. A melody that was strong, but wouldn’t give me gut rot. Once I narrowed down what I wanted, it became clear that “Amen,” a song from my favorite Spacemen 3 album (Taking Drugs To Make Music to Take Drug To). Sliding effortlessly from E to A, with Jason Spacemen singing his haunted prayer over the fuzz, it is a song that you can seamlessly fall into, a track that when it is done you are unsure if you have been listening to for four minutes or four hours. It would be a hypnotic, otherworldly six hours.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Silence Yourself by Savages.
The UK music media has a tendency to over-hype and pronounce the next great act every third band – while they are quite adorable, their first record is that of a rookie band . The Savages have taken the mantle of next great “all girl rock band”. On paper that sounds just rad. Combing their love of Joy Division, Siouxie & The Banshees and all things post-punk they have managed to make folks forget all about The Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ front woman Karen O.
The U.K. quartet is led by French vocalist Jehnny Beth who scowls “You are distracted. You are available” as both purpose and acknowledgement. On their debut they live up the incredible hype, for the most part. “Silence Yourself” seems to bring all the elements together for a successful indie run. With hip-hop and electronica overwhelming the current scene, giving them an appearance of freshness. On “Shut Up” they opine “If you tell me to shut up / I’ll tell you to shut up” which seems to pass for some angry rant. On “I Am Here” a galloping wail cries ”this is easy” before bursting into glorious flames. “City’s Full” follows the same steps with distorted guitars as Beth sings”there’s so many pretty girls around”. Wow. Taking a softer turn on goth ballad “Strife” and the slower, almost melodic “Waiting For A Sign”. There’s some sex appeal on “She Will”. “Hit Me” is a scuzz fest and there’s another gasp at the political with “Husbands”. Closing with the elegant “Marshal Dear’ structured around a piano and sax shows maturity hints at early PJ Harvey.
With all the fuss they have nothing to say. Built around angular guitar lines that come straight from the paint-by-numbers gloom/dark-rock workshop 101. Check. They’re like so serious. What seems missing is a since of joy – it would be rad to hear the band actually sound like they’re having fun instead of copying The Wire’s sonics, even though there’s not a bit of The Fall’s swagger or Sleather-Kinney’s jittery righteousness. It feels like an A&R’s hobby project. Silence Yourself will find its place among the youth, who could use some new girl power as hero stats. In the meantime I’ll keep waiting for a song.
In the first minute of “Shut Up”, the Savages make the case for why post-punk carries potency, and in the same space deliver the life-saving CPR for just all out garage rock, by delivering fast paced and blood rushing rhythms, it is an absolute thrill ride of an album like taking a ride in a ’67 GTO with a maniac. There’s many other jams like “I Am Here” which begins almost like a psychedelic rock song, but then keeps in step with a subdued and busy bass line, while “City’s Full” is full-on menacing. Elsewhere you got many other jams where Jehnny Beth’s vocals operates in this Joy Division like style, full of fury and attitude, and the band keeps building these awesome, powerfully driven arrangements which give Jehnny’s vocals plenty of breathing room without all the inflated inflections. This is just some powerful, kick-ass rock music right here that you need to hear to believe.
It seems, after soaking in the shadowy post-punk of Savages for a few months, that we can believe the hype. Right off the jump, the record chugs along with the kinetic energy of “Shut Up,” and other than a few bumps in the road, Silence Yourself is an outstanding journey in post-punk nirvana. The whole production, from artwork to song titles to 11 terse tracks, is powerfully minimalist and filled with fist clenching righteousness. From the charging “I Am Here” to wiry “Husbands,” the record unleashes as a tightly wound coil that builds with the bass and drums and releases with the stinging guitars and Jehnny Beth’s dark and powerful vocals. It is a record that feels both sleek and gigantic, a towering debut record that leaves little doubt that this is a band of substance and weight, somehow even bigger than the larger-than-life hype surrounding them.
The band are playing a very sold out show Sunday 7/21 at the Triple Rock, but will be back September 17th at the Mainroom for those without tickets.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, Three Takes on You’re Nothing by Iceage. (From the same three dudes that covered their first LP!)
Howard Hamilton (Prissy Clerks)
I absolutely love Iceage’s first record New Brigade it set a really high bar, I was incredibly excited to hear a new record was about to come out and on Matador this time. The new record You’re nothing is a fine attempt at growth as a and, I really like it but it doesn’t force you to immediately start it over and over after the last song like New Brigade did but that only happens once in a Bee Thousand anyway. These young guys try this time for a bigger production but retain their shitty guitars creating quite a cocktail. The singer sounds more hoarse and more monster-like this time around also, I can even imagine them telling him to go run around the block then we will hit record on the vocal rack. He is so out of breath it’s almost too much, huffing and puffing, stuffed up and with a lozenge in his cheek you can hear the tar in his lungs. Surprisingly you can hear the lyrics a lot more on You’re Nothing and I am not one undred percent that that’s a great thing. Sometimes the words teeter on pretentiousness but just as I pick up my mallet ready to hit the giant gong they redeem or I forget the stupid youthful fake violence act they wish they could pull off. Don’t get me wrong these guys are a great great band and this album is almost a sure thing, some fans disagree and are hating this offering but with amazing songs like “Morals” and “Ecstacy” and “Coalition” you really can’t go too wrong. These guys are the big dumb puppy that ends up saving your life, highly original and on a creative level like no other band in their genre.
I have always been a bit puzzled about Iceage. It’s not that I don’t think the Danish punks are good – they are. I just don’t see what really sets them apart from legions of other similarly minded punk bands that are just as talented but don’t get any recognition. Its as if the music media community held a lottery of all of these bands and decided that they would all get behind whoever won – and the Danes were drawn at random.
The band’s newest album You’re Nothing, is pretty good collection of noisy, aggressive post-punk/hardcore tunes. It sounds sloppy without actually being sloppy, and lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt’s Joe-Strummer-esque scream pulsates with intense disdain. Perhaps I am just not great at picking out the nuances of this genre of music but to my ears, it sounds really good, if not exactly revolutionary.
Seeing Iceage a few years back at the Triple Rock I came away with the impression that the band generally makes up for lack of originality by dialing the energy up to extremes. I still kind of feel that way. In addition to the energy though, with You’re Nothing, Iceage adds in a more mature element of heftier songs and a kind of darker vibe. It sounds really good, though I still would probably be more impressed if they attempted to color a bit more outside the lines.
As I wrote before, as the Iceage bandwagon plows forward, the band seem primed to be cast as the punk/hardcore version of Vampire Weekend, a band heaped with praise and adulation from the musical powers-that-be in a way that invokes backlash. This is too bad, because like their spirited and scrappy debut New Brigade, their sophomore LP You’re Nothing is another firecracker of an album. Stretching 12 songs over 28 tense and pummeling minutes, the record both continues the things that got them attention initially while growing and expanding beyond the boundaries set by their debut. From the mixed up time signatures of “Ecstasy” to the punch you in the face intensity of “It Might Hit First,” You’re Nothing is every bit as confrontational as their debut, even as it has a more full and developed sound. The bands growing maturity (they are still early 20’s!) is seen on tracks like “Coalition” and “Everything Drift’s,” which clean up the sound a bit and brings the vocals more clearly to the front, and also the quasi balled “Morals,” which is basically a Billy Joel track compared with some of their other work. Overall You’re Nothing is a solid step forward for the band. No, they may not change the world with this record (again), but it is still a damn good record and another example that this young band are, in fact, the real deal.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Push the Sky Away by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
Does anyone set a mood as perfectly as Nick Cave? That answer is no. For ¾ of an hour, Push The Sky Away taunts us with Cave’s signature devilish croon, begging the listener to get lost in a tangle of sultry vocals and eerie accompaniment.
Despite it’s cringe-worthy spelling, the lead single “We No Who U R” is a gripping reminder that, if he wanted to, Cave could probably eat your face. The eight tracks that follow embody a similar aesthetic, all while showcasing Cave’s uniquely dark use of the English language. On the haunting “Jubilee Street,” he sneers ‘I’ve got a fetus…on a leash.” Not that this line is in any way literal, but you know what? I’d believe him if it were.One of the most intriguing aspects of any Nick Cave record, though, has to be hearing how he’s influenced today’s shining stars. At least half of Push The Sky Away found my brain wandering, getting equally excited for The National’s new album later this Spring. At the same time, you can hear how Dan Bejar’s knack for poetic storytelling has been heavily influenced by Cave’s.
And come to think of it, I’d be fine if Nick Cave wanted to eat my face. That’d be a cool way to go.
Over the lumbering bass line and foggy string arrangement of “Water’s Edge,” Nick Cave sings “You get old and you get cold.” 10 years ago it would have been easy to believe Nick Cave when he sang that. The master of murder ballads, the intensely sublime songwriter who strolled out of the shadows of Birthday Party to craft some of the most haunting songs over the last few decades, Nick Cave was guy who was going to forever brood in the shadows, a place where he was more distant/sad/heavy/cool than the rest of us could ever dream of. Then came Dig! Lazarus! Dig!! and his Grinderman side project. Not only was this Cave and company sounding “young” and “hot,” it was one of the most scintillating releases Cave or anyone released over the last half decade.
After the testosterone and feedback of those three amazing releases, Cave and the Bad Seeds have returned back to form on the more subdued and dark Push the Sky Away. It is still great, with Cave’s lyrical wizardry on full display and the Bad Seeds sounding as somber and sinister as ever, but for someone like me who fell in love with the louder, more aggressive Nick Cave over the last few years, it can’t help but feel a little bit of a letdown. I imagine as I listen to Push the Sky Away more and more, it will blossom into a record I love, as most of his records have, but after my first half dozen spins it makes me want to pull out his last few records and crank up the volume.
I still feel like I am only just getting acquainted with the new Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds’ album Push the Sky Away. The more I listen to it the more I tend to like it – though there are exceptions that may take a little time. For instance it still feels pretty flat out incongruous to hear Cave lyricizing about the internet and Miley Cyrus under any conditions. Cave has always seemed to be somewhat impervious to pop culture, so hearing him suddenly awake to realizing it now occasionally comes off a little kitschy. Like seeing Napoleon Bonaparte in a SoCal Mall in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s funny because it’s irreconcilable. But this is generally an unfair gripe on my part and something I will have to just come to terms with – in fact my logical side believes I should applaud Cave for branching out and trying new things. The id just isn’t quite there yet.
Overall Push the Sky Away is a pretty solid album with a number of tunes that I am pretty fond of, including the terrific “Jubilee Street,” “Mermaids,” and “We No Who U R.” The only tune I can’t fully reconcile myself to is “Higgs Boson Blues,” which I am not crazy about and sounds a little like latter day Bob Dylan doing a spoken word piece about history. Maybe I will come around to “Higgs” eventually – I have a long history of evolving opinions towards various Cave projects. As it stands today though, I think Push the Sky is solid if a bit shy of amazing.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on II by Unknown Mortal Orchestra.
Steve Skavnak (@steveskavnak)
My infatuation with Unknown Mortal Orchestra has been steadily growing the past two years, ever since they easily blew the headliners out of the water, opening for Smith Westerns at the Triple Rock in February 2011. Their self-titled debut made my Top 10 of that same year, and when they came back to town that summer supporting Yuck at The Varsity, they again proved why they’re so buzzworthy, all while shrouded in complete darkness.
Just a few tracks into the aptly titled II, though, I realized that this infatuation had blossomed into a full on love affair. Ruban Nielson’s guitar playing sounds effortless, resulting in blissful, reverb-rich psychedelic hooks bleeding from your speakers, none that are more in your face than that of “The Opposite of Afternoon” (never mind the James Mercer-esque intro). The most surprising success, though, is Nielson’s knack for true pop sensibility, something that didn’t present itself as noticeably on UMO’s first record. “So Good at Being in Trouble” is oozing with R&B undertones, even allowing Nielson to belt out a little falsetto, showing that the frontman might not be as shy as his live performances indicate.
While the energy and exploration of II definitely tapers off with the pointless “Dawn” and dreary, confusing “Secret Xtians,” UMO have 1) triumphed in avoiding the dreaded sophomore slump and 2) proved that they’re anything but a one trick pony.
UMO’s sophomore record II starts promisingly enough. The first two tracks “From the Sun” and “Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)” are each excellent mix of pop and psychedelic funk. Just when you begin to think that UMO is going to pull off a successful sequel of their excellent debut though, starting with “So Good at Being in Trouble” things start to get a little stale. If “So Good” was the album’s worst track it wouldn’t be all bad – but from then on things get progressively worse. Not offensive – just kind of bland, aimless guitar noodling and vapid harmonies that never seem to muster the strength to get out of bed. Luckily that only lasts for a few songs but it stops the record dead in its tracks. A few good tracks bolster II’s back half (namely “Monki” and “Secret Xitians”) but it’s not enough to really spread the weight of the album’s middle out evenly. The semi-ambient “Dawn” is stalls out any kind of backend rally, leaving II on a relatively flaccid note. II definitely shows signs of what UMO are capable of, but unfortunately on a very uneven basis. For the time being I will stick with their debut for primary listening.
I don’t know why it is I have a soft spot for the squeaky clean, pop-psychedelia of bands like Tame Impala and Unknown Mortal Orchestra, but I do. Both released debut albums that I liked quite a bit, LP’s that I found were perfect for spinning when spending time with people who didn’t want to hear the usual ambient/noise/scuzzy garage rock that I would choose (you know, “normal” people). They both have recently released follow up records, with Tame Impala doubling down on the wide-eyed, colorful version of their first record (the buoyant “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” was a stirring, successful version of this). Where Tame Impala seem hell bent on revisiting the tie-dyed, pie in the sky vision that wobbled into our conscious with their first LP, Unknown Mortal Orchestra created a sleepy follow up to their (sometimes) funky debut.
If Tame Impala’s music is the world through a rainbow tinted kaleidoscopic, II from UMO is the world from behind droopy eyelids. On tracks like “Monki,” I almost wondered if they recorded them late at night as they were falling asleep. Tracks plod along at a snail pace, preformed almost in a hushed reference. Even the more “upbeat” tracks like “Faded in the Morning” and “One at a Time” feel a half step behind the tracks on their debut and can seem distant and hollow. There is some beauty in the distance, namely the sweet “So Good at Being in Trouble,” but often the record feels under cooked, especially when contrasted with the slinky grooves on songs like “How Can U Luv Me.” While they still show themselves to be adapt at writing pop-psychedelia ear candy, via their warm arrangements and Ruban Nielson’s pristine falsetto, the sleepiness on the record, like someone yawning, is contagious. If they were shooting to create a record to spin while you are drifting off to sleep, they have succeeded, if not, they need some Red Bull.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on Anything in Return by Toro Y Moi.
Referencing many genres, including the galloping grooves of house, the bedroom production of chill-wave, and rather cool pop, Chazwick Bundick (aka Toro Y Moi) produces a multicultural lollypop.
Opening with the lightweight house workout “Harm In Change”, things get off to a decent start. The dance groove continues on the mid-tempo flex of “Say That”. The jewel here is “So Many Details”, which slows down to a bedroom jump, with vocals just behind the beat. “I just want to tease your eyes, I just want to go inside”. He almost does a Dam-Funk with repeated looped vocal “what happened to us” – which sounds super cool. Although he has dabbled with actual R&B, covering the slow jam classic “Saturday Love” by Cherrelle & Alexander O’Neal, he’s best at not going there. The nice thumping basslines of “Rosa Quartz” sounds like the background music at Abercrombie & Fitch. There’s a few fine moments with “Cola” and “High Living”. Then there’s “Cake”, which is a disaster. This is followed by “Day One” which has a nice flourish before “Never Matter”, a throwaway funk slab. He closes with “How It Wrong”, by which time you’ve likely fallen asleep.
As its title “Anything In Return” suggests, any good here is enough. There are moments in the front of record that suggest a spirited journey before descending into Pet Shot Boys minus the hooks and detail. It seems Toro y Moi simply has fun making non-committal music, slashing and slightly burning through a few genres of mainly dance and pop stylings that make for an evening of faux chill-out music .
Chaz Bundick likes making music. That should be the clear and apparent statement when one takes a listen to Anything In Return, his third effort as Toro Y Moi. Listening to his music, there’s a lot of gems to be found on the new album such as the frantic and rhythmic “Harm In Change” and the house influenced, head-nodding “Say That” (which has a surprise rap verse!). On Anything in Return, there’s a lot of progress to be found from Bundick in terms of melody and arrangement, which features is a very welcome shake-up from the more low key sounds of his stellar sophomore album, Underneath The Pine.
I have had sympathy for Toro Y Moi (Chaz Bundick) as he has fought valiantly to shed the “chillwave” label he helped usher into prominence, mercilessly shifting from one form to the next to rid himself of the genre albatross. His electro-funk makeover started live a few years back, bringing the more colorful, bass heavy flavor to the forefront of his sound. In the studio, he ventured outward on the more dancy Freaking Out EP before stepping back a bit with the more ambient LP Underneath the Pine. While I can’t say I have found his trajectory always on the upward slope (more zig zag), at least he isn’t releasing the same record over and over again. On his latest LP Anything in Return, he seems to split the difference on the sounds from his first three releases. Many of the songs have a slinky bass line that woozes out from under the synths, but the general feel of the record is the kind of low key haze that first brought him into our stereos. There are house grooves pushing the songs forward, but tracks like “Harm in Change” and “Rose Quartz” don’t quite make it to the 100% Silk level of energy, withdrawing themselves into the shadows of minor keys and Bundick’s weary (yet pristine) vocals. I think Toro Y Moi has made some great music over the last few years, but the project is beginning to feel a bit like a wandering soul. Like Sufjan Stevens, he is a talented artist who seems to feel the seven year itch about every two months, for better or for worse. Anything in Return is another wrinkle in the Toro Y Moi “sound,” a fuzzy picture that hasn’t really come into true focus yet. He is still a young guy, so hopefully he can slow down enough to take the best pieces of his repertoire and make a standout LP in the coming years. Anything in Return isn’t that album, but like his previous releases, it has more good than bad and is enough to keep me on the bandwagon with my fingers crossed that the stars will align in the near future.
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three takes on LongLiveA$AP by A$AP Rocky.
Following up on last years Live Long A$AP mixtape Harlem’s new “it” dude A$AP Rocky made a big impression with his southern crunk flavor to New York. Channeling the syrup flows of the South through Three-6- Mafia, U.G.K. & DJ Screw as much as the glamor lifestyle of Harlemites Cam’ron & Jim Jones. On his proper debut Long Live A$AP, he goes all in. With a dizzying selection of beats that are both clever and simple. For some strange reason NYC has always had a fascination with South and A$AP explores that with a delicate A&R touch. Through a mixture of purple drank, yellow drank, all kind of hallucinates, pills, ecstasy, cocaine and white chicks and boom, you’ve got yourself a party starter kit. It’s all fun, no old school rules of authenticity through peers. Nope this is Action Jackson fuck bitches, getting’ money and smashing all the suckers who ain’t them.
With a sonic collage of new school producers and electronic dj’s to produce an intoxicating array of modern crunkness. Opening with the dark look inside with “I thought I’d probably die in prison, expensive taste in women … a bunch on hypocritic Christians, the land of no religion, my Santa Claus was missing, catch you slippin’ then it Christmas” on “Long Live A$AP” as he calls for the reaper. On the bouncy hit “Goldie” with Clams Casino behind the boards for a baked-out screwed head nodder with irrelevant lyrics like “Cristol by the cases oh that shit is racist”. Before launching into “my nigga’s” every other word as matter of fact.
While it’s nowhere near their hit “Hands On The Wheel” from A$AP’s Live Long A$AP. The sinister “PMW (All I Really Need) featuring Schoolboy Q with lines like ”My bitch white, my dick black”.
Recapturing that raw mixtape status on “LVL” with Clams Casino on production with lyrics like “what I’m posed to do with all this money…I’m been impatient waiting to show you niggas Satan” . “Hell” is at first awkward then works with Santigold proving a soft melody refrain. There’s a completely retarded song here with the obvious radio hit “F_ckin Probems” with Drake, 2 Chainz & Kendrick Lamar. “Wild for the Night” is an interesting turn with dubstep’s stadium king Skrillex. Recalling the early nighties NYC rap scene at it’s finest with the golden posse track “1 Train” with Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass, Yelawolf, Danny Brown, Action Bronson & Big Krit. There’s a little ode to his ladies “Fashion Killa”. The slowed down on the emotionally melodic “Phoenix” produced by Dangermouse. A$AP comesfrom a place where he was “baptized in the gutter, motherfucker you decide. Cause the rides come with doors that be suicide…Painting vivd pictures call me Basquiat Picasso”. He also is tired of the old hags around him “I grew up with niggas, but I don’t fuck with niggas, I ain’t got no love for niggas… now the worlds in my palm, take cover niggas.” There’s also the introspective “Suddenly”. Closing out with “Ghetto Symphony” with rookie thug Gunplay and the trill ballad “Angel”.
With just enough charisma A$AP Rocky successfully straddles the line between appealing to the streets and hipsters, he ain’t talking about shit except kickin’ it with tales of sex, drugs, expensive clothes and his niggas and he’s cool with that.
Many wanted to count A$AP Rocky out of the conversation, especially since the lapse of time between LiveLoveA$AP and his debut album LongLiveA$AP. With his debut, A$AP Rocky has created something that is instantly catchy upon first listen, by sticking to the aesthetics that made us gravitate towards him on LiveLoveA$AP; he proves that he’s still very versatile with his flow, be it having suicidal tendencies on the Danger Mouse highlight, “Phoenix”, or even being able to stick out in a good way on such posse cuts as the lead-off “Fuckin’ Problems” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Drake & 2 Chainz or even on the monstrous, 6-minute posse cut “1 Train”. From a production standpoint, the album proves to be just as fluid as Kendrick’s “good kid, mAAd city”, but the difference is in the aesthetics of the production, a lot more stark sounds and reverberating percussion are entered into the mix. Even “Wild For The Night” which pairs Rocky with Skrillex still manages to sound very much in place with the rest of the album. The naysayers and doubters who thought that maybe a $3 million advance would have gotten to Rocky’s head have no doubt been proven ineffective, as Rocky churns out an album that makes us understand what we enjoy in the first place about him.
I will admit I am probably not who A$AP Rocky was thinking of as his target audience when he created LongLiveA$AP, but he actually had a chance to win me over. I loved his selection of songs he chose for his attention grabbing mixtape, especially the Clams Casino productions and the darkly melodic “Peso.” On the mixtape Rocky’s rhymes were more DMX (grunt and yell nonsense) than Rakim or Nas (you know, actually rapping about stuff), but I thought maybe he would sharpen things up for his major label debut. He didn’t. At best, this is an album where Rocky is little more than a gravelly voiced annoyance over some great beats, at worst it is the misogynistic, hoes-cars-money crap that rap music has (d)evolved into over the last decade. It is an album that contains the lines “Yes, I’m the shit, tell me if I stink.” And that isn’t the worst line (most of the contenders I didn’t have the stomach to type out). Based on both the lowest common denominator content and star powered guests (Skrillex, Schoolboy Q, Drake, 2 Chainz, Kendrick Lamar), I am sure this album is going to sell large numbers and further rocket A$AP Rocky into superstardom, but it isn’t for me.