If their first album was already a mix between a west coast and southern feel, Ivan & Alyosha’s newest album, Its All Just Pretend, synthesized those themes in a more expressed, driven and full manner. The album retains the band’s lyrically uplifting nature and musically soothing and flowing nature, but delivers it in perhaps a more expressed, confident, and uplifting manner. Lead singer Tim Wilson’s soulful and yearning voice is harnessed in a clearer, more up front manner, commanding the attention of the listener from the first song of the album. The rest of band plays with increased vigor, even during slower songs such as “Tears in Your Eyes” and “Drifting Away,” delivering a more cohesive and substantive record. The album definitively speaks to the growth that the band has undergone, being I&A’s now second full-length album. While the album does have an air of reminiscing and reflection, it seems to have a positive drive to it, emitting a mature, hopeful sound to it.
The album begins with “Something is Wrong,” a steady tune, that synthesizes Wilson’s sustaining vocals with a driving accompaniment of bass, guitar, and drums. The song then melts quietly and slowly into one of the most driving songs of the album, “Bury Me Deep” delivering pounding drums and bass and concise and catchy vocals. The band then grooves straight into “All This Wandering Around” which retains the energy of “Bury Me Deep” with Wilson belting out vocals throughout the song, in perfect pace with the rest of band. The title track of the album, “It’s All Just Pretend” takes on a more reminiscent, somber tone, with soft guitar and percussion and Wilson’s deliberate and calm vocals in the beginning, intertwined and accented by electric guitar riffs and steady drums. The song speaks of bittersweet reflection and contemplation, ending with the guitar anthem fading away in the background.
Nostalgic Britpop fans have long been tormented by rumors of an unlikely Oasis reunion. It seems as though every few months either Liam or Noel tweets something that gets picked up by someone like Mirror as a sign of a pending revival for the band that cocained and temper-tantrumed their way out of existence in 2009. The other half of the so called “Battle of Britpop,” Blur, however, has given these nostalgic fans a big reason to rejoice with the April 27th release of The Magic Whip. Continue reading “The Magic Whip: An Even More "Universal" Blur”→
If The Wombats realized in 2011’s “The Modern Glitch” that they were techno fans, then with their new album “Glitterbug” they have fully embraced the electronic pop first introduced to their catchy UK pop rock sound four years ago. Though a far departure from the drum-driven pop rock of their 2007 international debut album “Tales of Love, Loss, & Desperation” (their technical debut album “Girls Boys & Marsupials” was originally released only in Japan) and certainly not as innovative as “The Modern Glitch,” it is still a fun album that is sure to be a hit among fans of other 80s inspired bands, like the more refined Bleachers or fellow countrymen The 1975.
The album starts out slow with “Emoticons,” a relatable tune for anyone who has dated during the 21st century, however it is a little too mellow as an opening track, especially when compared to “Tales of Girls, Boys, & Marsupials”/”Kill The Director” and “Perfect Disease” from their last two full-lengths. The second track, “Give Me A Try,” would have been a much more compelling opener, especially since it evokes their previous work “Girls/Fast Cars” (I’m on the look out for a mash-up from my musically inclined friends on the internet, so if you’re into remixing hit me up). My personal favorite song, and another track which I think would have been an excellent opener as it sounds new but still catchy, is third track “Greek Tragedy,” which is reminiscent of “1996” but with a darker, heavier twist (check out the music video if you haven’t already, especially if you’ve ever seen “Skins”). It also features harmonizing, which is part of the reason why I originally fell in love with The Wombats’ sound so many years ago (and not just because I have a huge crush on drummer Dan Haggis, but really, I’ll be at your show next week so hit me up).
It’s been a long road for Smallpools leading up to the release of their first full-length album. Their first single, “Dreaming,” from their self-titled EP in 2013 was a smash hit, charting as high as #23 on the Alternative Songs list, and appearing in video games like FIFA 2014. The song led to the quartet touring with and opening for some big name acts, such as Grouplove, MS MR, Walk the Moon, and Neon Trees. On each one of their tours, they would play their four-song EP, and then a taste of what would eventually turn into LOVETAP! promising that a new album was on the way.
With many of the songs on the album having been out for over a year, the true shining moments come in the form of new material from the band. Songs like “American Love,” the first track off the album, “Lovetap!” the moniker of the LP, and “What’s That A Picture Of?” serve as fun and dancy alt-pop hits. The group stays true to their own original Californian sound, while also exploring sounds and riffs that come from other alternative and pop inspirations. The song, “9 to 5,” for instance, sounds very much like a track that could come from the likes of Vampire Weekend.
For the half hour that I dedicated to listening to awE naturalE, the debut project by Washington state quasi hip-hop duo Catherine “Cat” Harris-White and Stasia “Stas” Irons, it felt almost impossible for me to wrap my head around the soundscapes presented in the work. I was trying so hard to define and compartmentalize what I was hearing into some genre but I quickly found my attempts to be ineffectual and pointless. Perhaps it was because the sound was foreign to me that I liked the album so much – a fresh combination of sound and voice, production and unorthodox poeticism spread across bizarrely-titled tracks and packaged ever so neatly by peculiarly tribal cover art. A strong reminder that new sounds are always welcome.
EarthEE, the duo’s second studio album under Sub Pop Records sees a reprisal of their trans-genre explorations but with a more developed sound and an almost unbelievable feature lineup. The record traverses the worlds of neo-soul, hip-hop and jazz as they harvest elements from each style and throw them together to produce a melting pot of sounds and feels. It’s not strange that this group first gained widespread attention through their feature on fellow Washingtonians Shabazz Palace’s debut, Black Up – in fact it makes complete sense. The similarities in their approach to making music make it seem like they are each others opposite-gender counterparts bound together by the same creative spirit simply pushing it’s voice through different physical vessels. As a result it seemed totally appropriate (if not completely necessary) that Shabazz appear multiple times throughout the project both as individual features and as a duo.
Throughout this project their message is never obvious – it’s presented through abstract lyricism and mysterious sonic landscapes. Essentially, it is unreasonable to suggest that it will mean the same exact thing to different people, but the theme seems to focus on aspects of nature and the universe. It reflects a unity among all living things and human interactions with the spiritual and natural worlds – a principle that lowkey nods at themes centered on the ethereal and abstract. This is modestly reflected in the artwork, which depicts Cat and Stas as Nubian royalties on a suspended golden throne, their attention only to the stars behind and above them because all human matters are trivial in comparison.
The album’s opener continues much in the same vein with dark pharaoh-esque synths and syncopated percussion lines supporting cryptic poetry verses – evocative of some ancient Egyptian anthem. “Said the bird to the water, may I take a sip,” Stas raps as Cat provides vocal harmonies in the background. They seem to have moved away from the political and human subjects examined in awE naturalE to paint pictures (with sound, of course) of things that aren’t of this world. Aptly named “Prophetic Perfection,” the track sees the duo explore the creation of the world by some entity and the interaction of elements in the natural world before human interference.
The sound is abruptly shifted to downbeat Funkadelic/DamFunk-esque sounds while still maintaining spacey undertones as the second song, “No GMO,” plays. Smooth rhythm synthesizers tucked under a layer of piercing leads hit a point somewhere between sexy and weird, right where Stas and Cris fit perfectly. The groovy deep synth carries forward to the next track that sees a return to themes of natural unity through the usage of unorthodox percussion and modern keyboards. “Planet For Sale” presents a sound reminiscent of a fusion between Pharaoh Sanders’s ancient hymns and R. Kelly’s sensual keys. A unity is created between the old and the new – they become one. “How we destroy a planet when we didn’t plant things,” Stas raps over the infectious reverberating snare as she further emphasizes focus on nature and the natural. Cat follows shortly after with a brief vocal line that sounds beautiful at a distance. Paying attention to what she’s saying, I realize that it’s either so abstract that it’s going way over my head or it just doesn’t make sense (as a follow-up to Stas’s verse, at least).
Its not until the fourth track that the first Shabazz Palaces feature comes in (with the first feature overall being on their second track). The male hip-hop duos anaconda-wielding producer/rapper Ishmael Butler – formerly Butterfly of Digable Planets – comes in hot with a laidback yet serious rap. The style of the music has shifted again with the group experimenting with the hip-hop sounds that are at the roots of their music. The beat sounds like it would belong on a remastered Midnight Marauders. Technically simple yet stylistically flawless, it’s almost mesmerizing and you find yourself getting lost. Time is bent around you as the short 2:30 song just seems to linger in a manner most welcome. The first time Shabazz Palaces show up as a group is during the album’s eponymous track where the members pursue a more cheerful approach as they discuss the beauty of black women, love and sexuality.
Me’shell Ndegeocello’s appearance is delayed past the halfway point of the album. 30 minutes through the listen her presence is felt through a prominent and distinct thump. Her bass is so heavily submerged in phasers that she’s just two strings and a wolf pelt shy of being Thundercat, a sound that compliments the atmospheric synths that weave their way through the vocals above. Yet, her vocal presence is limited and as a result I find myself a little disappointed, wanting for more. Regardless, I take a moment to appreciate how smoothly she’s woven into the formula. It feels like a puzzle piece, or when you have just enough coke in your rum.
During Me’shell’s final feature the song starts to revisit the darker tones explored at the very start of the album. The tone persists through the next two tracks, and is further elucidated with the help of Shabazz Palaces, who make their final appearance on the latter of the two, a track titled “Recognition.” Their role has shifted and they’re heard delivering a rhythmic spoken word verse in unison with their female counterparts. The production is minimal for the first half with the focus being primarily on the vocals as they repeat the same two lines over a sinister low ring. The production kicks in just about halfway through, and it would seem as though Rick Wright was resurrected to lend his keyboard talents on this track. The sharp lead synths are eerily reminiscent of the haunting riffs on Pink Floyd’s mid 70’s classic “Welcome to the Machine,” and do well to create a similar atmosphere. The album is brought to a close much within the same ominous light as when it started as they remind you “its not like I haven’t read [your] story, I read [you].”
With the constant shifts in genre, this album bears a similar burden to that of its predecessor, wherein it’s difficult to maintain some degree of flow. From a creative standpoint, this is fair game and even prevents the work from venturing into the mundane. It does, however, present a challenge for the artist to create seamless transitions between the tracks so they could come together cleanly as one body of work. This is this album’s only downfall as the transitions are almost nonexistent. Had the tracks not presented similar concepts to some extent it would be impossible to call this compilation an “album” in good conscience.
Naturally, some tracks resonated within me far more than others but it was straight up impossible for me to skip over tracks entirely. While there were instances where the music just lacked the lyrical emphasis that Stas and Cat’s style is so heavily predicated on, these occasional shortcomings would be made up with interesting production choices. Aside from the seemingly routine harmonizing, repetition was nonexistent in both the lyrical content and production. Each song brought something new to the experience. Although sometimes confusingly abstract, the combination of all these different contrasting elements, the old and the new, the “normal” and the unconventional, creates a refreshing listening experience. An alluring mist surrounds the duo as one comes to the conclusion that they, like Flying Lotus, or Kendrick Lamar, or Kanye West, have seen a world, or a reality, beyond ours. EarthEE is their attempt to bring their audience these other worlds through sonic media. Whether or not you choose to indulge them in their theories on the metaphysical is up to you.