Monthly Archives: October 2012
Tame Impala – Lonerism
The assumed dilemma of every revivalist group: Do you keep churning out respectable imitations of a bygone era or do you move on, eschewing purism for a more updated take? Innerspeaker established Tame Impala as a fine psych-revival group, but 2012’s Lonerism is the great step forward, indebted to the past but coated with a modern sheen. Impala mastermind Kevin Parker is still singing like Lennon and writing songs that wouldn’t be too out of place on a Todd Rundgren album, but here he largely trades his guitars for washes of cool-colored synths. True, this results in a sound that maybe fits in a little too nicely with the current indie trends, the sort of sound invariably described by critics as “hazy” and “dreamy.” And, yeah, it occasionally bogs the record down, particularly in the first half. But before you roll your eyes, you should know that Lonerism overcomes many of these clichés through the sheer strength of its songwriting. Working through themes of social alienation and depression, Parker crafts some of his most moving songs to date, as well as some of his hookiest. The self-affirming opener, “Be Above It,” repeats its title like a mantra in a beautifully affecting way; “Why Won’t They Talk To Me?” and “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” set crippling loneliness to blissed-out vocals and some of the catchiest melodies Parker’s ever penned, while the gleeful stomp of “Apocalypse Dreams” and the swaggering “Elephant” help broaden the band’s horizons. If Lonerism sometimes recalls MGMT or Flaming Lips, look no further than the common connection: Dave Fridmann, the go-to man for recording an experimental pop opus. Fridmann only provides mixing duties here, like he did on Innerspeaker, but his expertise helps give Parker’s recordings some needed balance and focus, keeping the production from drowning out the songs and vice versa. By and large, though, this is Parker’s vision all the way, and with Lonerism, he and Tame Impala have truly started to realize their considerable potential as artists and musicians.
Green Day – ¡Uno!
With their last two records, Green Day all but painted themselves into a corner. The masterful American Idiot transformed the trio from snot-nosed pop-punks to an “important band” virtually overnight, jump-starting the trend of frustrated, post-9/11 politics that threaded its way into mainstream pop music during the 2000s. But the responsibility of being an “important band” weighed heavily on the group, and though Green Day tried to relieve some of the stress by fleeing into their garage-rock side-project Foxboro Hot Tubs, their attempt at replicating Idiot‘s success, 21st Century Breakdown, only proved that they ran of things to say about the state of the nation. And with nowhere else to run, they soon pledged that their next record would be devoid of any overarching concept for the first time in over a decade.
The thing is, even if they didn’t have the message, they still had the ambition, so Green Day decided to pull something risky: They announced a sprawling triple-album, with the three installments bring released within a few months of each other. The first of these, ¡Uno!, arrived in September 2012, and it shows they weren’t kidding around about their back-to-basics approach. There are no nine-minute opuses, no teenage heroes and no bleak journeys through America here; instead, the album simply blends pop-punk and classic power pop, skewing it closer to Warning‘s British pop sensibility than anything they’ve done since. In a way, it’s refreshing to hear Green Day back in this setting, back at doing what they do best and doing it without hurry or pretense, but they’re also a much different band than they were in the ’90s. They’re veterans now: They know how to precisely craft a hook for maximum impact, and they aren’t afraid to add some polish to the production in order to reach that goal. And while this takes some of the energy and spontaneity out of their music, it does make ¡Uno! a satisfying late-period record.
Sometimes Billie Joe Armstrong runs into a little trouble with his words, ranting about “shit-talking drama queens” and DJs, which doesn’t wear as well on a 40-year-old as it did when he “got no motivation” on “Longview.” But Green Day generally steer clear of these sorts of issues, delivering punchy rockers like “Fell For You” or “Troublemaker” without much care for what’s hip or rebellious. Even “Kill The DJ” nails its new-wave swagger well enough to overcome its silly lyrics. It’s true that none of these tracks stand up with their best work—though the snotty, clever opener “Nuclear Family” and the crisp pop of “Oh Love” come closest—but this is a surprisingly consistent set, one that will likely satiate diehard fans, even if the album plays it a little too safe. ¡Uno! essentially confirms that this trilogy won’t be anywhere close to a groundbreaking punk watershed on par with the Clash’s Sandinista! or Hüsker Dü’s Zen Arcade but instead a collection of small, quaint pop gems. It’s not one for the history books, but I say bring on Round Two!
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
Nestled in the heart of Godspeed You! Black Emperor is a potent mystery. Even as interviews started becoming a fraction of a percent more frequent, the ever-changing collective of Canadian musicians has remained enigmatic, their mythic reputation built on rumors of anarchism and political dissidence. Then, of course, is their music itself, which, with its slow-building crescendos, heartrending emotions and long symphonic movements, positioned the band as one the quintessential post-rock outfits. And just like one of those symphonic movements, GY!BE hit a peak and then faded away, using that word “hiatus,” which bands use when they aren’t entirely sure what their future holds either. They were a band that seemed to disappear before their time, so when they reunited in 2010 to perform live, fans breathlessly anticipated new material.
In typical GY!BE fashion, their fourth album, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! emerged without fanfare, sold at concerts starting October 1, 2012 before being widely released two weeks later. But given the material, the group’s sudden and unconventional release strategy feels more like a way to cover up what often sounds like a holdover album, when it should be a major comeback. ‘Allelujah isn’t a bad record—it’s actually a pretty good one—but it’s one that feels slighter and covers considerably less ground than its predecessors. This is a particularly heavy and downcast Godspeed album—even though other instruments are played, the record runs mostly on guitar squall and squealing strings—and because of that, it can sometimes seem stuck in one mode, one that’s dark and foreboding. As a result, where GY!BE are usually masters of tension and release, the rise-fall-rise-fall technique doesn’t pay as great dividends here as it has in the past since we’re rarely taken to new territory.
Individually, the tracks work. The two long-form compositions, which are reworkings of older live material, are appropriately epic: The doomy, metallic “Mladic,” rises from dissonant rumbles to overblown Middle Eastern-tinged apocalyptic rock, while “We Drift Like Worried Fire” builds even slower to a rousing climax. Even the two shorter drone pieces, though clearly not the focal point, are well-crafted, particularly “Strung Like Lights At Thee Printemps Erable,” which sounds like a decaying recording of a distant explosion. Yet, when these four tracks are placed one after the other, what initially comes off as intense and claustrophobic quickly downshifts to tiresome, diminishing the impact of the compositions and the album as a whole. Some listeners may praise to GY!BE’s commitment to tone, but where the frustration on, say, Lift Your Skinny Fists‘ “Static” seemed visceral and palpable, here it seems tepid and illusory. Nevertheless, ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend! is still a welcome and intermittently satisfying return from a post-rock giant, and hopefully next time, they will explore a larger variety of textures and moods.