The Carters ‘Everything is Love’ – Review

21 Jul

There is something otherworldly, glamorous and ridiculous about Jay Z and Beyoncé’s marriage (a relationship honestly divorced from any sense of realism) and those are elements that they have gloriously mirrored in ‘Everything is Love’s expensive, pristine productions. The cover art, promotional photos and lead music video all prominently feature the louvre and its many prized artworks. The crystalline beats, soulful chords and honeyed vocals are arguably as opulent as anything contained in that famed institution.

This is a slight but ambitious record where Beyonce in particular pushes herself in to new poses. She has diverted so far from her initial sweet spot that it’s a little difficult to gauge how much of her we can recognise in these deliriously affected raps. She’s technically proficient, undoubtedly, and confident in a way that allows her to adopt wild and unusual personas. For better or worse, she rarely sounds like the natural diva who belted out relatively straightforward anthems like ‘Crazy in Love’ and ‘Single Ladies’. Jay Z meanwhile is Jay Z – less audacious than twenty years ago, perhaps, and not much more mature, but still one of the most distinctive and unflappable rappers out there.

Lead single, ‘Apeshit’, – catchy, relentless, dramatic – is an example of where The Carters coalesce perfectly. So perfectly in fact that the rest of ‘Everything is Love’ pales in its wake by hitting similar beats thematically without ever matching ‘Apeshit’s brazen artistic confidence.

‘Summer’ is an inauspicious opening track. Over a laid back groove, Beyonce swoons over her husband, imploring him to make love to her on the beach. As ‘so real…so real…so real’ echoes, you can’t help feeling that there is something very unreal about this cinematic fantasy. Nothing about the cliched imagery ‘water’s so blue’ ‘beach sands’ ‘play the game’ feels original but by the time Jay Z appears to disrupt the romance, the imagery has become so decidedly evocative and desirable that you can’t help but be sold on this dream of an idealistic relationship. This sets the tone for ‘Everything is Love’, an album so steeped in thick and carefully placed metaphors that it feels almost disappointingly evasive and hard to pin down.

Somehow though Beyonce and Jay Z manage to sustain this level of desirability, even as they reveal glimpses of folly. Events of the past two years have dramatically demonstrated that this dream relationship is no such thing. In their spats, both public, artistic and private, The Carters have been humanised in a way that didn’t seem possible a few years ago. Cracks, albeit beautiful cracks, are clear on the surface (and they are a couple totally obsessed about the surface). None of that is explicitly excavated on ‘Everything is Love’, which perhaps isn’t unexpected, after all both ‘Lemonade’ and ‘4:44’ did very good jobs of analysing the hurt of the situation. Instead this album tries to present a positive public face. As Beyoncé rattles through the affirmations on ‘Love Happy’ – ‘love is deeper than your pain’ ‘I believe you can change’, ‘we’re flawed but we’re still perfect for each other’, ‘this beach hasn’t always been paradise’ – the soulful sincerity of her vocals soothes any doubts or disappointments.

This is neither artist’s best work, not by a long shot. Beyoncé doesn’t sound as fierce or as emboldened as she did on ‘Lemonade’, where the moods were far more deeply sourced and her vocals more powerful. Likewise Jay Z isn’t afforded the space to get particularly wordy or insightful and on the album’s strongest songs – ‘Apeshit’, ‘Summer’ and ‘Love Happy’ – he is either muted or comfortably outshone by his better half. You also never particularly feel like The Carters make the most of this pairing; few of these songs feel like genuine collaborations, rather they are Jay Z or Beyoncé tracks that briefly feature the other half. Beyonce’s backing vocals on ‘Black Effect’ are a rare example of where she integrates herself in to the architecture of her husband’s song. Jay Z meanwhile never really feels like more than a passer by on her tracks.

From start to finish, ‘Everything is Love’ is a projection; a fantasy presented as something deep and personal. It isn’t in any recognisable sense – the productions are far too on the nose, and the lyrics are the carefully considered output of a committee. But as a projection, it is far more unique than the average concessional. Has there ever been a power couple on the level of The Carters? And if there has, did they take the brave and unusual step of unravelling their complex relationship issues on a daring pop album? ‘Everything Is Love’ is therefore a significant record, and one that will be referred to and poured over for years to come by fans, gossip columnists and commentators alike, digging for any insight in to this fascinating couple. It’s elusive more often than not, but perhaps that adds to the intrigue.

7/10

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Drake ‘Scorpion’ – Review

18 Jul

A little Drake goes a long way. The the last thing that anyone who heard ‘Views’ or ‘More Life’, thought was “Drake needs to put out longer albums.” ‘Views’ in particular was simultaneously extravagant and draining; with an almost total absence of good taste and restraint, jewels like ‘Hotline Bling’ and ‘One Dance’ were buried deep amongst countless other, sprawling, Drake-by-Numbers escapades.

But ‘Scorpion’ ups the ante even further; its 25 songs deep, with ‘side a’ containing largely hip hop tracks, and ‘side b’ establishing a more languid, r&b mood. It’s a strident division that doesn’t particularly do Drake any favours. The unspooling flow of his music, along with his stylistic preference for hybridity, suggests that the track listing would almost certainly have benefited from a bit more fusion between styles. But I guess in the era of hyper playlists, that may be missing the point. Drake is the most modern of contemporary pop stars, and there is little about ‘Scorpion’ that wants to be acknowledged as an ‘album’ in the classic sense of the word. Drake practically encourages you to pick and choose your favoured songs, whilst the others simply serve to enhance his streaming statistics.

If that concept seems very futuristic then know there is isn’t much about the music itself that is similarly out there. ‘Scorpion’, like ‘Views’ before it, is largely a collection of watered down ‘Take Care’ vibes, with very little variation. Noah “49” Shabib is once again in control of the production, and his soundscapes are as rich and sophisticated as you might expect – but that’s the problem, they’re exactly what you expect. When Drake does diverge, as on the exhilarating ‘Nonestop’, he sounds a little too indebted to the acts he’s riffing off (Migos, Future, Stormzy…). The trick for him now is to push at the boundaries of what a Drake song can be without losing sight of his own distinctive personality. The chill ‘Summer Games’ is a brilliant example of where this happens; the lyrics, rich in summertime sadness and longing, are an extension of Drake’s classic modus operandi, and perfectly compliment the dreamy synths that are far more classically stylistic than his usually preference.

Oddly for a rapper, Drake has always been more palatable on the songs where he doesn’t do much talking. The laid back sideways r&b Numbers are therefore far more enjoyable than the wordier tracks on side a. ‘Don’t Matter to Me’, in particular, is perhaps his finest pop moment to date. For an artist who shows such a blaring lack of restraint on a macro and personal level, he is a master of it on a micro, musical level as ‘Don’t Matter to Me’ demonstrates. The song makes the most of a previously unheard Michael Jackson demo from the ‘Thriller’ days; over a spluttering beat and woozy synths, Jackson’s otherworldly falsetto is transported fully in to Drake and Shabib’s moody and menacing sound world, and it’s a surprisingly spot on fit. The contrast between Jackson’s tone and Drake’s flatlining, Canadian drawl is practically fluorescent. Both artists shine.

Of the rap numbers, ‘God’s Plan’ and the meme ready ‘In My Feelings’ are inarguably the brightest moments whilst the headline baiting ‘Emotionless’ contains the most talking points. But far too many of these tracks are simply forgettable. I’m looking at song titles on iTunes – ‘8 out of 10’, ‘Mob Ties’, ‘Can’t Take a Joke’, – and I’m struggling to remember how they go, even after several listens. There is a numbing effect to hearing 25 Drake songs in a row. Mid paced, stylistically similar, lacking edge and emotional range – nothing about the extended format plays to Drake’s strengths as an artist. ‘Scorpion’s side a is enjoyable in short bursts, and contains a handful of songs that rank up there with his finest work but the less successful songs are diminished further when strung alongside one another like this. A pop album shouldn’t feel this much like a chore – especially as, ironically, Drake has one of the most effortless voices your ever likely to hear.

Another road block to enjoyment is Drake’s lack of self awareness. At what point did his emotional vulnerability boil over in to petulance? I swear that on ‘Take Care’ he largely came across as empathetic, open and relatable. Time and time again on ‘Scorpion’ he displays a lack of compassion that is sometimes subtle and sometimes blindingly obvious but makes large stretches of ‘Scorpion’ almost unlistenable. He steamrolls over a past lover on the risible ‘I’m Upset’, sounding like nothing more than a heartbroken child lashing out against the world. Elsewhere his insights in to social media and the intricacies of modern relationships have all the nuance we might expect of someone who has comfortably lived in the bubble of celebrity for most of the past decade (Spin have just posted an article highlighting the frequent bizarre references to Instagram). Somewhere over the past half decade Drake has crossed the line from insightful to out of touch and on ‘Scorpion’, an album that tries so hard to grapple with contemporary dilemmas, that has never felt more apparent or more damming.

It’s hard to see where ‘Scorpion’ will sit in the Drake canon. It’s certainly on a level far below his obvious classics, ‘Take Care’ and ‘Nothing Was the Same’, it lacks the purpose and direction of ‘Thank Me Later’, and isn’t as enjoyable as his more adventurous mix tapes and playlists. It does however hang together better than ‘Views’ (which may be damming with feint praise) and I genuinely love a good handful of these tracks. But those songs only account for a quarter of the thing, if that. As it is, there is little to recommend ‘Scorpion’ as a start to finish experience. Rumours are that the album is a contract closer and that a new release is just around the corner. But as I said at the start, a little Drake goes a long way, and now would be a good time for him to take a step back. Work on becoming the best rapper again and not just the biggest.

6.5 /10

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John Hopkins ‘Singularity’ – Review

5 Jul

On John Hopkins first album in five years, ‘Singularity’, You almost seem to glide from the big beats of the more recognisably techno numbers like ‘Emerald Rush’ to ethereal and quiet piano meditations like ‘Recovery’. On its best song, that voyage happens in the space of a single track; the twelve minute ‘Luminous Beings’, which pulsates and spins, fades in and out of itself, and seems to be in a near constant state of growth and dissolve. Songs like this dare you to dance and then stop you in your tracks. The vulnerability that comes then is even more stark because of what proceeds these moments.

At its weakest points (which are nonetheless few and far between) ‘Singulairty’ sounds like the sonic equivalent of an enthusiastic and well meaning gap year student ‘finding themselves’ in foreign terrain. But more often, Hopkins experimentation feels authentic, genuinely thoughtful and exploratory in revelatory ways. Pre-album talk about meditation and psychedelics made me cringe a little but actually the album feels enriched by the sense of adventure. There is a fluidity in the way instruments merge, melt and spring to life. And there is Interesting tension between the loud and quiet, fast and gentle, moments which feels like a step away from the repetition implicit in contemporary dance music.

Without a doubt ‘Singularity’ is one of the most sonically daring and textually complex albums of 2018. But it’s the gorgeous piano melodies and sparkling arpeggios that give this album heart. The simple ambient piano notes of ‘Echo Disolve’ gently rise and fall above what sounds like the distant hum of traffic and everyday life. Here Hopkins reclaims the calm in a loud and busy environment. Final track ‘Recovery’ is even more sparse, and even more beautiful, but it’s essentially take on the same idea. The reverb and the background noise disappear to leave just the piano. Here Hopkins classical training, and his experience, comes in to play – he’s never risked being this unguarded before. There is daring and honesty in this degree of simplicity. And as the album closes with the same note that opened it, there is a sense of the world spinning on its axis. It’s here you understand Hopkins interest in connectivity; the way in which sounds play off each other, the ‘drones’ and ‘bridges’ that connect notes, songs, worlds. Of course this idea is best encapsulated on track four ‘Everything connected’, which is a seamless juxtaposition of sounds and feelings. It’s perhaps too cliched to describe music as taking you on a journey but with John Hopkins ‘Singularity’, no other metaphor feels quite as appropriate.

8.5/10

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Review Roundup

30 Jun

Cardi B ‘Invasian of Privacy’

Cardi B sealed her position as Hip Hop’s latest superstar with ‘Bodak Yellow’ the best break out track since Azelea Banks ‘212’ half a decade ago and the first song by a female rapper to hit the top spot since the days of Missy Elliot. The long awaited debut album ‘Invasion of Privacy’ takes everything that made that song so addictive and elaborates on it. Rather than take the easy route of stringing eighteen ‘Bodack Yellow’ imitations in a row, Cardi B has instead chosen to pitch a watertight, forty minute, cohesive album that bends and pulls away from that monster single whilst magnifying the gigantic personality that made it so memorable. Invasion of Privacy’ is an incisive, funny, daring pop record as much as a clarion call rap manifesto. Crude to the point of credulity but unpretentious and unflinchingly direct, you can’t help but develop a soft spot for Cardi, a rare rapper with few pretences. She wants hits and she doesn’t mind how she gets them (‘Like It Like That’ already sounds like the song of the summer). She uses co-writers and she couldn’t care less what you think. She says exactly what she wants, regardless of public opinion and even condemnation. ‘Invasion of Privacy’ is accessible and enjoyable in ways that few hip hop albums have been in 2018.

8/10

Snow Patrol ‘Wildness’

Snow Patrol return from their long stretch in obscurity with ‘Wildness’, a safe album that dials back on the mild experimentation of their last two records. They make a few concessions to contemporary tastes – ‘a-woah-a-ways’ pepper ‘Empress’ and the reverb drenched backing vocals of ‘Don’t Give In’ can also be heard on everyone from Pink to Imagine Dragons, plus the general topic of overcoming anxiety feels very on point. But they don’t have to strain very hard in this direction anyway; Gary Lightbody has written with Taylor Swift and Jonny Mcdaid is Ed Sheeran’s chief songwriting partner. Snow Patrol still know how to belt out big, broad-shouldered ballads that are relatable enough to move you, your mum or nan. Here, the likes of ‘Life on Earth’, ‘Empress’ and ‘Don’t Give In’ just about tick the boxes. And they’re still capable of much more restrained, specific, and distinctive ballads in miniature. ‘What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get’, easily the best song on here, strips things back to piano, voice and fragile sentiments. Sometimes you don’t need to shout when just a whisper will do the trick.

6/10

Courtney Barnet ‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’

‘Tell Me How You Really Feel’, Courtney Barnett’s long anticipated follow up to ‘Sometimes I sit and think, sometimes I just sit’ lacks the clarity and energy of its brilliant predecessor. It moves away from that album’s brilliantly observed character sketches towards a far more personal and revealing self examination. But too often it sounds as exhausted as the feelings it describes. It’s dreary and pompous where ‘Sometimes…’ was bright and funny; saturated by grungy, inarticulate riffs instead of the air tight, crystalline grooves found on its predecessor. In its tightest tracks – without a doubt the stretch from ‘Charity’ to ‘Nameless, Faceless’ – it makes an argument that the lack of focus is a symbolic embodiment of a very modern social anxiety. These songs are melodic and enjoyable. But then Barnett loses the thread. The album’s second side, particularly the dreadful ‘Im Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ slouches in to a sloppy and meandering mess. Barnett focuses too much on the stresses and personal consequences of a hectic touring schedule – a topic that is nowhere near as interesting as songwriters seem to think, and expresses herself in careless ways. The touring malaise being described is personified by slacker tempos, blunted hooks and unusually bland melodies. Not to beat a dead horse, but ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think…’ made the mundane feel deadly important, here the mundane feels, well, very mundane.

Barnett makes the point, time and time again, of pinning this decline on a ‘crippling self doubt and a general lack of confidence’, as she titles one song. At the album’s start she warns us ‘you know it’s okay to have a bad day’ which seems almost like a damage limitation tactic. The lack of dazzling word play and clever rhymes from one of the sharpest lyricists of the past decade feels disappointing, even though you would never want to pigeon hole a songwriter as talented as Barnett to one style. But this transition in to a looser, uglier sound accompanied by weary lyrics feels deliberate and may be part of a larger game plan. I’m reminded of the chorus to Barnett’s ‘Pedestrian at Best’ – ‘Put me on a pedestal, I’ll only disappoint you’. It would be too presumptuous and patronising to call this album a blip, perhaps it’s a statement of intent: don’t even try to pin Courtney Barnett down.

5.5/10

Tracyanne and Danny ‘Tracyanne and Danny’ – Review

26 Jun

In 2015 Camera Obscura’s keyboardist and founding member Carey Lander passed away following a battle with osteosarcoma. The band understandably folded in on itself, and their future is currently uncertain. In the mean time, lead singer and songwriter Tracyanne Campbell has teamed up with Danny Coughlan, otherwise known by his stage name Crybaby, to work on an album of country inflected pop tunes.

‘Tracyanne and Danny’ is a grown up version of a Camera Obscura album, one where the heartbreak runs deeper below the surface, where the hurt is less hysterical and more ingrained. It comes in different forms – the grief of losing a friend to a vicious disease, the strain placed on a marriage by the arrival of little, pattering feet, the memories of a romance that burned brighter than any you’re likely to have again. The pin-sharp sting of love, of heartbreak, is less devastating from the distance of years but no less real; these are blurry repercussions of feels from the past making the present moment difficult. On ‘2006’ Tracyanne finds it difficult to relate to the melodrama of her old material – ‘I can’t believe this life was me/Now my passion is gone/I put my life in a song’ – but her voice, fragile and bruised, betrays the sentiment.

Musically, the passion is tempered, the arrangements more polite, the tempos calmed. The twee streak that shot through classics like ‘Suspended from Class’ and ‘French Navy’ has also gone, as have the easy comparisons to Belle and Sebastian that the band were oddly saddled with. But the finely tuned balance between giddy joy and melancholia is still alive. You can hear it in the playful opener ‘Home and Dry’ and the bittersweet ‘It’s Only Love When It Hurts’ (the number that bares the strongest resemblance to Camera Obsucra’s work). Their particular beauty comes in the way the sunlight pokes through the clouds. Darkness tinged with optimism; the sense that any emotion is worth feeling so long as it’s real and intense.

The musical qualities Carey brought to Camera Obscura were obvious for all to see – just listen to her stunning work on ‘Tears for Affairs for example. But equally important, perhaps, were her personal attributes. The sense of companionship she provided. The shoulder to lean on. The advice when needed. Her influence is exemplified neatly on first single ‘Alabama’, a touching tribute to Carey. ‘I liked travelling with you and you liked it best with me.’ It’s not the lyrics, nostalgic and unabashed, that break your heart, it’s the melody and the music. It’s hearing Tracyanne sing around the gaping hole provided by Carey’s absence, the strain in her voice as she sings a typically gorgeous melody without her best friend there underlining it. It would have been far easier perhaps write a dreary ballad that highlighted her sadness in fluorescent streaks but ‘Alabama’ is a far more fitting tribute, the type of song Carey would have loved (which just adds to the sense of longing). It’s essentially a sunny, uptempo Camera Obscura song given a loftiness and a real life weight that was not present in their more idealistic material.

In Carey’s absence, Danny Coughlin plays the foil. His contributions are major – he takes lead on roughly half the tracks – but like Carey, he seems to be more useful as something of a grounding presence for Tracey Ann: the confidant, the shoulder, the ear. He has an agile voice, with a confident, pitch perfect tone that sits in contrasts to Tracyanne’s more vulnerable, fragile phrasing. His lyrics are vague and simplistic and his singing, whilst sweet, doesn’t compensate by doing any emotional heavy lifting. His best role is as accomplice – his sweet harmonies enhance ‘Its only Love When It Hurts’, for example. Of his obvious contributions ‘Jaqueline’, a moon lit torch song, is the most memorable, with a vague sense of tragedy looming over the melancholic descriptions of a mystery lady. It’s a cinematic vision of sadness.

But generally ‘Tracyanne and Danny’ works best when it’s dealing with the real and personal, rather than the imagined. That said, there is a rare foray in to dramatic monologue at the album’s close; ‘O’keeffe’ tells the story of Georgia O’keeffe, a famous American painter who in 1929 ran away from her unfaithful husband. Moving to New Mexico, she took to painting a particular sunburnt mountain up to thirty times – an act of devotion and dedication to something unmovable. It was both a form of letting go and embrace. So it is that love serves as Tracyanne’s mountain, and songs are her paintings. On the surface they often seem indistinguishable, made of similar moving parts and romantic feelings, but each one is an effort to get closer to the source of something real and universal. An act of devotion and dedication to something bigger than her.

8.5/10

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The Voidz ‘Virtue’ / Albert Hammond Jr ‘Francis Trouble’ – Review

17 Jun

The name Julian Casablancas hasn’t really been a marker of quality for at least a decade. The last universally adored Strokes album came out in 2003, and his output since then has been hit and miss to say the least. ‘First Impressions of Earth’ and debut solo album ‘Phrazes for the Young’ remain cult fan favourites, whilst I personally loved ‘Angles’. But The Strokes most recent full length, ‘Comedown Machine’ was massively underwhelming and his last solo album was flat out unlistenable for large stretches. ‘Tyranny’ was at least appropriately named; Casablancas is notoriously dictatorial in studio. Made with underlings ‘the Voidz, the album sounded defiantly difficult, shambolic and tuneless. He’s returned to the project for ‘Virtue’, a sequel with a similarly abstract title that makes little more effort to be an enjoyable listening experience. However, it ends up (by happy accident you suspect) being much more fun.

It starts strongly with one of the best out and out songs Casablancas has composed in years. ‘Leave It In My Dreams’ has the rough aesthetic of the best Strokes songs but the arrangement, in typical Voidz fashion, is demented and busy. Little else on the album is this straightforwardly tuneful but there are odd moments of joy sprinkled throughout. Musically it’s all over the shop; elements of hair metal, world music, electronica, trap and bubblegum pop get thrown in to an industrial grade blender and the results are wildly varied in both consistency and quality. At its best (‘we’re where we were’, QYUURYUS’, ‘Pyramid of Bones’) Casablancas sounds more alert and dynamic than at any point in the past 7 years. At its worst It sounds stomach churningly awful. Overall It evens out in to an exciting, unpredictable mess that even in its most terrible moments is enlivened by a sense of adventure and risk. Like his friend and fellow innovator Jack White (whose most recent solo album was equally uneven and divisive) Casablncas is a restless auteur, still splitting opinion well in to his second decade of releasing music.

Fans have known for a while that the safest place to turn for your Strokes related kicks has been Albert Hammond Jr. Nobody could really blame Hammond if he was content to be remembered as arguably the coolest, and perhaps the greatest, rhythm guitarist in a 21st century rock band. But rather than rest on his laurel’s, Hammond Jr has quietly and assuredly been carving out a solo career of some note. ‘Francis Trouble’ is his fifth album, which puts his tally at the same number as The Strokes.

Lacking the expansive warmth and ambition of his still memorable 2006 debut ‘Yours to Keep’, or the knife edge tension of 2015’s ‘Momentary Masters’, ‘Francis Trouble’ initially sounds like a rather anticlimactic addition to the discography. But it’s laid back cool and understated professionalism is exactly what makes it such a likeable, if unspectacular, record. Comparisons to a transatlantic Ellis Costello come easily but the restrained guitar riffs and clipped melodies are unmistakably his own. Highlights include the limber ballad ‘Strangers’ and the album’s giddy lead track ‘Dvsl’.

Compared to the wild ups and downs of ‘Virtue’, ‘Francis Trouble’ sounds pretty steady and unspectacular. But there is something commendable in being reliable. To marry the ambition of ‘Virtue’ with the steady hand of ‘Francis Trouble’ might result in something truly worthy of The Strokes legacy.

The Voidz ‘Virtue’ – 6.5/10

Albert Hammond Jr ‘Francis Trouble’ – 6/10

Parquet Courts ‘Wide Awake’ – Reveiw

7 Jun

On the title track of Parquet Courts best album, 2014’s ‘Sunbathing animal’, Andrew Savage told us that ‘most freedom is deceiving, if such a thing exists’. More broadly speaking, that album expanded on the theme of captivity/freedom; what it means exactly to be free in 21st century America, whether it’s attainable and if it’s even desirable. Its a topic that Parquet Courts return to on new album centrepiece ‘Freebird II’, a song about Andrew’s relationship with his substance dependent mother. It’s about finding ways to break free from old habits and bad influences, finding healthy distance from your past, and the consequences of such freedom. ‘Free, I feel free like you promised I’d be’. Once again the theme seeps across multiple tracks and on ‘Wide Awake’ more generally Parquet Courts personify this idea by creating their most daring and ambitious album to date, the one least tied to expectation and convention. It finds joy in freedom, and more specifically, joy in groove.

‘Wide Awake’ is an album that comments upon, and occasionally critiques, what it means to be politically engaged, and active, in 2018. Savage’s almost stream of consciousness poetry, muddled up with ironic sloganeering, is both captivating and exhausting. ‘Swapping parts and roles is not acting but emancipation from expectation. Collectivism and autonomy are not mutually exhaustive’ is a typical lyric. But behind the stylistic intensity there is precise analysis. Take their take on the National anthem controversy that has swept through the NFL: ‘it is dishonest, nay a sin, to stand for any anthem that attempts to drown out the roar of oppression’. This is not the vague unhappiness we’ve come to expect from pop political commentary (see the recent Janaele Monae album) – this is specific, diagnostic and raging. It also presents an idealistic solution, namely, we are stronger when we work together. This is essentially punk music – disgusted, individualistic, disenchanted with the mainstream – that in the moment is emboldened by the idea of the collective. Of communities rising together. As furious as they sound, ironically, they sound even more excited by possibilities.

For a band that is more than ever concerned with injustice and bloodshed, it feels appropriate that they are incorporating the influence of more and more diverse, and somewhat marginalised, genres in to their sound. Still punk in attitude but not necessarily style. ‘Violence’ has a baseline worthy of Funkadelic, ‘Normalisation’ features a breakbeat, ‘Tenderness’ has a piano vamp, ‘Wide Awake’ is out and out funk pop. It’s Parquet Courts most diverse collection of songs to date, and easily their most euphoric.

The ambition can be occasionally cloying. In ‘Violence’ the metaphors become so thick and tangled that it’s difficult to determine exactly what clarity Savage has on this particular topic. Perhaps, and it’s probable, that was the point. It’s easy enough to call out white privilege and examine your own complicity, it’s far harder to unpack the level of black on black violence that is currently tearing some American cities apart. Mixed metaphor after mixed metaphor leads to confusion, a confusion occasionally pricked by some of Savage’s brilliant one liners, e.g ‘Savage is my name because savage is how I feel when the radio wakes me up with the words suspected gunman’. The theme is boiled down to something far simpler in the chorus ‘violence is daily life. Violence happens every day’. The song embodies the confusion and frustration of this emotional overload.

This isn’t the only song that deals with that topic. ‘Almost Had to Start a Fight’ queries the intersection between patience and aggression, and the difficulty of keeping a cool head when the world is overheating. It’s about meltdown but also the salvation that is offered through music. And that’s a key point. ‘Wide Awake’ rarely sounds as fearful or agitated as the lyrics read. There is a shorthand between these four musicians that results in some of the most natural grooves and adventurous progressions we’ve yet heard from them. And though this is definitely Max Savage’s show, Austin Brown also contributes three songs – ‘Mardi Gras Beads’ ‘Back to Earth’ and ‘Death Will Bring Change’, the latter of which were written about his sister’s death in a car accident at the age of 17. Brown’s contributions generally feel more philosophical and optimistic, despite sounding more gloomy (Danger Mouse’ influence is felt most strongly on these songs) but they are still informed by the inevitable tragedy of life. If Brown is singing about wide reaching world issues, Brown uses his space to zoom in on the more intimate tragedies that knock you for six. Whatever issues you have, no matter the scope or intensity, Parquet Courts might just have it covered. And ‘Wide Awake’ provides a gloriously entertaining avenue for your righteous anger and sadness.

8/10

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