If all goes according to plan, 2010 will belong to Damon Albarn. He almost conquered 2009 with the newly-reunited Blur taking the UK by storm, and playing several high quality live shows. And he helped to curate and score a unique opera based upon Chinese folklore, entitled Monkey: Journey To The West. But, if it sells as well as the previous album, the newly announced Gorillaz LP should bring him back into everyone’s mind on a global level. So, without further fanboy-ish gushing, let’s get down to the details.
The new Gorillaz album is entitled Plastic Beach and is set for release on March 9, 2010. I remember reading an interview, in which Albarn stated that this is his most pop record to date. And after listening to the leaked single, Stylo, it sounds like he wasn’t kidding (featured below). The single is a completely new approach to the Gorillaz format. And aside from the Mos Def and Bobby Womack cues, it still manages to retain their unique sound. I’ve had to give it a couple of spins, due to the initial shock I received the first time, and it is certainly growing on me. The 16 track LP features some amazing guests like Snoop Dogg (?), LOU REED (!), De La Soul, and MICK JONES & PAUL SIMONON of THE CLASH(!!!!!!!!!).
And on a final note, the Blur documentary No Distance Left To Run, is coming to DVD in early February. It has been well received in the UK, and the trailer still manages to give me goosebumps (featured below). The DVD will come with a second disc of the band’s Hyde Park performance from last year, and the footage shows why Blur are one of the top UK bands of the past 2 decades.
I can’t remember the first time I listened to Spoon. It was probably shortly after 2002’s Kill The Moonlight, and the fact that I own every album they’ve put out since then is a rare occurrence these days. Britt Daniel, Spoon’s frontman, has worked hard to elevate Spoon up to the indie royalty status they now enjoy. I mean, they’re one of the very few bands that constantly release solid follow-up albums. Nearly a decade since my first exposure, Spoon still carries weight in my over-crowded record bin. However, their 7th LP, Transference is a breath of fresh air for the band, and a welcome evolution to the band’s sound.
For the past few records, it’s safe to describe a Spoon album as…well, exactly that, “a Spoon album.” The clean production, the snappy beats and the hooky riffs that all came tightly together on every LP. It was a constant I could always count on, like Tom Selleck’s glorious mustache or the unholy suck-factor of Keystone Light. So, when Transference first pumped through my speakers, I was surprisingly shocked at how it sound so different, yet oddly familiar at the same time. This is the first LP to be solely produced by Britt Daniel and drummer Jim Eno, and it feels like a wonderfully personal sound. What we get is a Spoon album that is an exceptional stand-out from all of their previous work.
There’s no denying that it’s still a Spoon record. The band’s signature sound is still intact, especially on tracks like “Written In Reverse” and “Is Love Forever?” where the staccato beats take some blissfully sharp turns and always manages to result in head-nodding. But occasionally the mix gets a little rough and the instrumentation becomes subtlety more than just two-beat pop songs. Its tracks like “Who Makes Your Money,” “The Mystery Zone,” and the surprising ballad that is “Goodnight Laura.” And the results are an album that still shows you the Spoon you know and love, but it gives the band some much needed stretching room, and let’s them approach their music from a slightly different angle.
Transference simply maintains Spoon’s pedigree, by releasing yet another solid album. So, those looking for more, won’t come away disappointed. It’s just the slight differences in the production and songwriting that really make this a Spoon album to take heed of. And it’s a great way for Spoon to start off the new decade.
I think reviewing music has made me pessimistic over the past few years. I find that even my favorite band’s next album is bound to disappoint. Take 2009 for example. I was thinking the Flaming Lips’ Embryonic was going to let me down, as their previous LP, but it rocked and completely restored my faith in them. But on the other hand, my suspicions were confirmed when Peal Jam’s Backspacer sounded like an Eddie Vedder summer mix….which was not a good thing. Now, Vampire Weekend’s sophomore record, Contra, looms before me. To be honest, I was a little less pessimistic about this record than my previous examples. It took me a while to warm up to VW’s self-titled debut, but now a few choice cuts stand out on my summer playlists.
The first thing that is fairly obvious about Contra is that it tries hard to stand apart from the light afro-beat infused sound of it’s predecessor. I mean REALLY hard. It seems like the best way to accomplish this was to bring in the synths. Most of Contra is bubbling with hard synthesized beats and riffs, which is what is going to polarize it’s audience. On one side, you have those who appreciate this new direction. The songs are more beat heavy, but they still manage to capture that brisk, light sound you look for in Vampire Weekend. Ezra Koenig’s voice still bounces up and down the scale triumphantly. And his lyrics are still filled with the double speak and clever comparisons he offered up last time. Songs like “White Sky” and “Horchata” will brighten your day.
But then there is the other side……and it happens to be the side I drifted towards. This is the side that can find the synth to be too much. Maybe it’s the production’s fault, but the beats are too loud. So the clever afro-beat instrumentation I warmed up to the first time gets drowned out. Songs like “Giving Up The Gun” and the Auto-Tuned “California English” just grate against my ears, causing me to turn the volume. Occasionally, the instruments win out (“Taxi Cab,” and the good “Diplomat’s Son”),and the album shines for me. But those moments are few and far between.
I’m not going to dissuade anyone from listening to Contra. It’s simply not a bad album. But, for me anyway, it is also not a great one. After their debut, I was hoping VW’s follow up would sound something like a Fela Kuti demo, sprinkled with a dash of Pavement. But, that’s not what the band seemed to be on board with. Instead, they’ve set out to sail on their own boat, doing a decent job of separating themselves from the rest of the fleet. I’m just not sure I want to keep my boarding pass anymore.