This week I’ve got a mix of fun singles and some big, great albums.
To Pimp A Butterfly
I predict about 1000 think pieces about Kendrick Lamar’s revelatory third effort, To Pimp A Butterfly, so I’ll try to make my thoughts stand out. You’ve already heard that Lamar fuses sharp-edged conscious rap, poetry, jazz and funk into a socially conscious bomb. The question is not how – just listen to the album to find out – but why. Is it because funk and jazz are two predominantly African-American art forms? Both genres are influenced by African and Caribbean music styles, but combined and grown in America, the same one we all share. The whole album shares that sense of tension. Improv verses the groove. Form versus style; measured expression vs uncontainable anger. And underneath it all, constant sounds of the crowd. Lamar formed an album with the audience built in. No matter how successful he is at communicating his fears and hurts, he’s a slave to us and our reception. Now that is a scary place to be.
Muse is back! After months of teasing their new album, including dropping some juicy quotes about how they were “going back to basics,” we have a single. With regards to the “basics,” I don’t think Muse has officially rebuked their last two bombastic, experimental concept albums Resistance and The 2nd Law. While some fans, casual and hardcore, were turned off the forays into dubstep and God knows what else, neither album was a failure. Simply, going back seems like a way to generate inspiration. “Psycho” declares that inspiration with it’s swaggering guitar riff and Mayy Bellamy’s signature falsetto screech. For me, Muse has always been so-so in the lyric department, and “Psycho” is either another “eh” performance or a tongue-in-cheek admittance of their own limited ability. As the drill sergeant/army grunt interludes make clear, their song is pretty much the rock version of “Lose Control” by Missy Elliot, with added commentary. Connecting militaristic brianwashing to the effects of their music makes a strong statement on the audience contract; Muse takes control, but also allows us to unleash the psycho within. Whether or not I should be reading that deep in Psycho is an interesting question, especially given that all we really want from Muse is disgustingly well-crafted prog rock, which tends to trend big and never, ever goes home. Muse didn’t go back, they are back.
Strangers to Ourselves
I’ve put down the link for the track “The Ground Walks, with Time in a Box” because I think that it’s a great representation for the entire album. It’s got an urgent, guitar driven groove, great lyrics, and bold production. I love the way that the dance-beat drums contrast the mandolin plink which in turn contrasts the great guitar work. It’s got the mother-load of all bridges. It’s got wild animal noises. It’s got horns. It’s got a literal chorus of voices. Guitar and trumpet solos. It’s too damn long, and not long enough.
The second stanza seems to sum up the theme of the entire album:
“The world’s an inventor,
With its work crawling, running, squirming ’round.”
Over and over again, the confluence of sounds – some disparate, some harmonious – portray the creative process of songs-writing, album making, and storytelling as an exhilarating, messy birth. You feel the amazing excitement of creation pour in every note. For an album called Strangers to Ourselves, Modest Mouse sure knows how to get intimate with the audience, exposing us to what might be going on in their crazy brain. Admittedly, the album like the song is longer than it should be, but I’ll be damned if the result isn’t a genius work.
Killer Whales – SmallPools
Smallpools continues their streak of electro-pop rock, this new single including a fair share of 80’s tinged-nostalgia. I’m reminded (positively) of Bleachers, another indie-pop band with a propensity for glittery backgrounds and strong guitar work. I think the song is elevated by standout drum work, which is recorded in a refreshingly ‘real’ way to contrast the more electric synth work. The same goes for the solid ending guitar solo, which