Like its predecessors, Vanity Is Forever is an indie pop record. But it finds O’Connor trading his former band’s low-key orchestration in favor of synthesizers and drum machines, building lush takes on balladry that showcase his thin tenor as he mines ’80s synthpop and the Balearic pop that Scandinavia has gotten so good at exporting in the last several years.
These guys like smoking weed; they also like rapping. Often, they like to rap about smoking weed. So they decided to go on tour and do both of those things more or less simultaneously. They called it the Smoker’s Club Tour. That’s pretty much it.
Though he often performs with large backing bands designed to recreate the sounds in his head and on his records, his stripped down performance for a small but reverent audience gave huge amounts of open space for his jokes, patient ears over to new songs, and a sense that everyone in the room, performers included, were basically feeling the same thing.
We’re All Dying to Live's sense of unity is especially remarkable when you consider the sheer volume of contributors involved in the production of this project, which by Aucoin’s official count totalled “over 500 musicians, friends and fans from across Canada.” You can certainly hear the numbers in the music: for the most part this is sweeping, expansive stuff, packed with details and flourishes the origins of which one can only speculate about.
What Three Lobed and its founder Cory Rayborn have generously done here is offer over two-and-a-half hours of exclusive, unreleased material from some of the most important acts associated with the label, from indie godheads like Sonic Youth and Sun City Girls to lesser known but enticing fringe artists such as Steven Gunn and Eternal Tapestry.
I read the review of Trail of Dead’s So Divided by Eric Sams and, I must say, his classmate got it right…he’s a “musical elitist”…and I mean that in the “he is the transcendental prodigy of progressive dissonant prowess while those who cannot understand his inexplicable love affair with Source Tags and Codes are pathetic pop-tart peons devoid of musical taste” sense of the term.
Only a musical elitist would fail to appreciate Mannheim Steamroller. Chip Davis is a bad-ass motherfucker. You put a Prophet 5 or Memory Moog Synthesizer in front of that guy and he’ll launch you aurally into an anti-gravitational bone-chilling warp-zone, half-way to Cassiopeia and back, leaving a trail of stardust and harmonic brilliance.
Let me guess, Sams likes the Decemberists and the Shins too, doesn’t he? Wouldn’t surprise me. You sell-outs are all the same. Oooh, look at me, I like bands that you probably haven’t hear of. Yeah, real cool, you fucking conformists. I have an idea, try rolling into town with a little “Invisible Touch” by Genesis blasting on your stereo system. Now that’s a non-conformist. (And by the way, Invisible Touch IS one of the best albums of all genres of music of all time.)
This record is a catharsis of sorts for Dee Dee, who lost her mother in late 2010, and here she offers a full-breadth’d, emotional performance. Unfortunately, the songs, mired in the band’s well-established sound, come off as one-note, trapped in “My Boyfriend’s Back” territory, afraid to match her intensity.
It’s complex yet airy funk, symphonic in execution and sweetly listenable; perhaps an overdue replacement of the middle fingers and raised fists of the most recent Roots singles with a bobbing head in the clouds.
Despite all the jokes the band members made about cashing in, it was hard to believe after experiencing the tour’s first night in Pittsburgh that they are doing this for money or glory. Clearly, they were there for the sheer joy of playing music together. And maybe to sell some t-shirts.
This isn’t an album that requires much investment to appreciate; it’s a set of highly accessible and enjoyable instrumental statements that, like all great pop songs, say what they have to say concisely and never wear out their welcome.
When you ingest everything with alacrity—Twitter, weed, the best and worst of Netflix instant, ’80s electro-pop, the political ideologies of your neighborhood vagrant, LL Bean catalogs—violent indigestion is inevitable. I accidentally read a Zadie Smith novel once. It happens.
To call it plagiarizing would be wrong; obvious influences abound, sure, but they’re combined and digested in ways that don’t lend themselves to any bands specifically. “Forever Boy” is a Frankenstein-like collection of verses, choruses, and bridges which functions as this quintet’s polite, latte-sipping, Shelley-esque monster.
There’s a lot of growth here, but frankly On the Water is a much more difficult listen than In Evening Air both because it forgoes anything resembling an up-tempo single, and because it’s hard to identify with something that sounds like it was made for an audience of one. Herring is singing to a framed photograph of someone, and the listener feels like they’ve intruded.
Mr. Muthafuckin’ eXquire, backed by production from (amongst others) El-P and Necro, comes at his audience from all angles: vitriolic rhyme spitting; remorseful contemplation; Harold & Kumar gags. Thankfully, there are enough doses of humility and sought-after atonement present to make this a richly compelling document at almost every turn.
Think of it as 41 minutes of the kind of quiet, slow songs that appeared towards the end of each of Cold Roses‘ (2005) two discs. And while Adams is unquestionably good at this stuff, it makes for a slight, monochromatic listen—especially considering how often you’ll actually tune in to the last few songs. Trust me on that one.
McGuire’s work with Emeralds largely sees him biding his time amidst swarming cathedrals of synth arpeggios before providing a more emotional dimension via carefully dispersed chord exhales which ground the group’s flightier tendencies in something more concrete, more human. Not surprising, then, that McGuire’s solo work is powered almost exclusively by these soulful wanderings—alternately nostalgic, blissful, and optimistic in feeling, but always downright puuurty in execution.
Despite whatever the residual feelings one might have towards High Places going dark in the past, here on Original Colors it works. The change is due partly to their re-focusing on a percussive backbone, stripping down guitars and most melodic parts to beats and beat-proximate elements as High Places once did.
What they have put together here is a set of very familiar-sounding songs that, in frontman Eric Earley’s own words, attempt to “make you want to shotgun a beer in the shower while listening to the Stones or Joe Walsh.” Which, for me, just raises the astoundingly obvious question: if that’s what a listener wanted to hear, why wouldn’t they just put on the Stones or Joe Walsh?
Any of the first six songs here could slay a dance floor so long as said floor was made up of at least 40% adorable indie moppets. Portamento feels somehow fated to be on your stereo. You don’t even have to like the Drums to make it so.