NICOLAS GODIN – CONCRETE AND GLASS album review

NICOLAS GODIN – CONCRETE AND GLASS

NCLS/Because Music, 2020

Electronic/Downtempo

Nicolas Godin is better known as half of the electronic music duo Air, but they haven’t released any new music as a group since their soundtrack for Georges Méliès’ 1902 film Le voyage dans la lune in 2012. Since then, Godin and his bandmate, Jean-Benoît Dunckel have focused more on side projects, film scores, and solo releases. Concrete and Glass is Godin’s second studio album following his 2015 release, Contrepoint.

The title Concrete and Glass is a reference back to Godin’s time as a student of architecture. The first lyrics we hear in the title track are “I’m looking for a house/made of concrete and glass,” filtered through a vocoder. I don’t know if this is supposed to lay some kind of thematic foundation (heh, architect humor) for the album. If it does, it’s definitely more of a metaphorical theme than a literal theme as the title track and “The Foundation” are the only tracks to directly mention anything related to architecture, and the latter is definitely metaphorical. The rest of the tracks have more romantic lyrics. Specifically they seem to be post-romantic, describing events after a relationship has ended.

Musically, the album sounds pretty much like an old-school Air album but within the musical context of the late 2010s. You still have your slow jamming, downtempo beats with African drums, funky bass, and the latin presets on vintage rhythm machines, but now you have elements of more modern genres and techniques like chillwave and vaporwave in the form of 808s and more ’80s-style synths. This isn’t a major stylistic shift, but more just a slight change in the range of years that Godin pulls his sonic palette from. Air always looked to the past for the building blocks of their sound, Godin has just broadened the scope. The only track that really deviates from a typical Air style is the final track, “Cité radieuse,” that takes things in a bit of a jazz direction. It’s a welcome change and ends the album on a highlight.

Five of the tracks on this album have guest vocalists and Godin does his best to complement what each guest brings to their respective track. The best results come on “Back To Your Heart” and “We Forgot Love,” featuring Kate NV and Kadhja Bonet respectively. Kate NV especially has a voice that recalls the airy pop music of the ’70s and ’80s, matching Godin’s aesthetics perfectly, though the song does get a bit repetitive. Songs featuring Kirin J Callinan and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor are fine but not particularly special. Cola Boyy’s feature on “The Foundation” almost falls into the same territory, but his unique voice and Godin’s choices to complement it just manage to save the track. All other tracks feature Godin’s voice filtered through a vocoder, samples of what sound like GPS directions (“Turn Right, Turn Left”), or no vocals at all.

Overall, I think this is a pretty enjoyable album. Godin is operating well within his wheelhouse. And while there’s something to be said for experimentation, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know when you do it this well. He makes welcome updates to the signature downtempo sound he developed with Air and he makes good choices with his guest vocalists. Concrete and Glass is a nice, relaxing electronic album to play in the background, or to enjoy quietly with headphones.

3.5/5.0

I’m on Facebook again

It might be because I enjoy causing myself pain, but it’s mostly because I hope to increase my traffic. I’ve created a Facebook page again for Continuous Thunder to try and spread my influence just a little farther. For now it will mostly be a place where I share links to my own articles, but there might be some other content on there as well in the future. You can find the page here and like it if you feel so inclined.

ANNOUNCING: Sean’s Favorites – The 2010s

As we have officially moved into the 2020s, a lot of websites and publications are releasing lists of what they believe are the top and best albums of the 2010s. In order to maintain my legitimacy as a music blog, I feel that I must do the same. Well, almost the same.

Unlike other sites and publications, I was not active for the entirety of the 2010s, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t actively listening for that decade. Now I will admit that there were years in the middle where music wasn’t a top priority and I listened to much less than other years. Because of this, I feel like it would be inappropriate, and in some ways dishonest, for me to try and come out with a ranked list of my “best of the decade.” My listening habits for the majority of the decade were informed by my personal tastes and not trying to consume as much as possible. If I tried to come out with a ranked list, a lot of major releases would be missing.

What I can do instead is a modified version of my Sean’s Favorites series where I do a deep dive into an important album from my past. But this time I’ll look at a few key albums from each year of the past decade, explaining why I think they’re great. The number of albums will probably change year to year because of the different amounts that I actually heard in those years.

So it won’t be a ranked list, and will be 100% biased, but I think it will help you understand more about me and my personal tastes. Knowing that will help you better see where I’m coming from when I write my reviews and if your own opinions will likely line up with mine.

I also just really like talking about music.

2019 by the Numbers

One last post regarding music from 2019 before moving on to the new year and new decade. This post is more for the music nerds where I will break down what I listened to by genre and score. There will be nerdy charts and everything. I put these together more out of my own curiosity since I have listened to more music this year than any previous year and I wanted to see what it would look like when it was a little more organized rather than my messy spreadsheets where I track this stuff. But I think I’ve rambled on enough so the drop cap doesn’t look weird. So on to the numbers!

Genre Breakdown

Below is a table and graph showing all of the new albums I listened to broken down into five general umbrella genres:

GenreNumber
Folk/Country79
Hip-hop91
Rock (indie/alternative/pop-punk/etc.)266
Pop/Other (electronic/experimental/jazz/etc.)169
Heavy (metal/hardcore/industrial/etc.)460

For those who don’t want to do the math, those numbers add up to 1065 new releases from 2019. Now I know that some of these categories are a little broad, the Pop and Heavy ones especially. But this was a good way to organize things for my purposes. For example, some people might not like that I grouped jazz in with the pop music, but I listened to so little jazz this year, that it didn’t make sense to give it its own category and Pop/Other was the only umbrella category where it would fit. These numbers are based on what I perceived the music to be, so there might be some differences of opinion on where certain artists should be placed. There might be an “alternative” artist I put in Pop/Other or a hard rock band I put in Heavy.

Now to address the elephant in the room, that big blue piece of the pie that represents Heavy music. When it makes up over 40% of the data it seems like I might be giving it preferential treatment. And I will admit that I am a big heavy music fan, but it’s not something I listen to excessively on any given day. So I chalk this up to a couple reasons. Over the past couple years I’ve developed a taste for genres like doom metal, stoner rock, and traditional metal. This led me to several sources where I can find a lot of the heavy music releases for any given week, and the underground for these genres is just absolutely thriving. I’m sure there’s a lot to be found in the worlds of underground hip-hop, electronic, and independent rock artists, I just don’t know where to find all that information. Maybe over time that piece of the pie will shrink a bit.

One more quick note while we’re talking about everything here, I also try to keep track of albums made by women or groups prominently featuring women. This year my final count was 150 albums out of 1065. That’s 14% of all new releases I listened to. Now, that number will likely be different for every person based on your listening tastes and habits, and the fact that a majority of the albums I listened to were from very male-centric heavy genres probably plays into this as well. The number might not be 100% accurate either because I might have overlooked a group or two. But the number is still pretty eye opening.

Score Breakdown

Moving on, below is a table and graph showing all the albums I listened to broken down into my five main scoring categories. Not everything I listen to gets a formal review (obviously), but I do still try to sort everything into these categories:

ScoreAlbums
Garbage (0.0-0.5)22
Bad (1.0-2.0)228
Meh (2.5-3.0)624
Good (3.5-4.0)183
Exceptional/Perfect (4.5/5.0)8

Once again we have a pretty clear elephant in the room and that’s the massive amount of albums scored “Meh.” And this really speaks to one of the main problems with music critique, and that’s the subjectivity of music in general. I’ll probably dedicate an entire post to this one day, but the bottom line is when you’re talking about movies or video games, it’s not hard to point out objective reasons why the particular item is good or bad. With music, it’s a lot harder. People have different tastes for different styles and artists. A lot of people will probably disagree with my scores for one reason or another.

But getting back to the massive “Meh” piece of the pie. This is pretty much any album that didn’t really make a big impression on me, good or bad. That’s not to say that the albums are necessarily boring, some of them actually have some great tracks on them, but as a whole don’t really represent anything particularly special or awful. And a big part of me putting an album there is thinking “there’s an audience for this, but I’m just not a part of it.” It’s not bad, it’s just not doing it for me, and that happens to be the majority of what I listen to.

Reviewed Albums

Of the 1065 new releases I listened to, I published reviews and scores for 55 of them. Below is a table showing how those scores broke down. There’s no fancy pie chart for this one:

ScoreFrequency
0.00
0.51
1.01
1.55
2.06
2.54
3.08
3.511
4.014
4.55
5.00

Okay, a few takeaways from this table. First and foremost: yes, the majority of my published scores fall into the 3.5-4.5 range. The simple reason for this is that I, like a lot of other people, enjoy talking about stuff I like more than stuff I don’t like. It’s also a lot easier to tell you why I like something than why something is only kinda “meh” to me. That will become easier as time goes on, so I imagine this breakdown will change in future years. Second takeaway is that I gave no perfect scores this year. There were a couple instances where an album came very, very close, but that score is reserved for the best of the best and there can be no question in my mind that the album deserves it. And nothing I listened to this year quite made the cut.

I could break all of this down into finer data like genre breakdowns within each scoring category and how many albums by women are in each genre, but I think things have gotten nerdy enough for now. Maybe I’ll break it down more in future years. But that’s what 2019 looked like for me, let’s see what 2020 brings.