TYCHO – SIMULCAST album review

TYCHO – SIMULCAST

Mom+Pop/Ninja Tune

Electronic/Downtempo/Ambient

Okay, you’re getting a bonus review this week because I can’t compress my thoughts on this one down to a single paragraph for the end-of-the-month post. Simulcast is a companion album to Weather, Tycho’s release from last year. As such, I will be referring back to that album quite a bit in this review, so I highly recommend that you watch my review of it here. But the bottom line with Weather is that I liked it quite a bit because I happen to enjoy Tycho’s brand of laid-back electronic music and it’s inclusion of vocals from Saint Sinner gave it that little extra something.

Like I said, Simulcast is intended to be a companion album to Weather, but this time around it’s all instrumental. I actually hesitate to call this a new release because 3 of the 8 tracks on it are the 3 instrumental tracks from Weather with no changes (“Weather,” “Into The Woods,” and “Easy”). And the remaining 5 are just instrumental reworkings of everything else. So I guess you could call this a remix album? But only like, 5/8 of a remix album? I don’t know, the electronic music world can be weird sometimes.

It’s important to point out that while this is an instrumental companion to the previous album, the reworked tracks are not just the vocal-less backing tracks. They truly have been reworked. They have key defining characteristics that tie them to their lyrical counterpart and maintain the same spirit, but Tycho has given them new embellishments to fill in the gaps left by the vocals. These tracks also have new titles and most have longer running times. Interestingly, the only new title that gives you any hint to the original is “Stress,” a heavy rework of “No Stress” from Weather.

So the real question here is whether Tycho managed to sufficiently replace Saint Sinner’s vocals. The answer is… mostly. Some tracks like “Cypress” (companion to “Japan”), are still pretty basic and sound like backing tracks despite being stretched out to almost twice the length. Others like “Outer Sunset” (companion to “Skate”) have clearly recognizable parts but benefit from additional percussion and synths. And then there’s songs like “Alright” which I think is the companion to “For How Long,” but it honestly sounds like an entirely different song.

The second question is if the tracks are any good. And I personally think they are. People like to give Tycho a hard time because his music is so inoffensive. It’s background music for the kitchen or office, only slightly more creative than lo-fi hip hop beats to study to. And I won’t deny it’s good music for that, but I also think it’s impressive that an artist has set out to make music like this and still make it distinctly their own. Despite being electronic music, Tycho finds ways to make it feel organic with electric guitars and vocal improvisations (still provided by Saint Sinner, by the way). And these little touches make the songs unquestionably his, and very rewarding when listening actively with headphones.

At first, I wondered if this album was really necessary. Weather was already so good. Tycho took his music to new places when he incorporated lyrics. Did we really need an instrumental companion? At the end of the day, maybe we didn’t, but I’m not upset that it exists. The vocal-less tracks from Weather represented some of Tycho’s best instrumental work up to that point, and the reworks on Simulcast are just as good, if not better. And if there are people out there who wished that Weather didn’t have vocals, well now you have your wish. I do still think Weather is the stronger release here, but Simulcast is still a strong entry in Tycho’s catalog.

3.5/5.0

LOSTPRAY – PRIESTIANITY EP review

LOSTPRAY – PRIESTIANITY

self released, 2018/2020 (re-release)

Heavy Metal/Progressive/Thrash

I think it’s about time we’ve had another metal review. I haven’t published a full review of a metal album since Black Friday after all. Anyway, for the first metal review of 2020, we’re going to pull out something nice and underground for you. Today we’re looking at the latest from Lostpray, an EP called Priestianity, originally released in 2018, but re-released to digital platforms just last week after some distribution troubles.

Lostpray are a Ukrainian band with vocalist and guitarist Burak Gundogdu coming originally from Istanbul. The group plays a form of heavy metal that is unique yet accessible and progressive without being pretentious. Their riffs are clearly inspired by thrash, but they are shooting for a more polished, modern sound. And they only come close to thrash’s blistering speed on one of the four tracks on this EP. Lostpray also take a progressive approach to their songwriting by giving their songs varying movements rather than packing in moments of dense solos.

Another thing they bring from a more progressive side is long-ish songs. This EP only has four tracks, but the total runtime is around 25 minutes because each song is over six minutes long. But the impressive thing is that none of these songs feel like they’re six minutes long. They all end at just the right time. A couple even feel like they could go a little longer without overstaying their welcome. One more thing I want to mention that gives Lostpray that extra little bit of uniqueness is the Turkish influence that Gundogdu works into his vocal melodies. But this isn’t a heavy-handed gimmick like other bands that claim an Arabic or Middle Eastern influence. These are tasteful little hints that keep the vocals from sounding like generic alternative metal.

Lyrically, things are a little cryptic as metal bands tend to be at times. But I can pick up on a couple themes. Specifically they seem to be criticizing conformity and beliefs that unite people through fear and hate. They never name anything specifically, but it’s not hard to guess what they’re implying considering the title of the EP and its artwork. Sonically, the EP is pretty impressive considering it’s self-released. The electric guitar tones in particular are satisfyingly heavy. I do wish the drums and bass had a little more punch at times, but they still sound better than some major releases I’ve heard.

Overall, I think that Priestianity is a very promising taste of what Lostpray are capable of. They are clearly a talented band with an ability to combine their interests and influences into a sound that’s unique but could potentially have massive appeal. But that mainstream tendency is also a slight weakness. Personally, I would have liked certain parts to be a little more aggressive. Also, on a longer release, I would want a bit more variety, but what Lostpray have put together here works very well in this smaller, 25 minute package.

3.5/5.0

*this review was written in association with Metalhead Community*

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

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE album review

COLDPLAY – EVERYDAY LIFE

Parlophone, 2019

Pop rock

Coldplay doesn’t really need an introduction. For a brief moment they were a cool band for hipsters, but almost overnight they were simultaneously global superstars and the butt of jokes. Even after the the bulk of the hype has died down, a new release from Coldplay is still a pretty big event in the music world. Every one of their albums so far has sold millions of copies worldwide. But in recent years the quality of their output has decreased a bit. And their last album was the first in 10 years to not reach #1 on the US charts (though it still reached a more than respectable #2).

Everyday Life is the band’s eighth album and their first double album, split into the halves Sunrise and Sunset. Despite being a double album, it’s not the band’s longest, coming in a few minutes short of A Rush of Blood to the Head and a full 10 minutes short of X&Y. While Everyday Life‘s 16 tracks could technically fit on one album, there is allegedly a line drawn between the themes of the two halves, but I’m not so sure that line is as bold as they think it is.

To use a cliche music journalism term, the production on Everyday Life is much more organic than Coldplay’s recent releases. There is considerably less electronic and disco influence on this album and some moments sound closer to their “classic” albums than they’ve been in years. But that doesn’t mean there’s no growth or experimentation. There are songs with influences from gospel, Middle Eastern, African, and even bluegrass music. Even songs without a clear musical influence have passages sung or recited in Arabic, French, Spanish, and the Igbo language of Nigeria. And just because the production is “organic” it doesn’t mean there aren’t big moments. A few songs have orchestration, but they aren’t as squeaky clean as songs on an album like Viva la Vida.

Lyrically the overall theme of the album is the shared struggles of all humanity and how love is the thing that can help us all endure. This is clearest on the track “Bani Adam” (which is printed in Arabic in the track listing and translates to “Children of Adam”) that takes its title from a poem by Saadi Shirazi. The track is essentially an instrumental interlude or extended intro for “Champion of the World,” but it has a recitation of the title poem, a sample of The Sun by John and Alice Coltrane, and a sample of a Nigerian gospel song. The theme of all three samples is that we are all God’s creation and of equal value.

Other issues that are specifically mentioned are the way black Americans are treated by law enforcement (“Trouble in Town”), absent parents (“Daddy”), America’s unhealthy obsession with guns (“Guns,” duh), and political unrest in the Middle East (“Orphans”). It’s also worth noting that this is the first album from Coldplay to contain explicit lyrics, dropping the fuck-bomb on “Arabesque” and “Guns” to emphasize the point of each song.

My main criticism with this album is a common one with most double albums, and it’s that there’s some stuff on here that doesn’t really need to be included. Namely the opening instrumental and “WOTW/POTP,” the latter of which is literally an unfinished sketch of a song. The lyric booklet actually reads “I haven’t finished this one yet.” There’s clearly an emotion being conveyed, and while that comes through in the demo, I’d rather have the finished product. Also, while it’s nice to see that a band as big as Coldplay is still willing to experiment, I do wish some of that experimentation went a little farther. Similarly, other people might wish they dug a little deeper with the political lyrics, but I personally think this is about as deep as we can expect a band on this level of international stardom to get.

Overall, Everyday Life brings some welcome changes for a fan of Coldplay’s “original trilogy.” Super clean production and collaborations with Beyonce and Rihanna are traded for a more organic sound and more cohesive lyrical themes. Experimentation with other sounds is welcome but could have gone further. The flow of the album is a little uneven, but I think it’s a step in the right direction. The biggest problem is that there really aren’t any tracks that stick with you quite like some of the classics.

3.5/5.0

JEFF GOLDBLUM – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS album review

JEFF GOLDBLUM & THE MILDRED SNITZER ORCHESTRA – I SHOULDN’T BE TELLING YOU THIS

Decca, 2019

Jazz/Pop

For the past few years actor and living meme Jeff Goldblum has been trying to add another line to his resume, that of jazz pianist and bandleader. Goldblum has actually been studying and playing jazz piano for many years, and the world got its first taste when he and his band, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra, started playing live shows earlier this decade. This all led to a record deal with Decca and last year’s Capitol Studios Sessions live album, which featured guests like Sarah Silverman and Haley Reinhart.

I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This is the follow-up, and unlike the Capitol Studios Sessions, is a proper studio album in a possible move to further prove the legitimacy of this venture. But if we’re all honest, part of the charm of the Capitol album was the snippets of Jeff’s interactions with his guests and the audience. Even if some of the humor in the moment was lost in translation, they did elevate the experience. On Shouldn’t, a casual listener wouldn’t know they were listening to Jeff Goldblum until the final track.

As on Capitol, those hoping to be serenaded by the dulcet tones of Goldblum’s voice will be disappointed. Instead, he defers vocal duties to an impressive list of guests that includes Sharon Van Etten, Fiona Apple, and Miley Cyrus among others. The guests perform well for the most part, but at times it’s very obvious that these are rock and pop vocalists and not jazz singers.

It’s worth noting that the guests aren’t just singing straight jazz standards. A few get to sing clever mashups, like Inara George singing Sonny & Cher’s “The Beat Goes On” over Lee Morgan’s “The Sidewinder,” or Anna Calvi singing Marianne Faithfull’s “Broken English” over Wes Montgomery’s “Four on Six.” This shows Jeff’s cleverness as a bandleader and curator of their repertoire.

Musically, the Mildred Snitzer Orchestra once again proves to be competent but not too flashy in their presentation. The solos are not so wild that the tracks would be unwelcome on a restaurant playlist, but close listening uncovers skillful musicianship. Similarly, Goldblum’s piano doesn’t slow the band down in the slightest. He’s competent to say the least, but he still chooses to let others shine.

Goldblum does offer his vocal talents on the final track, the lullaby “Little Man You’ve Had A Busy Day.” While the performance certainly isn’t the strongest on the album, there’s something strangely comforting in having everyone’s internet dad sing you to sleep.

Overall, I Shouldn’t Be Telling You This is an enjoyable but safe listen. Jeff Goldblum has more than enough star power to phone it in on a lazy celebrity holiday album, but instead he has decided to shoot for a musical career based on real talent, which he has. While I lament the exclusion of his on-stage banter, he’s produced a celebrity jazz album that will probably be loved by boomers and millennials alike. However, it’s hard to ignore that the success of the album will largely be based on whose name is on the cover.

3.5/5.0