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Kurt Vile: b’lieve I’m goin down...
Few artists in today's indie scene have as prolific a back catalogue as Kurt Vile. In the space of seven years, he's managed to release six solo albums, six EPs, and two albums with his former band The War On Drugs (who received critical acclaim themselves with 2014's instant classic Lost In the Dream). Suffice it say, Kurt Vile has cultivated a mystique around himself that makes every release a bonafide event on the musical calendar, and the complicatedly named release b'lieve I'm goin down… is part and parcel of that.
The album's opener and debut single, 'Pretty Pimpin', is a bittersweet ode to Kurt's youth, and is a damning indictment of the façade of "hip" that many indie artists have created. Singing "I woke up this morning/Didn't recognize the man in the mirror/ Then I laughed and I said, Oh silly me, that's just me", you can really feel Vile's dissatisfaction and disillusionment with the scene. The introduction of subtle synth tones towards the end of the track gives it an almost orchestral quality, undercutting the bluesy folk-style guitar rather nicely.
The album is interspersed with smatterings of soulful neo-Americana, with the album's second track, 'I'm An Outlaw', sounding a little like a modern day Johnny Cash. The layering of banjo, guitar, and electric organ harkens back to the romantic notions of driving down Route 66 with the top down. The neo-Americana style doesn't end there, with the later track 'All in a Daze Work' being one of the best songs released I've heard in a long time. Vile's imperfect yet beautiful vocals dance with his guitar, telling the abstract story of a damaging former love. With long parts of the song being instrumental, the sparseness of the instrumentation and vocals is haunting to say the least.
That's not to say that the album is unrelenting in its melancholy vibe. The next track, 'Lost My Head', shows some slight old-school r&b vibes, with piano taking the forefront instead of guitar, and a rising dreamy synth section in the middle, this track is a testament to the diversity of Vile's inspiration and his musical versatility, sounding like something 'The Moody Blues' would have released in the 60s.
So remember what was said earlier about every Kurt Vile release being an event? Well the man doesn't disappoint; this is easily one of the best albums of the year. Not a single moment, note, lyric or beat is wasted and all these things come together to create some incredible musical moments. I cannot say this clearly enough; listen to this album now. Listen to it, and then listen to it again.
It is next to impossible to define the sound of the Dirty Projectors. As soon as one tries to put their finger on any sort of genre or sound, it will have already transformed itself - either sonically or lyrically – into something else entirely.
For David Longstreth, the songwriting genius behind
the Dirty Projectors, combining filthy lyrical imagery, Mariah Carey vocals, a
classical brass section, indie rock ethics, minimal techno, Wizard of Oz duets,
and hip-hop beats, is a seemingly effortless task.
Over the past decade, Longstreth has released over ten LPs and EPs, all which prove that his band is everything that Dave Matthews Band and the Magnetic Fields try to be – witty, daring, intelligent, honest, weird; in other words, different. Swing Lo Magellan, maintains that tradition, though in a somewhat more welcomed and accessible way.
However, Swing Lo is still bizarrely weird.
While for the first time the majority of songs are built around verse/chorus
song structures - and it feels as if Longstreth has tried to keep his
experimentation bound to structure - every song still sounds like a musical
experiment in itself.
The Dirty Projectors are a band of six who are more or less based in Brooklyn, New York. However, in ten years the band has easily gone through twenty members, and a rotating cast – Longstreth aside – simply seems to be part of the essence of this band.
It’s difficult to define what each band member specifically does because there’s no formula, and so individual roles often change with each song. There is a huge variety of sounds – clapping, duets, guitar riffs, eastern and western beats, digital effects – captured and produced using both hi-fi and lo-fi means. Dirty Projectors have collaborated with both Icelandic singer Björk, and new wave hero David Byrne of the Talking Heads, which hints at the diversity of their styles and tastes.
The off kilter, catchy pop track ‘About to Die,’
evokes a weird, sort of dyslexic Maroon 5-type groove, whilst Longstreth
lyrically ponders: “How can I hope to seize the tablet of values and redact it?
Foolish, I know, but I’m about to die”, that is, unless he’s “already dead”.
The opening track ‘Offspring are Blank,’ plays with the idea of species propagation, of fertile parents giving birth to blank children. However, it’s delivered over hip-hop beats, r&b vocals and pop-punk rock choruses.
There are also beautiful, guitar pop songs, such as title track ‘Swing Lo Magellan,’ which combines acoustic guitar, beautiful playful imagery, and a sense of wonder and adventure. But even with this simple song, the production sneakily bombards the listener with two tracks simultaneously. If listened to with headphones, one finds that that the right speaker is delivering an acoustic, beat-less ballad, and the left speaker is a bluesy, drum and bass groove; when combined, the magic is delivered.
However, just when one begins to grasp what this
album is all about, the punkish, dark, Pink Floyd-ish track ‘Maybe that was It’
comes as an exploration of what it would lyrically and sonically sound like to
come off LSD – confused and disoriented.
It is almost futile picking tracks off of this
record, as they’re all beautiful and unique in their own way. The current
single is ‘Gun Has No Trigger,’ but whatever the listener’s taste, there is
definitely something, somewhere on this record for everybody.
The name Swing Lo Magellan is a likely reference to renowned explorer Ferdinand Magellan’s daring voyage under South America, where he ‘swang lo’, becoming the first person to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In a way, that is exactly what it sounds like Longstreth is doing with this album: creating groundbreaking connections where most believed they would and could never be made. Swing Lo Longstreth, Swing Lo.
After their 2012 debut album, alternative-rock band, Imagine Dragons, were propelled into relative stardom. On top of going multiplatinum, Night Vision topped charts and its singles have since been featured in several movies and TV series, with ‘Radioactive’ even winning a Grammy. The band further drew in critical acclaim whilst touring by proving that they are just as strong live as they are on their studio-recorded hits.
The quartet returns once more to the scene, giving 2015 one of its most intriguing albums to date; Smoke + Mirrors. Right from the get go, listeners are drawn into a mixture of music genres that is hard to classify into a single one, but if there is one dominating theme for the album, it is ‘the more the merrier’, resulting in an instrumental fiasco of sorts.
The band’s attempt at taking their efficacious debut and expanding it into something more is evident with their sophomore release’s full-fledged electronic-streaked songs. Whether this attempt was for the better or for the worse, however, is quite debatable; certain moments along the album descend into a bewildering calamity of overwhelming sounds that seem to have been uncomfortably crammed into a single album.
All throughout the album, it is easy to notice how the foursome has drawn inspiration from various other artists. In album opener, ‘Shots’, lead singer, Dan Reynolds, echoes Bon Iver’s hauntingly high-pitched vocals, which are then accentuated by an alternative-rock-meets- dance-anthem backbeat.
Moreover, The Black Keys’ signature blues-infused garage rock can be evidently heard in ‘I’m So Sorry’, whereas Coldplay’s signature lingeringly soothing choruses serve as the muse for pretty much the second half of the album.
But it’s not all bad. ‘I Bet My Life’ harks back to the sound that carried Imagine Dragons’ debut. On the other hand, whistles, folky guitar strums and tormented, slow-mo vocals accentuate ‘Gold’; perhaps the most eerie-sounding tune, one that is perfectly fit to be the soundtrack of the apocalypse.
Best described as a lyrical juxtaposition, Smoke + Mirrors is seemingly fuelled misery-infused, highly emotional lyrics that are then heavily contrasted by booming moments of euphoria. Reynolds flatly croons “I'm a reckless mistake” on ‘Polaroid’ and then later on calmly belts out “open up your eyes, open up your mind” on ‘Summer’.
As a whole, Smoke + Mirrors does have its moments of sheer musical genius, that perhaps are more noticed after the ear becomes more and more familiar with the album’s initially confusing collisions. It is, at the end of the day, the result of the band’s experimentation with different sounds, which has done with a notable effort. Do we, however, miss the heavy alternative rock sound of Night Vision? Sadly, yes. Definitely and tremendously.