Monday, September 6, 2010

Yeasayer: Odd Blood

These Canadians are weird.  But it's weird in a good way ... mostly.  Sometimes the weirdness can get a little out of control, but when its kept within bounds, it works.  That may sound like a contradiction; weirdness doesn't necessitate neatness, and I'm not advocating for a tidy sound that can be packaged away in a little box, but Yeasayer has a tendency to let their freak flag fly.  Maybe that's the only way to do it; go big or go home, as they say. Perhaps part of Yeasayer's weirdness is to let it fully take control -- no boundaries -- but for my ears, the weirdness works best when it's contained.

Odd Blood's lead single, "Ambling Alp," is a good example of this combination of weirdness and goodness.  First, the lyrics are fantastic, referencing 1930s boxing great Max Schmelling (whom I read about in a grad seminar a few years back), lead vocalist Chris Keating goes all falsetto, the beats almost have a bow-bow-chicka-chicka-ohhh-yeahhhh feel, and the synth lets out fart-like sounds during the chorus and then saxophone lines during the bridge.  Weird, but it totally works.

There are other songs, however, for which the weirdness gets a little out of control: the vocal synth thing on opening track "The Children"; the over the top Star-Wars-cantina-scene synth instrument in "Rome"; and the unnecessary sense of urgency provided by the beats and fast-paced vocals on "Mondegreen."

Yeasayer doesn't just make weird music, they also make weird music videos.  Check out Kristen Bell (AKA Sarah Marshall AKA Uda Bengt) taking care of whatever this thing is in the video for "Madder Red", or stay here and watch the weirdness on top-track "Ambling Alp":

Grade: C
Blurb: Weird but good... but sometimes the scales tip in the balance of weird.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gorillaz: Plastic Beach

I found it hard to believe that Gorillaz hadn't put out anything since 2005 ... five years is a long time between albums (unless you're Guns N' Roses).  Perhaps I had my expectations set too high after five Gorillaz-less years, or perhaps the lack of involvement of Danger Mouse took it's toll, but Plastic Beach is not up to the standard set by Demon Days.

The first clue that I was about to be let down by Beach should've been the first track with vocals, which featured the rhymes of Snoop Dogg.  I've never been a fan of the D-O-double-G, or any of his rap-izzles (what?).  However, I was tricked after that when the album's two best songs, "White Flag" and "Rhinestone Eyes," followed directly thereafter.  The rest of the album, with the exception of "Sweepstakes" (featuring white people's favorite rapper, Mos Def) is mediocre. 

I don't know if I can put my finger on the specific reason why Beach doesn't earn the favor that Days does, but Beach lacks something -- harder beats, glitchy-ness, experimentation, heart -- something.  And the experimentation that comes on some songs falls flat (like the random dude belting it out at the end of "Stylo," or the random chick singing at the end of "Empire Ants," totally ruining both tracks for me), although I appreciated the freshness of "Superfast Jellyfish."  The track "Rhinestone Eyes" seems reminiscent of past Gorillaz efforts:

Grade: C+
Blurb: It's not bad ... it's just not that good (that's what mediocre means).  After five years, I expected a bit more punch.