2014 may be the year of the most big comeback releases by big names. Pink Floyd, Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Radiohead all have been mentioned as potentially releasing something this year, and pop parody staple Weird Al’s Mandatory Fun shot to the top of the charts this past week. Now considering that we don’t have any material released yet by those first four acts, let’s talk about what may contend with Weird Al as the biggest comeback of this year: Weezer.
First performed on the Weezer Cruise in February and formally released earlier this week, “Back to the Shack” is an interesting track. Let’s skip the self-referentiality for a second and just think of it in the vacuum of previous Weezer lead singles. Almost every single matched the album fairly well. “El Scorcho” set the mood perfectly, while “Hash Pipe” was a lot harder than the rest of the album it was on. (“(If You’re Wondering If I Want You To) I Want You To” lost Album Similarity Points for not including Lil Wayne.) The common theme is that fans continue to worship Pinkerton as if it were Cleopatra and they dissect lead singles trying to find things that remind them of their lost queen, overreacting to little clues as signs of the second coming when three of the past four albums have strayed further and further away.
That gets us back to the self-referentiality of the song. The lyrics talk about Rivers wanting to get the band’s sound back to the way it used to be when they lived at the Amherst House and recorded demos in their kitchen. He even says that the pop style of the past few albums sucks in the first verse. He wants to return to that raw and real feeling that made them best. Does the song convey that? Eh, I think the self-referentiality doesn’t let the lyrics do that, but the instrumentation tries. The rhythm and style of the verses is more akin to a grungier “Beverly Hills,” but the choruses feature subdued synth-work, layering, and the quasi-slacking style found on Pinkerton with the rough edge of Maladroit’s best tracks. The fact that the choruses, bridge, and solo all try not to be naïve instrumentally is so fantastic. And oh that guitar solo. It’s better than the best parts of all solos from the past four albums combined. And, unlike some of the songs from the past few albums, the song finishes in a simple, non-grandiose manner exactly when it should, without unnecessary repeats of the outro. Overall, I have to say that this is a pretty good track. It’s good parts are fantastic while it’s weaker parts (lyrics and, ironically enough, a quasi-”Beverly Hills” style) aren’t that bad. It gives something for all of the anonymous and expatriot Weezer fans who had lost faith in the band to be excited about.
Will it be representative of the album? Judging from the #WeezerWednesday clips, I have to say that this track sounds somewhat like the album, albeit a little less rough. We’ll just have to wait patiently until September / if whenever another single is released to find out more!
Though the lines between genres often seem arbitrary, certain musicians stand out as landmarks between the mainstream and the alternative. One such figure is The Weeknd, a key figure in the community of “PBR&B,” or ‘hipster hip-hop.’ Since his endorsement by fellow Canadian crooner Drake, The Weeknd (real name Abel Tesfaye) has been earning massive acclaim for his dark, emotive hip-hop and his crystalline falsetto. His new song, “King Of The Fall,” is a jagged, sensual come-on, showing off a more lyrical side to Tesfaye than much of his previous work. The synths swirl around a dramatic half-time beat, as he leaps into a hook worthy of being blasted in dim, dangerous clubs across the nation. The Weeknd’s King Of The Fall Tour with Jhene Aiko kicks off in September, and based on the tracks he’s already released, we can be certain that he’ll pull no punches.
In a post-Random Access Memories scene, electronic music has leaned towards a groovier, old-school dance feel, almost returning to the simple, danceable purity of before the dubstep invasion. To many of his rapidly growing fanbase, Saint Pepsi makes music that does what Daft Punk’s latest could have achieved: return to an old-school feel without losing the cutting edge of modern electronic music technology. The rising Boston DJ and songwriter incorporates elements of funk and disco into his sleek, deeply catchy electro-pop while maintaining a fresh feel on “Fiona Coyne,” his self-described “single of the summer” and new fan favorite. Unlike many modern DJs, Saint Pepsi sings the words to his own song, keeping the vocal delivery melodic without overuse of reverb. He leaves the effects to the music, adding up to an irresistible beat that will get you moving without feeling like you should be twenty years older.
Upon the release of their self-titled debut and the subsequent success of lead single “Let’s Go Surfing,” The Drums were pigeon-holed as somewhat of a knock-off Beach Boys. This couldn’t have been less true. Their stellar debut and its predecessor Portamento were far more inspired by the sounds of Orange Juice, Joy Division, New Order, and other 80s New Wave. The band was so inspired by this era of music that it became blatantly obvious, the song ‘Best Friend’ may as well have been ‘The Village’ by New Order. The Drums never denied who their influences were and who they were as a band.
Their newest release and its influences are far more unclear. “Magic Mountain” continues just as Portamento did,with more ominous sounds and raw bass lines you would expect to hear on Unknown Pleasures. But that about the only way their old influences shine through on this debut single. “Magic Mountain” finds lead singer Johnny Pierce yelping and sounding frantic. The sporadic composition of the song reminds me of an early Bloc Party tune, which is a departure from The Drums’ old sound, but a welcome one. It’s going to be exciting to hear what the rest of the album sounds like - I’ll be waiting with bated breath.
NEW TRACKS: The Rural Alberta Advantage, “Terrified”
Few do minor key indie rock better than the Rural Alberta Advantage. The Canadian trio makes a racket on their excellent new single “Terrified.” The song begins with southwestern-flared strumming until it brings in, in rapid succession, Nils Edenloff’s tortured, old soul falsetto and the one-two-three punch of the rest of the group. “Terrified” does indeed make love sound terrifying, especially considering all this talk about a woman holding a knife. The tune clocks in just over three minutes and absolutely rocks. With a couple of EPs and two full-lengths under their belts, RAA is set to drop Mended With Gold on September 30.
Brighton, England’s punk outfit Gnarwolves are back, and they’re heavier than ever. Though they always sounded grittier than most of their pop-punk counterparts, “Smoking Kills” takes things to the next level. The track opens with vocalist Thom Weeks growling “I feel so dumb,” and then basically just explodes into dirty skate punk goodness. Accompanied by beer-soaked skateboarding footage, it makes me want to crack open a forty and engage in the hoodrat hijinks of days gone by. All while listening to Gnarwolves of course.
The ladies of HAIM have done it again y’all, and this time they’ve invited rising hip hop star A$AP Ferg along for the ride. “My Song 5” was one of the most overlooked tracks on Days Are Gone, probably because it’s a bit different from the rest of the debut. Even before A$AP Ferg came on board, the song had a harder edge than many of the peppy HAIM singles like “The Wire.” The value of “My Song 5” lies in the emphasis on percussion and guitar work, which are two of the best components of a HAIM live show. With A$AP Ferg’s rhymes backing the song, the already present grit is just further enhanced.
It’s safe to say that the anticipation for alt-J’s second album is incredibly high. After releasing a debut that took home nearly every award it was nominated for, fans everywhere were eager to hear what the indie innovators would do next. Last month, they surprised us in the best of ways by releasing “Hunger of the Pine,” a single off their upcoming album This is All Yours. The song showcases alt-J’s unique sound and ability to explore sounds unlike anything we’ve heard before.
They’ve done it again. The new trio has just shared “Left Hand Free;” a song that highlights the band’s curiosity to explore some different genres. We’ve known alt-J almost purely as a group that ventures into unchartered music territory, but “Left Hand Free” comes from a field of reinvented rock, a style made popular by the Black Keys. Singer Joe Newman said in a recent Rolling Stone interview that the slick track “didn’t sound like us at all, but it was so catchy”. Even though it’s probably not what fans were expecting following “Hunger of the Pine”, “Left Hand Free” is a solid track that shows that the band can make a great song; regardless of the genre they choose to explore. I’m now more ready than ever to hear what the trio has for us next.
Seriously, the first time I heard Little Daylight’s new track “My Life,” I could not help dancing (awkwardly) at my desk at work. It’s that type of song that you are obligated to blast with all your windows down and sing along as loudly as humanly possible. The synthy track melds nicely with lead singer Nikki Taylor’s voice, and Eric Zeiler and Matt Lewkowicz’s instrumentals. The three-piece perfectly toes the line between dance pop and alt-rock on the upbeat, summery track. The defiant lyrics also make this the perfect summer anthem with its “live your life” message.So hit the beach, forget your responsibilities, and turn the volume up to 10.
NEW TRACKS: Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires, “Born In The USA”
June 4 marked the 30th anniversary of the Boss’ seminal and generation-defining Born In The USA, an album that has gone platinum in the US alone 15 times over. For this special anniversary, Nashville’s Lightning Rod Records will release Dead Man’s Town: A Tribute to Born In The USA on September 16. Each classic track will be covered by a different artist, with their spin put upon it. Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires, often called the “First Couple of Americana,” open up this endeavor with their take on the title track. While the original’s jaunty bombast masks the lyrics whose woefulness casual listeners so often gloss over, Isbell’s and Shires’ cover is haunting, sparse, and foreboding. Chances are this version won’t get played at any political rallies.