Double Review: The Comeback Kids/Comedown Machine

This week, I listened to two artists that have returned to this place we call the music industry after at least a five year absence: David Bowie and Justin Timberlake. I thought it’d be fun to offer my thoughts on these wildly different artists whose only similarity is the proximity in which they released long overdue new material. Also, The Strokes! Here We Go!

The Next Day

David Bowie has been around the block a few times. Throughout the years, he’s been an actor even when there weren’t any cameras in front of him (there usually were); his various personas always reflected the musical styles he flawlessly captured in his records. In The Next Day, it feels like all these personas were blended into one Bowie to Rule Them All (please humor me). Elements of glam guitar and stadium rock and roll permeate the album, but he still retains some of  the sentimentality and piano-driven songwriting found in records like Heroes.

Bowie takes full advantage of the recording effects of the digital age that were previously unavailable to him  to more effectively implicate his smaller idiosyncrasies in arranging and orchestration, and the record sounds beautiful production-wise. His vocal stylings and memorable lyrics are as present as ever, and the records overall theme of feeling left behind as the world continues to turn is especially heard in tracks like “Where Are We Now?”. A gorgeous and mounting ballad, the instrumental tracks sound as reflective and hauntingly beautiful as the lyrics and delicate vocals. On the other side of the coin is a quirky, fast-paced, almost progressive rock sound on tracks like “If You Can See Me”, which at first made me check to make sure a Yes track hadn’t snuck its way into my playlist. Tracks like these, I realized, were necessary to prevent the monotony that would have ensued, considering the mid-tempo nature of the majority of the record.

Overall, David Bowie’s unbeatable song-crafting abilities have benefited from the new technology available to him; his various music styles and lyrical strengths, unlike many of his contemporaries, have proved resilient to the test of time .   Here’s my favorite track (also the first single) “Where are We Now?”


The 20/20 Experience

After a five year sabbatical from the world of music –despite some SNL shorts– Justin Timberlake is back to doing pop music the right way. Much of the crisp, flowing, and utterly refined sound of both this release and Futuresex/Lovesounds is thanks to the brilliance of producer Timbaland, but to give him all the credit would be a diservice to J-Tim’s catchy and often clever lyrics, along with a wonderful set of pipes and all the right sensibilities.

The record starts off with an orchestrated hurricane of strings that descends into a delightfully infectious groove in “Pusher Love Girl”. The otherworldly production and catchiness continues in first single “Suit & Tie” before descending into some deeper cuts. Similar to his last release, Justin seems to craft each song with a formula of intro,verse, interlude, then back to the verse, all seamlessly compacted into 7-8 minute packages. Each section is unique (feeling more like movements of a classical piece than parts of a pop song) but still holds pieces of the greater whole; this lengthy formula is unheard of coming from any other pop artist.

20/20 surpasses the already stellar Futuresex/Lovesounds in the pure variety of the record. While “Suit & Tie” and and “Don’t Hold The Wall” incorporate danceable beats and spacey instrumentation, tracks like “Pusher Love Girl” and “That Girl” bring bright guitar riffs and soaring vocal harmonies to a slightly more halting tempo. Beyond that, tracks like like “Spaceship Coupe” and the introspective “Blue Ocean Floor” offer something more in terms of brooding reverb and swelling synths. The two constants through all this variety is the exceptional vocals and production that sets Timberlake’s records apart.

All in all, Justin Timberlakes 20/20 experience is one of the most refreshing records I’ve heard this year and has, in my opinion, surpassed his previous works. If you want to hear a modern R&B/pop masterpiece, give this record a spin; you won’t regret it.

Here’s my favorite track (this was painful to choose), “That Girl”.

The Comedown Machine

They’re back. Before I continue, I just want to let you know, valued reader, that I love all of their material. Yes, that includes the less well-received First Impressions of Earth and their most recent album before this Angles. I am a huge fan with a huge bias, so take this review with a grain of salt.

The most prominent thought I had throughout my listen-through of the album was this;”these guys have come a long way.” Each track, like Bowie’s record, seems to embody different periods in the groups career. 50/50 felt like Angles vocals collided with some of the slower tracks from First Impressions like “Ask Me Anything”, and “80’s Comedown Machine” feels almost like a Room on Fire B-side. Unfortunately, I don’t feel like these tracks live up to the entities they emulate, but the important thing is that every track is easily branded with a Strokes insignia.

That being said, unlike the majority of previous releases, the record grooves. A lot. Some of the funky electronic qualities that first manifested in Angles are even more effectively incorporated in tracks like “50/50″, “Slow Animal”, and “Partners in Crime”. Some may see this as a departure from what makes The Strokes great, but I see these advancements and occasional delving into something closer to Julian’s solo material as a welcome freshness.

This record is similar to Angles in that I feel like there is a track on here for everyone. Whatever you may feel for the Strokes, Comedown Machine has at least one track that will appeal to you. Even a poor misguided soul who was looking for a breezy jazz ballad in a Strokes record will find one in the final track “Call it Fate Call It Karma” (No, I’m not kidding). I enjoyed all of it thoroughly, and maintain that Julian, Albert and the boys still have something to offer to the world of music. Here’s my pick (and an excellent first track), “Tap Out”.

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The Update

Wow, I’m actually posting something? What is going on? Well, I’m posting to tell you that I’m a new man, and one of my new policies is to update this thing at least every monday with a review or some news or what I’ve been listening to or a picture of a dinosaur. I like dinosaurs.

Anyway, I’ve missed a lot in the last two months, so this post is going to fill you, o’valued reader, in on what Josh has been listening to for the last two months he was farting around.

JANUARY

The Joy Formidable- Wolf’s Law

The first song I heard from these guys was “Whirring” off their first major release, The Big Roar. What impressed me was not the technical playing or performance, but just the very idea that this huge shoegaze/loud alternative sound was coming from three people. This ‘roaring’ rock sound continues through in Wolf’s Law and is complimented by a perfect mixture of swelling, powerful guitars and incorporations of light ambient synths that blend excellently with an otherwise Rock and Roll sound. Ritzy Bryan has proved herself to be an excellent presence when surrounded by these bombastic soundscapes, and whether her voice is distorted or clean, it always cuts through and dominates the track. If you liked The Big Roar, or just need something with pure rock sensibilities and a kick-ass female lead singer, Wolf’s Law takes the cake so far this year. Here’s “This Ladder is Ours”, the first track on this exceptional album.

Foxygen- We are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic

Okay, let’s get one thing straight. I don’t like the Rolling Stones. Not that I have any sort of problem with them; they just don’t really do much for me. I can’t deny the allure and majesty of songs like “Gimme’ Shelter”, but other than that I’ve never found a motivation to fanboy over Mick or Keith or any of the others. When listening to this record, however, I hear an uncanny resemblance to the stones sound and for some reason I am not deterred; I am attracted to it. It may be that Foxygens’ sound also has sprinkles of The Velvet Underground, psychedelic era Beatles and Bob Dylan (all of which I enjoy), but it’s the Stones attitude that made this record stand out like it does. Maybe this is the breaking point. Maybe this is when I start to understand why Paint It Black is a good song. Anyway, Foxygen’s psychedelic and interestingly named debut has a welcome place in my library, and it may have just opened doors in my own musical intelligence I didn’t know existed. Check out “No Destruction” below.

FEBRUARY

Coheed & Cambria- The Afterman: Descension

Coheed moves triumphantly forward with their new Afterman project while still incorporating the melodic and lyrical aspects that made me fall in love with them in the first place. If someone told me this record had a song with horns in it, I would have assumed the worst, but the track in question was refreshing while still maintaining the sound I can’t get enough of. If you like Coheed, especially the stuff before No World for Tomorrow, give this a listen.

Foals – Holy Fire

Foals is an interesting band. A blend of dance indie acts like Friendly Fires and Two Door Cinema Club, more traditional alternative acts like Interpol, and a bit of electronic introspection the likes of Caribou and even recent Radiohead releases, Foals brings something new to the table. Most tracks in their first release Total Life Forever almost adopted a post-rocky building structure, and this release uses the same idea more effectively; the pieces of the build are more interesting, and they move faster towards a grand climax. Also similar to their first release, many of the tracks are danceable and catchy, and lead singer Yannis Philippakis brings a bluesy grooving feel to match the tribal drums and syncopated guitars. Check out  their single “Inhaler” below.

Jim James- Regions of Light and Sound of God

My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James sure knows how to groove. His crooning voice reminds me eerily of Dirty Projectors lead singer David Longstreth at some points, and his moving piano lines and bouncing drum beats keep you paying attention. I unfortunately don’t have much of a background with MMJ, but this introspective and bright endeavor has just motivated me to do my homework and see what I’ve been missing. Here’s “Know Til Now”, my favorite off the record.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds- Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave has been around for a while. His group The Bad Seeds have been around since ’83. I have not explored his music before, but like the Jim James album mentioned above, this release has motivated me to see what I’ve been missing. Drifting between an Avante-Garde spoken word sound and orchestral alternative rock, Nick Cave seems to produce haunting melodies and chilling spoken poetry with the same ease as a more tradition rhythm and melody. His music, much like predecessor Tom Waits, tells a story, and although the instrumentals are excellent, it’s the lyrics that really makes Cave superior to some of the other similar acts that have formed after him. Here’s a good sample of his sound (for this album at least), “Wide Lovely Eyes”. The video also does an excellent job of highlighting Cave’s lyrical complexities.

Atoms For Peace- Amok

Finally, back to familiar territory. For those of you unaware, Atoms for Peace is a supergroup of sorts formed by Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke with his producer and long time friend Nigel Godrich, Flea of Red Hot Chili Peppers fame, Drummer Joey Waronker (who works mostly with Beck), and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Rafosco. Put them all together, and you get a delightfully spacey and beat-laced release that incorporates the electronic themes of Radiohead’s last effort on a whole other level. The record is sample heavy and very polyrhythmic, but Thom’s simple and ensnaring vocal melodies keep each track grounded so you know when to bob your head. On previous singles and unreleased tracks, I hadn’t noticed how much Mauro contributes to the sound, but his varied arsenal of percussion brings unexplored timbres and new flavors to an otherwise familiar Thom Yorke (dare I say it) masterpiece. Overall, the record is solid, especially if you enjoy the electronic and ambient textures found on In Rainbows, King of Limbs, and Thom’s solo effort The Eraser. Here’s the excellent video for  “Ingenue”.

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Welp, that’s all I got. I will be updating mondays, so keep coming back to see if I post a dinosaur picture. Seeya then!