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Review: Eminem, Encore

2.5

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Eminem, Encore

“Just Lose It,” the lead single from Eminem’s Encore, was so derivative that it had to be a joke—even the song’s title seemed to mock the Academy Award-winning 8 Mile theme song that elevated the Great White Rapper to a whole new level of acceptance (as if he hadn’t already transcended nearly every other boundary in pop culture). Not only is “Just Lose It” the worst song on Encore, it’s easily one of the most annoying songs of the year (credit Em’s incessant Pee Wee Herman impersonations and tired attacks on Michael Jackson). And then came “Mosh,” a protest song originally intended solely for online promotion but which quickly earned its status as the album’s official second single. “Mosh” is not only a worthy follow-up to “Lose Yourself,” it had the potential to shepherd thousands of young, seemingly apathetic voters to the polls on Election Day—had it not been released after almost every registration deadline in the country.

Following The Eminem Show (in this critic’s opinion, his best album to date) and then “Lose Yourself” (his single best moment), the only place left for Eminem to go was—to unintentionally evoke that other infamous white rapper—to the extreme. “Mosh” seemed to accomplish that, matching America’s angriest pop voice with America’s most righteous pastime: Bush-bashing. George W. Bush and Eminem might seem like unlikely foes—after all, the enemy of your enemy is your friend, right?—but Eminem is the poster boy for pushing the limits of the 1st Amendment, and bashing the President is currently the most vilified form of free speech in the country, so who better to champion the cause? “Maybe this is God just sayin’ we’re responsible/For this monster, this coward that we have empowered,” he spits rhythmically atop a sturdy, dirge-like beat. The rest of Encore doesn’t live up to such brave words; aside from “Mosh,” he succeeded at saying much more on The Eminem Show‘s “White America” and “Square Dance” alone.

At first I thought the track “Puke” might be directed at Bush (it’s preceded by “Mosh” and begins with the sounds of someone vomiting followed by “There I go—thinking of you again”), but alas, it’s just another Kim song. (Is it just me or shouldn’t he be over her by now?) Add to that a litany of toilet humor—burping, farting, golden showers—and you’ve got quite a post-Oscar-win revolt. In many ways, Eminem has become a human blog, recounting and mocking the events since his last album—Paris Hilton’s sex tape, Jessica Simpson’s tuna incident, Christopher Reeve’s death—but, like a bully who keeps getting left back year after year, he almost seems to be running out of nerds to pick on (a whole song devoted to Robert Smigel’s Triumph The Insult Comic Dog?). The title of the album, not to mention its subject’s polite bow on the front cover, seems to signal the demise of Slim Shady the character. Maybe Marshall Mathers will start releasing records under his real name, or maybe he’ll invent some new alter ego.

Regardless of how you feel about his politics, Eminem’s weakest moments are always the ones in which he feels the need to apologize, as he does on Encore‘s first few tracks. The album opens with a mea culpa (“Lord please forgive me for what I do/For I know not what I’ve done”), all the while placing blame everywhere but on himself. “I’ve heard people say they heard the tape and it ain’t that bad/But it is, I singled out a whole race and for that I apologize,” he says on “Yellow Brick Road,” a response to his beef with Source editor/failed rapper Benzino. His apology isn’t surprising seeing as how he’s set up shop on black turf. But we’re unlikely to ever hear him apologize to the gay community (although he does throw gays a bone by dissecting the homoerotic underpinnings of football and the machismo of straight men who “walk around with a manly strut” to counter their “gay” thoughts on “Rain Man”).

No one expects Eminem to suddenly go from homophobe to homo-friendly, or from wife-beater to feminist, but his violence doesn’t preclude him from changing his mind (after all, it’s always the drunks who find Jesus, as Bush can attest to), and it seems to be part of Eminem’s evolution as an artist—and his nature as a person—to become the complete antithesis of what he was, or has been perceived, to be. Not to mention that part of Eminem’s appeal is watching where he’ll go next—since it’s usually someplace new. The problem with Encore is that it calls attention to all of the places Eminem refuses or just won’t allow himself to go. Instead we get more of the same. But isn’t that the essence of an encore (or a reelection, for that matter)? Encores were designed to sate the demand of an audience, usually expressed by applause (or 10 million in sales…or 3.5 million votes), not to satisfy the artist’s compulsion to create something new.

Label: Interscope Release Date: November 13, 2004 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Cherry Glazerr’s Stuffed & Ready Rages Against a Hostile World

The L.A. trio’s third album is a cathartic expression of estrangement in a cruel world.

4

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Stuffed & Ready

Clementine Creevy has always had a playful streak. At 15, she recorded her first songs under the name ClemButt, and her current outfit, the Los Angeles trio Cherry Glazerr, gained notoriety for a spaced-out, miniature ode to grilled cheese on their 2013 EP Papa Cremp. With Stuffed & Ready, Creevy’s signature irreverence has been transposed into scathing exasperation. The album rages against a hostile, misogynistic world, and then directs its venom inward.

That rage becomes the operating principle of Stuffed & Ready, which is Cherry Glazerr’s most mature and complex album to date. The opening track, “Ohio,” is a barometer for the ensuing ferocity, as a brief, lo-fi prelude crumbles into propulsive guitar noise. The music video for lead single “Daddi,” in which a solitary orange humanoid navigates a turbulent sea of blue creatures, captures the sense of alienation, confusion, and self-abasement that permeates the album. “Who should I fuck, Daddy? Is it you?” Creevy sneers in her characteristic falsetto. Her lyrics often vacillate between affirmation and uncertainty, probing for empowerment in a world that consistently renders her existence invalid. On “Self Explained,” she confesses, “I don’t want people to know how much time I spend alone.”

Under the direction of Carlos de la Garza, who also produced 2017’s Apocalipstick, Stuffed & Ready is Cherry Glazerr’s most sonically sophisticated effort yet. Musically, “Stupid Fish” is a gripping mash-up of the Smiths and early Sleater-Kinney, with sulking distortion interspersed with melodic bursts of Johnny-Marr-inspired guitar play. “Juicy Socks,” perhaps the album’s one moment of breathing room, finds Creevy playfully quipping over a shimmering guitar and florid bassline, “I don’t want nobody hurt/But I made an exception with him/I’m so lucky I can breathe/When the others cannot swim.”

Stuffed & Ready’s fiery denouement, “Distressor,” oscillates from an arpeggiated guitar and rolling drumbeat to a headbanging refrain. “The only faces I can see/Are the faces I pushed away from me/So I can just be,” Creevy wails, repeating the word “be” like a mantra. The album isn’t always hopeful, but it isn’t hopeless either, as it consistently provides a cathartic release for Creevy’s fury.

Label: Secretly Canadian Release Date: February 1, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Guster’s Look Alive Is the Sound of a Band Rejuvenated

Guster’s eighth album buzzes with inventiveness, charm, and youthful dynamism.

3.5

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Guster, Look Alive

Guster has long been associated with “college rock,” and not without reason. Even though every member of the Boston-based band is now over 40, they still make bright, hyper-polished alt-pop tailor-made for campus radio. The band’s eighth album, Look Alive, adds synths and contemporary production flourishes to their sonic repertoire, but all the hallmarks of their sound remain: winsome melodies, soaring hooks, and tight, immaculate songcraft that combines the best of Britpop, 1960s folk, and post-grunge.

Like most Guster albums, Look Alive has a few duds, a few modest successes, and at least one showstopper—a song that makes you wonder why the band was never more successful. On 2006’s Ganging Up on the Sun, that song was “Satellite,” a shimmering power-pop masterpiece that split the difference between the Shins and Neutral Milk Hotel. Here, it’s “Hard Times,” which also happens to be the least Guster-like track on the album. Drenched in Auto-Tune, buzzing synth frequencies, and stadium-ready percussion, the song doesn’t sound anything like “Satellite,” let alone like the band’s output before 2000. Yet, true to form, it’s a remarkable piece of pop. “Sinister systems keep us satisfied/These are hard times,” Ryan Miller wails. It’s a simple statement, but it makes for a stunning chorus, and Miller’s effusive delivery renders it the most cathartic moment on the album.

On “Not for Nothing,” the band ventures into dream-rock territory, surrounding themselves with icy synth textures that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Wild Nothing track, while “Hello Mister Sun” is unabashed bubblegum pop that pays homage to whimsical Paul McCartney tracks like “Penny Lane” and “Good Day Sunshine.” Likewise, the sprightly “Overexcited” bounces along with a spoken-word verse and pounding, piano-centric chorus. While none of these tracks tackle complex themes, they’re playful, infectious, and eminently listenable.

Many of Guster’s best-known songs delve into same subject matter: newfound love, crippling heartache, the pain of being young, restless, and alone. Yet much of Look Alive is more elliptical. “Maybe we’re all criminals and this is just the scene of a crime,” Miller sings ambiguously on “Terrified,” forcing the listener to fill in the blanks. “Summertime” similarly defies easy explanation: Brimming with obscure religious imagery, whispered background vocals, and references to an unspecified war, it follows no logical narrative, instead allowing the track’s mood—a feeling of triumph over some great adversity—to tell the story.

For better and worse, Look Alive’s production mimics the spacious, ‘80s-inspired aesthetic that pervades much of contemporary indie-rock. “Don’t Go” transplants a prototypical Guster melody into a synth-soaked songscape, while the title track seems expressly engineered for Spotify’s Left of Center playlist. Still, the album never feels like the work of aging musicians struggling to stay relevant; it buzzes with inventiveness, charm, and youthful dynamism.

Label: Nettwerk Release Date: January 18, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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Review: Toro y Moi’s Outer Peace Bends Boundaries with Mixed Results

Chaz Bear’s sixth album as Toro y Moi bends the boundaries of club music, albeit with mixed results.

3.0

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Toro y Moi, Outer Peace

Having already concocted brainy dance music under the alter ego Les Sins, chillwave trailblazer, synth-pop alchemist, and psychedelic rock enthusiast Chaz Bear fully embraces the dance floor on Outer Peace, his sixth studio album as Toro y Moi. Pulling from sources as disparate as R&B, tropical house, and trap, the California-based singer bends the boundaries of club music, albeit with mixed results.

Upon first listen, it seems like Outer Peace colors a rough sketch of a dystopian future where the material is mistaken for the immaterial, technology becomes a gateway to the metaphysical, and fleeting pleasures, prompting ever greater hedonistic pursuits. It doesn’t take long to realize, though, that this dystopia isn’t some future prospect, but the present moment. With lines like “Mystic staring at his phone for oneness,” Bear masterfully defamiliarizes our world, exposing the absurdity of the digital age.

Bear charmingly pairs this oft-heavy subject matter with club-ready grooves. The existential crisis of “Who Am I” is juxtaposed with sweetly pitched-up vocals and a fizzy patchwork of synths. Bear’s playful approach to house music ensures that no amount of existential dread and doom can dampen the mood he creates throughout the album.

Bear’s tinkering, however, isn’t always transportive. The rather vanilla tropical house beat of “Baby Drive It Down” recalls Drake’s dancehall-lite, with a lifeless performance from Bear. His experimentation with trap is at first promising on “Monte Carlo,” with the support of a dreamy pillow of vocal samples, but coming in at two minutes, the track feels one note, lacking any tempo changes or even a bridge, suggesting it was perhaps better fit for an interlude.

The cover of Outer Peace depicts Bear gazing intently at a computer screen, surrounded by instruments in a clean, sterile room. He reportedly created the majority of the album during an unaccompanied two-week retreat off Northern California’s Russian River, and this isolation can be felt throughout. The album’s title represents the remarkable possibility of finding freedom from the outside world by letting loose on the dance floor and experiencing liberation in a crowd of strangers. Bear certainly takes the album there at several points, but in the limited scope and cerebral slant of these too-brief songs, he loses that outer peace.

Label: Carpark Release Date: January 18, 2019 Buy: Amazon

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