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Review: Jamie Lidell, Jamie Lidell

On his tight self-titled opus, Lidell insists on redeeming that which he would say doesn’t need saving in the first place.





Jamie Lidell, Jamie Lidell

Typically the word “pastiche” doesn’t imply an act of tribute so much as an accusation that a work is unoriginal. But with apologies to music critic and Retromania author Simon Reynolds, there are times when a pastiche cannot only live up to its source material, but also pick up the baton and branch off in new but still faithful directions. Take British cyber-soul singer Jamie Lidell, who after about a half-dozen albums is just finally now getting around to releasing a self-titled disc. Jamie Lidell is positively drenched in knowingly dated flourishes, vaguely familiar drum patterns, and synthesizer settings held together by rubber bands. But as Reynolds rightly points out, any of those elements have more or less emerged as the normative factor in pop today. What sets Lidell apart from, say, the many pleasant but posturing Justin Timberlakes out there is that Lidell is clearly conversant in the forms others exploit for decorative effects. And with his latest album, Lidell proves himself downright fluent.

It often seems like Lidell is prepared to leave you in the dust if you’re not up to snuff on your half-forgotten R&B gems from decades past. The opening of “Big Love” at first blush reminded me of Janet Jackson’s “The Pleasure Principle,” but after a few more listens, revealed itself to be a pitch-perfect approximation of Solar Records’ late-‘80s jams, specifically Calloway’s “I Wanna Be Rich.” Which is the absolute perfect touch—to interpolate not the Minneapolis sound itself, but rather what would’ve been in the late ‘80s taken to be an obvious rip on that sound. It’s sort of like Lidell is so often eerily attuned to his own indebtedness that he aligns himself with the pretenders. (Why else open the album with the acknowledgement that “I’m Selfish”?)

If that’s the case, though, he cuts himself entirely too little scratch, because each song here offers at the very least a surfeit of authentic retro earworms: the midtempo accusation “Don’t You Love Me” melds an impossibly deep piano line with spooky overtones; “So Cold” is space-trippy on the order of post-Westbound-era Funkadelic; and “You Naked” wobbles slinkily around its root key like an auto-asphyxiating DX7. As with his previous albums, Lidell’s songs pair romantic entanglements or disengagements (“You used to be so cool, but now you’re so cold” runs one highly typical couplet) with polygamous grooves, sometimes accompanied by his mouth-generated percussive latticework, always delivered via his high, reedy vocals, which themselves could pass for Charlie Wilson or Sugarfoot.

But you get the sense Lidell derives much of the romantic tension from how much more invested he is in varied musical nostalgia. The man’s eros emanates from post-electro, and damned if he doesn’t want us to all see him making babies with it. And some of the hybrids that emerge do enough to nudge the album beyond imitation, like the nasty grime-infused “What a Shame” or “why_ya_why,” a dirge that sounds approximately like what the little devil sitting on Tom Waits’s shoulder might play after dropping molly at Mardi Gras. The album-closing “In Your Mind” blossoms from a cagey hard-bop shuffle into a full-blown tribute to post-“Rockit” Herbie Hancock (e.g. “Beat Wise”). In other words, it’s a loving replication of the precise moment most of Hancock’s would-be biographers would tag as his sellout nadir. I mean, you really got to love a man who’s so immersed in the genre that he pays tribute to some of its most denigrated forms. On his tight self-titled opus, Lidell insists on redeeming that which he would say doesn’t need saving in the first place.

Label: Warp Release Date: February 19, 2013 Buy: Amazon



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.




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.




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.




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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