Connect with us

Music

Review: Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience

The 20/20 Experience is all impeccable tailoring with little lining inside.

 

2.5

Published

on

Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience

Few albums in the download era have been more zealously presold as Justin Timberlake’s The 20/20 Experience, but as pointed out in the New York Times recently, Timberlake has moved beyond the realm of pop superstardom into something closer to a brand identity—a suit and tie with a packet of strawberry bubblegum tucked behind the lapel. He aims to bring the suavity, but can’t ever completely sublimate his impish sense of humor, and both poles wrestle for supremacy while his music takes an increasingly supporting role in the equation. Hence his follow-up to the precocious Justified and the self-servingly epic FutureSex/LoveSounds is caught somewhere between a craven and vaguely desultory act of feigned noblesse oblige and Return of the Macky Dolenz.

The 20/20 Experience is all impeccable tailoring with little lining inside. Once again, Timberlake’s hubris is hardly reined in by collaborator Timbaland, who, at this reflexive point in his career, is a perfect match for the singer’s exhausting accrual of achievement as its own artistic goal. But unlike FutureSex/LoveSounds, which was an often thrilling exercise in maximalism, The 20/20 Experience is excess that evaporates without context. Ten tracks, 71 minutes, and absolutely no evidence that a single musical idea was at any point in the creative process vetoed. For someone who looks better than anyone in show business wearing lustrous, flagpole-thin threads like an amatory stalk of corn, Timberlake’s jams amble aimlessly like they’re in desperate need of elastic-band waistlines. That the album remains listenable is a testament to Timberlake’s undeniable, Ben Vereen-like beaver-eagerness. Even when he’s caught rambling through an album clearly crafted out of obligation, he still comes off as a really sexy gnat.

Chief among the album’s problems is that Timbaland is by now bicep-deep in his Goldberg Variations operating system. Instead of bringing beats that will stand on their own in single edit form, he insists on taking each of his half-cocked or rehashed ideas and submitting them to a series of baroque transformations, turning each B+ potential single into a C- epic. (The self-contained “Suit & Tie,” with its breezy xylophone arpeggios, ping-ponging snare snaps, and super-cute Jay-Z verse, is just about the only exception, and in retrospect it’s not hard to see why the powers that be selected it as the lead single.) What goes around in The 20/20 Experience rarely comes around, and what’s even more embarrassing is how many of the tracks sound better in their outros, when Timbaland pushes past Timberlake’s barbershop seductions and starts cutting up syllables julienne-style. “Pusher Love Girl” starts the album off with what sounds like a chorus of Al Green Muppets until, many smooth minutes later, Timbaland pixelates those vanilla curls; “Tunnel Vision” is a Tweety twerky jaunt back into the Middle Eastern overtones that so obsessed Timbaland a decade ago until layers of beatboxing start to clog the works up like plaque inside a vein; “Don’t Hold the Wall” drops the moody tablas and darkly rich drama for a double-time ghetto-blaster breakbeat; “Strawberry Bubblegum” graduates from Casio demo rhythms into a Lowrey organ Latin shuffle setting as JT falls back on sucrose-saturated MJ self-harmonizing; and the ambient closer “Blue Ocean Floor” transforms from a song that’s barely breathing into a song that’s fully drowned under the influence of a different ocean: Frank.

Once in a while the Tims settle on an idea good enough to sustain interest for the full nine yards/eight minutes: “Spaceship Coupe” overlays a Princely electric guitar solo atop a fully digitized slow screw that sounds descended from the Delfonics’ alien ancestors (and, more immediately, descended from Ciara’s “Promise”), and “Let the Groove Get In” is so much elegant syncopation. But more often than not, The 20/20 Experience‘s either chameleonic or unfocused tracks speak poorly of an icon now constantly on the lookout for his next great cross-promotional opportunity.

Label: RCA Release Date: March 19, 2013 Buy: Amazon

Advertisement
Comments

Blog

Scott Walker Dead at 76

Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde.

Published

on

Scott Walker
Photo: 4AD

American-born British singer-songwriter, composer, and record producer Scott Walker, who began his career as a 1950s-style chanteur in an old-fashioned vocal trio, has died at 76. In a statement from his label 4AD, the musician, born Noel Scott Engel, is celebrated for having “enriched the lives of thousands, first as one third of the Walker Brothers, and later as a solo artist, producer and composer of uncompromising originality.”

Walker was born in Hamilton, Ohio on January 9, 1943 and earned his reputation very early on for his distinctive baritone. He changed his name after joining the Walker Brothers in the early 1960s, during which time the pop group enjoyed much success with such number one chart hits as “Make It Easy on Yourself” and “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore).”

The reclusive Walker’s solo work moved away from the pop leanings of the Walker Brothers and increasingly toward the avant-garde. Walker, who was making music until his death, received much critical acclaim with 2006’s Drift and 2012’s Bish Bosch, as well as with Soused, his collaboration with Sunn O))). He also produced the soundtrack to Leos Carax’s 1999 romantic drama Pola X and composed the scores for Brady Corbet’s first two films as a director, 2016’s The Childhood of a Leader and last year’s Vox Lux.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0q6YWDm0GSU
Continue Reading

Music

Review: Lambchop’s This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) Doesn’t Say Much

Modern trappings do little to obscure the fact that frontman Kurt Wagner feels more out of time than ever.

3

Published

on

Lambchop
Photo: Merge/Steve Gullick

After more than two decades of dealing in musical anachronisms, one might assume that Lambchop’s recent forays into electronics mean that frontman Kurt Wagner has finally gotten with the times. Defined by synths, vocoders, and drum machines, 2016’s FLOTUS and now This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) are daring departures from Wagner’s previous attempts to mine outmoded styles of the past for new truths. But these modern trappings are just misdirection, doing little to obscure the fact that he seems to be feeling more out of time than ever.

Perhaps inevitably, This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) isn’t as sprawling or stylistically immersive as FLOTUS. When you put out an album whose lead single is an 18-minute synth dirge, it’s probably a good idea to take a bit of a step back for the follow-up. This album lacks the stitched-together quality of FLOTUS, that certain emphasis on atmosphere, texture, and the unexpected, rather than structure and melody, that makes that album alternately impenetrable and transcendent. This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You) is 20 minutes shorter, and far less formless. Even its more abstract passages, like the nearly five minutes of roaming piano and wispy horns that close the title track, feel more familiar within Lambchop’s pre-established paradigm of reimaging old genres—in this case, lounge jazz—and as new again than the alien soundscapes of FLOTUS did. The Wagner who spent much of the 2000s trying to turn himself into the world’s strangest, crustiest Vegas lounge singer is recognizable here as well. He’s just singing through a vocoder now.

No one could credibly accuse Lambchop of making conventional pop music, but new collaborator Matt McCaughan, who co-wrote over half the album with Wagner and is responsible for much of its electronic instrumentation, at least steers the band in a less abstract direction. The whining synth motif that pops up in the middle of “The December-ish You” is a sneakily good earworm, and if it weren’t for Wagner’s creaking old-young voice, “Everything for You” might sound like something you would hear at Sephora.

That’s not to say Wagner sounds anything but disaffected by modernity. Just as FLOTUS’s title falsely promised political musings in an election year, the fact that all but one of this album’s eight song titles are written in second person is just a canard—as if anyone wouldn’t notice that the only person Wagner is singing about is himself. A song title like “The New Isn’t So You Anymore” seems to promise a withering indictment of some behind-the-times character, but in reality, it’s just about Wagner sitting in a car and trying to reconcile his own place in the dizzying 2019 cultural landscape. Political references abound throughout This (Is What I Wanted to Tell You), but they’re mostly just context-free phrases: “Be it so un-presidential,” “The news was fake, the drugs were real,” “Fell asleep during Vietnam,” and so on.

Rather than grapple with politics, Wagner sounds like he’d much rather revel in daily mundanities: “I’m in a Mexican restaurant bar/Watching surfing and it’s amazing,” he sings on “The Air Is Heavy and I Should Be Listening to You.” In so doing, Wagner culminates a retreat into himself. Whereas Lambchop once boasted a grand, 12-plus-piece lineup, the band is now smaller and more insular than ever before. But Lambchop has always been whatever Wagner wants it to be, and if he wants “you” to mean “me” this time around, it simply does. “I see your reflection,” he sings at the very end of the gentle, acoustic-based closer “Flowers,” as Nashville legend Charlie McCoy’s honey-sweet harmonica billows behind him, “and I say hello.”

Label: Merge Release Date: March 22, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading

Music

Review: Meat Puppets Remain Resilient on the Mellow Dusty Notes

The album marks the band’s first reunion that feels truly consequential.

3.5

Published

on

Dusty Notes

The Meat Puppets have gone on hiatus and subsequently reunited at least four times now, rivaling any cash-grabbing classic-rock dinosaurs still out there in their ability to put boomer butts in arena seats. With the possible exception of guitarist Curt Kirkwood’s short-lived, Y2K-era solo project, it’s not as though the post-prime iterations of the Meat Puppets have been especially unwelcome. But their 15th studio album, Dusty Notes, marks the first such reunion that feels truly consequential, thanks to original drummer Derrick Bostrom returning to the fold for the first time since 1995’s No Joke!

Anyone who might want to trace a direct lineage between the new album and alt-rock classics like Meat Puppets II, and who hasn’t kept up with the band since they broke up for the first time, will of course notice the audible effects of the intervening 35 years: Curt and brother Cris’s low, calm voices; the slower tempos; the preponderance of acoustic guitars, often in place of fuzzy electric ones. One might also wonder if the band took the wrong lessons from Meat Puppets II’s acclaim. The idea of three former hardcore punks with acid-blasted brains playing a twisted psychedelic version of country and Americana music was novel and fascinating in 1984 and remained so 10 years later when Kurt Cobain invited them on stage to play during Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged. Remove the acid and hardcore, however, and you just get middle-aged Arizonians playing straightforward country music, like Dusty Notes’s pointlessly faithful cover of the Don Gibson standard “Sea of Heartbreak.”

Fortunately, though an old-school country aesthetic defines the album—the banjo picking on “Nine Pins,” the sweet hillbilly harmonies on “Outflow”—Curt’s irrepressible songwriting quirks make the rest of Dusty Notes anything but formulaic. The post-Bostrom Meat Puppets have often veered much closer to modern alt-country than the hardcore of their early days, and Dusty Notes is no exception; in fact, it might be the mellowest of their albums to date.

With key assistance from keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, Curt turns what are at first blush prototypical country strummers into weird, melodic concoctions. Stabinsky’s contributions—circus organ on “Nine Pins,” Mariachi-like synths on the title track—often leap out immediately from the mix. But it’s Curt’s songwriting that makes those same songs stick in the brain, from the demented polka groove of “Warranty” to the sunny Tex-Mex hooks and characteristic stoner turns of phrase on the title track.

If anything is missing from Dusty Notes, it’s certainly not hard-rock dalliances. Besides, with both Stabinsky and second guitarist Elmo Kirkwood—Curt’s son—abetting the original trio, the album features a fuller, richer sonic character than any of the band’s early albums ever managed. Rather, there’s not enough of Curt’s guitar playing. His inimitable jangle riffs from the ‘80s and fuzzed-out, spacey heroics from later years are both in short supply, which does render Dusty Notes more conventional-sounding than most Meat Puppets albums.

It’s unlikely anyone predicted that a 2019 Meat Puppets album would feature a return to the blown-out arena-metal of 1989’s Monster, but that’s exactly what we get with “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy,” complete with Dungeon Master-friendly verses like “Your chariot of protons/Slices through the gloom/Drawn by a pharaoh/Risen from the tomb.” It’s fun, but once the novelty and nostalgia wear off, it doesn’t leave as much of an impression as the songs here that don’t quite sound like anything the band has done before, like “Unfrozen Memory,” a dramatic slow-burner that melds distorted guitar with Stabinsky’s expert, baroque-style harpsichord, or “The Great Awakening,” on which silky, entrancing acoustic arpeggios drift into a tough, bluesy chorus and come back again like you’re falling in and out of a dream.

These particular songs exemplify what the Meat Puppets, at their best, have always been about. Not their singing or their playing or their lyrics, which were all often utterly incoherent even at the band’s peak. It’s their ability to evoke emotional states—some precious feeling half-remembered from childhood, or perhaps a really good acid trip—that has allowed their music to remain so resilient for almost 40 years.

Label: Megaforce Release Date: March 8, 2019 Buy: Amazon

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Donate

Slant is reaching more readers than ever, but as online advertising continues to evolve, independently operated publications like ours have struggled to adapt. We're committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees—so if you like what we do, please consider becoming a Slant patron:

Patreon

You can also make a donation via PayPal.

Giveaways

Advertisement

Newsletter

Advertisement

Preview

Trending