Gorillaz: Humanz (Deluxe)

Back after a lengthy delay, Gorillaz’ latest album has led to being one of the most anticipated records of the year but ultimately proves to be a somewhat hyped collection of songs that struggle to support one another both thematically and sonically.

In hindsight, I suppose my reservations about this album are not surprising to myself considering the thoughts I had about the early singles.  Specifically, the track “Hallelujah Money”, a song that still remains one of the most obtuse and directionless tracks from the group and the somewhat recent showcase of the song “Saturnz Barz”, an incredible VR music video but a track that (for me at least) began to dwindle in catchiness over time due to overly saturated autotune that lost any appeal after the fourth or fifth listen.

To clarify, this is not any sort of admittance that I wanted or specifically anticipated this album to be bad.  As a longtime Gorillaz fan, it pains me more than anything to say that I feel like this record is anything short of incredible.  Even Plastic Beach, an album with many critiques felt like a stronger effort than the entirety of this latest release.

The biggest flaw to be said of Humanz is within its overtly long tracklisting.  Sitting at a whopping 26 songs for the deluxe version, (which released alongside the standard 20 track edition) this record suffers from the notorious ‘more is better’ fallacy that so many comeback albums tend to practice to no avail.

Speaking generously, there are probably 5 songs provided here that I would not skip outside of a review setting.  The hardest part of reviewing this album was definitely within my ability to focus on the copious amounts of lackluster and overly expository tracks that could not lead to anything noteworthy.

Tracks such as “Momentz” attempt to bring a new direction to classic acts such as De La Soul by throwing in rare uses of vocal filtration (autotune) to the typical jazz rap trio.  This effect does not fair too well and creates an awkward sound that feels too left field as if the writing process this go-around was centered around being as random as humanly possible.

The lyrics on this song as also rubbish and downright confusing.  A sample being:

Got a girl who’s up for the matin’
I sense the need in her grammar
Her nose has never been skatin’ (Uh-huh)
But she’s sippin’ star constellation (Shit)
For real, her squirt game was so like 2Pac out of court run towards camera (Uh-huh)
Her response to that was just, “Check please”

In most cases, it would seem like the most ridiculous complaint in the world to claim that Gorillaz’ sound is too dynamic, a feature that is often niche to every piece that band has created.  Unfortunately, Damon Albarn’s efforts to continue his dynamic group begin to reveal a tired formula that is beginning to show signs of being milked too far.

Even the tracks that I somewhat enjoy on this album feel like they will only amount to short-term listens.  “Ascension” shows a fast paced introduction that roused my attention upon the first several listens but can feel slightly repetitive after hearing “drop that ass ‘fore it crash” after a number of times.  Even the Danny Brown song “Submission” starts off with an unfitting vocal lead that hardly prepares the audience for the rap verse during the latter half of the track.

“Andromeda” is another song that is enjoyable but feels like a silly excuse to tack on another extra ‘culturally relevant’ feature of D.R.A.M. that will slip past your ears if you are not focusing attention at the exact moment of his short chorus.

When looking at what went wrong with this album, the clearest reason is in the approach that was taken with each track.  It’s as if the writing followed the guidelines of ‘the song must either consist of a simple; repetitive chorus or a meandering series of verses with a passable chorus line’.  What happened to blissful hook buildup of “Empire Antz” or the introspective yet playful lyricism of “19-2000”?  Almost every track here feels like there is more to be said or a sound to expand upon.

I wish I could like this album a little bit more but my overall feelings post-listening leave me underwhelmed, confused and even more fearful of comeback records in general.  My honest opinion of this album is a 4/10.

Real Estate: In Mind

Real Estate return for another dreamy, soft-surf rock record that continues to reinforce their ever-present stereotype for being everyone’s favorite background music band.

Nothing that the group showcases on this record is inherently bad by any means.  The mundane nature only appears in the context of the previous albums, in which little creative evolution seems to have occurred from the first release to this point.  Needless to say, I would not recommend this record to any first time listeners of the band.

In Mind feels like the weakest addition to the band’s existing collection.  It is as if every track on this album is borrowing techniques from some of their catchier tunes but in a way that feels almost too complacent; like the band understands their place as coffee shop ambiance aficionados.

Real Estate’s lyrics haven’t improved either and in some ways, are beginning to develop a level of corniness that is difficult to sit through when focusing too hard on what is being said.  Still, this record is not completely barren of quality

Naming off the good characteristics of this collection, there are a few tracks that stand out amidst of the plagued list of rehash.  “Darling” harkens back to the peppiness of the late track “Talking Backwards”, featured on the 2014 record Atlas.  The washy tone of the guitars in the bridge section has a mildly soothing effect that can be enjoyed without a doubt.  “Serve the Song” is another decent track and features a duet between the vocals and guitar that builds into a sort-of-awesome solo towards the end of the song.

“Two Arrows” is an example of a song that could have been so much more.  With its trotting pace and entrancing vocal harmonies, the song builds to a solid wall of disappointment once the hook begins its repeating riff that amounts to a distortion climax that feels about as forced as the abrupt cut that ends the track.

Other lackluster moments exist in “Time”, a completely directionless slurred islander tune that includes another set of mundane lyrics that can’t even pass as filler.  I would probably like this track a little bit more if it were only an instrumental.

Digressing, In Mind feels like a stalling point in Real Estate’s career, for now.  If you have loved everything the group has put out thus far and are content with hearing more of the same then this album might be for you.  For me, my honest opinion of this album is a 5.8/10.


King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard: Flying Microtonal Banana

King Gizzard have released many outstanding records in their relatively short time together but nothing has been as ambitious as their work in 2017, in which they plan to release four more albums ahead of Flying Microtonal Banana.

Future projects aside, Flying Microtonal Banana is a truly innovative record in a sea of contemporary psych-rock.  The amount of effort and creative thought that was given to this project is ever present, with the use of custom-made guitars that offer the microtonal/ Eastern flair throughout each track, the lyricism that envisions a dark and leering future for the environment and a double drumkit that keeps the album rolling from track to track.

The album kicks off with “Rattlesnake”, a fast and hard driving jam that presents a pre-chorus that is almost as fulfilling as the infectious chants of “rattlesnake” in between verses.  This track utilizes musical incline to the fullest, creating a suspenseful feeling as vocalist Stu Mackenzie accelerates the tempo and goes higher into his register.  In hindsight, the placement of this song in the tracklisting could not have been any better.

Other memorable tracks include “Melting”, “Open Water” and “Nuclear Fusion” just to name a few.  “Melting” wins the prize for having the best percussion section of this album due to its beautiful; fast-jazz rhythm married with the synthetic organ to form the ominous feelings mentioned earlier.  Splitting the world “melting” into pseudo syllables as “meh-el-lit-ting” is another amazing feat that actually works and shows one example of the inventive songwriting on this record.  “Open Water” stands out as the most progressive track on this record, with its multiple repeat verses and choruses that continuously throw in contrasting instrumentation with each repeat.

(As a sidenote, the “flying banana” guitar has an insane solo on this track that led me to dig deeper into the production of this album.  Here’s a video from the band that cleared a lot of the questions I had.)

With “Nuclear Fusion”, the track opens and closes with a warped and pitched down variation of the melody that is played throughout the song, providing the track with a visible sense of direction and does a fantastic job at telling the listener what the main focal point should be.

Other smaller tidbits that are worth mentioning include the mixing on this album.  Every song flows together seamlessly, like an endless ride.  There are many records that attempt this effect, but very few pull it off to a standard that stands out in the crowd.  This is achieved in multiple different styles but my favorite transition has to be between the wispy air sounds between “Rattlesnake” and “Melting”.  This record also has a tangible theme extending across the first and last track both lyrically and musically.  The message appears to be all about pollution and I appreciate the subtleties and metaphors used to mask this theme in a perfect harmony that does not sound preachy but simply informative.  The audible theme comes from the zurna, a central Eurasian wind instrument that creates the snake charmer sound that weaves back and forth between the tracklist.  This helps to create familiarity with the listener and really grounds the album into its own niche.  All of that said, it can be slightly annoying after many listen and especially to new listeners that are not familiar with the album yet.

In conclusion, King Gizzard have come through again with a record that could arguably be considered their best.  With four more albums coming this year, I look forward to seeing what could possibly top this release.  My honest opinion of this album is an 8.5/10.

Interview: Helen Kelter Skelter

Helen Kelter Skelter is one of Norman’s faster-growing bands, being regular performers at Opolis and having a steady attendance at Norman Music Festival each year.  The group stands out with their niche blues vocals paired with an ounce of psych-rock but flourished in a way that creates their own unique sound.  Tim Gregory, one of the five members of the band sat down for an interview about the current news of HKS and their Opolis show this Saturday.

SW: Can you tell me your contribution in the band?

Tim: I’m kind of the “band dad” so to speak.  I still play guitar in the band but I also take care of most of the management for us.

SW: How many Opolis performances have you chalked up over the years as of now?

Tim: It’s been so many at this point, I’d have to say more than 30 times!

SW: Tell me how you nailed the main stage spot for NMF this year.

Tim: We just applied for it and because we’ve been hitting it pretty hard for the last few years at other smaller stages, I guess they thought it was time for us to be one of the big leagues.  It should be a lot of fun, though.  Playing on a larger speaker system will also do us a favor because we have such a heavy sound to work with.  I think the coolest part is that our music will be heard all across the festival which is something we haven’t quite experience before.

SW: Are you excited to play alongside greats such as Thee Oh Sees, Israel Nash and Oddisee?

Tim: Totally!  Also White Reaper and The Daddyo’s.  We’ve known those guys for a few years and we’re excited to play in the same festival together.


SW: Your last record came out two years ago, I’d be willing to guess you’ve been working on some new stuff since then.  How has your sound changed in the past two years?

Tim: We have the next one done but we’re kind of sitting on it for a second until we have all of our promotional stuff ready.  We’re kind of looking for a new; clean slate, you know?

SW: Do you have any music videos in the works?  Do you think you need music videos to be a successful band in the digital age?

Tim: For sure!  Nothing recorded yet, but we definitely have some ideas rolling.  Having a video helps you stand out quite a bit, especially if it is a quality video.  More than anything, we want any video of ours to reflect the music that it’s paired with.  Something to add, rather than detract from the work.

SW: Is the Tame Impala/ [insert current contemporary psych-rock band] an annoying comparison for you, or do you like being grouped into that category?

Tim: We kind of get pushed into the psych-rock category a lot which is fine.  I’ll always be flattered to be compared to Kevin Parker!  With our first album, we just through a bunch of songs together that we had written because we thought they sounded good.  That sort of manifested into our own unique sound that we’ve continued into our 2015 record.  When our next album releases, there will definitely be a small difference to notice.  We’ve included more synths into our songs that I think a lot of people are going to like.

SW: How does Norman’s current music scene compare to when you all were first starting out?  Do you see an increasing growth in the talent that comes out of this city?

Tim: You can definitely see a growth happening right now.  I would like to see more out of town bands coming more often and I think that our music scene could be a lot better but it’s by no means awful.

SW: Have you ever thought of touring with groups such as King Gizzard or Twin Peaks?  I feel like your sounds would really merge for joint concerts.  What does your tour schedule look like this year?

Tim: That would be awesome!  King Gizzard is one of my favorite bands currently and they just dropped that Flying Microtonal Banana album which I’ve been loving.  We’re touring in over 25 places this year.  We’ll be going to Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas, New Mexico.  It’s our biggest stretch we’ve done so we’re hoping to gather some more fans along the way.

SW: Hype us up for your show this weekend!

Tim: We’ll be playing along with Mother Tongues and LCG & The X.  They’re both fantastic bands and we think that their sound is a great mix with ours so we’ll be making sure everyone is having a good time.  Come out and say hi!

Helen Kelter Skelter is performing Saturday, March 4 at 8 p.m. at Opolis in Norman.  Tickets are available at the door or online here.

Interview: A Giant Dog

Going on nine years strong, the eclectic punk-rock band from Austin, TX A Giant Dog are on their way back for a second performance within six months at the notorious music outlet Opolis on Main and Crawford and are riding this tour off of their early 2016 album “Pile”.

The band’s lead vocalist, Sabrina Ellis, speaks about the challenges that she and the members have faced leading to their eventual success on records such as “Fight” and “Bone”, which released in the years prior to their 2016 album.

“We’ve had people tell us that we aren’t punk-rock, which can be slightly discouraging to hear when that is the sound that you’re going for, but over time as we have become more accepted and developed our fanbase, I think it’s safe to say that the critics can’t necessarily succeed at defining what is and isn’t punk.”  Currently, “Pile” holds an 8.2/10 Pitchfork review and earned a solid B rating from Consequence of Sound.

In addition to overcoming critic reception, she details the years where anxiety began to take hold of her performance mindset.  “I never thought it would happen to somebody like me, but one day I just started to have panic attacks that I couldn’t explain and it really took a toll on my desire and thrill of performing.”  Overcoming this condition was no easy task, but by a self-described life changing experience that occurred from a near-death auto accident, Sabrina was able to learn to control her attacks and claims to be doing much better since this event.

Sabrina also discusses her primary influences behind the sound of the band, also noting her aversion of influential comparisons.  She says, “The question about influences is always a tricky one because every year or so it always shifts to a different answer than before.  Also, our most consistent role models tend to feel like a cliché that exists within most bands.”  She offers her most honest answer by listing off the likes of Iggy Pop, David Bowie, Pixies, Queen, and The Velvet Underground.

Delving into the creation of their latest record, Sabrina reveals A Giant Dog’s collaborations with SPOON producer Mike McCarthy, who helped with the mixing on “Pile”.  “Back in 2014, we had a good portion of songs written that are currently featured on ‘Pile’, but being without a label kept us from being able to release them.” She continues, “Through touring with Spoon, we were able to get noticed by Merge Records, our current label, and worked with Mike and his amazing vintage gear that really harnessed our sound and made sure that we didn’t clean up too much.”

Closing the interview, she teases that a new record is on the way for 2017 and that August appears to be the month of arrival.  “Toy” is the current title in place for this album.

A Giant Dog performs this Thursday at Opolis and tickets are on sale now at their website.

Weekly Highlights: 7/23-7/30

This week’s news starts off with a healthy dose of Father John Misty.  Within the past week or so, Josh Tillman has used his stage time as a medium to vent on some ‘heavy topics’ that have been weighing on his beautiful post-ironic soul.  While many of these stage rants have been filled with vague rhetoric and seemingly neurotic behavior, this one is rather straightforward and finds a special place within my heart.

The above video comes from Consequence of Sound and is filled with a terrific rant about “burrito money” that can only be done justice by simply clicking play and listening to its glory.

In other news, Massive Attack have teased the second EP that was promised earlier this year after the release of Ritual Spirit.

The trip hop duo is once again using Fantom (which was also used prior to Ritual Spirit release), which is a neat app that remixes the group’s songs based off of heart rate, movement, and social media notifications.  I like the concept, but I think I’ll just wait until I can listen to the raw cut once the new EP comes out.

For some reason, July has been a fantastic month for quality music videos.  This week, Beach House gave us a slurred and dreamy visual for The Traveller, which is a song off of their latest LP Thank Your Lucky Stars.

The idea for creating this video is so simple, but combined with the lo-fi effects and shadows that provide an eery contrast; it sets itself apart from other artists that hop aboard the VHS aesthetic bandwagon through its smooth transitions and abstract theme.

If there’s one TV series that has been begging me to reactivate my Netflix account, it definitely has to be Stranger Things.  While I have heard nothing but rave reviews about the plot of this Goonies-esque show, another outstanding quality is the soundtrack that challenges everything that Guardians of the Galaxy had to throw at us.

According to Consequence of Sound, the soundtrack “featuring the likes of Joy Division, The Clash, The Bangles, New Order, Toto, [and] Foreigner”.  Fans have started working on their own Spotify playlists, but the article states that the official Facebook page has noted that the official soundtrack is “coming soon”.

That about does it for this week.  Sorry about the lack of any reviews, I promise I’ll have something written this week!  In the meantime, please accept this moving image of Panda Bear catching a ball as a token of apology.


The Avalanches: Wildflower

The wait is finally over for fans that have eagerly anticipated the sophomore release of The Avalanches, but has time and hype spoiled the sound that we have craved for so long?  The answer to that question is a reluctant yes, but that in no way implies that Wildflower is a terrible album; it simply missed its due date by about thirteen-ish years.

One of my biggest issues with this LP is the extreme lack of cohesion throughout the twenty two tracks that are presented to us.  I understand that the band may have intentions with this direction, but many tracks that I loved are ruined by an abrupt change in sound that does not compliment the other parts.  For example, the buildup to The Wozard of Iz is incredible and has my head bobbing every time, but when Danny Brown comes in around the 1:37 mark, the music loses its direction and the lyrics don’t help to make the sound any less confusing.  From my perspective, it looks like the group was trying to move away from the continuous flow that Since I Left You had from cover to cover, which is great because I would not want an album that sounded just like their previous efforts.  The problem that arises from this change is the hesitation to allow each track to stand out on its own.  I feel like there is still a rather large attempt to get these songs to flow together from track to track and that style should either be kept or abandoned; not somewhere in the middle.

On a positive note, some of the best songs on this album exist within the first half of the record.  The opening track (technically second track) kicks off everything with a catchy Jackson 5-esque groove accompanied by Camp Lo with an acceptable set of verses that carry the song to the ending.  The following track is Frankie Sinatra and it represents the bouncy and vivid sound that Frontier Psychiatrist held on the previous release.  However, the features on this track are an incredible letdown, but I will mention that later.  Following that, the next six or so songs are arranged beautifully and feel completely independent and capable on their own.  Unfortunately, the rest of the album does not have a great arrangement at all and suffers because of it.  Part of this is due to the fact that three of the best songs that were released as singles prior are all a part of this first half.  From a metaphorical standpoint, The Avalanches decided to shoot all of their artillery fireworks off in the first five minutes of the show and lit sparklers for the finale.

Lastly, I would like to touch on the features that come up every now on then on this album.  When I first heard of the insane lineup of artists to work on this project, I was elated.  Danny Brown, MF Doom, Ariel Pink, Father John Misty, Toro y Moi, the list goes on.  That being said, I could not have been more disappointed once I finally sunk my teeth into the songs that these individuals are on.  Three phrases that immediately come into my mind are dispassionate, out of place, and forced.  The biggest offender of this is Danny Brown, which pains me to say.  All of his lyrics are utter nonsense and his drug rhetoric simply does not fit with the “faceless” music that The Avalanches are known to create.  To elaborate, every vocal section from Since I Left You could not be pinpointed to a specific person or artist, at least without using an online source to find the sample.  That was part of the magic that sparked the feeling of an unknown presence.  Like a series of voices speaking to you by cycling through different radio stations in order to form a melody and story from numerous different sources.  Some might say that it is unfair to judge the band like that, but a perfect example of features used effectively is on the song If I Was a Folkstar, which blends the traditional methods of plunderphonics along with a nice vocal melody from Toro y Moi, which sounds like it could have been taken from a completely different song.  The talent and capability are present, but the execution unfortunately falls flat on many of these feature tracks.

I honestly wish I could like this record more than I do, but there are far too many problems surrounding these tracks for me to be completely on board, which is truly a shame because I firmly believe that the group has the potential within them.  If this album had released three years after Since I left You, it would have been a complete success.  Unfortunately (for the band), music did not stop when The Avalanches did and their sound has not evolved deeply enough to match the standard that we have in the year 2016.  My honest opinion of this album is a 6.5/10.