The Bubble Album Reviews No. 31

Mac Demarco – Salad DaysSalad Days

Sometimes you just love the feel of an album.

On his latest LP, Salad Days, Mac Demarco manages to put out a fine collection of solid tracks, with pretty melodies and simple lyrics. These are the ingredients of a decent record, but perhaps not of anything too memorable. And that’s the impression you get whilst listening to it: if Mac had, say, just released this album as sheet music, like Beck did with Song Reader, and someone else picked it up and recorded it, you almost certainly get the feeling that it would’ve resulted in a decent product, but perhaps not much more than that. The old cliché about sums and parts aside, what makes this album work is Mac’s ability to capture the feeling of summertime haze and to insert this into a 3 minute pop song, doing this consistently until the number of tracks reaches 11.

Everything about this album spells slacker; be it its focus on addressing life’s simple issues, like getting grounded in “Goodbye Weekend” or on the falling out of love in “Let Her Go”, or be it the sunshine-y guitars and the strolling rhythms that feature throughout. Mac may not necessarily have intended to position himself as the successor to Pavement, but it’s because every single element of this album is pointing in the same direction, the slacker-in-summertime direction, that we end up with a record of such beauty.

In the title track, the lost days of youth are lamented, accompanied by some fine Kinks-esque vocals. Mac goes on in “Blue Boy” to urge a child, possibly a younger self, to ease off the world’s worries, adding simply “Calm down, sweetheart, grow up”. For a lot of people my age, the loss of childhood is a sad realisation, and perhaps it’s for this reason that these opening tracks have a bigger impact on me than their basic lyric make-up suggests. In “Brother” Mac reaches out to those stuck in the mundanity of the” nine until five” struggle, “You’re no better off living your life and dreaming at night” he tells them. “Let My Baby Stay” is probably my highlight of the album. It’s about love and sung in incredibly laid-back style, but the honesty in his voice and in the lyrics carries it home. The accompanying cowbells and slow strum guitar add just enough, the exit to Morrissey-esque vocal moaning is haunting and beautiful. “Passing Out Pieces” provides a description of the mayhem that comes from Mac’s live shows, but in typical breezy fashion. In “Treat Her Better” he urges someone he only calls by the name “man” to appreciate more the love of his life. “Chamber Of Reflection” starts with an intro of Kraftwerk-like synths, and goes on to describe a person – again possibly himself – trapped in an endless state of loneliness: “No use looking out, it’s within that brings that lonely feeling” provides a lovely example of his ability to draw out emotion from minimalist lyrics. The topic of new beginnings is discussed on the super chilled out (even for Mac) “Go Easy”. “Johnny’s Odyssey” is the spiralling instrumental final track, it sounds like the music they play on the ghost ride at fairgrounds. The album ends with a whispering address to the listener “Hi guys, this is Mac. Thank you for joining me. See you again soon. Buh bye”

Clearly Mac draws his influences from far and wide; from Krautrock to British Invasion, Hank Williams style Country Music to the jangly alternative pop of the Smiths. This isn’t at the expense of defining his own sound though, which is something he does brilliantly.

Listening to this record sends you reclining on your chair into another world for 35 minutes. A world where all that exist are lazy Sunday afternoons and all that matters is life and love and enjoying the sun. Everything sounds like it’s been heard through a dream; there’s a misty quality to every song. The album can also have the effect of sending you into an uncontrollable state of summer demob happiness, which unfortunately is only to be met with the stark realisation that exams are fast approaching (not that we’ll blame Mac for this).

By Oliver Stephenson

Andrew Jackson Jihad – Christmas IslandChristmas Island

I made it through last year on a cocktail of Knife Man and Can’t Maintain

Trapped within college walls for a second time, with no time or social presence to break through, I found myself sinking into the same all-too-familiar feelings of agoraphobia, depression, guilt, and bitterness that those records are soaked in. Yet amongst all that – amongst all of the curses and chords beaten half to death with frustration – was the overwhelming desire for change. To be a better person and to help others do the same. It’s a beautiful combination of emotions that sits right at the heart of Andrew Jackson Jihad. This May, they released their 5th full length album Christmas Island – a slight departure from the ‘folk-punk’ tradition. With everyone’s essays and finals due, it really couldn’t have come at a more appropriate time.

Sean Bonnette’s lyrics have always revolved around similar themes; torturous father figures, death, and murder, to name a few. While this release is no exception, on Christmas Island he turns further into the bizarre than ever before. Like a strange mix of Jeff Mangum and John Darnielle filtered through the eyes of Louis C.K., the songs shift between abstract visions and semi-autobiographical story like details, both delivered with dark and yet heart-warming humour. In songs like “Kokopelli Face Tattoo”, “Children of God”, and “Angel of Death”, Sean becomes almost self-abusive on a string of metaphors, comparing himself to a rat, a restaurant toilet, and the “Kool-Aid stains on the mouth of a kid whose name is most likely Cody”. Elsewhere, he sings about a public emotional breakdown having been so moved by a film about Linda Ronstadt in what he called the most “factually true” song he ever wrote. Throughout the record, Sean is once again somehow able to convey his despair and distaste for certain aspects of society through these twisted and melancholic interpretations of the world, and yet still seem like one of the nicest, most positive guys to ever record music. Like he says himself in “I Wanna Rock Out In My Dreams”: “The older I get, the more articulate I am at whining”.

Instrumentally as well, with the addition of three new official members since 2011’s Knife Man, the band’s sound has expanded, becoming much more electrified since their earlier albums largely as an acoustic duo. The riffs on tracks like “Temple Grandin” are warm and fuzzy with distortion, like Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Song Against Sex” or something from Weezer’s Pinkerton. Other influences have also pushed themselves to the front following these additions – “Deathlessness”, for instance, has a feel of Violent Femmes about it, with Ben Gallaty’s prominent bass lines and Sean nasally hanging onto high notes like a lo-fi Gordon Gano. The keys and strings nicely compliment songs like “Linda Ronstadt” and “I Wanna Rock Out In My Dreams”, while “Getting Naked, Playing With Guns” and “Temple Grandin Too” are mostly stripped back to Sean and an acoustic guitar and are probably the closest the band comes to sounding like their earlier EPs. Yet, despite all of their ‘experimentation’ and the fact that some songs are more immediately appealing than others, no track on this album fails to grow over time. Though I can’t promise the whisper-weak, effects-heavy vocals on “Coffin Dance” will win you over in the end, or that that line about the colour of the eyes “coming out from the teeth-filled sky” will ever stop grossing you out, there is so little that really disappoints on this album, even if it does lack a little energy comparatively.

This may be AJJ’s most cohesive record yet. With some of the sharper edges of Knife Man shaved away it’s almost concept-album-like in its presentation, and it will make you work to untangle exactly what lies behind the lyrics. It’s an album that wears its title well. Christmas Island: something joyous, yet isolated. A blurring of fabrication and reality.

By Bobby Innes

Warpaint – WarpaintWarpaint

Warpaint’s debut effort The Fool was released over three years ago and was generally well received, although it struggled to catch with popular media; unsurprising really for a band so viscerally allergic to hooks and up-tempo tracks. Warpaint are better known for their live shows, their semi improvised tracks and undeniable band chemistry make for a rich and mesmerising atmosphere which never really made it to the record. They are keen to let everyone know that there are few new songs on this their eponymously titled second album, rather the songs were written near the band’s conception and have evolved over the years through countless hours of ‘jamming them out’. But try not to be sceptical of this hippie approach to songwriting, it clearly gave them something unique on their first album, through composed songs and pinpoint emotions meant we would look forward to the next attempt from these west coast shoe gazers.

Warpaint begins with an altogether pointless two minute intro. Beginning with some inane banter when the bassist fucks up, the track does nothing except introduce us to the synth-led sound of their new album. “Keep it Healthy”, the next track on the album, will quickly cull any doubts. Entangled guitar and bass riffs sit over a fluid time signature that you can never quite grasp onto, let you know the band will always be a few steps ahead. The lack of anything distinctly catchy adds to the hypnotic nature of their sound. Let the haunting vocals guide you deeper into their world with this, the strongest song on the album.

Their minimalist and gothic style make comparisons with The xx obvious, who in fact they toured with after releasing The Fool. A tour they likely learnt a lot from as hip-hop beats sneak in under dub synths, clearly taking notes on Jamie-xx’s immaculate production style. They have even at times taken influences from some acts in the witch house genre, captured in the heavily altered wailing vocal lines and incessant beats particularly in “Disco//very”.

This is where Warpaint is at its best. In its brooding and desperately menacing moments it is utterly entrancing. If only they could keep it up, the album is intelligent and compelling but sinks from beautifully crafted soundscapes into murky sameness. You may also start to wonder if the singer is mumbling so much not for style but to distract from the unimaginative lyrics… The final song “Son” was particularly infuriating; surely she can’t be apathetic to everything?

This album will suck you in, tempt you into its layers of sound, but this is where it ultimately fails; it demands your attention and patience but in the end offers you little in return. Underneath it all, there is a polished sheen that seems a little clean for the organic songwriting. Feeling a little hollow, it will leave you wondering but not wanting more.

By Robbie Sinclair

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