The Bubble Album Reviews No. 27

Daft Punk- Random Access Memories
The expectations for Daft Punk’s fourth studio album are astronomically, perhaps even unattainably, high. A combination of viral marketing, cryptic information releases and the French-dance Gods’ own extraordinarily high (and consistent) standards has enabled a peculiar acceptance of inevitable excellence to set in. Random Access Memories was dubbed ‘the biggest album of 2013’ before anyone had heard a single distorted synth. Then ‘Get Lucky’ was released at the end of April, and the hype seemed entirely justified. It was, within hours, the song of Summer 2013. It was another DP classic, an inherent, almost innocent catchiness and rhythm in its make-up, a defiantly proud celebration of nightlife. That crackling instant of euphoric realisation that resonates timelessly around the dancefloor when 90s anthems explode from the club’s speakers; ‘Hey Boy Hey Girl’, ‘Insomnia’, ‘Red Alert’, DP’s own ‘Around the World’… that is Get Lucky’s future. We are in the presence of funky greatness. Expectations were raised just an iota higher.

RAM’s tracklist can be broken down into three groups; the soon-to-be dance classics, the meta-musical, almost philosophical epics, and the slower filler material.
Under the floorfiller classics category, ‘Get Lucky’ is accompanied by the simple but effective ‘Give Life Back to Music’; its 70s-recalling disco beats are compelling, but it never amounts to anything special. Much better (I even prefer it to ‘Get Lucky’) is ‘Lose Yourself to Dance’, which incidentally also features Pharrell Williams. An effortlessly cool, irreverent guitar line acts as the centrepiece here, backed by a rhythmic clapping, basic percussion, and of course, Williams’ enticing plea to try losing ‘yourself to dance’.

The most interesting aspect of RAM is in its self-awareness, and self-evaluation. The magnificent Giorgio by Moroder is a stunning fusion of journalism and musical poetry. Giorgio Moroder himself provides an insight into how he envisioned the synth as the ‘sound of the future’ (a recurring theme in RAM). Part homage, part documentary, part dance-build-up masterpiece, (the final three and a half minutes is an incredible example of DP’s ability in composition) it’s in many ways the record’s highlight, powerfully epic yet poignant. Almost as good is ‘Touch’, which opens with Blade Runner-esque monologue before kicking off with a hysterical piano and a bonkers trumpet, then concluding with a string-supported choir repeating with increasing confidence that ‘if love is the answer, hold on.’ Daft Punk’s soundtrack for a robotic future still requires a human touch.

My favourite song on the LP however is ‘Doin’ it Right’, primarily because it’s a flawless synthesis of dance anthem and meta-musical meditation. It’s minimalist disco, a simple snare drum every now again the only friend of a robotic voice claiming ‘if you’re doin’ it right/everybody will be dancing.’ This is clearly Daft Punk’s voice, only corroborated by Panda Bear’s repetition; it’s their motto, the concept upon which their entire backcatalogue is founded upon. It’s also damn catchy, in spite of its near insane minimalism.

Sadly, although unquestionably better than Human After All, RAM never quite reaches the dizzying heights of Homework or Discovery. This is entirely down to its consistency: for each classic, there’s an instantly forgettable filler track. What’s worse is that they appear in clusters of ten to fifteen minutes (the songs between ‘Get Lucky’ and ‘Doin’ it Right’ could be cut and I doubt anyone would care.) There is also the overriding feeling that it just sounds too overproduced, too refined, too perfect.
Regardless of its flaws, RAM represents an assured Daft Punk. There’s a plethora of dance-funk anthems to get excited about, and it’s their most thematically ambitious record yet. They’re doin’ it right.

By Kieran DevlinThe National- Trouble Will Find Me
The National are an easy band to dismiss. Over the course of five albums and assorted EPs, they’ve gone from forlorn alt-country also-rans to forlorn indie rock heavyweights. Ironically, for a band that has never consciously chased the zeitgeist they have a surprising number of detractors who are quick to label them as “boring”, “sad sacks”, “miserable”, etc. Their sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, will do little to change these perceptions. I mean it’s already pretty obvious from the title. However, this is missing the point of what makes The National such a great band. Trouble Will Find Me is their most restrained effort yet and like fellow New York brawlers-turned-crooners The Walkmen, it suits them well.

As is standard operating procedure with The National, Trouble Will Find Me starts in an impressive fashion. “I Should Live in Salt” builds from a controlled, acoustic guitar-led number to an expansive statement of purpose, with singer Matt Berninger declaring “I should live in salt/for leaving you behind”. The majority of the songs tend to be of this type: calm, purposeful, and on occasion, anthemic. “Fireproof” and “I Need My Girl” are both built on interweaving guitar figures and remain subtle things, without resorting to stadium-sized bombast. It is indicative of The National’s mastery of these sorts of songs that the listener is still drawn in by the intricacies of the music and Berninger’s lyrical abilities.

One notable exception is single “Sea of Love“, which is the album’s “Bloodbuzz Ohio”/”Mistaken for Strangers”/”Abel” – in other words the one where the band ups the tempo and Berninger gets to do some shouting. The song builds up the tension with a pounding drum beat before a harmonica and some quickfire drum fills kick the song up a notch. Also the music video is great.

Lyrically, Berninger remains in tried and tested-territory on this album, again proving himself adept at capturing the neuroses and anxieties of educated 20 to 30-somethings. Trouble Will Find Me contains a number of trademark Berninger-isms and manages to continually straddle the divide between poignancy and meaninglessness. One example that comes to mind is the line from “Humiliation”, another of the album’s more up-tempo songs, in which Berninger informs us: “I was teething on roses/I was in guns and noses”. For this reviewer, the lyrics are stronger than on High Violet, containing the sort of observations that manage to capture ephemeral emotional nuances and dress them in some kind of slanted poetry (“I was a television version/of a man with a broken heart” – “Pink Rabbits”). Berninger’s singing has improved too, and he utilises a higher register alongside his more recognisable baritone to create a series of well-crafted melodies.

Musically, The National have continued their progression from their previous two albums and have have doubled down on their indie rock-with embellishments template. The arrangements tend to be more sparse than High Violet, reminiscent of 2007’s Boxer. In particular, songs like “This Is the Last Time” and “Don’t Swallow the Cap” benefit from this more understated mode and hark back to Boxer’s stately grandeur.

Simon Reynolds’ review of this album noted how The National’s albums can be grouped into pairs, and bearing this in mind, Trouble Will Find Me is of a piece with High Violet. If you enjoyed that album, or any of the songs that The National released around that time, you’ll certainly enjoy this. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is a stronger collection of songs on the whole. The National aren’t radically redefining their sound or jumping on any bandwagons, rather they’re doing what they do best – delivering thirteen beautifully arranged, lyrically astute indie rock songs that are among the best you’re likely to hear this year.

By Rafael LubnerVampire Weekend- Modern Vampires Of The City
Modern Vampires of the City marks the final step in a trilogy of albums that could equally have been called freshman, sophomore and senior respectively. Where albums one and two were gimmicky and ungroomed, album three is worldly and feels like an album; themes of time, loneliness, providence and fate are inescapable. These songs aren’t as riddled with class signifiers as VW’s previous stuff, the musical influences aren’t flown like national flags at a UN convention anymore and the overall tone is more musing than amusing, but there’s a lot to be uncovered here too and in herein lie the best lines Ezra Koenig has ever written; to use a platitude – it’s more mature.

It’s well known that VW have a name fetish (Byron, Blake etc.), but their level of maturity is now such that they also get turned on by second names… Lead single Diane Young has been described as the natural conclusion to #YOLO2012; It’s about living now, living fast and dying young (and burning Saabs) and with its apt pace and instantly gratifying melody might just be the song that Vampire Weekend get remembered for, and justifiably.

The track ‘Step’ could be not more different. Step samples a hilariously ephemeral demo track from Oakland rappers Souls of Mischief while Ezra Koenig sarcastically apologises for being pretentious on his previous records “I used to front like Angkorwat” – in what is surely the greatest apology of all time. Ezra then goes on to apologize for being a musical snob while Rostam (piano player and producer) plays a harpsichord in the background. Buffoonery aside, the video for this track is a brilliant yet not-so-subtle tribute to the opening scene of Woody Allen’s Manhattan – recall “Chapter One. He adored New York City…”. Something about this music video also brings to mind Ezra Koenig’s cameo appearance in New York-based hit TV show “Girls” – a show I cannot recommend enough.

Despite claiming to be fluent in biblical Hebrew on all my graduate-scheme applications, my knowledge of that particular dialect is in fact quite basic: I do however know that ‘Yahwey’ is a rarely used synonym for God, and in Israel would elicit the same response that say: name-dropping Voldemort would in the middle of a crowded Gringotts. At one point in the track ‘Ya Hey’, Ezra Koenig likens the mystery of God to a non sequitur change of songs in a DJ set – I’m pretty sure no one’s ever thought up that before.

I really love this album and I genuinely could write you an article for why I get a semi over every one of these songs, but you wouldn’t want to hear that and I really don’t want to ruin it for you (though it’s probably too late for that now). So just listen to the album and if you’re still not convinced, then get me drunk and I’ll tell you where you went wrong.

By Walt TaylorBlack Pus- All My Relations
Side-projects are a funny thing. They tend to symbolise a conduit for a deeper or alternative sound to the main band’s oeuvre. Yet Black Pus, the tasteful pseudonym for Brian Chippendale the drummer of the noise-rock duo Lightning Bolt, doesn’t fit this pattern. On one level it’s because Lightning Bolt sound like two decades worth of bass and a drum constantly on the cusp of exorcising the demon inside them. But more importantly it is these two instruments that are the band’s personality: though the kind that fills the room so thickly that your brain gets sluggish in trying to think. So does that mean that Black Pus is just the drummer? Nope, well technically yes. Black Pus started with free jazz sax on his early home recordings, which have crystallised into some kind of drum-mounted fuzzier substitute of bass on his latest album All My Relations.

On one level this gap allows Chippendale’s woollen gas-mask miked vocals to progress more to the forefront. And while I preferred the image of the Chippendale’s voice being detached from the band, like a zealot stumbling into a jam session, it actually functions well as the song’s core. The single-worthy tracks (and this term is used very loosely) are the predominantly vocal-lead: the perversely doo-wop ‘1000 Years,’ the Ian Curtis-esque ‘Fly on the Wall’ and the shamanistic ‘Hear No Evil’. Yet in true fidelity to his moniker, Chippendale then shoves the most listenable tracks through a blender and sees what gunk comes out the other side. This may often come in the form of loose keyboard riffs, a dying organ or looped shrieks; such that by the end each song it looks like Chippendale has broken this toy and moves on gluttonously to the next.

On the other hand, Chippendale’s bass substitute doesn’t match up to Lightning Bolt comrade Brian Gibson’s basslines. On All My Relations the bass sounds like revving chainsaws that are constantly fading, and Chippendale is trying desperately to keep them afloat. While on Lightning Bolt Gibson’s riffs help maintain a solidity that slowly bores into your skull. So it was slightly disappointing to see the pale remnants of the Lightning Bolt monolith ‘2 Towers’ on Black Pus’ opener ‘Marauder’. However it seems unfair to make this comparison. For this sense of decay seems to be a central theme to the album, best shown on the cover (Chippendale’s own work). It seems like quite an originally nice abstract piece that has been left to drip and formulate itself into a colourful mess. And that’s probably the best way to describe the album.

A good pH Test for Lightning Bolt’s work is to leave it going on in the background. A popular reaction would be to turn it down/off. The motive for this action will likely fall into two categories. You’re either just a fucking pussy (e.g. “Megaghost“), or the song is actually quite annoying (“I Wanna Get High But I Don’t Want Brain Damage” collab with Flaming Lips”). On All My Relations however there was no desire for this, and I managed to cook a spaghetti carbonara without wanting to rub my hand on the cheese grater out of catatonia/irritation. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, All My Relations sure gave me other feelings, and I still dripped some sweat and confusion into my carbonara. They just had the faint taste of something different: a new kind of abrasion.

By Oliver White

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