1: Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
Few of rock’s old guard manage to age gracefully career-wise; Angus Young is still playing the same riffs and Gene Simmons has turned into a punchline. On the other hand, Paul Simon might be the cleverest lyricist today. It’s a sardonic wit that comes with age.
Hate on me for bringing age into this, but these are words as an old soul can spin without irony or pretention-references to nature and confidence about the vagaries of life and relationships, tempered with subtle weirdness.
Proof Of Love is an epic journey in 6 minutes, which accomplishes more than the entirety of Led Zeppelin’s attempts to sing about Lord Of the Rings Downhill town/The road ahead/Spiral, as a serpent’s bed/A teaspoon of desire for my meal.
Post-post-post Simon & Garfunkel is a solo career varied in musical styles and attitudes; Stranger to Stranger embraces some of those newfangled sound, collaborations with electronic-jazz-dance music producer Clap! Clap! and 43-tone-per-octave experimental instruments from sonic-wizard Harry Partch.
For all it’s worth, the album isn’t musically avant-garde in any sense, no Throbbing-Gristle cacophonies or self-mutilating spoken-word nonsense. Things fit and sound nice, the centre holds. Throw in an album cover by Chuck Close and you’ve got an A-team of art-folk, headed by a powerful force squeezed into what looks like a mild-mannered 74 year old. Cool Papa indeed.
2: Blink-182 – California
Hey this sounds just like my childhood!
I’m sorry to say that this makes the album painfully irrelevant. Even if you can forgive the sad attempts to connect with today’s youth (a ‘keep calm and listen to Blink-182’ makes an appearance on the Cynical video about 2 years too late-which is pointless anyway because cool meme-kids only listen to vaporwave and glitch-hop, duh).
That said, I’m having fun still-exactly because they still sound like Blink-182, even with the new replacement of Tom DeLonge with punk-rock legend Matt Skiba.
So uh, stay classy Travis Barker?
3: The Mountain Will Fall – DJ Shadow
Some of that new-fangledness mentioned earlier? Not good here. Gone are the esoteric beats and the black-wax turntable mysteries of previous albums. The beats are terse, and seem to be reaching at some sort of complexity but fall short.
You’ve got shitty almost-experimental bass trap (Three Ralphs) that sounds like a Flying Lotus reject and bits of wannabe Death Grips rhythms peppered throughout.
The album isn’t a complete flop- stellar guest-stars and featurings lift an otherwise uninspired drumfest with orchestral compositions (Ashes to Oceans feat. Matthew Halsall) and warped-broken-beat Cocteau Twins vocals (Pitter Patter feat. G Jones & Bleep Bloop). Shadow’s penchant for badass Tarantino-style gunslinging beats does lends itself well to the kind of faux-menacing rap so present in modern alt-hip hop (Nobody Speak feat. Run The Jewels). Let’s hope we’re not endtroducing him for real this time. I like DJ Shadow.
4: The Avalanches – Wildflower
We talked about the first track that was revealed, Frankie Sinatra here, most opinions on this track apply broadly to Wildflower.
Wildflower feels good in its entirety; if Since I Left You was the introspective, trippy preamble then Wildflower is the hopeful, summer-of-love psychedelia that indicates some sort of blossoming. Like previous efforts, there’s still the conspicuous of anything remotely gangsta-rap in the retrograde hip-hop sound.
The guest stars all their respective kinds of cool-cred here; MF Doom, Toro Y Moi, Jennifer Herrema from Royal Trux. The tracks in Wildflower do feel more distinctive compared to SILY with their fun beats and semi-silly samples centered around a particular guest artist or tune.
There’re flecks of The Chemical Brothers about, especially since Wildflower sounds much more danceable; Subways is an almost Disco tribute, and don’t forget that people are definitely going to be ironically moving to Frankie Sinatra.