A regular column in which freaky Peter Kearns casts a spell on a bunch of new album releases! You’ll wake up screaming!
THERE ARE SOME comments on musical influence around the place in this week’s Juju. It must be the ‘Blurred Lines’ hangover. It’ll wear off. Not that I’m ever shy to bring it up. In two cases here, the music seems to be primarily based in past invention. It’s no crime if that influence is just a rhythmic feel or an atmosphere. It goes to show, they’ll never snuff that stuff out – not while there’s a market for it and not in an age when people’s reasons for getting involved in music have less to do with music itself than ever. On the flipside there is some strikingly original material being made. It’s just that the signal to noise ratio is skewed toward the latter at the moment. I think it’ll turn around.
KENDRICK LAMAR – To Pimp A Butterfly (Rap-Hip hop/USA) (Top Dawg)
In 2013, following his revered contribution to the AB Soul & Jay Rock single ‘Control’, Compton-born rapper Kendrick Lamar declared himself the king of New York, vowing to lyrically murder all his peers. The consequence was an outgrowth of protest tracks in response. Lamar fulfilled his prophecy, being named 2013 ‘Rapper of the Year’ in GQ magazine’s ‘Men of the Year’ issue. In the accompanying interview, Lamar announced the start of work on what’s become To Pimp A Butterfly – a lyrically unapologetic collage of jazz, funk and prose influences, including performances by George Clinton, Dr. Dre, Ronald Isley, Flying Lotus and Thundercat. Samples abound, including slices from The Isley Brothers, Boris Gardiner, Zapp, Radiohead, Sufjan Stevens, and even a 1994 Tupac Shakur interview excerpt.
The ubiquitous collaboration culture that fuels hip-hop in general looks messy on paper, and sometimes leaves me questioning the quality-control. I’d say, if not out of goodwill, the fear of either litigation or ego damage is at the heart of the multiple production credit, as if the responsibility is to be coveted. But having too many cooks defeats the purpose of the role. Some of Lamar’s tracks credit up to four producers. What’s wrong with a musician credit? In the end, credits are just words on paper or in pixels. I’d say there’s really only one main producer and/or the artist calling the shots on many hip-hop productions. Musician/producer, Flying Lotus, responsible for album opener ‘Wesley’s Theory’, handed a pile of tracks intended for his next project over to Lamar, who in turn worked on all of them, only releasing the one. That’s some discerning decision-making going on right there. Would a helmsman who makes a decision like that, suddenly be prepared to relinquish responsibility to a cache of collaborators? In contrast to the album production credits, I think the visionary Lamar had a firm grip on all aspects of this recording, and as a result, To Pimp A Butterfly casts a shadow over many other 2015 rap releases. To paraphrase a ‘Wesley’s Theory’ lyric, I’d suggest that Kendrick Lamar certainly looks both ways before anyone crosses his mind. A
OF MONTREAL – Aureate Gloom (Progressive pop/USA) (Polyvinyl)
It can’t be denied that Of Montreal leader, Kevin Barnes, is one of the truly authentic and unique characters left in a field fast heading for hell in a plastic commode. In a world where Kanye West, Katy Perry, and a string of idle American Idolers and X Factorers won’t step out of the way, what chance for ubiquity does a true musical eccentric have? Kevin and his ilk have been the stuff of great rock stories for decades. Not the ones that painted pictures of swimming pools pelted by falling furniture or 3D tyre tread burns appearing on hotel carpeting, but the stories in between that provided the substantial and often tragic backgrounds of forgotten figures like Jobriath and Klaus Nomi. Alas, tragedy sells, and Kevin Barnes’ story has yet to include any besides a marriage break-up and the fact of his almost non-existent mainstream presence. One reason being that he just gets on with the job and another being his lack of musical compromise.
Of Montreal’s albums travel where Kevin Barnes’ whims take them, and Aureate Gloom is no exception. Its palpitating post-punk disco carries lyrical themes of bi-polar rebellion and pedigree depression, along with other concepts of equal accessibility. But Kevin Barnes is in the perfect position for his abstract and searing personal freneticisms to ooze from his pores without anyone complaining. The irony is that he might have to consider compromise if he steps any further up the fame ladder. The respect of his peers, critical acclaim, and the wherewithal to make it all happen – What more could you want in a talented underdog? Every leader is a cellophane punk anyway. A-
NOEL GALLAGHER’S HIGH FLYING BIRDS – Chasing Yesterday (Rock/England) (Sour Mash)
The Beatles and classic British rock in general are parts of the Gallagher DNA, so near the membrane underside that the possibility of bleeding is constant. The gaping wound of Oasis’ ‘Stand By Me’ never completely healed. Noel still picks at that sore and sometimes the scab falls off. The opening lyric on this new high-flyer is ‘..something in the way she moves..’. ‘Nuff said. Somehow when he does this it doesn’t bother me like it would from someone else. Although, ‘While the song remains the same, Let it go on and on and on’ did irritate just a bit. As did the repetitive ‘Immigrant Song’ bass rhythm of ‘Ballad of the Mighty I’, a song that also has a touch of The Alan Parsons Project about it, which is a new vein for Gallagher. New borrowings is probably as original as it gets here, and a bit irritated is the extent of my discomfort from the new music of an artist who has successfully waved the banner of ‘60s/’70s rock since Oasis first emerged over 20 years ago. Noel Gallagher pretends to be nothing more, and that’s worth its weight in lead these days. B-
TOM COCHRANE – Take It Home (Country rock/Canada) (Sky Is Falling)
Take It Home’s perfectly constructed and beautifully performed country-rock tunes make their points masterfully. But something’s missing. I could understand it better if the album was just really crappy, but it’s nothing of the sort. It must be a taste thing. My personality is interfering, which I avoid at all costs. I miss the intellectual pop of Tom’s old band Red Rider – it was adventurous, but this sounds like it’s coasting. Though finely crafted, the lyric concepts underwhelm and fail to leave the launching pad. Maybe his early ‘90s hit ‘Life Is A Highway’ was more curse than blessing and he’s still riding it. Fortunately, ‘The Ones That I’ve Known’ has a magical atmosphere, and for lyric buffs, its dual message of gratitude and dismissal is the only thing here even approaching the incendiary. Colour me frustrated to the point where I have to give Take It Home two ratings, which is probably a good reason to stop giving ratings at all. Personally, B-, but professionally, A.
MINI MANSIONS – The Great Pretenders (Indie pop/USA) (Electromagnetic)
Compared to The Beatles in some quarters, Mini Mansions get their second album rolling with seeming nods to Sparks and early-‘80s ELO combined with what sounds like (but isn’t) a Linn Drum pinched from Prince’s ‘Delirious’. Only when we get to ‘Creeps’ do we get a more strident T-Rex meets Cheap Trick ballad, and on ‘Heart Of Stone’, an almost carbon-copy of Canada’s Klaatu. They were partially Beatle-influenced but also offered up their own signature sound, which I’ve yet to hear Mini Mansions do. The presence of Brian Wilson on ‘Any Emotions’ probably doesn’t help to tone down the band’s classic pop influences, but it sounds like they wear them proudly on their sleeve anyway, so who cares? I suppose some people will start caring in light of the ‘Blurred Lines’ fiasco, but all that fuss can only encourage originality and help to sort the wheat from the chaff. In the meantime a nice bit of 20th century noise is perfectly acceptable. It’s not like anything new has come along since. Not yet. A- PETER KEARNS