18 April 2011

TV on the Radio, 9 Types of Light (2011): Album Review

TV on the Radio has consistently cranked out well-reviewed albums packed with catchy, socially conscious songs that have established the quintet as one of the most potent

art-rock bands of the last decade. Yet despite SNL appearances, incredible melodies, and a member that resembles a perpetually stoned teddy bear, the band has failed to join the ranks of other contemporary indie giants like Arcade Fire. 9 Types of Light, TVOTR’s most recent record, is the latest in a string of excellent albums that will be adored by many, but fail to thrust the band into headlining status.

Like their previous work, 9 Types of Light is full of intricately layered tracks that incorporate funk, horns, hand-claps, industrial bangs, angular guitars, triple layered vocals, driving drums, and plenty other crafty sound effects that offer the band an incredibly expansive soundscape. On this album, producer/ guitarist/ token white member Dave Sitek effectively incorporates these sounds into songs that are less dense, but just as engaging as anything else the band has released. By allowing the tracks to breath, the songs are more patient and less jittery. That isn’t to say this album is boring however, just smoother. This new approach reflects the band’s move from the densely packed Brooklyn to the sprawled-out Los Angeles, where the album was recorded. When compared to previous albums, the more subdued tracks comprising 9 Types of Lights are essentially the same as other TVOTR songs, but without the claustrophobic static. I found myself nodding with the majority of the album and the songs are generally more dance-friendly because of the omission of certain production eccentricities. But the new production approach isn’t the only change from the band’s last album. The lyrics are much more straightforward and the love songs are more traditional. Sexy too.

The cynicism that defined earlier TVOTR love ballads is absent; in its place is a healthy serving of sincere, plainspoken romanticism. The track “You” has the line, “You're the only one I ever loved.” “Will Do” has Adibempe crooning, “I'd love to collapse with you/ And ease you against this song” (D’awwwwwwww). Other album highlights include the up-tempo “Repetition,” a song that charges throughout and eventually crescendos with a cyclic chorus. “Caffeinated Consciousness” is an enjoyable track that includes arena-tuned guitars and lyrics like “Gone optimistic/ We're gonna survive.” In fact, this album is decidedly more positive than previous offerings, and marks the band’s most accessible work to date. Album opener “Second Song” aptly conveys this spirit and is another standout track. Overall, this album is a completely new TV on the Radio record, both in terms of sound and content; yet it is undeniably an album made by the same guys that put out Dear Science, Return to Cookie Mountain, and Desperate Youths, Bloodthirsty Babes. I always enjoy seeing bands shift and grow, and it appears that TVOTR is in a healthy period of change; one that sees the band maintaining their core elements, while shifting themes and adding a new layer of accessibility through their lyrics and sonic clarity. Nearly every track is solid, and I was rarely bored – something I can’t say for Dear Science. Definitely check this out if you are a fan of the band, or good music in general.

RIP Gerard Smith

TV On The Radio's bassist, Gerard Smith, passed away on April 20th, 2011 after battling lung cancer. He was 36 years old. The band announced his passing on their website and added, "We will miss him terribly."

04 April 2011

Travis Barker, Give The Drummer Some (2011): Album Review

I’ve never liked Blink-182, The Aquabats, or The Transplants. But I’ve always thought Travis Barker was a very cool drummer. So while I’ve never really been into the bands he’s backed, I have always enjoyed his drumming and can understand why he would want to make a solo album displaying his talents. Unfortunately, his recent drum-infused rap remixes were wearing thin by time he decided to crank out Give The Drummer Some, an album made up entirely of percussion heavy rap tracks. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however, and the CD highlights some of the best elements from the Rap-Rock genre.

For those of you that thought Rap-Rock met the same fate as backward fitted caps, Dungaroos, and good Tony Hawk games, you were wrong. Because like a mighty Phoenix ascending from a smoldering plane crash, Travis Barker is here to remind us why the genre was awesome (and also a little about why it isn’t).

Despite Jada Pinkett Smith’s efforts, kids are still interested in music that dates back to a time when Steven Tyler was kicking holes through Run Dmc’s walls. And while Barker’s album is specifically drum-focused, it is is a classic example of that genre. Unfortunately, most tracks sound like drum-infused remixes, and not bona fide songs. For every song that is clearly built around Travis’s presence, there are five more where his drumming sounds like an unnecessary layer atop a fully developed track. The many guest rappers featured on the album probably realized this and drop occasional shout-outs as reminders to the fact that the album is centered around a drummer. In fact, both Rick Ross and Lil’ Wayne lazily drop the line “Travis on the drums,” in the same song. Without such reference lines it’s easy to hear the album as a compilation of sessions of Travis playing his drums while listening to a mix of songs his friend sent him.

The lack of vocal coordination highlights the absence of focus and purpose of the album. Many lyrics are lazy and seem more like 1st-draft verses that didn’t make the cut for other work. This is especially true for artists that are already established and currently hot. Other rappers, like Twista, Raekwon, Bun B, and E-40(!) are clearly trying harder, and their verses are generally much better than their track mates. The same cannot be said for Cypress Hill, who close out the album with a terribly boring song full of cliche rhymes and verses that only highlight their age and irrelevance.

With that said, the album does have its strong points. Songs that incorporate rhyme schemes built around Travis’s drumming and work within the established parameters of the Rap-Rock genre are generally the best. “Carry It,” which features 90’s all-stars RZA, Raekwon, and Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) is one such song. The Tech N9ne and Bun B featured track, “Raw ****,” is another. The other top songs are ironically the same one’s were Travis’s drumming is less at the forefront. “Knockin” is one such example. The speed rap showcase track featuring Busta Ryhmes, Twista, Yelawolf, and Lil John, “Let’s Go,” is another. Travis’s drumming is undoubtedly impressive throughout the entire album, and its nice to hear him incorporate all the sounds available on his expansive drum set. Unfortunately, without a real sense of collaboration between drummer-producer-rapper, many tracks fail to highlight the talents of those involved. In the end however, I actually enjoyed this more than I thought I would. If you move beyond some of the cheesiness and accept the CD as a collection of tracks, and not a comprehensive album, Give The Drummer Some is actually a lot of fun.