TIME Music

REVIEW: The Fun in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s New Album, Mandatory Fun

Mandatory Fun
RCA

How does Weird Al's new album stack up against classics like 'Bad Hair Day'?

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Having already looked at the very best of the “Weird Al” catalog, Consequence of Sound’s Matt Melis and Ben Kaye recently sat down with staff writer Henry Hauser to chat about the Weird one’s new record, Mandatory Fun.

Matt Melis (MM): For more than 30 years, “Weird Al” Yankovic albums have provided a nerdy, zany, irreverent excuse to throw a party. But the fascist, propaganda-inspired cover art, promotional “transmissions,” and title of Yankovic’s new album, Mandatory Fun, convey a far more uncompromising message: Join the party, or else! Yes, Big Brother Al is watching you, us, and apparently Lorde and Iggy Azalea, and hell hath no fury like a goose-stepping, polka-loving dictator who doesn’t get his state-mandated yuks. So, Henry and Ben, at the risk of life-threatening reprisal if you answer in the negative, did you have fun listening to Dear Leader’s latest album?

Henry Hauser (HH): While it’s no Bad Hair Day, I still found myself chuckling and snort-laughing throughout Al’s latest. Sure, Mandatory Fun is cheap, juvenile, and often downright grating, but damn if it isn’t good for a couple of laughs.

From Mr. Yankovic’s impassioned ode to the supremacy of aluminum over inferior forms of food preservation (“Foil”) to his biting satire of LA celebrity worship (“Lame Claim to Fame”) and adroit portrayal of creepy corporate evangelism (“Mission Statement”, a style parody reminiscent of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), Al brings his A-game. He’s clearly got impeccable rhyming chops, spinning off lines like “Fungal rot, bacterial formation/ Microbes, enzymes, mold, and oxidation” on “Foil”, a delicious parody of “Royals” that could easily have made the cut on 1993’s The Food Album. Al even ventures back into the realm of meta-parody with polka medley “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!”, mocking almost 40% the Top 40 in just over four minutes.

But there’s also something slightly disturbing about the album. On more than one occasion, I actually forgot that I was listening to parodies. The prevalence of Auto-Tune, paper-thin lyrics, and re-re-re-recycled vocal melodies in pop music all blur the distinction between Al’s lampoons and the chart-topping drench that which “NOW…we call music.” Pop stars are scorching “Weird Al”’s terrain; at this rate, he’ll be parodying his own parodies.

Ben Kaye (BK): Did I have fun listening? Of course I did; it’s a “Weird Al” album! How could you not enjoy a record that includes a polka mash-up of pop smashes? That’s actually what makes critically listening to an Al album such a challenge: There’s really nothing to judge it against besides past efforts. So, I suppose the real question is how this new collection of parodies stacks up against those works, and from that perspective, it’s definitely a success. Mandatory Fun sits comfortably amongst the best of Al’s post-Bad Hair Day releases, and I do think that’s the benchmark at this point. Directly comparing the modern stuff to the material you heard as a kid isn’t fair to the newer works; they’re never going to have that nostalgia attached to them, and they’re not “time capsules” for at least five years.

But that’s looking at the big picture before tackling the individual parodies, so let me backtrack some. There’s a lot to make you smile here; the lethargic pace of Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” is perfect for “Inactive”, “NOW That’s What I Call Polka!” is as wonderfully titled as the tracklist is selected, and even “Tacky” (parodying Pharrell’s “Happy”) has its moments. The first half of “Foil” is great, and that bridge you mentioned, Henry, was the first time I audibly laughed. However, I keep wishing he’d stuck with the food humor instead of the weird switch to Illuminati jokes so it really could’ve been on The Food Album. Things like that make me struggle to find the parody that’s going to sweep the nation, though if there’s one song that could go viral, I’d point to “Word Crimes”. Maybe it’s the writer/English teacher in me, but I think this is the shining moment of the album. Part of that is definitely Pharrell, because even as a parody, “Blurred Lines” is catchy as hell. Still, Al’s lyrics are as sharp as ever here, and lines like “You should never/ Write words using numbers/ Unless you’re seven/Or your name is Prince” have kept me chuckling through multiple listens. And I’m so with him on homophones; I’ve been reading too many things lately that mix up “further” and “farther.”

MM: I’m not nearly as impressed by the new parodies. As Henry suggested, maybe the quality of the source material is problematic. Like Al once told Eminem in a fake AL TV interview, “Give me a break. I could only change the words. I couldn’t change the music, too.” Al’s just doing what he always does: parodying whatever we’ve hoisted atop a pop culture pedestal. How could he not try and tackle Lorde or Pharrell? But, there’s that fine line in parodies between funny and merely figuring out how to make something fit. Really, who’s going to get many laughs out of “Handy” apart from that nonexistent cross-section of Bob Vila and Iggy Azalea fans? Same goes for “Tacky”’s faux pas cataloging. Clever, sure. Funny? Not really.

“Word Crimes” absolutely tops the parodies. It’s a brilliant reminder that grammar and spelling still count in Al’s book, and, yes, Ben, love that Prince line, a subtle dig at the great purple one who has shot down Al’s parody requests for years. And how ambitious (and unexpected) was “Mission Statement”? It’s a George Carlin skit on the dilution of language set to CSN harmonies. The song sounds amazing, but I guess I’m wondering how often I’m going to want to hear all those corporate buzz words strung together. (I’m going to have “synergyyyyy…” in three-part harmony stuck in my head for a long while.) I guarantee this song becomes a widespread boardroom favorite at some point, though.

But let’s hear a little bit more about the non-parody cuts here. And what about the eight videos in eight days, which Al began releasing the day before the record’s release. Speculation? Any song you’re dying to see a video for?

BK: To clarify, I’m not 100% thrilled with the parodies either. “Tacky” only has moments, and I agree that “Handy” is weak, perhaps his weakest opening track since “Living with a Hernia”. Matt, you’re right that he has to play the hand the Top 40 deals, but he could’ve concocted a better topic there.

As for the non-parody stuff, “Sports Song” and “Jackson Park Express” are quintessential Al tracks. The former sounds ripped from Al TV, and the latter is another great execution of his rambling nonsense tales. I just love that he sticks to these tropes that, let’s face it, have never been what made him famous. I can just imagine summer camp kids turning “Sports Song” into a team cheer during color war. (If you know, you know.) But besides those two, “Lame Claim to Fame”, “My Own Eyes”, and “First World Problems” all rely too heavily on listicle-style humor for me. I know this is nothing new for Al, but the jokes don’t hit home as often with this trio of tracks. And I wanted to love “First World Problems” because the topic is so #IRL, but I just don’t feel it as much as “JPE”, which, to be fair, also goes the listing route, though at least there’s some level of storytelling.

I think it’s safe to guess that “Handy”, “Foil”, “Tacky”, and “Word Crimes” will all end up with videos, if for no other reason than the popularity of the original songs. I can’t wait for “Word Crimes”, obviously, and think the right clip could really give that some legs on the ‘Net. Some guy did a sort of brilliant Flash video for “Albuquerque” years ago, and I’d love to see something similar and official for “Jackson Park Express”. Is that too much wishful thinking, Henry?

HH: I’d be pretty interested to see how the video for “Mission Statement” turns out. Apparently, the song was inspired by all the executive meetings that Al’s endured over the course of his 30-plus-year career. Plus, the dogmatic feel of those corporate retreats jives really well with the album’s faux-fascist title and cover art. And, as we all know, synergy is a great way for Mr. Y to “advance [his] market share vis à vis a proven methodology.”

MM: Is the marching band-led “Sports Song” Al’s first sports-related song ever? As a recovering sports junkie, sober now for about five years, I couldn’t appreciate it more. It’s an instant classic from that opening line: “Your sports team is vastly inferior/ That simple fact is plainly obvious to see/ We’re going to kick your collective posterior.” Every college team needs to adopt this as its fight song immediately. Of course, this would lead to multiple homicides every weekend during football season.

On the nine-minute Cat Stevens strummer “Jackson Park Express”, Al relates one of the great love stories of our time. Granted, it takes place on a bus, the girl is totally oblivious, and the entire relationship consists of Al’s reading into a series of incidental, non-verbal gestures (e.g., “Then she let out a long sigh, which I took to mean/ Oh, Mama/ ‘What is that deodorant you’re wearing?/ It’s intoxicating!’”) Alas, no love can last forever, or in Al’s case, not even a bus ride. It’s nine minutes that never drags, draws numerous laughs, and showcases Al’s knack for delightful absurdity, spot-on style parodies, and even the type of subtle, observational wordplay you’d more likely find in a Flight of the Conchords song.

These moments render the title Mandatory Fun totally unnecessary. And I’m not just saying that because the eyes on this album cover seem to be following me across the room.

Essential Tracks: “Word Crimes”, “Jackson Park Express”, and “Foil”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: World Peace Is None of Your Business Is Definitively Morrissey

Morrissey
Harvest

There's no room for vagueness when you're only releasing two or three albums a decade

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Right on cue, as Morrissey releases his 10th solo album, the world’s attention moves to conflict in the Middle East. As I’m typing, the latest update is that Israeli forces are dropping leaflets in northern Gaza, warning Palestinian residents to move away from Hamas sites to avoid military strikes. The death toll of the attacks so far is approaching 170, which includes too many kids. As it turns out, the title track on World Peace Is None of Your Business — an ironic take on the value of democracy — opens the album, but it’s a deceptive start because it’s by far the most political song here. Also present are “Staircase at the University”, which satirizes academic expectations, and “I’m Not a Man”, which handcuffs popular notions of masculinity. Together, these three songs span the continuum of the Manchester native’s wisdom and accompanying snark. Those ingredients are key for tabulating his legacy with both The Smiths and as a solo artist, and also make sure this is definitively a Morrissey album.

From the beginning, many perceived Morrissey (and, to a lesser extent, his songwriting partner, Johnny Marr) as arrogant, which ultimately comes down to The Smiths’ artistic sureness throughout their incredibly productive four-year existence. They knew what they wanted, and soon enough, meaningful art was expected from them. World Peace Is None of Your Business, recorded in France with help from producer Joe Chiccarelli (The Strokes, Young the Giant, My Morning Jacket), has purpose, too. Musically, there are callbacks to Smiths and Morrissey solo albums going back more than 20 years, be it the sashaying pop of “Kiss Me a Lot” or the more ornate “Staircase at the University”. But there are also glimmers of a more refined taste; it’s one of the most European albums Morrissey has made, with ingredients like flamenco guitar, trumpet, and accordion. Meanwhile, based on this album alone, the age-old question of whether he’s an optimist despite all his dread should be answered in the negative. Thankfully, his ideas are still clear, written as they are under the assumption that there’s no room for vagueness when you’re only releasing two or three albums a decade.

Right away, “World Peace Is None of Your Business” is directed at you, the potential voter. Morrissey, who was clowning Margaret Thatcher as soon as he had an adequate stage, laments the stagnation of political unrest (i.e., what’s improving in nations that need the most monitoring?) while pretending it’s no big deal if we don’t know where our tax money is going. The message is agreeable, of course, and the titular refrain is one of the strongest on the album. The next op-ed, the eight-minute “I’m Not a Man”, which follows the two-chords-at-a-time fuzzbox stomp of “Neal Cassady Drops Dead”, is easily the biggest drag here. For that reason, it simply comes too early on the album. But while “I’m Not a Man” relies on simple stereotypes to makes its point (“T-bone steak/ Wolf down/ Cancer of the prostate,” goes the vegetarian), at least Morrissey knew exactly what he wanted to say. That’s the album in a nutshell: He’s been doing this songwriting thing long enough to know how to carry out his vision, at least once a central structure or passage presents itself. In the case of World Peace, it sounds like a lot of those initial sparks — the chord progressions, the hooks, etc. — illuminated the process even more than usual.

“Istanbul”, which details a difficult father-son relationship, is one of the only spots on the album where the blasting electric guitars don’t sound clunky; Boz Boorer and Jesse Tobias’s riffs are strong enough to drive the entire song. Accordingly, the remainder of the medium-rocking thing, which includes another successful hook, runs smooth. The sweeping “Staircase at the University” — which follows a young lady who studies hard for months only to come up short, GPA-wise, to the disappointment of her fam and friends — has a breeziness in direct conflict with the absurdist bloodshed: “Staircase at the university/ She threw herself down and her head split three ways.” (What’s more, something about the song, possibly the clapping rhythms, suggests Moz has a decent electropop record in him.) The album’s penultimate track, “Mountjoy”, is an acoustic-oriented getaway, its strums melting into one another and brushing beautifully against the arching, deliberate vocal.

Of course, Morrissey’s voice (that ageless wonder, always so fragile yet so under control) is the one guaranteed success here. Predictably, it’s the riskiest choices that pay the fewest dividends. “I’m Not a Man” is a slow-goer with uneven pacing and guitar work that hangs in the air, whereas it should match the snare’s pop. “Neal Cassady Drops Dead” has those macho guitar chords, which practically contradict the premise of “I’m Not a Man”. Finally, the closer, “Oboe Concerto”, is too loosely connected with its seemingly improvised instrumentation and digital zips, zaps, and drips, all of which distract from the song’s foundation, its basic shape. Fortunately, the album on the whole has enough of Morrissey’s strengths — the ones he established with Marr and co., first causing NME journos to wet their trousers 30 years ago — to be a mostly serviceable Morrissey album. More importantly, it’s destined for enough success that he probably won’t regret his delayed retirement.

Essential Tracks: “Istanbul”, “Staircase at the University”, and “Mountjoy”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Mr. Dream’s Final Album Contains Career Highlight

Mr. Dream
Godmode

The album is the perfect cap to the trio's run

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Apparently, someone once wrote that Brooklyn noise punk outfit Mr. Dream sounded like the “cassette you found in the used car you just bought,” and they took it as more of an aspirational message than a dig. Adam Moerder, Matt Morello, and Nick Sylvester started by scraping together noise and post-punk touchstones into their own scrap metal sculptures. 2011′s Trash Hit leaned heavily on the likes of Pixies and Jesus Lizard, while 2012′s Fatherland brought some dance-ready grooves reminiscent of Franz Ferdinand. So, yeah, a cassette left underneath a seat in a Ford Escort made sense from the start. But the fact that the trio released their new LP, Ultimate in Luxury, as an announcement of the band’s finale reinforces that used feeling. They’re now entirely stuck in an unreachable moment rather than just reaching back for one.

The album opens on the screech-rumble intro of “Making Muscles”, Moerder’s vocals cooly taunting, “You’re not sharp yet, you’re round” as the guitars sting away. But there’s something of futility, too, when he repeats the line “making muscles in the mirror again.” The band is clearly conscious of every moment of showing strength, even when it comes off unhinged. “Fringy Slider” immediately follows, the bonking bass and cymbal shimmy coming together in a laser-guided head nodder.

The Pixies echoes recur on the propulsive “Cheap Heat”, a highlight of the album and of the band’s career. While Moerder frequently falls into a nearly monotone post-punk smirk, here he shows a greater range, low melodic moans in the bridge, falsetto in the hook, shouts as the song burns its last fuel. After cataloging futile gestures (there’s talk about cardboard flags and being silenced by hands shoved in mouths), Moerder offers a solution: “I’ll gnash teeth and I’ll get mad for you,” he shrugs, after the “Alec Eiffel” guitars have slithered their way into the tune. That sort of catharsis is the key to what Mr. Dream and their influences bring to the table; even if he’s being sarcastic on “Cheap Heat” — which, judging from the title, is certainly a possibility — the headlong rush into the mosh pit the song demands is a precious commodity. It’s just too bad that they won’t be around to play this one live to see it happen.

After a strong start, the album starts to lose steam, especially in terms of that cathartic rush. The palm-muted scraping of “Work Faster” offers interesting texture, and Moerder swoons around like a drugged David Byrne, but the track never latches on. Later, “Watched It Wrong” arches expertly, but its insistence that “they’d rather see sex scenes” and “they’d rather see houses” ring kind of hollow, a vague accusation lobbed at a vague target. When the lyrics don’t have the same aggressive bite, Morello and Sylvester’s rhythms need more force, or else the whole thing gnaws gently. Luckily, the first half of Ultimate in Luxury tears in with enough force that its flagging second half can get away with a nibble.

Though it wouldn’t appear that Mr. Dream started out with the idea that this release would be posthumous, “Bloodmobile” works as a swan song. “Anyone can drive the bloodmobile/ It’s so easy, just grab the wheel,” Moerder intones over mournful guitar, adding lines about strange facial constructions (“no mouth, just tongue”), patricide, and empty status symbols, all as chilly mutilation waves and spectral, falsetto backing harmonies coast by. Maybe they found a Surfer Rosa tape stuck in the bloodmobile before they picked it up, and now they’re leaving Ultimate in Luxury in there for the next set of kids to listen through. In that way, the left-behind Ultimate in Luxury, soon to be available on cassette, is the perfect cap to the trio’s run.

Essential Tracks: “Making Muscles”, “Cheap Heat”

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TIME Music

The Complete Glastonbury Festival Post Mortem: 30 Top Moments

Festival Goers Enjoy Glastonbury 2014
Festival goers at the 2014 Glastonbury Festival on June 29, 2014 in Glastonbury, England. Matt Cardy—Getty Images

From least surprising to least prepared for the weather, a full look at the famous festival, which took place June 25–29

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Tony Hardy (TH): The first rule of Glastonbury is that only you can create your own snapshot. Your experience could be totally different to the next person and the next and so forth. Whatever kind of music you are into, you’ll find it here. You can party like it’s 1999, 1970 or any year you want to choose. Or chill, take your time, breath in, bliss out.

Scott C. Moore (SM): Get there early, though. The scale of this mother of all festivals is nearly incomprehensible, so arriving on Wednesday or Thursday will help to accomplish the impossible task of taking it all in. While many of the main stages will still be under construction, food vendors and bars across the site are fully operational and everyone in attendance is in a celebratory mood. Don’t see any big names scheduled for Wednesday or Thursday? Don’t worry about it. Allow the feel of the place to lead you, and you won’t be disappointed.

TH: The size and scale of the festival site is still daunting but once you get over the sight that greets you as you gaze across the valley, it starts to fit into place. Glastonbury is arranged like a series of small, interconnected villages each with a stage or more.

SM: You can find yourself in the center of the market area listening to Irish folk music emanating from a quaint gazebo. Or you could drift over to a field in the English countryside for a throbbing underground night club in Block 9. It’s great.

TH: The signs that point the way are now taking on an antique quality, but they work. And despite a few necessary updates, the otherwise marvelous pocket guide produced by The Guardian does its job. I’m still trying to get over the absence of Robyn Hitchcock and the Spirit of ’71 stage and don’t want to be reminded where it was used to stand every time I open the map. And where, oh where is William’s Green!

SM: My advice? Walk around the site, yes, the whole site. You didn’t come to Glastonbury to get shit faced in front of your tent (if you did, you’ve overpaid for the privilege), so explore the grounds and figure out what it’s going to take to get from the Pyramid to West Holts when you need to rush between two can’t miss shows later in the weekend.

TH: Good advice, Scott. As you know, this year marked the festival’s 44th year, and host Michael Eavis has already announced he’ll be stepping down when it turns 50, handing both reins to daughter, Emily. He will leave a huge legacy. Why? Because more than any other music festival, Glastonbury is a cultural extravaganza the likes of which you won’t find anywhere else on Earth.

What’s more, the organization is amazing, and the festival’s a tribute to everyone who works there, whatever role they have. From guides to guards, each staff member handles whatever weather and humans can collectively throw at them with grace and humor. (Let’s be sure not to forget the two tragedies that took place over the weekend.)

Though, I do have one grouse, festival goers: take your stuff home. I did. All of it, muddy or not. After all, the by-line of Glastonbury is “Love the farm – leave no trace,” but thousands don’t. Clearly.

SM: Two ubiquitous campaigns on Worthy Farm are “Leave No Trace” and “Don’t Pee on the Land”. I’m not sure what is was like before those campaigns started, but there are dudes pissing EVERYWHERE and there is garbage all over the place. Volunteers do a remarkable job of keeping up with the garbage but they aren’t getting a ton of help from the attendees.

TH: Whatever else hasn’t already been written about Glastonbury is possibly best left unsaid. Instead, enjoy our 30 favorite moments of the weekend and maybe push yourself to go next year. It ain’t easy, but what ever is?

The Breakfast of Champions: Jonny Greenwood and the London Sinfonietta

Friday, West Holts – 11:10 a.m.

Before noon on the West Holts stage on Friday, Jonny Greenwood opened on solo guitar and layered recorded loops to create a rich, sonic atmosphere. After 15 minutes of intricate strumming, the ever humble Radiohead star sheepishly thanked the crowd before leaving the stage. Greenwood was quickly replaced by the London Sinfonietta delivering Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians”. The piece dips and swells from quiet reflection to frenetic intensity, allowing a showcase for each instrument. It evokes the contemplation of humankind’s continuous struggle to understand the meaning of our existence and place in the universe. Just kidding. I have no idea what it means, but it was absolutely fucking beautiful and a perfect start to the day. –Scott C. Moore

The War on Blondie: Blondie/The War on Drugs

Friday, Other Stage – 12:15 p.m.; Pyramid Stage – 12:30 p.m.

A guiding principle of Glastonbury is that at any time during the day, there are at least two bands you really want to see at the same time. Without access to the inter-stage area, which turns the miry walk between the two main stages into a comparatively short hop, the following would not be possible. Thanks to an early surprise set by Kaiser Chiefs, Blondie opened to a huge crowd with a supercharged rendition of “One Way or Another”. (Just to correct the girl to my right: no, this wasn’t a One Direction cover). Age may have taken some edge off Debbie Harry’s formidable pipes but the trio of opening songs were predictably slick, fast, and dynamic, as gaunt guitarist Chris Stein matched Harry for silver-grey chic.

Meanwhile, over on the Pyramid stage, Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs worked through some sound issues, specifically an uncomfortable bass boom that spasmodically dulled their ringing guitars. Regardless, Adam Granduciel’s six-piece entertained a gathering throng to some classic guitar rock, chiefly culled from their recent Top Rated album, Lost in the Dream. The atmospheric, drawn-out “Under the Pressure” and emotional bruiser “Red Eyes” especially hit the spot with 2011 breakthrough song “Come to the City” providing a pinnacle closer. All through the set, Granduciel’s Dylanish drawl worked through heartache yet the music always lifted spirits. The war was won. –Tony Hardy

Artist Least Prepared (For the Weather): Deltron 3030

Friday, West Holts – 2:30 p.m.

The Deltron 3030 ensemble included a horn section, backup singers, strings, a live rhythm section, a conductor/hype man, and DJ Kid Koala working three turntables and a host of electronic gadgets. Whether a testament to Del the Funky Homosapien’s delivery, the excellent West Holts sound, or both, the show was delightfully devoid of “the muddle” that plagues so much live hip-hop. Deltron 3030 dropped mind-bending rhymes backed by soaring orchestral arrangements for a genre-defying performance that had the crowd bouncing. Throw in a guest appearance from Jamie Cullum and closing the set with Gorillaz’ “Clint Eastwood”, and it can’t get much better. Oh, and Del called out Mars Volta’s bass player for picking up a pair of wellies onsite while he just had to deal with his shoes being all fucked up. I guess nobody told him. –Scott C. Moore

Accessorizing with Mud: Summer Camp

Friday, William’s Green Stage – 3:00 p.m.

If you’re going to turn up amid a sea of mud in a brilliant white trouser suit, then playing an indoor stage seems a wise move. Summer Camp’s brand of breezy, intelligent dance music meant the youthful audience packing the William’s Green stage was far too occupied with having a good time to practice mud-slinging, and so their outfits stayed pristine throughout. (Mind you, I was tempted briefly to target the girl with the feathered headdress obscuring my view.) Husband and wife Jeremy Warmsley and Elizabeth Sankey, respectively, impressed with as much confidence on stage as they did with their fashion sense. And despite that booming bass once again, the two came out on top, specifically with a singalong of “Ghost Train” and a raucous closer in “Two Chords”, the latter ending in a barrage of feedback, rather than mud, of course. –Tony Hardy

Ready to Give Up The Day Job: Andrew Maxwell Morris

Friday, Bimble Inn – 4:00 p.m.

The path towards The Bimble Inn provides a welcome pint of real ale or cider and invariably a goodly selection of acoustic-based live music. It’s a kind of pagan heaven, decked out with knotted drapes and fairy-lighted foliage, and even camp beds for the weary festival goer. Andrew Maxwell Morris is something of a regular at the festival, though he’s usually on his own with a guitar. On Friday, he was flanked by an adroit four-piece band and two backing singers, who offered much more than simply eye candy. Criminal lawyer by day, Morris held a relaxed, if not fully captive, afternoon audience with Americana-drenched songs off his new album, Well Tread Roads, and some older favorites. An earnest, flowing “In a Heartache”, Knopfler-quality soloing from the lead guitarist on “Low Light”, and a storming “January Rain” were just three stand-outs. Given the crowd he nabbed, it might be high time to close the briefcase and go for the bigger stages. –Tony Hardy

A Dose of Midday Sunshine: HAIM

Friday, The Other Stage – 4:25 p.m.

The Haim sisters bragged about bringing some California sunshine to Glastonbury, and the ominous clouds held off just long enough to not make liars of them. A pair of covers displayed a range from sensitive (“XO” by former festival headliner Beyoncé) to bona fide rock ‘n’ roll chops (Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well”). The delivery of their own work was crisp and emphatic and punctuated with personal stories and gratuitous “fucks.” The icing on the cake came when Este told the crowd she’d bet a stage tech 100 quid that Glastonbury knew how to shake their asses. Clearly the tech never had a chance, and the sisters owned the crowd from then on. –Scott C. Moore

Going Down a Storm: Jimi Goodwin

Friday, The Park – 5:00 p.m.

Nature wasn’t very kind to Doves’ frontman Jimi Goodwin on Friday evening. As his quartet played through “Panic Tree”, the singer announced that an electrical storm was on its way and the power was being cut as a precaution; though, not before he feigned an electric shock from his mic. He was in quite a mischievous mood, clicking with his band and warming up the crowd with a melodic rendition of “Didsbury Girl”, further amplified by his tight, wiry bass. For awhile, they ignored the gathering clouds and distant lightning forks, which creeped in during a therapeutic cut of “Oh! Whiskey”. Three songs later, the storm finally took over and I imagine the nearby Bimble Inn did some extra trade, as people took shelter, perhaps even joined by the band for a few pints. –Tony Hardy

Best Natural Phenomenon: Double Rainbow Over the Site

Friday, Left Field Area (But Probably Everywhere) — Approx. 6:20 p.m.

I highly recommend checking out the double rainbow that looks like it’s growing out of the cabaret tent, should the opportunity arise. Ever again. –Scott C. Moore

#NESK (Not Entirely Safe for Kids): Lily Allen

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 6:30 p.m.

The Lily Allen show attracted what seemed like every kid on the grounds at Glastonbury. Kids along the front barricade. Kids on shoulders everywhere. Kids kicking me in the heels of my rain boots because I stood in front of them to see the show. It occurred to me that maybe the parents who brought them were only familiar with her radio-friendly work.

The dance-pop diva appeared onstage in a flowing gown and pink polka-dotted, 8-inch platform heels. While initially pretty tame, eventually Allen shed the bottom half of her gown, was joined onstage by twerking backup dancers in high-waisted short shorts, and engaged in stage banter that ranged from her camel toe to calling a corrupt British politician a cunt. In other words, she was awesome. An unapologetic badass, not softened by motherhood, who only managed to chase off a few parents with kids in tow.

The show featured massive sing-alongs to old favorites and enthusiastic receptions for her Sheezus cuts. A chorus of boos erupted when she informed the crowd her set would be shortened by the rain delay, and she cheerfully reassured them that they had an amazing evening to look forward to with Elbow and Arcade Fire still to come. –Scott C. Moore

Another Sunset With My Sad Captains: Elbow

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 8:00 p.m.

Once the storm had passed, the late evening sun bled through and the Pyramid stage hosted an act that Glastonbury had taken to their hearts. Majoring on tracks from its 2014 album, The Take Off and Landing of Everything, Elbow was the perfect choice to accompany the sun’s descent below the horizon of this marvelous amphitheatre. Older fans might decry the lack of attention to their early catalogue, but there was no doubting the flow and grace of the latest songs, linked by Guy Garvey’s genial uncle of a personality: “Look at you all beautiful in the evening sun, your gorgeous creatures.”

Elbow simply captured the mood and moment, peaking with the beautiful eulogy of “My Sad Captains” and building audience interaction through “Lippy Kids” to the inevitable singalong closer of “One Day Like This”. It was a time for pride and passion and an amicable way to forget that England were out of the World Cup. Yet there was glory in this hour on Somerset, as we all sang: “Throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year would see me right.” Who could argue. –Tony Hardy

The Masked Man on Fire: Arcade Fire

Friday, Pyramid Stage – 10:00 p.m.

Friday could have arguably ended with Elbow, but this is Glastonbury, and so the festivities carried on with Montreal’s finest, Arcade Fire. Pyrotechnics accompanied the ascent of a mirrored colossus during opener “Reflektor”, indicating that this was going to be the sort of ‘true event’ spectacle worth bragging about online and in the very far future. Theatricality has always been the band’s forte, and they arrived with due aplomb. Win Butler wore his Lone Ranger eye makeup and his wife Régine Chassagne dazzled in sequins. Yet, bravado aside, Arcade Fire seemed genuinely humbled to be there.

Butler has come far since sporting a pudding-basin haircut in the early years, and it was great to hear the Fire reprising a classic like “Keep the Car Running” or deftly revamping songs from its back catalogue, such as “Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out)”, to fit its current rhythmic oeuvre. Because of this, there was a particularly smooth transition between numbers. The members kept the chatter at a minimum, focusing instead on keeping the adrenaline pumping. By night’s end, they closed up shop with a brilliantly reworked “Wake Up”, a proud closing statement and moment that further underlined the band’s status as a major league player. –Tony Hardy

Best Way to End Your Show: Angel Haze

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 1:15 p.m.

Detroit rapper Angel Haze’s set boasted hard-hitting hip-hop as well as a sensitive cover of John Newman’s “Love Me Again”. It also included the best way for a young artist to create crowd frenzy. Haze jumped down from the towering Pyramid stage to perform her last two songs while doing determined loops through the crowd. There are plenty of intimate stages at Glastonbury, but the Pyramid is not one of them, so kudos to Angel Haze for bringing the show to the fans. –Scott C. Moore

Baritone of the Weekend: Midlake

Saturday, Other Stage – 1:40 p.m.

From the opening verse of “Young Bride”, Midlake frontman Eric Pulido was in excellent form, comfortably offering the best vocal performance all weekend. He has a commanding though gentle presence, a rich baritone that arches over the lush instrumental patterns laid down by the band and complimented by fine harmonies. And despite losing leader Tim Smith in 2012, Midlake has gone from strength to endurance. “We Gathered In Spring” and a stripped down, emotional cover of The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” were among the highlights, while the always-delightful “Head Home” sent an enchanted and curious crowd onwards, many of whom had probably heard the Texans for the first time. –Tony Hardy

Betting on a Future Headliner: Kodaline

Saturday, Other Stage – 4:30 p.m.

After their triumphant Glastonbury debut on the John Peel stage last year, Irish four-piece Kodaline returned to the much bigger Other stage for a prime Saturday afternoon slot. Sunglasses opposed the strong sunlight and there was an audible sigh when lead singer Steve Garrigan later took them off. Good looks go hand-in-hand with strong hooks, apparently, and detractors who place the outfit as an Anthems-R-Us band who listen to too much U2 and Coldplay seemingly miss the point. “One Day”, “Way Back When”, and their much-anticipated closer “All I Want” host genuine sentiments and shared experiences forged by life-on-the-road camaraderie — they’re also just killer tunes. Towards the end, a huge downpour brought out macs and brollies, but the vast crowd stayed for the duration and sang their hearts out. Kodaline will be back, not necessarily next year, but they’ll be back… as headliners, too. –Tony Hardy

Pretending to Smoke Is Pretty Lame, But Can I Get Another Cigarette?: Lana Del Rey

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 4:00 p.m.

Lana Del Rey’s set was plagued by technical difficulties and the banality of her performance style. She started late, seemingly due to a malfunctioning video screen that may have never been fully sorted out at any point during the show. She made a huge production of getting a cigarette from a side stage tech twice that she proceeded to light, hold for a minute or two, and never smoke. Admittedly, I wasn’t a Lana Del Rey fan before the show, but she didn’t do a single thing on the world’s largest stage to win me over. My own prejudices aside, there was no shortage of “We love you Lana!!!”s or young girls singing along. It’s possible she’s not ready or right for a venue this size. Her show seems more suited to a dark club or theater venue, but maybe the real issue is that I’m not a 15-year-old, at heart or otherwise. –Scott C. Moore

The Show You Wish Was A Reunion Instead: Robert Plant and the Sensational Space Shifters

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 5:30 p.m.

Robert Plant took to the Pyramid stage in the early evening on Saturday amidst a few early pleas from the crowd to “play ‘Stairway to Heaven’!” While Stairway was obviously absent, they delivered a Zeppelin-heavy set that featured enough new material to spare the exquisite musicians Plant has assembled the feeling they’ve joined a Led Zep cover band. It would be wonderful to say the tunes have the same, old feel, but with bassist Justin Adams’ teenage son doing a spirited dance on stage and grade school girl guitar techs, the whole affair seems just a bit more family-friendly than the days of old. The show is still an incredible showcase of timeless classics and musical virtuosity, even if it’s not the reunion everyone wants to see. If they come to your town, or within say 50 miles of it, buy a ticket. Legends are hard to come by. –Scott C. Moore

Rumbling, Bumbling, Stumbling: Jack White

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 7:30 p.m.

Apparently, Jack White’s beef with the press knows no borders, as he denied photographers the customary 10-minute window at the beginning of his Pyramid stage set. White sauntered out on stage drinking directly from a bottle of Veuve Clicquot yellow label champagne and launched into a feisty jam before settling into “Icky Thump”. It’s pretty clear White is no longer content with the standard versions of The White Stripes catalog, and each tune pulled from it had a fresh edge if not an outright extended jam. The resulting outcome was that Lazaretto selections had a tighter feel but were less familiar for a crowd that White occasionally had to coax with shouted questions. Being a consummate showman, he closed out with two White Stripes favorites in “Ball and a Biscuit” and perennial set closer “Seven Nation Army”. The latter eventually devolved into a sonic battle with his drummer, and, just for good measure, it took on a physical element when White stumbled through the entire drum kit. Maybe he should lay off the champagne until after the show. –Scott C. Moore

Play the Hits, Man: Pixies

Saturday, Other Stage – 9:00 p.m.

Indie Cindy, the Pixies’ first album in 23 years, didn’t win over any critics or fans, but there’s little denying the Bostonites’ iconic back catalogue. As such, Frank Black & New Co. stuck chiefly to the hits, limiting Indie to three appropriate tracks. Now, much has been made about the loss of original bassist Kim Deal, the brief tenure of another Kim (Shattuck), and further replacement, Paz Lenchantin. But at Glastonbury, the massive crowd of fans could have cared less, and with good reason. Paz was as enchanting as her surname. Joey Santiago’s soloing in “Vamos” and drummer David Lovering’s consistent work (and good humour when asked to sing an interminable chorus) also stood out. I appreciated hearing “Here Comes Your Man”, too. As for main man, Frank Black, he may eschew crowd banter but the voice, the aggression, and attack are all still there in spades. Pixies have had their ups and downs, but this set really felt like they’re back up there and aiming even higher. –Tony Hardy

Controversy Addressed. Do You Have Any Further Questions?: Metallica

Saturday, Pyramid Stage – 9:45 p.m.

In direct response to the controversy surrounding their invitation to the festival, Metallica opened their set with a video homage to the noble gentleman’s pursuit of fox hunting. In a seeming attempt to point out a parallel between the freedoms enjoyed by British sportsmen of the past and alleged activities that generated an entire Facebook petition to prevent the band from performing, the video had crowds wondering if the band could be THAT irreverent. And then bears with shotguns blasted the noblemen from their horses and revealed themselves to be the band members in costume. Irreverence grossly underestimated. Metallica proved to festival goers they earned their spot on the Pyramid stage by laying down a fiercely intense set of well-known classics interspersed with more recent work. Much as Jay Z threw off controversy in 2011 and delivered a performance to remember, all those who attended the Metallica show will have it ringing around their heads (and maybe ears) for years to come. –Scott C. Moore

Best Unrelenting Use of Graphics: MGMT

Saturday, John Peel Stage – 10:45 p.m.

Anyone who had their fill of Metallica, and didn’t fancy Bryan Ferry (!), could have done worse than stray down to John Peel to catch MGMT’s closing set. As usual, the stage was rammed, but there was some benefit to standing outside the tent, even if that area was pretty full, too. From there, festivalgoers had a perfect vantage point of the incessant back projections that gave a whole new meaning to the word unrelenting. Those who watched the entire carnival of creatures, flowers, and kaleidoscopic shapes might still be in for surgery. Musically, messrs Vanwyngarden and Goldwasser focused on tracks off last year’s self-titled third studio album, and 2010′s maligned Congratulations. Of course, “Time to Pretend” and “Kids” went over well. –Tony Hardy

Let’s Hear It For Emerging Talent: M+A

Sunday, West Holts Stage – 11:45 a.m.

The annual Glastonbury Emerging Talent competition gives UK-based unsigned artists the chance to win a spot on a main stage. Eight acts made it through to the live finals in April and winners, London-based Italians M+A, were rewarded with the opening Sunday morning slot on the West Holts stage which majors on dance acts. (Some of the other finalists, including Gibson Bull, Hero-Fisher, and Izzy Bizu, also found their way onto other stages.) Predictably, M+A drew a small initial crowd, but eventually won passersby over with their brand of percussive electro-pop, tempting a few early birds into throwing a few shapes down. Where they go from here is up to fate, but they’re working off some strong tunes, notably “Down the West Side” and “When”. –Tony Hardy

A Green Affair: Eyes for Gertrude

Saturday, Mandala Stage – 1:00 p.m.

While Glastonbury’s main stages run like clockwork – the occasional act of God permitting – the same cannot be said of its smaller stages in the Green Futures field. Times are wonky and signs are missing, but that’s part of the area’s laid-back, friendly charm, the likes of which occasionally manage to draw festivalgoers in. A brief walk from West Holts across to Green Futures saw me stray across the delightful string-driven Beaubowbelles and amazing hippy throwbacks Love Revolution. In between, I stopped by to listen to Eyes For Gertrude, who were one of my Emerging Talent picks. The duo’s voices sync beautifully; the first all-warm country tones, the second offering English purity. Taking sounds from the routines of daily life and reaching for higher ground with determination, EFG offers quirky, observational songs, illuminated by delicious vocal flourishes — definitely the start of a green affair. –Tony Hardy

Voice You Least Expect to Come from the Person Actually Onstage: Sam Smith

Sunday, The Other Stage – 4:00 p.m.

Sam Smith’s international star is rising, but his show on Sunday at the Other Stage proved beyond a doubt that his home country fans already know what they’ve got. In a set featuring work from his debut album, a brief interlude of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I know”, and a lounged-up full cover of fellow Brits Arctic Monkeys’ “Do I Wanna Know”, Smith stormed the stage. Everyone in the crowd participated in the massive sing-along. Everyone. Little kids in the front row, old men in bandanas, and a bro in a banana suit. No one was spared, no one. –Scott C. Moore

Anyone Seen Dolly?: Dolly Parton

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 4:40 p.m.

We weren’t really prepared for Dolly Parton’s Glastonbury conquest. A 100,000 strong crowd duly lapped up Parton’s homilies and whimsy, madly singing along when it came to “Jolene”, “Islands in the Stream”, and “9 to 5”. Coming on like a rhinestone cowgirl, the lady performed with gusto, sang sweetly and toted various instruments for brief cameos. At times, the performance felt like a part of a strange, alien variety show, which further demonstrates Glastonbury’s diversity. In a surprise twist, Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora joined in near the end to embellish a gospel treatment of “Lay Your Hands on Me”. Follow that, Ed Sheeran (and he did). –Tony Hardy

Small Man, Big Sound: Ed Sheeran

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 6:00 p.m.

Ed Sheeran took to the Pyramid stage as a one-man explosion of sound. Looping his own rhythm section and using his guitar as a percussion instrument, it’s amazing so much noise can come from one tiny man with an acoustic guitar and some effects peddles. Sheeran busted out infectious dance-worthy beats and somber ballads with equal dexterity, all the while encouraging creative crowd participation. Be it a sea of fans hoisted on shoulders, waving of loose clothing, or singing the chorus to his closing song long after he left the stage, another kid-heavy crowd was happy to indulge Sheeran’s requests. –Scott C. Moore

Set You’re Most Likely to See at Their Next Performance: The Black Keys

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 7:45 p.m.

The Black Keys started as a power duo and have expanded and contracted over the years. The current incarnation employs a bass player and someone to run the electronic wizardry, introduced primarily over the last two albums, in addition to Auerbach and Carney. It’s hard to tell if it’s the plethora of side projects or the difficulty of maintaining a primarily two-person creative team, but some of the raw emotion present in The Black Keys’ past live performances seems to be missing. There are still moments of absolute brilliance, with tracks like Turn Blues “Fever” holding their own against old favourites. –Scott C. Moore

Agreeable Alt-Rock Heroes: Family of the Year

Sunday, William’s Green – 8:00 p.m.

William’s Green is named in honor of Michael Eavis’ grandfather and the adjacent stage is fast becoming a shrine to indie rock. With a massive bar and plenty of outdoor seating, it was the perfect place to relax after a hectic schedule, especially to the sounds of Family of the Year. The Los Angeles quintet had to wait until Sunday evening to unleash its warm and friendly brand of melodic alt-rock, and despite a PA that really didn’t need to be turned up too high, the band’s brisk set proved rather joyous. Tunes off 2012′s Loma Vista sounded as fresh as ever and were warmly received by a small crowd that grew as the nine-song set progressed. The show was not without its dynamics — especially when strobes accentuated the punchy “Living on Love” — but the strength of the songs lies in the communal storytelling. Visions of a folksier Fleetwood Mac and Beach Boys come to mind, but their closing song “Hero” is a classic of its own accord. –Tony Hardy

Stop Milking The Applause: Kasabian

Sunday, Pyramid Stage – 9:45 p.m.

There were certainly some who questioned Kasabian’s stature as Glastonbury headliners. They clearly did not include the vast majority of another mega-sized crowd who celebrated the Midlanders’ Pyramid appearance with mass hollering, an impressive collection of flags and even flares. The band set the tone with a delayed entrance timed to a countdown clock, milking the audience for all its worth. Eventually, they strolled out and frontman Tom Meighan, dressed ironically in a white tux, oozed with bravado and attitude, even if a few of his lines felt drawn from the Liam Gallagher school of charm. (Mind you, I loved his brash pronouncement, “This is why you came,” as he introduced “Underdog”.) The crowd’s equally voluble response to a set spanning Kasabian’s 10 years in rock marked it as something of a triumph in the face of naysayers. Meighan proved to be the ringmaster, orchestrating crowd choruses and urging bodies up on the shoulders of many while his band mates provided plentiful sonic ammunition. –Tony Hardy

Least Surprising Dance Explosion (w/ Guests): Disclosure

Sunday, West Holts – 10:00 p.m.

After overflowing stages in the US at Coachella and Bonnaroo, Disclosure’s return to Worthy Farm was bound to be a super massive dance party to close out the main stages on Glastonbury’s final night. At 10:00 p.m. on Sunday, after five days of competitive consumption, a fair bit of the crowd looks a little worse for wear. However, a steady infusion of groove-heavy beats and hypnotizing rhythms from the brothers pumped an infusion of life into the weary crowd. Stacked with guest performances from Ed McFarlane, Eliza Doolittle, and Aluna George, the set had already delivered an epic performance, but the crowd sensed something was missing. Given Sam Smith’s earlier appearance on The Other Stage, where he mentioned the Disclosure show, it was a given he’d show up eventually; and he did not disappoint. Closing with “Latch”, the young crooner’s soulful performance transformed the group of exhausted travellers into a single, super-conscious being. –Scott C. Moore

Winner of the ‘We Don’t Need to Ask If You’re Having a Good Time’ Award: London Grammar

Sunday, John Peel Stage – 10:15 p.m.

Unlike Kasabian, London Grammar was only just hitting the road when the UK trio secured a small stage spot at Glastonbury 2013. To headline the John Peel stage as the final act on Sunday night just a year later was a big ask and singer Hannah Reid told the BBC two hours ahead of the show she was terrified by the prospect. As it turned out, there was no need to feel unworthy and maybe just seeing the size of the crowd as the band took the stage conversely was enough to steady nerves. Yes, people had actually turned up.

Dressed down in sweatshirt and jeans, Reid just played herself, letting her smoky vocals and timely excursions into the higher register do the business against the chilled backdrop of guitar, keys, drums, and a string section. The music did the talking as a rapt audience made for an unusually tranquil atmosphere compared to the usual festival bustle. Finally, the crowd joined in fervently for flagship song “Strong” while 2013 debut single “Metal and Dust” provided a flawless closer. A different kind of triumph to Kasabian, but a triumph nonetheless. –Tony Hardy

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REVIEW: Total Control’s Post-Punk Typical System Anything but Typical

Total Control
Iron Lung Records

The Australia-based bandmates create mosh-worthy headbangers

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

The idea of a “systematic fuck” implies a pleasurable sort of chaos, manipulated here and there by someone or something, perhaps melodically, with purpose and carelessness. The fourth track on Total Control’s Typical System bears that name, the title offering a description of the way in which the entirety flows in and out of jarringly different tracks via a variety of sounds plucked heavily from a post-punk palette.

Australia-based bandmates Mikey Young, Dan Stewart, Al Montfort, Zephyr Pavey, and James Vinciguerra interweave (alternating almost exactly one-for-one) synth-driven, cool-voiced, dance-ready tracks with guitar-driven, mosh-potential headbangers. The steady rhythm of opener “Glass”, when contrasted with the cacophony of following track “Expensive Dog”, highlights this phenomenon, and places Total Control in a world of post-punk redefinition, where the band creates their own balance of elements within a genre by spitting them out one at a time, changing the game just as you start to find it familiar.

This lack of familiarity makes Typical System a systematic fuck; the five-piece isn’t interested in comfort, but rather an intensity created directly by that push-pull exchange, their strangely humorous song titles, and primitive, warlike lyrics. The track which seems to aim for something closest to “comfortable,” however, is “Flesh War”; its repetitive melody, wheezing synths, and reused chorus allow for easier access than the high-energy, hyper-concentrated “Systematic Fuck”, though the two do have their subtle interchange. On “Flesh War”, Stewart mentions “rust upon your face on the breaking of the day” and a repeated, empathetic “your back would break”. These lines go well with “no one wants to play” on “Systematic Fuck”, an obvious insinuation of “fun” in an otherwise purposefully “fucked” soundscape.

“Liberal Party” moves into “funny” territory, however, a relatively groovy tune that features Stewart monotonously voicing “you were your worst.” While pointedly on that track, politics play a more fluid role in the band’s mood and message, whether it’s the obviousness of “Liberal Party” or the sharper “Two Less Jacks”, in which Stewart yells “I surrender” countless times. Regardless, thoughts on materiality and labor (also more humanly referenced in “The Ferryman” and “Hunter”) are present in Total Control’s “typical system,” the band’s way of almost humorously oversimplifying their unique collection of sounds in an otherwise complicated, or systematic, fuck.

Closer “Safety Net” features a highly intelligible repeated chorus, which goes: “This, this has always been a safety net/ You don’t need a safety net.” The track itself is Typical System’s literal safety net; it’s such an easily digestible track, perfect for your “typical” indie rock, post-punk album — but Total Control are obviously not interested in “typical.”

Essential Tracks: “Glass”, “Flesh War”, and “Safety Net”

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REVIEW: Phish Keeps Things Fresh With Fuego

Phish
ATO Records

The storied band shakes it up on its latest album

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

At Phish’s Halloween concert last year, the band began its second set with a somewhat esoteric reference to golf, of all things: “You’ll never win a major only shooting par.” The lyric belonged to “Wingsuit,” the first of 12 songs Phish debuted that night as a yet-to-be-recorded future album. Although some fans felt tricked out Phish’s usual Halloween cover-album tradition, for me and for many other phans, it was pure treat. In the ensuing eight months, we’ve replayed recordings of 10/31/13 set II over and over again, analyzing meanings, contextualizing the event and nerding out, all the while pontificating on how the eventual album would sound. Despite our propensity to unjustly discard the studio albums while cherishing the live recordings, many Phish fans wondered: Might this album be the one that breaks the jam band studio-album stigma?

Now we have our answer with Fuego, Phish’s 12th studio album and second since the triumphant 2009 comeback from their 2004 breakup. The answer is probably no: This will not be Phish’s In the Dark [the Grateful Dead's 12th studio album, which was a surprise hit 20 years into the band's career], catapulting them into unprecedented popularity. Partly it’s just a different era in the industry, and partly there’s no single that touches the musical zeitgeist as readily as the Dead’s “Touch of Grey” did in 1987. Despite that, the first single, “Waiting All Night,” is excellent, with a lugubrious, lo-fi sheen that floats on deep-space bass notes, brightened with acoustic guitar strums.

These new songs display veteran craftsmanship despite only one of them, keyboardist Page McConnell’s superb “Halfway to the Moon,” being honed over years of live playing. Granted, I liked most of the Fuego songs when I heard them live on Halloween and I’ve grown to love them since, finding beauty in the nuances: guitarist Trey Anastasio’s passionate and pleading chorus to “Waiting All Night,” the shimmering gleam of Floyd-esque psychedelia on “Wingsuit” and the silences between notes of “Wombat” that make it one of the most unique and exciting funk grooves Phish has created.

Judging Fuego on its ability to stand alone as a work of studio art, it has much to applaud. Phish wisely avoided trying to capture the live experience on wax, instead hiring pedigreed classic-rock producer Bob Ezrin (Lou Reed, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper). Ezrin’s most noticeable contribution is the addition of horns and backup singers, most successfully done on “555,” bassist Mike Gordon’s minor-key funk stomp. Punchy horn interjections and powerful female vocal responses add a touch of Stax magic to the Little Feat-flavored groove, not surprising since Phish recorded Fuego in both Nashville and Muscle Shoals, in addition to the band’s Vermont barn-studio.

Like the compositions themselves, the brilliance of Ezrin’s work here is in the nuances. He opted to use a live recording of “Fuego” as the basic track, letting its raw energy shine through in the ass-kicking classic-rock guitar riffs and the wild, trance-like speed-funk breakdown. He slowed down “Waiting All Night” and “The Line” from their live incarnations by a hair, allowing the former to ooze a touch more lethargically and the latter to settle into its groove pocket a bit more easily. The ’60s psych pop of “Sing Monica” is crisp and endlessly danceable, with a blistering guitar solo to close out the track.

There are spots where Phish and Ezrin stumble. The most glaring is “Wombat,” a tune that needs to be approached as silly, but whose lyrics are delivered seriously, as if Phish didn’t realize the joke only works if they ham it up. The edges are smoothed over on the normally intense funk jam; not even Ezrin’s horns and soul vocals save the track.

Thankfully, this album’s shortcomings are not due to a drying up of creativity or motivation. Far from being a celebratory nostalgia lap, Phish’s 30th anniversary year of 2013 produced mind-blowing jam after jam after jam. Fuego reveals a band not content to merely keep touring as it always has, playing the workhorse “You Enjoy Myself” every fourth night (although they’ll likely still do that). Phish wrote most of these songs together, with the basic rhythms and progressions coming directly from some of their best recent concert jams. Their democratic approach to composition signals a more mature band, while individual contributions from Gordon and McConnell are some of their strongest to date.

This is not a band reveling in their storied past and “only shooting par.” Fuego is new and fresh, in both content and intent, changing things up, sinking a few birdies, and settling for a bogey or two.

Essential Tracks: “Waiting All Night”, “Fuego”, and “555”

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REVIEW: The Musical Reinvention of Strand of Oaks

Heal
DEAD OCEANS

HEAL took shape after the singer-songwriter camped out in his home studio to write 30 songs in just three weeks

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Following his last album, 2012’s Dark Shores, Philly’s Timothy Showalter needed a change. Showalter, aka Strand of Oaks, was disappointed in the record, his hurting relationship, and himself in general. After two years of avoiding those issues through incessant touring, the Philadelphia-based musician reached his breaking point. HEAL, his fourth LP, first on label Dead Oceans, and loudest offering yet, is the conquering result of Showalter’s troubled period. True to its title, HEAL is a cleansing and cathartic album marking not only a musical reinvention for Showalter, but also a personal and emotional one.

Since 2009, Showalter has been making quiet and emotional folk music, beginning with Leave Ruin, a confessional yet ambiguous record born out of a bad breakup and a house fire. On albums like 2010’s Pope Killdragon, he subverted folk tropes over a brooding collection of tracks that included the fantastical “Daniel’s Blues”, which bizarrely took on the perspective of Dan Aykroyd after John Belushi’s death, along with “Giant’s Despair”, a loud instrumental that verged on heavy metal. With those experiments, he would lay the groundwork for the sprawling and powerful HEAL.

Even Dark Shores, which wasn’t as disappointing as Showalter claims, went back to the intimate and quiet acoustic-based tones of his earlier albums. While the record had depth, it wasn’t the record Showalter wanted to make, and it was certainly not the record he needed to make. With its cathartic compositions and unequivocally honest songwriting, HEAL is the record he needed to make. The product of a particularly manic recording session, HEAL took shape after Showalter camped out in his home studio to write 30 songs in just three weeks. Doing away with the soft dynamics and acoustic instruments, the record is a booming statement and a tribute to the rock music he grew up loving.

Showalter is an open book on HEAL, diving into important and traumatic events from his life through an uninhibited stream of consciousness. He starts from the beginning on “Goshen ’97″, detailing his childhood in Goshen, Ind., where he reveals, “I found my dad’s old tape machine/ That’s where the magic began.” Apart from discovering the music, it was a time where he hid cigarettes under his bed, got drunk in the basement, and sang “Pumpkins in the mirror.” In the chorus, he resoundingly sings, “I was lonely, but I was having fun,” nostalgically encapsulating the solace music offers to teenage angst and confusion. While he admits, “I don’t want to start all over again,” HEAL showcases Showalter doing just that.

Not only does Showalter’s favorite music surface throughout the album through various genre touchstones like screeching ’70s lead guitars, arena-filling drums, and ’80s synths, he addresses the connection directly. Highlight “JM” is an epic seven-minute tribute to one of his idols, Jason Molina of Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co. In March 2013, Molina died at 39 from organ failure after a decade-long struggle with alcoholism. While his loss is still sorely felt, Showalter quietly coos, “I had your sweet tunes to play.” Here, he channels Molina’s mournful storytelling and his breathtaking ability to jump from rustling quiet to deafening fortissimo. Even in Molina’s absence, Showalter looks to his music: “I won’t let these dark times win/ We got your sweet tunes to play.”

Ultimately, Showalter doesn’t let the dark times overpower. HEAL‘s best song, “Shut In”, may also be its most hopeful. Though he wonders, “I lose my faith in people/ Why even take the time?/ You’ve got your problems/ I’ve got mine,” he realizes, “It’s not as bad as it seems/ We try/ In our own way/ To get better.” It’s a thrilling, revelatory moment, backed with zipping lead guitars, with a mix of bright guitar and piano chords. “Wait for Love” ends the record similarly optimistically with a plea for patience (“You’ll find meaning in your life/ And then you’ll complicate it even more”) and a resolution (“I’m giving up getting over you”).

While Showalter has always been revealing in his narratives, he’s never been this uncompromisingly direct with his emotions. Throughout HEAL, there’s astoundingly little ambiguity as he sings clearly and frankly. The title song features the realizations “I know you cheated on me/ But I cheated on myself” and “I knew it wasn’t her/ And I knew it wasn’t me.” It’s uncommon and penetrating insight. Though he’s performed lyrical autopsies on suffering relationships before, never has he been so candid, even going so far as to say his partner’s name, Caitlin, on “HEAL”. He gets nearly violent over her infidelity on the quiet but sulking “Mirage Year”: “That winter when you took my love/ And that fucker was having his fun/ But my hands are worth more than your blood.” Only on “For Me” does Showalter notably veer away from the straightforward lyrics, with a metaphor that captures the all-encompassing, occasionally apocalyptic power of his emotions: “The sun fell out of the sky.”

Showalter drapes HEAL in nostalgic and thundering arrangements, a far cry from the whispering acoustic guitars and occasional lightly tapped drums of his previous recordings. HEAL is a rock record, unabashed in its influences and unbridled in its execution. There are booming drum fills on songs like “Woke Up to the Light” that sound straight out of Phil Collins’ playbook, complete with spacey and slippery synths on “Same Emotions” that reference New Order and occasionally the grand atmospherics of his fellow Philly natives The War on Drugs’ Lost in the Dream. Of course, there are also loud, shredding guitars and distortion-based freak-outs that, along with J Mascis’s piercing solo on the opener, offer thunderously menacing tones on “JM”, “Mirage Year”, and “For Me”.

If Showalter had kept the acoustic guitars and remained an intimate singer-songwriter for HEAL, the album would have been almost oppressive in tone, too overbearing in its emotional resonance. Fortunately, his homages to the rock music that raised him provide the perfect soundtrack for the incredibly powerful emotions of his present. 2014 has already seen more or less spectacular albums like Sun Kil Moon’s Benji and Sharon Van Etten’s Are We There, both made by artists unrestrained from completely pouring out themselves. Where the freewheeling Benji painted lyrical autobiographies in painstaking detail and Are We There dove headfirst into dark and sometimes overpowering emotions about toxic relationships, HEAL is a mixture of the two, a cleansing document that’s ultimately more hopeful. Maybe HEAL is such an enthralling listen because it actually isn’t for us. It’s for Showalter.

Essential Tracks: “Shut In”, “Woke Up to the Light”, and “JM”

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REVIEW: Sam Smith Plateaus on In the Lonely Hour

Sam Smith
Capitol Records

While his voice is far and away one of the purest and most refined in recent memory, Smith never exerts himself to showcase it

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

In the Lonely Hour, Sam Smith’s passionate major label debut, isn’t as much about loneliness as it is about distance. In fact, it isn’t about loneliness at all; it’s about the painful, unavoidable desire for suffocating closeness fostered by unrequited love. It wallows not because of isolation but because of a glaring lack of intimacy and empathy. It spends its time trying to minimize emotional space (for solidarity’s sake, Smith dreams about getting mugged outside a lover’s house), physical space (he wants to hold hands during a one-night stand), even relational space (he pushes a beau to leave another lover). It’s musically stark, too, compressing chord progressions and melodies into subdued acoustic guitar and piano riffs draped occasionally in strings. It hums along at one bleak, naively hopeful tone that often loses affect. Its fatal flaw is not its singular mindset, but the monotonous execution of that mindset. In the Lonely Hour only knows one way to spin its grand thesis.

It would’ve been hard to forecast the murky depths that lied within In the Lonely Hour strictly relying on Smith’s contributions as a guest on Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naughty Boy’s “La La La” (soul records masquerading as pop/dance), but it would’ve been very easy to anticipate his affinity for togetherness. In the former, he sings, “Now I got you in my space/ I won’t let go of you/ Got you shackled in my embrace/ I’m latching on to you.” In the Lonely Hour takes that sentiment to new heights. (For a little perspective, there’s a song called “Life Support”.) Embrace is an appropriate word for this album; Smith is constantly reaching out for someone, seeking to close the gap and provoke sensuality. He longs for an impassioned connection, and that longing is evident throughout, aesthetically. It saturates his art to the point of subduing his otherwise dazzling tone to pedestrian ranges. While his excursions into the mainstream exhibit his star power, he crawls inside himself on the album, reducing the impact of his timbre with forlorn uniformity.

In the Lonely Hour is a soul album that traverses the same emotional depths as fellow UK soul crooner Daley’s Days and Nights did months ago but with far less variety of sound or subject matter. While his voice is far and away one of the purest and most refined in recent memory, Smith never exerts himself to showcase it, staying in the same woeful wheelhouse. Over time, it fails to resonate, sputtering like a skipping disc. Excepting the screeching, uptempo opener, “Money on My Mind”, the album hums along peddling the same sad song the same dejected way, and after some time it’s like taking your medicine: You know it’s good for you, but it’s a pain. By the time you get to “Lay Me Down”, the tragically pleading epilogue that serves as an effective microcosm of the record, it’s all just a blur. Smith slips “La La La” and an acoustic cover of “Latch” into the bonus cuts to remind you he does have range, but it’s too little, too late. There is no diversity, only sameness; without a tracklist, it would be difficult to differentiate between tracks.

At its very best and sharpest, In the Lonely Hour, a poignant and vocally rich survey of turbulent relationships, instinctively produces the same brand of UK soul that Adele used to explode onto the pop scene. It displays an intuitive understanding of feeling and what it’s like to yearn for true love in the wake of utter distress. Smith’s particular variation of this aesthetic is less striking and more soothing, and when he is most in tune with his skill set, he is quite enchanting. Ironically, “Like I Can” opens with the same strutting riff as Adele’s massive breakout hit, “Rolling in the Deep”, and though he doesn’t reach that dramatic climax, his voice calms in its reassurances to his conquest that no one can love him like he can. “Good Thing”, produced by Adele collaborator Eg White, taps into his stellar falsetto as he tries to convince himself that he can’t stay in a destructive relationship any longer. “Too much of a good thing won’t be good for long/ Though you made my heart sing, to stay with you would be wrong,” he laments, and there’s beauty in how he stumbles upon the realization. It’s one of those “better to have loved and lost” kind of things.

On “I’m Not the Only One”, he comes to terms with the infidelity of a lover, and it’s a two-stepping delight despite its somber tone. “Stay With Me”, the album’s third single, is one of the clear highlights, and its plea is sweet and sincere. “Leave Your Lover” is the best listen on In the Lonely Hour simply because it’s a succinct summation of Smith’s agenda, and the subtlety of his timbre and his tonality are stunning. Even with its glimmering moments of intrigue, however, it’s marred by an inability to avoid tedium, and it fades as it pushes towards its imminent conclusion.

In the Lonely Hour is inexpressive and hard to sit through despite being built for easy listening. Sam Smith has the voice of a potential powerhouse, but he doesn’t quite know how to use it yet. His debut parses his feelings with minimal change in mood, and when it plateaus it never peels back the mental state to the visceral, and it never explores another mental state. Despite being spurned and forsaken, Smith’s introspection is only skin deep.

Essential Tracks: “Leave Your Lover”, “Good Thing”, and “Stay With Me”

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REVIEW: Lana Del Rey’s Ultraviolence Is the Album We Need Right Now

Ultraviolence
Interscope Records

The album presents an endlessly fascinating cornucopia of dysfunction

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Ten years ago, I hung a poster on my wall that read, “Being the adventures of a young man whose principal interests are rape, ultraviolence and Beethoven.” It was a replica of a vintage ad for the film A Clockwork Orange, purchased in a plastic laminate from my local punk supply store. Kubrick’s adaptation of the Anthony Burgess novel goes like this: A 15-year-old serial robber and rapist named Alex murders a woman, then opts for psychological rehabilitation over prison time. The rehab accidentally conditions him to hate his favorite music, destroying even the innocent parts of his identity. The story concludes that in order to be fully human, men must be free to choose to murder. Never mind the collateral damage of, say, dead women. You can’t prevent criminals; you can only punish them.

Lana Del Rey appears at her most complicated on her second album, Ultraviolence. On the title song, she sings from the throes of a physically abusive relationship. She repeats the title of “He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)”, a song written in 1962 by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, recorded by The Crystals and Phil Spector, and later disowned by King. Del Rey sings about a man who nicknames her “poison” and “deadly nightshade,” then hits her in a way that makes her suspect it’s a sign of true love. She hears sirens, either the kind that signify emergency or the kind that lure you to be dashed against the shore. She hears violins and violence in the same word. “I could have died right then ’cause he was right beside me,” she sings, her voice multi-tracked over itself. Died of love, or died of him? Is there a difference?

Aided by the production talent of The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach, Ultraviolence presents an endlessly fascinating cornucopia of dysfunction. Del Rey’s voice flourishes. Inside the album’s big, vintage swing, she sings herself into places that Born to Die, with its pop veneer, couldn’t touch. Her lyrics supply a wonderful foil to The Black Keys’ most recent outing, Turn Blue, which ended on the conclusion that “all the good women are gone.” Damn right, Del Rey seems to sneer. Here’s a gallery of the bad ones.

Both Del Rey and Auerbach draw upon signifiers of 20th-century culture, but their motivations for looking back seem miles apart. The Black Keys find comfort in the 1970s. They’ve adopted a mode of playing and writing that’s well-trod and easy to recall fondly. Ultraviolence, meanwhile, sounds nostalgic. It doesn’t loop back through the roles played by last century’s women singers, though Del Rey wields classic femininity as an aesthetic weapon. Here, she dons a genre that once framed an idealized vision of female longing and fills it with all those other women: the women implied by the songs that men were singing about, the women that served as fodder for generations of male heartbreak.

Shedding the tight choruses and hip-hop samples that propelled her debut, Del Rey now plunges fully into the 21st-century impulse to fetishize 20th-century culture. “They say I’m too young to love you,” she simpers on “Brooklyn Baby”. At first it sounds like she’s talking about an older man, but it turns out she’s talking about a whole bunch of them: Lou Reed, the Beats, the first generation of jazz musicians, and so on. The song’s not about Brooklyn 30 years ago, that long-gone, ideal Brooklyn where artists lived fast and cheap. No, it’s about Brooklyn now, a confused, living museum that honors its own geographical memory through a bizarre cultural cannibalism. “I’m a Brooklyn baby,” she sings. “If you don’t get it, then forget it.” This is by far the most millennial song ever written.

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Throughout Ultraviolence, marks of old culture surface and then disappear. Chevy Malibus course down the California coast, women wear pearl necklaces and curlers in their hair, and even Hemingway shows up briefly alongside Burgess. Del Rey controls their orbit like she’s injecting herself into all the art that she consumed long after it had faded from the zeitgeist. And she is. Her re-imagining of the past with her at its center comes out of necessity, not comfort. All those women that rock stars sang about? They were real people, and we never heard their side of the story. Del Rey sings in that void. Thanks to her words, her voice, and her inscrutable presence, she gives those women inner life.

“I’m fucking crazy,” she insists on “Cruel World”. “I want your money, power, and glory,” she demands on “Money Power Glory”. “I fucked my way up to the top,” she brags on a song titled, naturally, “Fucked My Way Up to the Top”. “This is my show.” In a series of delightfully Kanye-reminiscent maneuvers, she preempts the worst of her critics.

Del Rey braves huge and often absurd gestures, but my God, does she sound like she means them. The chorus of “Money Power Glory” arcs with her most triumphant melody yet, while “Shades of Cool” and “West Coast” shiver with heartbroken soprano. She’s never sung like this before. The characters and artifacts that surround these songs feel artificial, like stock props, but the music that Del Rey pulls them through splits them open, shakes them to life. She walks that tough line of high melodrama, demanding emotional investment in stories that nakedly display their own falseness. The way she sings, you start to guess that there’s real love somewhere inside all that gloss.

That love seeps hardest from one of the trickiest songs to scan, the slow-burning, string-laden “Old Money”. The second-to-last track on the album, it hits the same sweet pathos of “Young and Beautiful”, Del Rey’s recent contribution to the soundtrack for Baz Lurhmann’s The Great Gatsby. Maybe “Old Money” takes place inside the same fiction. The way it places wealth next to loss, material possession next to emotional lack, I think it might. It sounds like it’s sung through Daisy Buchanan, Gatsby’s lost love whose story was only ever told by the men around her. In a way, Del Rey lends even more life to that character than Carey Mulligan did on camera. “I’ll run to you, I’ll run to you/ I’ll run, run, run,” she sings in a timbre that by itself crystallizes Daisy’s paradoxical desire and warm, subtle sadness, a sadness that F. Scott Fitzgerald used to symbolize an American betrayal that’s still going on.

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I keep looking deeper into Ultraviolence because I want to understand what Del Rey is trying to understand. I want to know why the culture around me keeps grasping at past emblems — why advertising for 40-year-old movies still decorates college dorm rooms, why I can make my iPhone look like a Polaroid, why 90,000 people sing along to roots rock at Bonnaroo. I want to know why we reuse these tropes uncritically, reaching for analog without asking what gives it power. Lana Del Rey looks at the imagery we keep and tries to find what’s missing in it. What do we avoid looking at when we buy pictures of Marilyn Monroe, not thinking of why Norma Jeane Mortenson died so young? Whose stories do we allow to remain subdued? Ultraviolence rages to fill the vacancies behind the icons, to imagine the sorrow and desperation and flat-out anger of the women still cast in men’s spotlights.

A Clockwork Orange used the word “ultraviolence” to refer to gang beatings that lately seem to count as just regular violence. I’m not sure that’s what Del Rey is referring to here. She uses the word to sing about physical aggression, but the ultimate violence seems like it would be erasure, silencing, negation, the stuff you don’t hear about because it’s an absence by nature. You can see it if you read On the Road or listen to Berlin and try to imagine the inner lives of women who are mentioned in passing, who exist only to sculpt the stories of men.

That negative space is its own kind of violence. Lana Del Rey steps into the shadows it leaves. She has power there, whispering old secrets, giving voice to characters who never got to speak for themselves. She counters a world in which “rape” is not even considered in the same category as “ultraviolence” by dragging up the second word and blaring it in capital letters below a photo of herself gazing enigmatically at the camera. She does her violence to the last century’s culture as we’ve rendered it in pixels the second time around. She is exactly the villain our history needs.

Essential Tracks: “West Coast”, “Money Power Glory”, and “Old Money”

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TIME Music

REVIEW: Die Antwoord’s Donker Mag Fails to Maintain Momentum

Donker Mag
Zef Records

The group is still best seen live

This post is in partnership with Consequence of Sound, an online music publication devoted to the ever growing and always thriving worldwide music scene.

Die Antwoord is like no other band on the planet, having earned their kitschy, South African Zef-side superlative through a combination of badboy raunch, à la frontman Ninja (Watkin Jones), intriguing high-pitched asides from the spirited Yolandi Visser, and a gutterpunk club-kid vibe that pulses off producer DJ Hi-Tek. Past singles, such as the catchy “Enter the Ninja” as well as the Diplo-produced “Evil Boy,” worked their way onto a number of playlists and club rotations, helping the band secure a frenzied live show prestige as a must-see act at any music festival. Die Antwoord’s bombastic concerts and larger than life stage personas are not to be missed. However, this wild energy and devil may care attitude yield weaker dividends after being bottled and pasteurized in a studio that appears staffed by a cadre of rejected Saturday Night Live sketch writers.

The album opens with “Don’t Fuk Me,” a silly set piece wherein Ninja — channeling his least creative Jerky Boys cassette tape — leaves a threatening message on a mate’s voicemail box. It’s a one-sided conversation that is more sophomoric than scary. It is also an immediately disappointing placeholder that serves as an apéritif for the rest of Donker Mag. After all, the craziest gangster rappers — whether true OGs, tongue-in-cheek, Zef side, or even Juggalo — at least have the decency and courage to issue threats face to face. Instead, “Don’t Fuk Me” sets the tone that there is no real danger here.

Ninja shares in “Zars” that South Africa is a diverse patchwork of land with 11 official languages. The track — another sketch of sorts — is a brief history of tongues and accents. It also allows Ninja a moment to share his chameleon-like abilities to fade in and out of dialects depending on his audience. Unlike the other spoken word soliloquies on Donker Mag, this one feels genuine and insightful. The concept of Zef and its rap-rave fiesta sensibilities are poised as a means of pulling the nation under the flag of dance, wilding out, and having a good time regardless of one’s background. That’s why it’s refreshing to hear Ninja expand on the group’s manifesto of unity. However, the fact that “Zars” immediately segways into “Raging Zef Boner” means the nearly ripe fruit gets plucked from the vine early and hurled back into the compost heap.

“Raging Zef Boner” meanders along like the more playful Slim Shady tracks dropped in the early aughts. Lyrically, it sprinkles references to Lady Gaga, Instagram, boob pics, dick pics, catfishing and psychedelics. Musically, it plods along with a clumsiness that’s usually reserved for the villains in animated Disney films. Like hyenas plotting kings and succession, or Gaston boasting about his incredibly thick neck, there’s a disconnected cartoon goofiness to it all. Most of this is meant in jest, of course, but it becomes increasingly difficult for the listener to draw distinctions between moments that earn genuine satirical laughs and other sections best met with a groan. “Raging Zef Boner” wraps up and finds itself sandwiched again between yet another sketch — “Pompie” — which boils down to a forgettable, minute-long interlude of female laughter. It’s too bad the audience isn’t let in on the joke, though. These sketches continue to flare up in “I Dont Dwank”, “Do Not Fuk Wif Da Kid”, and “Girl I Want 2 Eat U” among others.

Bits have long been a part of hip-hop records. Arguably, the funniest and most sinister were found on Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers), where Method Man’s threats of forced gluttonous harm — “[I’ll] keep feeding you, and feeding you, and feeding you” — still deliver a chuckle today. The strength of that sketch is also bolstered by an immediate cut to the rugged limelight introduction of “Method Man.” But these stoppages on Donker Mag, like too many timeouts in a basketball game, prevent the 16-track album from ever securing a sustainable rhythm. They also teach the importance of bringing an unbiased set of ears into the studio.

“Pitbull Terrier” is still a standout song on Donker Mag that finds Die Antwoord returning to form. The one-two back-and-forth between Ninja and Visser hearkens to the original formula of playful exchanges and boastfulness that made the group lovable in the first place. It’s an undeniably catchy tune made all the more interesting by a unique Zef styled cadence, as well as the group’s obsession with animals. “Cookie Thumper” is another highlight. The tune allows Visser to demonstrate that her flow range as a talented hip-hop performer extends beyond mere chorus duties. There’s an eerie, haunted little girl quality to it, as if Linda Blair was vomiting a sick freestyle rather than split pea soup onto her exorcist.

Die Antwoord remains an act to catch live. And that’s no put down. Their stage show pries out a gritty, filthy edge from any commonplace spectator that few bands can hope to capture. As far as Donker Mag is concerned, though, just hold out, and you’ll be sure to catch the best parts at the 5 p.m. slot of your next local music festival.

Essential Tracks: “Pitbull Terrier”, “Cookie Thumper”

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