Tag Archives: Twin Shadow

A Swanky 2012: Part Two

29 Dec

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[For an Introduction to A Swanky 2012, go here.]

Part Two

 

The Bowl:  Outback Bowl – South Carolina v. Michigan 

The Pick:  South Carolina (-5.5)

The Album:  Confess by Twin Shadow

Bringing a full-fledged commitment and earnestness to the pop/rock musical styles of the 1980s, Twin Shadow delivered one of the more passionate and assured albums of the year.  Confess sounds as if the brooding, bookish introvert from down the hall has been spending all of his time listening to Top 100 rock radio mixes from 1979 – ’89, and now wants to impress that Hot Girl In The Denim Whitesnake Jacket.  That is a very good thing.

The basic, familiar elements are all there on Confess – the shiny and clear guitar chords, the chiming synthesizers that drench everything in a fluorescent haze, the yearning, balls-out, Auto-Tuned yawp of unrequited love.  This is much more than just a tired retread of an old Journey album, though.  There’s a vitality and urgency to every song, as though front man George Lewis Jr. absolutely needed to get these things down on vinyl.

There’s a lot going on here, musically, underneath the flashy veneer that screams “Retro.”  There are different sonic touches and melodies swirling and enmeshing everywhere, marking this as the work of a true music aficionado who knows his way around the creation of big, bold, and flashy hooks.

Those hooks, and the overall adeptness with creating pop songs, make Confess compulsively listenable, particularly if you’ve got the top down on a sunny day, or you’re dreaming of such a scene as the rain trickles down outside.  The songs sound tight and sleek like any well-oiled pop machine should, and various lyrical and melodic hooks will get stuck in your head long after your first hear them.  The true strength of Confess is that Lewis delivers these pop goods without losing any of his vibrant, bleeding, music-loving heart.

 

The Bowl:  Capital One Bowl – Nebraska v. Georgia

The Pick:  Georgia (-9)

The Album:  Lonerism by Tame Impala

It had been two years since Tame Impala’s last album, Innerspeaker, and for fans of that record, the wait for Lonerism was a long one.  Innerspeaker was a constant treat for the ears, with warm guitar feedback loops and vintage electronic touches flying under and around the melodic, Lennon-esque vocals of front man Kevin Parker.  The group set the bar high for themselves, and in their follow-up, they generally managed to hit the same top marks while pushing their sound into new territories as well.  While Lonerism may not have been able to best Innerspeaker, it’s worthy of standing on its own as one of the most unique and high-quality rock albums of the year.

Lonerism features the same melodic characteristics that are now familiar to listeners of Tame Impala – the fuzzed-out halo around every sound effect, the echo-y and airy vocals, the propensity to leap off into a psychedelic groove tangent when the opportunity presents itself.  The album, and the band itself, sounds like a transmission beamed here from a recording studio in 1971.  As they’ve proved before, Tame Impala doesn’t rely on their vintage sound to become a gimmicky crutch – instead it is something that is wholly unique and wholly their own.  They know what they like and they make great music with it.

Lonerism marks some different approaches for the band, particularly in that it features some more open-ended songs and sonic arrangements.  Tame Impala have proved they know how to lock into tight grooves and rock out hard with the best of them, and while there are some excellent hard-driving moments on Lonerism such as “Elephant,” there are also a lot of songs that spread out all over the musical spectrum and take their time getting to wherever they happen to be going.  Vocal effects, spare synths, guitars, and various other chimes and squiggles caterwaul around tracks like “Music To Walk Home By” with a joyous abandon, and it can be overwhelming at times.

The strength of Lonerism, and of the maturing Tame Impala in general, is that they are in control of their free-wheeling grooves at all times, no matter how out-there and exploratory they may seem to be.  Just when you think things are going to spin off into the ether, a well-timed bass and drum combo locks into a deep groove and reminds you that these guys are first and foremost a great rock band.

 

The Bowl:  Fiesta Bowl – Kansas State v. Oregon

The Pick:  Kansas St. (+9)

The Album:  R.A.P. Music by Killer Mike

You’d be hard-pressed to find any other release this year, hip-hop or otherwise, that seethes with as much pent-up vitriol and passionate energy as Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music.  Producer El-P creates spare, pounding beats with menacing synth lines that perfectly match the tone of the lyrics and draw out the essential elements of Mike’s behind-the-beat flow.

For listeners only familiar with Killer Mike from his “All Day I Dream About Sex” days, it’s probably a surprise to hear the bombastic rapper getting serious throughout R.A.P. Music; there’s a refreshing sincerity to his lyrics and delivery as he tackles social and emotional issues through the record.  Mike and Co. aren’t holding anything back on this one.

Things aren’t all somber and preachy, however, as Mike finds plenty of time to toss in off-color jokes and vibrantly ridiculous imagery, much like his fellow Southern hip-hop counterparts, OutKast.  Even as the beats and spat-out lyrics are knocking you flat, R.A.P. never stop being entertaining as hell.

When R.A.P. Music hits its high points, it’s an exhilarating call-back to the days of early Public Enemy and Straight Outta Compton.  There’s an incendiary, almost subversive feeling to the record, and there wasn’t much else like it this year.

 

The Bowl:  Cotton Bowl – Texas A&M v. Oklahoma

The Pick:  Texas A&M (-3)

The Album:  Nocturne by Wild Nothing

Whether they set out to do it or not, Wild Nothing’s Nocturne sounds like a perfect distillation of every summer night you had from age 14 to 21.  Like many of those nights, it wheels between feeling wistful, blissed-out, and restless.  There’s a laid-back vibe over much of the album that evokes the haze of summer; that slow, dreamy feeling deceptively covers up the prolific and deft musicianship going on just under the surface.

Under that sleek surface, Nocturne is filled with layers of sound that are intricately pieced together, and as each track progresses, the layers often build upon each other, building momentum before cresting in powerful and well-earned climaxes.  These are expansive soundscapes largely dominated by delicate yet striking guitar chords that loop around each other and create an immersive atmosphere around bits of drums, synths, and airy vocals.

The album’s tracks flow into each other and create a hazy, seductive mood that borders on the dreamlike – it can make you feel nostalgic for a period of time or singular moment that you can’t quite place, and maybe never even experienced.  It’s a striking and poignant listening experience.  This is sunny music flecked with melancholy, both in the lyrics and in the chiming, mournful chords that fall like rain out of the speakers.

 

The Bowl:  National Championship – Alabama v. Notre Dame

The Pick:  Alabama (-9.5)

The Album:  Port of Morrow by The Shins

The Shins’ last album, Wincing The Night Away, was a strange yet fascinating record, marked by feelings of mystery and a slight menace, that saw James Mercer choosing electronic territory more so than the strummed-guitar chords of Chutes Too Narrow.  In the five years since the release of Wincing, Mercer had reshuffled the band around him, and it wasn’t clear which version of the Shins would be appearing in 2012.  Or if they would be able to sustain the quality of albums’ past.  Port of Morrow answered those questions, and showed that the Shins’ future is bright.

One of the great things about Port is that it takes all of the sonic elements from the group’s earlier records and puts them together into a confident and propulsive new sound.  There are electronic flourishes, there are quiet moments of acoustic beauty, there are eloquent, strange and esoteric little catches of lyrics and phrases, and there are surges of momentum that unmasks Mercer’s rock and roll heart.  It’s an album in which you can see how the band has grown, and it feels both refreshingly new and professionally mature.

The ultimate triumph of Port may be that it shows of Mercer’s ability to remain immediate and impactful with his musical themes.  He may not be an angst-y young songwriter anymore, but he can still combine melodies and lyrics to create moments that connect on deep emotional levels.  Port hits upon some universal, hard-to-eludicate themes of life in a way that few other artists could duplicate this year – without sacrificing any musical enjoyment in the process.

 

TwinShadow

Personal Soundtrack

11 Jul

The Song

 

Five Seconds by Twin Shadow

Drum machine- and synthesizer-fueled sounds from the 80s have been experiencing a revival in contemporary music over the past few years.  At some point, the sounds that dominated neon-drenched nightclubs and aerobics classes three decades ago were deemed to have lost their cheesiness and took on some indie credibility instead.  The motivation behind this neo-80s sound usually seems to swing back and forth between two different viewpoints.  There’s a detached irony in which the artist is almost mocking themselves and the listener for grooving to their vintage synths, while on the other end, there’s a full-fledged desire to re-create the music that the artist grew up loving.  Usually, the music that comes from a purely ironical standpoint will sound hollow, and overly stylized – if you can’t love the music you’re making, that comes through.  It’s when the neo-80s sound comes more from a true music lover standpoint that the songs become less like a nostalgic exercise, and more like a great piece of music.  Brooklyn-based Twin Shadow, aka George Lewis, Jr.,  has found this sweet spot.

Twin Shadow’s general sound is soaked in the 1980s New Wave influences – polished guitar licks, chiming synthesizers, surgically-timed drum beats.  The style is immediately evident, but as you listen further, it’s easy to see the quality substance beneath the shiny surface.  “Five Seconds”, off of the new album Confess, is a great example of Twin Shadow’s skillful pairing of nostalgic sounds with solid musicianship.  The song has the 80s elements straight from the beginning – a spare drum beat keeps the time while chilly synths pound away and a guitar line sounds out straight from the “I Ran” school of music.  It all sounds great, but below it all, there’s the core elements of a great song keeping everything together for repeat listening.  Shifting layers of sounds keep everything dynamic and moving forward, and Lewis, Jr.’s vocals are full of the strongly-felt emotions brought up in the lyrics.  Underneath all the manufactured pop touches, “Five Seconds” is a simple, yearning love song.  And you can feel all the emotions behind that song even as you nod your head furiously on the dance floor.

The Activity

The sun is slowly disappearing below the ocean horizon, casting the palm tree dotted landscape in a contemplative shade of burnt orange.  It’s a good match for your current state of mind, which is swinging slowly between ‘contemplative’ and ‘restless.’  You drove your motorcycle out to this peaceful stretch of coastline because you needed a place to think.  It didn’t matter that the Base had a policy about leaving in the middle of training periods – you’re a goddamned fighter pilot for the US of A.  You don’t need to check in when you need to do your reflective thinking.

The reason you had to leave, the reason you’re out here right now, pulled off the road and gazing at the sunset behind your deep-blue Aviators, is about five-three, blonde, and put together in a way you never thought possible.    In addition to all that, she’s got an attitude to match yours, which you also never thought possible.  At first, it was just some harmless flirting in the debriefing rooms – you playfully challenging her authority, her teasing you about time trials in front of the rest of the squadron.  After a week, though, feelings got in the way.  It wasn’t just another girl anymore.  She was actually getting to you.  And when you’re a self-designed rebel like yourself, that’s a problem.

The issue of changing up your badass image isn’t the only thing that’s got you out here, pondering the ocean.  To make things more difficult, you don’t know if she has the same feelings for you.  If you take the roses that are on the back of your bike right now and speed up to her house and put it all on the line, you don’t know how she’s going to respond.  She could say no.  She’s that kind of girl – tons of other options.  The rejection would be a crushing blow.  Even thinking about the possibility of that has you all rattled, getting sweaty palms and losing your focus when you’re on training runs.

What are you going to do?  A fighter jet streaks through the sky over the ocean, heading home after an end-of-the day run.  You wish you could just get in your jet and fly away, never coming back.  Just another lost maverick in the sky.  But you can’t.  What are you going to do?  You’re in the danger zone.  The danger zone of the heart.