New Music Tuesday: David Bowie • Biffy Clyro • Devendra Banhart • Pickwick

David Bowie - The Next Day

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

David BowieThe Next Day

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“The Stars (Are Out Tonight)”
“I’d Rather Be High”
“If You Can See Me”

Album Highlights: Ten years since his last album, David Bowie has returned to the studio for his 24th studio album, The Next Day. Just when you thought you’d heard the last of the Thin White Duke, David Bowie, now 66, proves he can still write a solid rock album, and keep the whole project a secret for two years!

Bringing back much of the band from his last album, 2003’s Reality, The Next Day is an incredibly self-reflective and upbeat album, despite intense themes of death. In the opening and title-track, Bowie proclaims he is “not quite dying” and “just walking the dead.” These themes of death and dying are prevalent throughout the entire album, with tracks such as “Where Are We Now?,” “I’d Rather Be High” and “The Stars (Are Out Tonight).”

The Next Day is a rock album at heart. However there are several deviations from this, the first being “Dirty Boys,” which draws on brass band elements from the dirty south. Other deviations include the first single on the album, and by far the slowest song on the The Next Day, “Where Are We Now?” The most interesting song on the album is the TV on the Radio-sounding “If You Can See Me.”

Album Lowlight: In January, Bowie released the first single “Where Are We Now?”, completely unannounced to the surprise of the world. Incredibly slow and accompanied by a string arrangement, I felt like I was hearing the last whispering breaths of a former rock icon. Not only is this track a poor choice for the first single but it does not give an accurate preview of what The Next Day has to offer – a very upbeat rock album. Perhaps this was intentional? I can hear the critics praising this as “genius” now.

Takeaway: It is clear Bowie has been doing a lot of thinking in the last decade. On The Next Day it sounds as if Bowie is coming to terms with aging and the impending reality of death. Yet despite this ominous tone to some of the songs, there is a sense of satisfaction and enlightenment. Bowie has evolved and grown with age. The days of Ziggy Stardust are long gone, yet Bowie has found a way to stay relevant in today’s diverse musical landscape.

~Kevin Raos

Biffy ClyroOpposites

2-BamsTop Tracks:
“Modern Magic Formula”
“Different People”

Album Highlights: For one of Britain’s most popular contemporary rock bands, the Scottish trio Biffy Clyro is relatively unknown this side of the pond. Opposites is their 6th long player, and it was originally mapped out as two separate records. Instead, Biffy Clyro’s new 20-track release presents metal-influenced power rock to the masses. This record is certainly ambitious, yet it’s predictable & formulaic, even though it teeters between old-school metal and newer rock and roll akin to Frightened Rabbit. The tempo changes frequently from track to track and within songs, offering ballads like “Opposite” and ecstatic Foo Fighter-esque riffs in “Modern Magic Formula.” They have some metal influenced tracks (“Stingin’ Belle”), yet Biffy Clyro will also include strings (“The Thaw”) or horns (“Spanish Radio”) to add an emotional layer. This is no one-trick pony when it comes to the energy and effort put into the diversity of sound.

Album Lowlight: Since finding mainstream success by ditching the noisy and decidedly un-pop nature of their early work and focusing more on cohesive song structure, Biffy Clyro’s music has become numbing. The third track of the LP “Sounds Like Balloons” is a prime example. The guitar riff is repetitive and annoying, and the track never attempts to search for auditory payoff. The tracks in Opposites lose emotion the more you replay the record; any meaning that was present at first listen retreats quickly. Simon Neil’s vocals are homogenous and consistently monotonous, and frequent harmonizing doesn’t make it much better. Most affronting, too many songs end up in cheesy chorus territory.

Takeaway: While they were known for being unpredictable in the early aughts, this Scottish trio is mostly churning out generic power rock now. Super fans of Biffy Clyro might see this album as genius material, but to the uninitiated, Opposites is spread too thin and mostly puzzling.

~Mike Frash

Devendra BanhartMala

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Fur Hildegard von Bingen”
“Golden Girls and a Gain”

Album Highlights: Devendra Banhart’s eighth album Mala was recorded with the help of longtime compadre Noah Georgeson, using borrowed equipment and playing most of the instruments themselves. Mala digs deep into the old bag of tricks to dust off the Devendra that we all fell in love with over a decade ago. We are not getting the album that squarely features Devendra’s whimsical voice and guitar that we all desire (see The Charles C. Leary & Oh Me Oh My). Though Mala has several nods to these beautiful nostalgic sounds with “A Gain,” “Won’t You Come Home,” and “Taurobolium,” adding to a refined, mature, and technologically advanced sound. Devendra’s warm vibrato voice, heavy treble bass runs, and bright guitar/synth riffs shine new light to a dance/electro genre hoping flow.

Album Lowlight: The sad, humorously dark love story lyrics, “If we ever make sweet love again, I’m sure that it will be quite disgusting, race to the end, race to the end,” are at least accompanied by one of the many fresh sounds on Mala, but these lyrics on “Never Seen Such Good Things” are just too jarring to take seriously. 

Takeaway: Mala sports newer electro/dance/pop influences that seem to fit into the current trend of reverb heavy dance music. These tracks like “Your Fine Petting Duck” don’t sit perfectly with the rest of the album, but we can’t be surprised Banhart has gone in this direction, for Devendra’s ability to blend genres with his musical niche is ever present. Mala is Devendra’s best album since 2005’s Cripple Crow and for that, we are thankful for Devendra, who is still quite the freak of folks.

~Sam Heller

PickwickCan’t Talk Medicine

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Halls of Columbia”
“The Round”
“Lady Luck” feat. Sharon Van Etten
“Window Sill”

Album Highlights: The revamping of soul and R&B in rock music has taken the industry by storm, and the Seattle band Pickwick have added another layer of freshness to this cross-pollinated genre. These guys spent a great amount of time on their debut feature album, which is evident by their blistering production coupled with incredibly dynamic song writing, not to mention the musicianship. Opener “Halls of Columbia” fully demonstrates the power of Galen Disston’s vocals, which permeates their sound track after track. Use of the vibraphone on tracks like “Well, Well” is a rare, pleasant surprise in contemporary rock these days, and genuinely adds a warm, thick sound.

Album Lowlight: Honestly, the amount of time it took to release this effort is the only gripe I have with Can’t Talk Medicine, though a great portion of these songs have been released on EPs and singles over the past couple of years.

Takeaway: Can’t Talk Medicine is an album that truly has appeal to a wide range of listeners, and it beckons listen after listen as the songs have great depth. Melding of musical styles is always exciting, yet not always successful, so when it’s knocked out of the park, it becomes quite a thrill. One can’t help but look forward to pumping this album at warm summer BBQs and long nights ahead.

~Kevin Quandt


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