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New Music Tuesday: Pharrell • The Men • Drive-By Truckers • Real Estate • Eagulls • Kimono Kult

Pharrell

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


Pharrell WilliamsG I R L

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Brand New”
“Happy”
“Come Get It Bae”

Album Highlights: It’s been eight years since Pharrell delivered his first solo effort, In My Mind, though he has been plenty busy in the meantime. Whether it’s his falsetto contributions to “Get Lucky” or backing Robin Thicke on his breakout single, Williams really has had the best year out of anyone in music. We all know and love (for now) the lead single off of G I R L, “Happy,” but the other nine tracks on this release will be new gems as we push into springtime.

Obviously this is a feel-good album, playing heavily on Williams’ pop neo-soul sound that he has been cultivated after his time with alternative hip-hop act N.E.R.D. Musically, nods to Jamiroquai, Jackson 5 and Prince are distinguishable while Hans Zimmer’s string arrangements add elements of sophisticated disco. Pharrell’s presence in the industry combined with his understanding of contemporary pop-music lend to a ton of standout tracks that really feel different from one another. Miley Cyrus guests on the funk banger “Come Get It Bae,” and is disgustingly infectious, sure to be a fan favorite. Though Daft Punk was officially left off the track list, “Gust of Wind” is the song they are featured on as Nile Rodgers-esque guitar sections lead to the manipulated vocals we have come to love from these French robots. Another standout appearance comes from Alicia Keys on the girl-power, reggae tinged track, “Know Who You Are.” Her sultry vocals do offer a nice respite before the auto-tuned closer “It Girl.”

Album Lowlight: Though the album is admirably considered to be a slight concept album, focusing on a more positive outlook on females in music (slightly motivated by “Blurred Lines” backlash), it really doesn’t need agenda. Also, the lyrics Pharrell penned don’t shine brightly, especially compared to the music that accompanies. One wonders how long Pharrell had been working on the production side while he should have been spending some time with pen and paper.

Takeaway: Pure, unadulterated enjoyment at it’s freshest and finest. Seems like we should start calling him Midas as Williams has the golden touch these days, so it’s no surprise that G I R L is sure to be a success on multiple levels. Pharrell is still rising stock after 2013, and he’s likely doubled his fan base in 12 months whether it was the 24-hour music video to “Happy” or even, dare I mention, his now-owned-by-Arbys Grammy headwear. Williams has also seemed to further his popular falsetto singing, and really shines alongside, equally falsetto-heavy singer, Justin Timberlake on “Brand New.” With that said, this may be the final piece in what will be dubbed the ‘Pharrell Williams sound.’

~Kevin Quandt


Drive-By TruckersEnglish Oceans

3-Bams

Top Tracks:
“Grand Canyon”
“When Walter Went Crazy”
“Pauline Hawkins”

Album Highlights: The Drive-By Truckers did something they never do for their 10th studio album, English Oceans — they split song-writing duties between long time band members Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley. Generally, Hood has been the primary songwriter of all the Truckers’ material. The results of this shared duty is a contrasting album ripe with vivid lyrics and story-telling. My favorite part of the record comes in the final two minutes of the album, during “Grand Canyon,” when the band finds a great psychedelic groove to close out the record.

Album Lowlight: The lyrics shine on this record. However, there is much left to be desired in the instrumental department. Most of the songs are straight up alt-country rock songs that struggle to capture listener attention. The storytelling, however, makes up for the pedestrian musicianship. I think this is more a product of their genre and style than their actual musical ability, because it is quite apparent the Drive-By Truckers are extremely comfortable and accomplished musicians.

Takeaway: Fans of the Drive-By Truckers, and alt-country rock fans in general, will probably love this album. As great as the storytelling is on this record, I simply get bored by the musicianship. The Drive-By Truckers have been around since the 90’s and are clearly trying to mix things up — the dual voice quality to this record give it a very interesting perspective that many of the previous DBT albums lacked.

~Kevin Raos


Real EstateAtlas

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Had to Hear”
“Past Lives”
“The Bend”

Album Highlights: Real Estate are still one of the best purveyors of breezy, chill rock that is perfect for a day at the beach or a drive down the coast. Unlike Days and Real Estate, this day at the beach has a few clouds hanging overhead as the New Jersey crew begins to mature lyrically and look more inward. Though the subject matters have shifted, the sound has stayed true to their roots as swirly guitars are still the ‘king of the beach’.

“Primitive” is one standout track that features a slightly adventuresome guitar romp towards the end. “Horizon” is a late gift on Atlas as it features a more-catchy, upbeat vibe, and likely would have benefitted from an earlier spot on the album. In true Real Estate fashion, there is one instrumental “April’s Song,” as well as one song sung by bassist Alex Bleeker entitled, “How Might I Live.” One aspect of Real Estate which is different this time around is the addition of Girls’ keyboardist, Matt Kallman. This latest member is subdued in the mix, adding subtle elements and figuring his place in this once string-oriented act. An added density of sound is also present which will add to sustained replay value, hopefully long enough to reach those sunny months ahead.

Album Lowlight: I suppose if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Real Estate have crafted an empire off their laid-back sound years ago, and though the sound hasn’t really progressed it’s still entirely enjoyable. Basically, they are good at what they do, however this writer has to wonder if, and when, this trend will break to display an evolving sound and maturing musicianship that isn’t afraid to take a chance once in a while.

Takeaway: Fans of the group are sure to be thrilled to have another 10 tracks of lazy tunes to toss on during an early afternoon BBQ or an exodus to some body of water. Maybe it’s a surprise that there are really no surprises in Atlas, even if the lyrical content has moved towards something more personal than benign. Real Estate make great records, and Atlas continues this trend as they continue to break from the underground to something viable to a larger audience.

~Kevin Quandt


EagullsEagulls

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Tough Luck”
“Possessed”
“Nerve Endings”

Album Highlights: This English quintet get down and dirty in their self-titled release, delivering one hell of a rock album. The sheer grittiness of each song makes you eager to hear what the next one will bring to the table. “Tough Luck” is the standout song that pairs an extremely catchy hook, colossal guitar work, and a thunderous bass line. This song is a straight rocker that leads its way to a different, slower direction by the time the song ends, which worked perfectly. The next highlight is the swirling guitar work and the gritty snarls of George Mitchell belting out the lyrics to “Possessed.” This song is extremely catchy, but still brings that certain edginess that these guys are going to be known for.

Album Lowlight: There’s not a whole lot that I would call lowlights, but the album seems to melt together, so its hard to pick out songs. Many of the chorus’ are just the repetition of a single word, but there’s a side of me that likes that simplicity, so that could go either way.

Takeaway: These rockers from across the pond made a very solid and concise album that is sure to catch momentum, and I’m sure I will be playing this album quite a few times this year. This release makes me want to catch these guys live as it’s sure to be an energetic, raucous show. If you’re a fan of gritty English rock, or Brooklyn’s own Parquet Courts, then I highly recommend this album. BAM!

~Pete Mauch


Kimono KultHiding in the Light

2.5 BamsTop Tracks:
“Todo Menos El Dolor”
“La Cancion De Alejandra”

Album Highlights: Any die-hard fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or The Mars Volta likely knows that both bands were tied to one another in the past. Former RHCP bandmates Flea and John Frusciante, after all, were key contributors during the recording sessions for TMV’s De-Loused in the Comatorium (2003) and Amputechture (2006), and the two outfits spent quite a bit of time together on the road. So, it should be no surprise to see Frusciante, who left RCHP in 2008 to focus on his solo career, hooking back up with fellow axe man Omar Rodríguez-López, who put TMV on hiatus in 2012 (despite the band dissolving four months later) to start Bosnian Rainbows with Le Butcherettes vocalist/guitarist Teri Gender Bender.

While Frusciante and Rodríguez-López provide Kimono Kult with the star power most new bands dream of having, the project is really Swahili Blonde drummer Nicole Turley’s baby. Turley, who recorded and produced the sextet’s debut EP Hiding in the Light on her own label Neurotic Yell Records, has described the record as “four songs of electro/dub/afro-beat/avant-freak/jazz-like conversations of instrumental ecstasy.” If that means sounding like a more electronic version of TMV, then she might actually be on to something. With Gender Bender on board, it’s pretty easy to see the similarities. Between her Spanish lyrics and high-pitched vocals, you could easily mistake Gender Bender for former TMV frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala. That’s about where the comparisons end, though. With the longest song on Hiding in the Light clocking in at 3:23, these aren’t exactly the 25-minute sonic explorations that many longtime TMV fans grew accustomed to hearing.

Album Lowlight: After Turley cooks up a groovy backbeat on the opening track “Todo Menos El Dolor,” the ensuing “Las Esposas” is where things start to get weird — the kind of weird that we’re used to hearing from Rodríguez-López by now. Unfortunately, a lot of times that can also be Rodríguez-López’s biggest downfall when it comes to his songwriting ability, and in Kimono Kult’s case, sounding weird just for the sake of sounding weird doesn’t work all that well. Consequently, most of Hiding in the Light lacks much of the same listen-ability that “Todo Menos El Dolor” retains, making it easy to understand why it was the first track the band released.

Let’s also be honest — it’s not easy to make a rock band that sings almost entirely in Spanish accessible to a U.S. audience. But it’s not just the language barrier on Hiding in the Light that presents a challenge for listeners. The jangly organ line that overwhelms the beginning of “La Vida Es Una Caja Hermosa” grows tiresome rather quickly, and although the Latin guitar effect offers a nice twist on ballad finale “La Cancion De Alejandra,” the song is too short for it to build any momentum. If Hiding in the Light is only a slice of what Kimono Kult has to offer, it may just be one of this supergroup’s early growing pains.

Takeaway: It’s hard to say anything definite about a band that only has four songs to its name right now, so it’s probably best to take the wait-and-see approach with Kimono Kult — it just might require a bit of your patience. With Frusciante and Rodríguez-López bringing on board other talented musicians like instrumentalists Dante White (Dante Vs. Zombies) and Laena Geronimo (Raw Geronimo), you’d like to think that there’s bound to be some magic made in the studio. Still, there are no guarantees that will happen.

On the whole, Kimono Kult feels very much like an experiment at this point, and that’s probably fitting considering that all of these songs sound quite experimental at their core. Yet, by the same token, that’s also how Rodríguez-López has been looking at all of his endeavors lately, which means there’s no way of knowing what Kimono Kult’s lifespan will be.

~Josh Herwitt

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Comments

  1. Anthony Hill says:

    Great reviews, in particular I couldn’t agree more with Peter’s review of Eagulls. Here’s something I wrote about them if you’re interested 🙂
    http://hangthecliche.com/2014/03/04/eagulls-leeds-to-letterman-and-beyond/

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