Monday, August 8, 2011

"David Comes To Life" By The Numbers

I caved yesterday and bought Fucked Up's David Comes To Life (my listening priorities have been elsewhere). I loved Fucked Up, and I love this beast of a record, perhaps as much as I did the last one.

I haven't necessarily loved the reviews, many of which seem pro forma. I set about determining how standardized reviews of DCTL have been, by picking out commonalities among the 28 reviews available online through Metacritic. If I had to spend another afternoon doing this, I might track occurrences of the phrases "arena," "pop," "American Idiot" and "ambitious." Extra demerits to Rolling Stone for describing Pink Eyes' vocals as a "barf-yowl." Here's the data, with the number of reviews out of 28 noting:
  • That David Comes To Life has 18 songs: 13 (46%)
  • That David Comes To Life is nearly 80 minutes: 19 (68%)
  • That David Comes To Life is a concept album: 24 (86%)
    • With a plot that is difficult to follow: 16 (57%)
  • That quote lyrics: 3 (11%)
  • That the album has a companion release, David's Town: 2 (7%)
  • That Pink Eyes' real name is Damian Abraham: 16 (57%)
    • That Abraham is physically a large man: 3 (11%)
    • That Pink Eyes shouts/growls/barks etc.: 22 (79%)
  • That Fucked Up have 3 guitarists: 12 (43%)
  • That Fucked Up have 2 guitarists: 1 (4%)
  • That Fucked Up's band name is explicit: 6 (21%)
  • That David Comes To Life is a magnum opus: 5 (18%)
  • That The Chemistry Of Common Life was the previous LP: 11 (39%)
  • Similarities to Tommy, Quadrophenia or The Who: 9 (32%)
  • Similarities to Zen Arcade or Husker Du: 8 (29%)
  • Similarities to the Hold Steady: 3 (11%)
  • That the album deserves four stars or equivalent: 17 out of 33 (52%)
Obviously, the craft comes in choosing which of these datum belong in a review, and how to describe a band's sound. Of course, listening to a record six times and reading the EPK lends itself to similar reviews, and a solid majority of the 28 reviews that I read were basically indistinguishable. I think the next step is a David Comes To Life review generator.

An album like this should inspire strange, intense writing--as I imagine it will in coming months and years--rather than the narrow range of responses that greeted it.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Critical Beatdown: Round 13

Blitzen Trapper, "American Goldwing"
AM: Eric Earley doesn't have the hard living in his voice to sell a song like this. But as Cosmic American Muzak goes, this is pretty good. 3.5/5

NS: There's something about "American Goldwing" that makes me actively recall the sound of the first few Grateful Dead records--the overall sound, not any song in particular. Maybe it's just that homey West Coast atmosphere wedded to pedal steel guitars. With Blitzen Trapper, even their most obvious classic rock pastiches are irresistible. 4.5/5

St. Vincent, "Surgeon"
AM: A buzzing, pulsing piece of art-pop. The opening synth-brew is wonderful on its own, but as the song gradually starts to race forward it becomes something truly special. I wasn't a convert before "Surgeon," but Annie Clark has my attention now. 5/5

NS: What makes Annie Clark's music so immediately striking? It's all about the instrumental development of songs like "Surgeon," which begins with a wash of a synth choirs and builds itself into a micro bass-funk symphony. Confounding songwriting and guitar playing throughout--this is progressive music in the best sense. 5/5

Jay-Z & Kanye West, "Otis"
AM: Yes, Jay, it does sound soulful. But juxtaposing yourself with an extended Otis Redding excerpt--that's setting yourself up to fail, though you both do well enough. Tag-teaming needs some work though. 3/5

NS: Not that there's much to complain about with "Try a Little Tenderness," but normally, I expect more subtle classic soul samplings from Mr. West. Meanwhile, Jay and Ye fire off the most rote capitalist cliches of the hip-hop leisure class, as is their wont these days. I prefer the Game's version. 2/5

Yes, "We Can Fly"
AM: I'm having trouble reviewing this one--every time I turn it on, my attention immediately turns to something else. There's actually quite a bit going on in "Fly," but it all drifts by in the airy flow. 2.5/5

NS: In the annals of Yes, this song is actually pretty exciting. Like the St. Vincent track, it builds around a panoply of noodly guitar and synth parts, which wouldn't go anywhere save for the galloping bass and new singer Benoit David's earnest delivery. Go ahead and hate, but there's not a lot of music like this anymore. 4/5

Mastodon, "Black Tongue"
AM: Mastodon hammer away at several ferocious grooves here--on this alone I can recommend "Black Tongue"--but none quite approaches world-immolating intensity. Maybe the next single? 4/5

NS: Tricky time signatures, double-tracked guitar lines, an embedded sense of dread--everything about this song is classic Mastodon. At the same time, there's also a lot of humor in this music, and the band deserves more credit than it gets for avoiding the histrionics of so much defanged mook-metal. 4/5

SuperHeavy, "Miracle Worker"
AM: Lot of cooks in the kitchen with this group, as this absurd photograph demonstrates. I have no idea how SuperHeavy came together, or what their raison d'etre is. "Miracle Worker" doesn't give any indication about either, though it is serviceable reggae. 2/5

NS: Surprising no one, this limp noodle of a mid-tempo shuffle is significantly less than the sum of its parts. If you really like generic, repetitive reggae with no bounce, with British vocals on top, grab a UB40 album instead. 1/5