Among the summer of loves, the magic buses and the motley gathering that was Haight-Ashbury; the 60’s were a glorious time for swirling pop melodies. Reaching an unsurpassed frenzy in The Beatles invasion and The Beach Boys’ ride into pop tradition, the high-arching vocal swoons and the wonderfully unusual harmonies forever left their mark on musicians and fans alike. Embracing timeless reverberation, Revolver and Pet Sounds are both spurred by their undying quality. Crafted with rich orchestration and a certain tunefulness rarely seen, they are unique in their brilliant universal appeal.
And perhaps, one of the few artists today who genuinely evoke this sort of memorable, long lasting allure of that double dose in ‘66 is Portland by-way-of Albuquerque popsters The Shins. Perched upon a burgeoning wave that swelled from 2001’s Oh! Inverted World, their sophomore effort successfully outshines their previous work and in an amalgam of joyous wails and twirls, vaults them into heights of distinction amongst their peers. Boosted by the album’s far improved production value, James Mercer’s means of constructing stunning song arrangements and his ability to glide them below his voice’s mottled fascination is lifted far beyond the promising milieu set some few years ago. The sparse nature of the instrumentation, stripped down but incredibly affecting, remains unshackled in their revitalizing confidence.
Take “Kissing the Lipless” as an example of this strutting poise; riled up and fantastically potent, the injection of Mercer’s high-pitched howl along with the song’s sonic crashing makes for one ideal album-opening greeting. It segues nicely into “Mine’s Not a High Horse”, a down-toned humming into floral acoustics and atmospheric synthesizers that makes a play for the sweetness in melody. In the album’s lead single “So Says I”, the band embarks on a far loftier march into manic rock beats, but buoyed again by Mercer’s piercing falsetto, its tramping swagger is the merry kind; one that surprisingly suits the faraway lyrical imagery penned in a wandering, almost chattering manner (“An address to the golden door I was strumming on a stone again pulling teeth from the pimps of gore”). Oh what lavish fairytale narrative!
Far from being known for a mere tune, Lennon and Wilson are artists recognized for their grand body of work. And if for some unforeseen, catastrophically shallow reason Mercer is famed for a single composition (Lennon’s “Imagine” is certainly worth this debate, at least from a solo career perspective), it would be “Saint Simon”. And while they have just sharpened their receptors of scrutiny (and judging from this, a very healthy future lies ahead) one cannot simply overlook a truly great song amongst a collection of really good ones. With intrigue and sophistication reserved for those upper-pantheon writers, the song is a delicate marriage of subtly pleasing tones, regal orchestral romance and distinct vocal triumph kept to sweet “la la la’s” and towering choral elegance. Let it be known, there is but a superb songwriter amongst the willow trees and grassy green.
How little wrong it seems they do; from the swinging beat-pop of “Fighting in a Sack” to the engulfing ravine of “Pink Bullets”, the songs are as brightly engaging as they are profoundly introspective. With Mercer’s scribe-like wordplay and charismatic process of culling together morsels of ageless qualities with the finer points of being accessible, he too perhaps, will someday be mentioned among our most prized authors of song. And along with him, The Shins have over the course of two releases, rightly etched themselves in pop’s Rosetta stone. Enigmatically tracing the greatest of pop roots with quenching success, Chutes Too Narrow is perfectly stated, and undoubtedly, a masterpiece.
(Sub Pop Records)
Void of Vision – Hyperdaze
An adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey
Void Of Vision, from Melbourne Australia, have been on the fringe of breaking out in the Australian heavy scene for as long as I have been listening to music. While they have clearly got a massive audience, it has always been a question of why aren’t they bigger? It has seemed like they have struggled to find their place within the churning machine that is the Aussie scene, and in the lead up to this release it felt like, as a fan, it was make or break for them. And now, sitting here after having Hyperdaze on repeat ever since I received it, I am happy to say they have found themselves, and they are about to take off.
Hyperdaze features an adventurous exploration of sound that takes the listener on a dark and powerful journey through the entity that is Void Of Vision. Making it immediately evident that they are taking a spookier approach to their sound with this album, Hyperdaze with the ominous and atmospheric intro track, “Overture”. The slow build of this leads perfectly into the opening hits of “Year Of The Rat”. Immediately punching you in the face with a mix of growling guitars and massive drums, this headbang inducing rhythm alone is enough to set the nightmarish tone for the rest of the album. An atmosphere filled with intensity reigns through the verses, and is released only for a mesmerising sung chorus, that while is nothing ground-breaking, will stick in your head for hours.
“Babylon” opens with a maniacal fast paced intro, leading up to a dreamlike swaying verse. Heavy and hard, it maintains this high level of pressure all the way through to the demonic breakdown that makes up almost half the song. Only 2 minutes long, “Babylon” is short yet sharp. Transitioning fluently into “If Only”, this extra fast paced track implements extra usage of the added dark synth that they’ve merely flirted with thus far. The verses feel like they are throwing you back and forth, as the frantic tempo adds a maniacal edge to the track before it flows into the chorus. One issue that I personally have had with Void over the years, is their sung choruses can sometimes have jarring effects, and can seem like they interrupt and resultingly dissolve any momentum that they had previously built up in the verses. I’m happy to say that through Hyperdaze they have found the balance, and every chorus flows perfectly throughout each song that is relevant. As well as a gorgeous chorus and strong verses, “If Only” features a rare but welcome guitar solo that is a tonne of fun.
“Slave To The Name” closely follows, and is a slower but more mechanical take on the darkness. Injecting a healthy dose of panicky guitars, screeching vocals, and gut-wrenching drums straight into our veins, it leads us perfectly into the absolute fucking vibe that is “Adrenaline”. Clocking in at 1 minute and 31 seconds, this synth-heavy dance track is a wild time from start to finish. Grooving and moving their way into the electronic and house scene, Void of Visionhave now raised the question, “Could Void Sell Out Revs?” Instrumental and well out of left field, “Adrenaline” is the most eyebrow raising and most fun song off the entire album.
Lead single “Hole In Me” is the one that got everyone especially excited for this release, and for good reason. Unrelenting in tone, it was the first sign that Void were about to take the next step up. Bouncy and frantic and featuring some of the snappier snare hits you will find, “Hole In Me” remains to be one of the strongest song releases of the year. “Kerosene Dream” shows the band getting extra inventive with their guitars, and while it is chock full of fun riffs, what predominately draws the listeners ears to it will undoubtedly be the ridiculously tough blast beats, and the ridiculously tough breakdowns.
Psychedelic and cybertronic-baby vocal effects reign through the verses of “Decay” and maintain that the freshness of this sound doesn’t stale towards the end of the album. “Splinter” is opened up with the return of the, to put it in professional terms, “fucking sick” blastbeats that have popped their heads up a few times so far. They lead into ridiculously tight and fast verses and ensure that “Splinter” is one of the heaviest tracks off the whole album. The drums are the MVP of this track, and it is impossible to ignore how integral they are here. Setting the pace and taking control of the entire song, it is the added intensity of drums that gives “Splinter” the added edge it needed.
And thus we have hit the closing/title track, “Hyperdaze”, which ends the album with an added sense of dread. While all the way through it is just another fun heavy song that fits with the tone of the album, the way it ends, with intense nightmarish samples and effects, adds the haunting tone that it felt like the ending of this album deserved.
Blink-182 – Nine
It’s been an odd few years for Blink-182. The band, now crystallized with the addition of Alkaline Trio frontman Matt Skiba, seems to have fallen into the steadfast routine of existing to remain relevant by doing everything by the book. Nine, the band’s eighth studio album, and now the second without Tom DeLonge, is a natural progression from 2016’s California, but it’s so determined to remain current while checking off every single pop music trope of today that it does everything except have a personality. It’s 15 songs of music that fit anywhere in-between pop songs by Ariana Grande or Post-Malone. The album is just as easy to digest next to Lil Wayne as it is next to Maroon 5, and like all these aforementioned artists, Blink are now so safe, so saccharine, so inoffensive that it becomes such a chore to sit through this latest iteration of their music.
The problem with Nine is that so many of the songs are lacking any sense of urgency and commit the ultimate crime of just being songs that fill a tracklist. From the singles “Blame It On My Youth”, “Happy Days”, and the confounding “I Really Wish I Hated You”- they all come packing the same bouncy, pop-laden hooks, Travis Barker’s skitterish drum work, and singy-songy choruses that have dominated the charts the last decade and are bereft of a willingness or desire to grab the listener by the ears and demand attention. Songs like “Hungover You” sound like half-songs with its whispered, scatter-gun verses that explode into mid-tempo choruses. “Remember To Forget Me” is “Stay Together For The Kids” lite, except that it doesn’t have the impact of the latter’s substance while “Generational Divide” gives off “my first punk song” vibes. Skiba sounds bored half the time, which is a shame really. Even when the album does its best Alkaline Trio impersonation (“Black Rain”) it sounds like a song Skiba left off the last Trio record.
Nine finally hits a spot of excitement in “Ransom” with its uptempo percussion work and (finally) the urge to push the limits. But dumbfoundingly, the song is only a minute and a half long, and while I’m all for brevity, the song ends just as it is about to pick up some momentum. Bizarre.
So who is Nine for exactly? Well, it’s definitely not for old-school Blink fans who first discovered the band with Buddha, Cheshire Cat, or Dude Ranch. But I’m probably just a crotchety old-school listener who has been puzzled ever since 2003’s self-titled album. Nine is really for the average listener who “likes all kinds of music” and loves that so much of popular music today is inoffensive, safe, diverse, and caters to listeners of all genres and backgrounds. For you, the album is fine and will sit happily in your Spotify playlist next to whatever tepid song is currently topping the charts. But for anyone who longs for Blink with a little bit of personality and juvenile attitude, you’ll find none of that here. It doesn’t even have anything to do with the album’s lack of DeLonge either because by the time he did Neighborhoods, his head was already in the stars chasing aliens.
Perhaps it is too much to ask for another song about jerking off in a tree, but this band used to be fun. Now they’re just pedestrian at best. Imagine an average Alkaline Trio hooking up with +44 on the dance floor of some terrible night club and you’ve got Nine. It’s a shame really. Growing up doesn’t always have to suck, but it really shouldn’t be this bland either.