There is only one way to describe Sufjan Stevens’ latest release: it’s like being wrapped in a warm blanket on a cold winter day with a cup of hot chocolate sitting on the table waiting to be sipped. Yes, it is just that relaxing and comforting. Enjoy Your Rabbit, Stevens’ last release, was a huge departure from his singer/songwriter days and with his latest release he continues that departure by using many different instruments to paint his masterpiece. His new album is the first installment of The 50 States, an ambitious recording project by Stevens. He plans on recording an album for each state and he begins here in Michigan, his birthplace.
The album opens with “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid),” a soft beautiful song that starts out with only a piano and a voice. It barely leaves that format throughout the entire song with the exception of a well placed trumpet and a vocal harmony. The lyrics are beautiful and complex and are a perfect match to the music. Towards the end of the song Stevens sings “Even if I died alone…” over and over until he slowly stops and lets his voice fade into the music and then continues to let the music gracefully bow out to the next track. One song that stands out to me is the track “For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti.” Stevens’ voice is a soft inviting presence; leading the listener into this world he creates through his lyrics. “If there’s anything to say, if there’s anything to do, if there’s any other way, I’ll do anything for you,” Stevens seems to be telling those who have been abandoned there is someone out there for them. With a simple banjo and, once again, a trumpet he musically conveys what most artists try to do unsuccessfully with a wide variety of instruments.
Stevens’ music may not be for everyone. He does have a few purely instrumental tracks. “Tahquamenon Falls” is basically two minutes of a xylophone. Though odd, it does seem to fit perfectly with the rest of the material. The haunting yet eerily upbeat sounds of the xylophone seem to be perfect for a song about a waterfall. Stevens has indeed ventured into the many different areas of Michigan. He explores each space with delicacy and insight, and his pensive lyrics and wondrous music make this album praise worthy.
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.