Album: Beta Love
Artist: Ra Ra Riot
It took a month of listening to Ra Ra Riot’s new album, Beta Love, to realize that the faint hopes I have entertained since 2008 will linger in limbo for eternity; the band will never make another record like The Rhumb Line. The melancholic cello and violin backdrops that defined that album are a thing of the past. Having been closely affiliated with Vampire Weekend (lead singer Wes Miles formed a band called The Sophisticuffs with Ezra Koenig in grade school), the group now seems to be doing all they can to distance themselves from the Ivy League-influenced chamber pop roots that first drew critics to compare the two.
For what it’s worth, Ra Ra Riot has done an admirable job of adjusting to life without departed cellist Alexandra Lawn. This time around, Miles may have drawn inspiration from Discovery, his side-project with Rostam Batmanglij (Vampire Weekend’s keyboardist/producer). Beta Love is rife with fluttering keyboards and futuristic synths, and inspired lyrically by the band’s reading of Ray Kurzweil’s novel The Singularity Is Near. The title track is an embrace of the band’s newfound affinity for technology, and is one of the strongest moments on the album with Miles showcasing his high vocal range. “Is It Too Much” finds bassist Mathieu Santos repurposed as a keyboard player and coyly toying with fans of the old baroque style. But just when one is tempted to start reminiscing about Rhumb Line, Miles interjects with cacophonic, distorted vocals.
Other tracks struggle with the band’s ambiguous desire to use every production tool at their disposal as the instruments are placed in a bitter fight to shine through the convoluted mess. When Rebecca Zeller’s violin is heard, it couldn’t sound more dissonant. But that isn’t always the case, as her impassioned playing on “Angel, Please” lends Miles’ playful pleas of “please stay with me” a light-hearted, airy quality that brings to mind the earnest pursuit of a first love.
The album’s flaw lies in its top-heavy nature; the last five tracks are slow to build and far from gratifying. Barring those exceptions, Beta Love’s first six songs would be a great addition to any party’s playlist.
Artist: Atoms for Peace
Thom Yorke has spent much of the last two years rearranging a 2010 jam session he conducted with his touring band, made up of bass legend Flea, Radiohead producer Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker of Beck and REM, and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco. It’s a live band that’s been labelled a supergroup, but Atoms for Peace’s debut full-length is very much Thom Yorke’s project.
Accordingly, AMOK largely picks up where 2006’s The Eraser left off. Yorke remains big on disguised vocals — slurred, reverbed, or chopped up — and rarely raises his voice above a low mutter. Now, though, the skittering hats and glitchy IDM are anchored by deep, Afrobeat-inspired funk grooves. Flea’s presence looms large throughout the LP: the percussion being as twitchy as it is, his brooding chromatic basslines are often the only thing left holding down the groove.
AMOK is an incredibly sonically rich album — especially the lush layers of percussion, which blend laptop and analog. When sound takes precedence over songwriting, as on “Judge, Jury and Executioner,” the results are static. But at its best, AMOK shifts seamlessly between dense, mutating electronica and minimalist, sinewy rock, blurring the boundaries between rock and beat music.
Album: The Lives Inside the Lines in your Hand
Artist: Matt Pond PA
My first time listening to Matt Pond (or Matt Pond PA, which is his official title with an accompanying band) was not monumental. I downloaded the song “Lily Two,” a single from what I now know to be their 2004 release, Emblems, and sort-of wrote the group off as a passable acoustic band. A thorough listen to their latest album, The Lives Inside the Lines in your Hand, is starting to make me wish I’d made more room for the group in my iTunes library the first time around.
For the unfamiliar, Matt Pond was one of the many artists to ride into the limelight on the pre-hipster wave of spacey, acoustic folk-pop (see Rilo Kiley, Joshua Radin), which means you’ve probably heard one or two of his songs in the background of an O.C. episode or a Starbucks commercial. Don’t let that fool you, though – this music was not made to be filler and this album is a testament to how complex and intricate the genre can get.
The first song to grab my attention, “Love To Get Used,” is a very cool balance of thick, driving bass and a deliberately cheap synth drum loop. Tracks like “When the Moon Brings the Silver” and the title track, “The Lives Inside the Lines In Your Hand,” show that Matt Pond can pull off a light and jumpy pizzicato-laden production just as well as a richly textured ballad.
Album: Jesus Piece
Artist: The Game
When I first bought this album, I didn’t think I would love it as much as I do now. Jesus Piece is the Game’s fifth studio album and was originally going to be called Soundtrack to Chaos, which was changed to F.I.V.E (Fear is Victory’s Evolution), before finally settling on Jesus Piece. The album features many different artists including Lil Wayne, 2 Chainz and Kanye West.
The album is based on the idea of trying to find a balance in the struggle between the Game’s gangster persona and his faith in God; between smoking a blunt and going to church.
The cover of the album features a dark skinned Jesus, which some have seen as controversial. He is depicted with a teardrop under his eye, wearing a “Jesus Piece” chain and gangster versions of his traditional clothing. A red bandana shows his affiliation with the Blood gang of Compton. The name Jesus Piece written as Je5us Piece at the bottom, is a nod to the iconic writing of Louis Vuitton. While the album cover designed by Vlad Sepetov has been labeled as blasphemous, it fully represents the Game’s attempt to unify two very different worlds.
The Game is one of the most successful people from G-Unit, and Jesus Piece is his best work so far. It’s more than just a rap album – it’s a tribute to his past and his present.