Daft Punk – Random Access Memories (2013)

Date Released: May 17, 2013
Album Genre: Electronic Rock, House, Groove
Album Rating: 9/10

I finally pushed myself to write a review of this Daft Punk album. Let’s start off with the steps I had to go through to get here. I’ll be honest, the first listen through this album I thought it was mediocre but decent, no hard feelings. I think I just had way too many expectations for the new Daft Punk album, but then I asked myself “what possible expectations could you have with THE constantly evolving Daft Punk who had eight years to refine themselves? One More Time?” I couldn’t give an answer and with that I let go of all of that. I know, I’m sure every artist wants you to go through this whenever they release a new album like MGMT’s Congratulations or Justice’s Audio, Video, Disco, but leave it to Daft Punk to really get you to do it. Moving past the growing pains, the more I listened to this album, the more I fell in love with it.

I don’t know if it was simply the direction they were taking or recent advances in technology have allowed them to do this, but this entire album sounds way more natural. If you listen to any of their earlier albums, there’s a very robotic electronic sound to all the tracks, not surprisingly they’re personal are robots. From the beats to the actual melodies, their older tracks were very mechanical in essence. Many of the tracks in this album sound like real instruments were used, which surprisingly gave it a very different sound. I mean, they always had the groove-sound attached to the electronic music, but it was especially so in this album.

Let’s talk about the tracks.
Act 1 – Let’s Fall in Love
What an introduction to the album with Give Life Back to Music, they really get into it quickly. No tricks, this is what you should expect. It’s got bits of Daft Punk, but also a more groove influence that we never heard before in their earlier albums, at least not like this. To be honest, the next track The Game of Love was slightly misplaced. I love the track, but I felt like it would’ve been better placed elsewhere. Maybe they were serenading you with love for the next track Giorgio by Moroder, when I knew things were picking up. Opening monologue and then “…My name is Giovanni Giorgio, but everybody calls me Giorgio.” track start BANG! This may be one of my favorite tracks of the album. Things get slower again with Within. It may be just me, but I’m rarely a big fan of ballades, although I found myself really listening to this track and not simply skipping it. A good sign in its own. I really love it when the vocals pick up half way through the track, and I can’t get enough of the transition to the next track Instant Crush. God damn, I’m in love.

Act 2 – Let’s Party Hard feat. Pharrell
At this point I’m really liking the movement of the album. Lose Yourself To Dance is another favorite. Surprisingly not even upbeat, but something about it has me wanting to get up… and dance. I’ll admit, Touch is weird although I thought it was well placed between Lose Yourself To Dance and Get Lucky. Feeling almost like a slow motion scene, this is typically the part of the movie where the characters are on some serious drugs. The track was highly dynamic and unexpected. Get Lucky, the only single from this album, was definitely one of the gems of the album with all its groove and rock. I’ve probably listened to this track a hundred times without getting tired of it. I’m pretty sure I put it on repeat for a couple hours when the single was released.

Act 3 – Let’s Drive Away into the Night
The next two pure Daft Punk tracks Beyond and Motherboard really captured me with an almost primal David Bowie essence. What great tracks, I can’t get enough of the second half of Motherboard. Back to groove, Fragments of Time was slightly standard sounding but a great track regardless. You hear Daft Punk come in a bit part way through at the end, I could have used more of that short lived part. Big bass from Doin’ It Right, first time in this album and its at the end! I’m guessing that’s an influence from Panada Bear. The last track Contact was slightly bittersweet because I felt almost like this was a track saying “wait, there’s more!” but there’s no more, it simply cuts off into electronic static.

Do we have to wait another seven years for the next album? Seems to be the trend. I’d like to firstly buy this on vinyl and listen it in its true form, none of this mp3 bullshit. And secondly, I’d like to do a road trip on the Pacific Coast Highway and have this on the playlist.

Justice – Audio, Video, Disco

Date Released: October 24, 2011
Album Genre: Electronic Rock, House
Album Rating: 7/10

I have to get this off my chest before I start, if you liked anything about the hits from Justice‘s debut album then you’ve got another thing coming. That especially goes for those of you who only listened to Cross for the electro-pop tracks D.A.N.C.E., DVNO, or Tthhee Ppaarrttyy or the harsh electro tracks Genesis, Phantom, Stress or Waters of Nazareth. Did I just name off all the tracks from the first album? Pretty much! This album is more like Audio, Video, Disco, not enough Electro, but to be honest when has Justice ever described themselves as solely electro? We just assumed it as they were riding the French House movement and are signed with Ed Banger who seems to be the principal French label for releasing electronic-house music internationally, but looking at it now I feel this album is more true to Justice than the last one ever was. If you’ve ever heard any of Justice’s mixes, I’m talking about their famous Fabric Rejected Mix, or gone to their off-tour shows where half the people asked “wait, aren’t they going to play D.A.N.C.E.? What is this stuff they’re play now?!”, then you’d understand that they’ve always been this.

The album starts off with Horsepower and Civilization, which you assume is the direction they’re starting to take with all this talk about the album being so different. It is in a sense still similar to some of the harsher sounding electro tracks from their first album, which I actually think sounds great. Little do you know they’re only easing you into how much they’ve changed as you come across Ohio and Canon, which I had to double check that my iTunes wasn’t on shuffle and that I was listening to a Pink Floyd track I had never heard before. I actually had to triple check, so now we hit the 80’s progressive rock section. The tracks are awesome, but sadly I have a feeling they will be criticized for not being “Justice” enough, in other words no one is playing these tracks in clubs. Then we come across the synth rock section with On’n’On, Brainvision, Parade, and Newlands. They’re definitely tracks I’d prefer to chill out or work out to than rock out to in a club. And ending off with one of the better tracks in the album, Helix which actually sounds like Justice and Daft Punk had a child, an awesome child. It’s the only track from this album I’d consider truly electro, it also sounds like it should be in the opening cinematic of a Halo game. The last track to end off the album is Audio, Video, Disco which I have to admit I wasn’t very impressed with when I first heard it. It lacked a lot of what I liked about Justice but it totally grew on me since first listening to it.

Favorite tracks would have to be Horsepower, Civilization, Parade, and Helix, which all seem to be the harder sounding tracks of the album. I’ve never really liked the soft ballad sounding songs in any music so it’s not that the other tracks are bad, just my taste in music. I’ll have to finish this review off by saying you shouldn’t listen to this album expecting the Justice you’ve heard before. Walk in with a blank slate and you’ll enjoy it a lot, the album is solid once you do that. Or maybe you’ll hate it!

1. Horesepower (4/5)
2. Civilization (5/5)
3. Ohio (3/5)
4. Canon (Interlude)
5. Canon (3/5)
6. On’n’on (3/5)
7. Brainvision (3/5)
8. Parade (4/5)
9. Newlands (4/5)
10. Helix (5/5)
11. Audio, Video, Disco (3/5)

Justice – Horsepower

Justice – Helix

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Crystal Castles – Crystal Castles II (2010)

Date Released: April 23, 2010 (digital), May 24, 2010
Album Genre: Electronic, Industrial, Experimental, Synthpop
Album Rating: 8/10

An album review written by an electro-house blogger on experimental 8-bit electronic music, this is bound to stir up some problems despite how close the two genres are. Let’s just get this out of the way first, I never liked Alice Practice nor did I like any of the tracks that resembled it in Crystal Castles‘ debut album although there were many tracks I did like such as Air War, Vanished, Good Time, Magic Spells and the like. It was the overuse of glitchy 8-bit bleeps and scratchy over-bass beats that despite the fact was or is Crystal Castles’ staple sound just didn’t rub me the right way which to my surprise are the exact sounds Crystal Castles toned down in their once again self-titled sophomore album. They also broadened their music to touch on other genres such as synthpop which really worked in their favor rather than depending solely on their niche of 8-bit sounds like remixes off of an 80’s game soundtracks. The novelty wore off pretty quickly.

The album starts off with two quite opposite sounding songs; first track Fainting Spells seems to leave off from their first album and slowly sheds their old sounds. The vocals are so far in the background that I’d consider this an instrumental track of electric static followed by their first single Celestica, which to me feels like it quickly jumps away from their whole experimental edge into synthpop with Alice Glass in a sea of electronic ambiance sounds. The third track Doe Deer which everyone loves, just like they adore Alice Practice, I hated. At first I thought it was just a bad quality rip of the actual track, but I was mistaken. Fortunately, that is the last of that in this album, the rest is pure gold.

The club friendly tracks which includes Baptism is a great mix of everything Crystal Castles is, a little taste if everything from that 8-bit sound to the low bass beats which I actually really enjoyed. Year of Silence is a similar sounding track with an even deeper bass where Kath looped vocals sampled from Sigur Rós’ song Inní mér syngur vitleysingur which I would’ve never guessed the combination but it’s genius the way it is done. It has to be one of my favorite tracks in the album. In Empathy, they took the industrial route, it is all I heard throughout the track and is just another example of the diversity they put within this album. An almost peaceful track ironically labeled Suffocation is very soothing to the ears. Alice Glass’s voice is distorted to point where it sounds serene. Diving into an 80’s retro feel, the new wave synth sound is quite prominent in Violent Dreams and Vietnam with Kath once again distorting Alice Glass’s voice this time with quite the opposite effect using her voice simply as an instrument. Birds is a pretty raw sounding track sounding almost punk or electro punk if you will. I found Pap Smear interesting not only because of the title and lyrics, but because Alice Glass’s voice isn’t really even distorted in some way other than an echo. That’s strange coming from Crystal Castles, I kind of like it.

Hot and cold, both musically and lyrically Not In Love and Intimate one after the other is an interesting choice they took for track placement. Both reminded me yet again like those two previous tracks like something of a retro feel, it’s all I see. An 80’s romantic action movie with a synth soundtrack, I could not have asked for a better closing to the album. Intimate is quite the rush of electric sounds to the ears, I only have one word to describe this track; intense. I would like to consider I Am Made Of Chalk like the ending credits track of a movie or more appropriately from the sounds of it a game which is the only way I can justify the song to myself for being at the end of this album. The track sounds like it would be in to-be-continued credits too, a sad ending you kind of want to see how the main characters bring everything together in the sequel. That’s exactly the feeling I get from the end of the album.

I am quite happy about their second album, except for the fact that they self-titled it again. Kath once again blew me away with his ability to create unusual and sometimes refreshing erratic electric sounds. They’re exploring different sounds and successfully pulling it off unlike other bands who have failed terribly trying to walk the same path. Becoming less dependent on that lo-fi sound is probably the best thing they could have done, although they didn’t let it die because it is still noticeable in some tracks. This album will get a larger following simply because the tracks are less harsh on the ears. Can’t complain about that.

1. Fainting Spells (3/5)
2. Celestica (4/5)
3. Doe Deer (2/5)
4. Baptism (5/5)
5. Year of Silence (5/5)
6. Empathy (4/5)
7. Suffocation (5/5)
8. Violent Dreams (4/5)
9. Vietnam (4/5)
10. Birds (3/5)
11. Pap Smear (5/5)
12. Not In love (5/5)
13. Intimate (5/5)
14. I Am Made Of Chalk (3/5)

Crystal Castles – Year of Silence

Crystal Castles – Suffocation

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MGMT – Congratulations (2010)

Date Released: April 13, 2010
Album Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Alternative
Album Rating: 7/10

It’s not surprising that you’ll find lovers and haters for MGMT‘s sophomore album Congratulations. MGMT made it a point to stray away from the hits of their last album Kids, Time to Pretend, and Electric Feel stating in their interview with NME, “We’ve been talking about ways to make sure people hear the album as an album in order and not just figure out what are the best three tracks, download those and not listen to the rest of it.” They definitely succeeded in that aspect, there weren’t any singles in this album. For a lot of people, those were the three songs they loved and MGMT definitely took notice of that. Unfortunately, taking away the staple styles of your fans’ favorite tracks has a dangerous risk; they might not like your music anymore. Essentially, this album is the middle finger to the fans who wanted more of Kids.

For those of you who enjoyed the second part of Ocular Spectacular, maybe specifically 4th Dimensional Transition, this is the album for you. The album isn’t terrible, actually it’s far from despite what others say, but it isn’t very spectacular either. It has an overall tone of strangeness masked in psychedelic rock and ambiance vocals with little diversity between tracks, although they did include various genres like the Beach Boys surf rock, the “Magical Mystery Tour” or psychedelic era of The Beatles and the Flaming Lips which they only touched on in Ocular Spectacular. The problem with avoiding singles is that your album will be like driving through the prairies, it’s fun for a bit but it gets boring pretty quick. I made it a point not to post a premature review of this album, having listened to it on and off over the last month since they released it on their website. At first I was simply surprised as to how different the album was and how impartial I was to it. Unfortunately the album didn’t grow on me as much as I’d hoped, it’s not one I would put on a top 10 list of 2010 which is a swift change from my 2008 list.

The album starts off with It’s Working sounding something like the Beach Boys surf rock meets shoegazing, an interesting start as it is somewhat of a the new sound coming from MGMT, if not new, it’s refined at least. I actually enjoyed this track but it felt disjointed from the rest of the album. They had fun making Song For Dan Treacy, I could tell, but I wasn’t amused. Like an inside joke I’m neither indie or old enough to understand, I’ve never even heard of Television Personalities before and my bets on you didn’t either before you heard this song. The track sounding like what The Count’s theme song actually should have been, rather than the Eastern European sounding song he always has; it’s just not for me. I was quite torn about Something’s Missing because I liked the track, the last forty seconds of it. If the whole song was that I definitely would’ve placed it as one of my favorites from the album which unfortunately isn’t the case. Flash Delirium is one of the stranger ones from this album, it actually sounded like a sing-along from Sesame Street with the strange background group vocals, I can even see the puppets in my head dancing along. Were they watching Sesame Street when they made this album? I wasn’t the first one to noticed this either.

Another mellow track I Found A Whistle, I’m not the biggest fan of these kind of tracks from any artist, so I won’t go on about this track. The 12 minute Siberian Breaks probably could have been separated into four tracks. It’s almost as bad as the ever-so-popular in the 90’s five minutes of silence on the last track before a hidden track comes up. The ballade starts and ends a couple times, I enjoyed day dreaming while I listened to it. I’m not particularly sure if that’s a good thing or not, but there is a nice buildup in the third part of this track at around eight minutes until the end of the track which might actually be the peak of the whole album. Take note, I actually really loved this! Brian Eno was Flash Delirium Pt. 2, they should have put the two tracks one after each other or would have that been way too cliché? The fully instrumental track Lady Dada’s Nightmare was another inside joke I don’t think I understood. Yes, Lady Gaga’s nightmare of soft keyboard and melodies like something from Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon? I think I thought too much about that. And lastly, Congratulations was a track I actually really liked. Slow normal guitars with clear voices and a touch of original MGMT, after an album of psychedelic synth filled tracks with inaudible vocals, it’s just what I needed.

As much trash talk as I and many others did on this album, I have to say that MGMT is brave for going their own way. Despite the fact that they gave the cold shoulder to the majority of their fans, they need to explore styles to figure out their own unique one and if that means losing fans who only liked them because of Kids, then so be it. The only thing I hope MGMT does is further develop their style and not simply fall back to Kids, that would ultimately be the worst thing to do. To sum up Congratulations, it’s strange and different, but there’s nothing that will throw you off your seat like their first album. I’m still looking forward to album #3.

1. It’s Working (4/5)
2. Song for Dan Treacy (2/5)
3. Someone’s Missing (3/5)
4. Flash Delirium (3/5)
5. I Found a Whistle (3/5)
6. Siberian Breaks (5/5)
7. Brian Eno (2/5)
8. Lady Dada’s Nightmare (3/5)
9. Congratulations (4/5)

MGMT – Siberian Breaks

MGMT – Congratulations

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Gorillaz – Plastic Beach (2010)

Date Released: March 3-9, 2010
Album Genre: Alternative rock, Alternative hip-hop, Electronic
Album Rating: 8*/10

Blur singer Damon Albarn and co-creator of Tank Girl Jamie Hewlett are at it again the third installment of their virtual band Gorillaz; Plastic Beach. I remember the first time I listened to the Gorillaz it was 3am at night looking for tabs on the internet for songs and happened upon a video for Clint Eastwood and M1 A1. Slow paced, far from mainstream sounding, excuse mashing up these genres, hip hop and alternative rock. Gaining popularity, I definitely noticed their music moving more towards a mainstream sound in Demon Days or quite possibly the other way around, mainstream was moving towards them.

My first impression from listening to Plastic Beach was that it was a seamless movie. This wouldn’t come as much of a surprised as Jamie Hewlett’s influence must have a lot of weight. It’s not hard to notice Hewlett’s love affair with producing dreamlike noir animations and films. The album seems to take a lighter approach musically and lyrically than their previous albums, although by far much stranger, chronicling a journey through this Plastic Beach.

The album begins with a soft instrumental ballad suitably labeled Orchestral Intro followed by an old-school sounding hip hop track with Snoop Dogg basically welcoming you to something that feels like a plastic Alice in Wonderland. White Flag had a surprising introduction, real instruments? Not for long, although toned down from the heavy bass we’re used to from Gorillaz with lyrics bringing us deeper into the rabbit hole. With a rather dreamy yet eerie voice, Albarn manages to scare me but really pull me in with Rhinestone Eyes. One line struck me more than the others, “helicopters fly over the beach, same time everyday, same routine” mainly because the picture in my head was quite vivid.

Everyone’s favorite song from this album, Stylo simply because it just sounds so damn cool. I thought for the longest time they were describing about a robot in one word bursts from Bobby Womack, although quite the different image from the video, although this track seems to move way from the image of plastic. The one predominantly hip hop song that seems to be signature to any of the Gorillaz albums, Superfast Jellyfish featuring De La Soul and Gruff Rhys. The album, or shall I call it story changes pace with Empire Ants, having a relatively mellow tone throughout the song until the end where it introduces electro which is continued on into Glittery Freeze starting with “Where’s north from here?” followed by sounds of Morse code on a telegraph. It really reminded me of M1 A1 from their first track, I actually thought it was a fully instrumental track with sampling from a movie, but it’s Mark E. Smith from The Fall providing “background” vocals

Some Kind Of Nature taking a different approach in describing this world in confusion behind very basic music in the background, giving me the image of something almost like a scene from the Wild West. On Melancholy Hill touches 80’s synthpop, the first time in this album, I might be taking a leap and my memory may be lapsing, but it may be the first time Gorillaz really delved into this genre. This track really popped out lyrically from the rest of the album because it was actually about a “we”. Broken is the first time we’ve heard 2D’s, or more precisely Albarn’s voice without any distortions or aftereffects which is refreshing in an synth filled album. Mos Def raps on a completely different level and is exhibited very well in Sweepstakes, taking the front seat in this track.

Another addition to this ensemble cast, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash get together for the first time since Combat Rock to add yet another dimension to the album. Although I was expecting something a little bit louder in Plastic Beach. It’s about time, it’s nice to hear a woman’s voice finally. Thankfully Yukimi from Little Dragon was here to save the day in The Binge where surf rock meets shoegaze and exchanging not so delightful thoughts with Albarn. Bobby Womack helps conclude the album with a rather orchestral piece in Cloud of Unknowing. I couldn’t help but notice the song having the same title as a piece of Christian mysticism and linking that thought that in the track, he’s somehow talking about God. Quite the opposite from the original The Cloud of Unknown, seeking knowledge will ultimately lead to the clouding of the image of God, “trying to find someone you’ll never know” is made to sound like a pointless quest. The album ends off with the sounds of seagulls and the sea, presumably them sailing away from the Plastic Beach. A story told through music, I wonder what we can expect from Phase Three.

1. Orchestral Intro

2. Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach (4/5)
3. White Flag (3/5)
4. Rhinestone Eyes (4/5)
5. Stylo (5/5)
6. Superfast Jellyfish (5/5)
7. Empire Ants (4/5)
8. Glitter Freeze (4/5)
9. Some Kind Of Nature (3/5)
10. On Melancholy Hill (5/5)
11. Broken (3/5)
12. Sweepstakes (4/5)
13. Plastic Beach (4/5)
14. To Binge (5/5)
15. Cloud Of Unknowing (4/5)
16. Pirate Jet (4/5)

Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish

Gorillaz – To Binge

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