NICOLA: Snarky – Culcha Vulcha (2016) ◊◊◊
Snarky Puppy’s most recent album is another concoction of ingredients, with emphasis on both the electronic and acoustic. The playing is, of course, flawless…but personally I find the initial tracks to be missing some blend and sonic cooperation. This is naturally a matter of taste; the band are using more aggressive sounds in their instrumentation, particularly the organ, where I personally prefer their energetic sound when it arises from the rhythms and conviction of the players. ‘Beep Box’ and ‘Gemini’ create beautiful ambient textures, particularly with the use of soft vocals, sparse harmonies and a mountain of reverb. What is particularly striking with this album is the rhythmic focus; ‘GØ’ has a catchy syncopated brass riff, whilst ‘Semente’ is the regular cheerful trope that seems to occur at least once on each of Snarky Puppy’s albums. It is a fast fusion of Latin and folk, and it showcases some excellent virtuosity from its musicians. The violin is at once coarse and richly mellow, until the flute momentarily transports the tune into a completely different world – it’s only a shame that this solo doesn’t go on for longer. My favourite track is ‘Palermo’, where the unison brass lines and dubby piano bass playing work in perfect conjunction with fast, soft flute and marimba rhythmic drives. The trumpet solo is a beautiful oasis emerging from the preceding hectic organ solo. This is where Snarky Puppy are at their best – all elements of music fusing together in a tightly knit mix of magical composition. If you have enjoyed Snarky Puppy before, I guarantee there will be something in this album for you!
Related artists: Hiatus Kaiyote, Christian Scott, Robert Glasper
REVA: Father John Misty – Pure Comedy (2017) ◊◊◊
“So I never learned to play the lead guitar / I always more preferred the speaking parts,” Father John Misty begins his seventh of ten verses on the thirteen-minute self-described diatribe, ‘Leaving LA.’ Buried deep within a long-winded rant, the lyric is representative of Joshua Tillman’s artistic redirection for this album.
Pure Comedy is a masterful display of Tillman’s cynicism through lyricism and conscience through cadence. If past records were of Tillman’s spirit and heart, this record is of Tillman’s mind drugged on a cocktail of current events, culture, and disdain, altogether painting a psyche I’m sure only he could have synthesized. On every track, Tillman may think himself a messenger from a not-so-far-off dystopian future, delivering news from the brave new world we are doomed to soon inhabit while purposely blurring the boundary between his predictions and our present. Some gems include the single ‘Pure Comedy,’ ‘Two Wildly Different Perspectives,’ and ‘Ballad of the Dying Man,’ but it would be far from efficient to list out every single lyric I find clever or thought-provoking.
The impressive feat of Pure Comedy is in its insight, candor and self-awareness; yet, musically, it leaves much to be desired. Though littered with the occasional arrangement of horns or strings as in ‘Total Entertainment Forever,’ as well as ironic samples like the old-timey gameshow TV opening of ‘Pure Comedy’ and voice-to-speech device on ‘The Memo’ reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Fitter Happier,’ much of the record is only lightly instrumented and is remarkably homogenous. For a fan who’s much more familiar with Fear Fun and who’s arguably over-listened to I Love You, Honeybear, Pure Comedy is a sadly paradoxical follow-up, presenting his most complex thoughts in least their memorable form yet. Even as I listen to it now on shuffle and repeat as I write this, one song blends into the next, and without my absolute attention the lyrics are reduced to Tillman’s folksy drone.
I appreciate Pure Comedy, but I do not enjoy it. It exhausts me. This is a record which deserves 74 minutes of attention which are so hard to give unless given in piecemeal. Perhaps this was anticipated and meant to provide sly commentary on the nature of a modern attention span—it’s hard to know anymore. In ‘The Memo,’ he asks, “Do you usually listen to music like this?” and it takes breaking down this fourth wall for me to admit that I just don’t know. All of this has made me reconsider why I seek out music in the first place: to empathize, to learn, to dance? To hear or to listen? For what purpose do I entertain myself?
To this end, I’d like to give Father John Misty the benefit of doubt in assuming that the album’s many flaws and criticisms—its trimming down of art to make room for self-expression, its capitalizing on capitalism when that line of critique is the trend of the day, its self-important rambling when he’s just “another white guy in 2017 / who takes himself so goddamn seriously,”—are not mistakes. They are statements.
Related artists: Fleet Foxes, Mac Demarco, Cass McCombs, Courtney Barnett