All In My Mind And All Of The Time: Spoon – Hot Thoughts Review


There have been a number of popular indie rock bands that have been lovingly (or deridingly depending on who you talk to) labeled “dad rock” – a title given to older bands who put out a consistent stream of quality albums that are dependably good (nothing more and nothing less). While bands like Yo La Tengo and The National come to mind (the latter having a full Billboard article written about this distinction), no other band has been carrying this title quite like Austin-based indie rock band, Spoon. Spoon has been kicking for over two decades now, and while their discography hasn’t reinvented the indie rock wheel, all of their albums are still quality listens. With that being said, their new record, Hot Thoughts, is a surprising album. After a successful two decades worth of music, Spoon could have come out with an album like their acclaimed 2014 release They Want My Soul as a victory lap of sorts. However, Hot Thoughts sees the band with a newfound energy and an album that is their most playful, emotional, and experimental yet.

In terms of sound, Spoon has been known for some fantastic grooves (look no further than “Me and the Bean” from Girls Can Tell and “Eddie’s Ragga” from Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga), but no groove in their discography has been as danceable as the one on the title track which starts off the record on a high note. The groove, the bells underlying the beat, and the layered sections of instrumentation (such as the violins near the end of the track) is like a kickstart to the heart and shows right away that the band isn’t set on making another conventional indie rock record. This newfound experimentation continues on album highlight “WhisperI’lllistentohearit” who’s first-half features a tasteful, low-key brooding that’s highly reminiscent of Spoon’s discordant “The Ghost of You Lingers.” Songs like “Do I Have to Talk You Into It” and “First Caress” both feature some enjoyable piano-laden rock along with interesting electronic elements that add another layer of variation and flourish to their tried-and-true formula. But none of the tracks here exemplify Spoon’s goal for experimentation as much as the songs “Pink Up” and “Us.” “Pink Up” is a moody slow-burn that features a prominent xylophone melody and flourishes of warped vocal samples from frontman Britt Daniels. On the weirder “Us,” the band sees fit to end the record with a four-minute instrumental jazz track which builds upon the xylophone motif from “Pink Up.” It’s something that you could hear as an interlude in an instrumental post-rock album, definitely not from a band like Spoon. It’s spacey, wild, moody, and gutsy. I was definitely put off at first listen, but subsequent playthroughs definitely helped solidify the song’s place in the track listing.

Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that Spoon purists shouldn’t be put off by the new sounds of the record. There are definitely vintage-Spoon songs such as “First Caress” and Tear It Down.” “Can I Sit Next To You” is an energized Spoon track that sounds like they listened to Rolling Stone’s Some Girls (especially “Miss You”) before they hit the studio. If I had a major gripe with the album, I would highlight “Shotgun” as being a weak song in the track listing, especially since it feels awkward as a transition to the album’s closer. As far as vocal performance and lyrics go, Britt Daniels hasn’t sounds so spirited in years. Whereas frontmen like Matt Berninger from The National find ways to sing without putting too much strain in their voice after years of wear-and-tear, Britt Daniels’ voice is still as dynamic and pleasing as ever.

Spoon is a road-tested band that continues to show that they are capable of staying around for many years more. You would think a twenty-plus-year band would begin to sound drab, but Spoon, with every release, prove capable of putting out fantastic records that sound modern in any age and do so with extreme fervor. I would highly recommend this album to fans and novices alike.

Recommended Tracks: “Hot Thoughts,” “Can I Sit Next to You,” and “WhisperI’lllistentohearit”

Album Review: Danny Brown – “Atrocity Exhibition”


atrocityexhibition

Back in October, fans of hip hop collectively laughed at a young mother who uploaded a video in which she discussed at length how aghast she was over hearing rapper Vince Staples’ song “Norf Norf” on her local radio station. As ridiculous as this video is – she at one point sobbingly recites the song’s explicit lyrics with her young children present – Vince later came out with a set of statements defending the mother and her right to state her opinion even if the opinion was off base from the original message of the song. This video, after quickly becoming a meme, finally dissipated into the ether of internet lore, but not without creating some discussion on the artistic merits of rap and hip hop and their possible glorification of drug use, misogyny, and violent imagery. While there are many advocates who believe rap and hip hop are glorifying these types of lifestyles, there is something to be said about a growing number of rap artists currently showcasing these lifestyles as snapshots of where they’ve been as if to warn others not to go down the same route they did.

Such is the fact with Detroit rapper Danny Brown who recently came out with his fourth album, Atrocity Exhibition. Every track on this album showcases various personal stories of sex, drugs, and situations far from rock n’ roll, but never once does it glorify these types of lifestyles. Rather, Danny showcases these songs as “cautionary tales.” If someone happens to misconstrue it as anything but, Danny lays out his mission statement with complete sincerity in the closing lines of the last song on the album: “So my task is/inspire your future with my past/I lived through that/So that you don’t have to go through it.”

Brown’s writing is on point here as he tells little pieces of his backstory from song to song, and it’s definitely a hard listen when one digs into the lyrics. On “Tell Me What I Don’t Know,” Brown details his past escapades with friends getting in trouble with the law and dealing with drug deals gone wrong. On “Rolling Stone,” Danny Brown details his drug dependency and how hard it is to break out of the cycles of the highs and lows it brings about even if he is completely aware that this is happening: “I’m on a road that never ends/Don’t know opposite of sin/Some people say I think too much/I don’t think they think enough.” Every song on this record showcases his growing ennui of the lifestyles that he had chosen to immerse himself in, and it’s an engrossing listen through every turn.

Before going further, I would be remiss if I didn’t note that this album is not for everyone. For fans of Danny Brown’s earlier albums, this is not Old. Neither is it XXX. It is Danny Brown by way of Death Grips and clipping. Certain beats contain punk rock-like elements, such as on the guitar-driven “Golddust.” Things turn toward the deliciously abrasive on album highlight “Ain’t It Funny” where a horn section blares to no end as if to signal an incoming tornado. However unconventional and experimental the instrumentals and samples are, it plays into the albums themes perfectly. It’s the musical equivalent of a bad acid trip with the listener riding the highs and lows.

In terms of features, other than Petite Noir, Kelela, and B-Real all singing hooks on their respective songs, “Really Doe” is the only track with guest features rapping over the instrumental, and it’s stacked with Ab-Soul showing some passion for the rap game, Kendrick being Kendrick, and Earl Sweatshirt showcasing some brash, brazen verses that cements his top billing on the song. With a line-up such as this with the performances given on the track, it’s crazy to think that this might not be the best song off the album. There are many highlights on Atrocity Exhibition, and it’s thanks to Danny Brown’s lyricism and fiery delivery. There are instrumentals on this album that Danny has absolutely no business sounding as good as he is when he raps over them – especially on a track like the album’s second single, “Pneumonia,” where Brown spits bars over an idiosyncratic industrial beat with a time signature that should make spitting bars over it humanly impossible. Songs like this one shouldn’t work, but they just do thanks to Brown’s technical ability.

To say Danny Brown reinvented his sound with this album is an understatement. Many of the tracks here – other than “Really Doe” – are a far cry from anything you’d hear on mainstream radio. However, the album is well made, well produced, and very much so a rewarding listen – no matter how weird or how long it is. Although this album is soon going to be measured up to other strong rap albums that came out this year – like Schoolboy Q and Anderson Paak’s new records – Atrocity Exhibition is a different beast entirely. It’s most akin to Kendrick

Lamar’s turn last year with the politically driven, jazz-influenced To Pimp a Butterfly. Both records showcases two highly skilled rappers at the top of their game – artists who switched up their styles and showed why they’re the best at what they do. They accomplished this because they both made strong, entertaining, and experimental album experiences with a message rather than their records being just vehicles for hit singles. They were both risks, and those risks paid off. And while Atrocity Exhibition isn’t on the same level as Kendrick’s masterpiece, it’s still an important piece of music and an enjoyable one at that.

I highly recommend this album to lovers of industrial, experimental, and alternative hip hop, especially for those that dig artists like Death Grips, clipping., Shabazz Palaces, and Run the Jewels. And to rap and hip hop listeners who usually stick with more traditional artists and sounds, this may be a challenging listen, but I implore you to give it a chance. It may just surprise you in ways you could never expect.