The Rock Review Round Up: Weezer, Deftones, More
Metal Resistance by BabyMetal
There’s a glorious delight that comes with pressing play on a BabyMetal album for the first time: guitars skid, fists pump and suddenly the homicidal gunmen from Contra are running rampant throughout the Mushroom Kingdom blasting everything in sight. The decision to merge J-Pop sweetness with metal’s grueling intensity and mythical pomposity remains as astute and endearing as ever. Frontwoman trio Su-metal, Yuimetal and Moametal still retain their mastery of J-pop conventions and their backing band is as tight and ferocious as ever. Neither sound would thrive alone – the hooks are dated and retiring compared to CL or best of Korea while the metal is workmanlike despite its finger splitting intricacies – these two 7-out-of-10 sounds combine to create something greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Real forethought has gone into the interplay between melody, hook and arrangement – BabyMetal are no copy + paste rockers. Instead, they are – almost unquestionably – writing the best hooks in metal right now. Equally, it’s worth equivocally stating that whacking some oppressive guitars on Carly Rae Jepsen’s brilliant “Boy Problems” would achieve little and actively diminish an airy arrangement. BabyMetal’s pop may be slight and spritely, but it is custom built to melt faces while smartly sending out dog whistle rallying cries to an untapped demographic (yes those are sparkles and coin collection sounds you here).
The English version of “The One” might expose what many suspected – that without the language barrier Babymetal sound as cringe worthy as Dragonforce at their worst – but it is a mistake they are careful not to repeat. There are other flaws; in places the metal itself beyond is passé (electro-squelching 90s hangovers that sound like the soundtrack to God awful hacking films full of irredeemable faux-tech speak). Finally, as shrewdly as the marriage betwixt pop and metal is managed, the actual musical compositions tend to veer off the rails in the album’s more ambitious moments. “Tales Of The Destinies” might be an absolute riot vocally (with bestial growls fighting timid cries), but smooth transitions and sonic cohesion are lost in the quest for epic grandeur.
Still, these complaints fail to undermine an excellent and truly joyous album. Babymetal may invite skepticism, but they take themselves and their music deadly seriously (there is room for humour, coy references and laughs, but never irony or shame). Better still, there remains plenty of room for growth. They may ape everything from Children Of Bodom and Paul Gilbert to sea-shanty rock and the more brutish end of nu-metal, but they haven’t yet defined their own sound. BabyMetal may yet find a way to deliver the seven minute epics they struggle to hold together on Metal Resistance or they could do the exact opposite: trim the fat and produce slicker, shinier and shorter pop songs backed by more aggressively focused arrangements. For the moment the trio are content dancing to their own beat while serving up the sweetest hooks and finest melodies in modern metal. [8.0]
Weezer (The White Album) by Weezer
The White Album is a curious beast. For an album with an over-arching three suite structure (boy-meets-girl, a relationship develops and then dissolves), Weezer’s latest feels strangely aimless and fitful. Rivers’ songwriting lurches between sweet, straightforward takes on California pop seen through the filter of Weezer’s eccentricities (“California Kids”, “(Girl We Got A) Good Thing”) and his newfound penchant for reference heavy, enigmatic songwriting (“Thank God For Girls”, “King Of The World”).
Weezer never fully commit to any one direction and the result is an album that struggles to assert a sense of self. The brilliant Pinkerton-aping single “Do You Want To Get High?” sticks out like a soar thumb as River flirts with direction fleetingly on what increasingly feels like a B-sides compilation. The dense and cryptic songwriting routinely feels heavy handed, but proves genuinely poignant on “King Of The World” – an ode to Rivers’ wife, full of the intricate references that come to define lasting long-term relationships. Sadly, more often than not, the songs simply feel overwritten with clever lyrics standing in place of well-crafted, satisfying pop songs.
Troublingly, few songs truly soar. There is spectacle (“Thank God For Girls”) and well meaning sentiment (“Endless Bummer), but little substance on a middling record. Highlights “L.A. Girlz” and “Do You Want To Get High?” only serve to illustrate, despite Weezer’s many gropes for inspiration, how reasonable and yet unremarkable the bulk of this collection truly is. [6.0]
Gore by Deftones
Deftones have settled into middle age rather nicely. This comes as a quite the surprise considering the slippery-but-nevertheless-seething angst that fuelled the band’s 90s heyday. Gore, by comparison, swims beneath a sea of muddy, distorted guitar work, but rather than seeking sardonic nihilism or cathartic release, Chino Moreno offers a tender turn. The swampy textures assimilate the singer’s sweet and sorrowful vocals, creating an inner echo chamber, which feels both oddly teenage (the moody hoodied child sulking in his bedroom) and adult (complex and contradictory emotions are weighed and measured rather than petulantly screamed).
Deftones have yet to go off the textual deep end, for every naval gazing “Hearts/Wires” or strained “Acid Hologram” there’s a wicked groove (“Geometric Headdress”) or a circling harpies style breakdown (“Gore”). At the end of the day, Deftones are still serving up a traditional rock record (albeit at reluctant one) and Gore’s best moments arise when the band embrace a sense of ambition. “Phantom Bride” unites the hard rock impulse with a desire to explore scratchy textures and solemn emotion on a masterfully compact mini-epic punctuated by a gorgeous solo. It’s a shame Deftones waited so long (ten tracks) to unite their quiet and loud elements, because, in isolation, they (and Gore by extension) proved intriguing, but not quite awesome. [7.0]
A Sailor’s Guide To Earth by Sturgill Simpson
The cosmic cowboy has crash landed on planet earth and discovered his soul (or soul music at least). That’s the flashy headline for Sturgill Simpson’s hotly anticipated third album, but the truth is far more understated. Simpson has dispensed with the mind melting cosmos and has embraced his role as a father – passing on his hopes, fears and best advice to his son. He doesn’t cast an alien eye on life on earth as the title might suggest, but a very human one atop a series of stunning guitar driven arrangements that merge hard rock, rootsy Americana, Christian country, funk horns and soothing soul (courtesy of The Dap Kings).
Despite his better instincts, Simpson lets his experience and anxiety color his advice. He offers platitudes (“Just stay in school/Stay off the drugs”) and encouragement (“live a little”). Unlike Macklemore, he doesn’t appear like some saintly super-dad dreamed up by a liberal think tank; Simpson is torn between the man he’s always wanted to be and the very real dangers that lie in wait for his son. In truth, Simpson has nothing new to say and therein lies the beauty of this rambunctious alt-country gem. There is no magic bullet, no one combination of words that solves the dilemma of parenting, just a lot of angst, plenty of crossed fingers and, at the end of the day, hopefully a few good times. [8.5]
The Lightening Round:
Next Thing by Frankie Cosmos
Slight in the extreme, but don’t underestimate the potency of these introspective ditties. Frankie Cosmos serves up a sublime blend of forthright self-recriminatory lyricism with a heartbreakingly vulnerable tone. The specificity of lyrics is both endearing and illuminating, but sung by another voice or played at a different tempo, this album would fall flat on its face – taken exactly as it is, Next Thing is a homely masterpiece in microcosm. [8.0]
Human Performance by Parquet Courts
Brooklyn’s Parquet Courts muster a wealth of sardonic, disenchanted needle on Human Performance, but for all their nifty hooks and willfully underpowered arrangements the band still stand in the shadow of giants. Pavement, Wire, The Modern Lovers, Squeeze, James Murphy and a host of post-punk luminaries loom large on an album full of inspired writing, but frustratingly vintage sonics. [7.0]
The Hope Six Demolition Project by PJ Harvey
The structures may have simplified (guitars, drums and good melodies) compared to the luscious instrumentation of PJ Harvey’s anti-war manifesto Let England Shake, but the subject matter remains severe. Refugee camps, Kosovo, Afghanistan and decaying city’s color a hit and miss album that can feel incisive and essential in one breath, and clumsy and heavy-handed in its moralizing the next. Thankfully, the highlights are so serene and thought provoking that the failed experiments are easily overlooked. [7.0]
Singing Saw by Kevin Morby
Even the most cold hearted of souls would struggle to suppress the beauty in these nine delicate and desolate songs, that set one man and his existential (and intimate) ache against nature. The imagery is tender, but not maudlin (a garden full of black roses, weeping willows and mountain tops), while the arrangements are rustic-rather-than-hokey. On occasion, Morby is swept away with the dust – he’s caught vibing too absent mindedly to his own doomed romantic lilts – and fails to twist the knife or summon the urgency that the immortal Bob Dylan managed to inject into even the most nuanced of works. Nevertheless there are few finer records to drift away with and no singer-songwriter more seductively understated than Kevin Morby in 2016. [8.0]