Spectrum Culture work, vol 9

DREAMCAR (No Doubt + Davey Havok) put out its self-titled debut and I wrote about it. I even brought back some snark from my college days.

Davey Havok is quite the busy man. Since April of last year, two of his projects (AFI and Blaqk Audio) have released full-lengths and toured behind them. Now, it seems, he’s decided to further crowd his ridiculous schedule with a new project: DREAMCAR. It’s a supergroup of sorts, with Havok fronting a band consisting of No Doubt members not named Gwen.

That trio from No Doubt – guitarist Tom Dumont, bassist Tony Kanal and drummer Adrian Young – began writing music for a new project in 2014 and later asked Havok to join. The group’s eponymous debut, presumably, is only now getting a release because this is simply when there was time to promote and tour behind it.

In a recent interview, Kanal says that the project was largely kept a secret, allowing them more creative freedom since they weren’t beholden to a record company exec or a manager. Given that the band brought Tim Pagnotta on board as a producer, this is a curious statement. Pagnotta has worked on two of the most inescapable Skittles overdoses of the last few years: Neon Trees’ “Sleeping with a Friend” and WALK THE MOON’s “Shut Up and Dance.”

“Creative freedom,” then, appears to mean “follow the current trend of doing your best ‘80s pop-rock impression.” In this way, Pagnotta was the logical choice. He knows how to paint any band in bright, “Miami Vice”-esque pastels to get the desired aesthetic, and he does so here with almost cynical precision. Darting and tickling synths are paired with itchy guitar, and they’re polite enough to each other without forming a partnership.

Actually, it’s kinda like how the first third of the record finds Dumont, Kanal and Young answering the question, “How many different ways can we write the same anthem that builds to a soaring chorus over which Havok can howl his goth-tinged kabuki theater witticisms?” Yes, “Kill for Candy” and “Born to Lie” have massive hooks (despite trite lyrics like, “But I’ve grown too tired to lie/ And you’re born so sick of truth”), but they’re hollow and empty. Throughout DREAMCAR, the means are the end – and that’s the problem.

See, when you don’t have an earworm hook (as most of side B demonstrates), you’re left with tepid, mid-tempo synth-rock. There are flashes of brilliance (“The Preferred” struts around on a scratchy guitar lick, and “Don’t Let Me Love” opens with a playful, sing-songy riff that leads to twinkling guitar and pulsing bass effectively complementing each other), but not enough to break up the monotony.

The end result is a record where most of its material demands your attention but is forgotten 10 minutes later. In effect, DREAMCAR is like a sugar binge – you only kept going beyond the first few pieces because it was in front of you, and at the end you’re left feeling unfulfilled and wondering what it was all for. Or as Havok puts it in a bit of laughable irony: “You do nothing for me/ But don’t ignore me.”

Best Fit album review, vol 6

Somehow I forgot to add this entry to the series. Oh well.

Anyhow, back in October I wrote about the then-new (and likely final) Dillinger Escape Plan record, Dissociation. It’s fucking fantastic.

The review also has one of my favorite paragraphs I’ve written in a while:

If Dissociation truly is DEP’s final record, they’re at least going out in peak form. Whether this is their best record is a matter of personal taste more than any kind of qualitative argument. This album doesn’t feel so much like the work of a band trying to make a career-high album as much as a band using a great record to remind us why they’ve made so many in the first place. Most bands would love to end on a high note; DEP actually did it.

Extreme music is gonna miss these guys.

Hundred Word Reviews: Run The Jewels | Run The Jewels 3

pitchfork rtj3

It’s fitting RTJ’s website crashed upon RTJ3’s release, considering that’s basically what happened to the country after the election. RTJ2 was the sound of fury incarnate; RTJ3 is the sound of paranoid, what-the-fuck-happens-now chaos. El’s production casts a seasick spectre over the proceedings with an eerie haze coating pulsing, twitching, and seething molotov cocktails whose gravity might pull them apart at any moment. That said, RTJ3 is also further proof El and Mike are the best (and funniest) shit-talkers in the game: “Physical fitness/ Bitch, we run this/ Paraplegics, you don’t run shit”. No record is more essential in 2016.

Hundred Word Reviews: Radiohead | A Moon Shaped Pool

radiohead moon shaped pool

Since Thief, Radiohead’s decision-making has dared fans to stop caring about their music: Surprise releases, pay-what-you-want, using 20-year-old songs, pretentiously “mysterious” announcements, etc. They went from band to brand, and in the process made the release of music more important than the music itself. Whether “Burn the Witch” is among the coolest songs they’ve ever written, or “Identikit” forcefully argues the return of guitar in modern music, or that this record has some of the band’s strongest melodies in a long time is all beside the point. The question isn’t about the quality of Pool, but instead whether it matters.