Journal

April is quickly shaping up to be the best month of music so far. I’ve been listening to Passion Pit’s Tremendous Sea of Love and Father John Misty’s Pure Comedy, and just this week, Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and John Mayer’s The Search for Everything. Mac DeMarco also put out a groovy third single for his upcoming album This Old Dog called “On the Level”.

Tremendous Sea is a return to Gossamer form with immaculately constructed electro-ballads that often seem to break through the sound barrier at their high ranges, like a shot of music straight into the veins. Passion Pit is still singular in its ability to orchestrate records like this. Incredibly, I got this album for free in a Google Drive folder, emailed to me and about two dozen other random people as a link because we retweeted Michael Angelakos’ tweet about a mental health scientist in Washington; talk about music for a cause. The album strikes instantly as deeply personal, the second song featuring two voice samples, one describing the three fundamental attachments in a child-mother bond — secure, ambivalent, or distant — and the other a voicemail from his mother notable for her line: “We’re here, and everybody else is elsewhere”. “Hey K” is the moment of arrival, and a heartbreaking one, if it’s a message of assurance to his ex-wife of their enduring promise:

Love is the answer
And the one design
Such a simple design
Holy architecture

After some wonderful instrumental passages in the middle of the song, the album drives it home with three delightful songs back to back, reminscent of the magical second half of Gossamer. “I’m Perfect” sounds like the inside of a toy factory; “The Undertow” is the spiritual sequel to “Constant Conversations”; and “To The Otherside” even more perfectly the conclusion of “Where We Belong”, a beautiful message of hope. This whole album is immensely listenable, and growing on me with each repeat. As electronic pop continues to wage a Darwinian war on itself, it looks like Passion Pit is here to stay. My rating: 4/5

Father John Misty seems to be quite the butt of critical jokes with Pure Comedy, but I’m not sure I’m affected at all by any pretension or anti-pretension he may or may not be exuding through the lyrics of this album. It’s simply great music. It’s at least as good as both of his last albums in terms of knockout songs like “The Ballad of the Dying Man” and “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain” (my favorite), and overall quality. I suspect this album feels a lot more subdued and contemplative than his last, especially with songs like “Leaving LA” that’s thirteen minutes long. “When the God of Love Returns There’ll be Hell to Pay” delivers perhaps the essential verse of the album:

Oh, my Lord
We just want light in the dark
Some warmth in the cold
And to make something out of nothing
Sounds like someone else I know

Father John Misty may be trying as hard as he can to be the King of Irony, but even if he turns out to be a hipster parody of Elton John, an Elton John is exactly what we need. My rating: 4/5

Another John, John Mayer, is back with The Search for Everything. A quick aside: John Mayer is one of the most important artists in my musical journey, the soundtrack to many of my most cherished high school memories. Battle Studies is the first album that I felt a true personal resonance with, like it was written for me in my tumultuous transition to college. I ended up using “Forgetting You” in a short film I made for a humanities class that first quarter at Stanford. Since Battle Studies, Born and Raised and Paradise Valley have been quieter backdrops to moments of tranquility and solace that speckle my early twenties, while my primary musical interests have pushed forward into many new territories. So it’s great to hear this album and fall instantly back into an entire adolscence’s full of nostalgia, but at the same time feel invigorated by John Mayer’s stolid momentum and undeniably mastered guitar. While some songs seem to harken back to Continuum or pre-Continuum style, most of the album sits right alongside the songs of Born and Raised. This is as country as I go, songs like “In the Blood” and “Roll It On Home”; it’s cinematic country, the kind of landscapes you can enjoy through the filter of Instagram. “Love on the Weekend” stands out as a song with a synth atmosphere that could fit in Battle Studies; I hope there’s more to come from that direction. All and all this is simple listening that truly doesn’t get old. My rating: 3.5/5

Finally, Kendrick Lamar once again raises the bar with DAMN. It’s been incredible to track his musical creativity from the cinematic novella Good Kid, M.A.A.D City to the politically conscious To Pimp a Butterfly to the lucid broodings of untitled unmastered. to DAMN., which mostly just feels like an opening of the floodgates of expression. In many ways this album is Kendrick entering the mainstream, with a few songs that are finally radio-friendly. He’s welcoming in influences from his fellow artists (Kanye + Drake + Frank + Kendrick = Kandrank?) as well as welcoming in entirely new voices like U2 (in the sense of genre) and Zacari. “HUMBLE.” stands out as a perfectly executed single; “LOVE.” stands out as a fresh experiment that exudes the joy of studio serendipity; “XXX.” shuffles aggressively through a triptych of flows ending with this killer verse:

Donald Trump’s in office
We lost Barack and promised to never doubt him again
But is American honest, or do we bask in sin?
Pass the gin, I mix it with American blood
Then bash him in, you Crippin’ or you married to blood?
It’s nasty when you set us up then roll the dice, then bet us up
You overnight the big rifles, then toell Fox to be scared of us
Gang members or terrorists, et cetera, et cetera
America’s reflections of me, that’s what a mirror does

As intricate as this album is in its journey through the whole thematic scope of his career and its investigation of the ironies of Black America, its most important quality is its generosity of ideas. It leaves no doubt that Kendrick is just getting started. My rating: 4.5/5

 

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