Published on July 16th, 2015 | by Dave Scaddan0
The Feedback Society’s This Week in Music
Albums we’ve been discussing over drinks this week at The Feedback Society, from Mac DeMarco and Ratatat to Unknown Mortal Orchestra and The Sleepy Jackson.
Mac DeMarco has now reached the point of instant recognition — when you hear his guitar, even on a song you haven’t heard before, your ears know it’s his lethargic, goofy jangle bending through the speakers before your eyes have the chance to confirm it. That’s saying quite a lot, especially since playing guitar is only one of many facets of a career that has this 25 year-old prairie/Vancouver kid selling out shows all over the place. Mac has hit the big time, people (When I Google the three letters “MAC” and then hit the space bar, he comes up as the fourth suggestion, after mac tools, mac cosmetics and mac and cheese) and it’s his ear for a tune that’s made it happen. On ‘Another One’, each track has something, a hook, a line of lyric, a synth part, that serves as evidence of how easy DeMarco makes it seem. These eight songs feel like an effortless exercise in style, and they all hit the same target of mellow rock goodness. If anything’s missing here, it’s probably that ‘slammer pog’ of a song (like ‘Ode to Viceroy’ or ‘Passing out Pieces’) to take the set to another level for a few minutes.
Memory Man – Broadcast One
This record caught my ear because it had songs featuring Kool Keith, Mr. Lif, and Edan, and it did not disappoint. Broadcast One is the first record from this producer, and he boldly uses his debut as a high-concept piece, blending audio clips from old television programs to create a collage of politically-charged hip hop. The record plays like a day of programming on an old-school TV station, with news, religious shows, children’s’ programming, and cheap-ass commercials, giving the whole thing a funny, but thought-provoking effect. This is like an album-long expansion on the kind of piece Killer Mike laid down on ‘Reagan’ a few years ago.
When Memory man supports an MC (or a group of them) he does each vocalist justice with a track that’s just right for the corresponding style. Edan’s track uses backward hi-hats, sixties Brit-psych samples and 80’s TV voices saying, “Just say no,” to create a sound quite similar to Edan’s ‘Beauty and the Beat’ album. Kool Keith’s track is a funky drum loop accented by a fuzzy bass knock that would fit right in on the first Dr Octagon record. When it’s Mr. Lif’s turn at the mic, the BPMs are cranked way up to let him blaze at top speed about the military industrial complex. Open Mike Eagle contributes a few insightful, nostalgic verses about how the TV programs he used to watch would change as he went from boyhood to manhood. All in all though, what’s really cool about this record is the politically staunch tone it takes even though the man putting it all together does not use his own voice. Broadcast One is an arty piece of hip hop, informed by a lot of different influences and sources. Despite its limited run of 250 copies on vinyl, it is not to be slept on.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi Love
This is high in the running for my favourite record of the year so far. Everything I read and hear about it seems to emphasize Ruban Nielson’s growth as a singer/songwriter, and that’s all fair play, but what I really hear listening to this group on their third record is what a tight band they’ve become. Drummer Riley Geare plays snapping skins that give this band much of their soulful groove, and every once in a while, bassist Jake Portrait comes through with a sweet little disco hook, channeling Maurice Gibb or Robert ‘Kool’ Bell. There’s no style this trio can’t dip into, but ‘Multi Love’ keeps coming back to the same kind of sounds as early Paisley Park-era Prince. The music is emotionally fraught, but cool, layered, but simple, and musicianship is always kept at the core. This is like a guitar-bass-keys-drums dance band with a raspberry beret on it.
Ratatat – Magnifique
It’s been quite a while since this duo was in heavy rotation for me, but this release is threatening to get them back into my loop. Ratatat combines slickly programmed drums, synth and electric guitar into a feel-good, dancy vibe that rubs up against instrumental hip hop while still being its own thing. ‘Magnifique’ is a confident set of tracks that feature a little more intricate guitar work and more textured production than past records. Instead of just cranking out more up-tempo, hooky themes, about half of these new songs go for a mellower, smoother feel. Ratatat even get into some Tropicalia vibes, ironing out the punchy sound of most of their tracks. Then on ‘Nightclub Amnesia,’ they scrape each sound and instrument into a nu-disco frenzy reminiscent of the earliest Justice singles. When Ratatat get into some slower, laid-back numbers, I find myself less interested, but they’ve usually got another banger around the corner.
The Sleepy Jackson – Lovers
This is an old one that reappeared in my car this week from amongst a pile of old burned CDs. Back in the early 2000s, Luke Steele was a singer/songwriter starting to get a little indie-scene attention here in North America and particularly in his native Australia. His band, The Sleepy Jackson, offered solid, syrupy rock/pop songs that were probably a little too quirky for the mainstream. There was always a flamboyant personality evident in these songs, though. Steele has a tender, but playful delivery that I would place in the same style as George Harrison. The Sleepy Jackson don’t sound like The Beatles, but some of ‘Lovers’ does sound something like the simpler numbers where Phil Spector got the hell out of the way on ‘All Things Must Pass.’ Steele has a slightly punk side also, and he can switch from a bassy Nick Cave grumble to a falsetto on a dime.
After this, The Sleepy Jackson only released one more record, and it was a vainglorious, egomaniacal pelvic thrust into what turned out to be a less-than-interested international audience. Steele has tried other projects since, but ‘Lovers’ remains its own sweet entity, a charismatic frontman doing his thing with no more pretension than came naturally to him at the time.