Matson on Music
Album reviews: Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus, Tame Impala, Truckasauras
The weather outside is frightful. But with these albums in your headphones, you might be able to get into it if you have a raincoat. If that's too much, huddle 'round ye olde stereo. These albums are worth your time.
Kendrick Lamar "Good Kid MAAD City" (Interscope/Top Dawg/Aftermath)
Emerging to the mainstream consciousness from out of gang-heavy/hip-hop-famous Compton, Calif., young rapper Kendrick Lamar is receiving unanimous critical acclaim for his first proper album "Good Kid MAAD City" — and why not? Full of vivid stories and rapping with beyond-tricky meter, all the beats are good, too (including the foggy "Sherane A.K.A. Master Splinter's Daughter" by Seattle-native producers Tha Bizness). Albums this complete just don't come around very often. A moody tone is set from the beginning with "Bitch, Don't Kill My Vibe," where Lamar uses words in a somewhat harsh manner to push everyone and everything away from him, declaring some space will be cleared here. Apparently his spiritual mind-roaming will occur by any means necessary. And then it does. And it's thrilling to listen to: "Black Boy Fly" and "Sing Of Me / Dying Of Thirst" use daring song constructions to remark on internalized mental shackles, the fleetingness of life and difficulty of finding fulfillment in it. "Now Or Never" stands out as pure sunlight, Mary J. Blige singing loudly over uplifting disco soul, Lamar rapping as a young person in an old song. Most of the rest of the album is darker. "Swimming Pools (Drank)" and "Money Trees" cut deeply, cannonballing into themes of self-medication and peer pressure. Several times in dissecting his hometown via rap, Lamar eyes the line between cozy and abusive. It's something a perceptive novelist might explore. Not your typical rapper. Then again calling Kendrick Lamar "not your typical rapper" is a wild understatement. That's the kind of depth you get from someone this emotionally in tune.
If you are not transported to some other mental realm while listening to "Until the Quiet Comes," the new album by futuristic, Los Angeles hip-hop producer Flying Lotus, you must not enjoy instrumental, jazzy beats. Because if you do, here it is, a master's latest and greatest version of the artform yet, a twisting dive into sunset colors and 27 different kinds of blackness. Listen and have a nice trip. On "Heave(n)" you get jungle ambience mixed with Lotus' sneakily melodic samples, synthesizers and drums. But you are never in one place, instead floating through walls or hovering over your own body. Thom Yorke and Erykah Badu appear as vocalists and you can barely tell. Their ghostly voices are just more colorful dye in the beat-bath. Lotus and his whole instrumental rap milieu — he is the leader of a movement — have crossed over to an audience of college students and fans of jammed-out pop/rock bands (Dave Matthews, etc.). That's because he embraces a druggy feel and takes away the lyrics from hip-hop, ie the hardest thing to understand, opening it up to everyone. It would be a little sell-out-y if he weren't so obviously an earnest astral traveler committed to making the spaciest, earthiest grooves imaginable. But he is, and he's succeeding, and while his imagination is this rich, it's worth behaving like a jam band lemming and following wherever he leads.
Tame Impala "Lonerism" (Modular Recordings)
Can someone tell me what happens on the second half of the new Tame Impala record? The first four psychedelic rock songs on the Australian band's album are so good, after months of listening, I haven't gotten to the end of it yet. Just kidding. Deep cuts like the swinging "Elephant" and piano-pop "Sun's Coming Up (Lambington's)" are totally worthy. But the opening quatrain of "Be Above It," "Enders Toi," "Apocalypse Dreams" and "Mind Mischief" is shockingly good — an album unto itself. It's a bit hard to put its power into text, but the mix of trebly guitars and spasming synthesizers, Beatles-y vocals and slapping drums make you feel like you're always in the breakdown part of the song, the part when a band is 100% on the same page, and also going a little bit out of its mind. "Lonerism" succeeds as a whole because the music is wonderful and so is the recording. No matter if you listen on headphones or speakers, each element happens in a different part of your ear-space. Is this what's happening in Australia? No, Tame Impala are freakishly good there, too.
Truckasauras "2012" (Fourthcity/Popular Noise)
How can this be? Here we are several years into local band Truckasauras' career as a genre of one, and their 8-bit melodies, analog synthesizers and hip-hop drums sound fresh as ever. Let us not question. The gods of prog-rock and hip-hop wanted it this way. "2012" bravely veers from the quartet's two previous albums with the sprawling "Bothell Trance," a creative feat lasting 15 minutes, using phasing as a songwriting tool. It's the band trying something new within its strict instrumental bleep-bloop confines, and sounds like if synthesizer notes were raindrops, and they fell all around you in a tight grid. For the patient listener, it pays off beautifully. If you want more accessible thrills, allow me to introduce you to the middle of the album: "Two Thumbs Up With A Helmet On With Helmet On," "Everyone In Here is a Goblin" and "Keystone Dick" come three-four-five, each with a different flip on arpeggiated melodies and hard drums. If this is your first go-round with Truckasauras, this is the essence. Music from the original Nintendo game Zelda trying to go pop while keeping it real to some underlying rap influence.