Rock & Roll Report Card

Winter Gloves about a girl Paper Bag Records
Winter Gloves about a girl Paper Bag Records
Credit: 
Supplied
The Chemical Brothers Brotherhood Virgin
The Chemical Brothers Brotherhood Virgin
Credit: 
Supplied
Beck Modern Guilt Interscope Records/XL Recordings
Beck Modern Guilt Interscope Records/XL Recordings
Credit: 
Supplied

A (86%)
Winter Gloves
about a girl
Paper Bag Records

Charlie F’s synth pop project’s debut about a girl could easily have been called about a city. The songs conspire to create this emotional panorama of factories, parties, parks, streets and corners where you’ve made out or unfortunately run into exes that blends into a 10-track late-night dance party. Chock-full of riffs that range from melancholy to hyperactive, Winter Gloves’s half hour album is an exercise in pop. But it’s the near-perfect percussion that steers the record. At times it’s the dancing life force and at others, a steady, guiding hand, depending on the nature of the track. Easily one of the gems of the album “Glass Paperweight” aches open with the lines “Do you know how far you could push your selfish games?”

It’s slower than many of the other tracks, but in its brevity it doesn’t drag. Its deliberate, heavier lull actually lends to the purpose of the song. The way Charlie’s voice scratches and wails beautifully recalls a sort of desperation that’s been dulled into resignation by the time he finishes with “She’ll be going away.” The title track’s whimsy is contagious as the quick beat pulls you through the lyrics “hold you tight till your body let go / it’s for you to decide which way you go, which way you go.” When you reach the trickling keyboard outro, it’s as if you’ve just been spinning. The melody of “Hillside,” though, is too repetitive without actually being catchy enough to be interesting and the lyrics on the album tend to work better when they’re drawn out and repeated like a riff rather than rushed through as he does on this track. On “Invisible” the industrial spectre of Trent Reznor with his razor vocals is almost invoked, only to be chased away by the overall lack of despair, though some of the lyrics do come close. Oftentimes Charlie doesn’t shy away from using his falsetto, but fortunately he knows how to use it to drive his song home. about a girl is not only impressive as a debut but as an example of a pop album embracing its heavier and lighter sides.

—Adèle Barclay

A- (80%)
The Chemical Brothers
Brotherhood
Virgin

The Chemical Brothers are often hailed as one of the best live acts in the club-friendly world of electronic music. As such, their widely celebrated albums can occasionally be classified as teasers, potentially causing the listener—who so easily imagines the arena-filled frenzy while uneventfully spinning Brothers’ discs in their empty room—to feel that subtle dissatisfaction so often disguised as disappointment. Brotherhood, the latest compilation album by the Chemical duo of Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons, has decided to capture its listeners’ imagination by telling a story instead.

With tracks from Exit Planet Dust to We Are the Night, this latest effort showcases all of the Chemical Brothers’ career singles. Boasting an additional disc that features all 10 parts of the Electronic Battle Weapon series, Brotherhood tells the tale of one of the most renowned and influential electronic acts in the business, from one pulsating beat to the next.

The playlist is, as all good greatest hits albums intend to be, a reminder of why we listened to these repetitious bass lines in the first place. Although their fame peaked in the late 90’s, the Brothers kick off the lineup with “Galvanize,” the hip-hoppy, easy-on-the-ears, Grammy award winning single of 2005. The layered instrumentals of “Block Rockin’ Beats,” “Hey Boy Hey Girl,” and “Believe” are also strategically placed towards the beginning, demonstrating that the Brothers are wasting no time in showcasing their best.

Peppered throughout the album are other signs of success, but the focus is the front five. Although the later tracks are their less successful, and therefore less tolerable, singles, the Chemical Brothers succeed in catching your attention at the beginning and roping you in for the ride of their musical career—and then some.

—Taylor Burns

B (75%)
Beck
Modern Guilt
Interscope Records/XL Recordings

After 15 years of making records, Beck has slowed down a little bit. At 38, he’s no longer the break- dancing young man he once was when his breakthrough single “Loser” entered the social lexicon of Generation X. He has also forgone his surrealist quips about manure and mace for troubling observations about the direction of the world. If Beck played Salvador Dali on Mellow Gold then on Modern Guilt he’s Al Gore.

With song titles like “Volcano,” “Orphans,” “Chemtrails” and the title track, one can expect to hear a change in Beck’s songwriting. On the title track, Beck sings “I feel uptight when I walk in the city / I feel so cold when I’m at home.” This is hardly the Beck of “Where It’s At.” On the beach slam “Gamma Ray” Beck warns about “ice caps melting down” and “heat wave’s calling your name.” Luckily, Chris Martin calibre musings like this are few and far between.

Gone are Beck’s flirtations with Latin music, country and hip hop; all replaced by his straightest rock n’ roll record yet. Instead of drum machines, Hammond organs and slide guitars, the songs are adorned by beautifully overdriven drum samples, string arrangements and surf-y guitar riffs.

The real star of Modern Guilt is Danger Mouse’s production. He incorporates the 70s soul, 60s soft psych, spy film soundtracks and down-tempo electronica present in his other work with Gnarls Barkley, Gorillaz and Danger Doom. One can easily hear how much his tastes have influenced Beck, from the hooks of his songs to the psychedelic music video for “Gamma Ray.” His contribution makes the album fun, even when Beck’s dull, obvious lyrics make the mood melancholy. Modern Guilt may not be a thinker, but it is, at least, a toe-tapper.

—Tyler Ball

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