Review: The Lady Killer (Cee Lo Green)

If you haven’t heard Cee Lo Green’s highly memorable lead single from The Lady Killer, stop reading this immediately and purchase what iTunes and Amazon MP3 will tell you is his most popular song.

“What?! / That real, that deep, that burning / That amazing, unconditional, inseparable love,” exclaims our resident “Lady Killer” against a heavy groove of a jazzy, minory ecstasy in late-album track “Fool for You.” Ohhhmylord.

But the fun begins a bit earlier— In “The Lady Killer Theme (Intro),” to be exact. Cee Lo (as the “Lady Killer”) introduces himself (albeit, with some intended mysteriousness), and proceeds to escort us right into the middle of the late-night chaos of “Bright Lights Bigger City.” Luminescent disco balls sporadically emit blinding rays of shimmering synths, and classical strings weave a sonic cushion of deep violet around bursts of ruby red and royal blue. Atop all of this, our narrator authoritatively proclaims, “It’s alright! / It’s alright! / It’s alright! / Bright lights and the big city! / It belongs to us tonight.”

And the man knows how to sing. I mean, if Cee Lo’s voice were an instrument, every phrase would be a coveted, Jimmy Page-level solo, completely inaccessible to anyone but the sole creator. Potential future single “Wildflower” would make a fool out of even a well-trained modern vocalist, but Cee Lo makes it seem like a mere warm-up. Green’s expansive vibrato remains flawless through both the stirring, stop-and-start verse melodies and the expressive falsetto pockets of the chorus. What a ride!

But Cee Lo knows when to let it simmer, too. As the story of The Lady Killer nears its end, Mr. Green connects with the softest “one-two” punch in modern alt/pop history. Blow number one is the achingly vintage “Old Fashioned,” where our speaker belts out an ageless ballad with meticulous finesse and heartfelt articulation. “Old Fashioned” is followed directly by the seemingly risky cover of “No One’s Gonna Love You” (Band of Horses), and this is the “two” of the “one-two” punch. Not only does our “Lady-slaying” raconteur manage this song effortlessly and beautifully, but increases the overall likability of the tune to a level of undeniable and irresistible fervency. OH, does this album have to end?!

I guess it doesn’t necessarily have to end.. After all, music organizing software companies and physical music player corporations do provide a “repeat” button for a reason.

87% / B+ ☆

Review: The Places We Ran From (Tired Pony)

“Stick to the formula” might be some of the worst advice ever.

While Snow Patrol has never exactly knocked me over with any of their bland, über-simplistic pop/rock songs, I was mildly interested to hear lead singer Gary Lightbody’s supposedly “epic” collaboration with superstars like Jacknife Lee, Peter Buck, and Zooey Deschanel on his “country”-tinged side-project, Tired Pony. The Places We Ran From, the album’s title muses.

Though Lightbody claims that Tired Pony is a side-project, many of these tunes could easily be Snow Patrol pieces. Opener “Northwestern Skies” strictly follows Lightbody’s typical melody-crafting mold— Lasso in about three or four notes, arrange them in an uncomplicated, amateurishly monotonous manner, tack on a falsetto note in a pitiful attempt to vary things up, and then repeat it, repeat it, repeat it.

Another prime example of this hackneyed methodology is slow-jam, second track “Get on the Road.” The track is dripping with surplus drama and actually loses momentum as the relentlessly elementary hook line is vocally projected louder and louder until….

….Yawn.

Granted, the production here effortlessly bests any given Snow Patrol proffer. Arrangements vary track to track, and mixing is meticulous across all tracks. But even the deep, dark soundscape painted in production of The Places We Ran From can’t fully mask the excess fat that abounds throughout the record.

For example, a handful of these tunes push the five-to-six minute mark (“The Deepest Ocean There Is,” “Get on the Road,” and “I am a Landslide”), and some even the seven (“Pieces” and “Held in the Arms of Your Words”). Lightbody’s melodic formula barely works in a three-to-four minute segment, but a five-to-seven?

Additionally, Lightbody works with entirely predictable chord progressions (see “The Good Book”) and summarizes playbook songwriter tricks, mindlessly ripping off his influences along the way. Lead single “Dead American Writers” is less a homage to rock’s first supergroup’s “Handle with Care,” and more of a “Dani California” from a “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.”

Lastly; the artless, distortion-heavy guitar-string-scraping comprising the outro of finale “Pieces” shows just how little Lightbody understands about the art of writing music. What, are we a dark Radiohead now? “Scrape that guitar with your pick, man! That sounds really deep! Yeah, we’re making music!”

Mhmm.

While The Places We Ran From isn’t the worst album I’ve heard this year, it certainly isn’t one of the best I’ve heard this year either. A lot is left to be desired in the dreary aftermath of the Tired Pony hype; though, I suppose the expectations for such an attempt should not have been high to begin with.

72% / C-

Review: Golden Haze – EP (Wild Nothing)

A golden haze, indeed.

Mr. Jack Tatum, leader and primary member of indie-pop newcomers Wild Nothing, has really outdone himself this year. It has only been a few months since the release of Tatum’s first full-length project, Gemini, which was an outstanding creation in itself. And now, Tatum is already back on the scene with a follow-up EP, entitled Golden Haze.

Go ahead and start to mentally visualize that picture; the shoegaze glaze of Gemini, sepiaed into a dewy-eyed, mid-tempo sonic concoction. Now you’re starting to get the picture.

The airy bliss of fifth track “Asleep” rightly epitomizes these wistful lamentations that Tatum so naturally and eagerly expresses in his languishing lyrics (“And if I could climb up to heaven / I’d break in through your window / Take the curtains out from your bedroom / And wrap myself up in them…”). Even the enthusiastic guitar note strands of second-track “Quiet Hours” retain a bittersweet sentiment, and are later followed and strengthened by a striking, fluttery, synth counterpart.

Notable still are the first-rate arrangements pillaring the album throughout— Tickling synths here, muddy guitars there; impeccably fitting drumming all around. A-side track “Take Me In” exemplifies these masterful traits in a most unorthodox and ultimately entrancing manner with its sway-making bass, tip-tapping crashes, and shrewd guitar squawks.

Objectively, Golden Haze is a winsome, distinctive entity, worthy of considerable praise, even apart from its predecessor. As it rivals the quality of Gemini, so does it qualify for a “best of the year” nominee. Trust me, this is a haze that you want to be voluntarily buried in.