Music Reviews

Deftones Make AJ Soprano Proud, IDLES Sputter Out

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Deftones return with their best album since WHITE PONY, AG Cook follows up 7G with an album that has interesting ideas if also some missed executions, and IDLES can’t quite carry themselves despite the momentum they carried into ULTRA MONO, all in this weeks music roundup! 

AG Cook Apple

AG Cook – APPLE

Genre: Electronic

Favorite Tracks: “Oh Yeah,” “Xxoplex,” “Lifeline”

Seven years into the PC Music experiment, it is clear that PC Music is not the future of pop music. But dominating the Billboard charts was never the goal; A.G. Cook and his friends just wanted to make music that sounded good. The fanbase that’s congealed around PC Music may be smaller in scope than the lofty headlines predicted in 2013, but the label did reprogram its listeners’ ears in pretty profound ways.

APPLE would’ve been laughed off a few years ago, even by Cook’s biggest fans. His second debut album is not the neon amphetamine injection of yesteryear, it’s filling up the red plastic tumbler with every soda on the fountain. Thus is the ethos of APPLE, 7G, and everything else Cook has touched in recent years: absolutely nothing is out of bounds no matter how gauche, garish, or garbage. Does a nightcore remix of “Old McDonald” sound patently insane? Is an equal parts straightforward, stupid, and stunning cover of “Crimson and Clover” better than the original? Are Cook’s vocals on Oneohtrix Point Never’s “Animals” imitating a robot who gained sentience and then immediately got dumped on its birthday? Would “Oh Yeah” have been panned as a cheesy early aughts pop stinker in most any other context? Of course. But in the realm of PC Music it slaps, it’s sick, it whips, it’s tight, it rocks, it’s “freaking sweet, Lois.

Now is APPLE a great album? No, not really. But I don’t give a shit. It’s more interesting than most of the records I like more this year and assigning numerical values to music is stupid (follow me on rateyourmusic.com). There are at least 10 songs from 7G I prefer to the best APPLE track (“Xxoplex”), and if you must choose between listening to one or the other, 7G is worth the nearly three-hour runtime (it sounds like a road trip rather than a commute). But don’t skip APPLE. “Jumper” has some bizarrely out of place pop-punk vocal stylings that do actually work, the whiplash transitioning in and out of “Xxoplex” is a ton of fun, and by the end of the record you’ll be convinced that sequencing is an utterly meaningless pursuit. Cook further obfuscates the boundaries between instruments, genres, and even individual voices, blending his vocals into a cavalcade of collaborators to the point where it’s often unclear who is doing the singing. The moments that are unmistakably his are fantastic. His voice sounds good in the way non-conventional singers’ do but he has the courage and vulnerability to stretch himself a little further and we’re better off for it. With his third debut album on the way, there’s no telling what more we’ll learn from A.G. Cook. [Ryan Moloney]

White Pony Ohms

Deftones – OHMS

Genre: Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Urantia,” “Error,” “Pompeji”

Earlier this year, prompted by our decision as a nation to collectively rewatch THE SOPRANOS during quarantine, came the latest wave of nu-metal revivalism in the form of the AJ Soprano’s Nu-Metal Shirts Twitter account. I’ll be the first to admit that navigating the sea of nu-metal revivalism online can be quite confounding—in a post-TIM & ERIC world it’s nearly impossible to tell whether or not somebody genuinely thinks that bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit are misunderstood geniuses, or if the whole thing is just a bit, maybe as some long-winded charade to help sell vintage JNCO jeans on Depop. But one of the groups at the very center of the critical reevaluation of nu-metal was Deftones, a band that for years had the misfortune of being lumped in with an entire music scene that they never really fit into. Thankfully over time the group has been freed from the chains and all of the baggage that comes with being a “nu-metal band,” and are now viewed by most people as one of the most experimental metal acts of the past few decades.

The success of Deftones, as well as the key to their longevity, has always been the push and pull between frontman Chino Moreno and guitarist Stephen Carpenter. Think of the band like Gamora’s Switchblade from AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR—on one end sits Moreno, a student of both dream pop and shoegaze, and on the other side Carpenter, whose penchant for heavy riffs has culminated in him finally adding a ninth string to his guitar earlier this year. Without compromise between these two driving forces the band is lost and aimless, but when they’re able to meet in the middle the results are a spectacle to behold, “Perfectly balanced, as all things should be” as Thanos once said.

OHMS, Deftones ninth album and their best since WHITE PONY, serves as sort of a reintroduction to the band and their rule-breaking approach to genre. Those who found their last album GORE a little too soft will feel right at home on album opener “Genesis,” as Moreno shrieks “I reject both sides of what I’m being told,” his voice barely rising above the sludge buried beneath it. The following tracks, the one-two punch of “Ceremony” and “Urantia,” should also be enough to satisfy fans of the band who haven’t paid much attention to them since the turn of the decade, and in an alternate dimension where things aren’t so shitty it’s not hard to imagine these songs as staples on rock radio. It’s impressive that nearly three decades into their career the band is still finding new tricks to try out, take “Pompeji” for instance, which starts off as a classic Deftones song but by the end morphs into something entirely different as a wave of synths begins to gently wash down upon you. 

There’s no denying that OHMS is one of the band’s heaviest albums in recent memory; tracks like “Error” and “Radiant City” are proof that they still have what it takes to appeal to the AJ Sopranos of the world. But the true magic in OHMS arrives when they offset all of that chaos with stillness, giving you a chance to stop for a moment and catch your breath before going back in. [Michael Brooks]

IDLES MONO

IDLES – ULTRA MONO

Genre: Noise Rock, Post-Hardcore 

Favorite Tracks: “Anxiety,” “Model Village,” “Danke” 

Hot take: JOY AS AN ACT OF RESISTANCE is one of, if not the, best punk albums of the decade. You might find this take baffling given how beloved the record is as the apotheosis of what punk should be; raw, intense, catchy, personal, precise, empathetic, subversive, rebellious, witty, unrelenting, cathartic. However, the heat of this take stems from frontman Joe Talbot’s insistence that they are not a punk or post-punk band, a statement worthy of Treachery of Images. My best guess of what he thinks their sound is can be found in ULTRA MONO’s features, with David Yeo, frontman of noise rock legends Jesus Lizard, showing up on three songs. That feature made me hope this would be similar to Arctic Monkeys’ move from FAVOURITE WORST NIGHTMARE to HUMBUG as they transitioned away from blistering riffs and constant energy into something plainative, concerned with more textures and sound. Sadly, unlike HUMBUG, such a change does not come with new lyrical topics, and ultimately ULTRA MONO pales in comparison to the first two from the band.

The basic elements of a good IDLES song are here. Even if the guests are underused, Talbot’s still an unmatched presence on the mic, full of genuine snarled fury and an odd sense of warmth and empathy. This is easily Jon Beavi’s most dominant drumming to date, with steady tom work, walloping bass hits on “Danke” and “Reigns,” and frenzied fills on “Mr. Motivator.” Perhaps Beavis’ contributions are more noticeable because the record as a whole is toned-down from previous releases. The back-and-forth of vocals over the rhythm section interrupted by crushing guitar is not new for IDLES, but it usually came with intense, queasy tones like “Colossus” or the sheering distortion and breakneck pace of “Stendhal Syndrome.” ULTRA MONO feels a lot more repetitive as it hammers this trick into the ground with “War,” “Grounds,“ and “Reigns” where the bass is desperately needed and they don’t stand out from one another. The guitar work feels a lot more wiry and thin, which doesn’t have to be a thing if the tunes are still solid, and they are on quite a few tracks. The surf rock, Parquet Courts-esque leads on “Model Village” and “Ne Touche Pas Moi” are infectious, and the cathartic, noisy finales of “Anxiety” and “Danke” are worthy of Jesus Lizard. 

Making a slightly less girthy record would be fine if the lyrics were not the bluntest of IDLES’ entire career. The few detractors of their first two records decried them as a slogan band who wrote mottos, not actual lyrics. I don’t think that’s fair, because there was enough wit, personal detail, and clear-cut targets to breathe life into familiar topics, and the more direct moments felt earned. Talbot screaming “Mother Fucker” on “Mother” was one of the most powerful moments in 2017’s music because it matched the song and was imbued with meaning by the surrounding lyrics as you realized he wasn’t talking about a single person, but all of British society. ULTRA MONO suffers from a lack of focus, less intense music, and unengaging hooks, especially the disappointing “Model Village” that wastes a great second verse and the repetition of “consent!” on “No Touche Mas Moi” that could have been more artfully portrayed. 

The humor is not there either aside from the absurdity of “Mr. Motivator,” which is like Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”—not that dissimilar from earlier material, but it misses the heart of their previous best. It’s also not hard to hear parallels to other, better songs, as “Do you hear that thunder / that’s the sound of strength in numbers” on “Grounds” is just a longer version of “This snowflake is an avalanche” from “I’m Scum.” Previously, IDLES snuck at least one song with a completely unexpected topic, like “Stendhal Syndrome” or the inspired choice of covering “Cry to Me” to support the record’s themes of empathy and taking down toxic masculinity,  but the only new development here is pissy defensiveness and attempts at self-aware commentary on “Mr. Motivator” and “The Lovers.” Where they once skewered Tories and conservatism, now they take on haters. Come on guys. IDLES is unique and potent enough to rise above mediocrity, but ULTRA MONO is still a disappointing slide into cliché and a worrying sign that the bottle is starting to crack and let slip some lightning. [Blake Michelle]

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