The Spinoff Music team review albums from David Dallas, Gorillaz, John Mayer and Craig Finn.
ALBUM OF THE WEEK
David Dallas – Hood Country Club
D.Dot grows up gracefully
Aging gracefully in the world of rap has never been easy, especially not in New Zealand. Name an artist that has come anywhere close to longevity and there’s guaranteed to be dozens more that have only managed to fade into obscurity and irrelevance. Hood Country Club, the fourth solo album from David Dallas (who we talked to here), arrives a year and some change since he Kaepernick’d the local industry with ‘Don’t Rate That’, the most fierce song to come out of this corner of the world in what honestly felt like forever. It was a startling pivot from his usual introspection to a much-warranted critical take on what was happening outside of the four walls that surrounded him; namely some specific reservations with Instant Finance and the Labour Party.
In other words, he’s not just that kid rapping about being on the come-up anymore. (Dallas’ remarkable 64 Bars series states the case for some of the best emerging rap artists in the country, if you’re so inclined.) But in many ways, ‘Don’t Rate That’ feels like a detour when taken in context with the rest of the record. Album closer ‘Made A Name’ takes aim at one Michael Hosking, but the album otherwise veers back into a narrative of self-reflection that Dallas has always excelled at. Sure, there’s some missteps: Lyrics like “might just drop this album for free” belong to another era now, while new single ‘Fit In’ (a song about not fitting in) comes paired with a smooth radio-friendly beat that doesn’t do much to separate it from anything else you’ll find out there.
But there’s enough lurking within to make up for it. ‘Can’t Get Enough’ includes an understated nod to Supergroove, both in the itsy-bitsy sample and the lyrics, while ‘Don’t Flinch’ takes Dallas’ storytelling to new heights. Consider HCC as the first chapter in a new era of Dallas’ career. He’s not going anywhere yet. – Hussein Moses
Gorillaz – Humanz
A star-studded dystopian dance party
Gorillaz fell apart at the turn of the 2010s, with animator Jamie Hewlett drifting away as his partner Damon Albarn recorded The Fall, a skeletal farewell record composed entirely on his iPad. Given such an unsatisfying conclusion, it was little surprise Hewlett and Albarn were willing to reconnect for another Gorillaz record, and so seven years later arrives Humanz. More than on any other Gorillaz record, Damon Albarn shines the spotlight on others here. Occasionally he steps to the forefront (as on the lovely melancholy of ‘Busted and Blue’), but mostly he allows a varied parade of collaborators including Vince Staples, D.R.A.M. Del La Soul and Grace Jones to take centre stage.
Like every Albarn project from around Demon Days onward, Humanz deals with the dystopia of modern life, even if any allusions to Trump and Brexit are studiously avoided. If Humanz lacks the cohesion and singular vision of Demon Days it is by design; Humanz is meant to be a sprawling collection of disparate individual moments, and on these terms it is an excellent comeback, delivering a surprisingly upbeat overall tone in the face of modern ills, which is perfectly distilled by the Noel Gallagher and Jenny Beth assisted closer ‘We Got the Power’. – Pete Douglas
The second solo outing by the guy from Hold Steady
You’ve got to respect a song that gets you to open up Google Maps and plot out the place names mentioned in the lyrics. If I blow all my savings one day on a bleak road trip from St Paul to Chicago and back I’ll only have Craig Finn to blame. The Hold Steady man’s second solo album has been out about a month now. It’s a slow burner, which is to say the first time I heard it I didn’t like it much. But something about it kept calling me back – probably the mean flute riff on the second song, ‘Preludes’ – and now it’s one of those records. One you play on your headphones for two weeks straight and look up all the lyrics on genius.com like a massive nerd.
Springsteen-style story songs were always Finn’s thing with the Hold Steady. The downside of having a thing like that is any day you could overdo it and lapse into self-parody. Conversely, and much less commonly, you could just keep getting better at it. That’s what seems to be happening on We All Want The Same Things. Songs like ‘God In Chicago’ (the Google Maps song) and ‘Preludes’ are as sharp and specific as the best Hold Steady songs, but the triumphant drunk choruses have been replaced by a kind of bummed out world-weariness. That’s probably why I didn’t like it on first listen, and why I can’t stop listening to it now. – Calum Henderson
John Mayer – The Search for Everything
That guy-you-love-to-hate’s best record yet
Let’s cut to the chase – John Clayton Mayer is easy to hate. Whether it’s his notorious comments about the tendency of his genitals toward racial intolerance, his avowed love of collecting time pieces, or nonsensical third-person ramblings like those that accompanied the week of the release of his seventh album The Search for Everything – Mayer draws derision wherever he turns. Outwardly The Search for Everything seems to fit into this caricature of Mayer as some kind of weird, lecherous lothario with delusions of grandeur. The cover is appalling, and song titles include ‘Emoji of a Wave’ and ‘Theme from The Search for Everything’. So it’s doubly strange to find the record itself is an expertly crafted, and very enjoyable, slice of smooth yacht rock.
Mayer teased some of this music via two EPs earlier in 2017, but where those were scattershot, The Search for Everything is perfectly sequenced and paced, returning to the soulful sound of Continuum. Relying on rhythm to push things along more than ever before, Mayer interpolates the country rock workouts of his previous two records (AKA the wilderness years), with tricks picked up playing in the Grateful Dead live project Dead and Company. He also stays out of his own way lyrically, the only real stumbles coming when he reaches for the charts, as on the smug platitudes of lead single ‘Love on the Weekend’. And so this is quite possibly Mayer’s best record, even if the man himself refuses to shut up and let the music do the talking – PD
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The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.