Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino

TBH&C header

In 2013, it was damn near impossible to escape “Do I Wanna Know.” The guitar riff infiltrated every commercial and sports arena that year, making the Arctic Monkeys the generic rock sound every brand needed to sell rum. The English rock group had maintained massive popularity in the U.K. since their 2005 debut, but with their record AM they achieved mainstream American success. After attaining such heights, the group did what any sensible band should and disappeared for five years, coming back now to release a concept album.

Arctic Monkeys. 2018. (L-R: Matt Helders, Alex Turner, Nick O’Malley, Jamie Cook.)

Except Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is not a concept album. At least it’s not a concept album in the way that The Who’s Tommy or Pink Floyd’s The Wall is. Alex Turner and the rest of the Arctic Monkeys latest record revolves around a thematic element, but it doesn’t get into theatrics like those other two albums. On its surface it’s an album that puts Alex Turner in the role of a washed up rocker, working as a lounge singer at a Hotel & Casino on the moon in a future dystopian world. But that’s not the point.

Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino uses a futuristic dystopian setting to point out the issues with technology. Though the first track, “Star Treatment,” does create the setting, it’s more of a reflection of Alex Turner coming to terms with his success as a rocker. The Arctic Monkeys have been a relevant rock group for 13 years, yet every critic is ready to call him washed up. On tracks like “American Sports” and “The World’s First Monster Truck Front Flip,” Turner believes humanity’s obsession over technology is headed down a dark path, and he feels more comfortable saying it from his hotel room on the moon. Within the sometimes dense lyricism of the album, Turner touches on everything that matters: fake news, virtual reality, dating apps, online reviews, and the accessibility of information.

Turner is able to see the potential thoughts that listeners and critics will have on this new Arctic Monkeys album and addresses them within it. Of course, playing the character of a washed up lounge singer, he knows that critics will say he’s actually washed up. Considering he starts the album off with the lyric, “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,” Turner knows what he’s doing. In the song “Science Fiction,” he essentially lets listeners know that he is using science fiction references throughout to comment on the current state of our lives. The final track, “The Ultracheese,” features lyrics that point right back at him. Turner realizes he may be trying too hard to be high concept and his real thoughts may never come across through the music. It’s a funny, slightly self-deprecating look at the album as it’s concluding.

The most noticeable point about Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino is the lack of guitar-driven songs. Ditching the heavy guitars and the sound of the previous album shows range, growth, and a strict focus on the album’s theme. Off the bat on “Star Treatment,” the band is in favor of a piano driven melody. This lounge-y song features a more prominent bass line, setting up the sound for the rest of the track. Throughout the album, the group dedicates themselves to flourishing many tracks with sounds that can only be described as “science fiction” sounds. Tactile beeps and boops, heavy whirring, and anything else you’d expect to hear in 2001: A Space Odyssey pop in and out of songs like the aptly named “Science Fiction” and the title track, weaving the album together.

The two most important instruments on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino are the keys and Alex Turner’s voice. From the first track where Turner’s voice dances over the big piano to the last track, “The Ultracheese,” where he croons his heart out, Turner continues to manipulate the voice and keys to fit his narrative. On “American Sports,” he twists his voice into a darker, sinister one in order to touch on the dystopia of Earth. Sometimes he uses background harmony, like on “Golden Trunks” and “Four Out of Five,” to strengthen his voice. Turner shows off his real range as a musician on “The World’s First Monster Truck Front Flip.” The track is sonically reminiscent of a Smile-era Brian Wilson, but brought up to date with Alex Turner’s bravado in the vocals, pouncing keys, and subtle guitar lines.

Those that expected a straight up rock album from a band known to deliver great rock ‘n’ roll will likely be disappointed and uninterested. There a few moments were the band actually gives in to a more “rock” sound. On “She Looks Like Fun”, there’s a nostalgic guitar solo and an easy, repetitive chorus that doesn’t seem to be entirely based on some sci-fi world. For the most part though, Turner and the band stay focused on the central theme and remain in-character.

However, if those who are only familiar with the Arctic Monkeys for 2013’s AM are open to it, they will find Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino to be an incredibly interesting and complex work of science fiction that bends the genre of alternative rock. What Alex Turner and the rest of the Arctic Monkeys have done here is pulled themselves out of their expected mid-’00s British rock box, demanding the attention and importance of a Father John Misty or Tom Waits.

Cut Worms – Hollow Ground


In a time where clean, computer generated electronic music tops the charts, having an obsession with building lush ballads that fit into a long gone era is not the worst thing for budding musicians. This obsession is clear in Max Clarke, who writes and produces music under the moniker Cut Worms. On his debut album Hollow Ground, Clarke delivers 10 tracks that invoke mid-’60s nostalgia and marry it with modern indie-pop.

Cut Worms (Max Clarke)

Clarke is able to create diverse sounding tracks that can all be described as 60’s pop without feeling too repetitive. Off the rip, Clarke uses clean, plucky guitars on “How It Can Be” to set up the nostalgia that will pervade the project. Immediately he shows off his prowess on “Coward’s Confidence”, building a lush instrumental that could be an outtake from a Pet Sounds era Brian Wilson. The tactile keys and muted horns drive the thick melody that is tinged with mid-60s nostalgia. In addition to guitar, Clarke provides bass and keys to the each of his tracks. But his standout musical performance across the project is on the lap steel. Playing the lap steel on “It Won’t Be Too Long,” “Think I Might Be In Love,” and “Hanging Your Picture Up To Dry” give each track a distinct folky, country twang to separate them from the other tracks. On the last track, “Mad About You,” Clarke uses piano to create a carnival-like song. Though not necessarily a track that would be considered a hit indie-rock song, he still gets his intentions across. The bizarre feeling of this off kilter carnival song draws attention to his lyrics and story. It breaks down in the bridge into a beautiful, dream-like trance before returning to madness.

If Clarke’s 60’s influence wasn’t clear in the production or songwriting, he makes it known in his vocal performance. He moves between influences fitting his unique voice into each mold. Early on he channels a Rubber Soul era John Lennon on “Cowards Confidence”, crooning at a high pitch and echoing that feeling of teenage longing. He’s able to turn the crooning on and off, innocently darting along the verses of “It Wont Be Too Long” like a young Harry Nilsson. The Midwestern-born, Brooklynite proves he has a little country twang in him on the song, “Hanging Your Picture Up To Dry.” Clarke brings his voice down a touch, doing his best Gram Parsons impression, giving the love-struck sadness it needs. On top of that, he strengthens each vocal performance by singing back up for himself.

Clarke’s lyricism manages to ride the fine line between catchy and simplistic lyrics and storytelling that is deeply impressive. On “Don’t Want to Say Good-bye”, Clarke effectively makes his point. The subject matter may lack originality but he finds a balance between bygone era lyricism and modern appeal. His comfort zone lyrically is clearly in channeling the feelings of teenage love. On “Think I Might Be In Love,” he asks “did you feel that too?” touching on the bittersweet angst of love. However on “Mad About You,” he uses vignettes of reality distorting itself to prove how insane he is about this person. Juxtaposing his madness in the verses with the chorus, “Wouldn’t it be nice to see you/Wouldn’t it be grand to know/You’re mad about me,” Clarke manages to distance himself from the angst of young love that permeates most of the track.

In a way, Hollow Ground is an album where Clarke grows up. Though on the surface it is ‘60s nostalgia and teenage love, Clarke proves himself to be more than just that. The real Max Clarke feels represented in this work and his realness deserves to be appreciated.

Cut Worm’s Hollow Ground is available May 4th, 2018 via Jagjaguwar.

New Music: Father John Misty Releases Two Singles from Upcoming Album

Image Courtesy of the Artist

Last year Father John Misty (real name Josh Tillman), dropped Pure Comedy. The album was one of the year’s finest, with Tillman touching on subjects like technology, fame, aging, and humanity. This week he announced his follow-up, God’s Favorite Customer. The upcoming project is already looking to be a departure from the last, with both tracks he released alongside the announcement being more upbeat than a majority of his last work. However the two new singles, “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All” and “Just Dumb Enough To Try,” continue to ooze with Tillman’s sardonic and intelligent lyricism.

The first single “Disappointing Diamonds Are the Rarest of Them All,” is a folk-pop anthem with tinges of psychedelia in the guitars and vocals. Tillman hits the high notes over the short chorus. The track’s ultimate message that people shouldn’t act like every relationship is some perfect romance movie is terse and simple. His usage of metaphor during the verses, comparing love to off putting things such as oil spills and eye twitches, is classic Father John Misty.

Tillman also released a second single, the piano-led “Just Dumb Enough To Try”. The track features fantastic crooning by Tillman as expected, but shakes things up with a breakdown featuring fuzzy guitars and synths. The instrumentation creates a dense sonicscape for Tillman’s lyrics to occupy. Once more Tillman reflects on love, this time his lack of knowledge on the subject. He looks at his own abilities as a musician and intellectual, realizing he shouldn’t write about love, but doing it anyway.

The first two singles, along with the previously released track “Mr.Tillman,” will be a part of the upcoming 10 track record for Father John Misty. God’s Favorite Customer is out June 1st and looks to be a piece of self reflection for the self-proclaimed future “Oldest Man in Folk Rock.”

New Music: Kacey Musgraves – Golden Hour


Kacey Musgraves just got married and she equates the feeling to the fading high of marijuana. At least, that’s how it comes off on her newest album, Golden Hour. The 29-year-old Texan’s album title comes from the time following sunset where the sun is down but it’s not quite night. That moment, that fading high, pervades the Country singer-songwriter’s latest work as she continues to defy the role of the typical female country star.

On her third full length album, Kacey Musgraves updates the iconic sounds of ‘70s, ‘90s, and early ‘00s Country music using a blend of old and modern instrumentation. On the track, “Butterflies,” Musgraves uses synths with a distinctive country twang to twist the instrument to fit the genre. This subtle touch gives the track the added flare it needed. At other times, Musgraves uses modern sounds in a black and white manner. The Daft Punk-esque vocoder at the beginning of “Oh, What a World” feels jarring at first, but Musgraves expertly uses the robotic voice to set up the emotion of the song. Later in the track she blends the vocoder with well placed banjo plucking, an unexpected combination that manages to perfectly fuse Americana and Futurism.

Using blends of different instruments throughout the tracks also allows Kacey Musgraves to blur the lines between different genres. On the first two tracks, “Slow Burn” and “Lonely Weekend,” Musgraves comes off as more Adult Contemporary than Country, sounding more like Sheryl Crow or John Mayer. Tracks like “Velvet Elvis” and “Golden Hour” could be considered more Americana than Country. She also dares to show off influences well outside the Country genre on “High Horse.” The track’s disco and electronic sounds are imbued with the spirit of Tame Impala. Musgraves makes bold moves and these moves are paid off, showing that she is a well traveled artist.

Lyrically, Musgraves and her team are setting out to change the perception of typical country songs. Musgraves spends much of the album writing about situations and emotions leading up to a married life. She chronicles these different situations throughout the project, from early love in “Butterflies,” to the acceptance of a broken relationship in “Space Cowboy.” Musgraves gets more specific in tracks like “Wonder Woman”, where she opens up about not being perfect partner and it should be accepted because she doesn’t expect her husband to be the perfect partner either. Musgraves also touches on her relationship with her Mother on the simply titled ballad “Mother.” In the chorus she sings, “wish we didn’t live so far from each other, I’m just sitting here thinking ’bout the time that’s slipping, And missing my mother,” realizing the importance of the passage of time and the mortality of life.

What makes Golden Hour an album that will be critically acclaimed and sets her apart from other artists, also keeps her from being Country radio friendly. By flirting with different genres, she makes music that doesn’t all fit on one radio station. A track like “High Horse” would belong on Top 40 Pop Radio, but tracks like “Slow Burn” and “Love is a Wild Thing” belong on Country Radio. Even “Lonely Weekend” sounds like it belongs on an Adult Contemporary station. However in the modern digital age, blending genres also allows her the ability to gain a new following that might be outside of the normal Country scope.

Golden Hour’s 13 tracks give it a short run time, clocking in at 46 minutes. Musgraves keeps the show moving from upbeat song to ballad and back, but she does have moments that are forgettable. Songs like “Happy & Sad” and the title track “Golden Hour” do little to set themselves apart from the other songs, blending in to the album’s overall sound.

Kacey Musgraves manages to wrap all 13 of these tracks into a blissful record that serves a snapshot into this moment of her life. Settle in, watch the sunset, and feel the high fade away.

New Single: Anderson .Paak – ‘Til It’s Over

til it over

Excluding a collaboration with Knxwledge, it has been two years without new music from Los Angeles-based R&B singer Anderson .Paak. The return to the limelight for .Paak came courtesy of an advertisement for the latest Apple Homepod device. The video directed by Oscar-winner Spike Jonze features FKA Twigs dancing around her apartment to a new song by .Paak. Despite everything surrounding the premiere of the new song, it’s no surprise it has already risen to the top of the iTunes charts.

The new single, “’Til It’s Over,” is an Apple Music exclusive and it seems the service will be fully backing the artist. After .Paak’s burst into the mainstream via Dr. Dre’s 2015 album Compton, also an Apple Music exclusive, he has been making waves since, getting on the XXL Freshman list and earning a Grammy nomination for his 2016 album, Malibu. Now with the streaming giant Apple Music behind him, “‘Til It’s Over” marks the first single leading up to the newest .Paak project.

“’Til It’s Over” is an upbeat electronic-tinged R&B track with production by Jeff Kleinman and Michael Uzowuru. The pair known for their work with Kevin Abstract and Frank Ocean managed to produce a track that subverts much of the expectations for a track with Anderson .Paak. The track starts off in classic .Paak fashion, incorporating quick-

Anderson .Paak, 2018. via Twitter

tempoed R&B with hip-hop bass and drum. However, it begins to separate from that, with some melancholic piano and a harp breakdown over the chorus. The song twists and turns with subtle dubstep-influenced synth followed by a ambient beat invoking chillwave artist Toro Y Moi circa 2013.

Sonically the whole track is a masterpiece in production, letting Anderson .Paak relax vocally. The simple repetition of the chorus, “I’ma ride it ‘til it’s over,” allows Kleinman and Uzowuru to take chances. It’s Anderson .Paak simplicity and subdued emotion on the track that makes it so strong when he gets into his harmonies on the second verse in the line, “would you stay if your heart had the power?,” leading back again to the “‘til it’s over” breakdowns. .Paak’s unique voice gets its time to shine in its own way, delivering a performance that touches on heartbreak and pain only when it’s most necessary.

The initial success of “’Til It’s Over” is deserved for .Paak, even if he has made it without his backing band, The Free Nationals. With a fantastic single, commercial, and Apple Music on his side, Anderson .Paak is set up for a triumphant 2018 with the hopeful release of his third studio album.