Quick Hits: Kings, Built to Spill, Alabama Shakes, The Districts
Quick Hits is a column where I share my occasionally coherent thoughts on (relatively) new releases.
Kings – “Strange Love”
First off, let it be known that this song is funky. Like really funky. A Dirty Mind era Prince jam with less New Wave, more truth. If just anyone could do this than everyone would. But they can’t, there’s just not enough people in the world that can handle a groove like that. It’s overwhelming. But unlike most who travel this path, it avoids pastiche. The beat makes you move, but the arrangement subverts. The guitar adds tension, the mid-song vamp pulls the groove apart at the seams as the sax sews it back up. I’ve now used too many words to say something very simple: this song’s a jam.
Built to Spill – “Living Zoo”
My love for Built to Spill comes and goes. It is also constant. Which is to say, I may forget them from time to time, but whenever I come back I’m pulled back in and I’m pulled in hard. No one plays guitar quite like Doug Martsch and his compatriots in Built to Spill’s three guitar wizardry. It’s not just the winding melody lines and piercing solos, it’s the parade of riffs and counter-melodies, a conversation with multiple voices listening and responding. A Built to Spill jam is a song in its own right, and you know this is a great Built to Spill song because it takes over a minute for the vocals to come in. And no one else really sings like that either. Which is all to say, this is Built to Spill, and it feels good to have them back.
Alabama Shakes – “Don’t Wanna Fight No More”
Alabama Shakes do not waste any time in letting you know their intentions. The beginning sounds innocuous enough, a bouncing guitar melody echoes from both sides, pleasant on the ears. Then the drums enter, steady and deep, coming off as more dusty hip hop sample but booming with purpose. The guitars promptly inform us that they are up to no good. And then that squeal. The whole song is that squeal. There’s a 44 second intro and a 3:09 outro all around that squeal from Brittany Howard. If that doesn’t stop you dead in your tracks and take your breath music may not be for you. I don’t know, maybe that’s hyperbole. Regardless, this album will be a good one. The Alabama Shakes are not here to fuck around or fade away. That much is clear right away.
The Districts – “4th and Roebling”
Remember the last iteration of this column where I professed my soft spot for Strokes and Built to Spill indebted rockers with cathartic choruses and surface level apathy hiding a pained pathos, and those guitars whose progressions collapse in the most emotionally devastating ways while high frequency bouncing melodies dot the t’s and cross the i’s of every word? The Districts do that to the n’th degree. I have no defense. I don’t want a defense. What I’m trying to say is that this album is the kind of work that makes you feel everything you’ve ever felt at once, condenses you into a stupid meaningless dot in the universe, and come out better than unscathed; ragged, raw, and reinvigorated. Oh yeah, they also have a pro’s handle on songwriting dynamics, a sense of arrangement that makes the simple sound complex, and a lyrical knack that balances fine tuned imagery with raw emotionalism and a poetic way with words that never teeters into melodrama. All that matters too. But most of all, this song (and entire album) just destroys me. Anyways, enjoy.