Artist: Jack White
Album: Boarding House Reach***
There has always been something a bit eccentric about Jack White’s music and persona, and his idiosyncrasies have indeed made his work more interesting, but his output has never been quite as esoteric as it is on his third solo album, Boarding House Reach, a wondrous cacophony of sounds and ideas that is exciting and intriguing but also rather confounding.
The musician – who has crafted a style very distinctly his own over the last two decades by creating an irresistible brand of garage and alternative rock imbued with flavours of folk and blues – has decided to wander into a more avant-garde direction with these 13 tracks, all but one (‘Humoresque’) of which were written by the singer himself.
Even the more straightforward songs – like the standout ‘Over and Over and Over’ – find White playing with sounds, leaving behind the minimalism that characterised his early work in favour of constructing more lavish arrangements.
On the less conventional tracks, White defies the traditional song structure and opts instead to experiment with styles – hip hop, rap, funk, jazz – and sonic elements. Some efforts come off as an uneasy marriage of several disparate fragments (‘Hypermisophoniac’, ‘Get in the Mind Shaft’); others seem more like ideas for songs than actual songs (‘Everything You’ve Ever Learned’); yet others take promising grooves but then stretch them into tedium (‘Corporation’).
It’s all a bit erratic, yet it’s strangely compelling as a whole, painting the picture of an artist who isn’t content with standing on safe ground and is actively working towards exploring new landscapes. But on an individual level, the pieces can seem indulgent and opaque.
Boarding House Reach makes for a challenging listen, although it is interesting to delve into the record and discover its many nuances. It is confident, daring, curious, bizarre, but ultimately not quite as satisfying as you would have hoped.
Highlights: ‘Over and Over and Over’, ‘What’s Done Is Done’, ‘Connected By Love’, ‘Humoresque’
Artist: They Might Be Giants
Album: I Like Fun****
Over a three decade long career, They Might Be Giants have mastered the art of creating quirky pop songs, so it comes as no surprise that their latest album, I Like Fun, is yet another terrific collection of offbeat alternative rock ditties.
The soaring melodies belie the dark sentiments at the core of the lyrics, and the group’s unique, often absurd way of looking at things never fails to be impressive.
The Johns have death on their minds on tracks like ‘I Left My Body’ and ‘Last Wave’. The ironic ‘By the Time You Get This’ is told from the perspective of a narrator who lived long ago and is offering a bleak look at his present as well as hope that the world will be a much better place by 1937. Songs like ‘Let’s Get This Over With’ and ‘When the Lights Come On’ highlight just how effortlessly the group can make music that is both catchy and complex.
With all 15 tracks written primarily by They Might Be Giants and produced by the band with the help of Pat Dillett, I Like Fun is an irresistible invitation to explore They Might Be Giants’ quirky, sweet, dark, warm, cryptic, compelling world, and it’s a journey well worth taking.
Highlights: ‘Let’s Get This Over With’, ‘I Left My Body’, ‘The Microphone’, ‘When The Lights Come On’
Artist: Andrew W.K.
Album: You’re Not Alone***1/2
Nearly a decade after we last heard from him, Andrew W.K. is back to reaffirm the power of partying in You’re Not Alone, a collection of bombastic hard rock jams that are relentlessly optimistic, embarrassingly joyous, and instantly contagious.
The record throws a bash for your spirit while celebrating music’s lifesaving powers by way of a 16-track onslaught of raucous, anthemic rock music.
It isn’t exactly shocking that the album feels like a (very loud and intense) musical therapy session, seeing how vocal the singer has been about mental health issues. He encourages his audience to ‘Keep on Going’, assures listeners that ‘You’re Not Alone’, and affirms that we won’t ‘Give Up on You’. A handful of motivational spoken-word interludes have also been peppered throughout the record for some added self-worth reinforcement.
Those who enjoyed his previous work – especially his debut album, I Get Wet (2001) – will definitely not be disappointed with his new set. This might not be an experimental masterpiece or indeed show any inclination towards trying something different, but it does prove that a good pop hook goes a long way and that pure exuberance can indeed be contagious. In the company of Andrew W.K.’s music, you’re definitely not alone.
Highlights: ‘Music Is Worth Living For’, ‘Give Up on You’, ‘Keep on Going’