Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Chromeo White Women Review

I know, I know - I’m fashionably late to the party on this one, but better late than never.  With the upcoming Chromeo concert near home base soon, I wanted to get this review in before I reviewed the concert in October. 

Within the first few seconds of hitting play, you know you’re in for a good time while listening to Chromeo’s new album.  I’ve read all the reviews I could find on this album and I feel that most have missed a lot of the subtleties that really make this an outstanding effort from the Canadian duo.  One of the most enjoyable parts of this record is the attention to detail with the ordering of the songs.  With the advent of iTunes giving the consumer the ability to buy single songs instead of the whole album, the art of making a complete album has gotten lost in the technology.  For good or for bad this is where the commercial end of the business has led us, so when artists put forth the effort and take time to think about how the song order will effect the listener – it shines.  The album jumps at you and screams for attention as a whole adding another layer of depth that is missed by so many today.  I really believe this added so much to the album, yet it’s such a subtle thing…and when done right it’s just powerful, plain and simple. 

After my first listening of White Women, it was clear to me that there were three movements (My description) to the album.  In the first movement, Dave and P take you through all of the singles they released before the album was released in May (Even within this sequence they build you up, relax you a bit, and then pump it up and finish with “Sexy Socialite”).  As soon as you get into the second movement, they slam on the brakes with “Lost On The Way Home”.   It’s here where they do a fantastic job of creating some real emotion with the stark contrast between the first set of songs.  Finally after cleansing your musical palate with a soft balled featuring Ezra Koenig, they crank it up again with the final movement which includes, in my opinion, the magnum opus of the record “Fall Back 2U”.  Go ahead, listen to the album again and see if you can spot that now.  I bet you’ll listen to the album in a whole new light.

Chromeo continues to get better on all aspects of the process with every album they’ve released – and White Women is in no way a break in this trend.  They have better chops, their song writing is stronger, and the production is better.  Not to take anything away from their previous albums – because they’re all great, it’s just that this is arguably their best yet.  It’s enjoyable to see them grow as musicians, it adds to the whole experience.

For those of you looking for a quick summary of the album, I leave it at this:  White Women is worth every penny and if you haven’t already gone out and bought it, do yourself a favor and pick it up.  You’ll dance your ass off and be extremely entertained the whole way with cheeky lyrics, infectious grooves, and great song writing.

For those of you looking for a more detailed review and want to know what Jack Johnson (Yes Jack Johnson) and Jamiroquai have to do with this album…keep reading.

“Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”

Chromeo greets the listener with an upbeat, fun, and infectious opener called “Jealous (I Ain’t With It)”.  Oddly enough this was the last of their teaser singles before the full album came out.  This is, along with “Come Alive”, probably the most radio friendly track on the album.  I say radio friendly as in being able to grab the attention of the general “Top 40” crowd.  The chorus is very engaging and makes you want to sing along and promises to stay in your head long after the album is over.  "I get jealous..." see?

“Come Alive”

“Come Alive” keeps the party going with another addictive chorus and offers up the first of Chromeo’s collaborations on the album.  Again, I see this as the other track on album that could grab the attention of the misguided souls of the Top 40 world and reel them into the FunkLordz world.  Chaz adds a nice compliment to Dave’s voice and the collaboration really works well on this song.

“Over Your Shoulder”

Next in the line up from the singles comes “Over Your Shoulder”.  This song is so Chromeo, yet really not like anything they’ve done before if that makes any sense.  They absolutely nailed the feel of this one.  The song opens with a great bass slide and then the guitar comes in right over it.  Within the first few bars you are transported to a sidewalk on a beach somewhere in Southern California circa late 70’s early 80’s.  Strap on your roller-skates, pull up your tube socks, and put some oversized cans on your ears and you’ll be set to jam to this number that has a Boz Scaggs feel to it.  There’s a nice little finishing touch at the end of the song where the vocoder helps to bring it home.  I also love the Steve Miller-esque synth work on this song as well.

“Sexy Socialite”

It took four songs, but they finally pulled out the Talkbox at the end of this song.  The song really drives with the a synth helping in the back of the song (which you don’t really hear unless you are listening with headphones).  When Dave screams “Somebody Help Me” and the music stops, it really grabs the listener to re-engage.  I’m a sucker for breaks in songs.  We get some classic synth work here a-la Morris day / Prince Oberheim tones.  Love this one.

“Lost On The Way Home”

The beginning of the second movement arrives via a collaboration with Solange Knowles.  Chromeo really used their synth palette here to create a vivid sonic landscape that is emotional, and raw.  Solange, in my opinion, sounds amazing on this track.  For my money, she sounds sweeter, creamier, and stronger on this track than her sister ever could.  What I found most interesting on this track was the writing credits.  It’s not too hard to figure out that Solange would get a writing credit on this song – but what really surprised me was the other credit…Justin Meldal-Johnsen.  Yes, That Justin Meldal-Johnsen…the one of Beck, Nine Inch Nails, Air, and Ima Robot fame. This was such a curious collaboration at first thought.  But then if you think about it, Beck can get pretty funky on his albums and Justin has been his right hand man for a long time so I can see where they fit together as collaborators.  I was lucky enough to meet Justin backstage recently at a Beck concert and I asked him about working with Chromeo.  My first question was, "Did you seek them out or did they seek you out?"  Apparently Chromeo phoned him up and then wrote some songs in his studio.  Needless to say, he said it was fun to work with Dave and P-Thugg and thought that the whole album turned out great.  If given the chance for an interview, I would definitely explore this subject a little more with Dave and P because I find it so interesting.

“Play The Fool”

Here we find a Giorgio Moroder inspired track that is not quite as hard hitting as some of the others, but still has a nice groove.  This song feels a bit softer than some of the other tracks like “Socialite”, “Fall Back 2U”, or “Something Good” which is why it fits so well in this second movement.  Chromeo raises the pace of the album but still keeps it somewhat mellow.  The outro is fantastic on this – again Chromeo does a job well done of transporting you to another time in musical history - still keeping it fresh.

“Hard To Say No”

This is another very interesting tack for me.  There is so much going on in this song it’s hard to decide where to start.  First, the song has a very beachy-Reggae feel to it when the chorus hits.  Honestly, it's just one of those feel-good songs.  The first time I heard this I thought, “holy shit – these guys wrote a song for Jack Johnson!”  Seriously, throw this track on, close your eyes and I’ll show you.  Now, as you listen, slow the track down in your mind, take away the synths and replace them with acoustic guitar and imagine Jack’s voice singing the melodies instead of Dave.  I was so convinced of this that I wanted to test my theory - so I sent a link to the song over to my friend who is an enormous Jack Johnson fan, and sure enough he came back with this:

Obviously this guy isn’t a Chromeo fan because of the “porn beat” comment – but he understood what I was talking about immediately.  To me, it shows the strength of Dave and P’s writing skills.  The other interesting thing about this song is the nod to George Benson.  The minute you hear Dave singing over the guitar solos, you can’t help but think of George Benson.  And it’s not a stretch to think that he influences them in some way.  Check out this YouTube video at the 30:39 mark:

Give Me The Night is clearly hanging on the wall of their home studio.  All in all it’s a great song and really shows the diversity in their writing - it's one of my favorites on the album. 

“Ezra’s Interlude”

Although I’ve seen a couple of reviews that haven’t given much love to this song, I think the timing and mood of “Ezra’s Interlude fits perfectly on the album.  It’s a perfect ending to the second movement of the album and as I said before, like a wino grabbing some crackers before the next taste; this song cleanses the listener’s musical palate going into the last and final movement of the album.  It’s light, airy, there’s a ton of space on the track and it just allows you to catch your breath before the third and final movement of the record starts. 

“Old 45’s”

The synth pad at the closing of “Ezra’s Interlude builds nicely and as the crescendo feels like it’s at the top – BOOM!  They grab the attention of the listener with silence, which intensifies “Old 45’s” groove.  If you’re in your car it’s almost guaranteed that your head is going to start bopping while you have the wheel in your hand.  I really like Chromeo’s choice of bass timbre for this song.  When you hear that hollow, thick, tubular bass in the first few bars of the song – it grooves so hard against the just introduced silence from the previous ending and it’s precisely that which will tell your brain to start moving your head…Bravo boys.

“Something Good”

Pure. Chromeo.  What I love most about this song is the amount of tension Dave and P create right before you get into the chorus.  Here is yet another example of where you can really see, hear, and feel how Chromeo has grown as a song writing team.  Songs need to be interesting.  They need to keep your attention.  Dave and P, like true masters, demand the attention of the listener by building them up with a ton of tension in the verse starting with “I care for you…” and then finally release that tension into the chorus. This tension and release is very reminiscent of “Billy Jean” when Jackson is singing

People always told me, "Be careful of what you do
And don’t go around breaking young girls hearts"
And mother always told me, "Be careful of who you love
And be careful of what you do cause the lie becomes the truth"

Billie Jean…

What makes that song so amazing is the tension and emotion that Jackson creates and then…lets it resolve into the chorus.  Chromeo does the exact same thing here and it adds such a layer of depth to the song - it’s just spectacular writing.

“Frequent Flyer” 

Although it’s tough to see in the lyrics, this song seems to me an obvious nod to the Minneapolis funk sound in some way.  Just hearing the title "Frequent Flyer" makes my brain think of Flyte Tyme, a nod to the origins of Morris Day And The Time.  Then when the song breaks for the captain to come over the loud speaker we hear that it’s Flight 777 to Minneapolis, which is an obvious nod to the song “777-9311”.  Beyond paying homage to the funk masters before them, the song takes a couple of listens to really catch on.  Once you hear it a couple of times you really start to get the song – and it really grooves in its own right.  There’s a very unique bass sequence throughout the song, which I rather enjoy.  It’s unexpected and breaks up any potential monotony that can occur with the same predictable baselines.  Great song.

“Fall Back 2U”

Chromeo ends the album with arguably the best song on the album (I say arguably because there are so many great songs here).  In my opinion this is the magnum opus of the record.  This is the culmination of 10 years of writing, producing, and gigging.  The bones of the song – i.e. melody/chorus/etc. make it a great pop/dance song in itself.  Chromeo excels here by adding depth to the song with a great arrangement of strings, thick bass, fantastic electric piano work, stopping and starting throughout the song, and a damn infectious groove.  Once Again Chromeo chooses a fantastic choice from their synth palette for a small synth solo to pave the way for the expected sax solo that we all love on Chromeo albums and then finally into another Talkbox solo from P.  This Talkbox solo is P’s best work on any Chromeo record.  He’s really dialed into a great tone and on the flip side gets completely funky in this solo like we’ve never heard before.  Like I said, in my opinion it’s his best solo on any album up to this point.  Although the grooves are a bit different, the song that pops in my head when I hear this song is “Canned Heat” by Jamiroquai due to the string work on this song.  Jay Kay uses a lot of string arrangements in his work to achieve that 70’s feel that is present in a lot of his songs and that’s what Chromeo does here to invoke that same type of feel with “Fall Back 2U”.  Even though Jamiroquai is more on the edge of jazz than funk (Although they can funk when they want…ahem, “Little L”), if Chromeo continues to open their universe to other artists in the studio: what an amazing funk musical love child they would have if they worked together with Jay Kay.  Take the DNA of A Funk Odyssey and splice it with White Women...WOW my neck hurts already from the insane groove.

Chromeo does their homework.  These guys obviously love this realm of music and they obviously love their heroes – otherwise they wouldn’t put so much time and energy into the little details that make this album such a fantastic love letter to them.  I wonder if people understand how hard it is to create art and pay homage to something, someone you love without it sounding stale or like you totally ripped it off.  There was a band in the 90’s that, masterfully, was able to create music that paid homage to their idols yet re-packaged it into something fresh and relevant for their current generation.  Jellyfish was sadly a short-lived project – but in their brief existence, were able to repackage power pop in a way that no one else could at the time.  In my opinion, Chromeo is to electro-funk music what Jellyfish was to power pop.  From anyone that knows me, knows that that’s no small complement as I hold those guys up on a pedestal.  They might not have Roger and Andy’s chops (And that’s not a dig – because everyone knows Roger and Andy were on another level), but these boys have done their research, they’ve dissected the songs they love, and they’ve built new songs from the foundations of old in a fresh, exciting way.  Do yourself a favor.  Buy this album, press play, and then proceed to shake your ass.

Stay tuned for my review of the Asheville concert coming up in early October.

Thanks for Reading.

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