Friday 20 January 2012

Childish Gambino: Everything In Its Right Place

It sounds like such a backhanded compliment when you say it at first. It's not the most obvious way to praise an album - usually you'd go for, 'the tunes are amazing', or 'it's lyrically brilliant', or something along those lines. To praise something seemingly superfluous to a record itself could come across as derogatory. But it's true - the best thing about Childish Gambino's label debut Camp is the way it's sequenced.

Sequencing is a funny thing. In some ways, the better the track sequencing on an album is, the less you notice it. It's only when something seems out of place that it can feel strange, that the flow of an album can be suddenly interrupted by a bit too much of a lull here, or a desperate need for a chilled-out track there. Case in point: The Hold Steady's fantastic 2008 album Stay Positive. It's an album I really, really love, and so for Christmas I asked for a wonderful double LP version - for some reason, the tracklisting is slightly different. Two tracks in the middle are switched over, and the latter half is given a bit of a re-shuffle with an (amazing) extra track in there too. Overall, it's nothing too massive, but on listening to the album it just doesn't quite flow as well - it's nothing too great, but it's noticeable. Incidentally, at the moment of writing, Stay Positive on CD (limited edition with three incredible bonus tracks) is currently less than £4 on Amazon, I highly recommend it.

So, back to Gambino, aka Troy from Community.

Released in November last year, Childish Gambino (real name Donald Glover) put out Camp, following a string of free online releases, including debut album Culdesac (still free, here), and the EP, erm, EP (reviewed by our 'Fro here). Now, I never really clicked onto EP in the same way that Elliot did - I did really like 'Freaks and Geeks', even though it seemed to have a worryingly strong fixation on, well... a particular lady-part.

"The word itself makes some men uncomfortable."
It had some snazzy lyrics, but aside from cracking wise, I couldn't help but be left wondering whether Donald Glover really had anything in particular to say. Well, I was pretty blown away on my first listen through Camp - the wit remained, but here was a record with a bruised heart as well as an erect penis. Over the past few months, the album's fluctuated in my mind between unrelenting praise and a nagging feeling that maybe I've overrated it. As it turns out, the track sequencing, for me at least, is the real key to the record. You'd be hard-pressed to really call Camp a concept album, but it's structured in such a way that it feels like one.

Camp isn't a perfect record by a long way. Take any track on its own, and you'll find a flaw with most of them. In hip-hop music, there are so many cliches to tread around - how hard life is on 'the streets', how much money you're making, how many hoes you've got in your bedroom, and how you're the 'realest' in 'the game'. Pick apart the Childish Gambino album and you'll tick all of these off your list. BUT, take the album as a whole and the album provides a pretty startling, intimate portrait of who Gambino is, and why these cliches are adhered to and subverted.

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Fixers: In Love With A Tropical World

"I'm in love with a tropical world, I'm in love with a tropical world..."
Whenever I sit down and think about Fixers, I find myself somewhat conflicted. The reason for this is very simple - for the most part, I think they're a great band who're doing something both fun and interesting with indie pop music. It's just, while they have a load of great songs, some of them are a bit... well, we'll get to that later.

First with the good stuff. It is obligatory to mention that Fixers hail from Oxford - OMG LIKE FOALS YEAH?! With that out of the way, it's safe to say that the band sound basically nothing like Foals, though the energy and pep that permeated that band's early work can be found here. With obvious Beach Boys influences (check out those harmonies), strong pop sensibilities and an emphasis on experimentation, Fixers sound like a shaken-up can of Fanta with a tiny bit of LSD in it. Served with ice.

  Another Lost Apache by Fixers. 

The best example of this continues to be the Fixers' breakthrough EP, Here Comes 2001 So Let's All Head For The Sun (full stream here) released in May of last year. Opening track 'Another Lost Apache' is propelled along by an ebbing/flowing momentum, whilst single 'Crystals' leaps out with its pure ear-candy chorus. The EP's b-side is where the scales begin to tip more in favour of intriguing experimentalism than pop with the still-melodically-strong 'Uriel' and the disappointingly disjointed 'Passages // Love In Action'. The first three tracks in particular are certainly worth checking out.

  Crystals by Fixers. 

Here Comes 2001 So Let's All Head For The Sun
In a recent interview, the band admitted to tiring quickly of their own material - it's a claim which is evident in the tracks that have followed Here Comes 2001... First up was summer single 'Swimmhaus Johannesberg' which, for me, sadly didn't live up to it's excellent title, but introduced a new vibe in the form of '90s house-esque piano, yet more vocal warping and an opening that sounds like that "BOOM chicka chicka" song from Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

New EP Imperial Goddess Of Mercy (full stream here) sees somewhat of a return to the flavour of Here Comes 2001..., especially in the standout tracks. Single 'Majesties Ranch' sees the summery surf of 'Another Lost Apache' imbued with a renewed sense of urgency, an infectious hook of "Oh-eh-oh-eh-oh-eh-oh" and yet more Brian Wilson-indebted vocals.

Majesties Ranch by Fixers.

Elsewhere, 'Trans Love' features the relentlessy catchy chorus "I'm in love with a tropical world, I'm in love with a tropical world" - it might sound a bit like a Fanta slogan, but simply sounds right in the middle of the song, which certainly ranks in the upper echelons of Fixers' poppier repertoire. Best of all, it's currently a free download from their Facebook page.

  Trans Love by Fixers.

Now here comes the big 'however'.

HOWEVER, a few of the tracks on Imperial Goddess of Mercy feature elements that border on the seriously grating. 'Selinah's weirdness is pretty endearing, a patchwork of various melodic segments stitched together, but the lumbering feel of the oriental-influenced 'Evil Carbs' takes a considerable amount of plays to grow, and often feels at odds with the other much more accessible material. The main offender though is final track 'Divorce', which sees a great middle section sandwiched between a looped phrase which practically induces insanity before the 3 minutes and 38 seconds are through. The voice is either saying "It's a bit like when kids took their masks off, yeah" or "It's a bit like when Kiss took their masks off, yeah". I don't know. But it's really, really, really annoying.

If you're willing to sit through a whole minute of that looped phrase, you reach a fantastically hazy treat of a song. But trust me, it's a slog to get there.

Selinah by Fixers.

Imperial Goddess Of Mercy
Overall then, not much of a big 'however' after all. For the most part, Fixers are shaping up to be a great band who are obviously committing themselves as much to the 'psychedelic' aspect of the 'psych-pop' genre as the 'pop' bit. With a fair bit of variation in their material so far, the most interesting thing to see will be what the forthcoming debut album sounds like - will the band's more experimental material be resigned to their early EPs, or will it sit comfortably alongside their more accessible tunes on the record? Only time will tell.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get back off to singing "I'm in love with a tropical world, I'm in love with a tropical world..." ad nauseum.

Get Here Comes 2001... on Amazon mp3 for £1.69 here, and Imperial Goddess of Mercy on Amazon mp3 for £1.99 here. Bargain.