James Blake Drops Fascinating Fourth LP

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

James Blake is a singer/songwriter and producer from London. He found underground success with a series of EPs released in 2010 on R&S Records and turned the buzz into a silver certification for his debut, self-titled LP in 2011. He went on to drop Overgrown in 2013 and The Colour in Anything in 2016, both of which peaked in the 30’s on the US charts and topped the dance music charts. His biggest mainstream success came on a pair of features on the Black Panther soundtrack in 2017.

Despite the lack of a massive hit, Blake is a darling of the music critic world, and for good reason. He’s often hailed for his ability to blend a multitude of genres, which he does with ease and remarkable skill. His understanding of rap music is especially impressive as he seems to understand the genre better than many modern rappers, blending it perfectly with jazz, country, rock, and his folksy roots. Now four albums in, James Blake is crafting one of the most unique and intriguing catalogs in modern music, and that continues with Assume Form.

From the start, the album is very obviously headed in a unique, minimal direction. Tracks like the opener and title track or “Can’t Believe the Way We Flow,” utilize simplistic instrumentals, relying heavily on looping sound bites. They also play with timing and tempo in an interesting way that leaves a listener feeling a bit off balance. Luckily, though, our ears gravitate so quickly to Blake’s excellent vocals that he’s able to see us through some of the more experimental changes.

Aside from James’ talented performances, there’s also quite a features list here as well. Travis Scott sounds better than ever on “Mile High,” as does ROSALIA on “Barefoot in The Park.” In both instances, featuring artists get to take center stage for an extended period of time as apposed to a single, unrelated verse as is generally the case. The only feature with a criminally short grip on the spotlight gives perhaps the best performance of the list as Andre 3000 of Outkast drops a fantastically complex verse on “Where’s the Catch,” a track that actually feels a bit meandering aside from his appearance.

Additionally, producer Metro Boomin helps out on a couple tracks. The first of these is the aforementioned “Mile High,” which is relatively simple, but the second is “Tell Them,” which features one of the best beats I’ve heard in quite a while. From the excellent loop of Moses Sumney’s haunting voice to the soft, watery synths, the track is just beautifully crafted, and when the violins make an appearance in the final third, it serves as nothing more than a cherry on top.

The instrumental pallet is nothing to dismiss either, as tracks like “Into the Red,” and “Are You in Love,” use everything from violins to baroque pianos to woodwinds and synths that seem ripped directly from a 1980’s Nintendo game. Even more importantly, though, is the way these organic, folk-inspired instruments are given new life being weaved in and out of what is ostensibly trap production. The heavy bass and snapping hi-hats contrast perfectly against the physical instrumentation in an extremely rare way.

He also plays with a dreamier, more smooth style of production on tracks like “I’ll Come Too,” which seems built from the ground up on a very jazz-inspired foundation, and “Don’t Miss It,” which is driven by a fascinating speed effect on Blake’s lead vocal and decorated by an operatic backing voice that is simply chilling. While this isn’t a style he pursues all that often on the record, he never the less delivers quite impressively when it’s used.

All this is not to mention Blake’s impressive lyrical chops, his ability to write vocal melodies that are completely unpredictable, the fantastic pacing of the album, and the remarkably even balance he strikes between manic tempo and melodic changes and minimalistic grooves. However, there are a few blemishes.

Namely, near the end of the project, there are two weak entries. The first is “Power On,” which seemed packed full of interesting ideas, but instead meanders from section to section without bringing his ideas together cohesively. This is far superior, however, to the closer and worst track, “Lullaby For My Insomniac,” which just seems to lack completely in the creativity department, waisting somewhat interesting lyrics on a weak track that never quite finds it’s footing.

All told, Assume Form is fantastic! James Blake’s ability to meld genres, experiment with tempos and production, and break the mold of conventional song form all while remaining relatively accessible is simply astounding.

Assume Form is a fantastic addition to both James Blake’s ever improving catalog and the dialogue of modern music as a whole.

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Maggie Rogers Debuts With Creative LP

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

Maggie Rogers is a pop/folk singer and producer form Easton, Maryland. She found some fame when she was featured on Parrell Williams’ masterclass from New York University. She presented the track “Alaska,” which would go on to feature on this album, to Williams who was blown away and called it “singular.” Thanks to the viral explosion of the clip, Rogers was courted by several record labels in a way that is somewhat rare today. In the end, she signed with Capitol records and dropped a debut EP, Now That The Light is Fading, in 2017.

Her sound is quite unique, as Pharrell Williams pointed out. Raised in a rural area, Rogers  has strong folk influences and even played more straightforward form of folk music earlier in her life. Today, however, the folk roots remain, but filtered through very genuine dance and synth-pop lenses for an extremely unique sound. Excitement was high for her major label debut, and Rogers certainly didn’t disappoint.

Perhaps her most important talent is obvious immediately, that being a special knack for crafting vocal melodies. Particularly in her verses, each line is extremely singable. Tracks like the opener, “Give a Little,” and “Retrograde,” showcase this quite well as I found myself humming the verses well after my first few listens and enjoying choruses even more.

Additionally, her lyricism is very impressive, and it may be where her folk sensibilities shine the brightest. Much of her writing is very visual and often draws on gimmicks while turning them on their head for interesting nuances. Tracks like “The Knife,” and the closer, “Overnight,” showcase her writing exceptionally well, but the album as a whole benefits from her consistency in tone and aesthetic while crafting unique lyrics for each track.

Above all, Heard It In A Past Life is made infinitely better thanks to Rogers’ fantastic production abilities, particularly in terms of designing beats. Tracks like “Say It,” and “On + Off,” have obvious hip-hop influences, especially in their drums. On the other hand, tracks like the aforementioned “Alaska,” and “Burning,” have more natural pallets and utilize harmonies extremely well to build very unique and yet accessible songs.

On the other hand, her mixing abilities are a bit more questionable. While harmonies are extremely tight and well mixed, plenty of tracks seem to bury the vocals quite a bit, and the tracks overall could do with some brightening up. Some of this is a bit understandable as a strong focus is meant to be placed on the admittedly exceptional beats, but this synth-pop sound still draws a listener’s ears to the lead vocal and burying it just comes off as frustrating all too often.

Additionally, her voice itself is something of a mixed bag. While she gives incredible, powerhouse performances on tracks like “Fallingwater,” and the closer, “Back In My Body,” she falls short in two key ways on other cuts. Firstly, she simply doesn’t have the voice to command the more traditional, top 40 sound of a track like “Light On.” A more pervasive problem, however, is her strange pronunciation on long vowels and seeming refusal to open her mouth on a few tracks, the most egregious of which is “Past Life.”

Overall, there’s a lot to like about Heard It In A Past Life. Maggie Rogers has meticulously built an extremely distinct and exciting major label debut. Her production skills along with her more traditional folk background have fused in a way that has me extremely excited for the future.

While her sound could certainly stand some fine tuning in a few key areas, Maggie Rogers has established herself as an exciting force in the modern pop landscape.

6/10

HEAR HEARD IT IN A PAST LIFE: https://open.spotify.com/album/5AHWNPo3gllDmixgAoFru4

The 1975 Capture Millennial Apathy With Third LP

A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

     The 1975 is a britpop/pop-rock act from Manchester, UK. They debuted in 2013 with a self-titled LP which received mild critical praise but very quickly built a rabid cult following that rocketed the band to superstardom in the US. This was followed by their 2016 which sported this cringeworthy title: I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It. Despite the title, the record debuted at number one, perhaps helped by their signing to Interscope, and became The 1975’s second straight platinum album.

   Despite the commercial success and strong base, however, the band has received rather middling reviews over the years and developed something of an image problem, being seen as a quintessential hipster band. Mainly, they’re criticized for their thoughtful, experimental aesthetic being absent in their actual music, which is mostly glossy britpop with psuedo-intellectual lyricism and a unique 1980’s influence. Personally, I’d found their previous efforts bloated and lacking in substance, but not devoid of enjoyable moments. However, with A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships, the band seems to have matured quite a bit, finally bringing much of their potential to fruition.

   The record opens, as does every 1975 album, with a short interlude baring the band’s name as a title. This one interesting, borrowing the hectic, chorusing effect which was notable used by Bon Iver in his track, “CREEKS.” It’s used slightly less effectively here, but the track is still enjoyable. It doesn’t hold a candle, though, to the albums other interlude, “The Man Who Married a Robot/A Love Theme,” a cynical dark comedy which both laments the apathy and dissociation of our generation and perfectly incapsulates Matt Healy’s authorial tone on this album.

   Lyrically, Healy writes sardonically, comedically, and with a strong dedication to the project’s general aesthetic. The seamless blend of genuineness with black comedy on tracks like “Give Yourself a Try,” is unique and engaging, and it contrasts with “Inside Your Mind,” which mock’s it’s own roots in pop power balladry by following a man who loves a woman so much he wants to split her head open to see her inner thoughts. Even beyond this, the album’s highlight “Love It If We Made It,” gorgeously satirizes the modern would with a level of desperation that taps into that of The 1975’s very young demographic, making the song’s “modernity has failed us,” hook ring especially poignant.

   Sonically, the album covers a wide rage, most of which is quite enjoyable. They’re certainly at their best on tracks like “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME,” “I Like America, America Likes Me,” or “It’s Not Living.” The glitzy, gloss pop instrumentals and the shimmering production is perfectly juxtaposed against the songs’ dark subject matter, that being infidelity, gun violence, and heroin addiction respectively. 

   Even a few of their more genre bending tracks work well. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love,” is a George Michael-esque, power-soul ballad, complete with chimes and what Healy called “a real key change.” On the other hand “Mine,” is a lounging jazz tune which, despite weaker lyrics, is infinitely listenable and features an amazing saxophone solo. This is also very well done on the closer, “I Always Wanna Die,” which would’ve felt right at home in the early 2000’s, among the likes of Oasis. Here, the band wears their influences, unashamedly, on their sleeve and craft loving tributes to these inspirations.

   However, a few of these experiments fall short. “Sincerity is Scary,” is at least respectable in it’s attempt to dip a toe in the waters of groovy soul music, though it feels a bit awkward and doesn’t really fit in the tracklist. This is more than I can say for tracks like “Be My Mistake,” or “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies,” two stripped down, folksy tunes which feel like bland left-overs from the previous two records, and who’s heartfelt lyrics seem to be mocked by the rest of the album’s irreverent cynicism. The worst of all these tracks is “How To Draw/Petrichor,” which feels like an aimless, Planet Earth sound track which relegates the previously used chorus effect to near novelty status.

   As the near 60 minute runtime draws to a close, my mind is drawn to The 1975’s previous efforts, both of which are roughly as long. Where they felt like psuedo-thoughtful slogs, Brief Inquiry feels like a genuine commentary on modern times. It isn’t perfect, but the infusion of punk attitude and black humor has brought The 1975 to a truly respectable stage in their development.

   A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships is a balanced blend of gallows humor and and youthful dissociation with glittering britpop and bright instrumentation which very well expresses the apathy and sensory overload of today’s youth.

8/10

HEAR A BRIEF INQUIRY INTO ONLINE RELATIONSHIPShttps://open.spotify.com/album/6PWXKiakqhI17mTYM4y6oY

Imagine Dragons Floods the Airwaves With Another Boring Album

Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

     Imagine Dragons is an alternative rock/pop band from Las Vegas. They gained popularity in 2012 with their double platinum debut LP, Night Visions. The strong push from Interscope Records and the massive popularity of singles like “Radioactive,” and “On Top of the World,” were important in their success, but the most important factor was Imagine Dragons’ ability to tap into the growing EDM wave which was cresting at this time, and give it a more accessible slant. This ability netted them two more platinum releases in 2015’s Smoke + Mirrors and 2017’s Evolve.

   While the group hasn’t exactly been a critical darling over the years, their commercial success is hard to deny and the lead up to this album is no exception. With four singles released ahead of time, including one written for the upcoming Wreck It Ralph sequel, Imagine Dragons has once again overtaken the radio in preparation for this LP. Now that it’s finally here, I must say, it’s a pretty weak outing.

   The production, of course, is well done. Working with Interscope Records, it’s virtually impossible to put out a project which isn’t well polished and put together. Origins is no exception. This isn’t nearly enough to save the album, but for so-so tracks like “Cool Out,” or “Bad Liar,” it’s enough to push them over the hump into listenable territory.

   Dan Reynolds’ vocals also have a few shining moments. The opener, “Natural,” has a genuinely impressive bridge, and actually got my hopes up far higher than they should’ve been. Throughout the album, Reynold’s vocals, even when performing obnoxious melodies, are one of the only redeemable qualities of this album.

   When we come to lyrics, there are exactly two well written tracks which are, puzzlingly, stuck on the very tail end of the ridiculous 50 minute runtime. “Burn Out,” tells a fairly conventional story of battling stress and depression, and though the song is certainly hindered by an abrasive instrumental, the sentiment is expressed well. The best track on the record is the closer, “Real Life,” the only of the fifteen tracks to cover a remotely interesting topic. It follows a man as her attempts to hold his marriage together in spite of the horrors of the modern world. It’s an interesting look at how the terrors of the external world, namely 9/11 and the Boston Bombing, effect the personal lives of those who aren’t directly involved. It’s a unique topic, and it’s handled well, lyrically.

   Lyrics, however, are a great place to start on my criticisms of this record. Aside from the two I just mentioned, virtually every other track could’ve been written by a computer. Tracks like “Only,” or “Zero,” are just meaningless. Even a track like “West Coast,” which is genuinely singable, is poisoned by a constant flow of pseudo-meaningful lyricism.

   When the lyrics do try to mean something, however, I’m left missing the soullessness of the previous tracks. Perhaps the most egregious here is “Love,” in which Reynolds drones on about the evils of racism in a series of platitudes, ignoring the real issues of institutional and generational racism, to simply point out that we all have the same blood and that skin color doesn’t matter. It’s naiveté borders on disrespect and it’s easily the weakest track of the bunch.

   The only common theme that can be found throughout appears heavily in tracks like “Machine,” “Digital,” or “Bullet in a Gun.” That is this idea of being an “outsider,” and dealing with the pressures to conform and give up their artistic integrity. Now, ignoring the fact that this band’s debut album went double platinum by essentially commercializing a sound which was popular in the underground before them, even these tracks are purely top 40 style, pop hits. This, along with very poor writing, makes these songs feel particularly disingenuous. The bridge on “Bullet in a Gun,” in which Reynolds shouts “sell out,” at himself nearly made me turn the record off.

   Beyond these lyrical and thematic issues, the instrumentals and hooks are just dreadful. “Boomerang,” borders on unlistenable, “Birds,” is smothered with decade-old trap cymbals, and “Stuck” is driven by an annoying drum track and vocal line that ruins whatever there may have been to appreciate.

   When Imagine Dragons hit the scene, their sound was flawed and a bit watered-down, but their youthful energy and catchy delivery masked most of their short comings. Half a decade later, all of that has faded to leave a boring shell of a group.

   Origins contains a precious few shining moments, which are buried in a slog of poorly written product which just isn’t worth sifting through.

2/10

HEAR ORIGINS: https://open.spotify.com/album/3JfSxDfmwS5OeHPwLSkrfr

Lukas Graham Disappoints With Major Label Debut

The Purple Album is rarely unbearable, and often somewhat listenable, but it is, first and foremost, a disappointment.

     Lukas Graham is a pop/soul vocalist from Copenhagen. He catapulted into the American music scene in 2015 with the release of his breakout single, “7 Years.” This track hit number two on the US Billboard and currently sits at five times platinum according to the RIAA. Lukas rode this success to the relatively successful release of of his second LP, The Blue Album, which peaked at number three on the US charts and gained a gold certification.

   Graham’s sound, particularly as it was showcased on “7 Years,” was both unique and refreshing. His soulful performance, thoughtful lyrics, and minimal instrumentation broke virtually every rule for writing a summer pop hit, and yet succeeded massively. His large and seemingly effortless range, coupled with his clear hip-hop and R&B influences made him one of the most intriguing artists in the indy/pop scene, a status which didn’t fade with his LP. Unfortunately, The Purple Album sees Graham teaming with Warner Bros. record and flushing much of his unique sound down the drain.

   The vocal performances on this record are fairly impressive. Tracks like the opener, “Not a Damn Thing,” or “Promise,” find Lukas dancing around the upper reaches of his range with control and an excellent control. Even his lower register sounds fairly impressive on tracks like “Stick Around.” This album, as a whole, is a beast for any vocalist, featuring virtually no instrumental leads, and counting on Graham to carry every track, which he is, for the most part, able to do.

   Lyrically, this album is a mixed bag, though not without it’s highlights. “Everything That Isn’t Me,” is an interesting look at Graham’s shortcomings throughout his life, told in a series of apologies to those in life that he’s let down. “Say Yes,” my favorite track on the album, tells the tale of a man watching his wife walk down the aisle in the same church which held his father’s funeral. This juxtaposition provides a well written commentary on moving forward and finding happiness after loss.

   It’s in this same department, however, where I find my first major complaint. Virtually every track aside from the two I mentioned, are dripping in platitudes, repetitive topics, and few meaningless statements about love for good measure. “Love Someone,” for example, could’ve been written by a computer, and “You’re Not the Only One,” has an interesting message on the need for new artists like Bob Marley and other great, feel-good artists from the past, but it’s delivered with tactless, boring lyrics that rarely match the song’s original premise in creativity.

   The instrumentation is another quality of this record which varies across the relatively short run-time. There are tracks like “Unhappy,” which builds from a minimalistic, drum-heavy track effectively, or “Hold My Hand,” which benefits from the a more nocturnal beat and an organ with a lot of character. However, they are balanced on the other end by tracks like “Stick Around,” which is the musical equivalent of vanilla ice cream, and “Lullaby,” which features one of Graham’s best performances, vocally and lyrically, butchered by strange instrumental choices, decorating the chorus with a boring piano and the choruses with a terribly mixed string section which never appears again on the project.

   All of these issues are magnified tenfold by poor production. For some artists, signing to a major label deal improves the quality of their work and feels like a talented, indy voice finally being given the support they deserve. For others, it sucks the life and uniqueness from them, leaving a radio-ready but uninteresting final project. Lukas Graham falls firmly in the latter category. Overused trap drums, strange and random instrumentation, thin mixing, and a multitude of other problems plague this already flawed project, dealing quite a bit of damage to the final release.

   Lukas Graham showed a lot of promise with his breakout single in 2015, but three years and a Warner Bros. signing later, we’re given a bland pop record. The signs of life aren’t gone from the young artist, but they’re buried under weak lyricism, poor production, and boring instrumentation.

   The Purple Album is rarely unbearable, and often somewhat listenable, but it is, first and foremost, a disappointment.

4/10

HEAR THE PURPLE ALBUM: https://open.spotify.com/album/02gV87QEIFp2T9q7OqVBjj

Twenty One Pilots Reemerge With Catchy but Deeply Flawed Fifth Album

With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

     Twenty One Pilots is an alternative hip-hop/pop/electronica duo from Columbus Ohio. They worked their way up through the music industry with an organic, grassroots fanbase eating up their self-titled debut and the follow up, Regional at Best in 2009 and 2011 respectively. They went on to sign a deal with Fueled by Ramen and release their breakout LP, Vessel in 2013, which still holds up to this day thanks to it’s youthful exuberance and experimental nature. Their 2015 follow up, Blurryface hasn’t aged nearly as well as it’s predecessor, though it was well received with the “Stressed Out” single netting them a grammy in 2016. Earlier this year, Blurryface became the first album in music history to have at least a gold certification for every track.

   Twenty One Pilots have been touring relentlessly since their last release until their recent and rather pretentious announcement that Trench would release later this year. Social media was abuzz and the first few singles showed quite a bit of promise. Though the once dominant Fueled By Ramen label has, in recent years, become a cesspool of thirty-something year old pop-rockers singing to twenty-something fans reliving their high school emo days, Twenty One Pilots showed a few signs of life and maturity in their lyricism and sound. I found myself excited to hear Trench, if a bit cautious, and now that it’s out, the record does pack a few surprises.

   The band’s best talent on this record is, as it always was, their ability to write hooks. Tracks like “Chlorine,” or “Morph,” are built around undeniable ear-worms that will bounce around in a listeners head for weeks to come. Even some of the records later cuts, “Bandito,” for example, are extremely catchy and feature very well written choruses.

   Beyond this, Josh Dunn’s drums are, of course, a treasure trove of fun fills and rhythms. “Legend” features a fun, easy rock beat which stands as one of the last remnants of the duo’s earlier sound. Much of the closer, “Leave This City,” on the other hand is driven by a fairly complex cymbal rhythm which all but makes up for the unremarkable nature of the track.

   Tyler Joseph’s contributions, however, are not as consistent. He gives an excellent, emotional performance on the opener and my favorite cut, “Jumpsuit,” and his quirky vocal is perfect for the upbeat tribute to his wife, “Smithereens.” His rapping, though, is not nearly as exciting on the trap influenced “Levitate,” or most anywhere else he raps on this project. Where Tyler’s screaming flow was once erratic and youthful, it comes off as awkward or uninteresting on much of Trench.

   The instrumentals are rarely memorable, but do provide a few highlights. The fuzzy guitar on the aforementioned opener are fantastic, and the discreet ukulele on “Nico and the Niners” is a nice touch. Furthermore, a few of the more electronic tracks like “My Blood,” or “The Hype,” are actually quite rich and mix in Joseph’s newfound love of bass guitar well.

   Lyrically we find an odd issue rearing its head. Songs like “Neon Gravestones,” or “Legend,” benefit from interesting choices in topic, especially the former which indicts our culture’s glorification of mental illness and suicide. The bulk of the lyricism is relatively inoffensive, though a bit repetitive.

   However, Trench is constantly plagued by an effort to develop an absurdly intricate concept following a dystopian future and some kind of rebellion against a theocratic government with so many characters and details that virtually no casual or even dedicated listener could unweave it without reading the loads of written material which the band uploaded along with the album. The vast majority of the storyline takes place in the writing with the album only casually mentioning it and many tracks completely forgoing the concept all together. This has the effect of interrupting otherwise interesting songs with ridiculous and meaningless lyrics which only exist to loosely tie in the plot of this external story. In short, Trench is a textbook example of how not to write a concept album.

   The only other complaint I have falls mainly over the second half of the album in that much of it is simply boring. Tracks like “Cut My Lip,” and “Pet Cheetah,” are messy and go nowhere, with the latter easily standing as the low point of the record. “Bandito,” though featuring a nice hook, doesn’t justify it’s five and a half minute runtime as none of the musical ideas really grow or develop in anyway.

   Trench is an odd album because it shines in many ways. Josh Dunn is as good as ever on drums, Paul Meany’s production leads to many interesting, small touches to be discovered on repeat plays, and Tyler Joseph clearly still has the ability to craft interesting musical ideas. This album could even pass as an alright addition to the Twenty One Pilots catalog, but after revisiting Vessel or even Blurryface, it becomes clear that Trench lacks a certain youthful energy which once glaze over the weaker elements of the band’s work.

   With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

5/10

HEAR TRENCH: https://open.spotify.com/album/621cXqrTSSJi1WqDMSLmbL

Death Cab for Cutie Shows New Signs of Life With 11th Studio Release

This is a very fun listen for fans of Death Cab for Cutie, or the soft/indie-rock sound in general, but it won’t be winning over unfamiliar listeners anytime soon, and certainly won’t hold up to as many revisits as the group’s earlier work.

     Death Cab for Cutie is a soft/indie-rock band from the Pacific Northwest. They debuted in 1998 with Something About Airplanes, and followed with two more records over the next three years. They finally reached prominence in 2003 with Transatlanticism, which went gold, and the platinum certified Plans in 2005. After Plans, the group slowly tapered in popularity over ten years and three more releases, leading up to their most recent project, Thank You For Today.

   Death Cab is haled for their unique, soft-rock sound, rhythmic drum work, and Ben Gibbard’s excellent vocals. Lyrically, their writing utilizes quirky metaphors and excellent visualization to craft infinitely singable tracks with catchy hooks and interesting ideas. There is no shortage of these good qualities on Thank You for Today, but the album comes in as a bit of a mixed bag.

   The band adopts an interesting drum-heavy style across the bulk of this record, most noticeably on tracks like the opener, “I Dreamt We Spoke Again,” and even more so on “Summer Years,” which follows. Jason McGerr’s percussion work on these tracks, as well as on the rest of the record, is solid and rhythmic, if a bit unadventurous.

   We’re even treated to a few moments of uncharacteristic excitement on the lead single, “Gold Rush,” as well as “Northern Lights” on the latter half of the track list. These songs feature faster tempos and driving rhythms, decorated by pulsing synth melodies and ringing guitar licks. The project, on the whole, is one of the band’s most energetic to date.

   “When We Drive,” or “60 & Punk” may be the closest we’re given to a hint of the group’s earlier style, though much of the sweet guitars are replaced by slowly developing synth swells. Gibbard’s vocals and lyricism on these tracks, however, are very much indicative of classic Death Cab, as he simply and confidently delivers line after line of extended metaphors and hanging melodies.

   It’s hard to point out specific songs in the record’s relatively short runtime which stand as weak links -though “Near/Far” and “Autumn Love,” do come to mind- but this doesn’t mean that the album is impervious to criticism. The biggest issue is that which persists throughout the entirety of Death Cab for Cutie’s discography, including Plans: a hanging air of boredom. Though the addition of a few more upbeat tracks helps add a bit of variety, this doesn’t account for the repetitive nature which eventually arises due to the band’s style.

   Thank You for Today is very far from perfect, and it’s not the best record in Death Cab’s fairly impressive career, but it is one of their better releases over the last decade. Many of the songs, taken individually, stand as thoughtful, slowly-unraveling art pieces which provide interesting, musical scavenger hunts for careful listeners. However, the insistence on synth instrumentation and relatively rigid production leaves TYfD feeling far less sonically dense than previous projects.

   This is a very fun listen for fans of Death Cab for Cutie, or the soft/indie-rock sound in general, but it won’t be winning over unfamiliar listeners anytime soon, and certainly won’t hold up to as many revisits as the group’s earlier work.

5/10