Listening Journal 03-18
Justin Timberlake - The 20/20 Experience - Well, it’s long. Really long. Really, really long… I mean, FutureSex/LoveSounds was long too, but that album had “SexyBack” and “My Love.” This record has, uh, “Suit & Tie.” When did 7-minute songs become a sign of ‘sophistication’ in pop music? Is this Kanye’s fault? With every play through this thing, I find it slipping further into the realm of background music, suitable for snippeting for liquor ads (all the “Suit & Tie” video needs is a highball glass of Bushmills on a cocktail napkin, y’know?). Each song has one idea, and each idea is repeated over and over and over, ground into a fine powder and implicitly snorted up JT’s ego. I don’t need to hear dude run down every slang term he’s ever heard for drug use for 8 minutes (“Pusher Love Girl”). We get it: this girl is like drugs. Even a song about dancing, like “Don’t Hold The Wall,” rolls through 150 invitations to shake it without ever making me want to. Timbaland’s ad-libs don’t help, but they’re few enough and far enough in between that they’re a tertiary problem. It’s a shame because this is a beautiful sounding record—sparkly, soulful, smooth, bubbly, funky—and Timberlake’s singing is top notch, which makes it hard to come to terms with the fact that, ultimately, the album doesn’t earn its titanic sprawl. 
Sally Shapiro - Somewhere Else - She was never going to be a ‘career’ artist, y’know? Her debut, which I still love and listen to pretty regularly, came at a time when there was a resurgent interest in Italo disco and she’s a pretty pure revivalist. Type “Italo disco” into Spotify, pick a compilation at random (there are a lot) and press play to see what I mean. It’s a narrow musical format to begin with, so it doesn’t exactly lend itself to multiple full-length albums. I mean, Sally Shapiro’s been around now about as long as the original version of Italo disco was a thing in the mid 80s. It’s important to keep all this in mind because, no, this record isn’t as good as Disco Romance—the kick drum sounds are too loud and overdriven for one thing—but it’s not necessarily because she and Johan Agebjörn aren’t a good team or good at what they do. If you’ve liked her before, you can find plenty of things to like here, especially if twee, forlorn indie pop melodies hold a perennial appeal for you (there’s a song called “This City’s Local Italo Disco DJ Has a Crush On Me,” for cryin’ out loud). A lot of these tracks skew airy and sleek, a little like Röyksopp in airport mode, as opposed to the snowy, intimate stuff she’s made her name on, but the addition of flute or guitar is really just a gesture at ‘progress.’ They sound fine, but no one should mistake this for anything other than pure Italo disco, like it or not. 
California X - California X - As the streets of Bushwick become increasingly populated by guys who dress like bully villains in a 90s high school movie and people at SXSW continue to care about anything that Wavves guy does, I’m reminded that every generation gets the rawk movement it deserves. What I like about this California X record is, unlike a lot of its relative peers, it’s totally unconcerned with projecting any kind of snotty, punky, bratty ‘tude. There’s some really nice melodic guitar work, a pitch-perfect level of grunge fuzz, and the vocals are low enough to ensure no one makes the mistake of looking for hit songs here. It’s the stuff people my age imagined all the dangerous skater kids listened to before we were old enough to know better. Those strengths can just as easily end up being weaknesses, though. Every song is the same tempo, flexes pretty much the same riffs, and that satisfying sludge is totally homogenous across the board. You can’t tell when one song ends and another one begins on this album. I don’t have a problem with one-trick bands as long as they do it well (like I said, this is a generational thing and in five years no one will be trying to sound like this anymore), but I don’t expect the music to resonate once the record’s over and I doubly don’t expect to be drawn back to it much.