By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: One of the most innovative projects of the last decade, M83 has dazzled fans with some truly unique albums, from 2003's Dead Cities, Red Seas & Lost Ghosts to 2008's Saturdays = Youth to 2011's Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, when M83 announces an album is coming, people stop what they're doing and listen. Coming off the heels of an album which, along with Queens of the Stone Age's 2013 .....Like Clockwork holds the spot for my favorite albums of this decade, I was quite excited for where Anthony Gonzalez was going to take us on his long anticipated follow up. Initially, I was excited. The first single "Do It, Try It" brings us the return of some classic M83 jams, especially the awesome synth line that closes the song. Sure the song has absolutely nothing to offer from a lyrical perspective short of saying, "Do it, try it" over and over again, but as someone who has never really cared much for lyrics that's fine by me. The second single, "Go!" featuring Mai Lan, suffered from the same problems, but again the amazing instrumentation (dat sexy guitar solo from Steve Vai though) made this song good enough for me to get past the complete lack of distinguishable vocals. But, once the album came out, I began to realize it's limitations.
But as much as I respect the instrumentation on almost every song and the loving ode to 80's synth pop, Junk suffers from the same problem as most of the synth pop of the 80's: it's superficial. From start to finish, this album feels like excess weight, and the album lacks a surprising amount of coherency, which has always been one of Anthony Gonzalez's fortes. Songs like the instrumental "Moon Crystal" feel very out of place on this album, and sound like nothing more than elevator music. Elevator music? That's what you have for us M83? I mean sure it's groovy elevator music, but I still expect so much more from a man who was able to make a song simply called "Intro" be a breathtaking masterpiece of song. The album shifts into one of the few high-points as the incredible Susanne Sundfør makes an appearance on "For the Kids." This was the only time the entire album that I could easily discern the identity of the vocalist singing. I actually totally missed Beck's role in "Team Wind." How is that possible? How is someone with a voice as identifiable as Beck's able to be so lost that the listener doesn't even know it's him? But, despite all of this.....I freaking love "Solitude." For one six minute song, M83 brings all the elements of his past accomplishments to one great song. Despite the missteps of most of the album, "Solitude" has become one of my personal favorite songs by Anthony Gonzalez, and it's definitely one song that I cannot wait to hear live.
But, obviously, one song is not enough to make an album good. And, as painful as it is for me to say, good Junk is not. Maybe it will grow on me as time goes on. Maybe I will decide that I expected too much from Anthony Gonzalez. But I know he can do better. This album, ultimately, is an interesting one to me because Gonzalez has always been one to not rush his creativity. He has always forgone the traditional "album cycle" and has released material when he feels it is good and ready. And yet....we get this? Did he feel that it had been 5 years since Hurry Up, We're Dreaming so he needed to release a new album? Well, I think he named the album after he listened to it from start to finish, because this title does describe most of the album exceptionally well. Now we have to wait 5 years to hope for another truly M83-esque album. Excuse me while I go cry about something else.
My Number: 4/10
DEREK: When "Do It, Try It" dropped as the lead single from Junk, I wasn't quite sure what to think. On the one hand, the song's vocals are garbled and indiscernible, the synths are muffled and poorly mixed, and the content does not nearly live up to the grandiose scope of anything from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. On the other hand, there's an adorable puppy on the single cover, so obviously I gave the song a pass and looked forward to what I hoped would be a more substantive rest of the album. Unfortunately, my hopes were not realized and Junk really tries its best to live up to the name.
There are a few highlights on the album. "Go!" is going to be a really fun song live, especially at any festivals where Steve Vai can make a cameo for his ridiculous solo at the end. The problem is the rest of the song. Besides not being able to understand any words in the chorus, the overly excessive countdown leading into the solo is a total waste. Did Anthony Gonzalez really think it was a good idea to count down from eight? "Solitude" is a pretty solid tune. Get it? No? Well, I don't get where Gonzalez was going with this album either.
As Joseph mentioned, there are a decent number of collaborators, but none of them really stand out besides Susanne Sundfør on "For The Kids". MAI LAN and Jordan Lawlor are completely forgettable, and Beck's contribution on "Time Wind" is a joke. Each one of them add nothing to any of the songs, and miss nearly every opportunity to inject life in the lifeless filler. Speaking of filler, not only is that one of the bigger weak spots on Junk, but that was also my biggest complaint from Hurry Up, We're Dreaming. I think it was more pronounced on the latter because it was a double album, but on Junk, there just aren't the really fantastic songs to even it out like there was on Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, and it makes for a boring, uninspired listen for the vast majority of the album.
Unless something shocking happens in the remainder of 2016, this will definitely be on my Most Disappointing Albums list.
My Number: 3/10
Also, can we please talk about how the album cover monsters look like a combination of Cousin It and Grimace from McDonald's?
By: Derek Jung with an Edit from Joseph Kathmann
DEREK: For all of the criticism that modern country music receives from music snobs around the world, there are just as many who believe that artists like Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton are the second coming of Jesus Christ for the genre and the end of bro-country with lyrics that have the depth of a gym rat college frat boys. As a music fan, I find myself somewhere in the middle. Outlaw country is not exactly the newest idea in the world, but I will admit that seeing it gain in popularity, especially outside its normal fan base, gives me a glimmer of hope for country music in a broader sense.
My wife and I saw Sturgill Simpson live after the release of his sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds In Country Music, an album that was widely acclaimed for blurring the boundaries between country music, soul, and psychedelic rock. The venue was so crowded that there were undoubtedly fire code violations, but Sturgill was mesmerizing; he sang with this power and authority of someone that was born to be a songwriter, and that power was duplicated on the album. At the time, we didn't realize that Sturgill had just become a father. His newborn son would become the focus of A Sailor's Guide to Earth, described as an album written to him, filled with stories of Sturgill's past, his time in the military, mistakes, regrets, and advice for how his son should live his life.
For those expecting a repeat of Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, you'll be disappointed with this album. Gone are many of the psychedelic elements, traded instead for the funky R&B sounds of The Dap-Kings, known not only for being the backing band for Sharon Jones, but also for their fantastic horn work for Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson among others. The combination of horns and Sturgill's gritty country vibes provide for many surprising and gratifying turns. The first occurs on the opening song "Welcome To Earth (Pollywog)", which starts as a slow country ballad before exploding into a neo-soul rock song, perfectly setting the tone for what The Dap-Kings would bring to the rest of the album. This isn't to say Sturgill overuses The Dap-Kings; "Sea Stories" returns to his classic outlaw form, a literal story of his time at sea while in the Navy where he name drops a number of Pacific island locations.
What follows "Sea Stories" is a surprise cover of Nirvana's "In Bloom", slowed down and mellowed out for the first half, before a violin solo segues into horns, strings, and a ferocious chorus. So many artists cover Nirvana, but there's something about this one, the placement in the album, the way it's orchestrated in the typical soft-to-loud Nirvana format but with a country spin, the horns and strings complimenting Sturgill's gravelly voice, that makes it truly special. It's also worth noting that he unintentionally messed up the final line of the chorus. Whereas the original says "But he knows not what it means, knows not what it means", Sturgill sings "But he don't know what it means, don't know what it means" and then adds "to love someone". Those final three words have such a profound impact on the song. They completely change the feeling, and in the context of the album, sharing life stories and giving advice to his son, it brings to light a different aspect of the song that wouldn't otherwise have been felt. There are going to be times for his son when he's unable to find meaning in his life, just as Sturgill experienced in his small town in Kentucky. There are going to be trials and mistakes made, but as Strugill said to Rolling Stone Magazine, "he can be sensitive and compassionate — he doesn’t have to be tough or cold to be a man".
The first single from the album was "Brace For Impact (Live a Little)". The song is probably the most familiar sounding for those used to Metamodern Sounds of Country Music, as it examines the need to live passionately while you're alive. The song is the longest on the album, nearly six minutes long and features an extended jam which breaks into a heavy synth groove until the end.
Sturgill proves yet again on A Sailor's Guide to Earth that he can push the boundaries of country music where few modern artists dare to go, and he does it with passion, creative energy, and the unique ability to capture our imaginations. All things said, I think it's fair to say that Sturgill's son has a masterpiece in his honor before his 2nd birthday.
My Number: 9/10
JOSEPH: Oh hey! Didn't see you there. I just wanted to show up quickly here and compliment Sturgill Simpson for creating an absolutely incredible work of art on this album. From the first notes of "Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)" to the final jam of "Call to Arms" Simpson had me completely hooked. While, like Derek, the highlight for me was "Sea Stories" and an almost completely invisible transition into the surprising Nirvana cover, I also want to quick highlight the closer of this album. "Call to Arms" has quickly become one of my favorite songs of 2016, as it features a great jam from The Dap-Kings with Sturgill's southern vocals flying over top. This song brings back vibes of The Blues Brothers and other classics of the 70s and 80s with its funky country manner. As someone who lives in Nashville and hears "bro country" at every turn, Simpson's new album is a a refreshing turn from the status quo. Now I have another album to blare that makes me feel like a Nashville native as I drive down Broadway with the windows down. Thank you for that, Sturgill Simpson.
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.