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Freddie Gibbs/Madlib - Bandana Music Album Reviews

On their second album as a duo, Madlib and Freddie Gibbs pull themselves deeper into one another’s worlds.
On paper, Freddie Gibbs, a straight-shooting street rapper, and Madlib, an eccentric tinkerer, are as mouth-watering a combo as licorice and pickle juice. But their collaborative 2014 album Piñata succeeded because the two are equally uncompromising: Madlib tailors beats to his eclectic ears alone, while Gibbs insists that he can rap over anything. Kindred spirits, the pair bonded through mutual gumption.

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Peter Bjorn and John - Darker Days Music Album Reviews

The band’s eighth full-length is undoubtedly their strongest since Writer’s Block, with a renewed focus on eclecticism and sweet melodies.

There’s a bitter irony that Peter Bjorn and John’s legacy, as it stands, orbits around one song—particularly since the album that song came from 2006’s stellar Writer’s Block, found the Swedish trio proving they were capable of so much more. Writer’s Block comprised the sort of try-anything-once abandon that indie rock often exhibited throughout the 2000s, and treated various sounds within the sub-genre like a wardrobe stuffed with costumes, nimbly hopping from shoegaze-y guitars and wistful expansiveness to spare, narcotized pop and handclap-dotted strum-alongs without so much as batting an eyelash. It showcased a greater range than suggested by their previous efforts—the band’s self-titled debut from 2002 and 2004’s Falling Out, two equally solid guitar-pop albums—and the adventurousness stuck with them, at least for a little while.

Their immediate follow-up, Seaside Rock, was comprised entirely of shifting, slight instrumentals, and 2009’s Living Thing found the band’s sound taking on a slightly darker shape with clattering percussion, dirty guitar lines, and creaking atmospherics. These stylistic left-turns were more interesting than they were enjoyable, and in the long run, they’ve proved slightly more memorable than the band’s last two albums, 2011’s back-to-basics attempt Gimme Some and the collab-loaded Breakin’ Point from 2016. Despite contributions from pop power players like Greg Kurstin and Emile Haynie, Breakin’ Point represented an indistinct low point in Peter Bjorn and John’s catalogue— which is precisely why Darker Days is such a nice surprise. The band’s eighth full-length is undoubtedly their strongest since Writer’s Block, with a renewed focus on eclecticism and a handful of melodies just sweet enough without necessitating an emergency dentist appointment.

Curiously, the dusky melodies and off-kilter arrangements of Darker Days most closely recall Living Thing, a moody record that practically radiated the tension that accompanies following up a zeitgeist-grabbing moment. But Darker Days undoubtedly benefits from being free of such pressures; following the five-year period of creative gestation that was Breakin’ Point, the trio wrote, recorded, and self-produced this record in relatively quick fashion—a low-stakes approach that pays off dividends. The record’s highlights are steeped in the sounds of Swedish indie-pop that dominated indie in the late 2000s; the rubbery bassline of “Gut Feeling” pleasingly smacks of defunct Swedes Love Is All’s indelible “Felt Tip,” while the chunky guitars and soft vocals of “Every Other Night” sounds like the type of cloudy confection the Drums’ Jonny Pierce—another practical disciple of storied labels like Labrador and Sincerely Yours—writes in his sleep.

The stylistic left-turns taken on Darker Days are more hit-or-miss than the songs that explicitly recall the band’s native origins. “Dark Ages” cuts a striking figure with a level of swagger not unlike a James Bond theme, while the nearly nine-minute closer “Heaven and Hell” quietly radiates its own beauty via John Eriksson’s lovely vocal delivery and patient percussive build; but single “Wrapped Around the Axle” aims for a shimmying, mid-tempo groove and instead goes limp, and the turgid “Silicon Valley Blues” finds Peter Morén taking lead vocal duties to bemoan the digital intrusions of modern life. Like so many technophobic rock and pop songs over the last few years, it’s a little cringe-worthy to hear him namecheck George Orwell and rail against data-collecting nemeses over a pitter-patter beat and washes of guitar— but it’s also surprising, and indicative of the fact that even Darker Days’ most glaring missteps go a long way towards renewing interest in what Peter Bjorn and John are up to these days.


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