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The Chainsmokers - Sick Boy Music Album Reviews

Trading away the dance-pop trifles of their hits for a faceless stylistic shuffle, the duo seems to be tiring of itself, too.
We’re going to be stuck with the Chainsmokers forever. Though the unctuous duo of Drew Taggart and Alex Pall are probably not destined for decades of unqualified success, their insipid spin on EDM’s big-money boom has become as much an eye-rollingly omnipresent part of our national fabric as “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Most living humans in the Western world have likely had the unfortunate sensation of having a Chainsmokers hit stuck in their head, as gross as gum on a hot bus seat; after all, their Coldplay collaboration, “Something Just Like This,” seems made only to ooze from department-store speakers for eternity. There’s even a goddamn feature-length film based on the M83-aping “Paris” in development. Like so many modern American atrocities, the Chainsmokers are just something we’re going to have to endure.

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didi - Like Memory Foam Music Album Reviews

On their second record, the Columbus, Ohio quartet play away the pain.

There’s a fine line between growing weary of the world and giving up on it. The latter marks a political and emotional dead end, but the former can open the door to constructive thought. Growing tired of something grants space for dreaming up its replacement. In the ’90s, guitar bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth managed to funnel their weariness into restive stews of noise that approached political quandaries from an oblique angle. When Kim Gordon asked, on “Kool Thing,” “Are you gonna liberate us girls from male white corporate oppression?,” she already knew the reply. It’s the asking that counts, even if you’re already sick of the answer.

Following this sly template, the Columbus, Ohio band didi eschew the blunt force of punk, investing their political frustrations instead in the more subtle vessel of melody-rich noise pop. Their second album, Like Memory Foam, darts in and out of the personal and political. Breakup songs mingle with calls for the obliteration of the old guard, and didi treat both subjects with the same swirling mix of gravitas and irreverence. Interpersonal frustrations and political oppressions both cause suffering, after all; the body buckles in the same way no matter the source of the pain.

The band makes space for three vocalists, and the playful juxtaposition of their voices leavens the weighty subject matter. Kevin Bilapka-Arbelaez alternates between offhand clean singing and a corrosive yelp; Meg Zakany offers up a mean deadpan; Leslie Shimizu lets her vocals float airily above the rest of the mix. Their distinct personalities lend dimension to an otherwise familiar sound, and deflate the myth of rock band as delivery system for a bandleader’s interior monologue. The band’s strength lies in its internal variety, and the decentralized power structure of its arrangements.

On “Muerde,” Bilapka-Arbelaez sings in Spanish of a spider biting him during the night and flooding his dreams with poison, making use of the language's abundant internal rhymes. “Una araña en la sombra/Me araña el hombro mientras duermo,” he sings, playing on “araña’s” dual use as a verb (sting) and a noun (spider). At the chorus, against a bubbly staccato bassline, he switches to English to bemoan a communication breakdown: “All I ever want to hear/Is what you never want to say.” The clipped, brittle words contrast with the musicality of the Spanish; Spanish works better for singing about the slow death of a dream, while English is better suited to throwing up your hands in exasperation.

With multiple vocalists singing in multiple languages, Like Memory Foam resists boredom even in the songs about boredom, though the band finds its groove in the tracks barbed with rage. “Dead Tongues” threads together a slouchy three-chord guitar progression to rail against “corpses in suits with outdated ideas/who refuse to relinquish their powers.” Bilapka-Arbelaez sings the words so lightly that it’s easy to miss the frustration behind them, but an earworm often goes down more smoothly than a diatribe. Besides, a guitar song so buoyant it approaches surf rock is easier to hold and return to; in music, like in other media, comedic timing can help drive in a salient complaint about the state of the world. didi serve up their snarls with a grin, flipping off the status quo and running away laughing.

On “Haru,” didi trace a similar riff to Dinosaur Jr.’s “Feel the Pain,” chugging away on an insistent note. The duality that J Mascis probed on that song—“I feel the pain of everyone/Then I feel nothing”—resonates more than two decades later, where the most readily available emotional states seem to be deep, exhausting compassion for all the earth's suffering, or bitter, deadened irony. But unlike “Feel the Pain,” which contracts to a single note, the riff on “Haru” branches outward, as if the band were resisting the urge to fall into cynicism at the last minute, as if they had decided to keep feeling the pain. They know a third option lies beyond depression and numbness: laughter. On Like Memory Foam, they play away the pain, sitting in the middle of hell on earth without staying still long enough for it to sink into their bones.


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