Clap Your Hands Say Maybe
Four albums ranked on a scale from 'Heck yeah' to 'No thanks'
The difficulty, of course, when you're working from that internally-lit place is one of keeping your head above the water, maintaining some degree of objectivity or self-awareness while allowing the art to ooze out on its own terms. If West has a fault, it's that the music sometimes wallows when it should be moving on, falling off into a trancelike drone. At times, it sounds as though the songwriter herself has forgotten where she is, what the point was in the first place. It's more satisfying when she fights back a little, like in "Come On," in which she vents her anger through blunt, rude verse and roughshod violin, or the reconciliatory title track. Who knows what the future holds / or where the cards may fall / but if you don't come out west and see / you'll never know at all .
With The Third Hand , RJD2 shows surprising versatility, delivering a tasteful selection of tunes that treads the lush musical territories originally pioneered by Brian Wilson, Stevie Wonder (see Songs in the Key of Life ), Todd Rundgren and Elliott Smith. Believe it or not, the experiment is a success.
Apparently, this RJD2 cat is one of those guys who can play any instrument he touches. The Third Hand features sweet harmonies, soaring over tuneful piano pop structures that hold their own when compared to similar confections such as Malajube, Phoenix, The Stills, and any yacht rock act you can think of. And yes, RJD2 has the songwriting skills to master the exacting verse/chorus/bridge template of Brill Building, pop formalism. What's more, this guy can sing.
It's yet to be seen whether The Third Hand signals a permanent stylistic about-face or merely a pleasant sidenote for RJD2. But judged on its own merit, the album is refreshingly solid. Not bad.
Clap Your Hands Say Yeah
All the tangible elements of 2005's debut are there--warbling, off-kilter Alec Ounsworth's vocals, myriad noise samplings, driving melodies laced with clashing eccentricity. But it lacks the decisive punch, the absolute fall-down, jump-around joy of the self-titled debut. Still, there are tracks that progress nicely, allowing glimmering harmonies to stretch out over fuzzy layers, as on "Mama, Won't You Keep Them Castles in the Air and Burning?" There are those with irresistible drive, sticky-sweet beats, like "Satan Said Dance."
But Ounsworth relegates many potentially good melodies to slogging, cumbersome sprawls that weigh everything down and ultimately deny the album its chance of taking off in joyous flight.
The illogic comes in when considering the mix for its expressed purpose, as an exercise soundtrack. While Aesop Rock's beats and rhymes are certainly agreeable and, ahem, sprightly enough, the entire affair seems a little bit too laid back for use as backing music for a workout. All Day seems like more of a chillout mix for those iffy, netherworld mornings of insomnia that occur after a marathon night of clubbing.
With his inclusion in the Nike project, Aesop Rock finds himself in prosperous company: LCD Soundsystem and The Crystal Method have already contributed to the series. The resulting music, however, seems more suited as a background piece--maybe a background to unfettered consumerism. As a soundtrack to a postmodern shopping trip through the cybermalls of the future, All Day is pleasantly innocuous. But if you're looking for real hip-hop, look elsewhere than the Nike store.