Oh, the noise. It’s a never-ending calculated stream of money and business and lowest-common denominator algorithms that determine what demographics will pay what to whine about this. And then you get something refreshing- The XX’s debut album. Placebo when they try. The Dear Hunter’s six-act masterwork.
Whatever they say, pop music has been a wasteland with some respites no matter the shape of the music industry. In the 90’s, where pop was arguably at its most calculated, pop was no worse or no better than it ever was before. And in the 2000’s, where the music industry has faced the most change and the highest obstacles, pop music is still kind of terrible- mostly.
As cynical as this seems, few would really argue against it. Despite all the wonderful acts, there is a whole lot of crap. In other words, endless trash.
So, when a pop act comes around and does something audacious and groovy, it takes front and center. Heavy English is a blast to listen to without the blast of endless noise and blandness. Heavy English is meta in their seeming position on pop music, but they do it all with some sass and some synergy that is rarely seen in their first full-length, Pop Wasteland.
The album has a very “live” feeling, which had to have been intentional. It seems like a record birthed from this idea to counter-act pop music- to make something that feels a little alive. “Feel Like Love” has an off-rhythmic beat. It’s not conventional. It’s not normal, almost alien in its presentation. And when the song pivots to another direction, it feels earned.
“Higher Than You” has a groove to be jealous of. It interjects a lively energy, with a glorious falsetto ring. It’s a perfect example of the undivided relationship of the band- Sal Bossio, Dan Gluszak, Ari Sadowitz- a trio that manages to make all their individual efforts shine. You can hear that raucous guitar in “Shake” as it bobs over the singer’s best effort on the album. The dour melancholy of “Fix Us” shows off the group’s more temperate side, with a mild tension this way of The National or Frightened Rabbit.
To make a “rock” album with electronic influences in 2016-2017 may mean trying to stay away from what has already become flavorless corporate music at every turn. It’s that sound that drowns out Alt Nation or NME. Thankfully, the group has fought that distinction by actually giving a damn.
Heavy English may be anti-pop. The songs sound pop and they often feel pop, but it’s like a robot trying to mimic the 1975 or Twenty One Pilots. This could be alienating for some who want something safer and Ryan Seacrest approved (yes, he is still a thing, as old as I admit to being). But, what it offers is an amorphous blend of pop oddities and eccentric leanings without ever falling right off the rails in some niche hole with little appeal or into the ether of “here and gone” indie-rock.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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