Kid Cudi
Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager
GOOD/Universal Motown

From the melodic and rhythmic allusions to Vol. I to his reckoning with whatever fame and success Kid Cudi has found since that record was released, Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager is thematically dense. On “Don’t Play This Song,” Cudi is still “trying to get (his) mind right.” In the process, he states his sole ambition (“to show the world some new colors and scenes”), dodges calls from Mom while he contemplates suicide, and heralds his HBO and Vitamin Water money as “money to blow, good money for blow.” And that’s just one song.

The big drawback of this release is that he’s put most of the least interesting tracks up front. Just skip past “Refofev,” “Marijuana,” and “Mojo So Dope.” You have a pretty good idea what they’re about anyway, and they’re just more examples of the mid-tempo fluff that padded the middle of Vol. I too. Instead, skip to track seven, “Ashin’ Kusher.” The title is terrible, and it’s really not about much, but the production by Chuck Inglish of the Cool Kids is the kind of bass-heavy minimalism that can force your head to bob. Cudi takes advantage of the moment by pulling out the kind of syncopated, emotional flow that impressed us so much on his early singles.

From there, skip over Cudi and Kanye’s Night Ranger impression (“Erase Me”) and check out “The Mood.” This is where things really start to get interesting. That track is a strange, stream-of-conscious rant built around a 16-bit sample, but it begins eight straight tracks of stylistic invention and soulful exploration. Whether it’s the lonely crooning on “All Along,” the downbeat, Southern hook on “The End,” or the unavoidable Police comparisons that greet “Mr. Rager,” this is the section of the album in which Cudi lets it all hang out. He’s got happy songs with sad lyrics (“Ghost”), hardcore songs with optimistic outlooks (“The End”), and a sense of ennui that only gets more overwhelming as the album plays on. When was the last time you felt ennui on a rap record?

It’s clear now that Kid Cudi just doesn’t have the same priorities as most of his hip-hop brethren, not even his so-called post-gangsta contemporaries. First and foremost, he’s not actually out to rock you or even to move the crowd in a traditional manner. The first volume of his Man on the Moon series wasn’t shy of introspection, but he clearly recognized the need to get up on the radio (or at least on some commercials). This time out, though, he seems even less concerned with airplay, and more with thoroughly venting his spleen and picking all the leftover lint out of his naval, for better or worse, but mostly for our good as well as his.
Matt Slaybaugh

Girl Talk
All Day
Illegal Art

The good news: All Day, the latest mash-up extravaganza by DJ Gregg Gillis is available to download under a Creative Commons license for the low, low price of totally free. The bad news? All Day is also the first Girl Talk record since 2004’s Unstoppable where the forgettable (or, in some cases, awkward) moments outnumber the glorious ones.

Part of this is because, with each new Girl Talk album, the novelty of grafting, say, vicious gangsta rap onto delicately wounded Brit-pop continues to fade. And after the initial fun of trying to pick out all the samples, there’s not a whole lot left to take from a new Girl Talk record that we haven’t heard before. But while Gillis has to work a lot harder to get our attention this time around, he does manage to craft a few unique and triumphant moments that make All Day worthwhile listening for any student of pop music.

Gillis is at his best when he mixes wildly different songs, not because they’re different, but because they sound great together, sometimes even eclipsing the source material. It’s a clever trick to combine MOP’s scarily aggressive “Ante Up” with Miley Cyrus’ innocently debauched “Party in the USA,” but it would be for nothing if the two songs didn’t mesh perfectly, which they do. The same holds true when Gillis lays the lyrics of Bone Thugz’s “1st of tha Month” over the music from Supergrass’ “Alright,” not to mention the chemistry that erupts when he lets Jay-Z rap “Can I Get a...” over General Public’s “Tenderness.”

But other times, Gillis’ juxtapositions simply don’t work, coming off as either unnecessary, predictable or downright boring. You wouldn’t mix two classics like Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” and Missy Elliott’s “Gossip Folks,” just like you wouldn’t mix Don Perignon and Johnnie Walker Blue. And while I’m surprised it’s taken Gillis this long to use an Arcade Fire song, who wants to hear the opening riff to “Wake Up” when trying to cut a rug on the dancefloor?

But the great thing about Girl Talk’s music and the way he chooses to release it is how unpretentious and unassuming it all is. All Day might as well be a mixtape that your buddy made for you, and as something you can throw on a party to get people moving, the record is an unqualified success. If you’re a fan of pop music from the last 50 years, there’s little reason not to download All Day. And if nothing else, the record’s popularity makes it yet another nail in the record industry’s coffin.
David Holmes

Forget the Mantra
Secretly Canadian

The Secretly Canadian–Jagjaguawar–Dead Oceans axis has a reputation for releasing extremely obtuse, yet rewarding, psych records. Over the years there have been some nearly impenetrable one-offs (Alex Delivery, the Minus Story, Wolf People), which small in scale but grandiose in idea, suffer for their lack of initial excitement. Most are amalgams of long forgotten reference points strung together over big expansive canvases then shuffled back in the memory in lieu of Pink Floyd–like studio excess. But things evolve, and producers and musicians recognize the faux pas of the past so as to not doom themselves to repeat them.

Dave Hartley, who goes by the bedroom moniker of Nightlands, must know of the heavy weight that other Brian Wilson disciples endure when trying to replicate everything that made Pet Sounds a genre of one. Everyone from the Fleet Foxes to Animal Collective to Bon Iver have used choral wonder and infinitely beatific layers to emulate a Beach Boys modern. Forget the Mantra relies greatly on those techniques to evoke that album’s endless vision. Hartley also understands the need for delicate songcraft. “’Til I Die” instills a melody so pure, you’d think it liquid gold, or at least a platinum hit resurrected from the lysergic ’60s. “Suzerain (A Letter to the Judge)” is packed in tropical beat, slickly choreographed acoustic echo, and inspirational harmonies. It’s as abstract and tribal as those traits can be, but it still reverberates as a pop song first and foremost, at times a faint recollection to a track from a Sting album. Forget the Mantra doesn’t play it that straight, though. It’s more of a dreamlike series of postcards, cut with sound collage and collected radio snippets. “Slowtrain” is a song that becomes more meditation than it does sing-a-long, long stretches of guitar backed in atmosphere and organic ambience. Nightlands may just be the side-project of one man utilizing every instrument and horn section in his rolodex, but the ambition forebodes a boundless future full of orchestras, choirs, and film scores.
Kevin J. Elliott

MP3: “300 Clouds”

Reading Rainbow
Prism Eyes

There is a load of young bands currently floating through the indie rock transom that smoosh together conspicuously old elements of 20th century pop: ’50s uber-reverbed guitar, early-60s girl-group melodicism, Cramped efficiency attempts at building Spector’s Wall of Sound, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s distoro-dreaminess, the Television Personalities’ crank-jangle, Galaxie 500’s cloud-drift lyricism, and an overall adherence to a garage-rock ramble. Vivian Girls, Dum Dum Girls, the Girls at Dawn, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Moonhearts... does anyone else think that the Rhino Girl Group Sounds boxset from 2005 has had a bigger influence than most oldies boxsets attain?

Most of it is perfect for a rainy day and so forth, but—and this is perhaps the oldest complaint about rock & roll—would it kill ’em to enunciate? With such lovely melodies, grabby three-chord hooks, and unwavering hip-sway beats, it’d be nice if they added a little harmony once in awhile. I get the medicated vibe these bands wish to (and perhaps can’t help but) evoke, but after awhile you have to respect the songs as much as the vibe in order to have a lasting effect. Like, will anyone be bopping down the street snapping their fingers and crooning out Cause Co-Motion songs in five years?

Reading Rainbow thankfully are not against the inspiring collectivism of the sing-a-long. You can make out most of Sarah Everton’s pleas, even while she bashes away cave lady–like on the skins. And the other half of this Philly couple, guitarist and singer Robbie Garcia, rarely strays into suck-adelic pretensions, as if getting all rootsy, echoey, and butt-sway is something to apologize for by adding yet another few layers of convoluted Pro Tools fuzz, which is often the case in this burgeoning genre. The lead-off track has a descending harmonized chorus, a la New Order gone girl-group gooey. Occasional Suicide riffage (“Always on My Mind”) is less a dark nod to them than just the impossibility that billowy drone-pop will ever be able to not be haunted by Suicide anymore.

While one can detect lyrics in the loopy la-la, they basically vacillate between understanding acceptance of fucked-up relationships and the ubiquitous lovely-dovey “I need your touch” and such that dovetails well enough with this kind of “sunny with a 60% chance of precipitation” music. While not as driving as the mid-century plundering by “old” pros like the Raveonettes and King Khan & BBQ, Reading Rainbow nonetheless avoid the near lullaby effect of much of the current dream-bash bands by keeping the sonics squarely rooted in Everton’s trashy drums, thus evoking a decidedly non-bourgeoisie tact of letting you in on the swirling romance.
Eric Davidson

Gary Wilson
Electric Endicott
Western Vinyl

Gary Wilson is an odd fellow. Not the top hat wearing, fixed gear riding, ironic mustache with a too small Care Bears shirt wearing kind of odd. No, Wilson is a sincerely odd fellow, the kind who, it’s safe to bet, does nothing for effect. Wilson is best known for being an enigma whose seemingly disconnected range of influences—a mix of Fabian and Dion, John Cage and the pop singers of his youth—resulted in a wild brand of R&B. Along with a handful of singles, Wilson’s debut album, You Think You Really Know Me, represented his sole musical output before he launched a self-imposed hiatus. Living in obscurity for nearly 20 years, he began to be name-checked in the late ’90s before finally returning to the stage in 2002. Since then there have been reprints of his debut along with a rarities comp and an album of new material. And Wilson has continued his revitalization with the release of Electric Endicott.

You don’t need to know Wilson’s backstory to get the album, though, because for all of its slightly askew lyrical approach, it’s a fairly straightforward collection of love songs. Or it’s as straight as Wilson gets. Electric Endicott plays out like a short story with a rotating cast of repeating characters. There’s a collection of women that seems to simultaneously inspire and torture him. There’s Linda, a returning figure from his earlier work, along with Kathy, Karen, Lisa and Diane. But from there it gets a little tricky. Electric Endicott appears to be the name of the city where all of this is taking place, but it’s also a state of mind. Oh, and then there’s “Where Did My Duck Go?” And it’s not a metaphor.

Electric Endicott is interesting sonically because it’s a step above fuzzy lo-fi, but it’s in no way polished. The songs seem to be pushing against the various limits of the production style. The closest thing in sound would be some early-80s records. There’s a grainy videotape vibe to the proceedings. Musically, the performances are spot on. There are some jazz interludes (“Kathy Kisses Me Last Night,” for example) that are stunning in their understated sophistication. The jazzy approach also gives an added depth to songs that at first spin seem lightweight. Electric Endicott can be taken the same way. You may come for the story, but you’ll stay for the quality.
Dorian S. Ham

MP3: “In the Night”