Print Edition: September 4, 2013
Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action
After taking a four-year hiatus from recording, Franz Ferdinand has returned to record its fourth studio album Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action. The new record contains grittier and more focused tracks than those on the band’s last outing, Tonight: Franz Ferdinand. Channelling the pulsating and youthful elements of their first two records, Right Thoughts manages to keep the record vibrant while still infusing the dance-floor sleaze that enveloped most of Tonight. Side A of Right Thoughts successfully evokes the band’s bread-and-butter love for danceable romps, while side B contains more nuanced lyrics and well-crafted tracks that present a fresh trend for any forthcoming Franz Ferdinand records. Beyond the fast-paced, Buzzcocks-inspired “Bullets,” the airy and midtempo “Fresh Strawberries” pokes fun at fellow “ripe turning riper” indie buzz bands of the early 2000s that have turned out “rotten,” a cruel cycle that Franz Ferdinand has managed to avoid by only releasing two albums in the past eight years. Clocking in at around 35 minutes, this 10 song record is considered short for the amount of time between studio recordings, but the material is consistent and good enough for fans to forgive the below-average quota of nine minutes of new material per year the band has set for itself.
The double bind of Sarah Neufeld’s Hero Brother is that, while her debut album is likely to be hit by a wider cast of attention because of the connection of Neufeld’s violin work with other bands (Arcade Fire looms largest), the ten tracks here deserve the light of appraisal apart from any supposed heavy connection. Hero Brother is wordless composition, ten tracks that play best as an album, but can be extracted from the whole: “Dirt” is Neufeld’s approach distilled – lilting dread that transitions into duelling note patterns before exiting in wrenching disharmony. Neufeld’s violin plays mostly on its own as if to lightless outer space, but this approach is counterbalanced by the vivid, restless variations within each piece, most energetically in the title track and “Sprinter Fire,” not stationary settings but moving images that, if a more popular reference point existed, might be halfway between the electronic slow burn of Kieran Hebden and the sci-fi orchestra of Bear McCreary. Neufeld’s vocals enter sparingly, on the percussive “They Live On” and the end of the “Wrong Thought” / ”Right Thought” diptych, but Hero Brother is not cluttered by words, instead seized with atypical rhythms.
Laced lulls us back into the style of classic rock. With powerful smoky vocals and the occasional guitar solo, it gives more than series of simple power chords. The debut album of musician Alan Charlebois, Laced is a showcase of talent reminiscent at times of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or the Eagles classic, Hotel California – if not in profound lyrics then at least in musical style. Unfortunately, while the skill seems to be there, many of the songs fall into mediocre chord progressions, never quite rising up to classic rock predecessors. While the quick tempo songs “Manic Fire” and “Pillow Tricks” provide powerful, solid rock endings, most of the songs bob along on waves that never quite peak. Yet, perhaps ironically, it seems the soft lull of the music also draws one in, like the ebb and flow of the tide. With mostly slower tempos, the album is like a nostalgic rock lullaby. It ends softly with a wistful acoustic ballad, “Through the Night,” softening Charlebois’ gruff rock voice. Laced doesn’t exactly leap off its gentle waves but nor does it crash and sink. Instead it holds a soft soulful reminiscence of bygone times for those seeking it.
The Big Picture
My biggest beef with this album is the genre. It’s rap—which is fine—but Sampson has taken the step of placing himself in a subcategory, which he claims to have invented: info-rap.What does this mean for the listener? The focus is on the information he rushes to impart to his listener, and the subtleties of rhythm and meter fall by the wayside. Rhythm is something I treasure dearly in rap, and while you can sometimes stretch syllables out or compress them together to make the lengths of the lines match, it’s not a technique that should be relied on. This too would be forgivable if the content of the songs was of a high enough calibre to make up for it. Unfortunately for Sampson, this is not the case. His attempt to expose the workings behind the economic collapse of 2008 is just a tired retelling of information that can be found in a variety of documentaries and conspiracy theory websites. While I enjoyed at least one song (“Jaimie’s Song,” which reaches into the personal passion that we long for the entire album), I just can’t stop resenting the fact that I was lectured at for the whole album – and I suspect other listeners will probably feel the same.