Monday, April 12, 2010
'Here a Track, There a Trap'
It’s an unsuspecting gaffe how the very first line of Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You—‘nothing seems to be happening/except a shift from your world’-- sums up the entire feel of Devonte Hynes’, aka Lightspeed Champion, newest reinvention. The world he mentions on Dead Head Blues is not one inhabited by anyone other than himself apparently but such is the curse of the burgeoning genius. Yes, that’s right, Hynes is a musical genius, as much as Connor Oberst is and Andrew Bird and even bigger titans like Spenser Krug and Prince.
For the un-initiated, Hynes burst unto a solo career two years ago with Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, a self-conscious pop-rock project that hinted at his emerging talent. Trust me; it’d take others years to dust up brilliant tracks like Galaxy of the Lost and Tell Me What it’s Worth first time around much less ever. Before the solo outing though he was a member of dance-punk band Test Icicles and interconnecting this entire period was a plethora of online bootlegs and recordings…seriously, ad nauseum stuff.
What this is symptomatic of though is the restlessness that courses through his brain. Hynes’ approach to pop is jittery at best but when he merges it with rock then he becomes an entirely different musical beast. Falling Off the Lavender Bridge, for all its faults, at least accomplished this. This new album though, like a harsh AA meeting, has found him sobered up to the point of painful straightness. Now, instead of pop-rock experimentation, we’re limited to boring adult fare like the aforementioned Dead Head Blues.
Of course, being genius-based, it’s not a bad album by any stretch but it won’t have critics declaring him the new Beck either. For rock geeks like Hynes that is what counts though: due recognition of his art. But then that’s the problem with Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You; its ultra serious musical landscape designed for you the listener to recognize it as such and nothing else. Which is sad because, at twenty-three, with the rabid producer’s resume he’s compiled so far, Hynes can rest assured that we consider him prolific. Maybe what he lacks now is just the raw data needed (life experiences) to people his songs. Falling Off the Lavender Bridge at least could cull from that but here he’s juxtaposed growth with grasp but left out anything personal to make a crucial connection. Thus, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You can’t hold a candle to, say, Patrick Wolf’s last gem, The Bachelor.
Speaking of Wolf, both artists still share a slavish admiration of others. It’s great to look up to innovators like David Bowie and Madonna but it’s another thing to actively try to relive their careers. Wolf is still guilty of such duplicity on a visual level whereas Hynes is still entrenched in audio guilt. So, Life is Sweet! Nice to Meet You wears its idols on its sleeves and that causes serious overlap and identity crises. Middle of the Dark is a quasi-Queen pop number that shows a glimmer of originality but it’s trapped under so much Freddie Mercury self-consciousness that it ends up being the most frustrating thing here. Romart is genetically lined by the presence of Oberst; in fact if this wasn’t a Lightspeed Champion album, I’d swear it was a new Bright Eyes (Connor Oberst’s band) track.
When Hynes rests his heroes though the music comes across more naturally: Sweetheart builds nicely into a living, breathing thing with vocal urgency and guitars crashing all around. There’s Nothing Underwater fits snugly too into an original space where he manages all the little tweaks effectively. Madame Van Damme oozes wry humor; the type that could have sexed up the album much more effectively than his gender-inappropriate lyrics. Even Faculty of Tears (‘if he’s so evil/ then/ why does he like to kiss’) shows spurts of the obvious brilliance this young man can conjure, lyrically and musically. All four tracks point to the need for Hynes to step out of shadows that he’s been at pains to present on a grand scale for so long; time now to breathe the music instead of merely re-interpreting it. I’ll go even further to state that Hynes will overhaul both Bird and Oberst once he starts to get laid and realize that the guitar is more than just a handy prop. With that crazy, cropped hairdo of his and thick-lens glasses, he’s got the look. Now it’s time for him to go forth and seek the complimentary swagger.