This is the latest effort by /mu/sicians supergroup “The Hai”, which brings together some of the best acts to show up in the “Best of /mu/” album from a few months ago, as well as a few guys I listened to for the first time in this. Before I go on a track-by-track review, let’s consider whatever unites the album.
Do not read the following paragraphs, they are shit. Jump to the track-by-track. You’ve been warned.
About the concept itself, the title says it all. The idea was to throw all shame behind and come up with a bunch of unabashed pop songs, which turned out to be of an overall great quality. Every track here is interesting and could stand up by itself, it’s certainly a solid album from beginning to end. That I believe is one of the best things with the most serious homemade musicians around, the ones we started this blog to talk about: the concept of a “filler” just isn’t there. Who cares if your bandcamp album had 12 tracks or 6? The notion that you do your thing and stop when you think you’ve done enough is very powerful as far as quality control goes. At the same time, these dudes are doing it for fun, because they wanted to, and it’s all between friends. The notion of writing a song to be a hit is powerful and makes you think in a completely different way than just sitting at your room and doing something for the hell of it. We’ve had enough of that however, and soundcloud is filled with 10 minutes long guitar improvisation tracks that show that carelessness won’t bring you very far either. In opposition to all that, you have musicians who desire to do something interesting, cool, complex, progressive, technically difficult etc. We have plenty of that as well, however, and it does get pretty boring at some point, as most music listeners might agree.
This album parts from an alternative point of view, and I think it’s one of the most successful in making truly interesting music. You have a community of very different people, united by the love of music, and when each one of them start making music, with very little hope of hitting it big, whatever that means today, all they have to face is the judgement of their peers, the common language of this community which couldn’t be purer because it is held together by something beautiful, the love for music. That’s what happened with the best of /mu/ album, which I still listen to occasionally because it’s such wonderful little unique gem, and this happens again, in smaller scale, with this album and whatever The Hai will come up with next.
You imagine these friends, and maybe none of them has ever met each other, getting together and deciding, out of the blue, just for the hell of it, just because they can come up with new music if they want to, that they are going to do “this”, whatever it is. Just for starters, that’s not common, you don’t have a section in your record store for this thing. Sure there are all sort of collections, perhaps by a bunch of musicians joined by a label, but these guys have fans, perhaps one of them doesn’t care for the other, they have a next album on the works (is it the last in that label? Is their track’s success in the compilation going to help them somehow in landing a better deal with the label?), all of the possible things that can easily make music turn to bullshit. You don’t have any of that her. These guys don’t have careers, all they have is bleak prospects of never being able to work professionally with music and the desire to enjoy this, this moment, this “making music right now” moment, which might end at any point, and then just become a vague memory 20 years from now.
So yeah, how could I not love this album, even if it had mediocre music, which it doesn’t? There are very few unique things in life and you gotta cherish them, because guess what, 10 years from now your cubicle will be anything but unique, and you’ll be forced to Internet Explorer as well, because otherwise your company’s stuff won’t work right, and you’re fucked.
Back to the music. This sounds like straight out of the 80’s, something I’d like to understand better so I can have a proper opinion about it, but I asked some of them, and they just don’t know. “I blame Somnitone”, one of them said, and that’s all. But maybe it makes a lot of sense, because we’ve just had a decade of 80’s revival, and it sucked donkey balls. A few interesting “indie” bands came up with a couple of cool tracks, but the albums as a whole were shit, and the mainstream 80’s influence was even worse.
It’s hard for me to say that this album takes something cool out of the 80’s, because I still dislike that decade’s stuff, but if you join two thoughts, it all kind of makes sense: it’s sort of tongue in cheek, and it’s a statement, even if non-intentional, about what pop means. Pop from the 70’s doesn’t sound like pop music anymore, and pop music in the 90’s and 00’s still leave a very bitter taste in the mouth. It just wouldn’t be any fun to do shitty Britney Spears, Back Street Boys or Lady Gaga tracks, while the 80’s were long ago enough to seem fun in retrospect. It’s the one cool influence you can get out of the “pop songs” premise. The way it’s done here though is full of kidding around with cliches, “futuristic” synths and the most tongue-in-cheek musical reference to the 80’s I can think of, 8-bit.
So let’s navigate through the tracks. I figure it’s possible to classify them in three groups:
1- lively, sweet and sometimes sort of humorous tracks that are wonderful to listen to, resembling 80’s pop music very closely:
The first one, the sweet and catchy “I’ve decided I’m never gonna screw up again” by Somnitone, sets the tone for the whole album perfectly. The feeling continues with New Motive Power‘s track, which can’t disguise the humor behind the many “Oh yeah” with a deep voice, the promises to “rock your world” etc. I was very surprised by this track, since it’s completely different from the previous tracks I’ve seen by the dude. That is followed by the wonderful A Problem Like Maria, with the sweet and very teen “Dear Professor”. Those are the first three. After a while comes “You’re all I want”, by the Flying Batteries, sung by Snailhead, which shows off some 8-bit influence and ends up sounding pretty good. Later on, “A Penguim is a real player”, by HLV, Hifi Banjo Strings and A Problem Like Maria, a really sleek a catchy track. The last track of this kind is Mattir and A Problem Like Maria’s “When You’re Sober”, another well-executed and catchy track.
2- EDM instrumental tracks in general, some only vaguely related to the 80’s, but still inside the realm of pop:
Maximilian comes up with the first instrumental track, “Dr. Food”. It’s a tight track, very straightforward and well-made, with an interesting structure and some dubstep influence. That’s followed by Viktor Disque‘s “You’ve Got”. Yet another concise and well-knit track, I think as a result of the chosen theme, really interesting synth interplay. Time for Blingley‘s track, one of my favorites. It sounds like a video game theme, it’s so playful and sweet, the bird-like sound of the main synth is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face. It has a child-like quality, very upbeat. Sort of deviates from the theme, but who gives a shit. Rekapper also couldn’t care less for the theme, but it is just not missed here either. I’ve been meaning to review this dude’s work for some time now. His track is quite different from the others, I can’t classify the beat, I won’t try to, but what always impresses me on his work is the beautiful synth interplay that never keeps from suggesting deeper beauty and meaning, even beneath bland rapping on a couple of tracks from the dozens I’ve listened to. This one in particular occupies quite a unique position in the development of the album, compared to the straightforwardness of the other tracks
3- A couple of tracks that escape from the theme a little bit, but aren’t bad at all.
Then comes Water Gun Water Gun Sky Attack with a beautiful depressing track. It’s the first of the most “current” tracks, since the theme and the EDM work behind are much more serious and deep. Beautiful, sparse and emotional lyrics. Just might be the best track of the album, it’s so fucking beautiful.
Snailhead‘s track isn’t really that much pop and resembles more closely what the band normally does, some sort of updated and raw post-punk with a kickass distinct sound that makes you feel like punching Hitler on the face. Some asshole reviewed their stuff quite well here.
Did I forget any track? I hope not.