Very good, but not near the greatness of the first album. It’s not really their fault; the first album was an all-timer. To expand: the first album featured songs with varying influences, from African Pop to The Strokes. On this one, every song has the same Caribbean, calypso-ish feel, with too many high keyboard notes over everything. The first album’s songs were guitar driven; this album’s mostly keyboard driven, and I just explained what’s wrong with the keyboard feel. The first time I played it for my girlfriend she said it sounds close to bad dance music. At least “Giving Up the Gun” isn’t far away. Listening to the first album for the first time was a revelation of one amazing song after another, making me happier and happier. Here the first listen was increasing disappointment, with the similar feel slowly making me more annoyed until by the track I reached the end I was sick of it. The first album’s songs were great and got better. There were no weak spots. Here there are actively weak songs. The first album had lovable, preppy-but-you-want-them clever lyrics that sinewed around being a wealthy 20-something in New York. These ones are more abstract; and the richness levels at times reach smarmy. Basically, wandering in Manhattan music beats sitting on a beach in The Bahamas music.
Of course, compared to most other albums this is impressive stuff. They really know how to craft good songs that feel of good times without ever seeming like Sugar Ray crap or similar cheesiness. Those high notes in “White Sky” are fucking godly. They make auto-tune sound good in “California English.” Lead single “Cousins,” the only guitar-driven track (and my favourite) here, is two plus minutes of awesome controlled craziness and ends with bells going CLANG CLANGCLANG CLANG CLANG CLANGCLANG and that’s lovable. “Taxi Cab” is quite a nice ballad, and closer “I Think You’re A Contra” is an even nicer ballad, with nearly nothing but ambient keyboards (not calypso-y for the most part) and excellent lyrics about figuring out who’s in the in-group of like-minded young folk and who isn’t. So that’s most of the songs on the album! Yay!
BUT BUT BUT. The smarm: opener “Horchata” is just about sipping tropical drinks on the beach and bragging about getting away from winter. “Run” contains the line “we mostly live to work / until we work to live” but then, lucky them “It struck me that the two of us could run!” in the chorus, where it helps that you can run from your jobs because you don’t feel like it you bastards you. It’s not like they’re great musically, either. Speaking of which, “Holiday” is a good song but it’s fucking ska for fucking’s fuck, and the two least interesting tracks on here, “Giving Up the Gun” and “Diplomat’s Son” are the longest two songs on here and right bleeding next to each other! “DS” in particular is uninteresting and long, long, long by their standards.
And why the heckfire isn’t bonus track “Giant” on the album? Sure, it has the exact same high keyboard notey feel of the album, but opening line “it was all a dream / I used to read fashion magazine” is a GREAT play on the old rap classic. I like it more as a closer than the ol’ ballad-after-two-blah-tracks thing they actually do.
They’re obscenely talented, don’t get me wrong. This is good album. I’ll probably listen to it as much as anything else this summer. But sniff, it’s not the same.