(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, May 2, 2011

CD review - Gomez, Whatever's On Your Mind (2011)

Gomez' sound is anchored in conflict. The three singers (and four songwriters) each have their own strong voice and style that pull the band in different directions. This diversity is what makes it hard to pigeonhole Gomez into a genre other than the vaguely named "indie rock".

Over the years, they've pared back a bit from the wild mix of psychedelia, experimental, and alternative rock they used to spread into. Their last album, A New Tide, had some edgier moments like Win Park Slope, but overall the balance has been tipping towards a more pop oriented feel. On Whatever's On Your Mind, due out in June, Gomez continues that shift. The band's individual goals are more aligned, so the sound is smoother.

Don't mistake smoother or more pop for boring or less interesting, though. There is plenty of classic Gomez in the mix. The detailed arrangements, featuring interesting guitar parts along with strings and horns, play up the band's Beatlesque qualities. The first single, Options, shows all of this: a simple guitar strum and drumbeat accumulates horns, shimmery keys, and guitar fills. The vocals are smooth and a little ironic:
I could be the guy at the end of the street
High on caffeine
Ranting and raving, baby
And that's okay, at least I've got options
Or I could be the one that gives it all up
And move back to the parent's house
And live in the basement, baby
And that's okay, at least I've got options
But when Ben Ottewell's rougher voice joins in during the bridge, it opens up the song to a deeper emotional truth:
I never wanted to change you
I only wanted to share
No, I don't believe
I don't believe
It's starting over and over again
Over and over again
One of Gomez' distinctive elements is how they overlay different rhythmic syncoptaions. This creates more complex beats, but it also intensifies the musical elements as they merge and diverge. I Will Take You There does this with an interesting drum beat, repetitive guitar figures, and languid keys, giving the track has a loose funky vibe. The Place and the People uses the same technique to take a simple beat and guitar line layered with electronic sounds and other bits of fill to create a compelling experimental vibe.

Whatever's On Your Mind flows easily from song to song. The sweetest moment comes with Our Goodbye. Nestled between The Place and the People and the electro pop feel of Song in My Heart, Our Goodbye has a gentle processional feel. Ottewell's voice evokes some of Elton John's long ago, better works. The string accompaniment, soft dynamics, and perfect pop construction all play against the two songs that bookend it. This stripped down live version offers a taste...

Sure, I still miss the trippy groove of Get Miles, the ska punch of Get Myself Arrested, and island beats behind Revolutionary Kind. But I can pull up the early albums anytime. I want to see what Gomez is going to be when they grow up. With the band currently scattered across the US and Britain, they could have just drifted apart. I'm glad they're still finding inspiration together. I'd like to raise a glass of the Morland's Old Speckled Hen I last had back in '96: rich, malty, and flavorful.

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