Review Explosion: Spiritualized, Pusha T, Bladee & Ecco2k, Father John Misty, & Swedish House Mafia

(Review Explosion, curated by contributing editor Malachi Lui, is AnalogPlanet’s guide to notable recent releases and reissues. It focuses on the previous few months’ new releases for which we don’t have time or energy to cover more extensively.)

Spiritualized - Everything Was Beautiful

Fat Possum/Bella Union 44.1/24 stream (LP variants and CD available)

Produced by: J Spaceman
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: David Wrench and J Spaceman
Mastered by: Matt Colton at Metropolis

Music: 7
Sound: 5

Although he advertised 2018’s And Nothing Hurt as the final Spiritualized record, J Spaceman returns once again with Everything Was Beautiful. Unlike last time, it seems like for this he had a proper recording budget; he utilized 11 different studios (plus his home studio) and over 30 musicians, and it shows. Even though Spaceman keeps recycling the same ideas from Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and Let It Come Down, Everything Was Beautiful’s relatively economical 44-minute length makes for the most enjoyable Spiritualized record in two decades. J Spaceman sounds like the weathered psychonaut he is, and the epic arrangements—involving gospel choirs, dynamic orchestrations, jazz touches, and noisy climaxes—are, as usual, brilliantly executed. While the first half lags a bit, Everything Was Beautiful’s second half is the most satisfyingly grandiose Spiritualized material post-Let It Come Down, resulting in a worthwhile full listen.

Unfortunately, the mix is absolute crap, and I can’t imagine the vinyl sounding much better than the 44.1/24 digital stream. It sounds thin, overstuffed, muddy, distorted, and basically mono, like listening to an AM radio with clothes thrown over it. Intentional or not, it detracts from my enjoyment of the record and represents the polar opposite of the excellent-sounding, recently reissued 90s albums.

Pusha T - It's Almost Dry

G.O.O.D Music/Def Jam 44.1/24 stream (CDs coming soon)

Produced by: Ye and Pharrell, et al
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Manny Marroquin and Mike Dean
Mastered by: Michelle Mancini and Mike Dean

Music: 6
Sound: 6

On his new album It’s Almost Dry, Pusha T once again proves that he can always make coke rap sound decent, even when he’s not at his most inspired. Produced primarily by Pharrell Williams and Ye (formerly Kanye West), It’s Almost Dry also includes features from Pusha’s brother and former Clipse partner No Malice, Kid Cudi (who appears on “Rock n Roll” despite him and Ye’s well-publicized conflict), JAY-Z, Lil Uzi Vert, Don Toliver, and others. But despite the impressive lineup, the final product doesn’t match the years-long hype or the expectations set from 2018’s excellent Ye-produced DAYTONA. Everyone involved here seems to be on autopilot: Pusha recites lines that could’ve been written by a well-trained computer algorithm, Pharrell’s beats are bland, Cudi and JAY-Z phone in their features, and Ye’s production isn’t particularly impressive. There are a couple highlights—Pusha’s delivery on “Diet Coke” exudes his usual effortless cool, and Ye’s production on “Dreaming Of The Past” skillfully samples Donny Hathaway’s “Jealous Guy” cover—but despite its short length, It’s Almost Dry can feel monotonous and grating. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t show Pusha T at the height of his powers. (Still, I ordered the signed CD, partly because of that gif of him actually signing the inserts.)

Bladee & Ecco2k - Crest

YEAR0001 44.1/16 stream (no physicals yet)

Produced by: Whitearmor
Engineered by: Whitearmor
Mixed by: Whitearmor
Mastered by: Robin Schmidt at 24-96 Mastering

Music: 8
Sound: 7

The latest chapter in their long history together, Drain Gang members Bladee and Ecco2k’s Crest, their first front-to-back collaborative album, celebrates their underground influence and success while attesting to their restless creativity. Further embracing the happier, spiritual tone of their more recent work, Crest is uplifting and delicate, with dreamlike production from the inimitable Whitearmor culminating in the best DG project in a couple years. Bladee is at the peak of his DMT zen hippie era, Ecco sounds absolutely angelic as always, and Whitearmor’s production beautifully floats, especially on songs like the nine-minute, multi-part epic “5 Star Crest” (dedicated to their late friend Vattenrum) and the heavenly “Girls Just Want To Have Fun” (which is two years old but still very much welcome here). These three have an unmatched artistic chemistry, and Crest shows that they won’t slow down anytime soon (though it might’ve been nice to hear a Thaiboy Digital feature or two).

Father John Misty - Chloë and the Next 20th Century

Sub Pop 44.1/24 stream (LP variants, CD, and cassette available)

Produced by: Jonathan Wilson and Josh Tillman
Engineered by: Dave Cerminara
Mixed by: Dave Cerminara and Jonathan Wilson
Mastered by: Uncredited

Music: 5
Sound: 8

On his new Father John Misty album Chloë and the Next 20th Century, LA singer-songwriter Josh Tillman supplements his observational lyrics with traditional (ie, 1930s-60s) pop stylings. While I consider him among this era’s best singer-songwriters, Chloë is incredibly boring; Tillman has wise thoughts to impart on us, but this time it ends up drab and sleep-inducing. The new style conceptually makes sense, as he explores how the past and present aren’t as different as we might think. In execution, however, the old-timey stylings sound dull, and most of these songs lack the true weight of his best work. While respectable, Chloë is an exhausting 50-minute listen whose lyrics are better read than set to music.

Swedish House Mafia - Paradise Again

SSA Recording/Republic 176.4/24 stream (no physicals yet)

Produced by: Swedish House Mafia, et al
Engineered by: Various
Mixed by: Mike Dean, Kevin Grainger, and Jay Reynolds
Mastered by: Mike Dean and Kevin Grainger

Music: 5
Sound: 7

While their early 2010s singles brought about that decade’s wave of maximalist, corporate-sounding EDM, Swedish DJ trio Swedish House Mafia didn’t release a proper studio album until this month’s Paradise Again. Their brand of hotel lobby/startup office EDM is widely despised (but to my constant surprise, also widely enjoyed/accepted) and very much outdated, so to cover it up, Swedish House Mafia recently adopted a darker aesthetic. Does it work? Occasionally, yes. Most of Paradise Again still uses the same generic beat drops and song structures, lacking personality and often failing at the epic universality it strives to reach. Yet, there are some undeniable highlights; while the Weeknd-assisted lead single “Moth To A Flame” is pretty bland, 070 Shake’s vocals on “Lifetime” and “Another Minute” are quite good (despite an unnecessary Ty Dolla Sign verse plaguing the former), and the A$AP Rocky-featuring “Frankenstein” succeeds by not being so stiff. Even though Paradise Again mostly lacks personality and feels empty, its mellow and not overwhelmingly dark house vibes are easy to get into, and there’s nothing offensively obnoxious about it. It’s wallpaper music that in hour-long album form certainly drones on too long, but you could find worse wallpaper.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music obsessive, avid record collector, and art enthusiast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.)

COMMENTS
anodyne jones's picture

This is how to write a review. FJM boring? Hardly. I had this album on while driving with my girlfriend, who is unfamiliar with FJM and literally told me to pullover she loved it so much. Read below and refine your craft and ears sonny.

https://www.allmusic.com/album/chlo%C3%AB-and-the-next-20th-century-mw00...

MalachiLui's picture

i thought the new FJM record was boring. that's my opinion, and i'm entitled to that opinion.

Anton D's picture

"Girlfriend." That's what Anodyne calls his mom.

MalachiLui's picture

should've opened my earlier comment with "good morning anodyne, i see you've walked in circles for the past few hours and found your way back here once again" :)

Glotz's picture

This guy with no place to go... so fitting.

For a guy that hates MF, ML and everyone on the website, he's like a stray dog that's been kicked too much.

I think he just needs to be petted behinds his ears...

"Yes, little guy... awwwwwww sure... you're a big, bad poodle..."

Michael Fremer's picture
Everyone is entitled to their musical opinions, regardless of age. Malachi’s “craft” as can be read in this “explosion” is quite refined, whether or not you agree with his opinions.
azmoon's picture

Good style for sure. WHile I don't like the selections, he does a great job.

anodyne jones's picture

"refined" craft? Please. He would not last two minutes at an real publication. The fact you allow rap reviews here, which 99 percent of your readers don't listen to is proof both of you are tone deaf.

MalachiLui's picture

hmmm i wonder where else sir/lord/god anodyne is gonna find rap reviews... oh yeah, in basically every other music publication out there.

anodyne jones's picture

So you wanna be like "every other" site? Like I said, tone deaf.

Glotz's picture

on whatever publication you write for.

Whatever and however Malachi writes, we all like reading.

You, not so much. You're a schmuck, really.

Jonathan Tinn's picture

Yet here you are reading a publication that is not real. What does that say about you?

As a lover of music, I am not close-minded to any type of music. I guarantee I could play rap music for you that you might enjoy.

Lighten up Francis!

Jazz listener's picture

my son introduced me to Kendrick Lamar and some other hiphop artists that I actually really enjoy. There is even one or two, dare I say it, Kanye tunes I like.

KLW's picture

And everyone does, that's ok and good.....It's the Spice of life!
Let's all get along :)

bremble's picture

the different views and albums that Malachi presents. I don't always agree with him (I was a bit surprised how much I like the new FJM), and in many other cases I haven't listened to the records he reviews, but I think that he's surprisingly thoughtful for someone so young.

sasmith3244's picture

I picked up the black vinyl edition and it does sound very thin with a crowded soundstage. I still love the album but I must admit the pressing does damper my enthusiasm while spinning it.

ivansbacon's picture

For the life of me i can not comprehend why digital music reviews are posted on ANALOG PLANET.

If this were a music review site then i would understand the inclusion,

OR

if it was a side by side comparison of digital vs vinyl/tape.

I skim the beginning of the review and as soon as i see it is a review of a stream or other digital files i move on.

MalachiLui's picture

that physical releases are in stores the same day as digital releases only 50% of the time, and that if i stream the music and it's not good enough, why should i buy a physical copy just to tell the rest of you not to buy it? if you launch a service that can press LPs with a 1-2 day turnaround, maybe you'd have an argument here. but really, this all a guide to what you should or shouldn't consider seeking out physical copies of, if/once physical copies exist.

Jazz listener's picture

if you review the streaming version and find that it's not good enough to recommend a physical copy, I suggest you also don't bother reviewing the digital stream here. That being said, if you know that it will be released on vinyl, I'm also not sure what purpose reviewing the digital stream provides, as the vinyl may sound better (or worse) and really has to be reviewed on its own merits. So I guess the moral of the story is, if it's not being released on vinyl, don't review it here. If it is being released on vinyl, don't review the streamed version. Voila!

sasmith3244's picture

I see these review explosions as a way to just cast a light on some things one key writer is enjoying at the moment (digital or analog) rather than the more formal review that get posted. Not sure why people get so uptight about these.

MalachiLui's picture

you should be grateful that i spend my time reviewing the mediocrity in digital form to save your precious, very sensitive ears from enduring it, as well as saving everyone's money.

Glotz's picture

What is 'not good' enough? That's a collective answer for all of us to provide, from ML's reviews or capsules. Should we just rely upon Pitchfork or another website? Or will you tell them not to produce reviews as well? It was absurd to criticize the very nature of reviewing in the pre-streaming era as much as it is today. Exploring the meaning and SQ of music is always valid.

I see specifically that you think that this Analog Planet's anathema. Yet it holds a direct service for those that do the same streaming to purchase vinyl at a later date. Impressions gathered from some digitally-streamed recordings vastly improve with their release to vinyl, some do not. It's somewhat random, but nonetheless it reviewing a streamed or digital copy of the vinyl version still points us in the proper direction of making our own decisions (just like any other music review site or zine). Only this site goes into sonics. I don't care about the rigidity of labels.

If ML wants to write about the artistry or the sonics, that's up to him.
Because of his age his very age, his perspective is valid. It shows contrast from an older perspective to a younger one. That is important in our own understanding of a given artist, despite however we assume that 'younger people don't know shit'. Invariably, a reviewer might be 'off', inasmuch as any other peer reviewer might be off. We look to their skewed insights nonetheless to juxtapose our own. The same can be done with someone younger than us.

Ironically, no one sits here and criticizes his playback system, in being 'not high end' enough or some other silly argument that devolves into "my system is better than yours, and that my cognitive bias means that I know more than you".

I bet it's because those that would, are afraid of their own playback quality isn't really up to snuff. I know no poster here has a better than Michael's that's for sure. And if Michael backs up Malachi, I implicitly trust that position. They both own up to when they are wrong, and that is good enough for me. Their integrity has been proven time and time again.

Anton D's picture

Don't underestimate their old-guy compulsion to try to bully and snark about newer music forms.

They aren't even actual audiophiles.

Glotz's picture

You rule Anton.

Jazz listener's picture

the abridged version of this, I didn’t get through the first paragraph before boredom forced me to abort…

Glotz's picture

LOL

Jazz listener's picture

isn't hard, it's painful, lol.

hi-fivinyljunkie's picture

Maybe Malachi you should wait for the vinyl to land in your hands before doing a review. After all you are writing for 'Analog Planet' I believe.

Jazz listener's picture

is that he can’t afford to buy all of the lp’s. The solution of course is to review fewer titles.

MalachiLui's picture

the solution is for you, jazz listener, to buy all my records for me so you can stop acting like a kindergartener who didn't get candy.

MalachiLui's picture

what if there's never a vinyl release? can't be surprised when it comes to some releases. this is 2022, not 1976. and at the end of the day, it's mostly about the music, right?

Jazz listener's picture

or more accurately, don't give a shit about, is that this website is called Analog Planet, not Digital Planet. If it's not coming out on vinyl, why on earth are you reviewing it for this website????? Oh that's right, I forgot, because uncle Mikey is the only one who will let you write for him.

MalachiLui's picture

not to mention, analog and digital can peacefully coexist.

Anton D's picture

Of course the old angry man audiophile contingent (the confederacy of dunces, so to speak) is going to be bothered, bewildered and snowflake angry, Malachi doesn't focus almost exclusively on 60 year old reissues enough!

Keep seeking out new music above new pressings, Malachi!

MalachiLui's picture

always nice to see some positive notes around here, and yes i believe that new music is usually more interesting than the nth reissue of whatever audiophile classic, though i enjoy a few of those too :)

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