By Caroline Janes
Assistant Music Director
We all know the anticipatory feelings of excitement and even a tinge of nervousness when one of our favorite bands announces they’re working on a new project. It’s a familiar feeling to anyone who keeps up with current music releases. Questions begin to flood my mind when I first get word of a new album. When’s the release date? How will it compare to their singles and their past work? I always wonder if it’ll be same old, same old, or if the band will decide to go a different direction with their sound— will I like it or will it be too experimental?
When bands choose to branch out and experiment, I’m sure they also feel a sense of nervousness and excitement just as their fans do. Will our audience like it? Is it too far from our original roots? All of these feelings are addressed as soon as the album drops and the reviews flood in. Three bands that instantly come to mind when I think of a change in sound have to include Sports, Triathalon, and MGMT. Each of these bands released new albums this year that diverged from their past work for better and for worse in different ways.
Triathalon released Online this February and the now New York based boys let go of their slacker surfer rock mix that defined their first two albums, Lo Tide and Nothing Bothers Me, for a more fine-tuned synthy, R&B influenced sound. They traded their signature jangly, twangy guitars for heavy use of synth and muffled, toned-down drums. It seems that with each album they’ve released, Triathalon has become more and more chilled out and sleepy. Triathalon does a great job of threading both lyrical and musical themes throughout each of their albums, giving the listeners a full experience from start to finish of each project. Lo-Tide focuses on surf rock in its sound and lyrics featuring twangy beachy grooves and lyrics relating to surfing, waves, and surfers like its featured track “Kelly Slater.” While Lo-Tide features more upbeat and upfront guitar, Nothing Bothers Me has more refined guitars that are sluggish and sleepy. Even some of the songs on their second album indicate this slowing of pace with tracks like “Mellow Moves,” “Chill Out” and “Take It Easy.” However, the distant change in sounds comes with their third project Online. This purposeful choice to swap the rock for R&B came with a change of environment and age for the band. Since their move from Georgia to New York, the band stated in an interview that the move “shifted [their] focus to a more soulful sound.” They also said that with age, the less they wanted to rock out like in their younger days. Some fans yearn for their jangly surf rock while others can appreciate their willingness to experiment with the emerging vaporwave genre. With the release of their singles “Courtside” and “Distant” it’s apparent that they’re going to continue on with this new style.
MGMT also released an album in February after teasing fans with singles in 2017. After a five year hiatus, I was surprised that the duo was finally back on the scene. After their more experimental third and fourth albums, Congratulations and MGMT, most fans were left disappointed and confused. Although, I must applaud Andrew VanWyngarden and Ben Goldwasser for making the music they wanted to make; however, their experimental new sounds just didn’t resonate well with their fans. However, Little Dark Age draws back to the early days of MGMT while still keeping things fresh. As the title suggests, LDA’s tracks are all around darker moodier (which are perfect for this time of year, for anyone who is trying to build an October playlist). Oracular Spectacular is lighter and more wavy. Both albums have a certain mood and style that each song encapsulates and showcases while refraining from being too monotonous. I would also argue that both their first and fourth albums have stand out singles (“Kids,” “Electric Feel,” and “Time to Pretend” on Oracular and “Little Dark Age,” “Me and Michael,” and “Hand It Over” on LDA) that tend to outshine some of the other tracks. I’m glad MGMT is back and we can only wait to see if they’ll continue on with this sound or if they’ll revert back to their habits of their middle albums.
More recently, Sports released their junior album, Everyone’s Invited, in August. Featuring 12 tracks, this is their longest album to date. Their first two albums, Naked All the Time and People Can’t Stop Chillin were certainly two projects that set the bar pretty high. Naked All the Time features two of Sports’s biggest tracks, “You Are the Right One,” and “Panama.” While Naked All the Time and People Can’t Stop Chillin weave some synth into the tracks, their focus is on a guitar-driven dreamy style. While 80s synth pop influences permeate Sports style throughout all of their projects, this approach really slaps you in the face on their third. Everyone’s Invited was a more collaborative journey between the members of the band and it shows. Everyone’s tells a narrative throughout the album that fleshed out lyrically and musically. Although the three albums focus on relationships and feature several love ballads, Everyone’s Invited takes the cake with tracks like “We Should Get Married.” I mean that’s got to be the farthest love songs can go! Sports is currently on their Everyone’s Invited Tour and I can’t wait to to see their new tracks live.