Taken song by song, Gomez has always been a band that stretches
genre and sonic boundaries without hesitation, moving chameleon-like
from one bit of music to the next with hardly a look both ways before
crossing melodic streets. On their new release, How We Operate,
the band seems to have calmed things down a small bit, focusing in
on a narrower spectrum of sound, without losing that inimitable spark
that is distinctly Gomez. This narrowing phenomenon is very conscious
the first couple of listens to the record, there seems to be none
of the now-expected jumps into sounds that make no sense with the
rest of the record, regardless of their sonic perfection and joyfulness.
On the first few listens to How We Operate, there doesn't seem
to be any songs like "Catch Me Up" - those Gomez songs that
somehow make sense for this band, even though the sounds are so weirdly
off-center for the modern musical world. Upon further listens, the
album seems to come together into a tight unit, seeming much more
cohesive than their previous efforts, and then the gems of uniqueness
start to come forth.
How We Operate begins with the softer sounds of Ian
singing gently over acoustic guitar and off-beat organ on "Notice".
The song is sort of low, and sets the tone for the record, especially
the first few times one listens. "See The World" finds Ben
crooning over a gently jangling guitar line and somewhat boppy rhythm
- the kind of song that is perfectly suited to those first few magical
days strolling along a late Springtime beach, a gentle breeze blowing
off the ocean and cleansing everything it touches of stress and worry,
leaving only the feeling of clean and new-born joy. By the time "How
We Operate" kicks in, there is already a vague familiarity with
the record, and the banjo and mandolin arpeggios starting off the
title track do nothing to distance that vibe. Finally, though, here
is a song that begins to have the trademark dynamic ever-changedness
that pervades so much of Gomez's music. Instruments stop and start,
always returning to the basic acoustic instruments, but meanwhile
incorporating e-bowed counter-melody lines, booming bass guitar, and
darkly distorted electric guitar riffs. "Hamoa Beach" begins
to build in the groove elements of the band, building on a simple
warbling keyboard line that sets the pace for the track and incorporating
many trademark Gomez hippy-isms, especially the lyrical content: "That's
just the fear talking/ don't let it take you like it nearly took me,
fear/ don't let it fool you like it nearly fooled me, fear."
- all of this with a heavily vibing bassline that just pulses throughout
your body as you listen.
Channeling the spirit of Neil Diamond, Tom takes vocal
duties on the brilliant "Girlshapedlovedrug"
that is sure to have you pushing repeat over and over, trying to decipher
exactly what he may be speaking about. Bouncy music and weirdly Revolver-Beatles-ish
lyrics make for a great song, on par with any of Gomez's greatest
moments. Finding slide-guitar blues and shaping it over Garth Hudson-style
organ riffs, "Chasing Ghosts With Alcohol" is a slowly reflective
trip that transforms into a brilliantly noisy symphony, which gives
the band a chance to be as sloppy and as keen as they wish to be,
all at once. Playing up on the same rhythmic bits as so much of today's
crap-rock - those bands that make new wave garage rock sound bad by
mixing in disco beats - Gomez shows that they can make those "hep"
sounds sound so much better than their contemporaries by diverging
from the basic patterns and mixing in better drums, more organic vocals,
and altogether more inventive dynamic changes. "Charley Patton
Songs" is a missed-love song, a song of searching for something
that is highly elusive, all to a low-beat and lushly padded instrumentation
filled with beauty and a strangely tense calm. "Woman! Man!"
finds the band getting back to their Beatles roots once more for measure,
with very nice vocal arrangements over a pseudo-neo-Victorian sounding
tune that transports the listener to a simpler and better time. "All
Too Much" is one of the darkest and most dynamic tracks on the
record, finding its way from a one guitar and vocal tune to a densely
layered chorus of guitars and throttling rhythms that drops right
back out to simplified near-country loveliness.
By the third listen to the record, I am profoundly affected by "Cry
On Demand" - the song that somehow transcends all the other greatness
on How We Operate with its simple and sing-songy lyric thrown
down on top of a music that stops and goes, alternates rhythms, and
involves so many strange noises that it can't help but pull the listener
in one hundred percent. The world could come crashing down while this
song plays and I'd never know the difference. The lyrical melody is
an exercise in perfection and the harmonies are precisely laid out
and meticulously executed, transcending anything the band has ever
done before. I re-iterate what I said years ago in my first review
of Gomez - this is the music that The Beatles would most likely be
making if they were a young band in the 90's/2000's, assuming they
were still the band that they were. The album wraps with the slow
and warbly "Don't Make Me Laugh", a song that features delicate
pizzicato strings and a cool slide guitar that melts away tension
and leaves nothing but the bliss of another fine record from one of
the greatest rock bands of all time
and leads the hand to the
play button on the CD player once more.
2. See The World
3. How We Operate
4. Hamoa Beach
6. Chasing Ghosts With Alcohol
7. Tear Your Love Apart
8. Charley Patton Songs
9. Woman! Man!
10. All Too Much
11. Cry On Demand
12. Don't Make Me Laugh
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