Eminem — “Relapse”
By Ara Demirjian
It’s been a long, hard road for Eminem since he released his last album, “Encore,” five years ago. After a failed remarriage, the death of a close friend and exhaustion from touring, Eminem spiraled into a realm of sleeping pills and prescription medication while cutting himself off from the rap world that wondered if he would ever return. Despite falling off track, Eminem has returned with “Relapse,” which explicitly chronicles his addictions and the severely declining state of his physical and mental health.
With Dr. Dre at the helm laying the beats over which Eminem spits out and unleashes his personal demons, “Relapse” is like a drug addict, reaching a high before the inevitable comedown and then repeating the cycle.
“3 a.m.” starts this high as Eminem vividly recounts his drug dependency, detailing the mental insanity associated with addiction. It’s not exactly pleasurable to listen to, but Eminem immediately puts you into his frame of mind as the drugs make him feel trapped and disconnected from the rest of the world, heightened by a bit of brooding “Dracula”-esque organ and mysterious haunting piano.
Unfortunately, this follows with the comedown in the form of the flat-sounding “My Mom.” The song features Eminem blaming his mother for his drug issues as he aimlessly proclaims in an annoying, scrawny voice, “My mom love Valium and lots of drugs / That’s why I am like I am cause I’m like her” while making an inappropriate and insensitive reference to Heath Ledger, saying, “Stumble, hobble, tumble, slip, tripped and I fall in bed / With a bottle of meds, and a Heath Ledger bobblehead.” Eminem’s attempt to channel humor into a serious issue comes off ill-conceived and more embarrassing than funny.
“We Made You” is another stereotypical, silly lead single that takes satirical shots at a litany of celebrities from John Mayer to Jessica Alba, but lacks any swagger or real substance, coming off as a forced and failed attempt to replicate the success of “The Real Slim Shady” or “Without Me.” Similarly, “Crack a Bottle” strays away from the serious subject issues at hand, featuring uninspired guest verses from Dr. Dre and 50 Cent and a blasé snare beat that kills all life the song might have had.
For the most part, Eminem’s lyrics don’t quite match up to par, but just as importantly, Dr. Dre, who produces every song on the album bar one, fails to consistently create hard, driving beats or catchy melodies that can hold the songs up. However, the booming bass drum rhythm in “Medicine Ball” and the dark, moody piano and strings of “Stay Wide Awake” intertwine well with Eminem’s more serious lyrical flow. The songs ring truer than the moments when Eminem thinks he’s a comedian.
While Dr. Dre shows occasional flashes of brilliance, he appears to be past his prime with a style better suited for his trademark laidback G-funk. This works more effectively for the party time vibe of “Old Time’s Sake.” Otherwise, Dre’s style seems a bit antiquated, belonging to a time when 2Pac and Snoop Dogg reigned supreme.
Far and away the album’s best song, Eminem’s self-produced “Beautiful” represents the ultimate high on the album, showing Eminem at his most lyrically honest and vocally raw moment as he wears his emotions on his sleeves, offering a deep look into his dark, less-than-ideal past. He tells the listener, “I’ll be you, let’s trade shoes, just to see what it’d be like to / Feel your pain, you feel mine, go inside each other’s minds.” It is Eminem’s version of a ballad, featuring guitar riffs that set the mood for the song’s melancholy tone, from fuzzy minor key passages to guitar squeals that scream for help while Eminem digs into his tattered soul measure by measure.
After listening to this, you can only wonder why Eminem didn’t take this type of approach for the rest of “Relapse.” Instead, he resorts to calling out celebrities and taking comfort in sticking to sexually vulgar lyrics. It might have worked in the past, but at this point, it’s getting old when he has so much real life experience with which to work. Perhaps a change of scenery at the producer’s seat will force Eminem to go in a different direction that won’t compromise his style. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another relapse for him to realize that.
Grizzly Bear — “Veckatimest”
By Shapan Debnath
If you’re a music fan, you’ve probably heard of Grizzly Bear. And if you haven’t, you probably will in the near future. Grizzly Bear is about as hyped as the indie revered Animal Collective, except it took the former a fraction of the time it took the latter to get to where it is. Grizzly Bear has gotten the attention for good reason.
Listening to the band is an experience. There’s a sense of camaraderie between the bandmates that’s often foreign in modern music. It’s hard to pick out the traditional frontman, as lead vocals are tossed about between Daniel Rossen and Ed Droste. Rossen and Droste have both shown exceptional songwriting abilities, including Droste’s impressive work with his other band, Department of Eagles. While Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor are often labeled the bassist and the drummer, their multi-instrumental contributions are crucial. Taylor has produced every Grizzly Bear album since joining the band on its classic sophomore album, “Yellow House.”
The band was initially started by Droste’s penmanship alone, with its debut album “Horn of Plenty” taking the minimalist approach for haunting songs. With his bandmates by his side, “Yellow House” provided a vast landscape most bands never approach. Not only did the band fill the album with irresistible hooks, but there were enough subtleties that the record has something new to love on every listen. While many bands seemingly fall into their critically acclaimed record, it was obvious that Grizzly Bear knew what it was doing. “Yellow House” was so encompassing that when word spread that the band’s third record “Veckatimest” was complete, not only did some people expect it to be good, but they practically assumed it would be good.
And it’s hard to argue the quality on here. Often the beauty in these songs isn’t in what’s catchy, but in the effortless shifts that work when you think they shouldn’t.
“Fine for Now” includes soft crooning and gentle guitars immediately contrasted with loud cymbal clashes and crunching riffs. All the while, the listener feels like a tender harmony is keeping the song together, even during the chaos that closes the song. “I Live With You” is minimal at first and led along by Rossen, until clanging instruments disrupts him, adding a necessary “umph” to the song.
The band still very much appreciates the little things, regardless. “Ready, Able” sounds like a tune that might as well have been part of “Horn of Plenty” with its restrained instrumentation and fragile vocals led by Droste. Droste repeats “They go we go, I want you to know, what I did I did” until the listener is in a trance. Droste’s vocals are calm and collected once again during “Cheerleader,” a simple song that doesn’t feel the need to push itself unnecessarily just to fall into a traditional soft/loud dynamic.
Of course, there are still hooks. The album’s lead single, “Two Weeks,” is likely the most infectious song the band has done. The song is easy on the ears, retaining that Grizzly Bear amity while sounding like a Stevie Wonder song. Meanwhile, “While You Wait for the Others” has unforgettable harmonies in its chorus and its coda.
It’s difficult to be as imaginative as Grizzly Bear without meandering here and there. “Dory” wanders off a bit and then falls into an awkward chorus. A modest song like “Hold Still” would probably work better with Droste leading it along than Rossen, while “About Face” feels relatively boring compared to most Grizzly Bear songs. But, with all of its ambition, it’s hard to hold a couple miscues against this band
Whether it’s the galloping opener “Southern Point” or the subdued closer “Foreground,” there’s plenty to like in “Veckatimest.” There are plenty of things to notice after repeated listens, as Grizzly Bear proves again to be one of those bands that never run out of plays. Is it as masterful as “Yellow House?” Does that really matter? It’s rare to have a band with such little pretense and so much creativity. Whichever record you prefer is just a matter of opinion, but it’s worth a lot to see both of these albums at face value and to appreciate them for what they are: great albums from a great band.