The Avalanches and Rivers Cuomo have one thing in common — both are up for anything these days. Having long ago established their bona fides on wildly beloved debut albums, the hyper-sampling Australians and obsessive pop perfectionist toiled away for years before saying “fuck it.” Everything and anything is their game now, and both parties release a lot more music as a result. Yet the further away their “classics” disappear in the rearview mirror, the happier they seem on a personal level.
Hence the cheery, contented tone of “Running Red Lights”, presumably from a forthcoming third Avalanches album that may yet materialize before people start demanding to know where it is. And yes, on Avalanches’ time that still means four years have passed since 2016’s once-improbable Wildflower. Vanishing after 2001’s Since I Left You with 15 years passing before they were heard from again, the collective now drops tunes with the likes of Danny Brown and Blood Orange to show off their newfound comfort with their own stature. Expectations have chilled out. Now these endlessly tinkering craftsmen can enjoy themselves again.
On the dreamily infectious “Running Red Lights”, Weezer’s fearless leader is on-brand at both ends of his lyrical spectrum: garbled (“I’m a thundercloud/ Ready to burst like Schrödinger”) and Golden State-obsessed (“California life is alright with me”). The twinkling atmospherics highlight Cuomo’s bright, sticky melody in an unusually understated departure from chunky guitars. Psychedelia is not something we normally associate with him but here we are. Augmenting all this is an even bigger surprise: A solemn reading of lines from the late, great David Berman’s “Darkness and Cold” from upstart rapper Pink Siifu comprises the song’s bleary-eyed bridge.
It’s doubtful a single one of these collaborators broke a sweat leaving each other’s comfort zones. Do they even have comfort zones?
For Fans Of: Madchester really has nothing to do with these acts but the anything-goes spirit of that early ‘90s genre-crossing explosion soaks through “Running Red Lights.” Eclectic purveyors like Primal Scream fusing the Stones and acid house were natural precursors to the Avalanches’ headphone trips. Of course, this direction is also informed by the festival-conquering power of Tame Impala.
Best Moment: Not that you really listen to either of these artists for the lyrics, but because the song follows its hooky pulse without dynamic shifts, it’s bizarre non-sequiturs like “I’m crying in the car/ An invalid, I’m off the grid” that really stick with you. Committing to a bit is a Cuomo specialty, and swirling trip-pop is no exception, with the Purple Mountains homage in the middle providing a melancholy sweetness that’s rare for any stage of his career.
Where to Go From Here: Even a hater has to admit that the albums of Weezer’s last decade all try their hands at very different things, and revisiting them might even unearth some hidden gems. This reviewer recommends the twisted, Chicago-esque “The Prince Who Wanted Everything”, the unrelenting Best Coast duet “Go Away”, and the speaker-blowing power ballad “Trainwrecks”. Hell, the forthcoming Van Weezer is shaping up to be pretty exciting, too. If you haven’t heard the Avalanches before, it’s easy to catch up. Since I Left You and Wildflower, both critically adored, are all they’ve released in the last 19 years.
Other Great Songs This Week: You and every self-quarantined citizen need Philadelphia’s Control Top in your life, who followed up 2019’s incinerating Covert Contracts this week with the nearly optimistic “One Good Day.” Even a mournful piano ballad by Lucinda Williams can shatter the earth, as the nearly nine-minute Netflix-movie theme “Lost Girl” can attest. A bunch of metal masterminds from Thou, Cave In, Khemmis, and Converge came together remotely to cover “Weird Al” Yankovic’s classic “Dare to Be Stupid” and it’s even more awesome than you’re imagining. “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” from Hayley Williams and Boygenius is a victory lap from two artists that have already been highlighted this year alone in this column for good reason.
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