I don’t normally review music. But, when I come across an album that compels me to go from track to track, it’s a throwback to my youth when I listened to music from the same artist in the manner that the artist laid out for the listener. This is juxtaposed to the self made playlist that is music listening today.
When I first started listening to music, one would pop in a cassette or drop a needle on a record and listen to an album a “side” at a time. Back then, to have customized playlists, one had to wire some equipment together through a receiver, then make “mix tapes.” Then came CDs. First folks would do the same thing and record the analog audio off the CDs to make the mix tape, until folks got to digitizing the audio and playing the music from their computers. The mixing of tapes became burning of CDs for those that didn’t own an MP3 player, and for those that had MP3 players, playlists became the thing.
What this whole activity did was give further rise to single tracks from an artist followed by another artist, either chosen by the playlist creator or randomly selected for them in a shuffle. It really changed the way people listened to music.
The beauty of the old way of album listening (whether cassettes, CDs, or LPs) is that the artist can script an experience in the way that the whole thing played together. An album was not merely a list of singles thrown together in a haphazard manner. Styx with Paradise Theater and Kilroy was Here were two of my personal favorites that not only had singles that flowed together but was really a story to be told. A lot of thought was placed on how each “side” of the cassette or LP would play that one sort of loses on the CD (not to mention the calories burned in walking over to the record player to “flip” the LP.)
For an even older, more classic reference, think the Beatles with the later albums, Abbey Road, Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, Yellow Submarine, and more. All these albums gripped you from one song to the next. Using Sgt. Pepper’s as an example, with some tracks, the listener didn’t even know when one song ended and another began.
There is a joy in letting the artist immerse you in the world they created for us, the listener, to experience.
It’s been a while since I’ve found a contemporary album compel me in the same way as my examples. It’s been a while since I felt the need to stay and listen to the “next” track to see what the artist had composed.
Kongos Lunatic first caught my ear with their song “Come With Me Now”. It is a song which is somewhat catchy and interesting in its use of percussion. It has a tribal feel to it that I found compelling. Their other single “I’m Only Joking” also resonated with me. I was curious to see what other audio gems the band had written to see if I should buy some of these tracks.
Since I manage my digital music on iTunes, I figured to search on iTunes. However, because I am somewhat thrifty, I always shop around. Enter Amazon. I’ve found that in some cases Amazon is actually cheaper than iTunes. In others, it may be the same price, but I could buy the CD (I still love looking at liner notes, etc.) and the service will auto-rip the Digital Music for me. Enter Amazon Prime Music… Amazon has launched a music benefit for Prime members to be able to listen to certain albums at no additional charge. And lo and behold, Kongo’s Lunatic album is available on the service.
So, I took a “no risk” trial of the album…
…as an added bonus, with my “authorized” devices, I can listen to the album offline. As long as I download the album to the device, I can then play it on an airplane or in the car without streaming. This is really important, because I immersed myself in this album a week before a vacation that I am just returning from. The album really lodged itself in my iPod during our vacation.
The word that comes to mind is Wow.
The album’s first track, “I’m Only Joking”, is the second single that I heard from Kongos. The sardonic lyrics coupled with the really catchy and tribal percussion is what drew me to finding more of their music. Sure, the first single “Come With Me Now” was fun and catchy. But the second one is the one that I often find myself humming along to.
Speaking of “Come With Me Now”, the band has that song follow on the album. It’s a very good single and listeners don’t have to wait too long to enjoy the band’s singles and then go on to something else. However, the listener will be providing his or herself a disservice if he or she decided not to stick around for the rest of the album.
Because “I Want to Know” is next song… and I REALLY do want to know the rest of the album. The vocals and lyrics of the next song aren’t genius, but musically melded with the beat, melody, make it a nice transition to the “meat” of the album.
“Escape” comes next and this track is a great movement away from the more masculine and harsh sounds of the previous three songs into a song that starts of somewhat mellow, before it picks up. It’s nice to see some softness to start the song. Besides, any song that has a lyric that mentions “When the Big One finally hits LA…” Will always catch my ear… Compared to the first three songs, this song is pretty mellow.
The softness of “Escape” gets overpowered by “Kids These Days.” This is more guitar-based rock power on this track. The riff is really catchy and I like how it repeats itself throughout the song. Much the way the first two singles had the percussion be the addictive portion if the songs.
Then, just when we think that we’re back to rocking out… “As We Are” comes back to show the listener that these guys can sing a nice, soft and mellow song. It’s a very nice ballad that I can see be picked up by someone in Hollywood for an iconic scene. A la Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” in Say Anything. For those old enough to remember, the Peter Gabriel song was a great album track that was not originally a single track. It took a movie to make it as such. And, in my opinion, the Kongos song “As We Are” can very well be elevated to that sort of status, if matched with the right movie. Until then, it’s a great ballad in the middle of a great album.
“Sex on the Radio” is a nice melodic track that fills a nice place on the album. Hey, not all songs on an album can necessarily make it as a single. It’s a nice song, but not one of my favorites. This song is followed by a catchier song, that I find my feet tapping to, “Hey I Don’t Know”. Just not one that is very compelling.
One would expect Kongos to take us back to the faster pace of the earlier parts of the album, however, where I expected to Zig, they Zag and we get another softer song in “Traveling On”. And it’s another welcome ballad. Perhaps it’s the fact that I find myself accompanied by this album on long International flights that I found affinity with this song, but there is something about its stillness at this point if the album, while I sit I a darkened overnight flight that really spoke to me. Yes, I’m sort of literal with lyrics, but it just fits here.
“Take Me Back” gives us Kongos with a very cool 70’s rock kinda feel to it. The “violin?”/synthesizer sounds in the middle of the song really cool here. It’s a softer, but rocking kind of song.
“It’s A Good Life” reminds me of what attracted me to Kongos songs in the first place. Perhaps this will be the third single of the album. The percussion and the fun lyrics are all there for me. I find myself tapping my feet to another one of their songs. “.the sun, the sea… …it’s a good life for me.” These lyrics are what resonated with this song and the vacation that I took during this album listening party is what I kept going back to on those lazy, enjoy the tropics days that I found myself listening to my new favorite album.
Though I was introduced to Kongos though their two really fun, rocking, somewhat tribal sounding songs, their slow songs properly placed in the album is what got me addicted to this album. “This Time I Won’t Forget” is the perfect dessert to the 12 track journey that is Lunatic.
Thanks Slacker Radio for playing these guys on e Alternative Hits and Today’s Hits stations, so that I was able to get curious enough to look for more about them. Thanks to Amazon Prime Music for letting me test drive these guys on my devices and listen to the whole album. I’m definitely buying this album, and you should too.