REVIEW: Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

On first glance at the track list for Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors, one thing is immediately apparent; Big Boi wanted to make this album as big and extravagant as possible. With the variety and sheer volume of collaborations on display here, it would seem that Big Boi was over-compensating for something, but that’s far from the truth.

As a member of the now seemingly defunct OutKast, Big Boi was the more understated, yet undeniably talented, member of the duo. While Andre 3000 attracted more immediate attention from the press and casual onlookers, fans looked towards Big Boi to provide the more technical brilliance to the music. In a post-OutKast world, he has proved himself of this sufficiently with his brilliant solo debut ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot… the Son of Chico Dusty‘, while Andre 3000 floundered, seemingly sticking to collaborating occasionally. Now back for round two, Vicious Lies… is bigger and bolder than the former.

Big Boi has long since made his interests in the more alternative side of things apparent – from him apparently producing the new Modest Mouse record to him confessing his desire to work with the much maligned pseudo-folk band Mumford and Sons – it’s all reflected on the guest spots that appear on the new album. Female-fronted synth-pop bands Phantogram and Little Dragon assist on three tracks each, while lo-fi surf punk singer Nathan Williams, of Wavves fame, appears on one track. Big Boi really went outside of the norm with this release, with successful results for the most part.

Underneath the myriad guest spots on the list, Big Boi is the foundation on which this record was made. There’s a reason why he’s one of the most recognised and respected faces of southern hip-hop, and Vicious Lies… is a testament to that. His unique voice and great technique is the main reason to listen to the album, even if it is dressed up with maybe too many collaborative artists. ‘Apple of My Eye‘ is the only track which Big Boi tackles solo, and that fact alone makes it a highlight.

Undoubtedly, another highlight from the album is the bombastic ‘In the A‘. Sampling your own track is an odd way of crafting a new song, but Big Boi dismantles the hook from previous mega-hit ‘Shutterbugg‘ to create a TNGHT-esque, bass-heavy track that harks back to Sir Luscious Left Foot… in the best kind of way. Backed by trumpets, Big Boi joins forces with Ludacris and T.I. to provide the most undiluted experience on the album. By putting himself next to a lot of other rappers, it helps to see how good he really is at what he does. Ludicris and T.I. still have better verses on this track than they have done in quite a while, even as solo artists.

The most surprising collaboration to see on the album is no doubt with Wavves, on the track ‘Shoes For Running‘. Nathan Williams provides a hook on the track unlike most you would expect to hear on a typical hip-hop release. Whether this works in Big Boi‘s favour is kind-of up in the air. While Williams does a great job at what he does, his snotty vocals are rather divisive in general. To hear him not hiding behind a wall of fuzz and distorted production is a rare event, but his vocals seem to hold up in this unfamiliar situation, even having a slight Avey Tare quality about them. I mean, even B.o.B. doesn’t sound too bad on this song, which is quite a change from usual. The vocals towards the end seem to have a children’s choir singing along that would almost ruin it if that hook weren’t so damn addictive.

Big Boi‘s frequent pairing with Little Dragon singer Yukimi Nagano works wonders for the album, with the two artists sharing a great sense of coexistence. ‘Descending‘ is an honest, sentimental number that is unlike anything else found on the record. On the other hand, Phantogram seem to serve a similar purpose to Little Dragon on this release, but they just don’t seem to connect with Big Boi‘s style in the same way. All of the work they do on the album would be fine as Phantogram tracks, but they seem disconnected from Big Boi‘s work in a way that is hard to explain. A key example of this is ‘Lines‘; it has all the key ingredients to add up to a great song, but it all seems disjointed. Sure, A$AP Rocky‘s verse is great as usual, but his and Big Boi‘s verses just seem to sit alongside Phantogram‘s chorus instead of actually melding with it, to become one complete, flowing song.

The album represents Atlanta in a big way, with ‘In the A‘ being an ode to the city, while collaborations with other Atlanta natives are found scattered amongst the tracks. Notably, Killer Mike‘s presence on the album is especially nice to see. After several notable absences from OutKast/Big Boi releases as of late. Fresh off the hype surrounding R.A.P. Music, his latest release, Killer Mike delivers a killer (sorry)verse on ‘Thom Pettie‘, giving the track a much-needed injection of aggression.

That’s not to say this album doesn’t have a few false starts. ‘Higher Res‘ features a collaboration with burgeoning R’n’B star Jai Paul, whose vocals have a submerged quality to them. At only 2:24 long, it doesn’t really have enough time to develop as a song, before ending with a feeling that this was a blatant missed opportunity. It feels like it was a demo that was, for some reason, left on the album.

Secondly, the record seems to have less decidedly less enthusiasm than his previous release. From the offset, Big Boi starts the album with the expected amount of energy, but it seems to fluctuate throughout. The more solemn, self-reflective moments on the album (‘She Hates Me, ‘Descending’) provide a side to Big Boi we rarely see, but slow down things somewhat. Finally, because of all of the guest spots throughout the tracks, Big Boi’s true potential seems diluted. While that would have seemed impossible, it somehow has happened at points during Vicious Lies…

Overall, Vicious Lies… is certainly a very different album from his first solo record. It’s quite hard to give a definitive answer as to whether all of the risks and experimentation on display paid off in the end. There are aspects here that worked wonderfully, while some moments on the album weren’t executed quite  so successfully. Those of you hoping for a carbon copy of Sir Luscious Left Foot… will no doubt be disappointed, but with as much variation as there is on the album, there’s more than enough for anyone to enjoy. It’s a very ambitious and ultimately flawed, but kinda excellent, record.

 8/10


REVIEW: Los Campesinos! – Hello Sadness

It feels like Hello Sadness has been such a long time in the making, when in fact it’s only been around 18 months since 2010’s brilliant Romance is Boring. A lot has changed within the band; some members have departed and there have been some new arrivals. Although they are still a seven piece, the dynamics have changed quite drastically.

Los Campesinos!, as a band, have only been making music for just over five years, and in those five short years we’ve seen 4 albums and 2 EPs, all of which are solid releases. You would think that the speed at which they release would have a detrimental effect on the quality of their work, but that is not the case, in fact it’s the opposite. With each album, they seem to get stronger and stronger as a band, and with Hello Sadness they don’t seem to be stopping that tradition any time soon.

The album deals with the themes of breakups, sadness and death, as is telling from the record’s title, but it does so in a surprisingly upbeat fashion, although not to the extent of their previous work. There are some lulls in the pace  (Hate for the Island in particular) but for the most part they keep it moving upward and onward throughout all of the ten-tracks.

Frontman Gareth’s ability to conjure vivid images in their listeners’ minds is ever present across the record, with vast use of metaphor mixed with very down-to-earth lyrics that makes it feel like something we can relate to while still keeping it on multiple levels. For example, in a highlight of the album The Black Bird, The Dark Slope Gareth uses the image of a blackbird extensively to represent the dark side and flaws in him, and in all of us, and how they hold him back. In contrast, some songs, such as By Your Hand are very much grounded in reality, with lyrics such as “’cause we were kissing for hours / with her hands down my trousers / she could not contain herself, suggests we go back to her house” that we know and love from Los Campesinos!

Musically, the album is a lot more conventional in the way its structured and how it will be viewed in the eyes of the general public as far as indie-pop goes. It all feels a lot more toned down but this fits the overall mood of the album well. Gone is the sporadic shouting and distortion on most of the tracks, leaving a more refined, grown-up album.

It’d be hard for a band to beat an opening track like In Medias Res from 2010’s effort, but Los Campesinos! try their hardest and might have just succeeded. By Your Hand, the lead single from the album, starts the album off with a bang. The song is filled with sing-along choruses, Gareth’s trademark, biographical lyrical styling’s and arguably one of the catchiest melodies of the year.

The hooks found in their previous work are not lost in the transition to their new sound though. Songs like Baby I Got The Death Rattle and the eponymous Hello Sadness have massive triumphant finishes, and a hell of a lot of energy. Hearing a crowd shout the words “not headstone, but headboard / where I wanna be mourned” is quite an unforgettable experience, and just shows the emphasis LC! can put into their music while still maintaining their tongue-in-cheek nature.

Although it may sound like I’m overflowing with praise for the record, it’s not all gravy. The final track on the album, Light Leaves, Dark Sees pt. II, feels like a missed opportunity. The track is a lot slower than others found on the album and with lyrics like “but they request that I leave / ’cause my sad eyes are too much to bear” it attempts to be a coveted emotional finish (a la Coda:A Burn Scar in the Shape of the Sooner State from RIB) but seems to miss the mark completely. The song then divulges into a chorus of woaaaah‘s from the rest of the band, it all seems a bit contrived. But that’s only a slight knock at an otherwise brilliant collection of songs.

Hello Sadness sounds like a record made by a band who know what they want to do and are proud of that fact. They’ve always been associated with keywords such as ‘quirky’ and ‘twee’ but they’ve countered those views by making a record that is their most accessible yet and maybe they’ll attract a bigger audience now with what might just be their strongest album to date. Heck, they deserve it.
9/10