Diving into Populuxe’s latest album felt like opening an expansive toy chest, full of colorful, fun, and inventively curious trinkets that easily deserve time to explore and admire. This is an album that was crafted and visualized and subsequently executed to superb standards and left a result that’s, to say the least, memorable, and listening to it, coincidentally, on Christmas Day was an amazing gift.
Art-pop outfit Populuxe have been an item since they started as a trio way back in 1995, in Brooklyn. And now, 5 full length releases, and a mini opera EP, this band is a 5-piece, a collective of veteran musicians with decades of collective musical experience between them, and a plethora of illustrious associations such as Nada Surf and Imperial Drag. You don’t need to learn any of this though, to clearly feel the immaculate quality and maturity that this collection oozes with.
Kicking everything off is the twisting and twisted Learning The Alphabet. With considerably warped time signatures, stiff and bold guitars, sharp as blades, are wonderfully contrasted by gorgeous passages of the most romantic and peppy classic pop. The unusual riffs and tones, the challenging rhythms, and the warm, pleasant vocals are all a perfect entry point into Populuxe’s realm of sophisticated and dense music. An early left turn gives us another toy that feels premium and captivating, with American Night. The warm, rich ambiance created by the modulated, clean guitar is delicately accompanied by a boomy, restrained bass line that’s immaculately played, all on top of a composition that’s grand and captivating, with haunting harmonic choices that leave this song somewhere between a Christmas lullaby, and a fantasy dreamscape. Something’s Broken At The Wishing Well is easily one the album’s tightest, most special, and most enjoyable cuts. A supremely rich arrangement in which the drums take a considerable compositional role, with a dynamic part that effortlessly controls the pace between the different song sections. The modal, unusual sound of the songwriting is quirky and ear-grabbing, the hook really hooks, the layered atmosphere is expertly crafted, and the result is a delightfully rich and driving song with far more musical nuance than most people will notice.
The adventurous, angular feel of Carry Me is courtesy of a brooding, Tom-heavy drum line, with understated, jazzy bass, and consistent, falsetto vocals, for a result that’s outlandish and adventurous, with an outro that will send shivers down your spine. I’m Not Good At Drugs could pass as a sonic experiment among the many experiments on Led Zeppelin’s Houses of The Holy. With thick, creamy guitars, playing some succulent riffs, an extremely prominent, intricate, and capable rhythm section that goes far into alternative time signatures, and soulful, present vocals, and extensive instrumental sections, and another mad outro, this guitar-heavy song is easily one of the album’s boldest and most invigorating cuts. The warm sub bass and chill, minimal beats of Nowhere Left To Go are one more left turn on this album. The sweet, melodic composition, coupled with a restrained and downsated arrangement visit a mid-section that’s incredibly rich and bold. Loud, brash, prominent, with a hefty deal of dissonance, this challenging mid-section has a rewarding return to the normal, chill, and inviting atmosphere of this song’s beginning, coming full circle in a satisfying and smooth manner. The magical, inviting, piano-driven balladry of the penultimate cut, Congratulations, in bittersweet, lush, and captivating. With vocals prominent with melancholia, a delivery that’s heartfelt and soulful, and a soaring string arrangement, the romance element of this song steadily rises, reaching life-threatening levels with the introduction of the tight, solid beat, and peaks at the killer guitar solo. A mature cut that sums up the whole charm behind Populuxe, and their latest album.
A crowning jewel that beautifully bookends 2022, a year that surely meant a million different things to a million different people. Populuxe’s album is exceedingly elegant and effortless in its delivery of its plethora of messages, both lyrical and musical, and ends up being an enriching listen that’s easy to return to time and again. Full of exciting music, fun, panache, nuance and skill, intention and expertise, Uneasy Listening is an extremely easy, and fulfilling, listen.