By Shain Shapiro
Gomez's spatially stylistic brew is a genre in itself. I still can't decide whether they are a rock band or not because lately, especially with their modestly received Split the Difference and live record Out West, they have drifted much more towards the Americana realm than ever before. Yet, trying to pinpoint and categorize Gomez is a fallacious task at best, as their new album, How We Operate, simply furthers that affirmation.
How We Operate is Gomez's self-proclaimed magnum opus or the record they have been wanting to make all their career, because now, their internal troubles, like insufficient label help and production assistance, have been quelled. Being able to focus primarily on the music, instead of whether or not your label will drop you, purports newfound creativity, and the new album, in certain moments, definitely emanates the new circumstances. Firstly, How We Operate does sound like an amalgamation of all the stylistic directions the septet has explored throughout their five other releases. In addition, in some specific moments, it emanates a theme of resurgence as Gomez sounds refreshed, reinvigorated, and at times, better than they ever have. Yet, one inherent dichotomy that attacks genre-less bands like Gomez is the absence of continuity. Gomez has struggled with this throughout their career, leading to losing much of their popularity in the UK and to having it reappear, seemingly out of nowhere, in North America. How We Operate, like the ridiculously underappreciated Split the Difference, is another example of Gomez trying to solve this problem and simply realizing that it is impossible. Instead, a juxtaposed set of tracks encompassing hard rock to delta blues is smeared into fifty minutes and instructed to get along. Like its older brother, How We Operate somehow manages this relationship but not without problems.
The first two tracks, "Notice" and "See the World," are brilliant, both filled with mature lyricism, opulent melodies, and sing-a-long choruses. Singers Ben Ottewell, Ian Ball, and Tom Gray show off their vocal chops and lyrical sensibility in fine form from the onset, exhibiting a possible sense of continuity in Gomez unseen since they won the Mercury Prize in 1996. After that, however, too many ingredients are thrown into the stew, and slowly, it begins to turn cloudy. "Girlshapedlovedrug," a paean to every female that gets off on broken hearts, flirts with more Brit-pop than Gomez is used to and comes off sounding too forced and consonant, like the collective is really not as jubilant as the melody hints. In addition, "Tear Your Love Apart," a throwback to the In Our Gun days mixed with "Catch Me Up" from Split the Difference, again sounds somewhat restrained, like the band is waiting for something to blow up in the background before the excitement kicks in. Regardless, "Chasing Ghosts with Alcohol," a bluesy tribute to being a musician, and the acoustic/electric hybrid "Don't Make Me Laugh" more closely mirror the impressive beginning, exhibiting the band’s most fearless and fearful emotions all at once and showcasing the group of old college buddies in fine form, despite not quite knowing what the form is supposed to sound like.
Maybe I am being a bit harsh; I do like this record, and I believe anyone who has grown up with Gomez will mirror my sentiments. Yet, it still comes off utterly confusing at times, because from song-to-song, trying to decipher the minds of these songwriters becomes nearly impossible. I think that is what makes Gomez so enjoyable. I like being confused and entertained simultaneously, and Gomez does that better then anyone else. Plus, there are some damn good tracks on this record as well, proving that music is often most compelling when conventions go the way of Old Yeller.
JamBase | United Kingdom
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