All The Kids Are Super Bummed Out a psychedelic alternative hit

BY XAVIER JOHNSON

For decades Rock And Roll has historically been an avenue to speak truth to power from the opposition of post-9/11 jingoism to the anti-monarchy messaging of British punk rock. The fiery passion of youth powers rock music to push boundaries and fight against authority. On the other hand, elderstatesmen are able to offer a more measured, analytical perspective of the world’s problems. These two philosophies work in sync and have helped establish rock as one of the great protest artforms.

Luke Haines, 55, and Peter Buck, 65, are established names in the rock scene, each forging their own legendary careers. Buck is a multi-instrumentalist known for co-founding the pioneering alternative rock band R.E.M. Throughout his career he’s branched out into different side projects, applying his chameleonic talents to a variety of groups. Haines is an English songwriter and guitarist with an equally prolific career, primarily known for his solo career and work with The Auteurs. The two musicians swooped in at the tail-end of the year with a collaborative double album All The Kids Are Super Bummed Out. This record comes as a follow up to 2020’s Beat Poetry for Survivalists, which established the curious combination of Buck’s musicianship melding with Haines’s distinctive energy.

The primary thesis of the album is pretty self-explanatory: why are the kids super bummed out? Well, war is lame. The constant threat of nuclear conflict sucks. Oppressive governments are pushing people toward revolution. It’s an exploration of post-war anxieties that are relevant to each generation. Haines’s observations are poignant and the record’s eternal themes show that history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

The first disk is quite unhinged; from the steady and grungy “The Skies are Full of Insane Machines” to the excellently strange “45 Revolutions,” where Haines just lists off exactly that, a bunch of revolutions throughout history. The record starts off with a helping of punk rock griminess and spacey psychedelic energy that takes the listener on quite the wild ride. Most songs are filled with refrains repeating the same line over and over again. Haines combines repetition with his signature laid-back vocal timbre to provide a dreamy energy that allows the listener to get lost in a sea of sound. The core juxtaposition on the record involves the monotonous vocals pounding the same message and exploratory instrumentation that’s always evolving and adding new elements, rewarding active listening.

Songs are allowed to breathe. From the length to the measured musicianship, nothing is rushed. It’s a surprisingly great quality about the record. Despite the generally simple song structure, there’s plenty of depth to each track. “The British Army On LSD” stands out for it’s blaring guitars, creeping pace, and strange synths which deliver a unique vibe. Then there’s “Iranian Embassy Siege” marked by a calming aura accented by harmonics and percussion that evoke the middle east. The closer “Waiting For The UFOs” is an acoustic-backed track where Haines’s singing is allowed to shine as he explores a more dynamic range, leading to an galactic tune that could be plopped right into the 60’s and be an instant hit.

©JAMES FRY
Peter Buck and Luke Haines

Lyrically, Haines’s writing feels more like poetry than typical song lyrics. This is enhanced by his delivery which verges on energetic talking reminiscent of Lou Reed. This style might not be for everyone and could turn some people off. It’s like cooking; less concerned with exact perfection and more with personal expression and taste. The vocals will be a make-or-break point for uninitiated listeners or fans of REM looking to check out a related project. When Haines’s vocals click, like on “Diary of a Crap Artist,” there’s nothing that sounds quite like it. His sardonic and off-kilter lyrics are elevated by his wry delivery.

The second disk mellows out considerably. There’s a distinct shift in tone starting with “Minimalist House Burns Down” and its slowed-down tempo that allows for Haines’s lyrics to shine. The longest track on the record is the otherworldly psychedelic anthem “Exit Space (All The Kids Are Super Bummed Out).” Opening with a dreary chord progression and chanting that transitions into the woozy body of the track with one of the strongest choruses on the album.

All The Kids Are Super Bummed Out is a solid record. There’s nothing really like it on the musical landscape today. What Haines and Buck crafted in their second effort is a sound wholly their own. The resumes of both artists alone should put this album on people’s radars. It won’t be for everyone. The album’s core elements are its psychedelic sound, retro aesthetic and vocals that are an acquired taste. For some all these qualities will click and for others they won’t mesh. However, because it’s a unique presentation and plethora of great ideas, All The Kids Are Super Bummed Out is worth checking out.

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