[13 October 2010]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Stuck on an Island, the second album from Miami hip-hop band ¡Mayday!, is annoying for several reasons, but none is more egregious than this: They keep. Stopping. The beat. In every. Single song. (Save one.) They build up beats and hooks and some entirely decent flows into energetic propulsion machines and. Then. As though to emphasize. The importance. Of what they’re saying. They break it down. Again. (Like Tears for Fears, if “I Believe” summed up their careers.) That’s the kind of gimmick that works well for a song or two. Weezer did it on “Beverly Hills”, to fine effect. Over the course of 19 songs, though—and by the way, NINETEEN SONGS?? Who do these guys think they are?—this tic will make you want to break things down yourself. Starting with whichever listening device is transmitting this profoundly felt music into your ears.
Annoying aspect number two: there’s a disconnect between the way ¡Mayday!’s vocalists rap and what they’re actually saying. The two rappers, BernBiz and Wrekonize, are talented—or they would be, if they had any memorable lines. Musically they sound loose and confident, flipping strings of syncopated syllables in a way that suggests party rap. Unfortunately, whatever party they’re at sounds like a dire affair. ¡Mayday! lyrics slog through the songs with furrowed brows and vague threats of violence, but it’s never entirely clear what they’re talking about. Even TV’s Lost, which receives a shoutout in the title track, knew to leaven its drama with jokes and Sawyer’s silly nicknames. These guys don’t manage even that much, so thank goodness for guest stars; one of the Money Making Jam Boys lands a decent Charles Ponzi joke, at least. The ¡Mayday! MCs stick to boilerplate whines like, “They prob’ly hate my shit more / ‘Cause I’m backin’ it up.” Trust me dude, that’s not the reason.
Oh, but “hate” is such a strong word. There exist nice things to say about ¡Mayday!. Their beats bang on occasion; they mix live drums with programmed stuff, and percussionist Nonymous provides rippling congas on a couple songs. They’re probably a blast live, and about half the songs have memorable, well-sung hooks. ¡Mayday! would make for decent background music—say, backing up Lil’ Wayne or scoring video games. Which, AS IT HAPPENS, are both items on their resumé.
But that leads us to annoying aspect number three: ¡Mayday! seem intent on demonstrating that THEY ARE A BAND. They play guitar and keyboard solos, most of them boring little things that hover around a couple notes. They throw in Mysterious Synth Intros and Noodly Organ Outros. The album’s sound is murky throughout. A song like “Lost Highway” sounds great during the choruses and those parts of the verses that actually have a beat, but then the band drifts into some kind of post-rock malaise. For comparison, consider the Roots. They’re the best hip-hop band around, and How I Got Over is one of the best rap records of the year, and it manages to be thoughtful and moody without sacrificing momentum. The Roots don’t feel compelled to transfer their live sound to record; they’re compelled to make good records. They know how to let their bangers be bangers.
¡Mayday! is a young band that’ll improve. In a few years, with some solid editing and the confidence that comes with playing to crowds, there’s no doubt. They can blow us. Away with their music.