Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.: The Speed of Things

Scott Recker

With The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. set their sights on our unforgivingly fast-paced society, where trends and feelings -- both collective and personal -- change with the wind.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr.

The Speed of Things

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2013-10-08
UK Release Date: 2013-12-02

On their debut album (2011's It's a Corporate World), Detroit electro-pop duo Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. showed us their strong suit: taking ever-present, convoluted social ideas and ideals and deconstructing them with an open-ended wit that came off as purely thoughtful rather than misguidedly arrogant. The handful of dominant tracks had serious zing, but came off as unpretentious.

This time, with The Speed of Things, Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. set their sights on our unforgivingly fast-paced society, where trends and feelings -- both collective and personal -- change with the wind. While sometimes the flow of the album feels as jumbled and neurotic as the concept, its end result is relatively cohesive, fueled by a cocktail of melancholy poetic delivery and dreamy yet sparkly grooves that have serious backbone. And, of course, there are gleaming moments of Motor City soul.

The sophomore slump is overanalyzed. In some cases, it's a can't-win battle. Sticking to the formula brings cries of redundancy or mediocrity, but throwing a left-field curveball confuses and polarizes (see MGMT's Congratulations). Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott don't stray too far from their lean, carefully-manufactured style with The Speed of Things, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's enough lyrical punch here to carry the album while constant change-of-pace musicianship keeps boredom at bay. At the same time, they do stay directly in their comfort zone. The record often sounds like it could have easily been the second disc if It's a Corporate World was a double album. Is that points for it or against it? Well, it's probably a little of both, since the ideas of their debut are, essentially, slightly and meticulously reconstructed, rather than kicking out a clean slate that rings with spur-of-the-moment brilliance and gut-feeling chance.

After coming out of the gate with the introspective "Beautiful Dream", The Speed of Things picks up steam with "Run", a satirical poke at excess and maybe the strongest thinking man's pop track on the record. "He said, I've got a secret room where I can be myself with someone I've rented / He said, the only thing that really gets me off is paying for enough to feel pleasure," the first verse relates, before changing perspectives during the second: "She was always buying things she had to have, but you'll never see them / Because she got it all insured and keeps it locked in a safe behind the vanity mirror." It's surprising how much substance the duo packs into a song titled "If You Didn't See Me (Then You Weren't on the Dancefloor)". Things slow down with the folksy "I Can't Help It," revolving around being "distracted by the little things that fall apart," before diving into the album's synth-pop gem "Hiding". The second half of Speed brings a dreary reprise of "Beautiful Dream", which leads to the infectious "Mesopotamia". Epstein and Zott hit the finish line with two uncharacteristic drawn-out tracks, "A Haunting" and "War Zone".

The Speed of Things is not a step backward, forward or sideways. But, if a sophomore record that pretty much gives us another taste of a damn fine debut means that progress is far away, I don't buy it. There are clear flashes of brilliance here that convince me that Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. is on the verge of something bigger.


Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less

Featuring a shining collaboration with Terry Riley, the Del Sol String Quartet have produced an excellent new music recording during their 25 years as an ensemble.

Dark Queen Mantra, both the composition and the album itself, represent a collaboration between the Del Sol String Quartet and legendary composer Terry Riley. Now in their 25th year, Del Sol have consistently championed modern music through their extensive recordings (11 to date), community and educational outreach efforts, and performances stretching from concert halls and the Library of Congress to San Francisco dance clubs. Riley, a defining figure of minimalist music, has continually infused his compositions with elements of jazz and traditional Indian elements such as raga melodies and rhythms. Featuring two contributions from Riley, as well as one from former Riley collaborator Stefano Scodanibbio, Dark Queen Mantra continues Del Sol's objective of exploring new avenues for the string quartet format.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.