David Andrew Sitek's first solo project Maximum Balloon is stacked to the brim with incredible guests from throughout the indie music scene. For those who don't know, Sitek daylights as a guitarist (et. various) in TV on the Radio, and has also had a hand in the production of many of the great albums of the last few years including those of his band (TVotR), all 4 albums by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Liars and Scarlett Johansson. As for the guests: Karen O, of Yeah Yeah Yeahs appears, as do TVotR band mates Tunde Adebimpe and Kyp Malone. The album also features Little Dragon, Theophilus London, Katrina Ford, Aku, Holly Miranda, and Ambrosia Parsley (David Byrne even makes an appearance on the memorable "Apartment Wrestling"). With all these guests, you'd think there would be potential concern that this album would become more of a compilation than a unique sounding record. Thankfully, that concern is washed away quickly. Even with a couple of songs like those featuring Sitek's band mates that sound strongly like TV on the Radio lost hits, Maximum Balloon is driven by a funky beat and strong combination of electronics, thoughtful melodies and (at times) '80s nostalgic bass lines.
Largely, the album is a sort of dance rock, indie opus for Sitek. The production and arrangements are impeccable, and the pacing is brilliant. The album never fails to bring an enjoyable tune, and only occasionally do a riff or mix sound that "too similar" way that strikes many bands. The excellent "Groove Me" opens the album and starts the funky set off with a strong first step. Katrina Ford's vocals on the '80s flavored "Young Love" are powerful and thick and syrupy, guiding an incredible track (backed by popping brass). "Absence of Light" is one of the TVotR tracks that could easily have been a missing hit, and that's nothing but a compliment. Anyone in love with/ familiar with TVotR will recognize Tunde's vocals immediately and be further driven to happiness by the grinding and powerful fuzz that coats the track. Little Dragon's contribution on "If You Return" is another case of beautiful female vocals carrying a song, not that the band is anything but stellar on the track, but Yukimi Nagano's vox are phenomenal. Kyp Malone of TVotR is another easily recognized voice for fans who appears on the fifth track "Shakedown." The song grinds out another dancing, but notably downbeat melody that vibes well as funky guitar work fills the space around Malone's vocal acrobatics.
And now we've made it to Karen O. Her work on "Communion" recalls many of the slower, but still driving tracks from last year's It's Blitz! and adds some very Sitek-unique aspects. It becomes both a haunting track and a steely, city anthem. It blends well into the album as a whole, too, even if Karen O's voice calls for indie-rock neck-craning (or is it ear-craning?). Aku comes aboard for "Tiger," a song with a chorus/chanting backing vocals that is close to my heart due to a variety of inside jokes with great friends. The song falls into refrains of "Meow, meow, meow" repeating, just quietly enough not to distract, but audibly enough to show a playful face. "The Lesson" is another, and perhaps the most, thoughtful and haunting track on the album featuring Holly Miranda on vocals. And "Apartment Wrestling," which I mentioned before is co-written by and features vocals by the immortal and incredible David Byrne. This track comes off as a true Talking Heads-style, Byrne-esque work, loaded with quick lyrics belted at high volume in a disjointed inflection. It's a treat and also a song that falls so well into the nostalgic format that it just feels like home (assuming of course home had anything to do with Talking Heads, which mine did). The closer is a droning, slow, fuzzy, tide-crashing-to-the-beach style song that lives with a minimum of instrumental adornment called "Pink Bricks." It features Ambrosia Parsley and is fueled by her voice. It closes the album on a peaceful, if solemn note. And does so beautifully.
Maximum Balloon is as much Sitek's project as that of his co-writers, but his stamp is evident and welcome on each and every song. The album blends its guests and its "star" perfectly, making it easily of the most enjoyable discs of the year. Not checking it out, I'll say, should be considered a Federal offense. Is it too late to add that to state ballots for November? It is? Okay, well, then do yourself (and your loved ones) a favor and check this out.
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