Eight joyful indie rock bites (some fresher than others)
Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio has quietly built a very respectable solo career across the past decade. After releasing a few solo EPs around 2013, it was off to the races for Baio, releasing solo albums in 2015 and 2017. After a four-year hiatus, he’s back once again with Dead Hand Control, a spotty jaunt into the depths of Baio’s charming lovey-doveyness.
The project starts with the title track, a somewhat puzzling venture into campfire indie rock. Baio appears to become bored roughly halfway through the song, and opts for an entirely different and more psychedelic direction. Frankly, the song might’ve been more compelling had Baio just further developed the second half and left that sickly sweet sing-song first half on the cutting room floor.
The following two tracks, “Endless Me, Endlessly” and “What Do You Say When I’m Not There?,” reveal Baio’s strong sense for proper pop (he has spent years in the company of Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij…). Both tracks happily explore the excitement and paranoia that come with infatuation, while making use of some great electronics and producing some very catchy moments.
Baio gets off track once again on “Dead Hand,” which is an absolute drag. There’s little that distinguishes the instrumentation on this track from what exists elsewhere on the project, aside from the fact that on this track, that instrumentation is dragged out for a whole nine minutes. The track has a few rewarding moments, but nothing is remotely rewarding enough to warrant this gratuity. “Dead Hand” is further evidence that Baio is at is best when he can enact the pop conventions that make much of Vampire Weekend’s best work so refreshing.
The second half of the album is essentially smooth sailing. “Take It from Me,” while not earth-shattering by any means, is a much appreciated chunk of bite-size funk and freshness that quickly dissipates the bad taste of “Dead Hand.” “Caisse Noire” is a delightful burst of light synths, echoey claps and sweet lyrics, even if it runs a bit too long.
The penultimate “Never Never Never” is another creed of romantic commitment, and while at this point in the album Baio’s almost sickly sweet portrayal of romance is starting to get old, the track is still a ton of fun. It’s one of the best tracks in terms of pure guitar and drums work (don’t worry, Baio’s ever-present bass excellence continues too).
Finally, the album concludes with “O.M.W.,” one of the album’s best moments in terms of electronics. A careful synth base stews throughout the track while Baio plinks away on the keys and sings of his assuredness in love. It’s a clerver closer; it’s as if Baio understands that he has sung a lot about the power of his love for the past 40 minutes, and this closer is him winking at the skeptical non-romantic listener to say, “Yeah, I really do believe in all this. And I’m happy with myself, so maybe you can be too.”
While Baio never strays too far from his formula of blissful lyricism, relaxed guitar and a pinch of funkiness in the bass lines, Dead Hand Control is fairly entertaining. While its worst moments are tough to ignore, it’s best moments are very replayable, and even manage to reaffirm the otherworldly power of love. Maybe Baio’s onto something with this thing called love… after all, he certainly seems like he had fun making Dead Hand Control.