Album Review: Razzmatazz by I DON'T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME
Calling all IDKHOW fans! The wait is over. Since 2017, former Falling in Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman and third Panic! at the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes have been sweeping the world with their unforgettable stage characters ("forgotten rockstars who tolerate machines"), their groovy riffs, and their inability to write a bad song. Now, the long awaited album Razzmatazz finally arrived in October 2020 and much like the EP 1981 Extended Play, every song stays true to IDKHOW's quirky style; down to the catchy baselines, wacky lyrics, immaculate production, and outrageous audiovisual spectacle. I DON'T KNOW HOW BUT THEY FOUND ME is officially bringing New Wave back in the new decade.
The album's first single Leave Me Alone is not the best song to come from the "bamd," but the music video is pure genius. The sneeze guards and distance bubbles are current to the coronavirus pandemic as it continues to rip through the population and the lyric "go fly a kite until you're tangled in the hanging tree" is especially good at portraying the feeling of seeing an anti masker on the street. Leave Me Alone is not just another market ploy to teen angst, it's a musical artifact.
The second track, Mad IQ was an instant favorite for me. The song is about being a "voluntary victim" and the walkable tempo, disco style syncopated guitar, and subtle choral textures establish a very sensual atmosphere that reinvents itself as the album goes on. Following Mad IQ is Nobody Likes the Opening Band, which was released years ago but was only available on YouTube. The hilarious song, proclaiming "nobody likes the opening band... nobody came to see them except their mom and dad" is a speculated nod to IDKHOW's beginning when they were opening for the legendary pop punk band Waterparks. Part of the song's charm is its lack of orchestration, which contrasts nicely to the indistinct stadium quality of the previous songs and features dated-sounding distorted vocals, piano, and a tambourine/sleigh bells. The music video is a laugh riot, with drummer Ryan Seaman leaving the stage to throw produce at his own bandmate in a hilarious twist.
New Invention is a clean slate from Nobody Likes the Opening Band, reintroducing the sensuality of Mad IQ with a sinister and slow quality. It may have a very prominent groove and loads of shiny synth riffs, but New Invention is no dance song. The harmonies almost trip over themselves, forcing our ears on the lyrics. Nothing is more visceral than Weekes' wails of "the girl is like an architect and I am just her new invention," especially as the album's ballad, From the Gallows, queues up after it; introducing lyrics like "you're beautiful/and evil... sinister and vile/for you I'd die or kill myself/whichever makes you smile." Both songs are successful because their lyrics create an infinite loop of prologue to each other, adding an abstract element to the album that you wouldn't expect from the concrete, well constructed melodies.
Clusterhug was originally a song Dallon Weekes performed with his old band The Brobecks (which Ryan Seaman was also a member of), and certainly a throwback to 2011-2014, the years when pop punk bands lived in that blurred space between mainstream pop and their experimental days. However, the blend of musical textures make this track worth listening to. Sugar Pills brings everything back on track. Unlike the rest of the album, which mostly draws the listener in with clever riffs and hooks, Sugar Pills gets by purely with a simple, rhythmic pop melody reminiscent of Madonna.
In Kiss Goodnight, Weekes sings to his kids of how much he misses them while on the road. It's a stunning song, and surrounds the listener with an intimate and cozy feeling as Weekes sings "Should you invite me in to spend the night on the floor/Oh, please believe I'll be a gentleman or you can show me the door.. Why don't we kiss goodnight?" Following the emotional Kiss Goodnight is Lights Go Down which is as poetic as it is dance-y, with an unexpected yet crazy awesome sax solo midway through the song. Need You Here is also a stunning song, with a similar message to Kiss Goodnight but equally as stirring and beautiful.
The issue I had with Door was the fact that it's only 90 seconds! Anything with a ukulele is the key to my heart and Door takes it to another level with immaculate sound effects contrasting with the purposefully messy-sounding production. It is an underrated treasure, overshadowed by the final song on the record and title track Razzmatazz. A melancholic pairing of the analog and the acoustic, the impressive and the intimate, Razzmatazz combines the catchiness of Leave Me Alone, the impressive vocal range of Mad IQ, the piano textures of Nobody Likes the Opening Band and Door, the simultaneously nostalgic and freshly baked synths of New Invention and Sugar Pills, the sad devotion of From the Gallows, Kiss Goodnight, and Need You Here, and the gripping texture changes of Clusterhug. Dallon Weekes and Ryan Seaman have blessed us with a saga of heart songs for the space age, and Razzmatazz is sure to go down as one of the defining alternative albums of the 21st Century.