Review: Roosevelt, Roosevelt

Amid a hard-hitting, disconcerting time to be alive in America, Roosevelt's excellent debut LP has come to represent the sheer necessity of composure.
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We’ve begun to take everything too seriously. Nothing means nothing anymore. Everything means something. Our actions are probably just a front for an ulterior motive, and our words were probably chosen with character defamation in mind. Jokes no longer exist in the way they once did, and precisely no one is exempt from the prospect of insult.

This whole assessment is obviously histrionic. Not everyone is smart enough to have a hidden agenda, which is likely the only positive aspect associated with being stupid in 2016. Not everything has a double-meaning, and most jokes that existed five years ago are as funny today as they were then. But we’re now months away from the US presidential election, which means the diametric disparity of American opinion has reached a fever pitch, and this isn’t even the most concerning piece of the puzzle. What’s more concerning is how wholly despised the two primary candidates have become over time. We’re no longer considering the best possible option for the Oval Office; we’re simply asking ourselves who sucks the least.

Volatility of this degree might make for damn-good ratings in the primetime slot, but it has also begun to heighten the level of austerity with which everyone asserts their point of view, while also testing the tolerance citizens have for ignorance and short-sightedness. Just last week, social media lost its shit when Gabby Douglas didn’t put her right hand over her heart during the US Gymnastics Team’s salute to the Star-Spangled Banner. Never mind that the National Anthem has never required the same kind of attention as the Pledge of Allegiance; Gabby Douglas, for about 94 seconds, created her own Red Scare. Because she’s actually a good person and not a fascist, she apologized almost immediately (though you could tell she wasn’t quite sure what she was apologizing for), but it didn’t matter. As the collective cool of an entire country wears thinner and thinner, words and actions develop underlying meanings by accident.

I mention all this to reinforce a value I originally assumed was exclusive to America: In many cases, there’s an abstruse amount of virtue in chilling the fuck out.

This is something Cologne-based producer/Greco-Roman wunderkind Marius Lauber seems to comprehend almost inherently. Amid a hard-hitting, disconcerting time to be alive in America, his excellent debut LP under the Roosevelt moniker has come to represent the sheer necessity of composure. Which is hilarious for a number of reasons.

The first and arguably most notable reason is that this was likely never Lauber’s intent. Roosevelt, before anything else, is an acid-washed, disco-inspired dance record performed by a dude with an unobjectionable voice and the production chops of Greco-Roman godfather and Hot Chip forebear Joe Godard. Thematically, the record spans feelings of regret, love-from-afar, revelry, hangovers and hope, but the scope goes deep. Lauber just so happens to possess the kind of talent that aggrandizes emotions like these to an enviable level, which is to say: He’s really good at making pop music, even if that’s not technically what he’s making at all.

But that doesn’t mean Roosevelt must only represent exactly what it’s about on-paper. The record is a marvel for its latent duality—countless moments sound both refreshingly crisp and comfortably worn at once. Nostalgia courses through the veins of Roosevelt, like remembering all the best moments of high school merely hours after graduation. Meanwhile, there’s an immediacy to it that makes even the more plainly dramatic moments of the record seem relatable. If forced to narrow Roosevelt down to one word, the word would almost have to be “personal.”

We knew this would be the case once Lauber began dropping pre-singles. “Night Moves” and “Hold On” hit the internet simultaneously, which was a sonic goldmine. Almost overnight, they came to represent the mammoth matriculation Lauber had undergone since 2013 EP Elliot, and they signaled a guard change that would affect the entire album in all the best ways you hope growth ever could. Earlier released tracks like “Montreal”, “Elliot”, and “Around You”, though solid for their own reasons, were clearly stepping stones for a bigger, clearer and much more applicable picture.

What’s most impressive about Roosevelt is how all 12 tracks blend so effortlessly together without ever once feeling repetitive or stagnant. This is a mood record that works for several moods at the same time, and the paradox seems inadvertently related to the development he has undergone as an artist. When I spoke to Lauber in November of 2015, he addressed this very concept (in this context, he’s referencing his transition from electronic music to full-band executions). “It’s so funny to see how people perceive the transition, because it’s not like a conscious move,” Lauber said. “It just comes naturally.”

Needless to say, the breadth is wider than ever, and the growth is apparent across the entirety of Roosevelt. “Sea” captures the pop-centric versatility of an artist firmly in tune with the bells and whistles that have come to impact his sound. On “Belong” Lauber showcases a commitment to conclusion; several vocal deliveries seem regular—boring, even—until he spends another two bars finishing out what evolves into a totally irregular cherry on top. Despite a mild resemblance to the opening notes to “We Found Love”, “Fever” blossoms into a hopeful anthem that lionizes the neon-lit euphoria of the night before. And album closer, “Close”, is beautiful execution in the vein of Electric Youth and Kavinsky.

The moment you decide on Roosevelt’s best track, you begin hearing other songs differently, which causes an unintentional course-correction. Upon my first handful of listens, I quickly identified “Wait Up” as that track. Carefully constructed and guiltlessly catchy, “Wait Up” is a master-craft example of simple, gorgeous pop music that goes just a little bit deeper than all other pop music in its category. Every transition makes sense on a visceral level.

As I’ve spent more and more time with this record, however, my opinion has changed. And not just once. It’s changed like six times. “Wait Up” is still one of the most powerful songs on Roosevelt, but “Fever” has only become less and less avoidable. As has “Belong”, “Sea”, and the airily pulsating “Heart”. This, in a snapshot, almost perfectly explains why Lauber’s debut LP is such an unassailable success: It’s pop music that sticks with you. If the genre’s most assailable characteristics are its fleeting shelf life and surface-level affectations, Roosevelt proves that they don’t necessarily have to be. And given the subject matter present on the record, Roosevelt listens less like a dynamic pop album and more like a static soundtrack that only becomes more and more significant as time goes on. Because possibly the most bipartisan desire that exists today is the desire to cool off. To be reminded that life will go on tomorrow, even if the events of today seem insurmountably cataclysmic. It’ll be OK, because there’s always a morning after. Lauber narrates this with deft believability, and Roosevelt is his ever-reliable platform. Take comfort. A MINUS