Favorite Track: "Leave Me Alone" Least Favorite Track: "Kiss Goodnight"
The word “Razzmatazz” (a synonym for “Razzle-dazzle”), is defined as “noisy, showy, and exciting activity and display designed to attract and impress.” Ex Panic! at the Disco bassist Dallon Weekes and ex Falling in Reverse drummer Ryan Seaman, aka I Don’t Know How But They Found Me (iDKHOW), completely capture this sentiment on their debut studio album of the same name. Razzmatazz, a wonderful composition of synth-pop and alt-rock, is one of the more aptly named albums that I’ve heard in recent memory. The melodies on the record are grandiose and catchy, the vocals are super theatrical and entrancing, and its ability to “attract and impress” is unmatched by any other album in the alt-rock field this year.
Personally, iDKHOW’s breakout single “Choke” didn’t do too much for me at its time of release. It felt like a bit of a basic tune made specifically for local alt-rock radio to overplay; moreover, the overstated choral vocals and melodramatic tone from Weekes just felt a little derivative of all their alt-rock contemporaries. Razzmatazz however, manages to take all of the radio-accessible assets of a typical alt-rock sound and flip them on their head. For example, take the opening track “Leave Me Alone”, composed of an insanely groovy bassline and tripped up hi-hat patterns that create a relentlessly addicting, rock-tinged synth-pop sound. The bouncy guitar lines in the background complement the throbbing synth notes, and Weekes’ vocals on the chorus are fantastically theatrical, rivaling some of the most enjoyable vocal performances of his ex-band’s lead singer Brendon Urie.
In my opinion, Weekes actually manages to outshine Urie on this album, not necessarily in technical vocal chops but in sheer presence instead. The majority of what makes this album’s carefree, fun-natured personality so addicting is Weekes’ attention-grabbing timbre and his theatrical high notes that feel like pure colorful ear candy through and through. The choruses are so meticulous, as if Weekes was paying attention to what made songs like “The Ballad of Mona Lisa” and “I Write Sins Not Tragedies” tick during his time with Panic!, and utilized that on Razzmatazz with spunk and an overall personal touch. The result is a more infectious, less emo-inspired listen, influenced instead by the simple pop lyricism and funky 80’s synth-pop grooves that have made albums like Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia so fantastic.
The album, on top of being supremely catchy, is very well produced. The synths on the record have a crystal-clear tone and every instrument in the mix is perfectly placed. Everything from the spunky and driving drum groove on “New Invention” to the blazing resolution found in the fantastic saxophone solo on the closing track, “Razzmatazz”, is perfectly complemented by every other instrument here. Simply put, not a single moment across the record feels out of place or wasted. Even the songs that I don’t love have quite a bit of instrumental merit. “Kiss Goodnight” has some really seductive synth lines and electronic influences, and Weekes’ vocal performances on the verses are quite nice even though I’m not a huge fan of the chorus or the writing on the track.
Razzmatazz is not a revolutionary album despite how good it is. iDKHOW do not reinvent any styles or push any significant boundaries; however, they do not disappoint. This album’s mixture of 80’s synth-pop, emo-style vocals, and tight performances on all instrumental fronts is not a new concept, but it is catchy and colorful nonetheless. In the alt-rock genre, it doesn’t take a whole lot to set yourself apart from other contemporaries when unoriginal goliaths like Imagine Dragons run the show. iDKHOW manages to do so exceptionally well with a smattering of grandiose pianos, anthemic and theatrical vocals, and the most personality you will find on an alt-rock release this year.