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When it came time to record their seventh studio album, the eclectic, beautiful Whatever's On Your Mind, the members of Gomez found themselves in a bit of a %u201Clong distance writing relationship.%u201D Spread out on opposite corners of the world, the band %u2013 who had once shared a house %u2013 were forced to think outside the box and revamp their writing strategy. Not the types to shy away from a challenge, they took up an unusual, near-futuristic tactic.
Instead of getting together to write and record, the Transatlantic five-piece set up an online hub for their homemade demos. They tasked each other with delivering a set number of songs per week %u2013 each of which the other band members could modify at will. %u201CI think we all knew the intensity of how good we wanted to make the record.%u201D says drummer Olly Peacock. Many months were committed to focusing these musical chain letters. Over 50 compositions whittled down and blended.
The resulting tight, 10-song long-player was perfected in two ten-day sessions in Charlottesville, VA with longtime friend Sam Farrar (Phantom Planet) whose role was strongly editorial %u201CUnlike other producers we've worked with, in Sam we had somebody who was familiar with our entire back catalog, and knew what it was that we were going after,%u201D says Tom Gray. %u201CHe could help us achieve our aims even better than we could ourselves.%u201D This return to a form of self-production seems to have allowed Gomez to incorporate the lush pop of recent records like How We Operate with the free-form feel of early, beloved Gomez albums like Bring it On.
This is a record in glorious Technicolor; the sound of a band enjoying themselves%u2026not alone though. The other musicians on the record include Luke Steele (Empire of the Sun, Sleepy Jackson) and Stuart Bogie (Antibalas, TV on the Radio, Iron and Wine). Whatever's On Your Mind shares a lineage with In Our Gun, thanks to both a preponderance of strings and horns (check out the brass on the opening track, %u201COptions%u201D, the punctuation-abetted, groovy %u201CI Will Take You There,%u201D and the seasonal swells of the pre-chorus to %u201CX-Rays%u201D) and an electronic dance-aspect that always carries along with it some sort of guitar chunkiness. (%u201CSong In My Heart%u201D begins almost Gaga-esque before its keyboard lick is replicated by a strummed acoustic). At 38 minutes it's Gomez's shortest album to date, there is no fat on the disc.
Still, it maintains Gomez's trademarks: Ben Ottewell's gritty vocals tear through the carefully arranged background harmonies of %u201CThe Place and The People,%u201D while bassist Paul %u201CBlackie%u201D Blackburn's overdriven bass gives a near-African beat to %u201CEqualize,%u201D and %u201CJust as Lost As You%u201D finds Ball yearning and introspective, while somehow still sounding hopefully positive, as the band explodes behind him in a memorable, throttling thrust. The title track alone should convince you that this is a band reaching further than they have before to achieve a balance in their work between musical exploration and lyrical content. The songwriting is adult, but the spirit is freewheeling.
The change of pace and influx of creativity has helped the band find themselves again. "Sometimes we might have been a little trapped by our own muso-ness" says Gray, "but this album is liberating. It doesn't feel at all stuffy. It's a real joy." Whatever%u2019s On Your Mind finds Gomez driving forward on a beautifully lush and dynamic album. There is a fresh feeling of rebirth and awakening. One to raise a smile even from the naysayers. A broad grin from the rest of us.