You may have noticed i haven’t posted in weeks. I probably won’t be posting that much until July when I will have plenty of time to catch up on the albums I’m behind on. I apologise for this, but I promise I will get up to date by the end of the summer. I love doing this but i haven’t had all that much time recently. And I am aware that I am like two months behind, but I really intend to get all the reviews down and make up for it. I love you so much!
Chancellor Bennett is a great rapper. This is clear from the start. Whether he is tolerable, pleasant, funny, witty, smart, and accessible are all questions which take a longer time to be answered. Acid Rap is Bennett’s second mixtape as Chance the Rapper and it is a grower. On first listen, you are bound to be thrown off by it. Everything about it is so unorthodox; from Chance’s extremely distinctive yet undeniably bizarre voice to the incredibly earnest and unconventional lyricism, Acid Rap takes constant jabs at your perception of rap music. However, once you get used to it, there is no doubting its power. All of these things make it a fantastic tape and easily one of the most unique albums you are going to hear all year.
Everything about this album screams for your attention, and once it gets it there is absolutely no turning back. The intro to this record is one of the most arresting pieces of music you could possibly imagine, with its beat gaining such a large magnitude that it would seem practically impossible to contain. That is, unless you are Chance the Rapper whose flow is amazing enough to carry a track as huge as this. The first lines here jump out at you; “raps just made me anxious and acid made me crazy”. However, if we stick with it we are exposed to more than just simple punchlines, we hear a completely complex and hugely energetic rap performance that only somebody with huge talent can pull off. Other tracks like ‘Juice’ and ‘Chain Smoker’ pull off a similar type of energy revolving around Chance’s climactic persona leading them to prominence.
However, the most striking songs on Acid Rap are also the most awkward. ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’ sees and drugged out Chancellor losing his relationships with the ones he loves (“put Visine inside my eyes so my Grandma would fucking hug me”) showcasing a very unconventional and personal standpoint that few rappers take. ‘Lost’ is another drugged out track, but this time it paints a picture of a relationship revolving around substance abuse, making it seem much more romantic than it turns out to be (“the only time he loves me is naked in my dreams”). ‘Pusha Man’ is a two part song, the first half being home to the album’s best hook while the second track has a bleak, pessimistic outlook, yet another thing that sets Chance apart from other rappers. More romantic tracks like ‘Everybody’s Something’ and ‘That’s Love’ show the tender side of Chance’s spectrum, one of the most compelling aspects on the album.
Even with all this on his back, Chance the Rapper manages to maintain a traditional appeal simply because he makes great music. He doesn’t need gimmicks to set him apart seeing as he can easily do it all himself. ‘Favorite Song’ is a Childish Gambino featuring pop rap track and it turns out to be one of the most entertaining on the album, while ‘Smoke Again’ with Ab-Soul takes on a trap feel quite well. Chance never sacrifices appeal with energy and distinction, something that could easily happen with a character this bizarre.
High Points: ‘Good Ass Intro’, ‘Pusha Man’, ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’, ‘Juice’, ‘Favorite Song’, ‘Smoke Again’, ‘Chain Smoker’
Low Points: ‘NaNa’
If you have only recently started getting caught up with Deerhunter, Monomania might feel like a departure even if it really is a return to form. Ever since their 2010 masterwork Halcyon Digest dropped, frontman Bradford Cox has shown more and more discomfort with the idea of becoming a pop artist and although his own recent endeavors have not done much to reincorporate the rawness of Cox’s noise roots, Monomania certainly does. Deerhunter have always been one of today’s most expansive and fascinating rock bands and in contrast to the dreamier and lighter sound that the public has begun to associate with them, Monomania feels like a punch in the face. It seems deliberately heavy-handed, making use of a gritty and messy aura that is notably harder to swallow than the delicate gorgeousness of Halcyon Digest and 2008’s Microcastle. However, while Monomania is undeniably underwhelming in the sonic side of things, it shows a new and hugely effective face of Deerhunter where the group use psychedelic loudness to create a fresh form of infection.
The lo-fi approach means that Monomania does not seem as full and mind-blowing as Halcyon Digest did. Nonetheless, the songs are more in line with the punchy and down to earth singles of Halcyon… (‘Memory Boy’, ‘Revival’) than the dreamy and vast group of tracks. The idea of abashed catchiness is executed quite consistently on Monomania starting with the noisy opener ‘Neon Junkyard’ which uses its grit to jump out at you almost instantly. ‘Leather Jacket II’ follows with an even rougher pace, projecting a record which could potentially be too challenging for its own good. However, this never becomes the case with Monomania thanks to Deerhunter’s ability to balance jaggedness with a clean edge that maintains the record’s noxiousness. Tracks like ‘Dream Captain’, ‘Pensacola’, and ‘Back to the Middle’ are perfect examples of songs which have a disorderly flavor but manage to keep a playful and captivating quality to them through wonderful melodic awareness. However, when this album treads over the line as it does on ‘Monomania’ and ‘Neon Junkyard’, the rawness and noise becomes the band’s deadliest asset, bringing forth a fantastically arresting charisma that would certainly wear out its welcome if it were not taken is such small doses. Thankfully, the pacing on Monomania is perfect as it is and the record does not suffer.
Monomania also has its fair share of more soothing songs, but even these seem much more earthbound than the music from Deerhunter’s past. Guitarist Lockett Pundt’s ‘The Missing’ serves as the album’s dreamiest moment, bearing a resemblance to the more chiming and hypnotic material of Pundt’s Lotus Plaza side project. Songs like ‘Blue Agent’ and ‘Sleepwalking’ add a gorgeous texture to the album, helping restore a vibe that is at times overlooked by the more abrasive moments. The most interesting track on here is ‘T.H.M.’ because it pushes forth a sinister and eerie vibe while being Monomania’s most reserved moment. It is a good snapshot of what makes Monomania a very functional album. Deerhunter never let their ambition drown out their music which means that every single extreme present on this record is perfectly balanced. The personality of Bradford Cox may lose itself within the sonics at times and although this takes away from the record’s euphoria, Monomania is very much alive, a subtle feeling that turns into a driving force.
High Points: ‘Neon Junkyard’, ‘The Missing’, ‘Dream Captain’, ‘Blue Agent’, ‘T.H.M.’, ‘Back to the Middle’, ‘Monomania’
Low Points: ‘Punk’
As much as their sound would beg to differ, Yeah Yeah Yeahs are quite a subtle band. Not subtle in the musical sense but subtle in the sense that the uniqueness of their development is extremely abstruse. Anyone with ears can tell that they have grown since 2003’s landmark debut Fever to Tell but it takes a bit more attention to appreciate how they have maintained a distinctive energy through a variety of phases. Whether it was the lo-fi punk of their early days or the electronica tinged It’s Blitz, the approach of the band has never changed with their sonic locations. Through thick and thin, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have stuck with their thunderous, playful, and gritty approach, a consistency which only a band with particular strength can accomplish.
Although Yeah Yeah Yeahs have varied their production style with every album they release, up until now their ride has not been a particularly bumpy one. In fact, it is their reputation to deliver that makes Mosquito, their fourth album in ten years, such a massive disappointment. Not only is Mosquito the first true dud in the group’s catalogue, it also displays an unbelievable dip in quality where Yeah Yeah Yeahs fall from the incredibly graceful cliff they were galloping on four years ago into a muddy ditch. Mosquito is easily their most forced and least energetic album yet, turning in a handful of foggy and forgettable tunes which seem to go everywhere from decency to aimlessness to sonic confusion and painful silliness during their worst moments. Mosquito is a mess but to its credit it never really falls apart. If you ignore a couple of horrific patches then this album is digestible. However, listenability does very little to make up for the boredom insured by the mediocrity of this album.
Even the best songs on Mosquito feel a tad underwhelming when compared to the heights that Yeah Yeah Yeahs used to be able to reach. Lead single ‘Sacrilege’ might be one of the weakest singles the band has ever put out, but it is still a toweringly ambitious and very solid endeavor into the large sound that Yeah Yeah Yeahs should have been aiming for on this record. ‘Under the Earth’ touches on this vastness even further by bringing forth a very gradual but ultimately huge progression which makes it the album’s most satisfying track. Some songs on here are good purely based on one strong idea such as the captivating riff on ‘Slave’ or the wonderful crescendo which supplies the climax of ‘Despair’. Unfortunately, this is the extent of Mosquito’s power. The rest of the album is terribly weak thanks to a lack of ambition or a bizarre diffusion of the group’s songwriting ability. There simply isn’t enough on here to keep the listener excited. However, only a few songs are really awful and these tend to be the ones that latch onto a unbearably cheesy lyrical direction. For example, the title track on here is quite a literal track about the titular insect but Karen O takes the most clichéd look at the topic that one possibly can (the refrain goes “he’ll suck your blood”). ‘Area 52’ has the same problem, except this time it is about an alien making it feel even more forced and less cool. The key issue with this record is that everything seems grounded, from the tameness of O’s lyrics (an asset which has always been a defining characteristic of the group’s zest) to the overall structural direction. ‘Wedding Song’ seems like it would be lovely if it wasn’t so unoriginal and obvious while tracks like ‘Subway’ and ‘These Paths’ have great sonic potential but suffer because they go absolutely nowhere. This dullness makes Mosquito a demanding listen but the reward is completely unsatisfying. For the first time ever, Yeah Yeah Yeahs sound like they have nothing left to give. They can’t even rely on energy to do the trick anymore.
High Points: ‘Sacrilege’, ‘Under the Earth’, ‘Slave’, ‘Despair’
Low Points: ‘Subway’, ‘Mosquito’, ‘Area 52’, ‘Wedding Song’
4.5/10 Music to Avoid
MCII is not the first time indie music has come across an earnest California-born rocker taking command and making a summery, uplifting record. That being said, such a familiar concept is very dependent on the ambitions of the artist for it to work. On MCII, Mikal Cronin is embroiled in a mid-youth crisis and decides to take a rather introspective look at music. Each track progresses with themes of misconstrued love and a gradual progression in Croninʼs seeming refusal of change; MCII paints a picture of a man choosing to avoid his obstacles rather than overcome them. As the album counts down its minutes, Mikal Cronin consistently turns up the emotional potency, further broadening his sentimental scope and reflecting upon his developing mental state. Opener ʻWeightʼ sees an obstinate Cronin insistent “it is not the right time” and that he is “not ready for the second wave”, placed on top of a rousing pastiche of melancholy piano chords and eerie guitars. Not many albums manage to take the listener with them as they unroll their waves of emotion and angst, but MCII is a rare record that does it flawlessly. Album centrepiece ʻPeace of Mindʼ sees Cronin trying to strike a balance by being there for his lover but ultimately coming up against a brick wall. ʻIʼm Done Running From Youʼ is where Cronin finally lets his guard down and succumbs to the fact that he cannot dodge his worries any longer.
Croninʼs music can be split into two simple but very important aspects: power and pop. Cronin does the pop side of things exceedingly well, embellishing stirring arrangements and gorgeous production to his music. In terms of the element of “power” to his music, it is rather impressive how he manages to crank up the level of it on demand, constantly hooking the listener in with doses of developing emotions and achieving further action as the album wears on. ʻDonʼt Let Me Goʼ is the albumʼs most stripped down and hard-hitting moment, where a very simple acoustic guitar track lets Croninʼs hushed and gentle croons to seduce the listener. Stunning closer ‘Piano Mantraʼ is a climatic and epic ordeal, filled with lush, soaring violin arrangements, fuzzy guitars and delicate piano chords which perfectly mirror Croninʼs brooding heartache.
Cronin is not a revolutionary, by any means. At the end of the day, he is solely a guy with a guitar belting out powerful tunes about heartache and a reluctance to change. However, he does do power pop very well. MCII is near flawlessly constructed and crafted pop album, compromising of ten excellently weaved pop songs, with the addition of great emotional intensity and power. MCII feels like one languid, hazy summer day, buttressed by the glorious sounds of nature and the earnest but nevertheless potent human voice.
High Points: ‘Weight’, ‘ ‘Peace of Mind’, Don’t Let Me Go’, ‘Turn Away, ‘Piano Mantra’
Low Points: N/A
Written by Thomas Cury
The slow and extremely mellow disposition of Minnesota indie veterans Low shines through immaculately on their 10th studio album The Invisible Way. On this record, Low choose to work with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco, who produces the album with gentle and precious flavor. Regardless, a sense of blandness and boredom constantly works its way into the incredibly slow burning music of the record seeing as Low hardly ever manage to put their wonderful sound into the most potent place, even if it often does a fair job of covering up for the record’s very substantial flaws. Alan Sparhawk does a great job with some of the most striking moments on here; ‘Plastic Cup’ is an earnest and simple opener that is home to some excellent harmonizing between Sparhawk and his partner in crime Mimi Parker. However, the tracks where Parker takes center stage are often the most unpleasant and dull on the album, her voice failing to mold well with the texture songs like ‘To Our Knees’ or ‘So Blue’ need. Although Low have based their career on making gradual slowcore, the better songs on this album are often the most instant. Tracks like ‘Clarence White’ and ‘On My Own’ are pretty rough and they work in a compelling sense. However, The Invisible Way is an album that can’t seem to find a balance between beauty and edge, often falling into a somber stride that is much more uncomfortable than it is gratifying. 5.5/10
The centerpiece of Ripley Pine, the bittersweet debut album from Maine singer-songwriter Aly Spaltro (aka Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) is a six-minute long celebration of passion called ‘Bird Balloons’. It is an uncannily arresting tune because it sees Spaltro shift between countless auras that complement each other flawlessly despite a huge difference in overall tone. At one moment, Spaltro will slow down and capture us in a swooning melody before throwing us up for a hit of aggressive rock and roll. The instability and overall power of this track is not only found in its impressive construction; a great deal of the appeal lies within the fact that it sounds like Spaltro is having the time of her life while performing it. The kinetic energy trapped between the movements as well as Spaltro’s belting cackle which brings the track to a close make ‘Bird Balloons’ feel like the type of song that is born during a session of instinctive passion. It is a rare example of the rawest kind of euphoria, a vibe which can only be created by somebody with true fervor.
Ripley Pine proves that Spaltro is that somebody. ‘Bird Balloons’ is the album’s climax but it is not the only track which makes magnificent use of the transformative powers which bring everything to the next level. ‘Hair to the Ferris Wheel’ opens the album off with a bang, blooming as a gorgeous, autumnal delicacy of acoustic guitars and mellow atmospheres before it unpredictably snaps into a distorted rock song, lighting the match to balance the album’s undeniable zest. ‘Crane Your Neck’ and ‘You Are My Apple’ both demonstrate the fairly labored shade of Spaltro’s character, as both tracks stretch themselves out with destructive rapture. Slightly more digestible tracks like ‘Florence Berlin’ and ‘Rooftop’ exhibit an alluring softness while ‘Mezzanine’ strikes with swinging subtlety. Ripley Pine is wonderfully produced but it does not need to ride on the back of anything other than its sharp but brittle character. It is a lengthy album that requires a fair bit of patience during its more demanding moments, but it never actually loses grip and always displays a constantly captivating emotional vastness.
High Points: ‘Hair to the Ferris Wheel’, ‘Florence Berlin’, ‘Bird Balloons’, ‘Crane Your Neck’, ‘Rooftop’, ‘Taxidermist, Taxidermist’
Low Points: ‘Little Brother’, ‘The Nothing, Pt. 2’
8/10 Recommended Music
The Knife really aren’t ones to do things by the book, but even for them, their live show at London’s iconic Roundhouse was a bit of a push. Right off the back of their incredible comeback album Shaking The Habitual, The Knife embarked on a tour with a host of dates across Europe, bringing along Sorkkluben, a “performance arts crew” with them.
When you first read the description on what’s to come in their live shows, the word “bizarre” doesn’t really do justice to what went on May 8 in London. It turns out that the “Deep Aerobics” session was really just a cross-dresser yelling “DO YOU FEEL YOUR PUSSY?!” whilst jumping hysterically along to Beyonce. Apart from a select few, the whole crowd was shell-shocked and in no way “vibing” to the opening “act”. It succeeded as a statement, but in terms of crowd-pleasing, it was nothing short of a catastrophe. When the duo finally came onto the stage welcomed by deafening shrills, they kicked things off with a rousing rendition of ‘Cherry On Top’. The stage was flooded with exuberantly costumed, identically hooded performers, to the point where it was almost impossible to tell which one was Karin Andersson. ‘Raging Lung’ continued the empowering, intense vibe, carried by Andersson’s impressive (if not pre-recorded) vocal performances.
At this point, the crowd was very impressed. It was clear that a lot of it was playback, but it was powerful enough to leave me unstirred. However, as the concert wore on, the duo insistence on elaborate choreography over actual performance and singing was rather bothersome. A lot of the time, playback was unnecessary and could’ve easily be performed (with the possible exception of the incredibly intricate ‘Full of Fire), but for someone reason they chose not to. The vocals were mimed by various members of the dance crew so that you could hardly tell which were actually members of the Knife. The dance routines weren’t well done, and moments like ‘One Hit’ were particularly underwhelming because the dancing was so basic. Regardless, the redeeming aspect of the performance stems from the fact that it really was a lot of fun. The crowd were very into the music because the standard of it was so high. It was an energetic performance, and this fed onto the audience, sending them into a trance during marvellously intense moments like ‘Full Of Fire’ and ‘Silent Shout’, which drew a fantastic reaction from the crowd.
It was a bit of an odd choice to place a DJ set after the main performance, but it was a pretty smart one. The crowd seemed still very much in the mood for dancing, and the stunning lightshow and vibrant aura possessed the audience and myself immediately.
If the objective of The Knife with their live show was to be an artistic representation of their work, they passed with flying colours. However, as a concert, it was questionable in the way it was conducted even if some moments were truly spectacular and entertaining. The puzzling insistence on relying upon playback was rather aggravating, but not to the point where it disrupted the enjoyability of the concert. Even if you would want more from the Knife concert as a musical experience, they truly accomplished their task, and that is to shake the habitual.
Written by Thomas Cury
Bleakness was inevitable, was it not? Ever since their bombastic debut in 2008, there was a constant anticipation for Vampire Weekend to slowly develop into one of the most notable pop bands of this century. In five years, the playful college kids of Vampire Weekend have naturally matured not only in terms of songwriting but also in terms of musical aspiration. To put it simply, Vampire Weekend have been a consistently great band but through the year, the reasons for their greatness have changed significantly. They no longer rely on fun, afro-pop inspired sneer to win people over. On their third album Modern Vampires of the City, the group has developed their music into something gorgeously conventional while gaining a new form of lyrical sincerity and reflection.
Modern Vampires is their most serious album yet, and with this depth comes a very fitting ear for sound. Indeed, the most obvious thing about this album is the production. There is absolutely no hiding from the fact that Modern Vampires is one of the nicest sounding indie pop albums made in recent memory; every song is constructed with an exceptional emphasis on beauty where the sound blossoms into a very warm sense of distance. All the arrangements on the record are absolutely spot-on with the frequently gut-wrenching vocal performances from Ezra Koenig teaming up with the distorted rhythms to form huge crescendos, clashing magnificently when placed next to the subtle strings and soft pianos. Vampire Weekend has always taken influences from genres that exist outside of pop music and although they don’t stop doing that here, the world music influences which shined very brightly through the group’s first two records are sacrificed for a much more nonchalant flavor of classical music. String sections play a huge part on songs like ‘Everlasting Arms’ where the masterful ingenuity turns into an absolute wonder. Throughout this album you get the sense of a band who knows exactly what they are doing in terms of seducing the listener, because the attention to detail in every single note is completely captivating.
The melodic aspect of this album is also good, but it sometimes suffers from a sense of oversimplification. From the very first track (‘Obvious Bicycle’) there is a nagging notion that much of what you are hearing is borrowed, as the gospel like choral progression is something you can find in countless traditional songs. ‘Obvious Bicycle’ is a somewhat underwhelming start to the record and the improvement is only slight with the pleasant but pedestrian successor ‘Unbelievers’. Tracks like these focus on aura and concept over actual substance and it is a mindset that this record suffers from, especially during its less aesthetically flattering moments. However, a great chunk of this album contains some of the most moving and remarkable work the band has ever done. For example, ‘Step’ makes use of incredibly humble dynamics to form a track that is emotionally staggering, displaying warm potency through the flawless placement of every single idea. It is a soft song that blows everything out of the water, a weirdly functional juxtaposition to the following track ‘Diane Young’ which recalls the energy of Buddy Holly to make potentially the most aggressive thing in Vampire Weekend’s catalogue (except for maybe ‘Cousins’). ‘Don’t Lie’ and ‘Hannah Hunt’ are both ballads, with the former being sharper and the latter taking a hushed but climatically gut-wrenching approach that Vampire Weekend seem to do very well. ‘Everlasting Arms’ is the most digestible and striking song on the album while ‘Hudson’ is easily the darkest sounding song Vampire Weekend has ever written. Ironically, the stickiest songs on the album (‘Finger Back’ and ‘Worship You’) are also the most haggard and stale because they are the moments where Vampire Weekend let go of their musical subtlety and go for a much more obnoxious form of infection. Apart from a few let downs, Modern Vampires is an entertaining batch of songs that are taken to the next level by flawless execution.
The last thing worth mentioning about this album is its lyrics; Modern Vampires is easily the most profound and earnest of all their records. Koenig’s sharp poetic tongue still plays a huge part because listening to this album exposes you to some phenomenally well-written wordplay. However, the thematic side of the album can be picked up just by a casual glance. Koenig leaves his ideas on full display and the most prominent one on here is definitely religion. There is fine line between being introspective and being preachy and although Vampire Weekend usually stay on the good side of that line, tracks like ‘Obvious Bicycle’ and ‘Worship You’ might be a bit more explicit than they need to be. However, the times when Koenig gets it right are super thought-provoking. ‘Unbelievers’ takes a very strong look at the anticlimax that is Christian faith (“I’m not excited but should I be/is this the fate that half of the world has planned for me”) while ‘Everlasting Arms’ takes a similar pessimistic glance on the same topic (“oh I was born to live without you but I’m never gonna understand”). Much of this album deals with sadness but the most heartbreaking song on the album is ‘Ya Hey’, which serves as a centerpiece thanks to its fascinating depth and powerful progression. It sees Koenig in an existential crisis, dealing with his loss of faith in what almost feels like an resignation directed at God (“America don’t love you/so I could never love you/in spite of everything”). This is this type of power that makes Modern Vampires such a great album, although there seems to be a lack of dimension and originality holding it back from something more.
High Points: ‘Step’, ‘Diane Young’, ‘Don’t Lie’, ‘Hannah Hunt’, ‘Everlasting Arms’, ‘Ya Hey’
Low Points: ‘Obvious Bicycle’, ‘Finger Back’, ‘Worship You’
The Chronicles of Marnia is a hugely impressive record where the appeal stems from Marnie Stern’s ability to make quick-paced and noisy music while maintaining a very pronounced allure to her work. Her sparring guitar work and childlike vocals give the album an almost undefinable characteristic which fumbles on the thin line between aggression and quaintness. Album opener ‘Year of the Glad’ contains the grinding and primal howl that makes the album so memorable, displaying a perfect example of when Stern and her producers manipulate lo-fidelity to create something which feels like a rusty slap in the face. Other songs like ‘Nothing is Easy’ and ‘Immortals’ make use of this intense and gritty vibe too, providing an environment where everything constantly appears to be on the brink of explosion. It’s an appropriate punchy vibe for a rock album that lasts little over half an hour, making Marnia an epitome of the quirky joys that experimental rock can bring. 8/10
Phoenix have become a fairly untouchable group of guys. You can smell this scent of confusion a mile away from their fifth studio album Bankrupt!, but it is quit plausible that they are as bewildered making this music as we are listening to it. This could easily serve as Bankrupt!’s defense mechanism as it captures a pretty huge band in what is perhaps the most transitional phase in their career. Just months ago they have made the jump from relevant indie rock band to Coachella festival headliners, and their first album since their ascent to superstardom is packed with the awkward sugariness you would expect from a band just getting used to the lifestyle of big stars. For some reason, Phoenix’s way of coping with this is to bring it up within the first line of the album: “headline from this day on/why you keep pretending that you wanna let go”. This heavy uncertainty is definitely continued throughout the record, and the result is a very decent sounding but incredibly uncomfortable spill of music.
Bankrupt! is not only lyrically blown up to an unmanageable proportion; as far as the music goes, this album is just as confused. Phoenix never really settles on a form throughout the entirety of the album, with each song being as patchy and turbulent as the place which the members of Phoenix are in as individuals. Tracks like ‘Entertainment’ and ‘Trying to Be Cool’ struggle to find consistent grooves, with each song incorporating segments with showering potential but neither being fully formed enough to make a great track. Not a single song on this album is up to the standard set by Phoenix’s last effort Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix which not only was home to some of the best indie rock singles ever, but also functioned as a landmark album for big alternative crossover bands. Bankrupt! would be less disappointing if it wasn’t following up a masterwork, because the biggest thing it did for me was make me really crave Phoenix’s earlier and better work.
The album’s jittery discomposure is a definite letdown, but that doesn’t totally tarnish the fact that there is quite a bit of decency to take from these songs. As I said earlier, a great deal of the tracks have segments that are quite alluring but the overall quality of the song lets it down. This is often made clear by Phoenix’s inability to juggle auras (a prime example of why the potentially exciting ‘S.O.S in Bel Air’ falls flat), but this choppiness admittedly gives the album quite an edge. ‘The Real Thing’ and ‘Chloroform’ are really solid songs where the synths add a soaring layer of beauty to the texture of the tracks. These songs keep up an atmosphere extremely well while the huge and mostly instrumental title track succeeds based on Phoenix’s surprising ability to create a convincing endeavor in ambient experimentation (much like they did on Wolfgang’s ‘Love Like a Sunset’). Ironically, the only real lowlights come when Phoenix decide to abandon their sense of adventure. Perhaps the unpredictability of some of the flawed tracks is a refreshing bright side to the bland mediocrity of the closing trio on this record. Nonetheless, Bankrupt! is exactly the type of amiss album you would expect from a great band who are starting to get ahead of themselves. A good chunk of this album shows that the appeal is still there, but the bigger picture is a patchy and underwhelming one.
High Points: ‘Entertainment’, ‘The Real Thing’, ‘Bankrupt!’, ‘Chloroform’
Low Points: ‘Don’t’, ‘Borgeouis’, ‘Oblique City’
Total Nite EP is a five-song follow up to the relatively buzzed about 2012 record Desire, which made it onto the end-of-year of lists of a few publications, and it sees the band taking a similar path as to what was displayed on Desire. What you usually come across on Total Nite are layered vocals, swooning guitars and tinny drum machines. It’s a very wholesome sound, without any flashy bits of instrumentation or expensive splurges of production. The spacey synths add an ethereal edge to the music, but hardly detract from the earthly aesthic that the EP conveys. Merchandise want to do things with strong nostalgia and basic instrumentation.
Totale Nite is all a bit wishy-washy. The succinct opener ‘Who Are You?’ is promptly bookended by a 11 minute marathon and three other 6 minutes plus songs in between. In fact, it’s hard to say that Total Nite ideas are poorly executed because it’s rather difficult to comprehend what those ideas are. The nostalgic vibe is consistent with their sound, but not much else is unique. Carson Cox’s vocals bear an uncanny resemblance to Morrissey’s and not only that, their whole niche seems to be . It’s perfectly alright to have influences, but when you have a tendency to lean towards mimicking your idols (Bob Dylan, Sisters of Mercy, etc.), it gets really hard to pull off.
Compositionally, the album lacks focus and the songs and their melodies tend to waver and fall as a consequence. The title track exemplifies this, beginning with a rather aggressive barrage of feedbacked guitars, before skipping along to a rather lean bridge, and then disintegrating into a discordant melange of horns, an annoyingly obvious nod to their self-pronounced hero Miles Davis. It sums up the album’s compositional flaws, where the structuring of the songs is somewhat rudimentary in their disorganisation. Everything’s made up of jigsaws that mostly don’t match up or compliment each other that well.
The feeling of separation between the listener and the band is another noticeable twinge to their music. It’s a barrier that probably was intentional in the way it creates distance, but it does not come without its consequences. When you’re listening to the EP, you might feel indifferent to what you’re hearing because everything seems pitched in the background. Cox’s words don’t really draw you in, and only when he makes marked (and fairly cryptic) statements” like “I’m going to plant you myself in the sun/ Just to get away from you motherfuckers” do you really consume his croons.
Starting up as a punk-rock band and then turning into shoegaze-tinged indie rockers for some reason doesn’t seem like the most natural progression. Merchandise were once a band fuelled by impulsive energy, but now choose to imploy languid melodies. Total Nite is a fair EP, but the texturization is too basic for its own good. Totale Nite? More like Totale Shite!
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
When you are caught up in the moment of a live show, recollection can hardly do it justice. However, this has never stopped me from comparing my concert experiences with one another as if they are competing is some ranking. I often consider whether or not a gig would make my “top 10” as soon as I step out of a venue and although this mindset is a bad and superficial habit, thinking like this is just in my nature. However, tis Death Grips live show may cleanse my views because no matter how hard I tried, it was impossible to compare this to anything I have witnessed in the past. This is not to say it is leagues ahead of any other live show, although it definitely is not in the same conference. The show flew by with such an intense and hypnotic energy, I stepped out of the venue without knowing what hit me, unable to comprehend the altered state the performance had left me in. It really was hard to describe at the time.
Now that I have let the experience sit in my memory, it is now easier to tell what to make of it. The first thing I recall is that Death Grips seemed to make everything feel smaller. They transformed an hour long set into something that felt like 25 minutes, a pretty high capacity venue into a room of true intimacy despite having been pushed all around the floor during the incredibly tiring set. It was not only tiring in the sense that I had never seen a crowd react so aggressively to a band (perhaps I don’t get out much), but also in the way that Death Grips never seemed to let up for the entire set, with each song punishing the audience with the same amount of aggression as the last. There was absolutely no part in the set that served as a “break” because the whole thing was a non-stop display of chaos. No encore, no pauses between tracks, no transitions. Everything molded together in a truly surreal way.
This makes it impossible to pick a highlight from the set. ‘Get Got’ and ‘Guillotine’ drew fantastic reactions from the crowd early on while ‘System Blower’ and ‘Hacker’ stood out as personal favorites based on the impact both of them had. ‘Lil Boy’ kicked the audience into a wonderful groove while ‘Come Up an Get Me’ came and snatched them out of it. The whole show was an array of incomprehensible auras being thrown at you. As a concert, mostly everything was there. MC Ride has so much charisma it is almost inhuman, while Flatlander looked incredibly cool behind the decks driving the show into its fantastic flow. Soundwise, the music was all incredibly strong sounding (in fairness, it was most likely played back) and although Ride’s vocals were completely indecipherable and poorly mixed, they only added to the brutality of the performance. This concert literally left a ringing in my ears, but the effect it had on mostly everyone in the crowd was obvious. Even if you don’t like to be punished, it would have been incredibly challenging to draw yourself away from this phenomenal display.
English post-dubstep figurehead James Blake is one of the most prolific and unique artists of this decade. Overgrown is only his second LP, but since he came onto the scene he has put out a great deal of EPs and singles which have all allowed him to properly develop as an artist. His last checkpoint was his self-titled debut and it saw him in an incredibly uneasy state. Although an undeniably fascinating listen, James Blake often drew a shaky and gap-filled line between his two musical faces; the singer-songwriter and the electronic producer. Overgrown comes back and makes that line smoother and finer, incorporating the electronics in a much more subtle and natural way as well as hugely strengthening Blake’s skills as a songwriter. It was no coincidence that the two best tracks on James Blake were covers, but Overgrown is home to some incredibly beautiful tunes as well as a fantastically potent sound and aura.
There is no argument that Overgrown is one of the most comfortable things Blake has put out, but it is clear that he has achieved this quality by taking a much more settled and less adventurous look at things. Thankfully, the sacrifice is an effective one. The songs are much more consistent and digestible than they have been on past releases and Blake is able to maintain that distinctive gloom that always shines through his production. The lead single ‘Retrograde’ balances this appeal extremely well, as Blake effortlessly combines the eeriness of the brittle melody and the incredibly sharp flood of synths that come to dominate the song. The title track may be one of the best songs Blake has ever written, both in the traditional sense that comes through the raw songcraft as well as Blake’s fantastic way of holding the track together as it constantly threatens to spiral apart. ‘I Am Sold’ and ‘Life Round Here’ are both charged by a passive aggressive block of instrumentation which is more expansive and vast on the former while remaining punchy on the latter. More than half of the songs on here outdo most things from Blake’s past, channeling a stupendously refreshing taste and sense of growth.
The album keeps its form on the second half, even if the songs are slower and have a tendency to linger. ‘DLM’ and ‘Our Love Comes Back’ are just reminders of how heavily Blake relies on his production skills as they showcase him in a very unflattering stripped-down form. ‘Digital Lion’ and ‘To The Last’ are both somber and much more restrained electronic shows than the ones which appeared earlier on the album, and they are flawless at displaying the distance that Blake’s sound travels even if they do it in a way that requires much more patience. However, ‘Voyeur’ shows up later and quickly reclaims the instant nature of the album’s brightest moments. RZA’s rap verse on ‘Take a Fall For Me’ definitely only exists for namesake, but his awkward presence (“gentle as the finger touch of a newborn kid/I wouldn’t trade her smile for a million quid”) doesn’t fully manage to distort the dark and deadbeat quality of Blake’s instrumental, which definitely draws some inspiration from the production style of RZA himself. Overgrown is an album which doesn’t always work but definitely makes every note sound worthwhile. James Blake is great at what he does and this record is a sign that he is surely developing into the incredible artist that we all know he can be.
High Points: ‘Overgrown’, ‘I Am Sold’, ‘Life Round Here’, ‘Retrograde’, ‘Voyeur’
Low Points: ‘DLM’, ‘Our Love Comes Back’
The partnership between El-P and Killer Mike was one of the best in rap last year despite the duo never really releasing a proper joint project. Killer Mike’s R.A.P. Music was completely produced by El-P, but we only witnessed El-P’s rapping skills on one track. Meanwhile, El-P’s ownCancer4Cure was a massive album, bringing out the chaotic side of his production that was somewhat held back on R.A.P. Music. The duo’s upcoming album Run the Jewels is their first collaboration outside of both their solo careers, and ‘Get It’ symbolizes exactly what is great about these two splitting responsibilities on a track. Just like Killer Mike’s ‘Butane’ where both MCs come together with incredibly charisma, ‘Get It’ maintains a cool, refreshing energy level while simultaneously pushing both rappers out of their comfort zone. Thankfully, El-P knows exactly how to ride a beat as cool as this while Mike sees the skull-crushing capacity of his normal music simmered down. ‘Get It’ is nothing but a reaffirmation that these two are possibly the best and most exciting figures in hip-hop. 8.5/10 Recommended Music
I’ve been really inactive lately and I want to let you all now that I plan on getting up to date and posting regularly again. :( <3
It is a shame when bands a limited by their scope. However, Pearl Mystic is an example of a record that breaks out of its convention and summons something more challenging and rewarding. The thing about Hookworms is that their fine blend of psychedelic rock and punk is quite an appealing concept but their music sounds exactly like what you would envision if you were to sloppily combine these two elements in your head. However, there is much more to Pearl Mystic than that. Their two ends of the spectrum- one of which is hazy and distant and the other which is feedback filled and aggressive- are consistently fused to create a bland yet incredibly functional template. Although the sound of this music is quite agreeable and familiar, Hookworms manage to bring out the most appealing parts of this sound through their borderline flawless execution. It is hard to imagine Pearl Mystic being any better than it already is; pretty much every sound you hear on this record plays at least some part in forming the phenomenal big picture. Distant drones of guitar will loiter around the more robust song structures in a masterful way that adds a DNA to the sound of Hookworms. Tracks like the skull-crushing opener ‘Away/Towards’ as well as more subdued constructions like ‘In Our Time’ and ‘What We Talk About’ make use of this formula very well and suggest a hugely majestic potential in this music. However, something about the structuring of this record makes it seem a bit off. Three of the nine tracks on here are droney instrumentals, and although these are quite decently done they make the record feel dismissive despite adding quite a bit of dimension to it. A few more songs suffer from this somewhat dull approach (note ‘Since We Have Changed’) and Pearl Mystic winds up being a fulfilling album, even if it is the slightest bit tedious. 7/10
Is Amygdala a comeback record? Well, it has been eight years since Stefan Kozalla released his first and last album as DJ Koze (even longer than the gap the Knife took for their insanely anticipated Shaking the Habitual) but since 2005 the buzz attached to DJ Koze has died down. Amygdala certainly doesn’t feel like a huge retort; the hype surrounding it was quite minimal for an album this long-awaited and feature-packed. However, DJ Koze has made his rise out of nowhere to surprise us with this fantastic sounding and monumental release.
Amygdala is 77 minutes long, but at no point does it even begin to suffer from the typical flaws a techno record of this length usually encounters. The songs are lengthy and substantial, but none of them feel overcooked, drawn out, or flat. Kozalla constructs the record in a way that it feels like punch after punch euphoria, with a brand new compelling idea blossoming from every track. Obviously, lots of this appeal comes from Kozalla’s exceptional production skills; each synth and bass sound that is used on this record is tweaked so that it locks in with the crispness of the beats flawlessly, making every instrumental feel as natural as it can while simultaneously preserving the humanity and connection of the music. Kozalla’s most outstandingly unique talent is to manipulate and produce vocals so that they can tastefully bring out the most in each track. Notice the chopped-up vocal presence of Rhye’s Mike Milosh on the title track and how each sound exists in a bubble of its own, forming a dreamy, distant texture. The Matthew Dear features on this record are both stand-outs, with ‘Magical Boy’ resembling the more phantasmagorical and pure side of the combo, while ‘My Plans’ is more intense and clubby, packing undeniable magic into a single powerful loop. On both tracks, Dear’s affected vocals come across with the potency of a crumbling, robotic reincarnation of Berlin-era David Bowie, an image which perfectly displays the versatile nature of Kozalla’s work.
Another unique thing about Amygdala is the almost effortless infectiousness that dominates the record. Some of these songs are phenomenally catchy in a way that is more haunting than persistent. ‘Nices Wölkchen’ forms nicely around a vocal feature from Apparat and a nocturnal synth line that blasts it off to empowering desolation. ‘Das Wort’ and ‘Ich Schreib Dir ein Buch 2013’ are the two most amazing pieces on this album, both of which feature a bizarre vocal sample dominating the unbelievable landscape. On ‘Das Wort’ the vocal fades into the track with a bright soothing energy that is akin to that of a lullabye while ‘Ich Schreib Dir ein Buch 2013’ takes an old German song as well as a Marvin Gaye sample out of context to create something entirely new with a gorgeously terrifying spin. The Caribou featuring ‘Track ID Anyone?’ as well as the weirdly catchy ‘Homesick’ belong in this category but they put a much more subtle scent in the atmosphere than the more overwhelming songs on here do. ‘Marylin Whirlwind’ is probably the most rambunctious track here, curtsey of a pounding beat, stabbing bass, and a strangely funky guitar sample. ‘La Duquesa’ and ‘Royal Asscher Cut’ are both hypnotic, eerie, and very drawn out club tracks that take the chilling unconventionality of artists like Actress and put it into a much more developed form. Amygdala really is a huge album, not only in length but in Kozalla’s ability to manipulate his formula in a way that displays complexity and a generous amount of variety.
High Points: ‘Nices Wölkchen’, ‘Magical Boy’, ‘Das Wort’, ‘La Duquesa’, ‘My Plans’, ‘Amygdala’, ‘Ich Schreib Dir ein Buch 2013’
Low Points: N/A
8.5/10 Recommended Music
The first question I asked myself upon listening to I Am Not a Human Being II is why someone would bother to review, let alone listen to a new Lil Wayne album. The answer to this question is that, even if many would like to think on the contrary, Lil Wayne is a massive figure in the realm of mainstream hip hop. It’s almost impossible to embrace the mainstream culture without eventually hearing one of his tracks or his numerous features. He’s an inescapable figure, a game-changer and a consistently prominent rap star.
All of this is somewhat bewildering because at this point in his career, Lil Wayne isn’t very good at what he does. In terms of technical ability, he is pretty much weak in all areas. On IANHBII, he shows no sign of improvement, and if Wayne did not make it clear enough, he couldn’t care less. In fact, Wayne refuses to give a shit about anything. This insistence is not only incredibly irritating, it’s terribly tiresome. ‘No Worries’ persistently reminds us of this, in an awfully obnoxious manner, made all the more aggravating by Wayne’s bizarre gurgles. The song is so lackadaisically constructed that it is ridiculous. This is the case for the great majority of the album; slapdash songcraft piled on top of Wayne’s completely unlikeable and annoying persona.
Wayne never fails to make nonsensical decisions. The title track is a perfect example of this. It is a seemingly pleasant affair with a lovely, yet sinister piano interlude, until Wayne comes in with his clumsy flow, awful singing and daft lines like “running this shit like a faucet/Farrah”. His strained signing voice sounds like two ostriches copulating. Of course, this wouldn’t be as much of an issue if he was even the slightest bit lyrical. Lyrics have always been the Achilles heel for Wayne, and on this LP he’s in horrendous form. The only topics he knows how to rap about are women,
drugs, and money, but he has no insight or wit into these themes whatsoever. He’s also under the false impression that he’s clever, but in reality he comes across as a dumbass. There’s no point in picking out particular lines that are terrible, because almost every line on here could make a case for itself. None of the punch lines or puns are even remotely witty. Wayne just comes across as an utter imbecile, misogynist and grossly sexual man with no profundity whatsoever. ‘Hello’ exacerbates all the record’s flaws; a complete mess of song, and a hilariously dreadful attempt at metal music, complete with horribly mixed vocals, disastrous instrumentation, and mind-numbingly stupid lyrics (“I kill that pussy but I don’t attend the funeral/’cause imma wear this ass out like a uniform”).
The songs on here range from mediocre to downright repulsive. Lil Wayne’ puts little effort into writing good songs, and this has an obvious knock on the standard of the album. ‘Trippy’ is a poorly written song, where Wayne decides to make a point about his “trippy kit”. Everything is done with such a lack of conviction, rapidly making statements without ever backing it up or justifying his reasoning behind his words. ‘Gunwalk’ is amusingly awful, pitched on a corny, lazy and amateurish hook.
The instrumentation on IANAHBII is also dull and uninventive. ‘Beat The Shit’ wouldn’t be as underwhelming as it is if it weren’t for the monotonous instrumental, a cringy synth chord hat drags down the song as a whole. ‘My Homies Still’ is so lazy that it’s practically compromised of recycled flows and lines, and in general just uneventful. Wayne’s whiny infliction is also persistently irritating.
There are some redeeming aspects to this LP, but it’s fair to say they are few and far between. Some of the beats on here are pretty solid, and when Wayne finally decides to get serious as seen on ‘God Bless Amerika’ he delivers something that is thoroughly decent. It isn’t particularly ingenious or unique in its expressionism, but it’s a pleasant track nevertheless. ‘Love Me’ is also catchy and pleasant, if not cheesy.
All in all, Lil Wayne’s latest work is extremely underwhelming. Only a handful of the tracks are unbearable, but most of it is very mediocre and even when at its best, the record isn’t great. In many ways, it’s plagued by a sense of manufactured apathy that seems so in your face and forced. Sometimes it is reasonably enjoyable even if the songcraft isn’t outstanding, and if you were to cut out the unlistenable moments, you would probably end up with a passable album. Despite this, what we have for now is a wildly inconsistent, superficial album, and further proof that Lil Wayne is on a downward spiral of doom.
High Points: ‘God Bless Amerika’, ‘Love me’
Low points: ‘Trippy’, ‘Gunwalk’ , ‘No Worries’, ‘My Homies Still’, ‘Hello’
3.5/10 Music to Avoid
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
Over the Love- Florence & the Machine
Florence and The Machine really is a wonder. Not many artists can do what she does, breaking into the mainstream without sacrificing her sound and her music in the process (Marina and The Diamonds, take note). Welch can leave the listener breathless after only a single note, instigate a mass single-along as soon as the crowd hears the opening notes of the anthemic ‘Shake It Out’, and leave audiences speechless after whirlwind, energetic live performances. Her latest endeavour is a track for the upcoming film adapation of The Great Gatsby entitled ‘Over the Love’ and it’s an unmistakable Florence penned ballad. Cue dramatic belting, massive and rousing orchestral overtones, impassioned words and a slow, deliberate build up to an eruptive chorus. It really sounds like something that would fit right in to the melodrama of Ceremonials. It’s not a particularly distinctive track, but it certainly is a powerful and wholly divine one. 7.5/10
Get Lucky- Daft Punk (ft. Pharrell)
A Daft Punk comeback is definitely a big deal, but nobody really expected it to sound like this. ‘Get Lucky’ is more akin to the 70s soul-pop produced by Nile Rodgers (who is a collaborator on this track) than any of the colossal techno powerhouses Daft Punk usually release. However, ‘Get Lucky’ is an incredibly refreshing and very catchy song even if it sounds nothing like Daft Punk. The slickness of the production is definitely a groovy and distinctive trait, while Pharrell leads this song into very sticky territories with his soulful vocal. It’s so much more pleasant than anything you can expect from Daft Punk, and while it isn’t the monster that we may have anticipated, it is a very solid single and a compelling new turn. 8/10 Recommended Music
Young and Beautiful- Lana Del Rey
It’s very easy to get sidetracked by the pretense of Lana Del Rey’s music and while she is never really totally sincere, there are times when the music does its best not to falter under an unappealing character. Her addition to The Great Gatsby OST is one of these moments. ‘Young and Beautiful’ is just so tongue-tying and gorgeous that it totally dwarfs Lana’s usual flaws, bringing a euphoria which is possibly not as potent as that on ‘Video Games’ but maybe the closest she has come. There is not much to this track other than stunning arrangement and quite alluring passion so it is hard to think highly of it, but when it comes to being pleasant ‘Young and Beautiful’ is pretty close to perfection. 7.5/10
Fear of My Own Identity- Best Coast
After the incredibly humdrum radio pop sludge that appeared on Best Coast’s sophomore album The Only Place, ‘Fear of My Own Identity’ feels like a massive improvement. The Record Store Day A-Side does not bother channeling the much more appealing spark of charm that made Best Coast’s first album a marvel, but instead brings out the more desirable qualities that a more “mature” sound can bring to the table. For example, ‘Fear of My Own Identity’ feels gracefully developed without being overproduced because it is a throbbing rock song at its core but it is also much more riveting than most of the stuff they have put out in a while. Best Coast have not completely brushed off the awkwardness that came to plague them on their most recent record, but this track shows that they have stepped out of the overwhelmingly unappetizing corniness and into something much more digestible and cool. 8/10
Alien Days- MGMT
So it is 2013 and we know all know that ‘Time to Pretend’ was definitely a one off. MGMT seems to hate the idea of recreating the massiveness that their signature tunes held. Instead, they seem intent on becoming a pretty decent psychedelic rock group. ‘Alien Days’ further expands the development that was started by 2010’s Congratulations, which has proven to be the blueprint of a sound currently used by bands like Foxygen. ‘Alien Days’ is another spacey and vintage sounding song, exceptionally produced to create the wacky expired feel that the jingle-like opening suggests before breaking into a solid progression that makes for the rest of the track. This song has a perfectly good sound but it hardly expands past what other bands are doing with a similar mindset, creating great but ultimately indistinctive music. 7/10
You and Me (ft. Eilza Doolittle)- Disclosure
Disclosure are pretty great at making groovy garage bangers and their new track ‘You & Me’ is very much in the realm of their recent smash hit ‘White Noise’. This time, the duo take Eliza Doolittle’s vocals (which are usually exploited to produce the sugariest radio pop ever) and seduce them into a rubbery undying electronic trance. Doolittle bounces around a phenomenally thrilling tune, showing a side of her vocals that is often overlooked and turning them into the makings of a very decent dance tune. 8/10
Flunky Minnows- Guided by Voices
Guided for Voices have a new LP coming out this year (what else is new?) and ‘Flunky Minnows’ is a powerful, approachable, and catchy cut from it. The group has been around for a few decades, but this bright colored and brief rock track is fueled by the charm and freshness as a debut single. Of course there will be much more to come in the future, but ‘Flunky Minnows’ is a humble and sturdy song with a scorching potential subtly implied by the sheer power of its quaintness. 7/10
SDS- Mac Miller (produced by Flying Lotus)
“I’d like to write a history book where people don’t really give a fuck about how you really look” is only one of the pieces of wisdom Mac Miller offers on his latest tune. It is no surprise that rapping over a Flying Lotus beat can make you significantly less annoying and while ‘S.D.S.’ definitely brings a certain newfound likeability to Mac’s music, it doesn’t exactly do the phenomenal beat justice. Mac Miller does suit it surprisingly well, showing an ability to adapt by bringing a clouded MF Doom type flow when given such a claustrophobic enclosure. However, it is not like ‘S.D.S.’ is exactly the great track that we would love Flying Lotus to bring, because Mac Miller can ride but not necessarily match a great beat like this. 6.5/10
Phosphorescent is the long-running project of Alabama native Matt Houck. The immediate impression one gets from his music is one of simple song-craft, dense atmospheres, and raw emotion. Despite this, all these segments are not used simultaneously, they rather tend to weigh on each other, either detracting or adding to the song’s aura. The overriding appeal to Houck’s music is its plain beauty. Muchacho is not a record consisting of complex, daedal song structures and perplexing arrangements, it is one of distinctly simple, unembellished songcraft.
The first offering that listeners plied their ears was the phenomenal ‘Song For Zula’. Complete with willowy, twirling swings, delicate drum shuffling and gentle brushes of synths, ‘Song for Zula’ is a masterwork in the way its uncomplicated instrumentation manages to provide such a vivid atmosphere. The way in which the ambience is vaporous yet still incredibly encapsulating is another master-stroke and a very effective juxtaposition. It sets the tone for a consistently gorgeous, atmospheric, and emotional journey.
Due to the fact that the song writing is rather simple and plain, a great deal of the atmosphere is hence hinged on the persistently stunning production. ‘Terror in The Canyons’ is sprawling, passionate and marvelously produced, bringing out the minimalist strokes of the violin and drums and the earthliness to Houck’s voice. ‘A Charm/ A Blade’ is a euphoric, whimsical track that feels subtly nostalgic with a splendor of horn and toe-tapping piano, where we see an insistent Houck demanding the subject to ‘lay me down and bawl me out’. ‘The Quotidian Beasts’ is easily the record’s most compelling track, a 7 minute extravaganza, where the track consistently erupts and clashes to create a magnificent effect. It’s also the album’s most compositionally ambitious song. Every song here is produced with care, precision and with a profound attention to beauty.
However, Houck is sometimes guilty of over-simplification. At times, it feels as if the melodies are far too ordinary and elementary to really affect the listener. Although the wholesomeness of Houck’s music can be very refreshing, some of the tracks are too stripped down for their own good. Opener ‘Sun, Arise!’ is a prime victim of such flaws, a gorgeously produced albeit unventful track, where the lovely vocal harmonies trail on a peripheral and far too streamlined melody. Closer ‘Sun’s Arising’ is a carbon copy of the opener and curtails the same issues.
Muchacho is a ravishing listen, both atmospherically and production wise. Most songs are well-crafted, but the simplicity is not always rewarding. When Houck manages to achieve the balance is where his songs are best executed, ‘Song For Zula’ and ‘Quotidian Beasts’ being the most prominent examples. However, the record taken as a whole is just too lucid for its own good. The songwriting isn’t always unfailing and the overall complexity is not at an ambitious and advanced stage. Muchacho is a delightful record, albeit an imperfect perfect one.
High Points: ‘Song For Zula’, ‘Terror In The Canyons’, ‘A Charm/ A Blade’, ‘The Quotidian Beasts’
Low Points; ‘Sun, Arise!’, ‘Sun’s Arising’
Written by Thomas Cury
Trent Reznor’s unmistakable eeriness and trademark finds a way to seep into everything he touches and the debut album from his latest side project How to Destroy Angels is no exception. Welcome Oblivion is a very strongly polished industrial effort that is seemingly aided by Reznor’s Oscar-winning experience with soundtracks when it comes to building up tense atmosphere. He and his wife Mariqueen Maandig do a fantastic job with keeping up the edginess of this release, but as listening material there are more times when it falters than blossoms. The songwriting on here does not compliment the fairly consistent production in terms of quality, meaning that there are only a few songs on here which stick with you. ‘Keep it Together’ and ‘The Sky Began to Scream’ hit hard early with a very subtle intensity, while the title track brings a scorching radio-ready refrain into the mix. At times the album is perfectly stuck together as indicated on the ethereal ‘Strings and Attractions’ but the songs are frequently confused in terms of directions. ‘Ice Age’ is not strong enough a track to carry its unworldly acoustic guitar sample, the vocal chopping on ‘Too Late, All Gone’ is pretty shapeless, and ‘How Long?’ has some oddly produced harmonization on the refrain which comes across way too bright and corny for the track’s otherwise bleak aura. The album closes with some pedestrian electronic tracks that really don’t feel in place, and Welcome Oblivion ends up leaving you with a sour and definitely unsatisfying aftertaste. 5/10
What is it that makes Tyler, the Creator so appealing? Well, he is the face of what is possibly the most exciting rap collective in the world and he’s a pretty good rapper too, but what seems to define him most is his unmistakable personality. Tyler is both cynical and insecure, genuine and snide- after all, he is a “fucking walking paradox”- but pretty much every trait he has seems to fall under an umbrella; his pronounced way of embracing melodrama. If you look hard through Tyler’s third album Wolf, you will find very few spots where he displays anything that begins to resemble indifference. He’s very outspoken, controversial, confrontational, and he’s always complaining about something. These constant attacks and outbursts turn Wolf into an hour long celebration of negativity, but it’s a zany darkness that Tyler thankfully does particularly well seeing as this music would instantly crumble if he didn’t. However, Tyler’s self-awareness is not subtle. He knows exactly what defines him and is constantly shoving this down our throats; one of the first things he mumbles is “I think you’re a fucking fag”, and while much of Wolf is dominated by a sense of self-loathing, he rubs his fame in our face to the point where it feels like self-celebration (“I used to hate the popular ones/now, I’m the popular one”).
The quality of Wolf is often parallel to the depth of Tyler’s character. The record’s best tracks see him at his most vulnerable, but also force him to keep that stiff upper lip to avoiding breaking down even though he really wants to. ‘Answer’ is the most compelling song on here, and while it is certainly not the only track where Tyler is spitting vicious hatred against his estranged father, it is the most complex one yet. After taking shot after shot against him, Tyler eventually breaks down and confesses “if I ever had a chance to ask this nigga and call him/I hope he answers”. The entries into Tyler’s psyche are not only limited to his father; he details a confusing and almost universally relatable relationship on ‘Awkward’, crack dealing on ‘48’, and the horribly destructive effects of bullying on ‘Pigs’. On the other end of the spectrum, ‘Colossus’ brings out the most detestable aspects of Tyler as he cynically mocks an obsessed fan that not only says most of the things said in Eminem’s ‘Stan’, but provides a much more watered down and shallow take on the obsessed fan tale.
The powerful tracks on here are certainly stand outs, but there are some tracks which rely on Tyler’s talent with space and atmosphere to succeed. He certainly isn’t the best producer, but when it comes to constructing songs there aren’t many people who can outdo him. ‘Jamba’ and ‘Cowboy’ are instant tracks, while ‘Tamale’ is just so rambunctious and catchy it is very hard to overlook. ‘Rusty’ would be a phenomenal track if Earl Sweatshirt were allowed to go about his verse conventionally and close the track on an unbelievable high. Instead, Tyler chooses to interrupt it throughout and before it finishes in order to carry out the album’s narrative, bringing it to a halting anticlimax. This brings to the only outstanding flaw with Wolf and that is its concept and pacing. The narrative is a clever one (for an explanation go here) but it is not necessarily too interesting when put into music. Its lack of clarity also makes the album feel like something of a quaint mess, which is often arresting at times but never really falls into the linear pattern which would make it much easier to swallow. Thankfully, this all occurs within a smart sea of good songs and Wolf ends up being a flawed but also a definitely enjoyable effort.
High Points: ‘Jamba’, ‘Cowboy’, ‘Answer’, ‘Pigs’, ‘Rusty’, ‘Tamale’, ‘Lone’
Low Points: ‘Colossus’, ‘PartyIsntOver/Campfire/Bimmer’, ‘IFHY’
The National are quite familiar with sending critics delirious for their music; which is not to say they don’t have a devoted and large fan base as well. The announcement of a new full length record and in true the National fashion, a conspicuous and ominous title (Trouble Will Find Me), made it front page news of almost every music publication out there. The first single to drop was ‘Demons’, a track that takes it time to develop inside its relatively short time lapse of three minutes, but it still manages to showcase Berninger’s trademark lyrical eccentricity with lines like “I’m secretly in love with/ everyone that I grew up with” jumping straight out at you. Given that their most recent single before the release of ‘Demons’ and ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ was the utterly stellar ‘Terrible Love’, you can’t help to feel disappointed. Both of the new singles aren’t particularly memorable and pretty much sound like every other National song out there with heavily added doses of bleakness. The instrumentation is more minimalistic and uneventful than ever, but it only adds to the emptiness of the tracks. It’s a comeback that feels more like a discrete entrance rather than a grand statement.
‘Demons’ 6.5/10, ‘Don’t Swallow The Cap’ 6/10
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
Big K.R.I.T has rapidly established himself as one of hip hop’s greatest emerging talents. Reviving the popularity of more Southern-styled rap, he has made himself a distinguished and highly respected figure in the hip hop community, with his 2011 effort Return of 4eva being one of the strongest mixtapes of that year. If widespread critical acclaim wasn’t enough, he has more than enough to boast about his popularity with the public, appearing on more mainstream rap with the likes of Wiz Khalifa and most notably, providing a show stealing feature on A$AP Rocky’s ‘1 Train’. After the release of his trio of mixtapes in 2011, he has also been labeled as the natural successor to fellow Southern rap giants UGK, Scarface and Outkast, all of which are cited as influences for the artist.
His latest free album, entitled King Remembered in Time is in many ways what Big K.R.I.T has been providing for a good couple of years now. That’s not to say the material isn’t as compelling and worthy as ever, but it certainly isn’t an entirely different venture. On here, he’s pretty much the same rapper he was in 2011: a fresh, talented and technically skilled musician. Production wise, King Remembered in Time is dependably solid. In fact, Big K.R.I.T delivers some of his best beats to date. ‘Talkin’ Bout Nothing’ starts off as a seemingly standard rap song until the stellar bass drop kicks in and an effortless swagger reverberates in the song’s texture. ‘King Without a Crown’ is another production marvel, a hard-hitting beat made all the more potent by the euphoric female vocal samples pitched in the background and the imperious atmosphere.
On a lyrical level, Big K.R.I.T once again showcases his thought-provoking, evocative narrative arsenal on the majority of these tracks. Versatility is another prime component of the rapper’s lyrical content, ranging from reflective, personal and inward expressionism with tracks such as the James Blake sampling ‘REM’, to the more philosophical, complex lyricism seen on ‘Banana Clip Theory’, where the rapper narrates his theory of the retaliatory nature of the cycle of killing. However, he occasionally steps into the more superficial and boastful realm of lyricism, particularly on the all-around dud ‘Only One’, which also features the comically atrocious duo of Wiz Khalifa and Smoke DZA, and terrible lines such as “stickin’ to my cheese like a microwave”. ‘How U Luv That’ is similarly underwhelming thanks to an awfully corny hook.
In addition to infrequent lyrical lapses, the songs lose steam somewhere along the album’s mid-point. It reflects the side of Big K.R.I.T that does, on the odd occasion, revert to more conventional musicality and obvious influence from his idols, which unfortunately degrades from the overall consistency of the mixtape. Prime examples are tracks like ‘Just Last Week’, (featuring Future) which is an alright song, but it does not convey what Big K.R.I.T is about and sounds frustratingly similar to many other rappers. After that, the thankfully album picks up with a succession of more stripped-down numbers, letting Big Krit’s words take centre stage. ‘Bigger Picture’ paints a vivid image of a distressing relationship, where the love between the two is inscrutable and confused. ‘Multi ‘Til The Sun Die’ is an invigorating closer that splendidly samples M8E, and is actually an absolutely gorgeous track, filled with a rousing string section and a soaring, triumphant ambience. King Remembered in Time is a multifarious extravaganza of sounds and words, and is further of evidence of how Big K.R.I.T, as a rapper, ticks all the boxes.
High Points: ‘Talkin Bout Nothing’, ‘King Without A Crown’, ‘REM’, ‘Banana Clip Theory’, ‘Bigger Picture’, ‘Multi ‘Til The Sun Die’
Low Points: ‘How U Luv That’, ‘Only One’
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
TNGHT are quite possibly the biggest name in trap music right now. Listening to bangers like ‘Higher Ground’ and ‘Bugg’n’ make it easy to see why this is the case, but when you think about the fact that ‘Acrylics’ is only the sixth song they’ve officially released you see that it takes a certain display of talent to build such a following based on such little material. That being said, if it wasn’t for the sheer quality of their music, people wouldn’t be losing their shit at their concerts like they do now. While the five tracks from their incredible self-titled EP were all pretty solid potential hip-hop instrumentals, their new one off single ‘Acrylics’ seems to be more of a banger in the realm of trap of electronic music. They veer towards a more conventional and simple ground on this track, but that is not to undermine the sheer power of ‘Acrylics’. It is absolutely enthralling as soon as it comes on, with TNGHT using their distinctive left field textures to create a build-up that eventually results in an imperfect but equally skull crushing drop. 8/10 Recommended Music
The Knife have always been conceptual. They have also always been important, catchy, original, unsettling, and challenging. Ever since the mysterious Swedish synth-pop sibling duo rose to prominence, they have been the foundation of the electronic pop sound that consistently dominates a fair bit of independent music today. In fact, it’s hard to find a slightly eerie sounding electro-pop artist from the past five years that doesn’t cite The Knife as an influence. Seeing as it has been seven years since their magnum-opus and last proper studio album Silent Shout, it’s hard to picture them being peers with artists who they’ve always been placed leagues ahead of, even if these artists are some of the best around (see Grimes, iamamiwhoami, or Purity Ring). The Knife have always been an enigma, and the period of general silence has left the stakes and expectations for a comeback unbelievably high. Since Silent Shout, The Knife’s next move has been more of a mystery than the band themselves.
It is now seven years later and The Knife have no interest in making their return a nonevent. This first thing you need to know about the band’s fourth album Shaking the Habitual is that it is huge, in both size and scope. You don’t even need to listen to the album to pick this up; if you have read any of the press leading up to this record you will know that The Knife are more politically charged and ambitious than they have ever been, as shown by the baffling “manifesto” released as a press bio for the record. You can also observe this from looking at the track listing and seeing that it is a 98 minute, 13 song double album with six songs running over eight minutes. It doesn’t take a genius to assume that Shaking the Habitual is an inspired record, but you really have no idea what you are in for until you actually experience it for yourself. This album is an absolute masterwork that sees The Knife step into a vast danger zone and come out with rewards that only the cream of the musical crop can achieve.
Shaking the Habitual is definitely a challenge but not in the sense that it is hard to listen to. The album is filled with vigorous, hypnotic, detached, and extremely intimidating sound and song structure but it never becomes an endurance test. In fact, the album is constantly exciting because every second is drawn out with ideas that possess the listener and cast them into a dizzying flood of anticipation. The most important thing about Shaking the Habitual is that it demands your undivided attention. It is terrible background music, but when it is placed in a nocturnal, industrial atmosphere it makes for a flawless soundtrack. There are a variety of auras covered on this gargantuan record, but most of them sit on the colder side of ethereal, with The Knife bringing out a very obvious beauty despite the music being drawn out and unconventional. With this skill, they make every turn on their musical rides as exciting as the last one.
Although Shaking the Habitual is by all means a departure, a great deal of it refers to the production style of past releases from the group. There are elements of the more sprawling, experimental, and sonically dense sound of 2010’s bizarre collaborative release Tomorrow in a Year, as well as a few songs that channel Silent Shout or even their second and poppiest record Deep Cuts (see ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’). However, Shaking the Habitual stands on its own and distances itself as far away as possible from being any kind of a sequel. The Knife still have pop elements in their music, but they’ve covered these in an impenetrable haze of innovation so that you have to dig through to find them. It doesn’t take much to appreciate Shaking the Habitual, but when you get stuck inside of of it you become couchlocked. Olof Dreijer’s taunting and distorted array of synths and beats are the perfect home for Karin Andersson’s consistently amazing vocal performances, thanks to her chameleon-like ability to adapt to her surroundings.
The songs on here are constantly incredible and they are structured and molded into an album without struggle. Shaking the Habitual is divided into two six song halves which are separated by the 19-minute long ambient noisescape ‘Old Dreams Waiting to Be Realized’ which acts as both a mirror and an intermission. The two halves have practically identical construction; they both contain interesting tracks which are under a minute long (‘Crake’ and ‘Oryx’), terrifying extended techno songs (‘Full of Fire’ and ‘Stay Out Here’), and slow-burning centerpieces (‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ and ‘Raging Lung’). The first half is the stronger and more immediate of the two, but that is only because it is completely flawless. ‘A Tooth For An Eye’ is the album’s most accessible song and it gets Shaking the Habitual off to an appropriately rousing start with African influenced beats coming in a package dominated by Andersson’s alluringly primal vocal performance. It is a savage and bright way to kick the album off, until we are exposed to the rough and gloomy industrial techno of ‘Full of Fire’ which is a nine-minute endeavor in spontaneity that also happens to be the most action packed and entertaining song on the record (possibly made so by Andersson’s way of making every segment a template for her striking lyricism, with images ranging from “liberals giving me a nerve pinch” to “the cock had it coming”). ‘A Cherry on Top’ is a gorgeous but doomy track where every note is strung out to maximum effect while ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ has a similarly slow-burning effect that is so nocturnal and stunning it is impossible to undermine. ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’ is a refreshing rush of a sound reminiscent to earlier work by the Knife, and it results in probably the album’s catchiest moment where recorders blast and a forced sense of pessimism is shown: “I think that we can make it but I’ll say that we can’t”.
Shaking the Habitual’s second half is much more instrumental and much less instant, but it is still a marvel. ‘Raging Lung’ leads the pack with its booming balladry, inducing the most anthemic chorus on the album. However, the ease of this track is not replicated for the remainder of Shaking the Habitual. We are then exposed to instrumental and incredibly creepy tracks like ‘Networking’ and ‘Fracking Fluid Injection’ which give the record a more unworldly edge. The second half is dominated by the huge ‘Stay Out Here’, a very conspicuous but mind-blowing duet with Shannon Fuchess of Light Asylum. Her voice weaves in and out with Andersson’s to create the busiest stop on the record. ‘Ready to Lose’ closes the album off with comparatively brief pleasantness, as if to shrug off the pile of ambition that was brought up throughout the rest of the record. Shaking the Habitual is one of the most daring and compelling records in recent memory, making something completely out-there and unearthly without the slightest hint of alienation.
High Points: ‘A Tooth for an Eye’, ‘Full of Fire’, ‘A Cherry on Top’, ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’, ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’, ‘Crake’, ‘Raging Lung’, ‘Stay Out Here’
Low Points: N/A
9.5/10 Recommended Music
As we reach the ending of Norwegian singer-songwriter Jenny Hval’s heart-stopping new track ‘Memphisto in Water’, we are exposed to an imperfect melodic form of antipassion so potent that haunting is hardly strong enough a word to describe it. The dainty melody that kicks off the finale is traditionally gorgeous, but Hval moves in with absolutely overwhelming taste as she winds up her voice, just hitting a pitch that most would not know existed. There a lot to be said about the sensational high frequency finale to ‘Memphisto in Water’, but Hval lets the beauty speak for itself. The segment leading up to the finale is reminiscent of a possessed Julia Holter, as Hval’s distant and unmelodic vocal clashes with a bright burst of thrill to create a supernaturally eerie effect. I don’t think I have heard somebody go through heavenly atmospheres this flawlessly in a long time, making ‘Memphisto in Water’ is my surprise favorite track of the year because absolutely everything about it is executed with an unworldly ear for beauty. Jenny Hval’s upcoming record Innocence is Kinky is definitely a thing to look forward to.
British Sea Power are pretty quirky lads. There was this one time where they tried really hard to prove something so they went on Jools Holland and wore really weird costumes. It was cray. Despite their hesitance to experiment, this kookiness definitely works its way into their music. Even for British Sea Power standards, their 2011 effort Valhalla Dancehall was quite a stretch in terms of eccentricity , filled with gargantuan guitar solos, wacky song titles (Mongk II?), and bizarre lyricism (“sacrifice your eyes to blind mice”). It is, however, what we’ve come to expect from British Sea Power, and it’s probably why they generally divide opinion. Many critics and music aficionados alike dismiss BSP as a band whose quaintness does not have the music to back it up, while others claim they’re a band full of bursting, well-executed ideas.
Their latest LP, entitled Machineries of Joy at, shows BSP at their most ordinary. In fact, its normality is rather frusturating. The production is conventional, as are the melodies and the song structures. All of this isn’t necessarily bad, but it really does depend on what BSP decide to do with it. At times, they lean towards more carefully weaved, languid ballads, and on others, they veer to the more impulsive and energetic side of things. Truth be told, there isn’t really a time where these contrasting textures meet a consistency. Although the flavors and the tastes are generally the same, the presentation of these differ greatly, which in turn makes the overall quality of certain pieces questionable such as the hideous mess that is ‘Loving Animals’, where the sugary hook is lost in a chaotic discombobulation of manufactured intensity. ‘K Hole’ is similarly amateurish and prosaic, where the energy that is meant to fuel the song seems forced rather than natural. On the other hand, vibrant moments like ‘Monsters of Sunderland’ really work, as the straightforwardness of it rather rewarding, and also contains what is most likely the catchiest hook on the album.
This is where we find some of Machineries of Joy’s biggest issues. It seems as though the band have sacrificed the ability to simply entertain and entice, and mistook this as maturity. The most obvious example of it is the painstakingly dull closer ‘When a Warm Wind Blows Through the Grass’, where the hook is clumsy and unaffecting, and the song itself a malformed and poor representation of emotions. In spite of this album’s overriding flaws, there are some great moments on here. The ballad ‘What You Need The Most’ is rather beautiful and well-crafted, as is “Spring Has Sprung’, where the violas and the instrumentation compliment the track’s soothingness rather well. ‘Hail Holy Queen’ and the title track aren’t too dissatisfactory either.
In the end, what we have from British Sea Power on their most recent LP is a middling record. Rudimentary liveliness and inconsistent hooks aside, Machineries of Joy is solid in terms of songwriting, and a rather composed exercise of music. However, it still feels that the band’s trademark off-kilter spontaneity is something distinctly missing in the album. In many ways, the band’s determination to created a more composed and polished finish is very much a double-edge sword. Machineries of Joy just turns out to be something that needs that little bit of spice and kit to elevate it to greatness.
High Points: ‘What You Need The Most’, ‘Monsters of Sunderland’, ‘Spring Has Sprung, ‘Radio Goddard’
Low Points: ‘K Hole’, ‘Loving Animals, ‘When A Warm Wind Blows Through The Grass’
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
Laid Out sees Shlohmo deliver five incredibly well produced techno tracks, an event which is far from rare in the electronic world. However, Shlohmo makes his effort stand out by occasionally showcasing some overwhelmingly sticky brilliance. Shlohmo incorporates elements of R&B into his trap styled beats to give them an eerie slickness that drips through and becomes virulent. The most obvious track on here is the exceptional How To Dress Well led opener ‘Don’t Say No’ which happens to be one of the most gorgeous and soulful slow jams I have heard this year. Tom Krell’s vocal performance and the way it complements Shlohmo’s production is easily the high point of the EP, but other instrumentals definitely don’t lack in decency. ‘Out of Hand’ and ‘Later’ are supremely potent bangers which give this EP a really strong start. The last two tracks aren’t as strong (especially ‘Without’) but they do have a rare mix of beauty and energy that Schlomo seems to do just as well as anyone else. Laid Out is a more than worthy listen. 7.5/10
There’s no arguing that the transformation Kate Nash goes through on her third record Girl Talk is quite different from anything she’s done in the past but when you think about it, the form is something anyone with eyes could have seen coming. She has always possessed a riot grrrl type fervor carried by her passive-aggressive yet extremely blatant sarcasm, but in the past she has sugar coated it with a fine layer of succulent pop turning songs like ‘Foundations’ and ‘Mouthwash’ into quite irresistible hits. Her persona hasn’t really changed on Girl Talk; the only thing that has been adjusted is her sound. Nash chooses to put these songs in much more typical templates for her angsty feminism, molding it with raw punk rock rather than relatively polished pop. What’s ironic about this album is that even though Nash seems to be veering away from the mainstream, her newfound indie cred has made her a pedestrian in a group of fuzz pop bands who do it way better (see Dum Dum Girls or Best Coast). It seems like Girl Talk is the type of music Nash should have started out making because it feels as if she has shrunken her ideals into a limited sound that she hardly knows how to make the most out of. Although it is a “return to roots”, it feels somewhat insincere, unnatural, and generic.
That being said, Girl Talk is far from a bad album. There are times in her fully formed zest where Nash is quite a thing to observe, although the places she chooses to take her vocals on this record slide towards the challenging. However, when it gets really fragile like on ‘Sister’ and ‘All Heart’, the ugliness actually begins to compliment the song which is quite possibly the effect Nash was going for in the first place. Although this is a very forced turn at lo-fi, the concept is pretty consistent even if the songs aren’t. For example, the mellower tracks are either hit or miss. ‘Are You There Sweetheart?’ and ‘Labyrinth’ are the most humble and pleasant songs on the record and they actually suit Girl Talk greatly, but songs like ‘Oh’ and the desolate acoustic number ‘You’re So Cool, I’m So Freaky’ feel dull and thanks to the lackluster production they don’t even have listenability to fall back on. Songs like ‘All Talk’ and ‘Conventional Girl’ are just too obnoxious to work, the latter with a refrain so unflattering it pretty much kills the song (“I’m sick of being the bitch that you think I am and I never understood that, man”). If you know Kate Nash, there isn’t really much to say about the lyrics on here as they are filled with her trademark sarcasm, aggression, and of course, feminism (see ‘Rap for Rejection’ a bewildering but somewhat effective hip-hop track). Girl Talk is an admirable turn, but it ditches the prettiness without containing enough thrills to make up for its lack of aesthetic appeal.
High Points: ‘Part Heart’, ‘Are You There Sweetheart?’, ‘Sister’, ‘Labyrinth’
Low Points: ‘Oh’, ‘All Talk’, ‘Conventional Girl’
We’re all the way into his eight studio album, but it is still hard to let go of the exciting Venezuelan-American hippie that produced Rejoicing in the Hands back in 2004. Then he was a leading figure in the freak folk hybrid that was starting to take over, but while the sprawling ingenuity of Joanna Newsom and the obnoxiously alluring weirdness of Cocorosie continued to expand, Banhart decided to simplify and shrink his sound. Mala continues this sweetened direction to semi-satisfying effect. There are plenty of times where this record is great, even more times when it is pleasant to listen to, but as a unit it becomes something faceless and occasionally dull.
One thing Devendra Banhart has not forgotten how to do is win you over; there is a great deal of material on Mala that is almost irresistible. ‘Mi Negrita’ is sung in Spanish, but it is still becomes the catchiest track on here by using quaintness as an incredibly functional weapon. ‘Your Fine Petting Duck’ is quite a rare exploration into acknowledgment of poor character where Banhart sings “if he ever treats you bad just remember how much worse I treated you”. By the end this track is overcome by a swoon of electronica, but this refreshing charm is bizarrely powerful. ‘Never Seen Such Good Things’, ‘Won’t You Come Over,’ and ‘Hatchet Wound’ have an incredibly aged grace, but they are still super potent. The only thing that goes wrong on this album is its ability to stick with you; when its time is up, there is hardly an impression that Banhart leaves on this listener. This is a frustrating flaw, but it doesn’t take away from the agreeable listenability of an album like Mala.
High Points: ‘Never Seen Such Good Things’, ‘Mi Negrita’, ‘Your Fine Petting Duck’, ‘Won’t You Come Over’
Low Points: ‘Cristobal Risquez’, ‘Taurobolium’
Foxygen- We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
Generally, I wouldn’t feel confident reviewing 60’s-revial albums because there are some gaping holes in my knowledge of that era – but this is my blog, so fuck you. Foxygen breathe new life into a passé genre with layered, sometimes cutesy melodies; and lyrics so gooey and adhesive they’re practically Elmer’s glue, bitch.
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When you read into what kind of music Mary Onettes are making and it says “Swedish indie pop” you don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. Sometimes it can get dancey with artists like Robyn or moody with the fantastic Lykke Li, and even become a climatic splendour of synths with the infectious Niki and Dove. The Mary Onettes aren’t the first of their kind to come out of Sweden, and most certainly won’t be the last.
When you first come around to listening to this record, it is immediately noticeable that the Mary Onette’s brand of Jangle Pop is quite conventional. They aren’t quirky like Niki and the Dove or mysterious like Lykke Li, instead they shoot for much more straightforward array of indie pop tunes. The production is colourful, undeniably pretty, but hardly the challenging and untrodden territory the band claimed to be aiming for with the recruit of new producer Dan Lissvik. It does, however, bring out the euphoria and dazzling, vibrant pallet of the Mary Onette’s music, but when it comes to pushing their music to the next level, the production brings it to a hault because its crystal clear sound does not allow the tracks to manoeuvre themselves around new atmospheres, directions and textures.
In terms of songwriting, on the other hand, Hit the Waves is pretty solid. It might not be a groundbreaking record, but it does deliver some rather catchy and snappy tunes. Sometimes the record’s euphoria even flirts with the darker side on some tracks such as one of the highlights ‘Evil Coast’, where the almost exuberant instrumentation deceives the listener where the lyrics paint a very different, and far more opaque picture, where we see Philip Ekström insisting that “We’re caught up in a sinister lie” and that “we’re never real, always falling down”. The juxtaposition of sound and words is similar to that of Passion Pit, but not quite as effective.
Despite the catchiness and infectiousness of some of the record’s earlier tracks, it sort of curtails the flaws of what bubblegum pop music provides: momentary exhilaration that eventually wears itself out and becomes tiresome. Although the repetitiveness of Hit the Waves is similar to that of bubblegum pop music, its lyricism is far too thoughtful and emotionally-charged to be labelled this type of music. But the outcome is more or less the same: Hit the Waves slowly loses the edge and appeal, and gradually loses the attention of the listener. It isn’t ever “bad”, it simply loses its taste after a while and becomes a little too samey-samey..
On the album cover, we see bright plants as a background for a sleek, polished writing of the band’s name and record title. And in a way, it’s the perfect reflection of what is to come: flowery, bright landscapes covered with thought-out, carefully carved words.
High Points: ‘Evil Coast’, ‘Hit the Waves’, ‘Years’
Low Points: ‘How It All Ends’
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
Pete Swanson’s recent solo work has been something to behold. His 2011 album Man With Potenital was one of the most interesting noise music records to come out of this decade and his choice to follow it up with the Pro Style EP was an incredibly strong one. His latest addition to the chain is Punk Authority, a four track EP that showcases Swanson at his most technologically anxious. It may lack the techno based flair of Pro Style, but it is definitely an intriguing listen for the majority of its time. The opening title track is constantly abrasive, reminiscent of a vivid glitchy desolation despite its busy instrumental texture. Swanson is not afraid to ditch subtlety on this EP, which manages to backfire on the slightly obnoxious ‘C.O.P’ but works its magic on the much more intense and frightening ‘Grounds for Arrest’. This EP’s centerpiece is its 13-minute long closing track ‘Life Ends at 30’ which is arguably the strongest standalone piece of music that Swanson has put out. Beneath its heavily layered feedback is the faint representation of a melodic beat working its way through the dust and the emptiness of this image is absolutely perplexing. While this humble musical journey steals the show, the rest of the EP sets a great stage for Swanson’s brash eeriness even if Punk Authority is not his most exciting work to date. 7/10
To an extent The Men’s fourth record New Moon feels like the logical follow-up to last year’s pretty memorable Open Your Heart as it continues down the path set by that record but mellows down the noise rock influences to an even greater level. There are only a few moments on this album that you can call noisy and this toning down is sort of a doubled edged sword. The space and melody present within the tracks allow them to grow as songs with moments like ‘Without a Face’ and ‘Bird Song’ really drawing the listener in with sturdy melodic sophistication. In fact, New Moon is consistently well constructed but the real fault with this record is its sound; the lo-fi production does nothing to compliment the urgent country overtones this record has and the result is something quite plain. The whole album has decent music on it but it suffers from somewhat banal atmospheres. When the mood buckles up on punkier tracks like ‘I Saw Her Face’, ‘Electric’, or ‘The Brass’ the problem flips itself over as the songs tend to be obscured within the flurry of energy. The problem with New Moon is that it can never find its balance and although it is a solid listen, it leaves a fair bit to be desired. 6/10
Most people who know The Strokes will pretty much agree that they started at a high with their first two records (Is This It? and Room on Fire)and slowly started a descent downhill when their edge somehow vanished. So where does their fifth record Comedown Machine fit in? If you look at it one way, it is the logical conclusion to the group’s five album deal with RCA. It wouldn’t be a huge surprise if this was to be The Strokes last release, but listening to this album brings up a constant notion of its makers wanting to finish something off. It is not necessarily phoned in, but at this point The Strokes don’t display the need to challenge themselves or the listener. However, if you think about it they never really did. Sound-wise, Comedown Machine is nothing out of the ordinary. The Strokes have always been something of a predictable band, but there are times when this album sounds nothing like The Strokes. Julian Casablancas uses a very distinct falsetto quite frequently on this record and it is ultimately the tool which makes tracks like ‘One Way Trigger’ and ‘Slow Animals’ bizarre directions. While some of this music is a departure, it is definitely fair to say that Comedown Machine is their least adventurous album. Nothing on here is even remotely groundbreaking and the production clashes with some of the instrumentation to create a thoroughly ugly sound. However, The Strokes display a pretty naturally impressive talent for melody and songcraft, which shines through the album’s effortlessness and makes Comedown Machine an enjoyable listen, one which is easily their best since 2003.
Whatever the band’s motives are, this serves as proof that they simply can’t stop being catchy. There are some moments where the intense infectiousness is destroyed by very sloppy execution (see ‘One Way Trigger’) but most of the time its flaws do not substantially slow the album down. Album opener ‘Tap Out’ is one of the best songs The Strokes have put out in a long time, channeling a very punchy hybrid of bands like Hot Chip or Phoenix who seem to put quite a bit of subliminal electronic power in their songs. ‘All the Time’ sounds a bit like a reject from an early Strokes record, but there are occassions when the hook successfully possesses your subconscious. ‘50/50’ is packed with aggression while ‘Slow Animals’ and ‘80s Comedown Machine’ actually show a side of the band that is subtle and pretty, the former making eyes with a bittersweet musical aura (“you don’t have to be so down/everyone can hear you in this whole damn crowd”). ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’ is a bafflingly good closer, probably because it sounds like a blatant stab at a vintage throwaway effect but it ends up being sort of fascinating.
All these high points make Comedown Machine a pretty good record purely thanks to its enjoyability. However, the group’s insistence to not give a fuck happens to extract from its power. The spark of their early days has definitely worn out and that is always a notion plaguing this album whenever it hints at greatness. The lackluster production forces the album to fumble between a lo-fi and technological sound which becomes very frustrating when the record has potential to sound good. However, the album definitely has a strong good song to bad song ratio, with the only low points coming where The Strokes choose to unsuccessfully slow things down and make something absolutely banal. Thankfully, this is a rarity; the majority of the time Comedown Machine is pleasant and rewarding listening, something that feels like a pleasant surprise. Or as Julian Casablancas puts it on ‘Welcome to Japan’, “what kind of asshole drives a Lotus?”.
The best thing about Comedown Machine is that it is certainly not a disappointing album. You could argue that this is because after seven years of mediocrity it has become difficult to be disappointed by a Strokes record, but it is also because Comedown Machine is much more entertaining that you would expect it to be. If it followed the path their career was on, this would be a pretty big mess but Comedown Machine’s catchiness and relative lack of cluelessness makes it feel like a slight redemption.
High Points: ‘Tap Out’, ‘Welcome to Japan’, ‘Slow Animals’, ‘Call It Fate, Call It Karma’
Low Points: ‘Partners in Crime’, ‘Chances’
Cerulean Salt is driven by such subtly pure emotion that it can be easy to overlook on first listen. From a musical standpoint, Katie Crutchfield’s extremely raw and simplistic production can come across as unexceptional. That is, until you see how phenomenal a songwriter she is. Her words carry so much weight and personality to the point where every line feels like an emotional hauling, and she combines this lyrical power with a clear talent for melody and sound. This shows up as soon as the album starts on ‘Hollow Bedroom’ where the only instruments are Crutchfield’s thick raspy vocal accompanied by her soft electric guitar. “I don’t believe I care at all” she sings, but you wouldn’t guess it from her careful attention to the detail of her sound. At no point does the desolation of the track become unclear, but the punch of the downfall showers you with more feeling than you ever thought a single electric guitar chord could.
This is Crutchfield’s second record as Waxahatchee, but it already stands firm amongst recent lo-fi singer/songwriter masterworks like Feist’s The Reminder and Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp. Just like these two, Crutchfield manages to find refuge with incredibly effective melodic grace and personal lyricism. ‘Hollow Bedroom’ is not the only stripped-down highlight; ‘Blue Pt. II’ is a solo acoustic number and perhaps the most striking on the album. Again, it sees Crutchfield display heart-wrenching emotional awareness (“if you think that I will wait forever you were right and I’ll give you everything you wanted if I can”) and match it up with a tune that completely dominates the listener. ‘Peace and Quiet’ is also empty, but it sees a much more pronounced howl from Crutchfield as opposed to a hushed hum. It just shows the vast array of things that go well on Cerulean Salt.
A lot of the time Crutchfield is proving that you don’t have to be loud to be charismatic, but there is no shortage of moments on here where she successfully does both. ‘Coast to Coast’ is a straightforward power-pop track which sees Crutchfield channel her inner Sleater-Kinney or Liz Phair while ‘Dixie Cups & Jars’ is the album’s catchiest track, made so by a soaring vocal performance, a sticky guitar hook, and thundering tom-toms. ‘Brother Bryan’ has an instrumental made up of nothing but picked bass and a drum beat, but the laziness of the rhythm totally works with the refined atmosphere (“we smoke till our pockets are empty/a person cannot live without sleep”). ‘Misery Over Dispute’ sees Crutchfield at her most aggressive and it feels like the moment where we are awarded for all of her subtleties. The songcraft on Cerulean Salt is stellar, but it is a record that shows rather than tells, proving that implications of emotions are more powerful than descriptions. The result is a superb release from a truly talented artist.
High Points: ‘Hollow Bedroom’, ‘Dixie Cups & Jars’, ‘Blue Pt. II’, ‘Brother Bryan’, ‘Misery Over Dispute’, ‘Peace and Quiet’
Low Point: ‘Lips and Limbs’
8.5/10 Recommended Music
When Sigur Ros announced that they were making more “aggressive” music, it’s fair to say that more than a few eyebrows were raised. From a band that has accustomed listeners to mindblowingly beautiful, tranquil music, their latest track “Brennisteinn” is quite a shock to the system. Its dark, twisted, profoundly opaque ambience and spine-chilling instrumentation forms a sound that is far uglier than the heavenly, ambrosial music found on their most recent LP, Valtari. However, it’s a welcome change, because it absolutely enthralling and different to anything the band has ever done. It’s climatic, rousing and incredibly immense, where the distorted guitar noises juxtapose perfectly with Jonsi’s soaring, high-pitched yodels to provide something utterly imposing and terrifying at the same time. “Brennisteinn” is an extremely intriguing listen, and one that makes you shuffle and shiver in your seat in excitement for what should be an entirely unique listening experience to come in June with Kveikur. 8/10
Reviewed by Thomas Cury
Justin Timberlake’s incredibly retro-flavored return has not been short on sophistication. Take his performance at this year’s Grammy awards. The fact that he was given about ten minutes of airtime despite having no nominations just showed how much of a cultural icon of entertainment Timberlake has become. However, he took this time to showcase the newly clean-cut and polished image that would lead him into his brand new project, The 20/20 Experience. He called this act JT & the Tennessee Kids and it resembled the type of lounged elegance that entertainers who are aiming for a swinging vintage vibe tend to display (think Michael Buble but with more charisma). Yes, it was cheesy but hey, Justin Timberlake is talented enough an entertainer to get away with such admirably phony concepts. He could sing and dance better than the majority of the performers at the ceremony and although this image is a bit tiring, his “act” certainly stood out. Timberlake’s not a groundbreaker but he can be intensely exciting.
This whole sophistipop vibe is the one that dominates The 20/20 Experience, and while it gives the record a bit of consistency and flavor, there are too many times where it is brought out to tiresome extremes. It’s a shame that this is such a flawed album because most of the songs have the potential to be great and at times incredible. However, it is what Timberlake chooses to do with the songs in terms of production and structuring that really hurts the album. It’s not enough to say that this album is overlong; eight out of ten songs sit around the seven minute mark and most of these lose a great deal of their momentum when drawn out into their typically dull and predictable codas. It never becomes clear what Timberlake chooses to do with these lengthy endeavors, and he ends up just sitting there, waiting for the milk to go sour.
The disappointing part is that lots of these tracks are pretty exceptional before they get dragged out. ‘Pusher Love Girl’ and ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’ are actually really solid songs and the breakdowns only lessen the power slightly (mostly due to the fact that they themselves are somewhat catchy). However, tracks like ‘Let the Groove Get In’, ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’, and ‘Tunnel Vision’ don’t do so well. Not only do these intimidating lengths make Timberlake’s dance-pop hard to approach, they also bring out what is possibly his most prominent flaw; lyricism.
The problem with the lyrics on here is that Timberlake really likes to speak in metaphor. His love interests are mirrors, drugs, candy, ovens, or aliens and his overuse of this type of imagery is unbearably corny. On ‘Spaceship Coupe’ Timberlake sings “everyone knows you are from outer space/but I just want to turn out in space with you”; the song is going to space with your alien lover in a car, but Timberlake’s subject matter is so glaringly obvious and earnest that the song borders on sickening. ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’ is another one where Timberlake has pretty much nothing to say and ends up going on some nonsensical tangent where he sings “come on, sit down, let me elevate your appetite…now my selection is the tasty kind, but you’re delicious on your own”. Lyrics don’t always need to be top priority, but when they are this clear it is hard to tune them out. The words on here live on one incredibly dull dimension.
Despite The 20/20 Experience’s inability to sufficiently fill up all its vast space, its flaws don’t erase Timberlake’s talent as an entertainer. Sometimes this album is mind-numbingly tedious, but on other occasions it is warm and fun. Justin Timberlake is a master of timing and melody and it makes snappy singles like ‘Suit & Tie’ incredibly potent. Even the weaker songs are home to something of a catchy hook, and this often draws some of the attention away from the lackluster presentation. You can’t really forget that Timberlake is a pop star and a pretty damn good one as very few figures have his impressive vocal range, ear for melody and rhythm, and ability to produce infectious earworms that are more pleasant than annoying (see ‘Mirrors’). Timbaland’s production on here isn’t half-bad, but when it is constantly being pulled apart and shoved at you it’s hard not to get sick of it. All in all, The 20/20 Experience is pleasant and stylish but an incredibly flawed and banal record that would be very good if it weren’t for somewhat poor judgment and overuse of gimmicks.
High Points: ‘Pusher Love Girl’, ‘Suit & Tie’, ‘Don’t Hold the Wall’, ‘Mirrors’
Low Points: ‘Strawberry Bubblegum’, ‘Spaceship Coupe’, ‘Let the Groove Get In’
No, you’re not the only one. I also thought Rhye was fronted by a female when I first heard ‘Open’ and I will not deny being in some state of shock when I found out the vocalist, Mike Milosh, was in fact a man. Calling Milosh’s voice “feminine” is an understatement; his gender is the type of thing you won’t believe until you see it and when you do it is still hard to swallow. I actually listened to Woman a few times while under the impression that it was a female behind the microphone and even then I was thoroughly impressed by the quality and slickness of the vocals. Milosh really is granted with a phenomenal voice, a tool that he uses to bring out the serene and lush qualities of Rhye’s music. I could not think of anybody better suited to lead Robin Hannibal’s soft, subtle, spacious, and jazzy instrumentals into the incredibly powerful place that Woman’s best moments travel to. However, once the illusion rubs off, there really is nothing that exciting about this record, an occasion which is marked very early when things take a turn for the tedious.
I’m not saying that there aren’t consistently good qualities in this music. For the most part, the performances, production, and even the songwriting are of a pretty high standard. All of these things match up to a form a pretty recognizable atmosphere, but this atmosphere doesn’t really touch on more than one dimension throughout the entirety of the record. This means that the mellow aura eventually becomes sort of insipid as the album drags on, and while it is perfectly pleasant, there isn’t really much here that will constantly keep you interested. That’s pretty much the only fault in Woman. This album is musically sophisticated and conceptually aware, but Rhye’s ability to keep it enthralling fails and the album tumbles down in a tasteful array of monotony.
Regardless, there is quite a lot to take from Woman. Rhye match up with Jessie Ware in their undeniable capacity to construct an ambience so soulful and classy that it almost begins to overshadow the flaws of the music (emphasis on “almost”). Milosh delivers consistently touching vocal performances, but the softness within his falsetto doesn’t help the album in terms of its inability to age well. Also, the good songs on here really are amazing. ‘Open’ is an absolutely stunning track which actually brings out the gorgeous qualities that Rhye’s sound has the potential to possess. ‘The Fall’ and ‘Last Dance’ also share a more upbeat and gradual power, but songs like ‘3 Days’ and ‘Major Minor Love’ do a better job of representing the record. No song on here is bad, but very few are excellent enough to deal with the uninteresting template in which they are placed. Ultimately, Woman is an album with potential but in this form it is not yet blooming into greatness.
High Points: ‘Open’, ‘The Fall’, ‘Last Dance’
Low Points: ‘3 Days’, ‘Major Minor Love’
When The Weeknd first started releasing music through the internet two years ago, the project felt like quite an enigma. The mixtapes were incredibly good, but the music seemed to be built off a gimmick of mystery and darkness. However, if you look at The Weeknd now, you will have no clue that that was once the case. The Weeknd don’t seem to be hiding behind anything anymore as their music has gotten extremely popular through the success of their Trilogy compilation. Today, you see Abel Tesfaye onstage and nothing about his presence resembles shadowiness. Who would have known that he is a natural frontman, talking, dancing, and hyping the crowd up while his impressive pair of lungs lead the tracks into a new setting. It’s hard not to be this potent when you are about to sell out the O2 Arena.
Tesfaye acknowledges this during the second night of his sold-out four night residence at Camden’s Electric Ballroom: “this show is special because I wanted to see you guys face to face before we start doing arenas”. Back when The Weeknd first broke out, I could never picture Tesfaye saying something like that, but now it makes perfect sense. His live show has very obvious hints of promise if it were to be scaled up to an arena level, but in this intimacy Tesfaye has practically unlimited control. The crowd tonight seem willing to fall to his feet, signified by my inability to see or hear anything during the opening track ‘Enemy’ thanks to flurry of iPhones obstructing my vision and a great deal of screams blocking my ability to hear. Tesfaye grins quite a lot through this gig; it’s as if his original ploy to take the blogosphere by storm has blown up to a level that he had only dreamed of in the past. His ability to embrace his superstardom is certainly respectable.
Tonight’s set sees Tesfaye toy through his strangely extensive catalogue with ease because pretty much every song presents itself on a platter of effortlessness. He has quite a prolific selection to choose from, but he decides to deliver cuts from practically every end of his two year career. It seems like quite a good idea to play House of Balloons practically in its entirety (with the absence of ‘What You Need’), but for the rest of the set he picks and chooses between his many features and other highlights from the trilogy. His goal tonight seems to be about balancing his slow burners and his upbeat party tracks. He does this well, spacing them out to create maximum impact. ‘High For This’ and ‘The Morning’ are colossal moments which get themselves out of the way quite early, setting what seems to be the ideal amount of energy for the remainder of the night. The crowd seems quite familiar with the Wiz Khalifa song ‘Remember You’, but soon we discover that it is put in place simply to level the power of ‘The Zone’, which follows to huge applaud. The middle of the set is home to a cloud of slower songs (‘Twenty Eight’, ‘Next’, ‘Coming Down’, ‘The Knowing’) which see the Electric Ballroom take a more mellow vibe, but this is interrupted by the hugely anticipated rendition of ‘House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’. That song pretty much possesses the entire venue, and spits it out to create the most universal highlight of the night. For me, the high point comes when the unanimous singalong of ‘Crew Love’ turns into the trippy anthem which is ‘Loft Music’, a transition of orgasmic euphoria. After he gets everyone to sing along with a sample from Beach House’s ‘Master of None’ (on ‘The Party & the After Party), he bows out of the main set with a stripped down but extremely powerful version of ‘Wicked Games’. At this point, the gig is pretty much ready to explode with the energy and size of its sound.
However, he comes back almost instantly for an encore of two tracks from Echoes of Silence, ‘Montreal’ and ‘Outside’. These are two relatively sluggish tracks to end with, but they are altered into hard-hitting crescendos. Pretty much everything about tonight’s performance has been perfectly placed in order to punch with huge vigor. Seeing The Weeknd in a place like this is almost a relief, because the intimacy serves him truly well. However, it also shows how understandable his increasing prominence is and why it exists.
Heems of Das Racist once joked “we kinda like rap-noise-pop”, but I didn’t really know if rap-noise-pop was actually a thing until I stumbled upon Clipping. It is hard to be on the fence with a group like this as the genres they fuse (harsh noise and hip-hop) tend to be styles which many people don’t ever seem to simultaneously touch. You could argue that Death Grips sort of did this during their incredibly prominent year in 2012, but Clipping does it in more straightforward fashion. If you isolated the rapping on Midcity you wouldn’t be able to tell that there is anything entirely out of the ordinary about this group, but the way Daveed Diggs’s vocals join together with Clipping’s noise make this record completely new and unworldly.
We’ll get to the rapping later, but the first thing which jumps out about Midcity is its beatless and unmelodic instrumentals. This music defies all notions of conventionalism as every single thing on here is built around noise. There are times where the noise is quiet and the rapping takes center stage, but the most arresting songs on here are home to the dominance of very abrasive sounds. Tracks like ‘bullshit’ and ‘guns.up’ stand out simply because they have relatively melodic vocal hooks paired together with bursts of static. The selling point of Midcity is the fact that Clipping can be incredibly catchy, often obscuring relatively accessible structures in their overflow of noise. This happens on ‘loud’, which has a chopped and screwed refrain so strong that you could imagine it being on an A$AP Rocky track, except this time it is put into a terrifically brash soundscape. The flows on here are also quite impressive (witness the speed and grit of Diggs on ‘intro’) and they hold enough ground to match up with the instrumentals. ‘killer’ and ‘get.it’ are the more rap-centric tracks on here, but on the former the most heart-stopping moment is when Diggs is interrupted by an ear-bursting squelch of sound.
The great thing about this record is that it isn’t really overwhelming or difficult to listen to. The sheer obscurity of its concept might be hard to understand at first, but once you get into it, Midcity can actually become quite a pleasant listen. Ultimately, Clipping are a hip hop act who also know how to use noise, but they push their roots to a very great sounding place making this record a challenging one, but one that is also great to observe.
High Points: ‘loud’, ‘get.it’, ‘bullshit’, ‘guns.up’, ‘killer’
Low Points: ‘story’
8/10 Recommended Music
The most confusing thing about The Marriage of True Minds (and trust me, there are lots of them) is the issue whether or not the record is satisfying. Sure, there are separate moments on here which manage to feel exclusively rich but the record never really takes any true form which makes it feel like it doesn’t know what it wants to be. However, most of the isolated ideas on here are insanely compelling. Matmos’s field of techno is extremely vast and unconventional, often taking in elements that you never though would work and making them function to a great standard. ‘Mental Radio’ is an example of this; the track is practically a collage of sounds which include sloshing water, bongos, saxophones, and sirens, but these all add up to form something truly potent. ‘Ross Transcript’ features a shitload of growling animals, but it takes on an incredibly solid form as it progresses. Matmos take some very ugly noises and make them into great music (see Dan Deacon’s bizarre throat-singing on the energizing ‘Tunnel’). Although this record’s best moments are its least human, there are times where Matmos go too far. ‘ESP’ consists largely of acapella death metal vocals which are a bit too brash to work, while ‘Very Large Green Triangles’ doesn’t suit the mechanism and wildlife that is present on the rest of the record. The record’s centerpieces are its opening track ‘You’ and the epic ‘In Search of a Lost Faculty’. ‘You’ is a very serene and sprawling spoken word electronic piece that sets the record’s tone at an orgasmic mellow, while ‘In Search of a Lost Faculty’ has weird drone samples (think Godspeed You! Black Emperor) mixed in with samples of speech about the triangle (as in the musical instrument). Weird moments like this make The Marriage of True Minds quite worthwhile. 7/10
Untogether is a perfect example of when an album has potential to be marvelous but ends of simply being great. Blue Hawaii are yet another Canadian mixed-gender synth pop duo, and they follow the likes of Purity Ring and Memoryhouse who also pair up profoundly broad electronics with soft, ethereal vocals. This means that Blue Hawaii are not an especially unique band, so they are forced to bring something else to the table when it comes to music. On their second record Untogether,the majority of the songs do this. The record’s instantaneous highlight is ‘Try to Be’, which utilizes acoustic guitar to construct an almost folky ambience. However, Blue Hawaii adds their own touch to it through absolutely haunting vocal samples and deep, subtle bass; it’s as if Sung Tongs era Animal Collective walked under a raincloud. However, ‘Try to Be’ is not Untogether’s only exceptional moment. ‘Follow’ and ‘In Two’ do a phenomenal job of mixing soulful vocals with extremely hushed and dark club instrumentals, while ‘Daisy’ and ‘Flammarion’ burst in with vaporous auras. The songwriting on Untogether is not consistently great, but as an atmospheric piece, the album is wonderful. The only thing that lets it down is two lengthy electronic instrumentals that are put next to each other in the middle of the album (‘Sweet Tooth’ and ‘Sierra Lift’). As standalone tracks, these two are fine, but on the album they feel out of place and throw the record of its course. Despite this, Untogether has an ambience which is undeniable. 7.5/10
A Tooth For An Eye- The Knife
It’s always hard to predict the quality of upcoming releases, but from what has been happening recently it’s hard to imagine The Knife not being able to pull off the 98-minute Shaking the Habitual. Their last single ‘Full of Fire’ was a gigantic spiraling mechanical epic and it was also way more challenging than anything we heard from the group’s last record Silent Shout. ‘A Tooth for an Eye’ is somewhat more conventional (in the sense that it actually has a melody and something that begins to resemble a structure) but it is no less interesting than ‘Full of Fire’ was. In fact, it is a prime example of what The Knife is excellent at achieving. The group have an incredibly distinct sound that is a source of inspiration for many of today’s electro-pop bands, but with ‘A Tooth for an Eye’, The Knife come back and show why they are the godfathers of this scene. The instrumental is blippy and tropical, with many synths taking form and claiming their place while Karin Andersson provides a totally mesmerizing vocal. It reaches a primal scream but maintains an undeniable distinction, proving that The Knife are not only still relevant but absolutely heart-shattering. 9.5/10 Recommended Music
It doesn’t take much to appreciate how sonically breathtaking the second release from Boise dream pop artist Trevor Powers (aka Youth Lagoon) is. The music that Powers makes on Wondrous Bughouse is completely engrossed in sounds, often forming something far too busy and huge to be able to dissect. Wondrous Bughouse’s sonic metropolis makes the record immediately overwhelming, but the musical heights that Powers manages to reach on the record are totally skyscraping, bursting into a package of sweet, heavenly euphoria. Despite the size of the music (or perhaps because of it), Powers manages to make an atmosphere which is totally pastoral and vacant; for 50 minutes you feel as if you are in the company of nobody but him.
Wondrous Bughouse is constructed in a way which balances atmosphere and songwriting, although it definitely seems to favor the former. The aura of this music is so strong that it really diverts the listener away from anything else without being possessive. In fact, it is nearly impossible to sever the metaphysical haze formed by the alien sounds of Powers’ production. Chances are, you will be too busy drowning yourself in celestia of the things that Powers chooses to put front and center. On ‘Mute’, Powers is placing everything on the line. It’s an epic track of many segments, all of which maintain the impression of constant potency. From start to finish, ‘Mute’ is a track which perfectly demonstrates the hyper-emotion that Powers is so good at; at the beginning, Powers is “living in a 3D world” as he subtly finds a groove, before taking a trip to Wondrous Bughouse’s most heart stopping vocal moment. He soars above the sound as he sings “I keep the roses growing”, creating a towering setup for the song to fall down a rabbit hole into a slightly treacherous guitar refrain. This album of filled with vast moments like this, but ‘Mute’ is the one song from Wondrous Bughouse that truly deserves to be called “epic”.
That being said, this record is certainly not short of colossal highlights. ‘Dropla’ could possibly be this album’s most subtly phantasmagorical song, as it sees Powers take a light piano line to a mind-numbing and emotionally distraught repetition of the sentiment “you’ll never die”. By the end of this song, Powers is almost croaking, but the beauty refuses to simmer down. On the topic of phantasmagoria, ‘Sleep Paralysis’ is the record’s most obvious moment where even the title hints at a dream. It is a gentle slow-burner, which takes the form of a seductive lullaby before taking a guitar line and turning into a lonely percussive meltdown. In fact, codas are something Wondrous Bughouse is shy to show off and although Powers makes them to a higher standard than most people would, the pattern is instantly recognizable and makes it somewhat easy to predict where the tracks will go. However, the music is certainly too authoritative for this to become a huge issue. Instead, Powers makes it seem as if everything is just taking its natural form.
Calling Wondrous Bughouse inhuman wouldn’t be fair, but this album is certainly disconnected. Some refrains are so huge (‘Pelican Man’) that all you can do is sit there and marvel at their stature, while the record’s more playful moments (‘Attic Doctor’ and ‘Third Dystopia’) share a somewhat dizzying merry-go-round type vibe that makes them irremovable. Often, the songs are too deep and thick for the listener to be able to pinpoint the emotional core, yet the crust of the track reflects a great deal of elation. For example, ‘Raspberry Cane’ is so layered that it’s practically the opposite of raw, but anyone with ears can see the emotional competency displayed through the sparkling melodic elements. Even if the record likes its atmospheres, the songs on Wondrous Bughouse are definitely memorable from a writing perspective. Lots of the verses and choruses are bewildering and strong, while the lyrics take more of a dreamy, stream of consciousness approach. However, throughout the record Powers seems to be inviting you into his dreams, so that is probably the perfect choice of construction. With all these vibes going off, it’s actually sort of challenging to comment on Youth Lagoon from a musical perspective. There is no question that the album is gorgeously produced, but it’s not easy to figure out what is going on and the vocals are smothered in so many effects that they almost create an illusion which makes it hard to picture Powers actually going into a studio and making this. However, the evidence points towards the fact that he did and it is certainly clear that he did a great job at it. With all its glossiness, Wondrous Bughouse usually (give or take the instrumental bookends) manages to keep a firm hold on the listener. For such an overwhelmingly dreamy album, it never gets boring, even if it frequently drifts off into areas that are difficult to recount.
High Points: ‘Mute’, ‘Attic Doctor’, ‘Pelican Man’, ‘Dropla’, ‘Raspberry Cane’
Low Points: ‘Through Mind and Back’, ‘Daisyphobia’
7.5/10 Recommended Music
Legend. Genius. Master. Virtuoso. Whatever adjective you throw at David Bowie seems not to fully capture his incomparable musical mind and ever-expanding creative repertoire. Over the years, we have seen him morph into many different personas and his thoroughly distinctive musical mind, flamboyant persona, intellectually profound, and eclectic musical style means he is one of the most unique and world-renowned musicians of our generation. Innovative, eccentric and charismatic, David Bowie constantly reinvents and changes the face of music, always leaving behind his unmistakable mark.
To say that Bowie’s first release in 10 years, entitled The Next Day had a lot hype behind it would be a complete understatement. After several years in near silence and absolutely no mention of any new material being worked on, Bowie decided to surprise both fans and the musical world alike with the announcement of a new album featuring 14 brand new tracks, on his 66th birthday. David Bowie also bewildered fans with the bizarre album artwork, where we see the instantly recognizable 1977 album Heroes with a simple white block covering his face with the words “The Next Day” written across it. Before the musical world could even begin to recollect themselves after the initial shock, the first single off The Next Day was released; the gloriously introspective, weary-voiced ‘Where Are We Now?’. A tender, winding ballad, ‘Where Are We Now’ is deeply moving, deliciously mnemonic, packed with an eerie bleakness and a genuine, simplistic, albeit tremendously romantic sense of lyricism. It is easily the album’s most moving moment. ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’ is also marvelously poignant and engrossing. Tony Visconti did warn listeners that this would be one of the album’s few “inward” moments, and The Next Day stays true to his word. Most of its 52 minutes are comprised of no guns barreled, all-out rock songs rather than slow-burning, piano-led ballads. Sometimes the ambience of the tracks do change on the record, ranging from the sleazy, horn-heavy ‘Dirty Boys’ to the soaring, upbeat ‘Valentine’s Day’. However, in general terms, its songs are defiant, filled with mildly aggressive riffs and stomping, clattering drums. Tracks like ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’ work a treat on this backbone, an exhilarating rush of adrenaline powered by Bowie’s imposing vocal performance. Other moments in the album’s midpoint like ‘Boss of Me’ fall short for being tiresome and getting lost in the combusting energy that becomes monotonous and tedious on the odd occasion.
In addition, On The Next Day, David Bowie does not come across with the same eccentricity and impulsiveness that has made him so unique and likable. Even if the tracks are incredibly consistent, well-crafted and sonically massive, it doesn’t have the essentiality of his previous work, rarely channeling the tantalizingly innovative feel to his music captured so masterfully on the Berlin trio of albums. It would be unfair to expect him to replicate these one-off albums with The Next Day, but a little bit more typical Bowie vicissitude is to be desired.
All in all, this is pretty solid listening. It frequently satisfies, occasionally dazzles, and scarcely falters. It is David Bowie making his most pleasing record for a long time and giving his fans a special treat. Whether or not Bowie will ever tour again or reproduce the genius of his previous still remains to be seen, but what we have for no is a satisfying, well-conceived Bowie rock record.
High Points: ‘The Stars (Are Out Tonight)’, ‘Where Are We Now’, ‘You Feel So Lonely You Could Die’
Low Points: ‘Boss of Me’, ‘If You Can See Me’
Written by Thomas Cury
Even though they are only two albums into their career, it is fair to say that Vampire Weekend are one of the most important and consistent indie rock bands of our time. Thier third record Modern Vampires of the City doesn’t drop until early May, but for now they’ve given us two tasters from it: ‘Diana Young’ and ‘Step’. Both tracks signify something of a departure from anything they have done in the past without dwelling into a terriotory that is too uncomfortable. Both tracks are even more bold than what Vampire Weekend have made before and become just as catchy when they grow on you. These two tracks prove that Vampire Weekend haven’t stopped growing and are on path to outdo themselves once again.
First of all, ‘Diane Young’ is easily the more aggressive track but it certainly shows a bucketload of sohistication through its masterfully pitch-shifted chorus as well as a stuterring vocal performance by Ezra Koenig, which is reminiscent of Buddy Holly or Elvis. However, the pure chaos of the song marks one of Vampire Weekend’s most energetic moments yet as flurrys of guitars perfectly emphasise very effective mood changes within the song. At one point everything will cut out except for Koenig’s vocal but it will all come back in a stronger way than you would ever imagine; it’s traditional but incredibly powerful.
However, ‘Step’ blows everything out of the water. In contrast to ‘Diane Young’, the energy on this track is much more subtle but Koenig leads us into something which is jaw-dropping, but also gorgeous and adorable. The subtlties of this song are really quite, but build up to something emotionally staggering. There are some signature Vampire Weekend elements put into it such as very solid wordplay (“back back when I used to front like Ankor Wat/mechanicsburg anchorage and Dar Es Salam”) and magnification of a seemingly simple melody line. What the group do differently this time is they keep the magic entirely under the radar; it’s obvious that this song is beautiful, but its power hides behind the humble dynamics. Once you get past the pleasantness of this track, the potency is clear and the fact that ‘Step’ is one of Vampire Weekend’s most infectous tracks is suddenly apparent.Modern Vampires of the Cityis shaping up to be even more musically developed thanContra was.
‘Diane Young’ (8/10 Recommended Music), ‘Step’ (9.5/10Recommended Music)