2. cooking up something good - mac demarco
22 November 2013
hey how about a good ol' fashioned thematic mixtape? thanks to Mo for organizing a randomized mix CD exchange, and creating the opportunity for me to cook up this little number for Sage in Minneapolis (whom I've never met) (and who gets to enjoy the fluorescent hot pink of the cover art in a way that really doesn't come across in this scan.) sequenced for maximum kitchen dance party potential. Bon appetit!
1. cheese grater - ed's redeeming qualities
2. cooking up something good - mac demarco
2. cooking up something good - mac demarco
3. vegetarian restaurant - aberfeldy
breakfast (served 24 hours!)
4. breakfast in bed - dusty springfield
5. starfish and coffee - prince
6. milky cereal - ll cool j
7. the breakfast song - annie
8. chips-chicken-banana split - jo-jo & the fugitives
9. waffle house - chrissy murderbot
10. sliced tomatoes - just brothers
11. fresh strawberries - franz ferdinand
12. jam-eater blues - hayman watkins trout & lee
13. the onion song - marvin gaye & valerie simpson
14. cold bologna - isley brothers
15. crumbs off the table - glasshouse
16. savoy truffle - the beatles
17. hot sour salty sweet - the dirtbombs
18. chocolate raspberry lemon lime - muscles
19. apple pie a la mode - destiny's child
20. bus stop bitties - rjd2
21. tapas - action bronson
22. strawberry shake - pop levi
23. please pass the milk please - tmbg
24. cocktails - hot leg
25. daiquiris - wiley
26. drink nothing but champagne - future bible heroes
27. he gave us the wine to drink - jonathan richman
28. in the kitchen - r. kelly
03 November 2013
Big Wheel and Others
Two years ago, Cass McCombs gave us two distinct, intriguing but oddly opaque albums; each a mere eight songs long. At twenty-two tracks and eighty-five minutes, Big Wheel and Others (note the typically coy titular understatement) feels like a deliberate reaction against those records' mincing concision, although, as double-sets go, it's loose but hardly ragged. Neither a conceptual epic nor a sprawling White Album-style smorgasbord, but a genial stretching-out a la Exile and Blonde on Blonde; an album to put on and just live in for a while. Stylistically, it's somewhere in that ballpark as well; a rootsy ramble from the truckdrivin' title track's musclebound motorik to the dusty folk surrealism of "Unearthed," via pretty pedal-steel ballads, slinky beatnik blues, and jazzy yacht-country instrumentals – all gorgeously performed – plus three slightly bewildering interview clips (taken from the 1969 documentary Sean) with a four-year-old who probably could've penned off-color nursery-rock goof-off "Satan is My Toy." Throughout, McCombs hits a brilliantly unpredictable songwriting stride, like a wry, wandering Silver Jew, peppering his romantic and socio-political ruminations with twisted neo-hippie logic ("I believe in littering: waste should not be hidden but seen") and tersely quirky quips ("what's it like to shit in space?") [8/10]
Now here's what I call a kaleidoscope dream. Like a bookish limey Miguel with zero of the bravado and a flair for woozy, Floydian whirr, Kwes is a man of modest but nostalgia-rich pleasures. The first vocal appearance on his long-simmering Warp debut (which comes ninety seconds in, once the sound-dust settles from the album's startlingly queasy initial eruption) finds the low-key Londoner listlessly "walkin' in the park, chuckin' bread to swans, hearin' em honk." Soon he's picking berries while fending off butterflies; later he's reminiscing about a lover who once invited him rollerblading ("back in '93"), and someone else who suggested riding a cable car ("today," though the time difference feels somehow negligible.) Words are feeble, fleeting things on ilp, but these at least offer some tangible, redolent images amid the album's hazy, paisley swirl. Likewise, despite the occasional gummy refrain – like the burbling stutter-soul of previously aired highlight "b_shf_l" – Kwes' pop instincts typically prove incidental to his synaesthete's bent for structureless head-trip meanderings. But it's hard to mind once they've gotten you in the door: rarely does one stumble into a world so richly realized and so warmly, curiously inviting. [7.5/10]
Dirk Dresselhaus is a man of surprises. He slyly prefigured the micro-house boom with his 1998 Schneider TM debut LP, Moist, before shifting gears entirely to the (similarly prescient) Beach Boys-infused lap-pop of 2002's Zoomer. Last year's Construction Sounds returned to the alias for an unprecedentedly abstract and experimental effort incorporating field recordings from building sites. And while it bears substantial common ground with that work, Guitar Sounds essentially finds the Berliner broaching yet another new genre: per the title, it's a set of guitar-based electro-acoustic improvisation (or as he'd have it, "instant composition.") It's a far cry from the playful humorousness of his early days (unless, arguably, you squint at just the right moments – say, the gently sputtering "explosions" toward the end of "Landslide.") But his curiously organic approach to electronica and close attention to sonic detail remain, somewhere, among these meandering drones and tones, grindings and scrapings (and brief, occasional bouts – as on "First of May" – of actual guitar playing), which are warmly enveloping in many stretches and, even at their least palatable, still rather pleasantly unpleasant. [6/10]originally published in Magnet Magazine
Ooey Gooey Chewey Ka-Blooey!
It's not every garage-punk band that follows up their Detroit techno covers record with an exuberant, party-starting homage to vintage bubblegum. Okay, The Dirtbombs are probably the only one – but they're also the best. Not just any ol' '60s pop re-hash, Ooey Gooey Chewy Ka-Blooey (In The Red) stomps and shimmies, sugar-shocks and sha-la-las like the Archies gone pleasantly feral. While these ten three-minute wonders are technically all Mick Collins originals, he's not above bolstering the project's authenticity by lifting a lick (or an entire vocal melody) from the classics: "Mony Mony," "Yummy Yummy Yummy," even "Good Vibrations." Remember kids, only the greats steal.
Days Are Gone
Notwithstanding the Haim sisters' long-haired, shade-sporting LA rockstar image, their duly touted instrumental chops, legitimately ass-kicking live show and ample use of twitchy, palm-muted guitar licks, the songs on their long-awaited debut LP are no less technologically-abetted studio creations than those of that other red-hot hype-riding trio of the moment, Chvrches – though neither are they any less perfectly-formed pop. And despite the Fleetwood Mac RIYLs that have been persistently trailing them, Days Are Gone (Columbia) lands a good deal closer to Thriller than Rumours. Just remember which one of those had Van Halen on it.
Devon Sproule + Mike O'Neill
Devon Sproule and Mike O'Neill met singing Beach Boys duets on Youtube – like you do in the twenty-teens – and crafted the collaborative Colours (Tin Angel) long-distance, between Austin and Halifax. But there's nothing new-fangled or logistically strained about the topics traversed here – family life, human goodness, ceiling fans, a minor boating accident, love – nor the album's unhurried, loosely jazzy folk-pop. All of this reflects Sproule's usual open-hearted, modestly idiosyncratic milieu, which O'Neill slots neatly and effortlessly into. His voice is high and pure like hers, and the results, colored by Sandro Perri's sympathetic, synth- and horn-flecked production, are rarely dazzling but consistently comforting. The Wilsons should be proud.
Cameron Mesirow's gonna have a tough time shaking those chronic, facile-seeming Björk comparisons with her second LP as Glasser, and not just because of certain heavily reminiscent contours in the soaring, otherworldly acrobatics of her voice (which, to be fair, shares at least as much with the sweet, artful detachment of St. Vincent's Annie Clark.) Even while Interiors (True Panther) remains undeniably Mesirovian, its architecturally inspired yet organically fluid techno-pop shapes evoke the exploratory, hypercolor digitalia of Homogenic more than anything Björk herself has touched in well over a decade.
Samson & Delilah
VV Brown emerged in 2009 as a perky, playful retro-pop songbird, but we've barely heard from her since, as the intended follow-up to her delightful debut was first delayed, then permanently shelved for artistic reasons. Her actual sophomore release may offer some explanations: Samson and Delilah (YOY) represents an almost complete aesthetic overhaul; a dramatic left turn into gothic, quasi-operatic electronica that's as magnificent as it is unexpected. Brown's voice, all but unrecognizable, weaves across frosty industrial synthscapes, deep distorted machine grooves and imaginative, darkly glistening dance-pop, compensating for its somewhat diminished personality through sheer emotive potency.
Much as Machinedrum's 2011 breakthrough, Room(s), refitted and streamlined the frantic antics of Chicago footwork, Vapor City (Ninja Tune) appropriates the floor-friendly architecture of drum'n'bass and skittering digital dancehall for much more shadowy, diffuse, wistfully atmospheric purposes, loading on the sonic detail – sleepy/spectral vocal fragments, brooding synth pads, infinitely divisible rhythmic tracery – to render a meticulously misty, greyscale urban moodscape. (The title scans as flatly, almost blandly descriptive.) Barring passable detours into chillwave, dappled Boards of Canada-isms and abstract ambient fuzz, the results tend toward theoretically danceable tracks which in practice are more ideally suited for deep, sullen vibing.
Unerringly proficient, if increasingly inscrutable, Anders Trentemøller continues to distance himself from the coffee-table tech-house and elegantly tailored club fare on which he made his name. The Danish producer's third full-length, Lost (In My Room), is split evenly between instrumental curios – everything from noir-ish mood pieces to sludgy psych-rock to the occasional, dazzling display of programmed-synth kineticism – and mild, suggestible vocal features for assorted indie rock notables (members of The Drums, Blonde Redhead, Lower Dens, etc.) It's an amiable mess strewn with captivating moments – plus, kicking things off with seven heavenly minutes of Low's unimpeachable Mimi Parker is gonna win you plenty of points around these parts.
Once upon a time, Diplo made an album. It was 2004, and it was a pleasantly low-key, trip-hoppy affair entitled Florida. Since then he's hardly even sat still long enough for anything so laidback or long-format – these days he keeps a feverish, turbo-boosted pace of 140-character blasts, 130 BPM, and (per Forbes' 2013 highest paid DJs list) a cool $13 million per annum. We'll still claim him as a de facto local, but his jet-set lifestyle and restless, rootless musical m.o. are about pan-global as it gets.
Last year's Express Yourself EP was a rare dispatch from the hedonistic heart of that one-man whirlwind – his first (ostensibly) solo production jaunt in eons – offering a typically delirious but uncommonly focused burst of twitchy, ass-twirling equatorial ghetto-tech. Hard at its heels comes Revolution (Mad Decent), re-upping with another six cuts (four originals, two workmanlike remixes) of gregarious gutter-funk abandon. These 23 minutes are more hyper-stuffed than ever, flaunting two to four collaborators per track and cramming in buckets of stutter-step machine claps, bass-rattling horn blurts, twinkly rave synths, tacky pop'n'B diva warbling, EDM screw'n'grind and a slew of quick and dirty rap verses from the game's finest young turks. And if you can keep pace with all that, there's another drop coming any second now.
For what was effectively a coronation pageant, 2011's Take Care hardly felt like a joyous occasion; compared to Nothing Was The Same (Cash Money/Universal Republic), though, it's practically a party record. "I'm on my worst behaviour," Drake snarls – Canadian spelling, of course – over ominous, disjointed rattles and synth throbs, and he's not kidding: he's rarely sounded as crass, petty and angrily, needlessly defensive as he is at certain points on his third full-length. As for his persistent emotional ineptitude (and crippling nostalgia for past romantic failures), well, that's been covered before, and it remains as perversely compelling if increasingly tough to sympathize with. Mostly though, he's just awfully, inexcusably morose. Noah "40" Shebib keeps on building him these sumptuous luxury suites – weird, staggering, adventurously modern moodscapes – and all he wants to do is mope around in them. But he's still got that nagging, hard-to-define charisma; a knack for absorbingly intimate confessionals, even if it clearly stems from some serious boundary issues. Also, it must be said that to see Drake in concert is to witness Aubrey Graham in his element: he really is a born performer, and if we ever finally get sick of listening to his elegantly-appointed sulking, he can totally fall back on that acting career.
It's been 13 years since the release of Deltron 3030, the sci-fi comic-book hip-hop concept opus which paved the way for the improbable sci-fi comic-book hip-hop crossover success of Gorillaz (involving many of the same key players) – although apparently only ten have passed in the album's peskily dystopian, technocratic futureworld: according to Joseph Gordon-Levitt's ponderous spoken intro to Event II (Deltron Partners), it is now "Stardate 3040." But – despite the efforts of our trusty hero, renegade rap-battle freedom-fighter/disenchanted "mech soldier" Deltron Zero (alias Del the Funkee Homosapien) – not much has changed. Narrative specificity and conceptual coherence still take a definite backseat to the generally bad-ass, swashbuckling atmosphere created by Del's twisty, jargon-flourishing raps, turntablist Kid Koala's skittering scratches and producer Dan the Automator's lavish, widescreen sample-sourcing and adrenalized breakbeats. While it's almost certainly better than we had a right to hope, this guest-star-studded sequel is probably best taken as an overdue victory lap; a gleeful exercise in warp-drive retro-futurist nostalgia. But even if it's no more than an excuse for the triumphant triumvirate to head out on tour, with a sixteen piece orchestra in tow no less – and if Kid Koala's deliriously fun Vinyl Vaudeville shows from last year are anything to judge by – justice will be served right here in the present.
Through his dozen or so albums as Smog and, especially, the handful he's made more recently under his own name, Bill Callahan has etched out a reliable, dependably unhurried furrow for his quietly affecting musings. But it's rarely felt as cozy as his latest, Dream River (Drag City), which settles into a loose, surprising seventies soul-jazz vibe: Callahan's laconic, iconic baritone drifting overtop congas, claves and electric piano like Leonard Cohen moonlighting with Gil Scott-Heron's band; his roving ruminations sharing space with fragrant flute and fiddle leads and guitarist Matt Kinsey's subtle atmospheric heroics. The title befits Callahan's typically cryptic, trancelike stream of cast-off observations, cock-eyed profundities, corny jokes and come-ons, which circle here around familiar themes but with a cautiously more sanguine outlook, finding mundane beauty and savage splendor in the natural world and solace in the smallness of human relationships. Lonnie Holley – an Alabama-born African-American artist who has, arguably, actually lived the kind of outsider's perspective Callahan often adopts in his songs – arrives at a similarly thoughtful optimism amidst markedly stranger circumstances in the surreal pronouncements on Keeping A Record Of It (Dust-to-Digital), with a decidedly more dynamic, colorfully expressive voice and to considerably chintzier musical accompaniment.
John Vanderslice is one of indie's surest bets; a steadfast, sure-footed songwriter who's never made a bad record, even if he's never turned out a clear masterpiece. (I'd probably point to 2005's Pixel Revolt as his finest hour, but each entry in his discography has its partisans.) All of his albums seem to create and inhabit their own private, often insular worlds, but Dagger Beach, his ninth full length, feels especially personal; less for its songs than its archetypical array of warm, gritty textures – overdriven acoustic guitars, woody synths, brightly chunky drums, free-floating analog dribbles of uncertain origin. A crowd-funded, self-released project following a stint on Dead Oceans, it was recorded – computer-free – at his own Tiny Telephone studios, and particularly knowing that it came in the wake of a significant break-up, it's easy to imagine JV sitting alone at his Neve console, finding solace and focus in meticulously building up layers of atmospheric sonics. As much of a studio rat as he is, though, the quintessential way to encounter Vanderslice is in person at his shows, where he flashes a legendary chatty affability at odds with his understated, often elusive songwriting.
Franz Ferdinand/Frankie Rose
Franz Ferdinand have always been as much a dance band as a rock band, coaxing the sharp, jagged lurch of post-punk into the plumped basslines and signature crisp, feline strut that fueled both the deathless "Take Me Out" and an impressive string of worthy successors. While the seedy nightclub trawl of 2009's Tonight was their most overt, mildly experimental dalliance with "proper" dance music, morality-teasing fourth album/reset button Right Thoughts Right Words Right Action (Domino) drafts in some of the finest minds in electro/pop – Hot Chip's Joe Goddard and Alexis Taylor; Scandinavian sooperproducers Todd Terje and Björn Yttling – yet results in the band sounding utterly like their own waggish, swooningly metrosexual selves. It's their tightest, leanest effort since their debut, and it's great to have them back. In the support slot is Brooklyn linchpin Frankie Rose, whose latest opus, Herein Wild (Fat Possum), weds the glorious layered-vocal luminosity and Cure-cribbing beat-beds of last year's great, quantum-leaping Interstellar to the spunkier garage-pop grit of her debut, and throws in the occasional string section.
The Dismemberment Plan
The Dismemberment Plan were one of the most fiercely beloved bands around before their 2003 break-up, so it's understandable that there are a lot of feelings surrounding their recent return to the active column – a brief, triumphant tour in 2011, and now the curiously misspelled Uncanney Valley (Partisan), their first album since 2001's masterful Change. A lot of excitement and eager anticipation, but also a lot of wariness and skepticism, especially surrounding the record – protectiveness, perhaps, toward the band's cherished memory and established catalog. Well: the new disc doesn't sound much like, say, 1999's timeless Emergency & I. But then again, neither did any of their other records. They've always been a band in motion, and they return now evolved once more – as righteous emo diehards will be miffed to discover – into a looser, goofier, less existentially pensive and altogether more jovial (and synthesizer-happy) iteration of themselves. But there's no mistaking Joe Easley and Eric Axelson's sparky, jittery math-funk grooves, nor Travis Morrison's densely geeky, reference-strewn lyrics; smirky and earnest in equal measure. From the gorgeously whirring workaday introspection of "Invisible" to the sweetly unabashed affection of "Lookin'" to propulsive party starters like "White Collar White Trash," the band has never sounded so contented or so celebratory. Truly, what's not to celebrate?
Saint Rich/Wild Belle
If post-rockers could talk, what would they say? Here's your chance to find out: Monday's double-bill pairs two new song-oriented projects from musicians better known for their instrumental-only affairs. Steve Marion makes curious, captivating wordless guitar-pop with/as Delicate Steve, but he's switched over to drum duties behind bandmate (and North Jersey high school buddy) Christian Peslak in the recently-minted duo Saint Rich. Their debut Beyond the Drone (Merge) is a rollicking, rootsy, riff-tastic rip through '60s rock and '70s boogie that feels a bit like Foxygen without all the anxious posturing (and with notably witty lyrics.) Meanwhile, jazz-steeped saxophonist/experimental tinkerer Elliot Bergman made his name fronting (too-long dormant) avant-afrobeat heroes NOMO, with whom his sister Natalie has occasionally featured as a touring member; now the siblings are slinging globally-conscious indie-pop as Wild Belle. Their predictably groove-rich, sonically adventurous Isles (Columbia) sets them up as something like a worldbeat She & Him, pulling from African pop and Motown but with a particularly emphasis on Caribbean rhythms which make it well-suited to help pass the time before the reemergence of summertime, and/or Santigold.
Ty Segall has made a lot of records – let's just say that's a significant understatement – but he's never made anything quite so epically colossal, and at the same time so lean and laser-focused, as Fuzz (In The Red) The obliteratingly self-evident self-titled debut from the West Coast scene-leader's latest collaborative venture spotlights the amped-up blooze riffs and brain-scrambling solos of guitarist Charlie "Moonheart" Moothart and the appropriately hefty underpinnings of bassist Roland Cosio. Segall's still singing lead, but he's jumped from strings to skins here to show off some breezily ferocious, Mitch Mitchell-style dexterity behind the kit. While this is a new project, these dudes have also been playing and starting bands together since high school, and there's a purity of purpose here that seems to stem from the spirit of those days, channeling fellow San Francisco outfits like the Jimi Hendrix Experience and Blue Cheer. Accordingly, Fuzz strips away the garage-bound shagginess and punkish snarl that typically characterize these guys' output to focus on heavy, heavily-Sabbath-indebted psychedelic proto-metal that makes this a power trio in the most classical, primal sense. In other words: just what you'd expect from the awesome, fiery blue elemental space-demon on the cover.
While obviously not as uncommon as the eponymous shaggy forest-dweller, it's still a rare and precious thing to encounter an indie-pop debut as sharp, succinct and perfectly formed as Bigfoot (Secretly Canadian), which breezes through eight great, unimpeachably summery tunes in just about a half hour. The Santa Monica outfit, whose name is slightly modified from the beach burb of Cayucos, a little ways up the coast, have caught considerable flak for their nagging similarity to a certain East Coast band likewise beloved of 1950s archetypes, plaid button-downs and lilting, tropical-tinged guitar lines. But while the Vampire Weekend-in-California call-outs are certainly apt – down to the literary details of their collegiate travelogues and sun-bleached romances, enthusiastic use of onomatopoetic yelps, and Futura-enabled album design – it's hard to see why that's much cause for complaint, especially now that Koenig and crew have moved on to decidedly less simple pleasures, and most especially when head Cayuca Scott Yudin can churn out something as instantly and persistently indelible as the snazzily syncopated "High School Lover," which I'd contend equals or betters anything on the first VW album.
In theory, Pitchfork-annointed electro-noise auteurs Fuck Buttons make a reasonable fit for the Making Time demographic. But its troubling to contemplate what might actually happen when the assembled party-ready masses at Voyeur encounter the Bristol duo's portentous, magisterial sound barrages. Probably the best bet is to hope they bust out some of the old stuff: 2009's relatively populist Tarot Sport at least boasted appropriately movement-friendly four-on-the-floor underpinnings on most of its tracks, plus a twinkling, major-key bent to its awe-inducing anthemics that rendered them rapturously uplifting. (Enough so that they served to score part of last year's Olympic opening ceremony.) As for the stark, soul-crushing monoliths that make up most of this year's negative-inverse offering Slow Focus (ATP), they seem markedly less well-suited to soundtrack a scene of happy revelry than to accompany the queasy aftermath of rubble and devastation following, say, the invasion of a popular hipster dance night by an army of demonic, emotionless alien cyborgs. Maybe if you escape to the basement "bear den" the haze of sweat and stoner rock jams will drown out the screams.
Raime – the British abstract electronic duo of Joe Andrews and Tom Halstead – record for a label called Blackest Ever Black, and it's hard to get around the aptness there: their music is just really damn dark. The sounds they favored on last year's intoxicatingly potent full-length debut, Quarter Turns Over A Living Line, as well as several preceding EPs, include rumbling cavernous drones, gnawing, unblinking metallic tattoos, and the occasional, muffled irruption of amorphous sonic violence. But while it's easy enough to sum up their approach as purely and simply evocative of bleakness and dread, wholly subsumed by gloomy negatives, there's something oddly neutral about it too: a subjective, malleable emptiness. There are shades within shades here: those creeping industrial heartbeats have a subtle, dubby, Burial-esque lilt that might be sensuous or sinister, depending on your angle. Those churning streaks of cello could be savage or serene. One person's gaping, ominous void may be another's womblike sanctuary. After all, the blackest black is really no different from eternal, blinding sunshine once your eyes have time to adjust.
Holy Ghost! don't do very much to justify that exclamation mark. The NYC production duo are more apt to induce sly, slow-building smiles than sudden ecstatic surges; the pleasures to be found in their sleek, shiny updates of 1980s electro-disco are, perhaps unusually for a dancefloor-oriented act, those of comfort, familiarity and expertly executed craftsmanship. The title of their second album, Dynamics (DFA), suggests a broadened range, and it is indeed a more varied, well-rounded affair than their rather same-sounding debut, but it delivers that breadth via a further smoothing and softening – an occasional uptick in melancholy emotionalism; a generally plusher sound palette (including a string arrangement from the great Kelly Polar) – rather than any great deviation from their standard-issue mid-tempo template. The exception proving the rule is "Dumb Disco Ideas" – easily their best single to date – an extended, multi-part cowbell'n'clavinet dance-funk jam that solidly cements their DFA bona-fides and probably warrants at least a little punctuation.
originally published in Philadelphia City Paper
04 October 2013
By day, John Withers makes music for TV commercials. In an utterly uncynical way, that fact feels directly relevant to the 25-year-old Cape Town native's remarkable debut album, if only in that, like the stuff of rapturous ad-man fantasies, this is music that's instantly, innately, wordlessly evocative (of summertime, adventure, tropical travel, first love, you name it...) while at the same time invitingly open to your own subjective experience. It's directly personal in a broadly appealing way. It's music that just makes you feel really good. One big happy kaleidoscope of sounds that, on paper, comes across as impossibly frantic, John Wizards is a hydra-headed hybrid of disco-funk, airy electro, casio-enabled dub reggae, bliss-pop, jazz fusion, township jive, high-energy Shangaan dance music and playfully abstract, organic house. Withers' wizardry is in somehow spinning that pan-continental patchwork laundry list into a dreamily relaxed, infectiously bubbly, hugely melodic whole, even shifting gears multiple times within a single track (as on opening showcase "Tet Lek Schrempf") without feeling forced or overambitious. Somewhat inevitably, given the (welcome, if curiously understated) presence of Rwandan vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba, it's tempting to think of this as a chillwavier, more autotune-friendly variant on Sweden-to-Malawi post-globalists The Very Best, but a closer reference point is the preternaturally summery "jamz n jemz" of Rhode Island sample-meisters Javelin – although it's hard to imagine that cheeky duo coming up with anything as earnestly pretty as John Wizards' beatific, Mali-inspired closer.
A major star in her native Norway, and gaining substantial traction in her adopted home-base of Sweden – 2011's It All Starts With One, her biggest hit to date, overcame deep-rooted ancestral rivalries to make her the first Norwegian to top the Swedish album charts – warbly-voiced folk-pop songbird Ane Brun offers this abundant retrospective of her first decade; equal parts victory lap and crash course for newcomers. Across the pond, with less context, it makes a somewhat unwieldy introduction – in either event, one could question the necessity of a thirty-two-track career-spanner from an artist with only four proper LPs under her belt (she's also issued two live albums, one record of demos and another of reworked duets, all amply represented here.) But while a leaner set might've been more forceful, everything here is still emphatically worth hearing. If the smattering of duets (with Peter Gabriel and José Gonzalez, among others) and covers (PJ Harvey, Nina Simone, Arcade Fire, a particularly magical take on Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors") break the spell ever so slightly, it's merely a testament to the power of Brun's own creations, and the haunting, slightly dark expressiveness of her singular voice, which, as this collection affirms, have been consistent from the very start.originally published in Magnet Magazine
6 Feet Beneath The Moon
Archy Marshall has a voice that double-dog-dares you to like it: audaciously blunt, brashly accented, borderline tuneless. It might not raise an eyebrow if the 18-year-old Londoner – who sports the suitably garish sobriquet King Krule – were bleating alongside some squalling agit-punk outfit, but it's another story hearing him dribble his prickly-sour urban outsider poetry atop the chilled-out, noir-ish coffeeshop jazz that fills his remarkable debut; all languidly strummed major-seventh chords and the occasional dusty, sampled backbeat. Give it some time, though, and damn if that disjunct doesn't just make 6 Feet Beneath The Moon (True Panther), in all its rough-edged beatnik spontaneity, all the more heartbreakingly poignant.
Pull My Hair Back
When Junior Boys started swirling svelte tech-pop with the seductive pathos of mainstream R&B, they sparked a quiet revolution whose influence and potential are still continuing to crystallize a full decade later. It was only a matter of time before an aspiring electro-soul diva would enlist Jeremy Greenspan's production talents for herself, as Jessy Lanza does on her effortlessly elegant, house-damaged Hyperdub debut. Pull My Hair Back plays, predictably and thrillingly, like a female-fronted JBs record, clinching that impeccable icy romanticism, although Lanza – a breathier, more restrained vocalist than Greenspan himself – makes it an especially discreet, coyly intimate affair.
DFA Records' September album releases offer sharply contrasting visions of the label's post-punk/disco aesthetic: where Holy Ghost's sleekly aspirational synth-house is lush, smooth and warmly uplifting, Factory Floor's long-awaited long-playing debut is anything but. The London trio have made some impressive friends lately – members of Throbbing Gristle, Joy Division and The Fall, among others – and it's not hard to hear why within these seven nightmarish extended workouts: sparse, deathly funky lockgrooves of loose-cannon percussion and acid-washed industrial squelch that churn like Kraftwerk at their bleakest, or like a hookless twist on the Knife's Silent Shout – spiked with Nik Void's steely, demented mutterings. Your body may be powerless to resist; just try not to surrender your soul.
After a mightily productive first decade, Califone fell atypically silent for the last four years. So Stitches ( Dead Oceans) needn't add anything to their well-stocked trick-bag to come as an especially welcome return: in this case, a rest is at least as good as a change. Even if it's (debatably) the band's most streamlined, song-oriented offering yet, the album's crux remains their distinctive confluence of sounds: scrappy folk-blues and roughed-up digital artifacts; rusty slide-guitar scrapes, found-object percussion, lusty group harmonies and weird little noises, plus Tim Rutili's familiarly inscrutable, Pollardian language-play. Sublimely strange business as usual for a group that still sound like none other.
Arp (Alexis Georgopoulos) used to make hazy, minimalist synth music informed by 1970s German Kosmiche, so his third outing – an album that scampers from quaint music-hall piano ditties to buzzy guitar stompers, princely harpsichord filigree to swaggering saxophone chorales, with a majority of tracks featuring vocals – comes as quite a curveball. His heart may remain largely in the same decade – Berlin-era Bowie and "rock" Brian Eno are obvious touchstones – but More (Smalltown Supersound) is more slippery than a simple summation of its influences: both breezy and lush; beautifully tailored and casually cluttered, it plays to both sides of the experimental/pop divide with a studied determination that feels gloriously effortless.
Arctic Monkeys somewhat infamously saddled their debut with a breathless, cheekily cocksure mouthful of a title (to go along with their schoolboyish larf of a bandname, maybe) so A.M. (Domino) – the band's fifth full-length in just over seven years – is the closest they've come to a self-titled effort. The name fits: the album is similarly stripped down; not just back to basics but, arguably, more primevally basic than they ever were to begin with, particular on a ferocious front-loaded run of snarling, blues-damaged riff-heavy rockers. No longer the frantically antsy, punk-inclined lads of their early days, they've found their way to swagger and groove along with maturity and control; incorporating lessons from recent tourmates The Black Keys and former producer/guest axeman Josh Homme, plus the classic rock canon they've increasingly internalized (one song mentions the Stones by name; another cites "War Pigs" instrumentally but no less overtly.) Those hip to Alex Turner's perennially punning ways may note traces of glam, psych and swooning, Beatlesque romanticism (the winkingly titled "No. 1 Party Anthem") but nothing you'd really call A.M. pop – the album's blackened heart, however, is unambiguously dedicated to the seedy, sex-soaked noir of the early A.M. hours.
A missing link in the lineage of wild-man rock 'n' soul shouters that runs from Little Richard and Screamin' Jay Hawkins to latter-day contenders like King Khan and Black Joe Lewis, Boston's Barrence Whitfield (born Barry White; stage name embellished for obvious reasons) built up a mighty reputation for tearing up stages (and record grooves) from the mid-80s and into the 90s, before mellowing out a bit and generally disappearing from view by the turn of the century. But the man and his band of Savages – including several vintage punk rockers from the original line-up who'd been out of the fold for decades – are back in action, and on the evidence of the in-the-red, don't-you-dare-call-it-retro Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot), at least as hungry and unhinged as ever. The new record's dozen scorched, greasy originals and covers of twisted record-bin obscurities muck up the lines between primal '50s R&B and jump-blues, gritty '60s soul, Nuggets-style garage rock and spirit-of-'77 punk just enough to remind you that there really wasn't any difference in the first place.
In a goofy way, Wavves' Nathan Williams seems like the dependable, seasoned old timer among this stacked, tri-coastal scuzz-rock triple-bill, even though both of his tourmates have actually been kicking around a bit longer. Maybe because he's shown the most signs of "maturing" beyond his (admittedly pretty puerile) blazed, beach-dissing skate scum origins – the San Diegan's recent Mom + Pop bow, Afraid of Heights, ups the fi once again and stands as his most presentable, earnest slab of grunge revivalism to date. Florida trio Jacuzzi Boys followed a similarly slicked-up trajectory (relatively speaking) for their self-titled third long-player (Hardly Art) – their last album was called Glazin', but that title feels a little more applicable here – but their slack, surfy fuzz-pop still retains a certain neanderthalish thump despite the occasional baroque trumpet or glockenspiel. As for Vermont's Kyle Thomas – his (self-appointed) majesty King Tuff – he flexed some stadium-worthy glam and power-pop moves on last year's triumphant, eponymous breakout, but 2008's excellent Was Dead (recently reissued on Burger) proves he and his drooling guitar can be just as credibly royal in scrappier surroundings, and just as much freaky, endearing fun.
Danny Brown and Action Bronson popped up a couple years back as two of the most charismatic, appealingly quirky MCs in the underground. Also, two of the most exquisitely filthy minds (and mouths) around. Since then, the Queens-repping former chef Bronson has sacrificed some of his initial charm over the course of several generally on-point but increasingly graceless mixtapes, lately abandoning the goofball gourmet food metaphors that helped make his incessant, piggish sex brags a bit easier to stomach. This year's Saaab Stories (Vice) is straight-up icky from the cover on down. Meanwhile, Detroit's squeaky-voiced, frizz-headed Brown has proven himself as insouciantly good-natured as he is gleefully vulgar, making friends left and right with countless irrepressible guest verses and his inimitable hipster-raver thrift-store swag. The forthcoming Old (Fools Gold) is a typically batshit party out of bounds, with everyone from A$AP Rocky and Freddie Gibbs to Purity Ring and Charli XCX on the invite list and an amped-up Brown switching at will between ghetto life real talk and pill-popping debauchery, equally comfy atop Oh No's feisty, crate-digging boom-bap and next-level neon trap bangers from Rustie, A-Trak and SKYWLKR.
Next to the spartan black, white and mustard-yellow abstraction adorning 2011's Feel it Break, the cover of Austra's new-ish Olympia (Domino) is a startling thing to behold: a shot of bandleader/vocalist Katie Stelmanis, casually slumped in a pale pink pantsuit, her fire-orange hair popping almost palpably against the gaudy green and turquoise of a bucolic painted backdrop. The Toronto outfit effect a similarly bold and vibrant shift here musically: without abandoning their basic operating template – crisp, statuesque electronics undergirding Stelmanis' otherworldly, demi-operatic siren wails – they've expanded upon their alluringly witchy but rather bloodless debut with an astonishingly human set of lush, colorful, classicist house-derived pop that suggests Hercules and Love Affair as fronted by Fever Ray. Actually scratch that. Even if Olympia isn't afraid of brazenly courting yet more dull-edged comparisons to mid-period Knife (consider the creaky gender trouble of "I Don't Care (I'm A Man)," or the island rhythms and synthetic timbales of "We Become"), it comes as an affirmation that Austra are their own singular entity, one that sounds increasingly comfortable in their own skin even as they venture beyond their icily reserved comfort zone.
For many artists, releasing an album of old songs redone with a string section would be a clear sign of having run out of ideas. For forbiddingly dark art-pop chanteuse Zola Jesus (Niki Roza Danilova), it feels like a vital move in the ongoing development of her musical approach: further stripping back the more off-putting and esoteric aspects of her sound (specifically, her inclinations toward lo-fi noise and industrial music) and downplaying her self-consciously gothic image manipulation to highlight the simple beauty and emotional potency of her songwriting and her singularly arresting voice. Versions (Sacred Bones), which grew out of a performance last year at the Guggenheim Museum, is not exactly Sarah McLachlan territory – Danilova's co-conspirator here, who's written some highly complex and captivating arrangements for string quartet and the occasional drum machine, is experimental music stalwart JG Thirlwell (a.k.a. Foetus) – but it is tantalizingly close. All those arty industrial vampires must be awfully confused.
The most striking moments on Laura Mvula's debut, Sing To The Moon (Columbia) – and there are many – come when the singer is surrounded by multiple copies of herself, swirling and swelling in thick, knotty, jazz-steeped choral harmony: the arresting a capella opening of "Like The Morning Dew," the lustrous baroque-pop ba-ba-bas of easy-flowing AM ballad "Is There Anybody Out There," the blithely defiant Swingle Singer stomp of "That's Alright," surrounded by blaring horns and martial drumbeats. Sure, her voice is potent enough in the singular to do the soulful solo singer thing just fine, but she stands decidedly apart from the post-Winehouse parade of Emeli Sandés, Lianne La Havases, and so on. A conservatory-trained composer and active choir director who brings her full arranging prowess to bear on her pop output, Mvula earns her overused Nina Simone comparisons more by hearkening to the icon's stately, sophisticated orchestral jazz and classical chops than her more frequently invoked earthier side.
It would take surprisingly few tweaks in his musical approach for Devon Wright to come off as the new Rufus Wainwright. He's already got the Montrealer roots, the slyly indelible sense of melody, the arresting, emotionally vulnerable, piano-based songwriting (electric piano, in this case, and admittedly more of an emo-indie confessional stripe than Wainwight's archly witty Tin-Pan-Alley-lineage pop) and, most crucially, the quavering, swooningly romantic voice. Instead, being the type to pal around with arty electro-weirdos like Grimes and Doldrums, Wright has joined forces with production accomplice Matthew Otto, engaged in a bit of absurdist aesthetic misdirection via the unconscionably fey moniker Majical Cloudz, and cluttered the internet with a small smattering of weird, arty electronica. The bewilderingly direct Impersonator (Matador), though, turns out to be only minimally weird (the title track's lovely, swirling wordless-vocal-sampling backdrop is about the extent of it), minimally, unobtrusively electronic, and arty only in a minimalist, radical-expression kind of way, a tack that's the conceptual launching point for live sets reported to be starkly, almost harrowingly intimate.
Mild-mannered delay pedal phenom and longtime Baltimore scenester Dustin Wong (who recently relocated to his native Tokyo) has established a highly specific and uniquely rewarding approach to solo guitar composition/improvisation over the course of his three exploratory, loop-based Thrill Jockey opuses. His latest – the carefully titled Mediation of Ecstatic Energy – is being billed as the conclusion of a trilogy, but it feels equally like a springboard for something new. Whereas 2010's Infinite Love borrowed its name from a mantra, it's worth stressing that the first word of this record's title is not "meditation." It may have its moments of daydreamy bliss – like when oddball-pop princess Takako Minekawa turns up to coo atop the lulling, airy final track – but this is easily the most adventurous, combustible and (at times) aggressive solo Wong has ever sounded; piling on fragmented, ping-ponging melodies in increasingly unpredictable, occasionally jarring ways, and expanding his timbral palette so much that it feels almost limitless. Wong's visually unassuming but aurally resplendent performance should make a tangy and startling appetizer before the bread-and-potatoes indie rock comfort food of San Francisco duo Dodos, whose pleasingly meticulous new one, Carrier (Polyvinyl), finds more pedestrian but still highly redolent uses for the electric guitar.
Julianna Barwick's music has often felt impossibly delicate and personal; like a series of small, secretly whispered wisps of reverie that might just dissolve if they drift too far from the solitary world of her own imagination – perhaps the private paracosm suggested by the title of 2011's The Magic Place. But for her third full-length album (and debut for macro-indie Dead Oceans), the Louisiana-bred, frequently bedroom-based Brooklynite took a trip to Iceland, island of vast glacial vistas, mythic intensity and general all-around epicness. Also, not coincidentally, the homeland of her current tourmates and spiritual forebears Sigur Rós (i.e. the guys who almost single-handedly brought New Age to the indie/alt-rock masses), whose sometime confederate Alex Somers has helped impart a newfound expansiveness and grandeur to Barwick's ethereal meanderings. The Somers-produced Nepenthe sees her augmenting a typically infinitesmal array of airy, wordless vocalizing with orchestral textures (courtesy of Sigur string sisters Amiina), piano, an additional cohort of choristers and even (fleetingly) discernible English lyrics, while also exploring considerable compositional space and movement beyond her usual pile-ups of endless inward-leaning loops.
You don't need to see the parched, limitless landscapes adorning the cover of The Dusted Sessions (Thrill Jockey) – or, for that matter, 2011's Honey Devash – to suspect that Bay Area zone-out unit Date Palms have a thing for deserts. Taking their name from a species that does grow in California but which originated and proliferates most widely in the Middle East, their patiently unfurling drone-rooted compositions/explorations equally evoke the broad, arid expanses of both hemispheres, particularly now that they've expanded from a duo to a quintet; adding the otherworldly thrum of Michael Elrod's tanpura and the dusty rumble of Noah Phillips' electric guitar to Marielle Jakobsons' keening violin and the mirage-inducing shimmer of Gregg Kowalsky's synthesizers. (Curiously, it's Ben Bracken's electric bass that often provides the most palpable forward movement, against the anchor of the hazy, slowly meandering collective ambience.) The augmented line-up doesn't necessarily mean that more is going on in the group's music; rather, it makes the relatively little that does happen – the gradual swells and ebbs; the careful, mantra-like melodic elaboration – happen all the more richly.
Last year, when Alex Hall and Emil Amos, two members of Portland's heavy-psych post-rock unit Grails, branched off to explore sample-based cut-and-paste trip-hop as Lilacs & Champagne, it felt like a leftfield move even considering their main band's stylistic omnivorousness. Hot on the heels of that duo's sprawlier, increasingly stoned and solo-happy sophomore jaunt, Danish & Blue (Mexican Summer), Grails' Black Tar Prophecies, Vols. 4, 5 & 6 (Temporary Residence) – which follows the same curious hybrid format as a similarly titled 2006 release; reshuffling one previously released EP and the band's portion of an earlier split release alongside entirely new tracks) – offers evidence that the group had already begun incorporating similar MPC-jocking methodologies well before Lilacs' on-record unveiling: "I Want A New Drug," from 2010's Vol. 4 EP, kicks off with an ancient, warped-and-warbly choral snippet, while "Invitation to Ruin" could pass as Rjd2 on a particularly dozy day. Otherwise, while little here approaches the doomy drone extravagances of some past outings, it remains the case that nearly nothing is off-limits for these guys – acoustic or electric; jazz or folk; delicacy or force; beauty, terror, spiritual transendence or soundtrack-ish schmaltz – and they make almost all of it work extremely well.originally published in Philadelphia City Paper
11 September 2013
Instrumental solo violin albums aren't typically a huge sell in the indie music marketplace, although being a full-time member of Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre ought to give Sarah Neufeld a considerable leg up. However they find their audience though, the eleven gorgeous pieces making up Hero Brother richly deserve it. These are nuanced, intrepid explorations of melody, texture and emotion that make just as much sense approached as "pop" as they do when apprehended as "modern classical" or avant-garde music; drawing equally on post-rock, Reichian minimalism and the violin's dual lineage as a vessel for both art music and folk tunes (check the Appalachian-style fiddle threnody winding its way through "Right Thought.") Neufeld has toured with saxophonist Colin Stetson, which is fitting on numerous levels (the two musicians share a city (Montreal), label (Constellation), and an enviable sideperson-to-the-indie-stars status) but especially so in musical terms. Her playing, while technically impressive especially in its masterfully controlled expressiveness, may not have quite Stetson's jaw-dropping virtuosity, but her pieces have a highly comparable mesmeric, minimalist intensity and a similarly broad emotional range in spite of their deliberately restrained compositional means.
Apparat and Modeselektor were never an intuitive match. The Teutonic troika's self-portmanteau'd 2009 debut (following a 2003 EP) sounded like a tug-of-war between the former's inward-looking synthgaze and the latter duo's bass desires and twitchy, punch-drunk monkey business, with intriguingly wide-ranging if somewhat inconclusive results. Their charming third-time regrouping manages a newly tenable truce, staking out a middle ground between dancefloors and dreamscapes akin to the one Jon Hopkins established on his billowy Immunity, wherein club-friendly thumpers are imbued with an uncommon warmth and emotionalism. There are still a lot of styles and sounds surveyed here, with the prevailing aesthetic core – dub-leaning techno, digital shoegaze blanketry and the reggae-flecked residue of post-Burial dubstep – variably augmented by glitch, broken-beat, wobble-skank, whispery ambience and bouts of improbably po-faced pop-soul. (About that... Apparat (a.k.a. Sascha Ring) has a surprisingly buttery croon for an avant-electro auteur, and while singlehandedly replacing the first album's circus of guest vocalists is mostly a smart move, his full-on, filter-free turns on "Bad Kingdom" and "Damage Done" could be a bit jarring for some sensibilities.) If there's a complaint to be leveled it's that the odd threesome might have smoothed out their differences a little too much. But it works: refreshingly, II never feels confused about where it wants to be, nor in a hurry to get someplace else.
Madchester – the ravey turn-of-the-'90s UK scene that prefigured big beat's fusion of acid house with rock'n'roll – doesn't get much love (or thought) nowadays. But Aussie duo Jagwar Ma carry a bright, burning torch for the era on their tremendously fun, surprisingly fresh-sounding debut, finding equal space for chunky breakbeat loops and drowsy, sweetly harmonized choruses; hook-infested garage-pop and Simian Mobile Disco-style bleep workouts. Sharing some DNA with their countrymen Tame Impala, and more with Primal Scream's recent output – though looser and dancier than either – Howlin' (Mom+Pop) is an electrified flower-power feel-good freak-out par excellence. Bring on the Andrew Weatherall remixes!
Gone Away Backwards
Robbie Fulks is a staunchly "alternative" country artist primarily in that his back-catalog is fairly rife with irreverence – sneering swipes at the Nashville establishment as well as goofball comedic posturing. Musically, he's long been a traditionalist, even downright retro. Gone Away Backwards (Bloodshot), the Chicagoan's first proper album in eight years, runs the gamut from bluegrass to Bakersfield, boasting crackerjack harmonies and some seriously mean pickin'. And Fulks' songs follow suit with uncharacteristic earnestness, tackling archetypal country themes (nostalgia for bygone, simpler times; doomed romance; mortality; alcohol) with wit, poignancy and style, but – even at their most thickly-twanged and sentimental – nary a wink.
The Horse's Ha – the intermittent folk concern of Chicago-based multi-taskers Janet Bean (Freakwater) and James Elkington (The Zincs, Brokeback) – pack their second full-length with plenty enough curious tales and anthropomorphic diversions to make good on their funny-sounding moniker. But Waterdrawn (Fluff & Gravy), which flits between British and American idioms; jovial and haunting overtones, is best when the duo's spry whimsy is countered by a stark, fragile beauty, particularly when (as often) Elkington's dry, Bonnie Billy-ish baritone balances Bean's angelic soprano in sublime, delicate duet.
Dawn of Midi
Jazzers by background and, at least ostensibly, instrumentation – upright bass, piano, drums; all treated as fundamentally percussive objects – Brooklyn trio Dawn of Midi are really more like avant-garde minimalists with some seriously mind-bending chops, while their music, with its metronomic lock-grooves and precise, incremental builds, feels like an acoustic transposition of abstract, sparsely mechanistic techno. Throughout the continuous nine-part suite that comprises Dysnomia (Thirsty Ear), the tension ratchets up from crisp Reichian calm to ominous, palpable agitation, while the mesmeric onomatopoeia of drips, clicks, blats and blips just churns ever steadily ahead.
German producer Marek Hemman performs a decidedly unshowy but still, somehow, magnificent balancing act on his excellent second full-length, Bittersweet (Freude Am Tanzen); ten tracks of matter-of-fact tech-house that's studiously detailed but never dry, cheerful but not aggressively upbeat, pleasantly melodic but never at the expense of a trusty underlying thump and wiggly, quantized syncopations. He has a light touch with coloration, deftly weaving in a dollop of churchy organ, a stray vocal sample or two, some strums for the comedown. More than any other straight-ahead electronic record I've heard this year, this one is just a pure, consistent, quiet joy.
Thin-but-potent-voiced chanteuse Aluna Francis and two-step/Timbaland-loving producer George Reid – collectively known as (wait for it...) AlunaGeorge – combine '90s-style diva-soul with crisp, sophisticated techno-pop rather more artfully than they combine their names. Body Music (Vagrant), making good on several monstrously hooky early singles, slots easily in between several other 2013 breakouts –Chvrches' electro-pop perfectionism; Autre Ne Veut's arty R&B throwbacks; the neon neo-garage of their London-based pals Disclosure – although the particular combination they nail here most readily recalls a spunkier, femme-fronted update of Junior Boys circa 2004.
We Make Colourful Music Because We Dance In The Dark
The title of wrestling-obsessed London/Berlin party crew/de facto record label Greco-Roman's first compilation offers a (longish) shorthand for sort of good-natured house and sparkly tech-pop they typically favor. We Make Colourful Music Because We Dance In The Dark fills two bulging discs (hits; remixes) with spine-loosening goodies, encompassing Disclosure's divafied neo-garage, Hackman's cheeky, twitchy R&B re-tweaks and Grovesnor's joyriding yacht-soul. Fittingly, many highlights come from mainstay/Hot Chipper Joe Goddard, including 2011's still-epic "Gabriel," Four Tet's playfully sweeping overhaul of "Apple Bobbing" and several recent collaborative thumpers, plus stray slow-jam "Home Time."
The Complete LHI Recordings
Following their great Lee Hazlewood campaign, the reissue champions at Light in the Attic records turn their attention to the Hazlewood-endorsed one-album wonder Honey Ltd.: four brassy-voiced, Detroit-bred knockouts who somehow managed to condense all that's great about the era's music – Motown-derived soul-funk intensity; a fiery counter-culture spirit; rapturously ornate baroque-pop arrangements; surprisingly spacey, far-out production, and intricate girl-group harmonies as rich and luscious as their namesake (sort of like the Mamas sans Papas) – into the dozen high-quality originals and imaginatively rendered contemporary standards (Laura Nyro's "Eli's Coming"; a brassy, funked-up "Louie Louie") on their criminally forgotten 1968 opus, unearthed with several attendant singles on The Complete LHI Recordings.
Belle & Sebastian
The Third Eye Center
While Belle & Sebastian's early singles and EPs were aesthetically discrete entities, every bit as canonical as the albums themselves, those from the period collated on The Third Eye Centre (Matador) – roughly 2003-2011 – felt, at the time, decidedly more ancillary. But that doesn't make these nineteen B-sides (including three remixes) any less delightful. This was, remember, the era when the band really loosened up and started having fun, and the spirit running through these bold, colorful takes on '60s pop, blue-eyed soul, funk, ska, bossa-nova, euro-disco, country, etc. is too infectious to remain solely the province of die-hards.
Bleepy, happy Austinites The Octopus Project – who'll bring their theremins, modular synths and other assorted carnival machinery to Johnny Brenda's this Tuesday – make music that's sort of electronic, sort of math-rock – if all their word problems involved counting sugary candies and cartoon characters – and all-the-way new-wavey weirdo pop, filled with the playfully manic spirit of Enon and Deerhoof. Fever Forms (Peek-a-Boo), their album number five, stretches their typically instrumental approach to include several winsome, Stereolabby vocal numbers, making the proceedings all the more goofily infectious.
Coming from a pair of decade-deep hip-hop vets who notched two of last year's fiercest full-lengths – El-P's Cancer4Cure and Killer Mike's El-produced R.A.P. Music – the thirty-minute internet freebie Run The Jewels (Fool's Gold) could've been a breezy, low-stakes victory lap. Instead it's a slam-dunk: ten all-killer cuts of beats, rhymes and righteous fury that actually betters those twin 2012 career highs. It's a master class in goonishly gory trash talk and no-sell-out truth-saying; a touching display of buddy-buddy tag-team synergy; a chest-rattling (anti-)Watch the Throne for the 99%. The phrase "run the jewels," reiterated mantra-like throughout the record, is an LL Cool J reference betokening the duo's old-school-head bona-fides – but it could also be taken as a sly side-glance at that gilded 2011 Jay/Kanye luxury pageant. Yeah, Yeezus and Magna Carta... have their moments, for sure, but they look pretty lumbering next to these guys.
All hail, your (self-appointed) Summer Legends draw near. Frankly, Jay Z (whose recent dehyphenization will hopefully last no longer than his putative "retirement") probably overstates his season-specific iconicity, "Dear Summer" notwithstanding: in fact, ten of his dozen albums have dropped in autumn. If anything, he's a legend for all seasons. He's not exactly ruling this one though; at least not on the merits of the fluent, familiar, pace-holding Magna Carta...Holy Grail (Def Jam), a perfectly proficient effort – though thematically conflicted and curiously free of obvious single fodder – that pointedly fails to validate its hubristic billing. [(Incidentally, if he wants to convince us his "interest in art" transcends crass consumptionism and celebrity worship, he might want to learn the names of some artists besides Warhol, Basquiat and "Picasso Baby" – the Italian vacay itinerary he runs down on typically charming "Fuckwithmeyouknowigotit" notably omits mention of any museum visits.)] As for Mr. Timberlake, who gave us the indubitably beach-ready likes of "Señorita" and "Summer Love," then promptly left us cold for six summers running: the lavish eight-minute suites of his still-simmering 20/20 Experience (RCA) campaign are distinctly improved by the present swelter, though there's nothing to rival, say, "Blurred Lines" (in the optometry pop sweepstakes?) Does the fact that he's already courting controversy with pre-release singles from Vol. 2 mean that "Let The Groove Get In" – summer-jam-wise, the under-aired, Jacko-jocking highlight of Vol. 1 – won't get its time to properly shine in the sun? But hey little lady: one summer don't make a legend, and there's no denying these two have the hits to last us well past winter.
Shuggie Otis' third and (to date) final album, the psychedelic-soul reverie Inspiration Information, was overlooked in 1974 – either despite or because of a singularity of vision that put it in a class with Sly and Stevie's contemporaneous efforts; nodding equally to Love and electric-era Miles while presaging Prince's similarly idiosyncratic tinkerings. Decades of semi-reclusive obscurity later, a groundswell of crate-digger interest and a ballyhooed 2001 Luaka Bop reissue made it a widely-regarded if retroactive classic (even though Otis remains best known – and certainly best-paid – for the Brothers Johnson's cover of his peerless "Strawberry Letter 23." ) It's one of pop's great underdog-triumphant stories, and this year's added some surprising new chapters: a second high-profile reissue (this time on Epic/Legacy) came bundled with Wings of Love, a fascinating assemblage of cuts recorded between 1975 and 1990 (plus one live, potent acoustic slide-blues tune from 2000) veering from scorching funk-rock to treacly synth-prog to epic, flowery power ballads, plus a few Information-caliber groovers. Better still, Otis is touring, for the first time in forty years (!) – by all accounts knocking 'em dead with his storied instrumental prowess (and sartorial finery), and generally making up for lost time.
You don't get too much call for plush, freaky booty-funk these days, which is why Bad Rabbits might initially come off as hopelessly out of step, or else like an overgrown, frat-friendly bar band. But the Boston-based funk squad, who hearken equally to the heyday of Zapp, Parliament, Cameo et. al. and the libidinous strut of New Jack Swing, have the confidence and the chops to do their own thing, and do it damn right. Their recently self-released party-starter American Love is a more than serviceable showcase for frontman Dua Boakye's gritty falsetto and good-natured sleaze, and the band's thick, nasty grooves, with nary a synth squiggle, bass slap, or chuckle-worthy come-on out of place. But you know it's just a teaser for the kind of ruckus they can kick up in person.
A lot of the fun of this Nashville sextet's sophomore album, I'm Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams (Infinity Cat), comes from never knowing precisely which strain, or era, of hard rock the band is going to draw from next: classic '70s punk or power-pop, '80s hair metal or underground noise-rock; '90s grunge and alt-rock or turn-of-the-'00s pop-punk and emo... Not too many bands can pull off sounding like Thin Lizzy or Van Halen one minute, Sonic Youth or Dinosaur Jr. the next and Blink-182 or Green Day a third (this particularly, thanks to Hodan Dickie's joyously snotty vocal style) – in this case it involves a deceptive level of craft and songwriting versatility, plus a heaping ton of raw, fun-loving attitude, plus a line-up featuring no fewer than four guitarists. "Skeleton Head" even proves they can get kinda pretty when the occasion calls for it. Meanwhile, they've managed to make a name for themselves with their raucous, no-holds-barred live shows that comes astonishingly close to eclipsing the name they've made for themselves by, well, naming themselves "Diarrhea Planet."
The dream of the alternative slacker '90s is alive and smirking in Western MA, where Speedy Ortiz' Sadie Dupuis (I'm hoping that rhymes) wrangles her wry poet's diction and girly-tough, conversational coo – the kind that can't help but recall Liz Phair, Tracy Bonham, and/or Mary Timony – around whip-smart, self-skewering lyrics ("my mouth is a factory/for every toxic part of speech I spew") while her bandmates carve out scraggly, sinewy art-pop shapes redolent of – take your pick: Sebadoh, Built to Spill, Bettie Serveert, Sleater-Kinney... But while Major Arcana (Carpark) is an undeniably fun excuse for hip nostalgists of a certain age to drop knowing college-rock name-checks, it's also a huge amount of fun full stop, packed with enough personality, caustically hilarious verse and grungy-melodic hooks to preempt any potential accusations of stock retro posturing as just so whatever, dude.
Daughn Gibson has the kind of voice that almost sounds like a parody of itself: a big, booming, Johnny Cash-caricature of a baritone, which he doesn't shy away from using to maximum swooping, drunken-Elvis effect. Me Moan (Sub Pop) the Carlisle, PA native's follow-up to last year's breakout debut, is chock-full of twangy guitars and blustery, borderline campy barroom crooning, but this isn't your granddad's country music, or even your hip uncle's alt-country. It's more like the sort of thing Beck might make if he decided to indulge his found-sound sample-hop tendencies and his Lee Hazlewood-inspired troubadour fantasies equally on the same record; all misty-eyed honky-tonk balladeering and spooky, rough-hewn backwoods menace peppered with rickety drum loops, eerie vocal samples and weird, snaky guitar licks, plus one particularly resonant bagpipe riff.
As you might expect from an album produced by a Black Key (the in-demand Dan Auerbach), Pushin' Against A Stone – Valerie June's mainstream debut following three self-released efforts – makes it clear that the Tennessee native can knock out some swampy, riff-driven modern blues-rock with the best of 'em. But that's hardly all: she also takes on a hypnotic acoustic folk lament ("Workin' Woman Blues") that's curiously laced with Afrobeat-style horns; a sparse, creaky Appalachian lullaby ("Somebody To Love") with tattered fiddle and banjo accompaniment; a loose '60s girl-group shuffle ("The Hour") complete with wall-of-sound glockenspiels and ghostly gospel back-ups – and that's just the first three tracks. While her voice, a reedy, high lonesome sounding thing, is potent enough, it won't knock you flat like, say, Alabama Shakes' Brittany Howard (June's hairstyle – a massive, Medusa-like nest of dreads – is another matter.) But not too many singers can hopscotch between styles and decades, running down the whole damn Americana gamut from bluegrass to gospel, fiddle tunes to funk, and make it sound so artless, ageless and achingly truthful.
"I will not be a victim of romance," Laura Marling asserts early on Once I Was An Eagle (Ribbon Music), the fourth full-length of her young career. But the evidence calls that declaration into question, as – not for the first time – she spends much of this sixty-minute song cycle poring over the ashes of a failed relationship (or several), imbuing it with an obsessive, allegorical weight. Not that she casts herself as a victim, exactly: here she is a master hunter; there the titular bird of prey – to her erstwhile lover's dove, no less – trysting with Satan, conversing with water spirits, spinning bewitching but ineffectual love-spells... before winding her way toward guardedly optimistic reflections on lost childhood innocence and, ultimately, the uselessness of language itself: "words are sleazy/my love is better dumb." The album's heady mixture of ferocity, bitterness, mysticism, rumination, nostalgia and joy come across musically too; building on her last record's florid jazz-folk explorations with stark, raga-influenced open-tuned meditations, often spiked with forceful Middle Eastern percussion and organ flourishes. Of course, her guitar prowess is as formidable as ever, and she remains an utterly distinctive, continually astonishing vocalist. While all of Marling's albums to date have included the first person pronoun in their titles, she's never made one this deeply, uncompromisingly personal.
Pure Bathing Culture
Pure Bathing Culture's moniker (inspired by a Swiss spa), and the title (Moon Tides) and sun-streaked, coastal cover photo of their debut album (Partisan) all suggest a strong aesthetic link with the beach-suffused blog zeitgeist of 2009-10; a high tide for both chillwave's glazed retro-electronia and the shimmery slacker indie-pop of bands like Real Estate and Beach Fossils. It's an apt connection: this is indeed luscious, langorous music, a swooning, semi-synthetic soundtrack for both nostalgia and indolence. But several things set the Portland duo apart from the keyboard-toting, surf-evoking dream-pop throngs. There's the shiny yet soft-focus production, with a crispness rendering their music as gleaming as it is swirly (and earns them countless Cocteau Twins comparisons.) There's their memorable, strongly classicist way with melody, which makes their songs as distinctive as their sound (and helps earn them equally many comparisons to Fleetwood Mac. ) And then there's Sarah Versprille's voice: a bewitchingly rich soprano that frequently launches into fluid, semi-operatic quaver, placing her in the same soft-synth-pop lineage as Frankie Rose, Twin Sister's Andrea Estella, Austra's Katie Stelmanis and even Stereolab's Lætitia Sadier.
Across countless cassette recordings and his first three full-lengths as Ducktails, Matthew Mondanile gradually weaned himself from offhand, chillwavey bedroom sketches toward more "proper," conventionally presented indie-pop songs. The Flower Lane (Domino), his most populous, populist foray thus far (featuring, among other pals, full-band contributions from fellow Jerseyites Big Troubles), is easily the most emphatic manifestation of that trajectory. While brushing undeniably close to the sedate, suburban shimmer of the guitarist's better-known "day job" band, Real Estate – one could easily imagine the jangle-filled likes of "Ivy Covered House" or "Academy Avenue" among their property listings – it also ventures into frillier, colorful lite-pop and psych territory, scoping out some loose, chewy electric piano space-funk, patchouli-tinged sax solos, and a couple of spiffy, retro-redolent boy-girl duets.
From Matthew Dear to Gold Panda, School of Seven Bells and Adult., the better-known artists on Ghostly International – the Michigan label that's arguably the most visible face of American electronic music – tend to be relatively danceable, or at least reasonably energetic. This package tour is a showcase for the imprint's softer side, beginning with the submerged, soporific soundscapes of Heathered Pearls – aka Ghostly A&R man Jakub Alexander, whose 2012 full-length Loyal is a naptime-ready study in aqueous textures and hypnotic, minutely-shifting loops – and the crisply moody, whisper-soft electro-soul of Brooklyn duo Beacon. Topping the bill, Detroit native (Zachary) Shigeto (Saginaw) should liven things up a little, although his music is mellower than you'd expect from a producer who's also a percussionist. No Better Time Than Now, his latest foray into jazzy IDM/instrumental hip-hop hybridity – looking to LA beatsmiths Flying Lotus and Daedelus as much as hometown heroes like Dilla and Dabrye – is his most vibrant, musically expansive outing yet, incorporating layers upon layers of his own impressively deft drumming (it'll be interesting to see how that works out live) while toeing an amiable line between head-nodding and nodding off.
Between Boards of Canada's triumphal return and Jon Hopkins' breakthrough Immunity, it's been a good year for fans of broadly palatable, darkly atmospheric electronica. You might credit Ulrich Schnauss with getting that particular ball rolling back in January, when he released A Long Way To Fall (Domino). His first full-length in six years (discounting several recent collaborations), it finds the Berlin-based, New Age-indebted producer peeling back much of his familiarly enveloping shoegaze haze to reveal sweet, shiny-clean, laser-guided synth melodics that hearken to prime '90s IDM and '80s darkwave electro-pop; from the candy-coated pseudo-industrial churn of "The Weight of Darkening Skies" – his titles here have a distinct flair for the melodramatic – to the cheerfully chintzy Tinseltown traipse of "Like A Ghost In Your Own Life."
A heavy-hitting House Nation lifer with mounds of cred and a perennial, boundary-blurring wandering eye, Maurice Fulton's rap sheet reaches back to Crystal Waters' 1994 mega-smash "100% Pure Love" (he's credited with "additonal drum programming") and encompasses solo ventures under a dizzying array of goofy aliases (Boof, Sticky People, Eddie and the Eggs, Ladyvipb...) and production work behind German neo-disco diva Kathy Diamond, Tanzanian-British Afro-soul funkster Mim Suleiman and uber-weird aggro-dance duo Mu (with his wife, Mutsumi Kanamori.) In nearly all of the above instances, as well as his innumerable remixes (particularly for circa-2004 indie-approved dance revivalists like The Rapture, Annie and !!!), you're more or less guaranteed bucketloads of thick, rubbery basslines, scattered showers of playground-style percussion, and plenty of generally unpredictable fun. A Blink Of An Eye (Running Back), released earlier this year under the sobriquet Syclops (ostensibly the work of three fictional Finnish ladies) runs a typically loopy gamut from quirky, percussion-stuffed disco-funk to squelchy acid techno and Squarepusher-esque prog-fusion, any or all of which could be up the Melbourne-based DJ's sleeve tomorrow night.originally published in Philadelphia City Paper