Mark Deutrom (formerly of Melvins) – The Blue Bird
Label: Season of Mist
Genre: Alternative Rock, Neo-Grunge
Mark Deutrom decides he likes grunge and grunge likes him. So a slap a country album cover on this baby and see how many confused alt-fans can fit inside. With a voice that inspires Albarn and riffs that respire Sonic Youth, you can still hear why them damn dirty Melvins were so pervasive in 90’s record collections.
gnash – we
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alternative R&B
Internet sensation gnash has returned with a full length long-player, after dealing in nothing but singles and EPs for a solid few years. gnash will probably only be recognized for his single “i hate u, i love u” with Olivia O’Brien and which, much like the crazy ex so missed and so maligned, still manages to elicit a melancholy is does not deserve. Oh, hate it all I want, it still stands as a centerpiece and easily the best track in what amounts to an awkward record that vacillates between G-Eazy and Jason Mraz. The production is pasty, the sentiment is soppy and the music is too mushy. Sorry love, but turn this record off and find something better.
anaïs – darkness at play
Label: Universal Music, Virgin EMI
Genre: Alternative R&B
My remerciements to Vice for this one, tossing out a French R&B queen suggestion, I wanted to listen to before the article was even a quarter-read. She’s some kind of born-again D’Angelo this girl. A sonic counterpoint to the up-and-at-em feisty fighter person (no a) of Janelle Monáe—shit the force must exist, because this record is balanced as all things should be—but let’s forget the memes, darkness at play is serious business and anaïs will make you feel it; she’s got every poor sucker hanging in suspense on her “paper wings,” spitting freestyle that would make a spirit-mama Lauryn Hill proud and with a sonic that pops cranes out of last year’s Origami Harvest jazz-like spoken-word fortune-teller’s. Crafting something elegant from something complex is always hard, and it’s not like she did this knowingly but so too does the butterfly evolve without a care to the moth. anaïs is just a young swallowtail from Africa, breaking out of the pupa with some damn grace.
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Producer: Self-Produced, Cate Le Bon, Ben H Allen, Ben Etter
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, “Garage Folk”
Yes, garage folk. This record has an imperfect sound, as if still unsure what it wants to be—folk, garage, neo-psychedelic? It tries to merge it all by zig-zagging to-and-fro with no particular destination in mind, just as long as it gets them away from that hazy lo-fi production (which they don’t do completely—they are lo-fi DIY after all). This is represented in the all-star cast of producers, which some how features continuity and stutter-step musicality, and showcases how a record can use with a more centralized approach rather hodge-podge populism. It’s not for every record, but for this long-player it certainly would not have hurt.
James Blake – Assume Form
Genre: Alternative R&B
James Blake comes on back to us with Assume Form, an effort more in the vein of Chet Faker rather than The Colour in Anything with its Four Tet by Pharrelite low-and-slow electro-R&B simmer. To be fair, Chet Faker can still simmer and so too can James Blake; but he’s yet to release anything beyond its parts. This is just equal sum, expertly done and put together, cohesive and concise where its predecessor predicated as a smooth rambler. Problem is, I could sing praises on his sleepy R&B all day, but really Blake made these tunes in such obvious midnight minutiae that I don’t exactly feel impressed when I yawn, just bored. It’s not like say, the xx, who yes make music one can sleep to—but that’s just a nice side effect—you should stay awake and listen to those duet dirges, that minimalist thumping beat, those isolated guitar- and basslines. They give a certain immediacy to those instruments that never comes across in James Blake’s senior effort. I’m not listening to the record as I write and I yawn just scrawling about it.
Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow
Producer: John Congleton
Genre: Indie Rock, Synthpop
Curiosity got the better of me and Sharon Van Etten’s record did demand it—as I couldn’t quite nail it, working out this record like some kind of PJ Harvey with a taste for popular music. What could have triggered this sudden swerve to the goth-light? This mild, middle management mask on some deeper, long-term depressive episode? One sniff and a snoop on the website and I found the explosive answer per Etten, “I gave [John Congleton] Suicide, Portishead, and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree as references and he got excited.” Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree? Well goddamn, there’s the cherry bomb trigger. It’s not synthpop made to glow, it’s indie rock made to live in the mish-mosh moment with some scratching and clawing just to get it done.
Toro y Moi – Outer Peace
Genre: Alternative R&B, Synth Funk
The conceit of this record came straight of the clubs, no really—Chaz Bear said so upfront. But every time I give this record a listen, with its references to Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, Mexican synths with some downtempo bass and drums, all I can think of isn’t the modern nightclub but just pure silly Wham tropicalia, a chillwave “Club Tropicana.” Just a half-an-hour long experiment in ostentatious pastiche and booping-beeping-bopping, hip-hopping doldrums. Y’know the sort of stuff: flattened percussion, synthesizers fluent in extended Owen Wilson (wooooooaaaaaaaw), a sultry SZA-type slow track feat. ABRA, it’s all fucking there. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of it; a welcome change of pace from the downbeat Boo Boo and the daydreaming What For?, but don’t expect to go into this club finding long-term love—that’d be ridiculous, bub.
Choker – Mono no Moto EP
Label: Jet Fuzz
Genre: Alternative R&B
So, poppier b-sides from Honeybloom but still just as slick, all slapped together on a short ten-minute EP? Alright, then, I’m cool with that—spin it and enjoy it, but fair warning: you may not remember it.
FIDLAR – Almost Free
Producer: Ricky Reed
Label: Mom + Pop Music
Genre: Pop Punk
Since when the fuck did FIDLAR’s Elvis Kuehn start picking banjos? Since when the fuck did Carper harp the evils of gentrification on a harmonica? That is some jug band punk shit. And what to follow it up with? Oh you know, a ukulele and some clapbeats with a Foster the People choral part. From the first tracks it’s clear: FIDLAR have just given it up—popping paint balloons over a canvas with random abandon. I just—I can’t—this—I MEAN WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?!? Who are you anymore FIDLAR? On the one hand they live up to the name “Fuck It, Dawg, Life’s A Risk,” on the other hand, a risk implies more to lose than a nihilistic approach to record-making is willing to own up to and this record is certainly a pop punk stab in the dark. Shanking any proper blow-by-blow rhythm, the best punk albums have a flow to them—but this long-player smashes track-upon-track-upon-track like a pile of train cars, whether one cut is better than the last is made totally irrelevant by the jarring, jagged entrance of the next.
Santana – In Search of Mona Lisa
Producer: Narada Michael Walden
Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Blues
Nobody should doubt Santana’s guitar abilities, that’s a given. I just doubt what Carlos surrounds that guitar with because in the time since Supernatural, what exactly has changed? If anything Santana IV had less bite than your abuelo’s piños and had increased the bobo factor tenfold; so Carlos el viejo needed to make a statement for Concord and well, the title track of the EP is kind of standard fare 2000’s Santana, the reverbing tone is there, the virtuoso playing is there, but it’s smothered by the damn lyrics. So Carlos, la proxíma vex olvidas las letras bobas por favor. Your guitar speaks on its own on, either reminding us of a samba from another time or remembering a treat from younger days. It’s like me trying to speak in Spanish—unnecessary and distracting.
Sneaks – Highway Hypnosis
Producer: Self-Produced with Carlos Hernandez, Tony Seltzer
Genre: lo-fi R&B, Alternative
Lo-fi it may be, but there’s something low-ley about how fierce Eva Moolchan, aka Sneaks, attacks her third record like MIA on a whisper. Her music is a minority report with a point, or ten, to make. On “The Way It Goes” she musters up enough mustard to spice the hot dog and make your Cardi B’s and Nicki Minaj’s think twice about biting in. The whole record is a vibe like cayenne pepper dust, with a heat level that never burns the lips, but still let’s you know it’s there. So is she more of an artist because her style is underground? Nah, no one should ever make that point, she’s just underground, alternative and she wears it on her sleeve, proud to still be kicking three LPs in.
Swervedriver – Future Ruins
Label: Dangerbird, Rock Action
Swervedriver pulled a Slowdive this year, reforming not to reformulate but for old time’s sake. Except, Slowdive’s wasn’t just any old and tired, get-the-band-back-together affair. It was an ensemble effort encompassing new recording techniques into a classic band, pulling from a couple new-school genres to refresh the product: solid, singular shoegaze. That Swervedriver might not offer up anything new was the clear and present danger, but they do; either venturing into post-rock or just snooping around electronic, they inject just enough to make sure the classic sound preserved well. Slowdive set out the formula and Swervedriver followed it to a tee. Top work, men.
Weezer – The Teal Album
Producer: Mark Rankin
Genre: Alternative Rock
Sometimes you don’t need to write good material, you just need to jump a shark to be remembered. And that’s exactly what Weezer has done. Don’t look it in the mouth, worry about the teeth, just hold on to Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson and Brian Bell as they make the jump. This isn’t their first aquatic rodeo, mind you, and they definitely don’t bring much new flavour to the arrangements (just adding some slight alternative sonic before letting the original sounds take over hardly qualifies as groundbreaking). But damn do they execute, execute, execute. Forget about location, composition and all’a that—it’s all about the execution on The Teal Album
White Fence – I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk
Label: Drag City
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, lo-fi rock
Tim Presley need no introduction, he’s just as fried-out as his buddy Ty Segall and last year’s Joy saw them going toe-to-toe just to show hard the vibe can feel. It was a hard album to like that one and I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk shows it: it’s not quite a shot thorazine, more like medically regulated CBD. Is it weird though that the record sounds like a lo-fi tour of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Between the organs and synthesizers and the absolute lack of oompa-loompas, Presley sounds all alone on this record, forced to use his imagination with a minimal fascination. He’s still all on that West Coast Pop Art groove, that Love sensation, that 13th Floor Elevators level, but now he’s just having fun with the medical cocktails.