Drowse – Light Mirror
Label: The Flenser
Genre: Shoegaze, Slowcore, Dream Pop
I love press releases that open with the most pretentious axioms. And man, does Drowse give us a doozy for Light Mirror: the simplest questions are often the most difficult to answer. Well, let’s start the simplest question possible that still pertains to the topic: why did Light Mirror get made? Ooh, I have an answer: because slowcore nerds need another album to cry to? Ding-ding! Ooh, I have another: because creation is a flighty bitch you need to pin down? Ding-ding! Ooh, I have a third: because someone needed money! Ding-ding. According to the very-same, native Portland sadboy slowcore songwriter/producer Kyle Bates went into self-imposed exile in Northern Ireland—a hoity-toity way of saying artistic residency—to give him “ample space to ponder the nature of solitude and what it means to be “closed or” or “open” to the world.” At this point, I was having more fun reading the press release on The Flenser, then I was listening to the damn record. But by “Physical World” it finally got me; the existential sadness, the crushing sense of loneliness, the actions of self-inflicted pain, emotional and physical. Oh my God, why do us people listen to this stuff? Why do we hate ourselves? Fuck, now I need another album to cry to.
French Vanilla – How Am I Not Myself?
Producer: Sean Cook
Label: Danger Collective Records
Genre: Post-Punk, Art Punk
Art Punk is gonna be the overused genre of the year isn’t it? Well, not as long as artists find new or barely scratched instruments to make punk with. And French Vanilla decided what all us art punks, all us wine-and-mosh mates, all us ay-oh-lets-go Dadaists need is some funky French Quarter horn sections to break us into new, blatantly un-Dada-esque territories. Jazzpunk is rarely a genre I thought possible, an ignorance I attribute either via my musical illiteracy or ahistory on the subject. But to virgin ears this record will go either one of two ways: either you’ll hate it, or you’ll love it. Or you’ll be indifferent to it and everything I say will, as always, be fulla shit.
Froth – Duress
Producer: Joo Joo Ashworth w/ Tomas Dolas
Label: Wichita Recordings
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, lo-fi Rock
Froth did a number on their debut, introducing themselves in so-so manner, where the drone is kind of wimpy; shoegaze trying to make a point instead of being one. Now, when all that subsides and they do just fall back into a wavvey-fuzzed out sonic not dissimilar from Beach Fossils, Meatbodies or even Sugar Candy Mountain it’s enjoyable. From “Dialogue” on, they introduce some plainly wonderful lo-fi jams that actually outstrip most of my sentiments for Beach Fossils or Sugar Candy Mountain. What I’m saying is, I talked my way into liking this record when I was ready to rip it to shreds—or maybe that was Froth’s intentions all along?
JAMBINAI – ONDA
Label: Bella Union
Genre: Post-Rock, Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Ever heard of Tuvan Throat Singing Death Metal? No, well you should at least give it a whirl. These human didgeridoos possess a skill of Khoomi, made to portray the Mongol steppe; it also sounds just like the kind of thing a murderous horde would use to give the scene that peak amount of ambiance before chopping your head off and destroying everything you’ve ever known. And what we need for the desolate aftermath is the perfect music for howling fields, which is exactly why JAMB—oh wait no, they do that too. Well, there went the conceit for this little bit. See JAMBINAI is still the perfect music for the windswept post-rock decimation, something that sweeps over the corpse of kraftwerk Scottish experiments and picks the bone cleans while still leaning to some crushing form that goes beyond the designation of hard rock. Hence the atmospheric sludge metal. What remains is the local touch, just so that we know these are three twenty-somethings from Korea rather than oh, Seattle or Edinburgh or Melbourne. But JAMBINAI doesn’t leave us hanging—right off the bat, it’s native melodies and instrumentation before transmuted to synths interfacing with atmospherics. The album ends at such a point that I don’t know who is doing the Dune soundtrack but they should be fired immediately, and replaced with these guys.
The Mattson 2 – Paradise
Label: Company Records
Genre: Jazz Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
I’ve recently come to a conclusion that I should have realized far sooner than now, while living with parents and sorting out the next stages of my life: my mother could request a “Supermarket Music” mix from her Amazon Alexa corporate spy tower and it would hardly need change her normal regimen of Jack Johnson, John Meyer, Dave Matthews, Coldplay et al and she would hardly miss a beat as musical elitists upturn their nose denigrate her muzak choices. I’m neither here nor there on these trite pieces as I can’t help but feel a certain nostalgic duty to defend In Between Dreams to the death while slagging every other Jack Johnson record which is, ostensibly, the same. That being said, no one can really detest a muzak form for being bad, just savage it for being a watered down or filtered variation for mass consumption—I dunno, I suppose I’m too concerned with whether the music is good enough to care about. In that way, the Mattson 2 are good, serviceable musicians making the latest additions to your jazzy coffeshop neo-psych muzak out on Company Records today. And really, their label sums it up: a faceless, easy-going and plain name serving out your generic genera of music made to soundtrack the comedown from the nine-to-five working day. In short, my mom should love this shit.
Silversun Pickups – Widow’s Weeds
Producer: Butch Vig
Label: New Machine Recordings
Genre: Alternative Rock, Dream Pop
I’m a very patchwork music listener—I find myself only listening to certain eras of certain artists and web together my impressions on modern music; that said, I would have never known the Silversun Pickups existed had it not been for a colleague from Atwood Magazine (Thank you, Ditta), and while not being exactly enamored with her recommendation, knowledge can’t be bad can it? I suppose not, so when I saw the Pickups had a new record out this month, I thought to myself “what the hell, I’ll see how it pans out.” It’s produced by Butch Vig of all people. So, forgive my erstwhile ignorance because if the cost for “Simpatico” was the Pickup’s continued decline into mediocrity, then it may just well be worth it.
Crumb – Jinx
Producer: Self-Producer w/ Gabe Wax
Label: Crumb Records
Genre: lo-fi, Neo Psychedelia
Crumb! Where the hell have these artistes been since leaving us with only two EPs in two years? Where did they leave their guitars? Why is it just some synthesizers and that singular sax? Are we adding by subtracting? Doing that Beach House thing? Start with little so every step along the way seems like a lot? Is this meant to be muzak? Is this for my Spotify Good Vibes playlist? My Chill Me playlist? Do they get their guitars back? Is this a Tangerine Dream-lite experiment? Do they get dizzy easy when they’re stoned or what? Or do they just want to write lullabies before things get serious? Is it “Nina” again yet? Big arena tours for the next DIY sensation? DIY isn’t that just another name for the new indie? They’re killin’ it though, aren’t they? Just plodding along like the next lofi synthwave ready to beach on the surround sound, you s’ppose? I mean do they really mean it? Will Jinx be that next xx, slowly filtering into the airwaves of this great nation once car commercial at a time? From sea to shining sea covered in oozing big mood cuts tinker tailored to size twenty-eight in minutes, I see us now, cruising in an electric car so silent you’d think it’s the newest Hotwheel scaled to actual size, so insulated you can bust out Crumb on the soft-apocalypse drive for sanity, clarity or no reason at all. What a daydream.
Mattiel – Satis Factory
Producer: Randy Michael, Jonah Swilley
Genre: Blues, Folk Rock
Before we start the tour around Satis Factory, I want to say I’m not one for modern blues, they’re not bad or uninteresting, just that for whatever reason, blues struck me the hardest when it was sung by chromatic English mods posing like pretty modern dandies with the black coal voices of Deltamen, I don’t know, it’s just one of those intangible reasons that mayhap be in fact a myriad reasons congealed into one conglomerating glob of dabbery; the slow ooze of many moments squished by the compression of memories to bare essentials—your brain is a bit like a twenty-first century paperback writer, in that way, using memetic devices to unlock the files and rerender full quality video playback of candid moments, like watching a catterpillar crawl along the leaf in your hand or the sheer deep clear periwinkle sky seen from a field of humans compounding and eroding along the shaded tree beaches surrounded by high tides of green grass and people, caravanning to their next destination before settling to sit and rest upon a manmade crowd of cross-legged sunbathers frying at the noonday sun. I don’t remember a stranger’s face, but I remember the strangers, the people. So it is with Satis Factory and Mattiel’s terse vocabulary, reduced further yet made to go farther when she sings “Je Ne Me Connais Pas” (“I Don’t Know Me”) as if she was some svelte nouvelle-vague band engage in new wave révolution—tu speak du franglais, bébé?—that blues kind of had in the 2000’s but also didn’t really invite my taste unless it was littered with a Black Keys stamp, either way, when I listen to this blues-garage thing (I hesitate on movement) I want it be short and sweet and succinct, we already know he/she/they are the devil incarnate, we know they run you around town, we know you want a piece of that next ass, but now I got to feel it from the heat of a punk because you old bluesmen were sad! Oh, you might be too real! Too harsh! Too romantic! We want either full on cold psychopathic socialites (soup du jour: cold serial) or quirky observationists (Ally Sheedy acolytes very welcome). Give me Courtney Barnett or give me death! Which kinda places me on the other side of Mattiel’s work, I respect it, but it doesn’t control my heart. I’m happy to know she’s sticking to it, she just needs to find the right amount of soul to introduce to make her garage rock pop instead of fizzle by the record’s end. The end of my tour is the borrow her wordplay satisfactory, but it could be much more if it didn’t Mumford and Sons’d it at parts.
Meernaa – Heart Hunger
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Robert Shelton, James Riotto
Label: Native Cat
Genre: Blues Rock, Alternative Soul, Post-Rock
Why do I get the sense that I’m not listening to Meernaa’s debut, but also a lowkey B-Sides souljazzblues recording of early nineties Whitney Houston? I like it. It restrains the overwhelming power of Carly Bonds’s voice to support the music in subtler ways, like a much calmer record from a half-sister to HAIM. And it’s a record worth listening to; a real Nico effort without all the subtextual crises of “Deustchland, Deustchland über alles” nonsense and heroin use, y’know? Maybe Nico should have tried amphetamines like her Nazi heroes instead of that Berlin smack that sent Reed and then Bowie into catatonia and then rebirth in that enclaved half-city state. Maybe that would have just made her worse. Ze spiders crawling over your skin can give a real perk to your creativity but turn you into a different person, they will. Bond doesn’t really sing about these psychological hangups, but that’s because Heart Hunger gets so post-rock-y at times that even if she were singing about slapping the arms, tying off the elbow and flicking the needle, who’s to say? I get it, I get it, it’s a technique for that shoegazing murk, but the most compelling moments on this record is when we gasp hear that these ambient neo-goths (a whole group of people who listen to Henry’s Dream and ( )1 all in the same week, if not day) might have, I dunno, possibly, maybe some SoulTM because they may have listened to “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” for some slice of time in their life. I’m convinced that this is simultaneously a milquetoast Desert Shore piece of muzak and the best thing released to this midsummer market of 2019. Something frigid for ever-hotter dog days and boiling hyper-summers.
1That’s Parentheses to you, neophyte
Stonefield – BENT
Producer: I dunno, probably Stephen McBean
Genre: Heavy Psych, Hard Rock
So it’s just a trend now for this lithographic minimal spacescape music to feature on the next record of any somesuch prog/psych/sludge rock band, I take it. Because after trying on an art nouveau cover and a much leaner one in all green with stripes and a noncandid band photo, we now have the increasingly traditionalist first edition DnD terrain shots (colorized). No biggie though, Stonefield play like persons with an interest in Sabbath and Eighties-Yes for some minutes; a good number close to 25 or so, which includes them piling on to the prog-garage heap of the last decade. Hell, for some moments I wonder if I’m just listening to Iron Butterfly reincarnated as some made-for-business chicks. Of course, now I’m putting it all on a pedestal but the directness across BENT is an astonishing turn of events from predecessor records; those long-players being solidish, but not really putting Stonefield on anyone’s “ooh, I wanna hear them” list. Except no one’s heard of this record, it’s not even charting in Australia—come on guys, what the hell!—Greta Van Fleet can set fire to the world but some actually proficient young-players gets neither jack, diddley or squat? These girls kick all that stoner rock in the ass with some proper doom. Deep Purple with a sense of Blue Öyster Cult about them? Oh goddamnit, sure it ain’t revolutionary, but fuck me nobody today is revolutionary; just the next iteration. And this Stonefield iteration does not deserve to be ignored.
Beak> – Life Goes On EP
Label: Temporary Residence Limited
Genre: Krautrock, Neo-Psychedelia
I’m not sure if I’ll ever be impressed with another krautrock, neo-psychedelia band that doesn’t mix it up with something unexpected like an inherent latin rhythm or some bebop licks. Because even if the Spanish chant heading off “Life Goes On” piques interest, I’m short on mental patience by the tapering end of “We Can Go.” I mean “Minus Pillow” and “Allé Sauvage” are examples of a Kraftwerkfeature and your resident ambient house remix, but I’m not their audience for it and I still find them kind of dull, dare I say limp-wristed. Pure sound forever might just not be for me and I think I might just know why: we’re the contaminants. Pure sound is a bark or a bird chirp, but we want what out of this purity is pleasantry; searching for the melody from the sea waves is what we do. And any attempt to unravel that mystery should look to Flume’s meditations on the subject from earlier this year for some measure of the best reception they could attain. Be the snooty art college student if you must but beware the traps when translating your way to entertainment from Rosetta Stones and musiques concrètes, there’s a reason why the sedentary sedimentary name stuck.
Black Pumas – Black Pumas
Producer: Self-Produced (Adrian Quesada)
I recall thinking about a sense that I had moved past the delta movements—they formed a good base, a good core for what I enjoy about music: moments brought to life, sound given narrative—that what I needed now was a healthy dose of the future. Well that came and went with two full years of college and nothing but TheSoundYouNeed and MrSuicideSheep to keep my room comfy for no one in particular, not even me, because I couldn’t afford mood lights and slept on a couchbed until it fucked up my back (Poor “Little Blue” didn’t deserve to die the death he did). Well, it was some weird combination of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Tame Impala, Dead and Company and the Allah-La’s that yanked (yeeted) my ass back to reality. I’m a firm believer in the present being infinitely better than the past for the sole reason that the present gives me a berth of choice from the past. So no, not every soul duo is going to belt out a St. Elsewhere or Turn Blue for your modern major record label, but Black Pumas is as solid a start for anyone trying to put some soul into our phrases memetic of all those “big moods.”
Cassius – Dreems
Label: Universal Music
Genre: French House
So the artwork had me thinking a sort of jangling aside spiritbonded in someway to Hi This Is Flume, probably just the cover, really. What I listened to however was 50 minutes of good reasons for why Cassius are the real powerhouse behind the French House throne; they make records Daft Punk want to make, but I don’t think ever could—who’s got the funk? they got the funk—because while they pay respects to the man, Giorgio Moroder, they don’t quite follow his blueprints. If the extreme is to play soul music with some house beats, then you’re selling yourself short: you gotta evolve and while the quest for the perfect sound might be the most soulless endeavor I can think of (the Noise Wars being the only other fad that proved to do more damage to our ears and our ability to enjoy music on repeat), it is an endeavor, but at what point at your making music for machines instead of people? This Kraftwerk obsession for the “pure sound,” sound made for “it” rather than for “you” perturbs me because it is an obsession on only one half of what renders pieces unto another plane; the ability to absolutely transcend time and boundary. I want music for all, not in popular sense, but in a functional sense. To incline tastes with a forward direction, instead of planting a lance on the driver’s side and rocket into the horizon declaring the dawn of a new new music. Cassius toil and nudge, to bring us a more perfect union that Moroder and Donna Summer put to record in 1977. If that ain’t a noble endeavor than I don’t know what is.
Earth Tongue – Floating Being
Producer: James Goldsmith
Label: Stolen Body
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Sludge Rock
Now here’s a smart debut record. 30 minutes. No more no less. C’mon, what you think this industry is a charity? No? Then payup, because the product is tight and solid and smart—a smart thing. Now there’s a list of products, smart products: smart ads, smart Phones, smart cars, smart homes, smart speakers, smart TVs, smart watches, smart detectors, smart libraries, smart fridges, all sold, all told, just another smart PC, just another smart package, just another smart thing to make us dumb, see. And as we float on this catapulting spacerockship, I hope they get so smart they can start answering the real questions like: “Alexa, why are we here?”
“—to save 30% on your next purchase.”
“Where are we going?”
“—get double miles on any order of 200 dollars or more!”
“Will things get worse?”
“—premade natural disaster survival kits, on sale now!”
“Do we have any time left to change?”
“—I’m sorry, I didn’t understand the question.”
“Neither do I, Alexa. Play Floating Being.”
Taiwan Housing Project – Sub-Language Trustees
Label: +Ever Never
Genre: Noise Rock, Post-Punk
This a record that starts off the conversation with a giant “fuck you” to your ears (Lou Reed smiles) and then commences into post-punk diatribes of potbanging and spitsinging all amounting to a maximalist gust of “SO YOU WANT TO HEAR SOME NOISE?” The charivari aside, they find time to down the licks, but they’re hard to find compelling when not left to work their magicks; instead their consistently reabsorbed into the folds of this kitchenkraft nowave. The Noise Rock notice is not because Sub-Language Trustees plays traditional timbre distortion noise à la Talk Talk, foresting any potential hook. It’s a play on less is more, but in this case, less is not much which makes it harder to swallow the intense distortion when the carrot on the stick is sour. I don’t meant to sound like a sensitive nutsack, but goddamnit I am. So father Lou Reed was fulla shit, Metal Machine Music can be abrasive, so can Sub-Language Trustees, they can push the avant-garde any which way they want, but I’m not putting it on repeat.
The Black Keys – “Let’s Rock”
Genre: Garage Rock
I want to make it absolutely clear: you can have too much fun. And when it came to the 1970’s, Steve Miller was having the most fun. The people were entertained when The Joker hit the airwaves, admiring the peaches for the trees and picking out their character—I’m a midnight toker, personally—but Maurice, kept speaking on the pompitous of love and produced an exceptional uberklassisches Fly Like an Eagle, followed up by a reminiscing B-Sides heavy Book of Dreams, all the stuff that just didn’t make the cut but still needed a public ear. And the Party should have ended there. But it didn’t: Circle of Love happened. It tried to rebottle the lightning. Tried to party like it used to. Tried to take us back to them Sixties. It just wasn’t the same. And that was the deathknell to popular and critical success for any Steve Miller record since. It just isn’t the same. “Let’s Rock” is the Black Keys out to party in the only way they know how: as aging garageblues boys. It’s been 5 years since Turn Blue left us all melancholic, roughly the same distance between Book of Dreams and Circle of Love. But the Black Keys’ latest is more like an Abracadabra. I hate Abracadabra like I hate shapeshifting new-wavery Rod Stewart. Both are cop outs, but at least Abracadabra has “the tunes,” whatever that means. Well, “Let’s Rock” also has those “tunes” and I’m going to just drop the sarcasm for a sec: yeah, they’re good and yeah, the Black Keys are back to party, to have a bit of fun. But: can they accept that the party might have finished a half-decade earlier? If they can then, artistically, they are fine—just working out that pent-up rager juice is all—but if they cannot, well, this might be our best Black Keys record for a while re forever.
Bench Press – Not the Past, Can’t Be the Future
Producer: Paul Maybury
Label: Poison City
I think my favourite parts on this record are when the guitars bust out into a slow surf rock riffs and the occasional misirlou lick while the lead singer—who these cats all are still remains a mystery to me—goes to nine for eleven to make sure, whether dancing or headmoshing, you have all that rage unlocked. And honestly, I’m just happy my chosen city of interest, Melbourne, has another good band that is not a part of the psyched-out scene. I grew up there for three years and still can’t process how Melbourne has become the epicenter of Australian music, a position traditionally vied for between Sydney and Perth/Freemantle. Well, ok, I might be wrong on Sydney, I’m 11 years out of Vegemite practice and Aussie Rules tastings, but hell, can’t a post-punker just be fond and melancholic at least once?! I like to think that’s what Bench Press would want us to do or my ears wouldn’t be so happy to oblige.
Daniel Caesar – Case Study 101
Producer: Self-Produced with Jordan Evans and Matthew Burnett
Label: Golden Child
Genre: Neo-Soul, Contemporary R&B
There’s a certain level of eyeroll I do whenever I see the words “neo-soul” now. Really, what does that even besides slightly more pulse-inducing downtempo composed to moodlight a room rather than illuminate it. Sort of like how my Bob Marley tapestry is bathing me in a yellow glow—it’s not actually useful for seeing anything—just to give my room more character than charcoal blackness (although charcoal blackness is pretty great when I’m vamping the night away). But I’ve never heard a mood record open up with a J. Robert Oppenheimer quote and neither will I opine it. The record is a solid block of mood and Caesar highlights it with Pharrel on “FRONTAL LOBE MUZAK.” Well Pharrel usually is an all-caps affair, but here he’s behind a vocoder, recalling Julian Casablancas’ performance on “Instant Crush” but not absolutely stealing the show—just adding a falsetto that weaves its way from the tree tips to a soft landing on the ground. Perhaps that’s what makes this record such a good study: it’s a routine flight; prepping, launching, landing, cruising as if it already were driven by robots and we were none the wiser. Perhaps that coldness is why I can’t relate to it as much as I want to. Or maybe I’m just letting it stop me.
Peggy Gou – DJ Kicks
Label: !K7 Records
Genre: Mininmal Techno, Deep House
Really, it’s just a high-grade mixtape, a seamless adaptive metapiece on what makes Peggy Gou tick. But look, this isn’t some crazy idea; this is what friends used to make friends—maybe not as smoothly put together—but there’s only “Hungboo” as an original, and yes, I am complaining; Aphex Twin, Black Merlin and Kode 9 might be solid choices to show off your electronic roots (whatever the fuck those are) but I need Peggy to start thinking big: I do not care for what next mix she wants to rock. I want to know is what music she wants to make. Until then Peggy will flag before my preference for Jamie xx, Nicolas Jaar or Moby; they don’t pose behind others’ music, they figure what they want to say and they do it. I can’t tell you how hard I’m waiting for Peggy to make this jump.
Resavoir – Resavoir
Producer: Self-Produced (Will Miller)
Label: International Anthem
Genre: Avant-Garde Jazz, Neo-Psychedelia
I’m guilty, I’m afraid. Guilty of falling into these patterns of enjoying muzak. A crime, if ever there was one, to some critics. And the instrumental souljazz trio/orchestra thing may horrify Wynton Marsalis, but the traditionalists be damned, Jazz is dead. Long live jazz. Avant-garde, too, is just an adjective now and any attempt at Post-Jazz is trying too hard for the same tropisms of Post-Anything. Prefixes are always a persuasion trick. And Resavoir double dips: avant-garde and neo? C’mon Mr. Miller, you compose music for ambiance and I know I just gave good service to this big mood thought for Black Pumas, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves, you’re still a bandleader like any Duke Ellington or Count Basie, you can’t just produce mood, you gotta lead that shit. Otherwise you’re just… Blevans, an assortment of good sounds but with no real weight (not necessarily political edge, but at least some “oof”) behind your music. What I want is some steampowered soul found in the Delvin Lamarr Trio, Charles Bradley and the Menahan Street Band and, if you listen just right, the Budos Band. Your Robert Glasper and Bibio pretensions might prove taste, but when I hear that band, all I want is some style.