Emma Russack – Winter Blues
Producer: John Lee
Label: Universal Music Australia
Emma Russack’s record is fast. So fast, I let it play just about ten times before realizing I was imprinting these cuts on to my head like triggers for a Manchurian Candidate or something. But I digress, these little songs aren’t actual earworms, I can barely hum a tune on the record, they’re just solid 3 minute blocks for your chill out algorithm, an Australian Joni Mitchellite come to tell you you’re not crazy, love is hard, winter is cold, people are flighty. Tautologies, but sometimes a tautology is what you need when things get rough. You might also be wondering why Russack released a record called Winter Blues in the middle of summer, so just a friendly reminder: it’s topsy-turvy down under, they’re experiencing a warmer winter down there right now, global warming and all, and they just reelected a reprehensible Liberal (i.e. conservative) government over a terribly incompetent Labor opposition. What does that have to en lieu of a long-player for interpersonal drags? Possibly nothing, but to say that an apathetic sociopolitical landscape doesn’t seep into the psyche is a claim that one lives in a vacuum. And, I dunno about you, but living in a vacuum would fucking suck. So, for whatever reason, this record is about winter blues and it feels like it.
KOKOKO! – Fongola
Label: Royal Mountain
Genre: Afrosynth, Afropunk
I made up those two genres, I’ll be honest. But, hey, what else is a writer to do when the music presented is such a phenomenon for Talking Heads heads. The instruments are street synthesized, the recordings steal the exclamation point from Wham and place this long-player squarely in the streets of Kinshasa, the city formerly known as Leopoldville, what with Bantu-tree langage that tosses the official, commercial French out the window. Good riddance! That the colonizer’s language can be assumed and warped and mutated to the indigenous use (re Fela Kuti & the Afrika 70 or Tony Allen, for starters) has been established, I don’t need another resumé for how Things Fall Apart. Dear Chinua Achebe, it’s time to bulldoze forward with sound of Africa Future, not Africa Past. KOKOKO! do just that, daring more than even Ibibio Sound Machine’s proficient third record could. Hence the excitement; hence the revolutionary fervor, hence the Afrosynth, hence the Afropunk.
Material Support – Specter (EP)
Producer: Sasha Stroud
10-minutes of pure punk accentuated by an album cover that doesn’t even remotely scream punk, but rather some flowerchild Esmeraldan worldbeat. I guess the punkiest thing a punk could do is subvert expectations, but the music is rather straightforward, what-you-hear-is-what-you-get musicality, and it goes at Tony Molina speed (not tempo or time, just track length) so what do you really have to lose with this EP? 10 minutes?
Moon Honey – Dreamlet
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Greg Saunier
Label: International Anthem
Genre: Dreampop, Psychedelic Rock
I’m not a fan of austerity. As in economics, so in music, austerity relates to me a certain lack of daring or enterprising native to our human nature from the moment a caveman decided to wield fire—of course he would be burned, but he warmed himself anyways. See, austerity ruined Genesis unto pop (ew), it clipped the wings of Animal Collective, it transformed Missy Higgins into Just Another Vocalist, it renders James Blake, Mount Kimbie, Four Tet and Moby remote, distant. It is one of many ways to reduce R&B to just rhythms and beats sans soul. It turns industry into dusty factory muzak, played on the bones of Detroit or whatever other city rusting at the belt buckle of Middle America (or Anglophonia for that matter). This is the chance Moon Honey takes when gambling on a more austere sound for Dreamlet. Dreampop belies this, a sanitary take on shoegaze, when it decides to rear its head without a backup influence to inject some spice into its tofu blandness. I hate the word pop and only acquiesce its presence in dreampop because I’ve yet to find a term that better describes the music (the moment I do, though, I will scrub that shit from my musical lexicon). So Thank God™ that they decide to juice themselves with the occasional lick here or there or I might just have to hate this record when compared to their lo-fi garage psychedelia early work. I kinda still do.
Necking – Cut Your Teeth
Producer: Jesse Gander
Genre: Noise, Post-Punk
This isn’t some simple nooking, necking action, this is full blown biting, hickey hacking at your beloved’s neck. This is 22-minutes of macking, marking, making maroon territories of their skin, right on the line between looooooooove and lust. No surprise they have a playlist filled with the best punk songs for smooching sessions—hell, punks don’t smooch! They bite! They claw! They animalize!—lionizing just what they want their sound to resound: intense red vision revolution (forget about resolution) that, when all done, will leave you like a Werewolf transformed back to human asking colloquially just what the fuck happened.
The Soft Cavalry (Rachell Goswell & Steve Clarke) – The Soft Cavalry
Producer: Michael Clarke
Label: Bella Union
Genre: Dreampop, Indietronica
I suppose we should be grateful that this record is simultaneously less challenging than any Slowdive long-player yet more intriguing than any Mojave 3 product. Melodious and freewheeling, there’s no fear within this package to actually punctuate some notes and write a hook for one sitting, a fulcrum swing from Neil Halstead’s shoegaze sensibility to bury the lede (not that I have room to complain; I do that all the time!). It’s refreshing, a change of pace to hear flutes and keyboards and guitars working together across the cuts like a shoegazing Jethro Tull album. The last time Goswell separated from her pack, it was to double down on a subtle sound without its keen master. If there was a hook in the Mojave 3 oeuvre, then I’ve yet to hear it. As it stands, The Soft Cavalry is damn near chockfull of them. Perhaps that’s all to be asked from husband/wife duo Goswell and Steve Clarke as the press release constates the prolonged development hell for Clarke to finally make this record. Perhaps it’s good enough to make us all believe it was worth the wait. Well, almost, I’ve still yet to administer the sleep test (as I do with any Slowdive record) to figure its capabilities in accompanying a rest, while also remaining a record worth staying awake for. This is only first impressions after all.
Trash Kit (ft. Rachel Aggs) – Horizon
Label: Upset the Rhythm
If this album has you believing that Trash Kit are an upbeat British-form Chastity Belt (or maybe it’s the other way round?) then you just don’t know Sleater-Kinney have inundated us in garage post-punk gals with a bone to pick with the world. For this particular LP Trash Kit is dealing with lo-fi Zimbabwean guitar-based musics that render Horizon into a low-volume afrobeat punk fusion and I’m all here for it. Post-punk predicated itself on a racist premise that it is not influenced by black music, but where’s the fun in that? That’s the rhythmic question Trash Kit ask and I thank them for it. So, sit back, sip your coffee and daydream to the sound of pillow fights and Sunday naps enhanced by some softcore post-punkadelia life-music smashing the whateverarchy one track at a time.
Africa Express – EGOLI
Label: Gqom, Kwaito
Genre: Afrosynth, Afro Futurism
Nuts you say! Another Afrosynth record? Yeah, I didn’t expect it either, but I’m not fighting it. Africa Express being a collective effort of Pan African musicians showcasing their different countries to the world, or at least, that’s what hopeful message I think this collective of auteurs wants us to engage with. And to be frank, I don’t understand how someone doesn’t enjoy African influences across music; when whole cultures use beat to create music, you can be damn sure they’ve got a thing or to add into the ring of rhythmic inventions, devices, ways to pull you in. That said, I’m not quite a fan of Afro Futurism, most house/downtempo cuts just soundtrack spin practice sessions (it’s all about how you use it, sometimes; no spin sessions, no appreciation for lowkey electronic music), but to hell with it: let the musicians musician, I’m curious to hear, to listen to a part of the world I feel we all should know more about. Ah shit, there goes the inspired Ben again, and you know what he’s right, he’s right; don’t call him fucking “woke,” you memeing knuckleheads—his ego doesn’t need that—call him curious. It’ll do more to inspire research, the willingness to engage in dialogue or listen to more Afrosynth, there’s things to learn, friends. And that’s what excites me the most about this long-player, a whole introduction to a South Africa far beyond Johnny Clegg and Savuka.
Blood Orange – Angel’s Pulse
Genre: Alternative R&B, Hypnagogia, Neo-Soul
“My new record is called Angel’s Pulse & I performed, produced, and mixed the entire thing myself. I’m calling it a mixtape… Usually this material is made directly after the album I’ve just put out. Somewhat of an epilogue to the thing I’ve made before.”
So Blood Orange is on script as the hoarding artist of his day, an Emily Dickinson or Ingrès or John Frusciante of hip-hop, settling to just make music for enjoyment rather than a sucker who needs to create for the sake of money. But there are artists who probably do this beyond even our own expectations. Does anyone really doubt that Kevin Parker or Kendrick Lamarr or Daft Punk don’t keep libraries of sounds and loops and samples of their own minds eye: just popping out random ideas to see what tickles the brain in a funny way. And much as they don’t need to release all these sounds, but rather mold them into a gelstat state; as if curating a sonic Louvre with enough elements and wings to keep you coming back to see it all. The sheer size of the collection being a metaphysical comment on that depth of human creativity. I once had the dream of collecting every known piece of released music. People scoffed, I didn’t get it, this Promethean idea; I do know. I like instead to find aural translations to the Orangerie, a bastion of the tableau, gifted from one friend, Claude Monet, to another, Georges Clemenceau, and then displayed for the (paying) public. Cutting out the middleman, that’s what, this mixtape does: Angel’s Pulse reflects a raw Blood Orange that makes Nefertiti Abstract Movie and Apollo XXI seem trite and unambitious, makes Ariel Pink his mentor and confirms Devonté Hynes as a leader in neo-soul: this is Monet at his best; this pure tableau heaven, this is the Orangerie in a mixtape.
Dope Lemon – Smooth Big Cat
Label: BMG (Australia)
Genre: Indie Rock, Neo-Psychedelia
Copy it down: Angus Stone alias Dope Lemon wants you to know he’s a slick as they come. That he’s a rock n’ roller ready to raise the ante as he lowers his voice to the drawl of a black hat cowboy, a Johnny Cash of Neo-Psychedelia of sorts. He assumes we’re not really impressed either, and he’s correct, I’m not exactly impressed that he has a style—if nothing else, having a style should be a bare minimum for surviving this life, even if you don’t agree with some—but I think what really doesn’t impress me much comes after “Lonely Boys Paradise,” Dope Lemon’s swing at a boys-of-summer Eighties hypnagogia, trying hard to merge sentiments of Don Henley with a sonic vaguely becoming of Ariel Pink’s latest work, the album vaguely wanders into some Drugdealer folk-adjacent neo-psych and then harps on that for the rest of the record, only taking time to drop in a shoegazing, “Boys Don’t Cry” interpolated foray for the title track. Either way, on the first listen, this record pitter patter petered out around the halfway mark because smoothtalkin’ your many flaws can only get you so far in your game before the rest of us tune out. But I would like to add a counterpoint: sometimes honesty is a slow burn.
Flower Graves – Living in Disguise
Producer: John Griffin
Genre: Garage Rock, Psychedelic Rock
There’s an element of audaciousness to this still very small and independent psychedelic rock band: “embodied,” “organic,” “studies” are what reads as adverbs/adjectives/advertisements for what is essentially a pluckier, dirtier Temples. Oh sure, they may not be as aged as the Brian Jonhttps://www.reddit.com/r/indieheads/comments/cf9zsc/new_music_friday_july_19th_2019/estown Massacre and leader Anton Newcombe but they do have more of an ear pressed to the ground than most new garagey-psyche wibbly-wobbly bands. If nothing else, I appreciate them in the way I do La Luz: they’ve got your youth culture right here. So take them to the beach, put them on, roll a joint, smoke it, get wet, do the elevator, follow the “Mystic Signs,” have fun and live in disguise. What did they say? Who cares? When did anyone listen to psychedelia for the lyrics anyways?
Gauche – A People’s History of Gauche
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Don Godwin
Gauche being French for left and awkward, maladroit, as it were, which is also French for clumsy. As it were, their sound isn’t exactly clumsy, choral vocalists Adrienne Berry, Mary Jane Regalado, Daniele Yandel and Jason Barret all throwing in their own particular brands of post-punk vocal influence while the music is commercially satisfiable to the term “Truth In Advertising.” There’s something not quite all there, like they’re searching for a breakthrough yet always settling on the mundane. Might also be that, as a post-punk band, six people counts for much, too much. They’re bristling against, time and stylistic constraints to fit six voices into cuts no longer than four minutes and an overall record runtime of 35. Now damnit man, I’m a music writer, not a doctor, but I feel adequately educated enough to tell Gauche to breathe. Let the long player go longer, throw in a seven-minute suite or something, incorporate or efface a couple of the more blitzing tracks (you are a POST-punk band, after all), but don’t just play into our expectations; oftentimes that’s more awkward than swinging big and missing wide.
Girlfriend Material – Cool Car
Producer: Nyles Miszcyck
Label: Dine Alone
Genre: Indie Rock
No one should have to suffer an indie rock record without a banger. It simply would not do, it would hang the petals of the flower, crack the windshield of a car, depress the wings on a hummingbird, pale the blush of a smile. It would break my friend Drew’s heart, were Girlfriend Material impotent providers of the basic requirement for any indie rock band trying to breakout: the slapper. Or maybe it would, I’ve yet to talk to him about it. But in conversation, there is no world where he doesn’t mention a song that slaps in endearing fashion. Unendearingly, I feel this is where most people, including myself, confuse the terms good piece/cut/song and good record/album/long-player. And I’ll stop any nerds before they point it out: I don’t care if most critics use record in the former group, a record is short for record album in my mind, thus it belongs in the latter. And still we confuse good cuts for good https://www.reddit.com/r/indieheads/comments/cf9zsc/new_music_friday_july_19th_2019/records. Sometimes it really does only take one-cut to make the rest of your record glow sheen. Remember Post Animal’s “Ralphie?” Remember Catfish and the Bottlemen’s “7”? You ready to start remembering literally any Fray record? Any Matchbox 20 record? There was no used to be, this culture has been around since before you and I were probably born. And I’m pretty sure “Deep V” is just another form in today’s garb from now to the future.
Khruangbin – Hasta El Cielo
Producer: Self-Produced (Bonus tracks produced by Scientist)
Label: Dead Oceans
Genre: Dub, Downtempo
Khruangbin’s first and second records were some serious moodblocks. Forty-minutes of lofi study psych each, with the first record edging out the second in terms of catchiness and repeatability. Unfortunately, Con Todo El Mundo slept a little too hard, so it was hard not to sleep through it, rather than actually engage with it. Which is fine when the long-player has revolved the mind for the umpteenth time, not so good when it’s your third listen and you already need a moment to rest. That said, it had still its moments, “Evan Finds the Third Room” being one of them and Hasta El Cielo is an essay for finding that punch in other genre forms, hence the major dub reworking of the record. So for the majority of this record, I’d like to say they’ve reformed one middling moodblock into a solid one, replete with reverbing, splashing synths, punchy Donald John’s percussion (forget about drum kits), Laura Lee and Mark Speer pickathoning away in the background, all working for a gestalt that is touched far more often here than on its original incarnation, only really petering out to dreamland by record’s end. The Scientist’s redubs stir me from my stupor, but only enough to say this: I’ve yet to hear a dub infused rock song I didn’t like, hell, take away Mighty High and I struggle to like Govt Mule for anything else. The extra low frequency hum really giving credence to Meghan Trainor, esq.: sometimes, it really is all about that bass.
Tijuana Panthers – Carpet Denim
Producer: Johnny Bell
Label: Innovative Leisure
Genre: Garage Rock, Surf Rock
This was a methodic record, says the press release, and considering I haven’t listened to Tijuana Panthers ever (this is first impressions, y’all!), I wouldn’t be able to tell you how a record plumbfull of three-minute surf rock tracks is any different from their previous records plumbfull of three-minute surf rock tracks, other than a cleaner, sleeker sound. Methodical really just means you’ve had more time for polish and no, I’m not calling this record a turd, just… manicured. There’s a surf boogie to it, sure, there’s some stomp in there, somewhat of a woodstained boardwalk version of the Black Keys, perfect for a band that comes from Long Beach. But I also hate Los Angeles with a fiery passion only matched by the scene in 2012 when John Cusack watches the city slide into the sea like a modern-day Atlantis, so I guess I should hate these guys on principle. I don’t, really, because I assume before this sparkly little thing, they had a propensity to write about the underbelly of Hollywood, California, palm trees, unbalanced budgets, Minnie Mouse the nightowl, Arnold the Governator etc., and not this serendipitous Disneyland ditziness that the sonic of this formulaic Carpet Denim record portends. It’s too clean to be garage rock and I’m prejudiced against it for that very reason.
Chris LaRocca – Saudade EP
Label: Little Italy
Genre: Alternative R&B
Saudade, as it can best be translated, relates from Portuguese an intense sadness, longing and melancholy wrapped into one word and punctuated by a national sentiment of decline diametrically in opposition to the idea of American Exceptionalism. In Portugal this semantic theme is transformed to an emotive, musical one: fado, the folk music of Portugal, is all about the saudade. So much so, the Portuguese will tell you any foreigner’s attempts might be technically sound but still a pale imitation of the fadistas who walk the streets of Lisboa at night; amateurs they might be, but to a Portuguese listener, an amateur with saudade will always outshine a professional without. And when it comes to LaRocca’s newest extended-player, Saudade, he might be a sugar-tongued MC across all seven cuts, but it don’t mean a thing if it doesn’t have that sting. Saudade might be too lofty a goal to achieve in just an EP. Especially when the potential for intercultural flavour is drained in front of the omnipotent Toronto Sound machine (c’mon, LaRocca, not even a little guitarrista lick here or there?). Seems like if I want the real thing modernized, I’ll just have to stick to Mariza, Gisela João or Ana Moura.
The Dead Sound – Cuts
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Christian Bethge
Label: Crazysane Records
Genre: Post-Punk, Dreampop
I love the word cuts. As a loquacious writer, I can’t help but enjoy when my sentences start to condense. To grow terse. To cut. Sure, longer sentences can draw out extended ideas and horrors. But nothing can make you scream like a small, deep cut. It’s probably why, when other people think about Cat Steven’s “First Cut is the Deepest” as a love song to a person, I think of it as a love song to a song. Think about it, what was the first song that ever cut you to the emotional bone in one fell stroke? Now imagine that feeling everytime I listen to Rod Stewart’s version, eschewing the chamber musicality in favour of (somehow) lighter string sections, keyboards and horns which transplant any reason I had to its knees. But what does this all have to do with Karl Brausch’s project, The Dead Sound? Well, when you title a record Cuts, I’m hoping that the music really does wound me (I know, I’m sick), if nothing else because then I’ll know you meant it. Coexist is a record that did this; immediately the heartbeat on “Sunset” shackles me in stereo. On Cuts, however, I’m still struggling to find the jagged ends to this droning new wave krautrock. Some records are like that, I know Kelly would be citing Loveless back to front right now, were I to relate the fact. Right now however, The Dead Sound are paired with Rendered Armor, influenced by a subset of new wave I am not especially fond for, but am nonetheless curious of.
The Flaming Lips – King’s Mouth: Music and Songs
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Dennis Coyne and Scott Booker
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Psychedelic Rock
Human society builds up images, it’s what we do. Ever since the first caveman crushed pigments and etched them on the sides of the Lascaux caves. I often wonder what the first reaction this piece of prehistory most have been. Did the first caveman lose their shit at the idea that a drawing looked like his tribe, that the idea of a mammoth could be transmitted visually? Or did Og decide this was all very unimpressive and grunted that they still needed to go hunting, simultaneously becoming both the first cave art critic and the inventor of the phrase: “get a real job, pal.” I digress, our modern neanderthal society has come to invert—to a degree—the idea of image-buiding, not only do we build images of society, but we build images of ourselves. Every Kanye West episode both showcases his worldview and his self-perception, every new indie rock band needs a brand manager as much as it needs an album and while agents aren’t new, self-agency is; it’s never been easier to set one’s image in stone (a bad idea if there ever was one). Thus Wayne Coyne, the alternative rock beau ideal; the eccentric with unparalleled longevity, who, along with Michael Ivins, has come to outlast ‘em all via chameleon interests. You honestly can’t blame him for presenting himself the John Williams of psychedelic rock in when King’s Mouth plays like the soundtrack to a Wes Anderson space rock opera. You also can’t really fault this record for being relatively muted—there are no absolutely bonkers moments, just incredibly emotive scenes breathing heavy on the Spiritualized juices, were any other band to release such a record, it would hail a masterpiece—instead, I commend it on being a solid project, a story sufficiently silly (as I can gather, a giant cosmic infant becomes king) and an ending adequately satisfying. This is no great work of art, but like the Lascaux Caves, I find myself attached to how honestly the story weaves the record together.
Kit Sebastian – Mantra Moderne
Label: Mr Bongo
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Anatolian Rock,
Anatolian Rock is the ultimate lounge music. Sixties jetset written all over it, the music of the playboy in his Monte Carlo suite, on his riviera-cruising boat, his backroad carving Ferrari. Whether Kit Sebastian know this or not is irrelevant, because what they have crafted here is 36-minutes of Anglo-Turkish nirvana, touched with tropicalia, trip hop, French yéyé and jazzmatic expressions. The lofi dervish of ouds, cuicas, tablas, darblukas, balalaikas and a Farfisa organ whizzing through the ariwaves crafts something that souljazz struggles with: authenticity. Were there a counter-culture timepiece film set in Istanbul, 1967, this pairing of Kit Martin and Merve Erdem would have the soundtrack covered. Written and recorded in 12 hour straight-to-tape sessions, I really can’t remember listening to a record that was so well tuned on the fly. As it stands, Kit Sebastian surpassed any expectations I had.
The Liza Colby Sound – Object to Impossible Destination
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Oh Baby
Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Rock
For 10 years, The Liza Colby Sound have cultivated an underground reputation for performance akin to Tina Turner on Zeppelinite Ice. James Brown battering himself like Iggy Pop. Anthemic is just the byword of Liza Colby’s sound. Livewire might also apply. But this is a problem as much as it is a boon: it’s a rare thing for the liveshows and the records to stay at par. For them to somehow matchup. I know Deadheads are wont to collect the original records, but why? Stick to the live records, that’s where the magic happens; and I give the same advice to Liza Colby fans: her records will never sound like the real thing. So instead of spending your money on Object to Impossible Destination, wait for the live record, even better, wait till she’s in town, then go hog wild with all your fantasies of erstwhile era-living. You might just get your money’s worth. If you’re diehard, however, well, I can’t stop you.
Message to Bears – Constants
Genre: Ambient, Folktronica
I read ambient post-rock on the indieheads thread and instantly thought: “Oh, like Sigur Rós, should be interesting.” Instead what we have here is an even more ambient Bibio. The latter being an already intensely meditative music well suited for my former Yoga professor’s purposes, this dials it to negative three. I can already feel that yogi shiver creep down my spine as I type and I know this was made to put my restless mind to ease. Hard pass. I’ll meditate to some nutty shred instead. Oh, and to qualify what constitutes a negative eleven: complete and utter silence.
Sungaze – Light in All of It
Label: 779856 Records DK
Genre: Shoegaze, Americana
Sungaze is perhaps a good way to describe this band. This is shoegaze made for Apache Deserts and Canyonland ranges. Cowboy daydreams, come alive for a walk between the mesas. All that pensive American romanticism of the west that cityslickers can only imagine with our vocabulary of drones, whirs and whizzes. Horns and beeps and scores of percussive bleats. It’s not exactly as compelling as the imagery of the sun rising for Forrest Gump’s country run but Sungaze’s metaphors are there: timbre heavy yet oddly, chorally melodic, a weird thttps://www.reddit.com/r/indieheads/comments/cf9zsc/new_music_friday_july_19th_2019/echnological ersatz substituted for what folksters would consider Americana. You might be forgiven to think this is music for the long exodus among the redrock formations arching the Earth like scared pylons if only for the way the cuts drag out the mind like a small dose of mescaline (Shoegaze is a subgenre of psychedelia after all). But to fall back on an adage: all good music is psychedelic. But I have to ask, if this debut long-player is trying hard to stretch my brain back on itself, is it any good at doing so, or is it just tiring me out?
By and By – Caamp
Label: Mom + Pop
Genre: Indie Folk, Americana
I dig Americana. I dig the fact that the name of this genre is a completely manufactured devise to describe artsy-fartsy folk-roots. I dig the fact that out of all folk genres, it has the greatest anthemic and roots-rock proclivities. Bluesy, but not too much so, Americana is the folk equivalent of pico de gallo: plenty of vegetables and flavour, but no spice. While watching the Grateful Dead documentary, former tour manager Sam Cutler depicted the story of the Grateful Dead as “a quest to find America” while also plain stating that shit would never fly in his home country of Great Britain. And he’s absolutely right: one of America’s favourite things to do is to pack it up and hit the road; you don’t even need a car, just start running. And for most Americans, to “find America” is to find oneself or somesuch new-age credo for self-discovery. Hence Caamp’s By and By. To be fair, Caamp’s story doesn’t much leave Ohio. But the principal remains even if the distance doesn’t change, if Americana is about finding America is about finding yourself, then Caamp presents a solid block of introspective story-telling about growing-up, coming-of-age, finding-your-stride, looking-ahead, remembering-what’s-behind etc. set to popular themes of folk music (banjo solos, deep guitars, raspy Dylanesque lyrics, light gospel) that make you b’lieve that you can create cultural artifacts out of whatever you can find.
Chance the Rapper – The Big Day
Genre: Hip-Hop, Contemporary R&B
Consider it irony: this is Chancellor Bennet III’s debut record, but it doesn’t feel like it. For Chance’s Coloring Book, there was almost no difference between calling it a mixtape or a record. A mixtape being a compilation of songs without singular purpose, Coloring Book, for all intents and purposes, was a debut record. It had purpose: within the long-player, Chance shed his skin as the silly, high school prodigy and emerged a deeply complex artist. If 10 Day was the pluckiness of prep school and Acid Rap was the fugue of college, then Coloring Book was more a graduation then The Big Day itself. The latter sounding like a step backwards to that mixtape philosophy of general assembly; finding whatever slight melody works, spitting bars over it and then releasing it to the stans without filter or fanfare. Really, this record was dropped like a mixtape, there was only one month of preparation for all of us to wrap our head around it: Chance was officially going official… er. And while I much appreciate Chance sticking to his gospel all the same, I still think he lowballed his own skill. I’m not asking the man to be perfect and deliver a five-star record, but (if you’ll indulge this cliché) with Acid Rap and Coloring Book being in a scrap fight for the title of his best project, I was really hoping to see a third contender enter the ring. Instead, we have an undercard, a record that I might enjoy in highlights, but never in full, and for my listening habits, that may as well mean this record never existed.
Cuco – Para Mi
Genre: Alternative R&B, Hypnagogia
I have resolved to rename hypnagogic pop to hypnagogia in a move consistent with my relabeling of fresh psychedelic pop to neo-psychedelia. This is the only way to maintain sanity when your mind refuses to believe pop is a genre. Because it isn’t. Because pop would be dishonest to Cuco, who fuses Chicano with modern R&B and inducing the fugue between conscious and unconscious—the feeling that the eyes will imprint the top of the skull; I used to play with this state of (un)consciousness in high school all the time. The memorable part was when I shook back awake with a nervous twitch and my eyeballs were pried from the bone like a dried egg on a wall. This was a feeling I thought was only for me. The interlude state that I found most compelling between point A and point B. Which might explain why I found “Brokey the Pear” to be a most delectable little piece. That or because it tastes like a canned pear covered in sugar. One of the two. Thus, the relatability of Cuco’s wackiness finding me simpatico, I like the rest of the record immensely. But, like dreams, I can’t remember it as well as the uncanny sensation of almost falling asleep. And this record is full of the uncanny.
De Lorians – De Lorians
Label: Beyond Beyond is Beyond
Genre: Progressive Rock, Jazz Fusion
I am a walking contradiction: I have an irrational love for John Coltrane’s work. But I only have two of his records on vinyl* (one-and-a-half, technically, the half is a Coltrane/Monk concert). I am only interested in Miles Davis. Yet I hoard Miles Davis records. Bitches Brew is one of those records. I have not listened to it in a great deal of time; but I still think of it as a challenging, intriguing piece of work that only boosts in opinion (though never surpassing Nefertiti or Filles de Kilimanjaro). I do the same with any Marc Chagall piece: on viewing, it is ugly and blotchy, seemingly random. But on memory, it is surreal, a cherry to impressionist memories. This seems practical to me: separation breeds affection. So, De Lorians and their self-titled record have a good shot to earn my unremitting appraisal in four years, give or take. Right now, however, I’ve only listened to the record but a couple times and it’s not nearly enough. Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion are genres that provide much bluster in the name of art, sometime so much so they obscure themselves from their own point. I am still uncertain as to whether De Lorians has a point. I am willing to say it doesn’t need one. But I am most definite in saying the Back to the Future pun is appreciated.
Florist – Emily Alone
Producer: Self-Produced (Emily Sprague)
Label: Double Double Whammy
Genre: Indie Folk, Singer-Songwriter
Normally, Florist are a three-piece indie chamber band. Normally, they would work collaboratively to make a release, as any normal group. Normally, their albums are hairline lush; music as a simulacrum for the mundane, like the act of driving your car to and from work. On Emily Alone, it is just Emily Sprague, alone. Using her band name to release what is a solo record. And on first lesson, it passes the Julien Baker test. It passes the Hand Habits test. But I don’t really care for it to pass this test because I find this sadgirl music to be entirely depressing in a way that makes it unrelatable. Why this is, I don’t know, but I suspect it’s the same reason one would find most of Turn Out The Lights or Wildly Idle punishingly unmoving: I find the vocals airy and ethereal to a degree that renders them both emotionally unavailable and structurally unreliable. When the melodies are sparse, I want vocals that are stable and solid. Hence my adoration for the xx. Yes, yes Romy Madley Croft is also emotionally unavailable, but at no point does her voice fade out of the mix—not even on I See You—I can count on it to point-counterpoint the melodic devices which fall in and out of focus. After listening to Emily Alone a couple of times, I grant its devastation, but I can’t feel it. And I want to feel it.
Four Tet – Live at Alexandra Palace
Kieran Hebden (dit Four Tet) has carved out a space in the modern house landscape thanks to their seeming “quiet-is-loud” microscopic sound ) alongside such acts as SUBTRKT, Caribou, Mount Kimbie, James Blake et al. However, where SUBTRKT and Caribou and so on may sound like your average wallpaper sounds, Four Tet has stumbled into common critical appraisal for his intelligence and wry approach to electronic music. Intelligent Dance Music, that is. A bunch of bullshit, that is. There’s nothing inherently smarter Microhouse, about one EDM genre over any other, not unless you want to sound elitist; there is such a thing as trite genres, however and sometimes, it’s hard to discern a purpose for SUBTRKT that doesn’t involve my eyes firmly being shut. Four Tet has ventured into such spaces before with New Energy and Morning/Evening, but these all seem like exercises in meditative calmness when viewed retrospectively. What Live at Alexandra Palace does most basically then, is prove that Four Tet can be a rousing live act. That his style of DJing industrial sound into downtempo and deep house ecosystems can set a crowd a light. And so as far as I am concerned, this is a live record done well, able to transmit both the music at high quality and the live atmosphere with affirmed validity.
Of Monsters and Men – FEVER DREAM
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Rich Costey
Genre: Indie Rock, Dance Rock
Wild speculation time: I wonder how much an artist fears to be bottled into a Mumford and Sons situation. To be a band so predictable, their formulas have been broken down into memeform and then derided at just a tier under Nickelback or Imagine and Dragons, but still a tier above Dave Matthews Band. Concrete belief: I don’t think this has anything to do with FEVER DREAM wherein Of Monsters and Men are ready to make sonic leaps. See, our Icelandic folk wunderkinds have finally broken with their rootsy anthemics to release a punched-up danceable affair for a third record. And it’s only for their benefit: classically, the third record is all about the break with form, the quintessential search for a depth of skill whether lyric, rhythmic or melodic. Of course, some things never last and others should not, as all things must change and while the music has shifted form and the lyrics have grown more pointed (something to really kick out the jams, as it were), I find it all very dull and faceless; I must admit to having fallen in love with the duets between Raggi and Nanna’s, the constant back-and-forth between lovesick birds chirping and twittering and responding to each the others’ many idiosyncrasies, terrors, follies and so on. Not much of that here, but I suppose if it were, we’d all be cracking jokes about the clairvoyance required to dissect a song by Of Monsters and Men, and I just couldn’t do that to them.