Bag Raiders – Horizons
Label: Universal Music Australia
Genre: Dance, Electropop
Australian duo Bag Raiders have heard enough of me japing about their memed existence. So really what do we have here on Horizons? Who did they make this music for, the club or the home? Well, ostensibly, tracks like “How Long,” “Wild At Heart,” and “Back to Myself,” the three main cuts of this record, could all stand a club remix. And there’s plenty of parts in this record which maintain EDM integrity; breakbeat intros, bass and drum slaps, tropical house tempo, a topical fixation on love. And I don’t care how much artists comment on the polychromatic subject, but sometimes there really are only so many ways you can skin a cat. But eh, there’s my problem with a whole subset of music rather than just Bag Raiders. Yet it is also a problem I have with this record: the parts suggest so much more than the lyrics deliver. And I know sometimes most people don’t listen to the lyrics and I know I don’t hear every lyric on first go, but damnit, why should keep tuning in when people are gonna bleat on about the found love, the lost love, the broken love, the rebuilt love, the love that binds, the love the envies, the love that kisses, the love that stalks, the love that isn’t love at all and the love that blah blah blah blah blahs.
Bat for Lashes – Lost Girls
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Charles Scott IV
Genre: Electropop, Synthwave
At first note of Natasha Khan’s voice of this record, I had to ask does she sound very much like HAIM or does HAIM very much mimic her? Well she does very much remind me of the sisters indie, but this is all coincidental; Lost Girls just calls for a much huskier, darker tone of voice than any of Khan’s previous efforts as Bats for Lashes. The Bride and certainly The Haunted Man were airy, not necessarily uplifting, but uplifted. Lost Girls brings us back down to Earth, a cyberpunking, synthwaving earth, mind you, but Earth nonetheless. If you’ve followed her career since Fur and Gold, you’d know too that’s she’s played with the Goth angle of electropop for just over a decade, but now instead of whisking and fretting over insomnia and boys, she’s gone for a Banarama meets Kate Bush empowerment angle for the Lost Girls of a gender-bent Neverland led by Tiger Lily. But really she’s just flicking through the pages of Eighties synthwave artists, drinking in the Banarama, the Cyndi Lauper, and the Blue Nile while indulging classics like the Cure and Kate Bush to craft her most listenable record yet.
Blushing – Blushing
Producer: Elliott Frazier
Genre: Dreampop, Shoegaze
If you’ve been following the Total Trash podcast, you’d know my friend Kelly is a grand fan of My Bloody Valentine, sealed in ink, and an even bigger proponent for listening to their magnum opus Loveless. I’ve yet to do that, but I’ve undoubtedly listened to a great deal of records influenced by the whole shoegaze movement. Blushing is one of those records. If nothing else because on their biography they reference Lush, The Sundays, Cocteau Twins and My Bloody Valentine without much prompting. Dual bandleaders Michelle Soto and Christina Carmona (reader’s note: now that’s a fucking rock and roll name) had been honing their skills in Austin, prepping for his record with EP’s Tether and Weak and I’m pleased to say Blushing features no repeats; it’s all new material. Moreover, they blur that line between dreampop and shoegaze to their benefit, because that line is already blurry as is. The general consensus being that dreampop is a more synthesizer heavy version of shoegaze. Either way, this is top form feel-it-not-hear-it, drool-on-your-shoes music and it’s a goddamn shame they only have a hair over 4,000 followers. Where are all these shoegaze fans I keep hearing about? They must be dreamin’.
Australia might be my favourite music making continent right now. If somebody said rock n’ roll was dead, point to the various bands coming out of the Land Down Under as proof: rock still lives. Yes, their government might decidedly be all cock n’ balls and no brains (Anglophones assemble!), but that’s because the smarts are firmly in other industries, such as music. Psychedelic Rock, Post-Punk, Electronic (in all its forms, really) the Australians are at the forefront of the global music industry. Thanks to the internet, their audience expanded past a piece of 20 million to smorgasbord of billions for potential listeners. And that gives us bands like EXE, ready to make amends for their underextended pose for a long-player (A Casual Assembly is as advertised length-wise) by releasing this 37-minute reach for paradise between two genres: Krautrock and Post-Punk. It’s all very mechanical, dare I say German, Authobahnesque to a point I find hilarious considering Australian freeways are lined with speed cameras. But consider this: IDLES have proven that the market for industrial ambience and punk have some merit for discussing post-post-post-post-post-modernist themes. So why not post-punk? The first three tracks, “Hobbyist” “Lobbyist” and “Commercial” are a bit hard for the hard of hearing, was the music intended to say more than the words? I suppose so, but “How the Curve Helps” is perhaps worth the admission price, moving somewhere between Bauhaus and David Bowie circa The Man Who Sold The World.
Frankie Cosmos – Close It Quietly
Label: Sub Pop
I’m much a fan of this general movement of female singer-songwriters posing under their indie outfits (as long as they don’t dabble in sadgirl acoustics), if nothing else because that’s what the boys have been doing since forever. I’m not much a fan, however, of the Tony Molina style for songwriting. Short compositions can be great thoughts, but I’d hardly call them songs, maybe more like isolated movements. Shocker, longwinded writer showcases distaste for brevity. Oh the romantic in me dies hard for the variated medley, not just the single melody, and he wants to speak and speak and speak on that point. But bandleader Greta Kline has shown no sign of giving up on her fleeting thoughts—she’s just written more: 21 pieces to fill 39 minutes, as it were—and I suppose she has more of a grasp on the new millennium attention-span, you’ve got 2 minutes to prove your point, no more. So Frankie Cosmos has written a sort of concept record for all those afflicted with a serious case ADHD. The songs are interchangeable and the record itself plays like an extended suite broken down its parts and parcels. And when I think about it that way, it becomes a much more palatable experience.
Guaxe – Guaxe
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Tropicalia
Guaxe is as it’s name sounds: babble. And the eponymous debut of this tropicalia psychedelic rock band doesn’t do much to change that, nor do I think they really have to. It’s 27 minutes of blues, psych and tropics, it’s Os Mutantes playing “When the Levee Breaks,” it doesn’t overextend its stay—once again, only 27 minutes means you have limited time to overexpose (and please, don’t try to prove me wrong on this)—it’s healthy enough a runtime to be marked and short enough to be a blip. Personally, I like this marked blip. And I keep forgetting how much I enjoy the rockier moments of this record. No doubt, both Sid Barrett and Ariel Pink would enjoy this record, hell there are times where I’m wondering if Guaxe found old Bowie demos from The Man Who Sold the World. And I’ll be honest, I really like that.
L’épée – Diabolique
Label: a Records
Genre: Psychedelic Rock
It was an old friend from my college fraternity that opened me to the mind of Anton Newcombe when he passed along Musique de film imaginé and asked if I could translate the title. As far as first translation jobs go, it was quite easy. As far as records go, it was an ambient attempt at yéyé. Fit for purpose as the soundtrack to a post-industrial social commentary rendered on 35 mm film and directed by François Truffaut, naturally. And naturally, it was that Mr. Newcombe would be interested by la psychedelie française; current psychedelic practices are all about the pitter patter water sounds you can’t hear and French is all about the sounds you don’t say. Parfait exemple: L’épée is a contraction of “Le” (pron. Luh) and épée (pron. Ep-ey) but is pronounced like “lep-ey” rather than “luh ep-ey.” And while that’s an easy one, try as I might, French lyrics still sound like greek to me. I’m picking out words, which means Emannuelle Seigner’s efforts on this record are all still sweet sounds while The Limiñanas, Lionel & Marie and Newcombe craft this long-player into an altogether Anglophonic sonic. You’ll find more references to the Kinks, the Troggs and Link Wray, hell, more Maghrebin percussion and shoegaze, than you’ll find references to Mr. Hallyday or Marie Laforet. Still, the mod rock, shoegaze and French paroles check my boxes. I just wish they checked ‘em in permanent ink.
Lower Dens – The Competition
Label: Ribbon Music
The latest product from Lower Dens represents a natural trajectory for the band, which has been edging away from their lo-fi alternative sensibilities towards snappy eighties synthwave since the debut. Now Jana Hunter just looks like Annie Lennox with a diet of pure Bangles and Fine Young Cannibals, upbeat but still terminating with all that techno menace. As it were, the record is an adjacent release to Natasha Khan’s Lost Girls and will make anyone missing that synthesizer heavy, dance-lite new wavery happy. Good deal, my mother’s been wearing out her copy of Dare for a while now.
Mermaidens – look me in the eye
Label: Flying Nun
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Alternative Rock
I was ready to roll my eyes at “Crying in the Office,” the last thing I needed in life was the sadgirl music to begin overwhelming the neo-psychedelic basis of this record. No don’t hate me, because my distaste for sad girl/boy music does not mean I think artists can not make depressing music, they just need to master it better and work with different aspects of the emotion, rather than sticking on the one note “woe is me” routine which belies a certain sparseness. Yes, yes, the lack of melody is meant to be some contrarian phrase, a point of order that sometimes the music doesn’t play, but after twelve cuts?1? You’re bleeding my dry here. So with that, yes I twinged with pain on the opening track of look me in the eye, you might even say I was triggered. But press on and it all falls away, the second instrumental on “Crying in the Office” pulls out more than whatever hypnagogia could give you. Neo-psychedelia sure, indie rock no, garage rock yes. By “bastards” they are out and out snarling with PJ Harvey, forget about Cat Power and Warpaint, however healthy their influence is throughout the record, because the real interesting parts on this long-player happen when vocalists Gussie Larkin and Lily West start growling and playing and railing against an office that did them wrong.
Moonchild – Little Ghost
Label: Entertainment One Music
Genre: Neo-Soul, Downtempo
Earlier this year I saw J-Calvin, a small independent souljazz troupe from Colorado, live at Oregon Country Fair touting J-Dilla-type beats and a sense for all things smooth. Their lead singer even sounded like Esperanza Spalding, while fulfilling a role akin to Billie Holiday in Count Basie’s orchestra of swing. Well, if you switched J-Calvin’s Heart Glow with Moonchild’s Little Ghost no one would be able to say it sounds like a different genre. Which bodes well for J-Calvin; they have a sound adjacent to Moonchild. Except for one thing: Moonchild is a little more expansive. It’s not just about the neo-soul ballads or the percussion clicks, but just the fact that Moonchild have been in this game a bit longer, their sound is honed, their name is easier to recognize. I could call J-Calvin muzak and it might taint how you hear their sound, I call Moonchild muzak and, what, is that the worst I really can do? Little Ghost would shrug it right off and keep singing, keep putting people into its relaxed dreamy stasis just fine, and I would just sound like Wynton Marsallis with a bad attitude and no horn.
Octo Octa – Resonant Body
Label: T4T LUV NRG
Genre: Deep House, Breakbeat
It must be said, or perhaps it will be said, a good breakbeat cut is worth its weight in drum machines. Something about filtered percussion slicing into the time signature of a deep house record is beyond gorgeous. And for me it’s the missing piece to good electronic music. Octo Octa figures out what Avalon Emerson, Daphni, hell, even Peggy Gou cannot seem to grasp: deep house is only so much of a genre and there’s only so much a single genre can do for a long-player before making it stale. Resonant Body even passes the sleep test, which is how I grade all good electronic music—the beats and rhythms should pet the cerebral stem till hair stands on end as you sleep. This record does that, mostly, ok so “Spin Girl, Let’s Activate!” might be the one exception, but fuck me, if this record aspired to be a SUBTRKT effort I think I’d venture for death rather than suffer a boredom under the eyelids rather than tessellate wonderland tales of a deep sleep with good soundtracks that include Jamie xx’s In Colour, Against All Logic’s 2012-2017 or Octo Octa’s Resonant Body.
Secret Shame – Dark Synthetics
Producer: Ricky Olson
Genre: Post-Punk, Darkwave
You know, when I popped on this record, I expected to hear some sort of umbrous undertow, some sort of abstract menace that made good scary Cure records and was the modus operandi for groups like paranoid android Radiohead or the too-cool-to-be-emo Gorillaz. But darkwave consistently fails to deliver my inner existential Joy Divisions. I ask you: can someone cut happiness in half with portents of climate annihilation or wondering of World War III? Perhaps, but if you really want to gouge your own enjoyment of life in general, find the worst darkwave possible, SoundCloud highly recommended. The internet, ladies and gentlemen. It’s not that I hate the genre, I just despise it’s emphasis on everything Bauhausian rather than venturing out to something more. They don’t even need to reach too far; anything by the Cure would do. Synthesizers are all well and good, but when was the last time you thought about the jazz piano riff on the end of “Every Planet We Reach is Dead?” That’s right: never. And you should have, because it’s these small moments in between your normal sound that provide evidence for an artist’s place among the essential. I never hear that in darkwave, no one has the stomach to use something other than Roland 808’s and fucking Rhodes pianos for forty minutes! Not even Depeche Mode had the nerve to do this. So, I put on Secret Shame’s Dark Synthetics because I thought the post-punk advertisements would save me.
They did not. They made 27 minutes feel like an hour.
Charli XCX – Charli
Label: Asylum Records UK
Genre: Electropop, Bubblegum Bass, Dance
Much ado about the deconstructed-prefix craze that artists like Blanck Mass and Beat Detectives take this year. Random instrumentation seems to have brought back the thrill for these guys and in the case of Flume, a certain degree of recuperated critical respect. But here we have Charli XCX declaring “it’s all electropop to me” on her latest LP, Charli. And no, I’m not saying she made a deconstructed record and didn’t know it. I’m saying deconstructed house as a genre and particularly it’s status as a style en vogue means that when I hear Charli get a little weird with it, I have the reflex to think “oh deconstructed!” Bad habits die hard they say. And so do long albums. And this album is long, including HAIM and Lizzo, Charli’s accumulated quite the number of features: Clairo, Yaeji, Sky Ferreira, Troye Sivan, the list goes on. And while I may have found the HAIM feature forgettable and the Lizzo feature neither here nor there, I did enjoy Sivan’s work on “2099.” Because frankly, it was getting hard not to tune out by the midway point, she’s flipping through this features and her own songs like dusty vinyls in the recent arrivals bin and it sounds like sensory overload. Too much, too fast, too long; a hard sell, even for me.
Devendra Bahart – Ma
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Indie Folk
It seems to me that this man likes Leonard Cohen, and I’m not saying that because he helped produce a Leonard Cohen cover album if my Wikipedia research is to be believed. It’s because you listen to this man’s voice and you can’t help but hear a lighter version of that gravelly, two cigarettes and a bottle of whiskey drawl of Leonard Cohen. Maybe he only smokes one cigarette. Or maybe he forgoes the whiskey. Who knows. But if Ma is light on the substances, it’s not light on the substance, nor the worldliness. Which some people might scoff at, “worldliness” often does get twisted into a fake sense of substance. But I trust that a man who moved to Paris to kickstart his career will have some degree of worldliness. Anyways who the fuck am I to judge his character? Dude sounds like Leonard Cohen and has delivered a solid folk record for your lazy Sunday. For the people who enjoy music as a textural wallpaper, that’s more than enough.
Djo (Joe Keery) – Twenty Twenty
Genre: Indie Rock, Psychedelic Rock
It took some time for me to be brave enough to attack this record. The weeks before putting it on felt like a death knell. Was I actually going to dislike Steve Harington again? Associated act Post Animal has kind of experienced the slow death of having a good record for a year and then slowly being tuned out for other artists and I fear that this would happen with Keery’s artistic pseudo “Djo.” However, there were glaring items for why When I Think of You In A Castle found itself listing despite being a solid debut. One, it repeats itself by record’s end, two the influences were quite static. Only so much can be written vis-a-vis your Black Sabbath, King Gizzard, Ty Segall influences and the like. So what’s a poor Djo to do? Create the recorded sound of Tame Impala, Rupert Holmes and ELO having a baby of course. Really, you’d never see the Pina Colada guy coming, and the moment your realize “Personal Lies” sounds like a recharged slice of Partner In Crime, you begin to laugh. Djo might be dressed in a trench coat and sunglass—mustachioed to boot—but he knows how to have fun. And no matter the subject matter on this record, he’s having fun for a solid hour.
Jerkcurb – Air Con Eden
Label: Handsome Dad Records
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Hypnagogia
I listened to this record with my dog.
No seriously, we sat on the couch, I put this record on and we just chilled. And I’ll be honest, this is how I’ve wanted to experience every Beirut record ever. But the sonic just isn’t there sometimes. And if you want to know what soulcrushing disappointment is like, it’s wanting to like an artist and not being able. Hence Air Con Eden, which is your latest Avey/Pink disciple disc out this month, putting you in between states of consciousness and soundtracking your lazy afternoon. Maybe him and Bahart should get a room.
KAZU (of Blonde Redhead) – Adult Baby
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Greg Saunier, Ryuichi Sakamoto
Label: Adult Baby?
Genre: Indie Folk, Folktronica
Kazu Makino decided here to make an ambient folktronica record much on a similar path as Blonde Redhead’s last record, Barragan, which featured her voice heavily while keeping catchy melodic phrases to a minimum. For Adult Baby, she has shed the melodies almost completely in favour of sculpting out sonic entirely based on her breathing pattern. Ethereal is an understatement. And it all seems a bit weird for, to my ears, sounds like a long-player of adult lullabies, a record meant to put people to sleep. Not because this is new, mind you, Cross Record pushed such an idea to new heights lows with their eponymous junior effort and Emily Cross’ other project, Loma, dabbles in the remains of Blonde Redhead b-sides quite frequently to great effect. But because of how a child’s lullaby is founded upon a solid but soothing melody while music like Emily Cross’ is hydrophobically melody-averse. But that’s Emily Cross, and this Kazu Makino, who deals in much softer and less apocalyptic flavours even when steering clear of overt melody. The melody is still there, it’s just all in her voice. And the question for enjoying this record, as with Cross Record is if you’re willing to enjoy that and pretty much only that.
The Paranoyds – Carnage Bargain
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Suicide Squeeze Records
Genre: Riot Grrrl, Garage Rock
The Paranoyds are like La Luz but with an energy that is more manic, alive and fierce. Fierce as in they’d probably eat my throat out for daring to call them such a monotone moniker as “fierce.” What a joke they’d think of me. It’s like calling a Florida State Police stop on Cops “wild” or a Portland Police stop in the Pearl “bizarre.” That doesn’t cut it. But what does cut is the way the Paranoyds take their one-stop shop of blazing riot grrrl through a whirlwind 30 minutes of surf punk boogie and post-punk disaffectionism. Ah, to be young and alive; oh shit, they’re the same age as me! So what’s my excuse? Have I just been working on my boyfriend degree for the least four years without knowing it, should I get off my ass and be a person or will The Paranoyds just be that person for me?
Pixies – Beneath the Eyrie
Genre: Alternative Rock, Indie Rock
I don’t feel like I’m listening to a proper Pixies record until the opening guitar riff of “Bird of Prey,” which would be great if the preceeding nine tracks sounded like nothing we had heard before, something of an artifact drowned in the nu, but they’re not: it’s the commencement of a respite from the Pixies doing absolutely non-original alternative rock material, which is a shame for a band I considered adjacent to many genres, but never part and parcel to one—as all the best albums if not bands are. I still consider them like Pink Floyd: “this, but also much more.” Alternative, but beyond such. Yet now they’re no longer beyond, they’re just behind.
(Sandy) Alex G – House of Sugar
Genre: Indie Folk, Neo-Psychedelia
(Sandy) Alex G is sparkling this time ‘round for Domino. And I don’t know if that’s a good thing. The element that most struck me about Alex G is how his lo-fi tendencies lent such a palpable dustiness to the music. Like an oddly comfortable beach bungalow with an old guitar and a weathered keyboard and some old, small amps. It wasn’t bedroom music played because of any social limitation (your parents in the bedroom next door) but because of a technical limitation—it was deliberate that Alex G kept the music musty so that when he finally found the good melody, it washed over his listeners like an ocean breeze, a tide roar or a crashing wave. Such was his wont, such was his gift to listeners. And alas, I am complaining ever so slightly that Alex G is changing his sound when in any other case, this would be cause for excitement, an “oh my God, it’s happening!” moment that deserves some commendation for its risk taking nature. But if anything, I would have expected a more rock oriented adaptation, not a shinier electronic one. Who knows, maybe now Alex G has polished his seashells, he might find more people perusing his wares.
Chastity Belt – Chastity Belt
Producer: Self-Produced with Jay Som
Label: Hardly Art
Genre: Indie Rock, Jangle Rock
Two things: Chastity Belt are the standard bearers for the too-emotionally-exhausted-to-riot-girls and vocalist Julia Shapiro is the singer-songwriter of the worn out manic pixie girl aesthetic as Carole King was the icon of the post-bohemian college gal. Ladies who prefer the frumpish sweater to the skintight leather. And this was all done before Jay Som stepped into the picture to co-produce the Belt’s eponymous fourth effort. I can detail how this record differentiates from its predecessors in two words: more whisp. Really, Chastity Belt is an expansion of the calmer influences on Time to Go Home and I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone, a long-player’s worth of cuts as softspoken as “Complain” or “On the Floor” but it’s only with Jay Som that Chastity Belt lay out this long-player like a Julien Baker album. Which is fine, if that’s to your taste, but I didn’t come here for washed out emotions, I came here for the girls who might not shout their displeasure but still outwit and maybe sneer at that which disturbs their world. I’m not feeling it on their latest record.
Fly Pan Am – C’est ça
Producer: Redwan Moumneh
Label: Constellation Records
Genre: Progressive Rock, Post-Rock
There’s a certain degree of bullshit we should all be willing to put up with; the clenched smile of an American waitress, the waiting room at a doctor’s office filled with last month’s news, the missing item in a superstore aisle—y’know, the exact one you needed—or the driver who pulls out in front of your forty-mile-an-hour ass only to slow down to 30. And we all have to put up with it like that waitress: with a clenched smile. You’re told to be polite, not friendly. And Fly Pan Am’s return with C’est ça is all politeness. They’re holding back because they’ve got some points of order to make: one, metal vocals are cool; two, progressive rock doesn’t need words, anyways; and three, quiet-loud is so passé. The fourth album from these Quebecois post-rockers penetrates the truth of post-rock formulae like a needle to a bubble. Using electronic segues to craft giant sonic suites from ant like volumes, the record only reaches its head at “One Hit Wonder” and then surfs from there with its vocal textures (really, the words never mattered in a post-rock record) on the waves of metal and shoegaze over a reef of old motherboards and sound cards all reverberating with an oceanic white noise. This all being summoned from a sputtering, crackling livewire introlude, “Avant-gardez vous,” Fly Pan Am finds time to both deconstruct (oh there’s that word again) post-rock and also make a record worth listening. All the credit to these Montreal troubadors.
Foliage – Take
Label: Z Tapes Records
Genre: Jangle Rock, Dreampop
Manuel Joseph Walker (dit Foliage) has a very uncanny ability to reduce genres like electropop, hypnagogia, dreampop and synthwave to their boilerplate techniques yet entirely engaging on Take. More importantly, Foliage can ride that Eighties nostalgia brought in force by Stranger Things with a degree of authenticity: almost nothing on Take went unforecasted by III, Truths or Silence and the oldest element, the jangle, doesn’t sound out of place. In that way, Walker is much like Beirut’s Zach Condon. Sure the music is quietly beautiful, but it also feels quiet, unassuming and therefore overlooked. And to be fair to Condon, I confess a general dislike of his music as a concept. Restraint and horns just never works for this brash, abrasive rock n’ roll fan. But there are no horns on Walker’s efforts and I hope there never are unless he decides to dive whole hog into the world of big-band jazz. Until then he’s just going to quietly collect competent room record after room record. Hardly a sexy, druggy, rock n’ roll existence, but I have to ask, would I really want to live like that either?
somesurprises – somesurprises
Producer: Paul Walsh
Label: Drawing Room Records
Genre: Shoegaze, Dreampop
I finally broke and listened to it today. No, not somesurprises, I listened to Loveless. And I learned nothing. Nothing that I already didn’t know now (in meme form!): the balance between noise and melody is precarious and is what lends the genre its surprises and moments when respected. somesurprises respects this balance. For the most part. Expecting perfection at first or second record is the demand of a lunatic. But somesurprises have managed to deliver two very competent records in the space of a year. Intuition says that bandleader Natasha El-Sergany’s outfit is going to learn quickly, and make time for in-studio study. As of right now however, their potential far outweighs the product and listening to their second cropping makes this view only more tangible, if not tantalizing.
slenderbodies – komorebi
Label: Avant Garden/Island
Genre: Alternative R&B
slenderbodies are falling upon us from indie label Avant Garden, which produced this years Emotional Oranges’ hit EP The Juice, Vol 1. But alternative is such a fluid prefix for any genre, no less rhythm and blues. Electronic influences are not necessarily alternative anymore, they’re expected, the rhythm guitar solo is standard to any neo-soul cut and the Timbaland snap beats are also on-brand for any self-respecting soul artist looking to make a hit. So what exactly does this album boast so alternatively? The Japanese influence; whether by using classical instruments from Nippon or just tuning their guitars to sound like, this record has the ambiance of an entrancing Shinto ritual, of watching Michio Miyagi playing Koto. So throw in those vocals that remind of Choker and I’m tentative to buy into these guys’ alternative cred. But I’ll need something more next record before I’m all in.
Twen – Awestruck
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Frenchkiss Records
Genre: Shoegaze, Neo-Psychedelia
Awestruck is ostensibly what we all feel about this record upon first listen, yet here I am, only somewhat astonished on “Honey Smacks.” The bassline is just too tasty not to be noted. Otherwise, this is a record for the shoegaze kids, for the dribbler-stoners, for the ceiling-staring gamins of the new millennium and all that shite. Really, it’s just a genre heavy record made for anyone happy enough to have DISSONANCE and REVERB melt their face off in the glory of SOUND.
Weird Owl – Wet Telepathy
Producer: Self-Produced w/ Jeffrey Berner
Label: Little Cloud
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Indie Rock
I have never heard of Weird Owl before this album. But I suppose that’s true of most bands for the majority of these buffet posts. And as for Wet Telepathy, it’s the usual suspects of upbeat sixties-tinged garage. Get your money’s worth bumping “P.UM.P.” in your car, if you so incline. Nothing much else leaves me curious. What is curious, however, is that Weird Owl would opt for a 24-minute record when all their contemporaries usually expand minds on expanded tracklists. But I have to ask you: has anyone ever had an epiphany that’s lasted for an hour?
The Comet is Coming – The Afterlife EP
Label: Impulse! Records
Genre: Nu Jazz, Jazz Fusion
If Trust In the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery was King Shabaka, Danalogue and Betamax’s statement to breathe deep and relax, then The Afterlife is the therapeutic aftermath, starting with a bizarre spoken word segment punctuated by Shabaka’s twisting saxophonic phrases. Q-Tip used to rap that hip-hop and bebop weren’t so different and I suppose The Comet is Coming just want to test this theory of cycles, but the fact still remains: everything else on this extended-player sounds relatively normal to what we heard earlier this year, all in formula and not far beyond what Channel the Spirits would have predicted—perhaps less jungle and more cosmic—I assume the reason for this companion record’s existence is the same Robert Plant’s Principle of Moments was to Pictures at Eleven: keep the ball rolling. And in that regard, the ball continues to roll all over The Afterlife.
Girl Band – The Talkies
Label: Rough Trade
Genre: Noise Rock, Post-Punk
I really like the twin denominations of new wave and post-punk. Because, like post-modernism or new age, they encompass a vagueness that allows mutually exclusive ideas to coexist if not cohabit the same philosophy. Oh and you can legitimately claim that post-modernism never ended, only began and anything since is to be prefixed with another post. I recently even saw the term “new wave of new wave.” However, we can all agree the joke wears out pretty fast and that continued use of prefixes sounds pretty uninspired. I don’t really want new wave revival nor do I want post-post-punk. If you want to call your band new wave and post-punk, that’s all fine to me, but if you want to go beyond those denominations, find a new name that doesn’t include the orthodox in it. And if you want to go beyond the sound, make sure there’s truly something controversial about it. Jeez, the more I talk about this the more I actually start to understand why I like Girl Band’s latest record, The Talkies. There’s a raw Irish frankness to their music, as if they recorded the long-player in abandoned industrial mills and post-apocalyptic housing developments. And there’s a willingness, like IDLES, to discuss troubles, be it personal, societal or musical. I wouldn’t know about if that’s the basis for the lyrical content, however, they cloak lead singer Dara Kiely’s voice in such a thick soup of white noise that deciphering his thick accent is like trying to find the sun in a thick fog.
Heaven’s Club – Here There and Nowhere
Label: Profound Lore
Genre: Shoegaze, Neo-Psychedelia
Alright, alright, I get that this a side project for lead guitarist Shiv Hevra of Deafheaven, I get that it’s a far more archetypal shoegaze sonic and I get that this is meant to be a sort of experiment with surreal. What I don’t get is how the lead singer Chris Natividad manages to sound like Thom Yorke, Damon Albarn and Chris Martin all in the same album. Someone explain this to me.
Moon Duo – Stars Are the Light
Label: Sacred Bones
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Psychedelic Rock
I have a general rule: the more you call something psychedelic, the less it actually is. Which puts psychedelic genres in a pretty bad spot, eh? Because clearly revealing the mind is the goal, it’s the end point, to melt the ego from the id and then rebuild it. A pretty far out and troubling predicament if the person resists such psychological ordeal. Hence, psychosis. Perhaps the truth of Moon Duo’s chosen genre is that, only after repeat listens, was I massaged into these moments of the eternal “whoa.” And I suppose that’s why it takes 45 minutes for an acid trip to kick and 2 hours for it to peak—the brain needs time before it fully acclimates to a substance trying to rewire it. And if there’s one thing I know about music, it’s a brain altering agent, and if there’s a second thing I know about music, all good music is naturally psychedelic. It doesn’t need to be categorized as such, it just will be. I’ve never considered Alt-J to play psychedelic rock, but aside from Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle, no other album has really hit me like a full dose of lysergia other than An Awesome Wave. The only other addition as of late is CAN’s Tago Mago. And from there we can appreciate Moon Duo’s musicial lineage. Because if there’s one thing Moon Duo did, it was study their history: Stars Are The Light is product if Avey Tare and Brian Jonestown Massacre had a baby baby listened to the funkier tunes by CAN and Tangerine Dream. And that’s alright with, psychedelic or not.
Telefon Tel Aviv – Dreams Are Not Enough
Label: Ghostly International
Genre: IDM, Ambient, Downtempo
The term “Intellectual Dance Music” is the worst thing any music critic ever did to a burgeoning megagenre of music. After all, what makes any some such genre more intellectual than any other? Lyrics, if anything, might be the only true demarcation between smart and stupid because they can fundamentally change what a piece of music is discussing. Two problems however: one, people don’t usually bother with lyrics on first listen and two, electronic music doesn’t bother with ‘em much either. It’s mostly just single phrases and emotions. In that way I could see someone argue that electronic artists are more “musical” than most popular artists. Mainly because it would be me arguing that anything Rihanna does pales in comparison to what Nicolas Jaar does. But that still doesn’t absolve Telefon Tel Aviv or Nicolas Jaar from making some pretty flacid new age meditation music in the latter’s early stuff and the former’s latest project, Dreams Are Not Enough. Not that I suspect Tel Aviv to play any ambient tracks in a club except maybe as preparatory to the main set, but because ambient electronic music really has no excuse to give a person a poor excuse for rhythmic sound. Music is representative of people and people have heartbeats; ambient is representative of a coma and comas barely include a heartbeat. I don’t want to listen to coma music. I want to listen to living music.