Post-Earth: FEELS better, FEELS good

feelspostearth

FEELS never really “burst” on to the scene, although their eponymous debut record definitely would have you think it.

The post-punk proto-metal mashup did quite the job of summoning some sonic squalls; but it never had the production to take it from demo-tape sensibilities to stellar debut. Nor did it have the depth to have anyone believe this was some sort of post-punk stadium sellout act. What it did do however, was show the listeners what kind of beach FEELS would be hanging from. And with Post-Earth are looking for waves on which to start exposing refined tricks.

Shannon Lay’s fingerpicking-good melodies are incredible across the record, “Awful Need,” “Post Earth” and “Tollbooth,” all hole-in-the-wall testaments to dredge-full rock; but “Find a Way” remains the gamechanger—a surf rock cut with some rancor; reminiscent of La Luz if Shana Cleveland and the gang finished every instrumental refrain by throwing back their heads and coming up with fangs out for the vocal chorus. A wholly unsurprising turn of affairs when you realize Ty Segall rules LA as an underground lizard king. Not being the biggest Segallcore nerd out there, it’s surprising how many of his related artists still tick my boxes between mild curiosity and vested interest. That FEELS recall La Luz is certainly not the worst thing—there are worse bands out there to harmonize with—it’s just sort of the nature of a crowded music scene; artists will end up standing back-to-back, taking a similar vibe into opposite directions. In much the same way that La Luz play neo-surf rock psychedelia, FEELS play post-surf punk psychedelia. The problems come when bands repeat themselves insufferable singer-songwriter nausea, delving so far into their personal world that they lack the wont to expand. Hell, if I ever write a memoir book, it’ll be a once-per-every-twenty years type of deal. But to digress, they blew that shit all out of their system with Feels and so decided the best way to rile up the acid ducts on Post Earth was to just start spitting. Téléphone would be proud.

This doesn’t save them entirely from the headscratching moments, though; on “Tollbooth,” the band does their best to mock-up early-Nineties Pixies, but play too hard with the extremes. Even Francis Black wasn’t mad enough to destroy eardrums for only fifteen seconds out of a two minute track—the twiddling melody was easily enough. They do a much better job putting that rancid explosion of veritable spleen into “Deconstructed,” which just goes the full Trompe le Monde, hollering, moshing and jumping straight into the cathartic “Find a Way.” Oppositely, “W.F.L.” hangs-ten right off the wave, but in anti-climatic air; the cut never assimilates well into the long-winded introlude of “Sour.”

Amy Allen, feeling left out, finally chimes in and refocuses the cut with a fingerlicking good bassline, leading the outfit in righteous cacophonies of wrath and ruin; the track runs tense, a cable wire that, once it cuts back, won’t cut clean. On the cusp of a fight, it flees street-by-street, flying abreast to “Find a Way” as prime examples of how to inject melody into grimey aural environs: with urgency. Together they form a perfect soundtrack for an LA remake of The Warriors (Hollywood, forget I said this). The thing is however, FEELS are so maddeningly coy on “Sour” that one worries there will be no loose wires—that this gang of Rexy’s won’t break out the cage and rampage all the way up LA. Just in time the combined fury of Lay and Geronimo hurricanes and FEELS come to frenzy.

They are kept in pace by Michael Perry Rudes, who runs under this record with phenomenally tight drumming top-to-bottom. None better than on “Last Chance” and “Post Earth,” where Rudes flexes with little drummer boy tom-toms before storming into some serious dogs of war drum fills; Rudes’ constant presence in the mix comes down to Tim Green’s solid production ideas. FEELS refrains from the truly experimental, stealing heavily from the Sonic Youth-school of primeval grunge records for measured forays into feedback and reverb. Along the long-player it mostly works out fine, but can get them into trouble. “Anyways,” one of the weaker tracks on the record, plods with a sort of half-hearted menace, attempting to mimic the “Deconstructed” vibe but with vastly more well-developed parts. The result is something that shoots itself in the foot to replicate walking on glass. Its just not the same and a gross misuse of some solid ideas. But while FEELS and Green can misfire, they no longer rely on a simple post-punk storm of sound, adding a quiet-loud post-rock formula all while normalizing the wavelengths and cutting themselves off before indulging too hard. Smart, efficient post-rock; what a delightful oxymoron.

Trading off the record is its pacing, it mashes together all these great moments in the middle into one collective musical mélange before breaking on slower tempo cuts. The density between the choral “Find a Way” and the swaying “Flowers” means that pairs “Sour” and “Last Chance,” “Post Earth” and “Tollbooth” find themselves congealed together. Taken apart, listeners can enjoy how Green and the group made each cut different, but when put together where one begins and one ends becomes a difficult task to tell. That heavy Segallcore malaise grows in might as the long-player progresses and the differences in emotion become more subtle to the point of wondering if they even genuinely exist. It becomes both a stylistic consistent and a bathetic curse that renders record emotionally unavailable at times, whether in an unspoken rage or a disassociative droll worthy of Deerhunter’s latest output.

All smiles D.J.T
War dogs on the street
The land of the free
One nation under fraud”

–“Cars”

And while their lyrical grievances can devolve to tautologies and platitudes of equivalent systemic fuckery and bullshit gamesmanship, it all feels like a part of the point of these punk aesthetes: they need a “them” for “us” to rail against. Thankfully, the tautologies are taut, lasting no more than a few bars as opposed to several beers your <insert crazy relative here> downs just before telling you exactly “what is so fucked up about our political age.” Once again, FEELS know how to involve themselves without overindulging.

Because the things that make this record worth it makes this record even more worth it. The phenomenal instrumentation and musicianship plays into a Bangsian motto of “the grimier, the rockier, the better” and they make that idiomatic approach tick on the every part of their sophomore effort while still allowing for more long-form melodic, harmonic and rhythmic skill. The balls-to-walls gangbang power-chord noise riot that was their debut could not afford them this luxury of showcasing how Geronimo and Lay can interwine their guitars and their voices in a melodic duet, how Allen can bungie jump in or tightrope across cuts with her basslines and how Rudes can underpin it all with his tom-toms and right foot. When FEELS cook, they fucking hibachi.

Indicatively, FEELS made a jump, and despite my crocheting back-and-forth rapport with the record (I had to listen to this damnable, affectionable thing over twenty times before really solidifying my thoughts), it’s a reminder of why fans of New Wave exist: they want music that is errant, even flippant, of being good. Such a qualifier is ancillary to the idea of making rock moves. It doesn’t matter if the instruments are strung together with fishing line and ducktape, it doesn’t matter if the production is more studio-polished, it doesn’t matter if the mood is existential dread all day, it doesn’t matter if the lyrics are truant and curt. Deal with the moralization later, commit to the now right now. If it feels good, than FEELS are good, and believe it, Post Earth feels good.

Album Artist: FEELS
Producer: Tim Green
Label: Wichita
Genre: Post-Punk, Surf Punk
Release: February 22nd, 2019
Tracklist:

  1. Car”

  2. Awful Need”

  3. Deconstructed”

  4. Find a Way”

  5. W.F.L”

  6. Sour”

  7. Last Chance”

  8. Post Earth”

  9. Anyways”

  10. Flowers”

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost: Foals slick up a slice of progressive dance rock

2ab6eag683d21-1There were some nasty looks given to the indiehead floating the idea that the Arctic Monkeys did not hold the title of best British rock band, writing, recording and touring since the end of AM’s commercial clout.

And it bears admittance; I was skeptical at first read 2017, finally getting around to listening—stubbornness is a bitch—and not wanting to admit to resting in either camp. The xx stood front and center with their New Order/Joy Division electronica kick that ranged from rhythmic to exceptionally excruciating. Foals shut my sputter shit real right and quick. Holy Fire alone shot them up the list Antidotes and What Went Down just sold it (sorry, Total Life Forever). Whereas the Arctic Monkeys have Albarn’d themselves by paroding their own inclinations—Tranquility Base Hotel Casino serving as both a natural rhythm and blues progression from AM (perhaps the smoothest stylistic transition of their four)—and showcasing their self-perception as Turner’s left arm to The Last Shadow Puppets’ right, Foals have continued to be Foals. Yannis Philippakis may be the bandleader but this band hasn’t reached the Eddie Vedder-Pearl Jam dynamic, not nearly. To separate lead vocals and guitarist Philippakis from guitarist Jimmy Smith, drummer Jack Bevan and bassist Edwin Congreave is to separate grey from the overcast. And by album number five, that’s not normal. There usually is a separation between the lead man the gang at this point. Some difference in style from the soloist and the chorus. But for Foals, there is none.

And lo the guitars on “Exits” and “White Onions” will make listeners cry—Foals are back in total and still know how to rip cord and charge the metal beasts as they always did. No longer the goal, but still the thread carrying them from Antidotes to Everything Not Saved Part 1, Philipakkis and Smith’s riffwork remains, ever reflecting the dreadful shred of existence that wrought prior records in iron and shines the carbon-fiber case of their post-apocalyptic visions. They even find a new weave on “Syrups” inhabiting a funkier space than ever before.

But surrounding this central piece they have switched from the mechanics to the machines in wholesale manner—synthesizers and keys have always been contributors to their music, but the new long-player employs them at wider and wider berths as melodic leaders for Foals new world vision; ironically, their employment of synths and keys are the most positive part of the record, with Philippakis, Smith and Congreave all writing and programming for the new record and progressing to the forefront by “In Degrees.” Foals, as much by design as by accident, have cycled from garage-sourced Soft Cell successors to post-punking Muse inamoratos to worthy LCD Soundsystem compeers. Not even James Murphy couldn’t contemplate this dance on the razor edge of a collapsing society—he always sells the hope, none moreso than on american dream, that things will improve at the deepest point of despair. Well, Foals ain’t buying that shit, Murphy. “On The Luna” licks on the synthetic organ as the band gambols at the altar for a new-wave “1999.” The old world is burning and they are at once scathing those dastardly baby-boomers and saltating to an inherited avarice.

And when the key recede, its the phones which take their place on “Café D’Athens,” from vibra to xylo to marimbas, written with Tony Allen’s Afrobeat collaborators and polished slick by percussionist Vincent Taeger. The cut caps clean the best section of the record: the mal à l’aise of “Syrups,” the decadence of “On the Luna,” and the despair of “Cafe d’Athens.”

The onward trajectory of the majority of the track-list sets Foals as prime contrarians dismissing the invalidity of linear progress. Obviously, to compare Part 1 to Antidotes belies evident growth and to compare Part 1 to Part 2 belies impossibility—we’ve yet to know if Part 2 takes a step back—but the comparison between Part 1 and Total Life Forever is manifest, hell between Part 1 and What Went Down the only thing that slope has only steepened upwards; Foals have found a sonic trajectory and manipulated it to practical perfection. Brett Shaw works to keep them on message, but for the third record in a row Foals have sharpened their ears to a pin-drop while expanding their instrumental and lyrical vocabulary.

In introducing xylophones into their sound for “Cafe d’Athens,” Foals undertook the first steps in a natural evolution from the straightforwardness of the keyboard. They use them well and would do well to employ them after the fait accompli Part 2 if only to ensure their signature riff-and-key-work refrains from overexposure on future records, especially when they have already mired in anxious, melancholic, miserable moods since, well, forever. Yes, Foals mastered them and moved them from simple alternative garage rock into the hypothetical world of Neo-Progressive rock and, yes, they highlighted viciously depressive images of a depressing future, becoming one of the few successful bands to merge dread with dance-able rock without dribbling.

I tried to make a call to heaven
Phone lines cut back in ’97
Radio silence all the way down

– “Syrups”

But their lyrics remain simple, never quite unraveling elegantly and instead forging dystopic negative with one-track efficiency. Images of human society pushed underground, obsessions of Orwellian privacy, dress-downs of a declining culture, gasping a slow death by degrees, Foals are quick to the draw. And despite keener observations than most, it seems that Foals themselves don’t care if listeners understand them, masking a great deal of vocals with effects and grafting the woe in their words to the psyche of their production rather than the clarity of their discourse. For seven-tenths, this art-rock record rips quick with pointed messages, melodies and progressions—even the slower cuts glide agile—by prioritizing what to sharpen on each track. Their vacillation between above-average and excellent only hiccoughs when the pacing begins to switch back on itself. It’s not that these last three-tenths were written poorly, it’s that they fit poorly. “Surf, Pt. 1” works as an interlude build up, but not when the swarthy, Joshua Tree-esque deep cut “Sunday” attempts the cliffhanger and then “I’m Done With The World” renders it redundant. Foals intended these cuts to ensconce the record, but do so prematurely when it’s only Part 1 of a double-dipping long-player scheme.

Resultant: a downgrading of the record from an absolute recommendation to a conditional recommendation (if only a small condition). If you can swallow this misfire, more power to you because Foals otherwise hit all their neo-prog marks. They might not have the same grandiose flamboyance of classic progressive rock, but they have the same ambition and, like Alt-J, they make up for the encyclopaedia operatica musicality with a cold embrace of audiophile austerity. When Foals sees no warmth in the future, why the fuck would the music? It is testament to Foals’ musicianship to balance between comfort and warmth, dance and dread, art and rock as they do presque the entirety of this LP.

Nonetheless, Foals are in a precarious position now; with Part 1 being such a near-sublime listening experience, it hinges on Part 2 to make this their year. Oh sure, the concept will be nominated for awards, the Grammys will lap this big-concept-by-solid-execution up. But Part 2 will either confirm or change the entire narrative. Now, everything goes in slow motion, Foals have made the alley, and the house is standing watching relishing for the oop.

Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1
Album Artist: Foals
Producer: Self-Produced with Brett Shaw
Label: Transgressive, Warner Bros.
Genre: Neo-Progressive Rock, Alternative Dance
Tracklist:

  1. Moonlight”
  2. Exits”
  3. White Onions”
  4. In Degrees”
  5. Syrups”
  6. On the Luna”
  7. Cafe d’Athens”
  8. Surf Pt.1”
  9. Sunday”
  10. I’m Done with the World ( & It’s Done with Me)”

Release Date Buffet February 2019

Welcome to the Release Date Buffet! A round-up of all the records I’ve been listening to this month. Usually it’s a weekly thread, but has been transformed into a monthly thing while I am living in France because of travel. Just a heads-up on the (?)’s: some groups are really bad about putting down a producer or labeling if they self-produced the record. The (?) is just a disclaimer for an assumption—don’t take it as fact—as well as belying my discontent for bands who don’t properly credit people who help with records or even themselves for what is a pretty important skillset.


 

Feb 1st

Beirut – Gallipoli
Producer: Zach Condon, Gave Wax
Label: 4AD
Genre: lo-fi soul

Zachary Condon’s has always had an obsession with the Smiths since Gulag Orkestar but his music never really had the legs to match it. One can only listen to that Morrissey moan so long before ripping their eyeballs from their head. And in the 4 years since No No No, Condon’s been working out—moving between continents, writing, lo-fi soul searching with a one-forgotten farfisa organ on the fritz and pondering on the candor of a sad ex-pat angel. What did he find? Horns, lots of horns. In the same way the Johnny Marr loved the guitar from The Smiths to Strangeways, Condon has found himself enamored with rich, fuzzy, jazz horns hoisted from a Duke Ellington record that on first listen I was caught calling Gallipoli the Smiths-Mariachi crossover LP you never knew you wanted to hear.
Link

Cherry Glazerr – Stuffed & Ready
Producer: Carlos de la Garza
Label: Secretly Canadian
Genre: Garage Rock, Noisepop

You really like Cherry Glazerr. You need a record to prove to someone they are not a waste of time. Something that’s quick and easy like a supermarket sandwich or a premade fruit plate. So is Stuffed & Ready. Aptly named, efficacious packaging, no superfluous marketing. Ten cuts, 32 minutes, one record. Absolutely mint. Theres almost no fat on this record—just patent flavours and Clementine Creevy’s haunting Siouxsie-Sindie rock wail howling, cooing and howling again on everything a young woman has to be hyper-stressed and overly anxious about. And even though there’s not much variation, the quality is so good it never strikes of sameness. Talk about some serious market magic.
Link

Choker – Dog Candy EP
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Jet Fuzz
Genre: Alternative R&B

Part two of Choker’s EP series, because apparently LP’s bore him, or something. More likely, it’s just because his output has been erratic and unconnected to anything other than a blitz of small-spurt artistry. A refreshing thought that the music might just be as attention-deficient and incoherent as the mind that spawned them. By no means is this bad—Choker has just proven himself a master vignette vintner and now he’s just letting people into his cave. Moreover, Dog Candy transitions from the chilled-out contemporary of Mono no Moto to a more frenetic alternative aural space, beeping at a faster minute and putting the pace on the clock with clap and snap beats galore, oh, get Timbaland on the phone! He takes that Toronto Sound and cuts it against a little bit of MIA and a little bit of Anderson .Paak, but everyone should know: it’s all Choker.
Link

Deer Tick – Mayonnaise
Producer: Self-Produced with Adam Landry
Label: Partisan
Genre: Garage Rock

Deer Tick, the country-band that doesn’t want you to know they’re a country band is back at it again, releasing their southern grunge style across the land like a pair of Allman Brothers who loved Kurt Cobain and Pavement. It’s a record of b-sides, but much like Cake, I have to ask, is it bad when I like the B-Sides more than A-Sides? Or when the B-Sides are the first pieces of material from a band that finally hit the sweet spot? Point of order, it seems I have some re-exploration to do.
Link

Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary
Producer: Self-Produced with David Tolomei
Label: Anti-
Genre: Indie Rock, Power Rock

This might be the smartest power rock record released this year, triangulating itself at the crosspoints of Dream Wife, Chastity Belt and Japanese Breakfast, What Chaos Is Imaginary shouldn’t be as alluring, intelligent and moving as its genre typecasts it to be. It shouldn’t be something you equally headbang and drink wine to, but here I am, two glasses in, quietly rocking and rolling to Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad’s vocal and riffwork. Just enough pop to dream, just enough punk to inner scream.
Link

Grandchildren – Grandchildren
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Ernest Jennings Record Co.
Genre: Dreampop

Grandchildren are just making albums shorter and shorter as they go on. And transferring logical axioms befitting Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond (the lighter the supercar the better the supercar means to have no supercar is to have the best supercar), that means Grandchildren are approaching their best album ever: no record. Right? No. That’s just petulant strawmanning, because we have here the best Grandchildren long-player sealed on wax. The opening riff on “Phantom Pains” doesn’t just tip the scales, but bends them—tapping all the right spots on the neck. The record takes a page out of the folk script and plays for aural comfort without settling for emotional safety. It’s possibly the best album of the week.
Link

Largos Agotadores – El Palacio de Linares
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Pretty Olivia
Genre: Pop Indie Rock, Pop Psych

Sneaky quick record at 27 minutes, Largos Agotadores are gone as quick as they come. But if you’re gonna cite bands like Real Estate, the Feelies and the Go-Betweens as prime influences the long-player best not run long. If anything it allows El Palacio de Linares to run over itself to great effect and little fatigue. Dabbling in popular psychedelic and independent music tastes without drowning in them. And despite only being only three minutes longer than Grandchildren, it’s three-times less memorable. Instead of risking anything in the deeper ends, it stays to the shallows of innocent, innocuous, ingenue pool music.
Link

Mandolin Orange – Tides of a Teardrop
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Yep Roc
Genre: Folk

With a title such as Tides of a Teardrop, one expects this record to mope on and on like a metaphysical poet singing in sonnets, but no. Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz go the full W.S. Merwin and just start dealing in cold, hard bluegrass. They don’t mince words, they don’t mix genres, they don’t miss a note. And forget about location, it’s harmony, harmony, harmony. By “Into the Sun,” they’re not crying, you’re crying and by records end the cathartic cloud, thick and strong, parts after the rain. No thunderstorm, just a consistent drizzle perforated by the sound of fingerpicked mandolin teardrops plucked from the heavens. A Mandolin Orange slice of post-romance paradise (sorry, Grandchildren)
Link

Spielbergs – This is Not the End
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: By The Time It Gets Dark
Genre: Alternative Rock

The Spielbergs really enjoyed the mid-2000’s emo-rock movement. Like, really enjoyed it. Taking their cues from equal parts Thirty Seconds to Mars and equal parts Muse, the Spielbergs are loud, proud and don’t give a damn about dynamic sound. This is an emotionally draining record because of that, and despite having a fair few tasteful nods to idols of a bygone era, this record never quite transcends them. Mileage will vary depending on whether or not one liked the new-wave goth of the nascent century. But as for a tried-and-true Purist Cure fan (a Curist, if you will), blegh, Parquet Courts and IDLES already tick the righteous anger boxes.
Link

Feb 8th

Choker – Forever & a Few EP
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Jet Fuzz
Genre: Alternative R&B, Singer-Songwriter

Choker’s final extended-player in the trilogy steers listeners towards a more acoustic route, enhanced still samples and vocoders. It’s worrying that at first Choker can’t help but recall horrific gnashisms and perhaps might pour it on thick with Jason Mraz-like sentimentality. But no, he stays on course, as if walking the Venice boardwalk with .Paak before breaking it down with his own spin on the Toronto sound. Interestingly, the trilogy seems to take on an afternoon-night-morning time cycle, with Forever & A Few using the acoustic guitars and percussive instruments to sound off a relaxed breakfast in bed approach. Stitch this EP with its older brothers and you have yourself the perfect Sunday morning record.
Link

Crocodiles – Love Is Here
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Deaf Rock
Genre: Garagepop, Pop Punk

I don’t go to punk shows for love songs, goddamnit. And as much as I like Crocodiles latest reminding me of a nuclear fusion fallout of the New York Dolls by Violent Femmes (one’s got sonic, one’s got vocals) spiced up and all ready to fuck on the first track, “Nuclear Love,” I just wish it had a little more bloody grit. Because all this pronounced poppy production is pulling Crocodiles of their teeth. When they mask those tendencies, though, well boy howdy, then I finally get what I paid for on “I Was a Fly” and “Far Out Friend.” A little screech, a little scratch, a little tit, a little tat. Yeah, Crocodiles, Nuclear Love is good when it sticks to that.
Link

Ghost King – Dunbar Swamp
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Noise Rock

There’s something to be said about this influx of garagerock ripped directly from sixties surfer and psychedelic rock and injected with just the right amount of punkenness like simple Mad Max style engineering, y’know the kind of thing: a mouthful of moonshine spitooned right into pistons of an exposed V8, a carbine that shoots flame as well as a monster sound. It’s small problem for Ghost King, who on their sophomore prove they can fuzz it up with the best of ‘em. But that’s a known quality, a tired trick; Ghost King have yet to prove they might have something else in the bag.
Link

LCD Soundsystem – Electric Lady Sessions
Producer: James Murphy
Label: Excelsior, Columbia
Genre: Alternative, Electronic, Post-Punk

James Murphy is taking his time for another LCD Soundsystem record and it’s paying in dividends; he’s probably noticed Damon Albarn, Arcade Fire and other contemporaries jump back on the horse and go too fast too soon. Instead, Murphy is letting us salivate, the Electric Lady Sessions just serving as a second helping of american dream plus a couple covers (a riotous rendition of Chic’s “I Want Your Love” wins this record) and some oldies but goodies. But aside from the “get innocuous” and “home,” it’s “tonite” and “u wanted a hit” that reminds us that Murphy has the chops for a good record and some good hits. It’s what we all want but now comes the hard part: the waiting.
Link

moonweather – Overgrown
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Dreampop, Twee Rock, “Pop Psych”

moonweather’s second record is an exercise in sleepy indie rock and selling oneself as something else; this long-player came across the radar as a dreampop-psych record and I licked my chops–haven’t heard a good pop psych record in a while. And those pillowsoft oil pigments on the cover were only helping the cause, mock impressionist Muybridge swimmer study that it was. But, disappointingly, there was no brain-revealing moment that billowed opened like lily blossoms on a ripple wave. Instead, moonweather took the the moment to be cute and twee, simple melodies, choral harmonies, keyboard ambiance and soft-stomp tempos were all over this record. The only thing psychedelic about this record? The tracks, just like the melted candlewax acrylic cover, fall right into each other and while that’s a nice tint, it’s not the total hue. Still, falling right into this record is a real winner.
Link

Son Mieux – Faire de son mieux
Producer: Thijs van der Klugt
Label: Universal Music
Genre: Dance Rock, Electropop

Well it might just be “Nothing” but when Son Mieux hits some of those notes he’s hitting some wonderful combination of Bono and later period Alex Turner–that vocal strut has just the right amount of power and sass while the music goes for high and dry inspirational points. Like a Skinny Bitch for the soul self-help book, but not too strong, more like a La Croix version of Skinny Bitch for the soul self-help book. And if that ain’t a mismatched metaphor for a long-player that mismatches tone and genre, well then this wouldn’t be a proper first impressions, now would it. So just leave me to my La Croix, my Skinny Bitch series and my Son Mieux record, damnit.
*sips*
Link

Yak – Pursuit of Momentary Happiness
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Third Man
Genre: Garage Rock

With their first record Yak squarely put themselves in the Flightless camp of modern prog-garage, despite signing with Third Man, and stood toe-to-toe with the likes of Thee O Scees or King Gizzard. Well, not actualy toe-to-toe, but they did enter the same ring with a so-so debut record. But Pursuit of Momentary Happiness finally manages to get a few punches in, feinting with a flauting Jethro Tull left and then slicing a junkyard right across the bow and then kind of just pouring it on with that right hand all night. Hell, before long, Yak’s sophomore record begins to sound like a record the Arctic Monkeys left behind in 2009—not bad, certainly more visceral than AM or Tranquility Moonraker Lair and Casino— and buoyed by Oh Skees’ over nine-thousand decibels attack. But I could use a little more of that Jethro Tully, proggy sound to go from “oh, nice” to “oh, shit!”
Link

Feb 15th

Anemone – Beat My Distance
Producer: Miles Dupire Gagnon, Chloe Soldevilla
Label: Luminelle
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia

Surprising that on the related artists tab for Anemone that Melody’s Echo Chamber does not show her face because this record vibes out with Sugar Candy Mountain’s Do Right and MEC’s Bon Voyage. There’s just an inner pleasure to this softened Currents-era neo-psychedelia sound and Beat My Distance keys in on it, sets it feet, then lobs the javelin with grace. They break no new records, but for nine cuts and forty minutes they toss that Krautrock-influence, never breaking a sweat. They relax a little much in the middle, but they never lose the groove.
Link

Copeland – Blushing
Producer: Aaron Marsh
Label: Tooth & Nail
Genre: Alternative Rock, Alternative R&B

Electronic Evanescence never seems like it could be stylish, but Blushing, sipping on its coffee and sitting behind computer boards and filling the bandwaves with saxophones, chamber pianos and contemporary snap and click beats. To call it alternative soft rock would strike so derogatorily, but the combination of R&B, electronic, rock and jazz elements means Copeland can stand toe-to-toe with modern teen-dream darlings, The 1975, with a sound just as similar. Is it ironic then that The 1975 is somehow the more political band despite being the overwhelmingly younger one? Or is that the nature of getting older?
Link

Golden Daze – Simpatico
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Autumn Tone
Genre: Psychedelic Folk

Jacob Loeb and Ben Schwab’s second dueting psychedelic folk record is sleepy, no doubt about it. But those interlocking guitars, respiring the one after the other, keep interest alive. Simpatico sounds like a much relaxed version of the Barnett-Vile effort, Lotta Sea Lice , which is unfair to Loeb and Schwab—but hey, from the sound of their sophomore record, they don’t care. They’re just playing their sound, a Dream Academy folkishness that should remind every pair of ears that Beach Fossils exist and now have some damn fine company. Let that dream folk play boys, just promise me you won’t forget the guitars.
Link

Ladytron – Ladytron
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Electropop, Synthpop, Shoegaze

Electric rock and roll, shoegaze synthesizers and trancing trouncing, boinging, bouncing musicality abound on Ladytron. They’re back after a lengthy hiatus and read to let us all know that the party is too. As a record, it’s a tower of power of adrenaline pumped shoegaze. It’s like they fell into a vat of toxic waste while playing around with shoegaze guitar riffs and electropop synthesizers and exited with a juiced up electrogaze sound or have just acquired genre-bending powers to combo together bits and pieces that should not work together just off tone alone. I mean, Is that even legal? I guess Ladytron made it legal and that leaves us just trying to enjoy it.
Link


LOS BONSÁISHinoki
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Elefant, Darla
Genre: Dreampop, Surf Rock

Self-advertised as the perfect crossover between Galaxie 500 and the Smiths, LOS BONSÁIS never really diverge from this dreamy beach scene. The Spanish only adds to the mystifying aura that tingles around Hinoki, the music as serene as the Japanese cypress but just as strong. From there the tunes proceed slowly from the sunny beach to the lazy couch, transforming the record from a melodic arbor to a musical potato. No thump or added season about it, just plain dreampop that plods. If the sides were switched, mayhap it would allow for the record to grow into itself, but alas, it leans, tilts over and then spills on itself.

Link

SWMRS – Berkeley’s on Fire
Producer: Rich Costey
Label: Warner Music
Genre: Punk, Garage Rock

I LIKE THIS TREND OF BANDS IN ALL CAPITALS. I MEAN, REALLY, WHO NEEDS LOWERCASE TO EXPRESS ONE’S GROUP NAME—IF YOU WANT TO GET NOTICED, SHOUT THAT MOTHERFUCKER OUT LOUD AND LET THE PEOPLE KNOW WHAT YOU’RE ABOUT: PUNK MUSIC AND A PATHOLOGICAL HTRD FR VWLS. THATS WHAT SWMRS WANTS YOU TO KNOW THE BAY CAN GET DOWN AND MOSH TOO, ALL YE VENICE BEACH FIDLAR SKULLFUCKERS: THAT’S RIGHT, OAKLAND CAN PUNK OUT TOO. ND Y’KNW WHT? M RLLY LKNG THS TRND FR N VWLS, LTS JST FRGT LTTRS ND TH CLFRNN DVD ND MSH T BRKL N FR, SHLL W?
Link

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Signs
Producers: Derek Trucks, Bobby Tis, Jim Scott
Label: Fantasy
Genre: Blues rock, Country rock

In aftermath of Let Me Get By, a dream was conceived in the segue from “Crying Over You/Swamp Raga” to “Hear Me.” A dream that this fusion project of individual bands had finally turned a corner, that the Tedeschi Trucks Band were finally finding that perfect jam band balance between blues, rock, soul and jazz and were able to capture that live show aura on Live at the Fox Oakland. Well, lead single “Hard Case” cut that sentiment deep, deep, deep, I say goddamn deep. “Oh no, they’re going country now.” It’s a repeat of Made Up Mind, why does it have to be a repeat of Made Up Mind? Made Up Mind not being a bad album, just a step-back in ambitions, a soul food record. And we all need that, but every other long-player? C’mon Tedeschi Trucks, every record of yours is already legitimate soul food, but let’s not lay it on thick, I mean just look at that Nat Geo thousand-piece puzzle cover, ah, Christ, at least Made Up Mind had some damn attitude, but Signs, despite all its technical proficiency and skill, just sops a little too hard and slows down too much. Its a record that aims low despite TTB having proven they can shoot high and hit. And man, that just depresses me.
Link

Tourist – Everyday
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Monday
Genre: Electronica

Thin air is a real winner, in the most cyclical of relationships, the most backwards of climactic effects. Some truant tautology about the notes you don’t play that brings electronic music closer and closer to jazz the more it evolves. And ambiance is never really played, it’s either recorded, sampled, filtered and layered, or it’s not. A space between the music that is either filled or left to breathe. For Tourist, aka William Phillips and contemporaries like Chrome Sparks and SBTRKT, they have this penchant to fill it with those rustling recordings. It makes those raining “oo’s” and “yer’s” sting a little more when that wind dies down and pull back for the ever-employable “I need your love” refrains. But I have to stop deriding this record for its cliches, because this record is relaxed enough to let them work, and more than any thump, bump and grind affair, they really fucking work.
Link

Feb 22nd

The Claypool Lennon Delirium – South of Reality
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sony Music
Genre: Psychedelic Rock

King Tuff fans be still, your beating hearts will pitter patter pounce on the first notes of South of Reality as the head swirls with Tuffy-Beatles connections. A contemporary of two eras—let’s not play dumb—Sean Lennon emulates his Dad’s more Magical Mystery Tour fancies in stunning fashion and Les Claypool brings the drone. Yes King Tuff and Lennon may find a similar vocal frequency, but its Claypool’s bass and Lennon’s guitar which split the difference; building upon the haunting noise-rock sonic fusion between sludge metal Sabbath and space-rocking Wooden Shjips, the Claypool Lennon Delirium now sparkles where it once mired, giving mind to the empyrean moments—the infinite pearls—among the milky cosmic slop. Yet, while admiring the latest skystone to grace these heavens, I keep crashing down to earth. Call me a practical, historical buzzkill but when does this kaleidoscopic gravy-train groove thing come to end? When do we tire of the perhaps permanent psychotropic revolution? We have our 50th anniversary Woodstock, sure, but when comes the new Altamont?
Link

Desperate Journalist In search of miraculous
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Fierce Panda
Genre: Post-Punk

I suppose female post-punk vocals wouldn’t be post-punk if there wasn’t some throwback to Debby Harry or even Siouxsie Sioux and frontwoman Jo Bevan keeps the pace. I’m just not necessarily a fan of their need to insert a Slowdive-inspired sonic on top of the hungover punkery. It makes the record seem less haggard—a big no-no if you want to cash in on the burnout of torn-knee jeans, frayed leather jackets and smashed cruiser sunglasses. It kind of just burns a hole in the bottom of their boots and what would a punk be without some rock-solid footgear? Post or otherwise, how they gonna kick some ass now?
Link

FEELSPost-Earth
Producer: Tim Green
Label: Wichita
Genre: Post-Punk

FEELS are a little too poppy on this one—it’s most definitely in that post-punk sound, but it follows the Police school of post-punk: totally, but not really. There’s no piss and vinegar, just simmering discontent in this suburban LA outfit. That said, I’ll gladly trade the rainy existential dread-and-breakfast sounds of Chastity Belt for their sunshine shades of post-consumer puke. They’ll fit in so snuggly aside the Cherry Glazerr, Speedy Ortiz and La Luz record collection.
Link

Gary Clark Jr. – This Land
Producers: Gary Clark Jr., Jacob Sciba
Label: Warner Bros.
Genre: Blues Rock

Rarely are the blues made synonym to modernity and cultural critique. On “This Land” Clark sets out to update blues rock into a modern forum to take on social plagues rather than its traditional base. That’s not to say blues has never dealt with racism—it’s very foundation arises from segregation. But I can’t say I’ve ever heard racial epithets used in such an abrasive manner. Clark backs it up with some strong guitarwork throughout the record but in the wake of leading cut, “This Land” it all seems relatively toothless; for a record that was ready to take and give some punches, now it just seems like its punching down on love and vague references to social stigma. Fine, sure, over an hour and twelve minutes it would be fine to keep up the theme of discord—but this shouldn’t be the bread and butter. On first listen, the explosiveness of This Land peters out on a wet fuse.
Link

Jocelyn & Chris Arndt The Fun in the Fight
Producer: David Bourgeois
Label: Bridge Road Entertainment
Genre: Blues Rock

Brother-sister duo Jocelyn and Chris Arndt are like the Greta van Fleet of blues rock. Chris plays like a man who listened to Stevie Ray and Satch back-to-back-to-back-to-back and then did it all over again with a guitar glued to his hands. Meanwhile, Jocelyn sings like Lou Ann Barton before the whiskey sets in. Given these ingredients, producer David Bourgeois lives up to his name and make some facile, easy-to-appreciate (or deride) blues rock. No more, no less—it’s pretty hard for a modern record to actually “sound” bad. Most derision comes from derivativity in modern criticism, and in that view the Arndt’s musicality resembles the van Fleets’ quite stunningly. The difference? The Arndts aren’t such insufferable twats about it.
Link

Julia Jacklin – Crushing
Producer: Burke Reid
Label: Polyvinyl, Transgressive
Genre: Indie Folk

The opening tom-tom kick drum counts lied to me: I thought this record was going to be our opening minimalist folktronica record of year much in the way Loma’s self-titled effort decided to get off on the sad foot for 2018. But no; cheated, here I am wallowing in an indie folk record that for every self-admitted “sad girl” cut comes counterpart with a halcyon track taking the folk-approach. Jacklin’s voice hits too high a note to be mistaken for Joni Mitchell and her electric guitar warbles too much for Joan Baez’s tastes, but the record is a kinswoman to Snail Mail’s Lush, matching Lindsey Jordan’s electric joy ‘n’ blues with her own laidback acoustic healing ‘n’ heartbreak. So maybe I do feel cheated that this doesn’t bend as many genres as I’d like; but now I have a damn good folk record to get over it with.
Link

Nicole Willis – My Soul Sensation EP
Producer: Self-Produced with Ilari Larjosto
Label: Persephone
Genre: Soul

Bass melodies, chucka-chucka rhythm guitar and smooooooooooth female vocals, fit for long nights in the Magnum P.I. memorabilia man-cave all while drawing a direct line to our modern day Random Access Memories Daft Punk and the Toro y Moi of latter-day Outer Peace. Yeah, this EP has little going for it creatively besides just being a solid chunka soul, so sit back and enjoy the sound of the ‘79 cool cat lounge with your King Kamehameha cocktail and no Higgins on your back.
Link

Sunwatchers – Illegal Moves
Producer: Self-Produced with Charles Burst
Label: Trouble in Mind
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Noise Rock

For being outspoken garagemen, Sunwatches don’t sing much. To be fair, they know the jist of their music: droning incursions with instrumental sallies into jazz, blues and world music. An electric orchestra befitted full of knick-knack apparatus ranged all around them: they must stumble along the studio like a mad scientist’s lab—the key to all of this music is just lying around here… somewhere—and Sunwatchers profit from all that time searching by making some noise, literally. If you’re anything like me and enjoy using noise-rock as a meditative base, then I suggest taking this record to the park with some headphones to watch them clouds.
Link

Worn-Tin – Cycles
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Pop Psych, Surf Rock

Worn-Tin is kind of like your softer version of Ty Segall. Well, he looks it anyways, baseball cap and blondie that he is. But don’t take it as a reason to disregard his music as a lesser form of what /r/indieheads regards to be the crazed one. No one ever gave Fleetwood Mac a hard time for being a soft-rock version of the Eagles and Worn-Tin’s got more immediate concerns, like drying out his suit and plucking some damn fine guitar melodies across the space of 48 minutes. He does pretty damn well on the latter (Thank yoooouuuuuu, “Chartreuse”), dunno how he fared on the former though.
Link

/u/VietRooster has taken up the mantle for the Indieheads subreddit’s weekly New Music Friday threads, rejoice!

And as always:

Allmusic’s catalog for all you databasing nerds out there
Consequence’s megalist for planning your weekends around music
HipHopDX’s widget for all you hhh’s out there in need of a weekly fix.

Outer Peace: Quick like silver

r-13072875-1547571539-1532.jpeg
Credit where credit is due and Chaz Bundick earns his by leaving us flabbergasted to what he
will do.

His interests are blistering—percolating on the thermometer’s edge—he rushes, thrushes, brushes past electric cool jazz, lo-fi rock, DIY funk and now nu-disco in torrid pace. But listen to any Toro y Moi predecessor to Outer Peace and the melodies would never strike the anvil hot, but instead water it down, down, downtempo. Neither too does this make the material solid; he puts the Hg in Mercury, producing an ever changing chillwave that conforms to the container he desires as if elemental, as if he is right in the petri dish and alchemists are left scratching their heads. On Outer Peace, Toro y Moi shifts quick—it’s not so much a record as a thirty minute DJ set—nothing makes it past four minutes, everything ephemeral, a slinking sleuthing swirling spinning series of singles that lock together like a jigsaw puzzle yet flow like a stutter-step butterfly flight. Nervous but happy, neurotic but beautiful, replete with fluttering, fleeting moments.

Like the wow-wow Owen Wilson synthesizers on “Laws of the Universe” which recalls for a fun tropical house, a hammed up eighties production crossing Wham’s “Club Tropicana” by Mr. Fingerisms from all angles. Or like the space flute synthesizer kazoo solo on “Freelance” which provides a great harmonic companion to Bundick’s vocoder vocal effect and adds a counterpoint to the boot-and-cats, boom-and-snap beat fills to tick-tock the track—with a little autocorrecting double click—all while interpolating Ugly Casanova’s “Hotcha Girls” into disco-step club territory. Or like WET’s feature on “Monte Carlo” which qualifies the track for best low-and-slow simmer cut, an experiment in chemical dvsn and an attempt to subtract those clothes via melancholia. It’s the ephemeral epitome of the records fleeting run time and is quickly missed, but between you and me most slow tracks need a shorter runtime by rule of thumb lest they drag on by all ten fingers, pulling hair-and-nails. So, when that glowing keyboard melody just disappears, the ears do naught but grow fonder.

 

And amid this relatively convenient house music, Chaz Bear still finds time to philosophize between the sheeny production, dictating dichotomies on curated image-building before shrugging off the Instagram moments for some actual substance, singing “Who cares about the party?/ I came to see the band play” on “Who I Am” or erring “er-er-ah-ah-oh-kay” vocalizations that mimic the stammering bassline on “Freelance” and bring the whole cut to an awkward satisfaction, flipping the table under cheap rapping tricks like the overpriced knick-knacks that they are. Where some cite Versace, Chaz Bear goes incognito:

Cloud hidden and my whereabouts unknown
Cazadero got me wearing all camo
Decked in Patagonia, head to toe”
-“Who I Am”

But you gotta listen quick because the record revolves and resolves fast, fast and faster than most—so fast you might think it’s a 78 going at 236 BPM. The experience is fleeting as the record’s namesake (Outer Peace) and leading single (“Ordinary Pleasure”). An efficacy that may strike as soulless if Bundick weren’t so damn good with that bass and those samples. He extracts every ounce of pleasure possible and then sells it by the pound. The instrumentation is a crossfire section of house tropes and nu-disco kitsch; a sort of hodgpodge approach; a plethora of cowbells, güiros, congas and xylophones gathered and sampled from an elementary-school music room and then evoked in downtempo electronica. It’s hit or miss depending on the cut, mostly foundering in the middle. Yet without fail, the bass is always there, a guttural, low growl, evermore hungry for high-register flourishes and paired with a guest star, light-and-cheeky chuck guitar. In the end the rhythm sections just comes up like chillwave Chic, a transitive influence from the surreal Daft Punk style of this record, and the LP is saved by Bundick’s ability to back-up the fresh with the vintage.

Further, there are only two enduring moods in a house record: happy and hopping or sad and swaying. Bundick does manage to mix in some sombriety but it still sways. It’s the lyricism which actually covers the most personal-philosophical ground. Otherwise, the moods are cut and dry and fully immersed in the musicality. Thus, if nothing else, this record should cement Bundick’s reputation as a producer. It’s just an absolute masterclass in lesson on how to make smart-efficient-innocuous dance records with basic world instruments. It’s similar in ambition to dvsn’s Morning After but with a tad more soul and a little less rap-and-beats. The lyricism is still hip-hop-like, but not trying so hard as to emulate that hip hotline bling from Toronto. And so too does this alternative dance and synthy R&B rarely (unless your name is Nicolas Jaar) attempt to wax with weight the philosophical. Bundick largely steers clear of that but still does find moments to insert pointed statements amid the seductive stanzas.

The short long-player does fall into some pitfalls, riding some moods too hard in the middle section of ten-feet deep cuts before relaxing back into that hips-deep and easy charm it opens up with. But at beginning and end the record gets it done—the only real stone cold disappointment is “50-50” which leaves Outer Peace on such a down-mood that you’ll want to restart the record just to get up with “Fading” again. The Mulder in me wants to believe the conspiracy—maybe it’s supposed to do that so you’ll never change the record (Oh. My. God.)—but in reality it’s just a harsh come down on the sine-wave rhythm. Still, flipping the record wouldn’t hurt. It’s a tried and true case of so nice, you gotta play it twice.

Album Artist: Toro y Moi aka Chaz Bundick aka Chaz Bear
Producer: Sef-Produced
Label: Carpark
Genre: Alternative R&B, Chillwave
Tracklist:

    1. Fading”

    2. Ordinary Pleasure”

    3. Laws of the Universe”

    4. Miss Me (feat. ABRA)”

    5. New House”

    6. Baby Drive It Down”

    7. Freelance”

    8. Who I Am”

    9. Monte Carlo (feat. WET)

    10. 50-50 (feat. Instupendo)”

The Colors of Warpaint, Part II

Didn’t read Part I?

The opening tracks play thoroughly in consistence with Warpaint, expounding from where the second record left off—the prior tours the shallows, Heads Up dives into the deep.

The band claimed Heads Up was their most upbeat and infectious record to date and it is, in spurts. But all of that indietronica pep is eaten up by the vast roots of the dreamy, spiritual tripnagogic rock seed that they planted in Side 2 of The Fool and then fruited with the grapes of Warpaint’s embedded shoegaze wrath. And sadly in that critical fervor, I am seized not by this albums willingness to push deeper into the subliminal, but by its lack to make this subconscious Lovecraftian electro-fest something that someone would want to listen, much less dance to; they fail to bolt together solos even a bit as compelling as those found on their Exquisite Corpse EP. Whether its means to divert the listener from such terror via the banal but admitted earworm of “New Song,” or showcase their plainly ever-growing detached nature on the record’s entire second-side, I understand the same fury of Cohen or the simple disregard of Kitty Empire (if a lack of focus turned her off from Warpaint, I can only count the seconds it must have taken before this record hit the bottom of her dustbin). The seeming sonic deflation must be explained, nevertheless, and it must be done so via a lack of driven, single vehicle experimentation. Wayman explains the motif behind the compositions:

We were pairing off and experimenting either on our own or in pairs in the comfort of our own home studios, having as much time as we needed without deadlines looming.”

When an artist takes time in comfort it requires many years to refine the work, but to keep the pump working it requires constant, non-stop pressure (such as was the case with any Sixties rock band). With Warpaint the band was on the throttle together, always writing as an ensemble; the long-player thus came out as consistent yet fresh, together yet adventurous—a solid record. Heads-Up, however, took time away, a great deal of time away for each member to study their particular brands of sorcery in solitude or in simple pairs. Thus, while there still glimmers charm in their travail, it does not hold a similar completeness, it falls on the other side of the conman’s coin: it reeks of musty sameness, as if contracted from B-Side babbling, gobbledygook guitar work and lost-in-the-lines shoegaze, all mixed with the same dance and electronic influences that produced Radiohead’s more recent output. In independent study, the ladies rode their noses too intently to their volumes of Magick Most Ambient and stared too long at the crystal balls and thus found themselves consumed. More than any other record, however, Heads Up sounds of the ancient desert—not just Death Valley but that of a Pharaoh Queen’s tomb. It’s more barren, more desolate, more decimated than Warpaint. Inside the mausoleum, the ladies find the mummified heart of an abused woman, which if jumped back into life vis-à-vis a return to some goddamn electric riffwork—truly a miracle—it would still be broken. And because the magic in this record is already feeble and disjointed, do not expect it to grab so suddenly, as if triggering a curse. Instead, expect all those dancing impulses to be hexed into a malaise. It’s hard to say an album that has so many good parts can fail to put them together in anything more than an inelegant manner, but Heads Up does it as a long-player. And to disregard an album is to spend as much time on it as its counterparts or contemporaries, and still come out with just as few sentimental words as when the task was undertaken. Whereas Warpaint was a record that thoroughly rewarded repeat listenings by sandblast-sculpting all three sides into pleasurable vistas, repeat listenings to Heads-Up only reveals a somewhat enjoyable first half swallowed by the jaws of the dunes. From there, it’s a tumbleweed all faffing about, rambling ‘cross the wasteland with only two things to talk for (“Don’t Let Go” and “Heads Up”). From this narrative, it seems the ladies of Warpant should pack up the cabal and go home; the magic is gone.

kokal-wayman2

Emily Kokal PC: Krists Luhaers

Bollocks to that.

The desert long-player does not belie a sudden lack of supernatural in Warpaint’s earthen sense of style. In the passing year, while tumbling through the scrolls of interviews, deep listening through each album, burrowing through the volumes of Mozgawa features and absorbing myself in the musty, Eighties-lite effort of Lindberg’s solo project right on!, an epiphany occurred; shone like a flash and flicker of a focus. The ladies of Warpaint have thus far proved their studio talents apart more than together. No, this was folly—it must be!; Lindberg only had one solo record to her name, Mozgawa was working with producers and artists, brilliantly adding layers without changing fundamental sections, Wayman was still working towards her own solo fruition as TT and Kokal had gone incognito. Warpaint was surefire proof of their musical talents showing continuous refinement, not even the overindulgent Heads-Up could deny that, but with LoveLaws looming ever closer to its release date in May, it felt like a litmus test on one of the major sections of Warpaint’s spell-weaving sound was fast approaching. Wayman was also, along with Mozgawa, one of the major reasons for the greater departure into sleepy triphop of the third record. LoveLaws was then also a litmus test of such a direction.
May came, the record dropped. The reviews came in. In words, some described it as the mad scrawl of a personal journal, others describing it as an exquisite showcase of everything anyone would love about Warpaint. In numbers, a Pitchfork 7. Everyone agreed it was good, and I’m no different, but nobody really could agree why. The gushing fans were evident, declaring LoveLaws the next in a series of perfect records (an impossibility, even if Warpaint were the Beatles in drag), and the distant observers were pronounced–quelle ironie—by their speaking in third-person tongue about what would and should please said gushing fans. Pah, diplomacy? This is music. And the music itself is rife with more personal cuts from Wayman, all centering on the tried-true ice-cold scorn of a woman’s fury. Perhaps that what was meant when William Congreve remarked “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned nor hell a fury like a woman scorned,” because the rime and frost on Wayman’s blade goes slick with bubbling blood as it enters, retreats and then enters again the heart of targeted acolytes—count me one among them.

It is a nigh-carbon copy spin on Warpaint, brought to us again, four years on. Or perhaps even better, it’s more a proper evolution than that drab and limp Heads Up follow-up. I would say it’s validation that the latter was largely a misfire, a set of clumsy spellcasting, a fuck-up. And god-fucking-damn is that a relief, because as far as debuts go, I will gush: Wayman is back like an alchemist oxidizing nitrogenous triphop with the hydrogen basics of rock ‘n’ roll to create purely acidic alternative. It isn’t all perfect, there are some songs that are still too heady, but Wayman stays true to the Warpaint theory of sacrifice; taking listeners by the scruff the neck rather than caressing them down the spine (Lindberg’s right on! is the only Warpaint-related record that worked well with a slower introspective style). But Wayman’s general improvement in compelling downtempo does allow for some casually cruel and highly entertaining bait-and-switchery on “LoveLeaks,” featuring melodic accents rife with art rock machinations. She allows for the alternative to indulge in little flowery additions and more out-there instrumentation via something that sounds like a violin and a bagpipe that had rough sex and a resulting lovechild. An instrumental melody coursing with piss and vinegar in every vein; how wonderfully vicious. And Warpaint records have always involved notes and lyricism harking to not putting Baby in a corner. Yet this time, Wayman is like Jennifer Grey standing up, stepping out of the corner, and then kicking Jerry Orbach square in the nuts. To finish, she demands of Patrick Swayze why he would ever leave her, order he stop his smirking and command him to get his ass on the dancefloor, and win that fucking rowdy Sixties crowd. The choreography of this scene cannot be denied in my head or out, I swear by it. It details a witch-by-hobby going fulltime occult. It’s not a lie to say this record should excite someone (*cough* paging Lauren Entwistle *cough*) for the future of witchcraft in rock ‘n’ roll; if Wayman and Lindberg bring a vial of their acerbic solutions from their solo studies, listeners and fans might just be treated to the most powerful, direct and spellbinding Warpaint records yet. And that is a good feeling: to know that the witches of Warpaint are talented is one thing, but to spot the inkling that their best achievements are ahead of them? Goosebumps.

jennylee-wayman1

Wayman and Jenny Lee PC: Man Alive

There is no riddle, then, as to why Warpaint—a good band—has made more clunky records together than not. Good bands do that—quite often. See: the Grateful Dead post-American Beauty, the Cure all throughout the Eighties or anything recent by Gorillaz. What matters is that the bandmates don’t sound washed-out or in serious lack of influences or curiosities. Wayman, Kokal, Lindberg and Mozgawa have not shown any such lack of proficiency—Kokal’s general artistic inactivity not withstanding (I like to think of her of as harnessing her inner Daniel Day-Lewis and waiting for a project she can really throw herself into, y’know with a beard and tophat to boot). This optimism is nonetheless not without caution, lest the next record come out like a train-wreck and totally destroy the band’s commercial standing and inner chemistry à la Eagles circa ’79, but it is optimism nonetheless. And for a band that wallowed and sunk in the dumps in drastic fashion across their last group record? It’s a damn good feeling to know they’re still figuring it out stylistically. It’s a damn good feeling to be positive that they, along with Foals, represent two artists from either side of the pond that represent the lasting influences of Robert Smith and the Cure with proficiency. But more than that it’s a damn good feeling to know these women are inheritors of the long thread of unbound ladies rock. I keep thinking back to the critical moment of “Disco//very,” when Wayman’s voice begins to warble and spin out control, as if her eyes are rolling to the back of her head and her whole body has gone limp like a rag-doll from the pure pleasure of pushing her voicebox past its limits, past its normal register. It provides a significant counterpoint to the machismo of most classic rock ‘n’ roll. If Robert Johnson and all his acolytes are so prone to ask for freshly squeezed lemon juice rolling down their legs, then Warpaint and all their associated acts are more than welcome to gush with the boiling waves of a Sargasso sea and roll from head to toe. If an AC/DC record is to make their bedchambers the decadent temple for the man, then Warpaint is to reforge theirs into a degenerate garden for the woman.

There’s something exciting about that. A band of women making rock music that is under-the-skin seductive with glassy-eyed guile and teeming with the same erotic liberation that men have played en masse since the first Blues progression was strung ad hoc. Warpaint and rock progenitors both have that same manic masturbatory quality (be it the mind or the soul or the dick or the clit) that unleashes primeval senses and lathers them across the black grooves of a vinyl record player. What’s impressive is that Warpaint has, via solo pursuits, improved their translations of such sorcerous slang, gestures and progressions. A harem of hair-raising, blood-curdling, skin-scratching, hickey-giving chord change crazes and sudden melodic desires. All right there in the cuts. All working towards physical, spiritual and choral release. All slithering, leaping and running with ease across the greater parts of their records. All fuming with phero-harmonic stench from hair locks and body. All boiling and bubbling and bursting to an ecstatic end. All pumping a puritan’s heart wretched with horror. All slowly dragging a writer to the edge-of-his-seat with anticipation. All yearning as to what will happen next behind the closed door. All waiting to be had from the body quivers to the pillow whispers. And they play coy about it. They leave so much to the imagination as to what exactly forms the sexual chemistry. They leave so much to be thoroughly savoured whether on cherry-red ink, guitars or lips. What element, what instrument, what player? Oh they are such teases and such dominatrices. And oh, they wouldn’t let you know it. Not until you unwrap those records, poor boy. And not until you, poor boy, take these special records down from the parlour shelves for somewhere rather special. Somewhere where coven coos and witchy whispers can electrify the body, dig into pores and slide sweat down the skin. Somewhere where heathens and heart-dropping music can intertwine without interruption.

Yes, just as any other witchy woman of the past, present or future, just as any laid out or not by Mrs. Entwistle, the women of Warpaint exude narrative control that is pure pornography from Exquisite Corpse all the way to Heads Up. Even if they sing of being distant and removed, they chant as if they still have the image of long-gone lover once between legs found between fingers, image steaming in a crystal orb, who flees as if within them boils a blood curse, pounding their temple with all the more force the farther that poor bastard runs away. And so with just as much as a word sent along the lonesome wind, the Warpaint witches can bring them back. It’s magic passed down via scrawls and notes and b-sides all the way from Nina Simone to Stevie Nicks to Kate Bush to PJ Harvey and now to Warpaint, it’s a sugar that transforms to venom, playing in glee for every witchy woman image of wickedness and bestiality unbound. It’s sex that sells. It’s damn good entertainment and it’s a damn good match for that Robert Johnsonite machismo that dominated music for so long. Now Warpaint has their turn to release records stating with steel-faced confidence and the words: “Yes. Yes, poor boy, I am both your effervescent dream and your howling nightmare. And, no, no. No, you will not be able to handle me. Not now, not ever.”

And thus Warpaint does together as an impressive live show. Their contemporaries and predecessors are the solo acts of the witchy-world, amazing in their own rights, but not a fearsome foursome, a single act that just wipes the face of the earth sloppy with a tattered rag of talent and kickass libido. It’d be premature to say these ladies are the Led Zeppelin of modern-rock—no group can feasibly hold that title, not even Greta Van Fleet, flail as they might. Because among the world of rock ‘n’ roll, fem-powered or no, it’s Warpaint that carry the banner of fever-pitch eroticism. They are the band I love and they got those witchy, risqué shoegazing grooves to match the Plant-Page-Paul-Bonham sexual voodoo energy pound-for-pound.

That’s Warpaint’s mojo now—and ain’t nobody taking it.

warpaint1 (2)

Rock goddesses (L-R) Lindberg, Mozgawa, Kokal & Wayman PC: Mia Kirby

The Only List You Need 2018 Edition

Last year I introduced the Only List You Need because I hate listicles. Well, I still hate listicles, but I still like doing the Release Date Buffets for the month. They are useful–ordering all the records I listen to each week or, well, month, which is never not a list replete with suggestions, releases and random fancies. I strive for one to three new records a day which means I also have many a subject I don’t get around to talking about. In the same way, the Only List You Need is useful for the year end roundup. Thus, this listicle will live on, unloved bastard child that it is, to discuss what went without discussion in 2018. Further, you may be asking why the hell it took all the way until February to sort this one out. Well, the same reason the Oscars, the Grammies or the Super Bowl need take place in February: “just ‘cuz.”

11. UMO is my type of crazy

umolive

No myth, no man, no legend, just a really good musician (PC: Kmeron)

He’s dependably erratic, Ruban Nielson, upping the productivity notch for 2018 by releasing Sex & Food, IC-01 Hanoi, and SB-06.

Going from lo-fi funk to acid jazz to a neo-psychedelia supercut is no easy thing–that’s a lot of acid, man–but Nielson made it sound easy and better with each product; going from so-so to solid to super, like a frog hopping lilypads or Klay Thompson jumping questions (wait, no, that’s not right), the Unknown Mortal Orchestra toured the world and came back to tell us the tales. He doesn’t always paint the clearest picture, but when he finds that groove, it is smooth.

“Everybody’s Crazy Nowadays,” “Hunnybee,” “Hanoi 4,” and “SB-06” are now among the best jams in the Orchestra canon, AU, MU or what-have-u. Even when the records intégrales don’t quite click together, Nielson has proven himself a modern day jukebox for the anxiety-ridden psychonaut-slash-funkman, the king of lo-fi. From the outside eye, he just seems like a total Fonzi; the epitome of cool.

And just a friendly reminder for all of us (especially my own diseased mind), he’s totally allowed not to be.

Because he’s less Fonzi and more Lou Reed–willing to sabotage his own style in order to always keep us outsiders guessing. Watching him perform, it’s not hard to imagine him drunk off his ass on both public adoration and endless cocktails. Hell, it’s not hard for me to imagine considering he admitted to it, May of last year, at his Roseland show in Portland. But ask anyone there and they would have all said the only thing that blew chunks was the sound quality. Try as I might, no amount of warm colitas were gonna get me to forget it.

It took a second show in Paris, France, of all places, to erase the sound quality with something better. And La Grande Halle de la Villette did just that. He was on fire for somebody who seems like he would just stick to local scenes. But the crowd reciprocated his every move, even when he jumped into the thick of the masses just to see what was going on. Nobody expected it but him.

And if that sounds crazy, well, have you listened to his music lately?

10. Arctic Monkey Super Villains, stalling Machines and Beach 7’s

alexturner

So we meet again, Mr. Pitchfork (PC: Raph_PH)

Tranquility Base Hotel Casino is not the Arctic Monkey’s their best or even their worst, it’s just the one in which Alex Turner moonlights as a Bond villain. 7 isn’t Beach House’s best record, either, it’s just par for the course, nary a repeating track, but still a rehashing of a same old sound. Nor too does Florence and the Machine move the needle much on High as Hope, if anything it’s low on gas in the ideas tank.

This trend continued with whatever Damon Albarn touched, whatever Anderson .Paak smoked and whatever self-delusion was colludin’ with Kanye (his collab records notwithstanding, Ye was the product of a madman). Even my dude, Ruban Nielson, was not spared in the year of the wishy-washy records.

Because among the mainstagers, nobody really had a knock-out title of the year, excepting 1975, and even their record was a switchbacking, criss-crossing affair. Rather, what really bumped in rock and roll circles came from those tiny stages at the festivals, the folky corners and the DIY back-alleys. Artists like Lucy Dacus and her supergroup, boygenius, Melody Echo Chamber, Snail Mail, Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett were working hard to bring us the flea-market treasures, perusing through both the psyche and the swap meets and then slapping it down on the record button.

In rap, soul and R&B, we had to rely on artists like Origami Harvest, Tyler the Creator, Kadhja Bonnet, serpentwithfeet and Noname to fill out a roster that included Pusha-T and Deathgrips as the heavy hitters. Even Lupe Fiasco also finally got around to making a great record when no one really expected.

It wasn’t a terrible year in music by any means, but it did feel like the one that challenged us to find something new instead of relying something tried-but-not-always-true.

09. Kanye, please, you’re boring me

kanye_west_posted_a_selfie_wearing_a_make_america_great_again_ha-a-1_1538391668002

PC: Dragon Energy

“Make me yawn again, make me yawn again, I dare you, I double dare you, motherfucker, make me yawn one more time.”

We know he’s crazy, and not like an endearing crazy either, if you’re wondering why I let Ruban Nielson off the hook, only to hang Kanye back on it. He’s entitled to be as much of a whacko Dr. Frankenstein of musical experimentation as he wants. Hell, he’s entitled to make rap great again if he really wants to. I don’t agree with him, but I also don’t really care about him, either.

Perhaps my one worry is that Kim Kardashian doesn’t drive him off his current plateau, but eh, that’s probably water at the bottom of cliff, and he’s crazy enough to jump, if not to see where the gravity will take him. So this is all if I really had to think about him, which I usually don’t. But when he, the most famous rapper-producer on the planet, meets the “Real” Donald Trump, well, the twitterbirds in the cage are always gonna shriek.

I didn’t shriek, I barely even watched–I was not even surprised that Kanye and Trump share this mythical “dragon energy,” whatever Super Saiyan shit that might be. It was like a crazy-ass bear met a crazy-ass lion in the colosseum of American politics. And at least they had something in common. But consider me a bored Roman, a pleb plagued by ennui–we’ve gone so far up in raising the ante that it’s not even suspenseful anymore. It became nonsensical and then it became dismal. Now? It’s just typical.

Once again, Kanye can do what he wants, I even prefer some of his music sometimes (Kids See Ghosts being one those times). But I do us all a disservice when his ego-meeting with Number 45 is the biggest storyline surrounding Kanye. That he produced a run of five records in a space of six weeks should have been the bigger storyline: that crazy dragon energy doesn’t drop off like Tiger Blood or cocaine or any some such mixture. It just goes like a rocket.

08. Fela Kuti’s revival ain’t no zombi, baby

Fela-at-Orchestra-Hall-in-Detroit-1986.jpg

The Black President, Wakandan superhero (PC: Leni Sinclair)

Last week, I introduced my English students to Fela Kuti; briefly, I’ll admit, but it should stand to reason that, over the length of 2018, Fela Kuti has shot up my preferred performer rankings. I first started listening to the Black President in 2016; so I’m a newby. And when I heard that Fela’s been receiving some love in the form of box sets, well, the timing couldn’t be more serendipitous.

Value for money, $120 for a vinyl boxset that contains written essays, art and the all important records–curated by Ginger Baker, Brian Eno, ?uestlove or Erykah Badu, no less–is quite the deal. The first boxset from 2010 alone was a brilliant sell–featuring all the major epics a new follower of Mr. Africa should know: “Water Get No Enemy,” “Expensive Shit,” “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” and “Beasts of No Nation” among others. That the king of Afrobeat, the Duke Ellington of Nigera, the symbol of massive disobedience deserved such a massive boxset is out of the question; he deserves four and a couple more.

Unfortunately, Box Sets 2 & 3 may not feature any zombified tracks, but they do cannibalize each other. Ginger Baker wanting to feature his cross-genre and cultural collaborations and Brian Eno wanting to feature them means its up to listeners to decide which is a more enjoyable buy. One or the other will work, but probably not both unless bleeding money is the bloodsport choice. The fourth boxset, however, is a deep dive into the “Yellow Fever’s,” the “Coffin for Head of State’s,” the “Dog Eat Dogs’s,” the “Na Poi’s” and the “No Agreements.” Erykah Badu does an excellent job to find the b-side jams while not delving into the fifty-fifty outtakes and archives.

What’s most amazing is how long-running this revival has been; whether it’s filtered into mainstream culture is up to debate, but there’s no denying that among the music industry, Fela Kuti’s commercial presence is on the up-and-up.

Not bad for the Black President, not bad at all.

07. The amount of tracks you need for fad of the year

r-12292679-1533986113-7518.jpeg

Seven track records are so fucking stupid, it’s amazing.

Bon Voyage. IC-01 Hanoi. KTSE. Kids See Ghosts. Daytona. Nasir. Ye.

Some of these records were produced at the hands of Kanye. Two were not. All were seven track gems. More were probably made by lesser known artists. Who knows? Who’s counting? I was; and seven seven-track records makes a trend, yes, even a fad. It was just that kind of year, but as a fan for poetic rhyming through history, why couldn’t they all be released in 2017? It would have made the last list a lot more fun to write.

Alas, here we are, mid-January, my mind all a-fritz with what to listen to next–I’m skittering from Toro y Moi to Mogwai to Nicolas Jaar to James Blake to infinite bisous to Boogarins and then Deerhunter and yet still, nothing quite hit me like that summer run of six seven-track records, topped off by an Unknown Mortal cherry in late October. Why was this a thing? Why were artists flirting with EP-esque records in a sudden whiplash fashion, a suddenly violent, gnashing grasp for Fifties LP length that dare not run past 30 minutes? Surely, Melody’s Echo Chamber and Unknown Mortal Orchestra were not inspired by Teyana Taylor, Kids See Ghosts, Pusha-T, Nas or Kanye, delirious mastermind that he might be.

No need arguing with tinfoil on the merits of artistic telepathy, either.

This was just the weirdest coincidence that two different schools of music, psychedelic rock and alternative Rap and R&B came bound together by a single conceptual idea surrounding record runtimes. Like evolutionary convergence, it’s one of those things in music that perhaps is little head-scratching to others, but damn interesting that the industry can mimic itself without trying.

06. Nicolas Jaar, a Moby by any other name?

800px-Nicolas_Jaar_live_at_Rex_Club_Paris.jpg

Jaar? Not so much. Against All Logic? Very much so (PC: The Arches)

Nicolas Jaar is not like Moby. His music is quiet, a Four Tet contemporary, a sleepy tranceman, a downtempo dreamboat. It’s not quite James Blake-ish (who has a pulse and a Sam Smith-esque voice), nor does it really strike as house bumping affair like Jeremy Underground, Peggy Gou or Avalon Emerson or Aphex Twins. In fact, much like SUBTRKT, his early records play like the musical equivalent of an ambien pill.

Anyone can say it’s like jazz in that way, but nay–that would be like comparing cool jazz to hard bop and saying both will put you to sleep. Likewise, all electronic music is not the same and outside of one perky lady I’ve met, nary has a person ever told me they could sleep to dubstep. Much respect to the fact that she could, but holy hell, how?

I suggest to her, an ocean, an internet, a lifetime away that she enjoy Space Is Only Noise in order to calm that spirito allo vibrato, use Pomegranates to soundtrack a spooky skeleton Halloween and then listen to Sirens to… well, if that record doesn’t encapsulate w, t and f in rhythmical confusion, then nothing else will. Perhaps if she needs a hypothetical taste of Sun Ra on experimental electronic.

Either way, if she’s looking for a follow-up to Moby’s Play, Nicolas Jaar won’t have it.

But over the course of his alter-ego alt-house project, 2012-2017, Against All Logic will. Logic’s still not going to give it to her straight; it subscribes to more UndergroundxMoby logic than just plain Moby. And he’s not afraid to go the full Ivy League and break out that -comparative literature degree to great effect, quoting industrial-German poetry. But goddamn does he use the electric piano and the synth to break the stone-cold visage, and fucking hell does he employ that soul music to bring out the gospel in EDM.

So yes, much like the master, Moby, much like the forerunner, Mr. Fingers, Against All Logic is a damn good house DJ by another name.

05. The Thin White Duchess

stvincentthinwhiteduchess

Can’t turn her off once she’s been turned on (PC: Raph_PH)

She can’t keep doing this right? She can’t keep being this good?

MassEducation, by many metrics, qualifies as a just plainly better record than its souped-up alternative disco rock predecessor but perhaps the single greatest qualifier lies in the fact that while MASSEDUCTION sounds like a master among its contemporaries, MassEducation sounds like nothing that anyone else is making. It’s not because artists have forgotten anything, it’s just simply not in vogue—even David Bowie remarked that Seu Jorge’s acoustic renditions of his most famous Seventies work brought out a beauty that might never be captured with the electric glam warrior wave he was swept up in—so too Annie Clark reveals listeners to an exquisitry erstwhile unknown by washing off damn near every cosmetic do-up and stripping down to two elements; a piano and her naked voice.

Suddenly human, Clark is serendipitous, if not somewhat melancholic, she’s methodical, not rushed for time or bursting at the seams with art-rockerisms, not weighed down by the ten-ton expectations like Jethro in ‘76, Genesis in ‘77 or Floyd in ‘80. Instead, it’s just Thomas Barlett (Doveman) and her recording for what feels like the hell of it. What’s most important is that the redux reveals the moving messages hidden in some of the distortion-heavy tracks on MASSEDUCTION.

Critics can over-intellectualize why an album sounds the way it does. Debased from the instrumentation or the materials-at-hand, they of any field can philosophize the unconscious ‘”cuz.” Not an Alabama “’cuz,” but the “just ‘cuz.” Why just Clark’s voice? “Cuz it sounds nice.” Why a piano? “Cuz it sounds nice.” This is MassEducation’s raison d’être—a record made because it would be simple. Whether it reveals a new message within the music is unintentional; the elegance it showcases however, is totally intentional.

04. The 1975 are this certain band of the year

a_brief_inquiry_into_online_relationships

Blank cover because it will leave you speechless?

It should be no secret that The 1975 are my artists of the year. Really, for all the reasons listed here, I found The 1975 to be the most compelling, contradictory artists of an equally contradictory year. Further, I was ready to dismiss them as one-hit wonders; the upgrade from your One Directional pastiche.

But the album was, despite all its warts, a beautiful container for a fantastic run of cuts, all recapping the sheer insanity of 2018.

The last band that really captured this lightning-in-a-bottle effect, this ability to overpower the nausea that surrounds them (especially for the fans who loved the few undeniably good records), this self-important sense of creative invincibility. Just wait for Matthew Healy to sport sunglasses at night, Adam Hann to hide himself behind a mountain of pedals and everyone else to collectively forget Ross MacDonald and George Daniel exist as bassist and drummer respectively.

It’s a category more pretentious than album or artist of the year and something that should be be named every year for artists and bands that might take themselves too seriously. Hell, I might be taking myself too seriously just thinking about this, debating it and and falling in love with it. Bouncing off the walls in my skull like an energizer bunny and ultimately leading into some half-baked final product.

Where this bit is going, I don’t know, but that’s how I feel everytime I listen to a U2 record since 1992 and every 1975 record since their inception. That’s right: The 1975 is the U2 of the year. That doesn’t necessarily mean that such a group is shoe-in for band of the year, but as far as fun categories go, U2 of the Year certainly has a fun, puffed-up and pretentious ring it to it, as if taking the piss of the actual pretentious band of the year lists.

03. Noname out here takin’ ‘em

 

nonameroom25.jpg

Noname got into a real dogfight for album of the year with Peaky Quieters and IDLES

Room 25 is my rap record of the year and I qualify this having not listened to Pusha-T’s Daytona, but then, I’m not an overtly rap guy.

So from what I did listen to (from Lupe to Origami Harvest to all of Kanye), Noname ranked amongst my favourite—I have my styles that I delve into and Noname falls squarely into that style: jazzy, lo-fi, poetic rap. I’m a through and through Soulquarian man, if it has a hint of ?uestlove in it, then I must listen to it. And Noname’s Room 25 shares the critical element that make the best records from the Roots, Mos Def, Black Star, A Tribe Called Quest, Lauryn Hill and so many more just the best:

It’s like a walk through the neighbourhood.

This isn’t some pretentious intercultural communication either; it’s just an urban language that translates international–cityslickers all know it; how it mimics the catchphrases and taglines and street slangs and stickers lining the road, bumper-to-bumper. On
Telephone, she sounded just like that: painting a picture on the concrete scene, an avenue artiste dealing details on life as she knew it on the Great Lakes Gotham also known as Chicago. Those were her neighbourhoods on the South Side, the same neighbourhoods where walked Chance, Lupe and Common.

Mind you, she’s moved on Room 25. Instead of struggling in Chicago it’s a fight to stay alive in the City of Angels. It’s an intranational culture shock triggered by nip and tuck transactions and filtered through the stream of words licking consciousness. Worried? Don’t be: Noname’s wicked wit needs no injection—she’s just fine without the silicone and just primed to take out the Cosmopolitan back-catalogs topping the trash. Over 11 tracks, her stripped-down Soulquarian sound takes hands and guides them lovingly through all the trip-ups and eye-downs in a city too comfortable for its own good.

Still, I fear the day she gets the collab nod from .Paak or a producer request from Dre. Sorry boys, but I don’t think a Noname album can be built that way.

02. Resistance is joy, idling is not

a2336397456_10

A record that will actually leave you speechless, but not feckless

I’ve said plenty about IDLES’ Joy As An Act of Resistance as my album of the year. But in true critic fashion but it must be said again: listen to the damn thing. Joe Talbot is a man on a mission to the put the fire and the fury of repressed everything and everyone right in the belly. He’d scream in your ear that you could breath flames and you’d believe him. So listen to this record, 100-proof and ready to spit with a boom and not just a poof.

Go to a march, go to ten, support the downtrodden, make it a festival, go and be someone. All work makes us dull, boys, too much fun and we lose our mind like Party Janes. Activism is social criticism, but why get bogged down in the tediousness of it? It should be alive with every emotion, disruptive with the purity of just reaction.

But is this really all in the IDLES record? Read here:

For the last time, we should heed Talbot’s words: The IDLES of Joy as an Act of Resistance is “not a fucking punk band”—they’re a working-class flashpoint of joyful colère, of mirthful protest and of the struggle populaire—they are a goddamn gallon of brisk, morning air plunging gung-ho into the moshpit of your lungs, screaming “OH TO BE ALIVE!” all the way down.”

Yes they really are. Hence why it’s my record of the year. It really is: the record gave me the guts to go out and fucking win at life and start writing in a semi-professional fashion at Atwood Magazine instead of just closing myself in on this blog. I love this place like I love my home–but nobody every won anything in life by just idling a home. So go out there and win, motherfucker–just don’t be a dick about it or Joe Talbot and I will stop rooting for ya. We always liked scrappy underdogs better, anyways.

01. Women rock more than ever, but should we really care?

womenofrock

The women of rock are cool, but let’s not build a saviour complex young rockers need live up to (PC: Spotify)

Who hasn’t written or talked or produced or thought up a piece about women as the future of rock and roll?

What a vapid and stupid subject to fellate a demographic without realizing that we’re coddling to the same people who hashtagged the words me too. And never mind that this number one item on my list was going to regurgitate the same the shit–I changed my mind, not because I’m woke but because I listen to music like a religion and popular culture is nigh unavoidable to cache oneself away from when we’ve become dominated by echo chambers dialed up to 11.org

(One voice shouts and the whole damn silo starts to shake a-start and hark: “did you see it, did you hear it, do you feel it, do you know it?” Well alright).

And everybody who’s not in the group page gets the short stick. So women don’t need to know that the future of modern rock ‘n’ roll lies in the hands of femininity. Maybe because the modern woman doesn’t lean hard on traditional gender roles, but mainly because they can hear the music too: rock isn’t changing; it’s already changed. And every article is just a catch-up to something that happened in 1976 and only accelerated every year hence. Names like St. Vincent, Lucy Dacus, Snail Mail, Theresa Wayman and Warpaint, Janelle Monáe, Kadjha Bonnet, Noname–that’s right it’s not just limited to rock–are just testament to it.

I’m not going to congratulate Stevie Nicks, Jodi Mitchell, Kate Bush or even Madonna as the harbingers of this old-new-world. They were the firsts, sure, but the women of rock today are inspired by the music they heard literally yesterday–not 20 years ago. Male or female, they didn’t see the guitar or the bassist or the keyboardist or the what-have-they, they saw the guitar, the bass or the keyboard or the what-have-it and then they listened to the fingers that played it. Our criticism should be deeper in other ways: the melodic theories they construct, the ungendered progressions they interpolate, the styles that they grind their axes to, the production that they undertake. No need to be more vapid than that. So to sum up every article that espouses the supposed “feminine future of rock:” so much ado about nothing.

So if I could have only one thing for 2019, let it be the erasure of any more pretentious precognition, there’s more immediate and interesting matters to be had with music anyways.

 

 

 

 

Release Date Buffet: January 2019

Jan 4th

Mark Deutrom (formerly of Melvins)The Blue Bird
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Season of Mist
Genre: Alternative Rock, Neo-Grunge

Mark Deutrom decides he likes grunge and grunge likes him. So a slap a country album cover on this baby and see how many confused alt-fans can fit inside. With a voice that inspires Albarn and riffs that respire Sonic Youth, you can still hear why them damn dirty Melvins were so pervasive in 90’s record collections.

Spotify

Jan 11th

gnash – we
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alternative R&B

Internet sensation gnash has returned with a full length long-player, after dealing in nothing but singles and EPs for a solid
few years. gnash will probably only be recognized for his single “i hate u, i love u” with Olivia O’Brien and which, much like the crazy ex so missed and so maligned, still manages to elicit a melancholy is does not deserve. Oh, hate it all I want, it still stands as a centerpiece and easily the best track in what amounts to an awkward record that vacillates between G-Eazy and Jason Mraz. The production is pasty, the sentiment is soppy and the music is too mushy. Sorry love, but turn this record off and find something better.

Spotify

Jan 18th

anaïs – darkness at play
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Universal Music, Virgin EMI
Genre: Alternative R&B

My remerciements to Vice for this one, tossing out a French R&B queen suggestion, I wanted to listen to before the article was even a quarter-read. She’s some kind of born-again D’Angelo this girl. A sonic counterpoint to the up-and-at-em feisty fighter person (no a) of Janelle Monáe—shit the force must exist, because this record is balanced as all things should be—but let’s forget the memes, darkness at play is serious business and anaïs will make you feel it; she’s got every poor sucker hanging in suspense on her “paper wings,” spitting freestyle that would make a spirit-mama Lauryn Hill proud and with a sonic that pops cranes out of last year’s Origami Harvest jazz-like spoken-word fortune-teller’s. Crafting something elegant from something complex is always hard, and it’s not like she did this knowingly but so too does the butterfly evolve without a care to the moth. anaïs is just a young swallowtail from Africa, breaking out of the pupa with some damn grace.

Spotify

Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Producer: Self-Produced, Cate Le Bon, Ben H Allen, Ben Etter
Label: 4AD
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, “Garage Folk”

Yes, garage folk. This record has an imperfect sound, as if still unsure what it wants to be—folk, garage, neo-psychedelic? It tries to merge it all by zig-zagging to-and-fro with no particular destination in mind, just as long as it gets them away from that hazy lo-fi production (which they don’t do completely—they are lo-fi DIY after all). This is represented in the all-star cast of producers, which some how features continuity and stutter-step musicality, and showcases how a record can use with a more centralized approach rather hodge-podge populism. It’s not for every record, but for this long-player it certainly would not have hurt.

Spotify

James Blake – Assume Form
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Polydor
Genre: Alternative R&B

James Blake comes on back to us with Assume Form, an effort more in the vein of Chet Faker rather than The Colour in Anything with its Four Tet by Pharrelite low-and-slow electro-R&B simmer. To be fair, Chet Faker can still simmer and so too can James Blake; but he’s yet to release anything beyond its parts. This is just equal sum, expertly done and put together, cohesive and concise where its predecessor predicated as a smooth rambler. Problem is, I could sing praises on his sleepy R&B all day, but really Blake made these tunes in such obvious midnight minutiae that I don’t exactly feel impressed when I yawn, just bored. It’s not like say, the xx, who yes make music one can sleep to—but that’s just a nice side effect—you should stay awake and listen to those duet dirges, that minimalist thumping beat, those isolated guitar- and basslines. They give a certain immediacy to those instruments that never comes across in James Blake’s senior effort. I’m not listening to the record as I write and I yawn just scrawling about it.

Spotify

Sharon Van Etten – Remind Me Tomorrow

Producer: John Congleton
Label: Jagjaguwar
Genre: Indie Rock, Synthpop

Curiosity got the better of me and Sharon Van Etten’s record did demand it—as I couldn’t quite nail it, working out this record like some kind of PJ Harvey with a taste for popular music. What could have triggered this sudden swerve to the goth-light? This mild, middle management mask on some deeper, long-term depressive episode? One sniff and a snoop on the website and I found the explosive answer per Etten, “I gave [John Congleton] Suicide, Portishead, and Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree as references and he got excited.” Nick Cave’s Skeleton Tree? Well goddamn, there’s the cherry bomb trigger. It’s not synthpop made to glow, it’s indie rock made to live in the mish-mosh moment with some scratching and clawing just to get it done.

Spotify

Toro y Moi – Outer Peace

Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Carpark
Genre: Alternative R&B, Synth Funk

The conceit of this record came straight of the clubs, no really—Chaz Bear said so upfront. But every time I give this record a listen, with its references to Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem, Mexican synths with some downtempo bass and drums, all I can think of isn’t the modern nightclub but just pure silly Wham tropicalia, a chillwave “Club Tropicana.” Just a half-an-hour long experiment in ostentatious pastiche and booping-beeping-bopping, hip-hopping doldrums. Y’know the sort of stuff: flattened percussion, synthesizers fluent in extended Owen Wilson (wooooooaaaaaaaw), a sultry SZA-type slow track feat. ABRA, it’s all fucking there. Don’t get me wrong, I like all of it; a welcome change of pace from the downbeat Boo Boo and the daydreaming What For?, but don’t expect to go into this club finding long-term love—that’d be ridiculous, bub.

Spotify

Jan 25th

Choker – Mono no Moto EP
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Jet Fuzz
Genre: Alternative R&B

So, poppier b-sides from Honeybloom but still just as slick, all slapped together on a short ten-minute EP? Alright, then, I’m cool with that—spin it and enjoy it, but fair warning: you may not remember it.

Spotify

FIDLAR – Almost Free
Producer: Ricky Reed
Label: Mom + Pop Music
Genre: Pop Punk

Since when the fuck did FIDLAR’s Elvis Kuehn start picking banjos? Since when the fuck did Carper harp the evils of gentrification on a harmonica? That is some jug band punk shit. And what to follow it up with? Oh you know, a ukulele and some clapbeats with a Foster the People choral part. From the first tracks it’s clear: FIDLAR have just given it up—popping paint balloons over a canvas with random abandon. I just—I can’t—this—I MEAN WHAT THE FUCK IS HAPPENING?!? Who are you anymore FIDLAR? On the one hand they live up to the name “Fuck It, Dawg, Life’s A Risk,” on the other hand, a risk implies more to lose than a nihilistic approach to record-making is willing to own up to and this record is certainly a pop punk stab in the dark. Shanking any proper blow-by-blow rhythm, the best punk albums have a flow to them—but this long-player smashes track-upon-track-upon-track like a pile of train cars, whether one cut is better than the last is made totally irrelevant by the jarring, jagged entrance of the next.

Spotify

Santana – In Search of Mona Lisa
Producer: Narada Michael Walden
Label: Concord
Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Blues

Nobody should doubt Santana’s guitar abilities, that’s a given. I just doubt what Carlos surrounds that guitar with because in the time since Supernatural, what exactly has changed? If anything Santana IV had less bite than your abuelo’s piños and had increased the bobo factor tenfold; so Carlos el viejo needed to make a statement for Concord and well, the title track of the EP is kind of standard fare 2000’s Santana, the reverbing tone is there, the virtuoso playing is there, but it’s smothered by the damn lyrics. So Carlos, la proxíma vex olvidas las letras bobas por favor. Your guitar speaks on its own on, either reminding us of a samba from another time or remembering a treat from younger days. It’s like me trying to speak in Spanish—unnecessary and distracting.

Spotify

Sneaks – Highway Hypnosis
Producer: Self-Produced with Carlos Hernandez, Tony Seltzer
Label: Merge
Genre: lo-fi R&B, Alternative
Lo-fi it may be, but there’s something low-ley about how fierce Eva Moolchan, aka Sneaks, attacks her third record like MIA on a whisper. Her music is a minority report with a point, or ten, to make. On “The Way It Goes” she musters up enough mustard to spice the hot dog and make your Cardi B’s and Nicki Minaj’s think twice about biting in. The whole record is a vibe like cayenne pepper dust, with a heat level that never burns the lips, but still let’s you know it’s there. So is she more of an artist because her style is underground? Nah, no one should ever make that point, she’s just underground, alternative and she wears it on her sleeve, proud to still be kicking three LPs in.
Spotify

Swervedriver – Future Ruins
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Dangerbird, Rock Action
Genre: Shoegaze

Swervedriver pulled a Slowdive this year, reforming not to reformulate but for old time’s sake. Except, Slowdive’s wasn’t just any old and tired, get-the-band-back-together affair. It was an ensemble effort encompassing new recording techniques into a classic band, pulling from a couple new-school genres to refresh the product: solid, singular shoegaze. That Swervedriver might not offer up anything new was the clear and present danger, but they do; either venturing into post-rock or just snooping around electronic, they inject just enough to make sure the classic sound preserved well. Slowdive set out the formula and Swervedriver followed it to a tee. Top work, men.

Spotify

Weezer – The Teal Album
Producer: Mark Rankin
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Alternative Rock

Sometimes you don’t need to write good material, you just need to jump a shark to be remembered. And that’s exactly what Weezer has done. Don’t look it in the mouth, worry about the teeth, just hold on to Rivers Cuomo, Patrick Wilson and Brian Bell as they make the jump. This isn’t their first aquatic rodeo, mind you, and they definitely don’t bring much new flavour to the arrangements (just adding some slight alternative sonic before letting the original sounds take over hardly qualifies as groundbreaking). But damn do they execute, execute, execute. Forget about location, composition and all’a that—it’s all about the execution on The Teal Album

Spotify

White Fence – I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk

Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Drag City
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, lo-fi rock

Tim Presley need no introduction, he’s just as fried-out as his buddy Ty Segall and last year’s Joy saw them going toe-to-toe just to show hard the vibe can feel. It was a hard album to like that one and I Have to Feed Larry’s Hawk shows it: it’s not quite a shot thorazine, more like medically regulated CBD. Is it weird though that the record sounds like a lo-fi tour of Willie Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? Between the organs and synthesizers and the absolute lack of oompa-loompas, Presley sounds all alone on this record, forced to use his imagination with a minimal fascination. He’s still all on that West Coast Pop Art groove, that Love sensation, that 13th Floor Elevators level, but now he’s just having fun with the medical cocktails.

Spotify

The Colors of Warpaint, Part I

Florence Welch, Lorde, Joanna Newsom and Lana Del Rey.

Such were the names that headed off Lauren Entwistle’s piece detailing the modern popular music resurgence of the enchantress, the sorceress of song. In the ring of sorcerers, each has a corner. Each weaves in ode the history of something one might call a “movement,” but would do better in specifying it as “style,” to remove any temporal constraints that movements so often come up against—that which relies on an audience’s reciprocation against that which requires confidence alone—but I digress, on-stage sorceresses they are, it’s just pitiful that an obvious limit to characters meant she could only pull a handful of names from a cabal that includes Kate Bush, Bat for Lashes, St. Vincent, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Siouxsie Sioux, Goldfrapp and more—witchy-women who can all count themselves movers of independent music and desolate magic alike. But these women unravel their black silk and crystal meditations at-will and at varying degrees; Bat for Lashes and Goldfrapp seem the most likely candidates for Entwistle’s expanded roster of the modern chanteuse dressed to charm. Yet the most egregious omission? Warpaint—a band of not one, not two, not three, but four sorcières—a sect of nomadic occultists, resurrecting ghouls of failed relationships and weeping the life of a social exile, looping a thread through each heartbreak with their guitars, pedals, drums and banshee choirs. Summoning power from instrumentation and intermixing powerful incantations that cloud and obscure before a single line, vocal or guitar, launches likes a dagger through the sandblast wind—cutting through that desert storm and drenched in scarlet as if ripped through the heart of some unlucky bastard caught in their ritual. And forgive me, but that is to whom I give these next few lengthy paragraphs, because I am caught but don’t know if I am so unlucky for it.

It starts with a drum count, a one-two-three-four clap of the sticks and an ambient keyboard loop claws into the mix. A curling, mewling but no less possessed thing—ha!—sorry, a drummer loses the time, and the ladies instantly reset—momentum leveled, but not lost. It’s organic, like a keyboard mistaken for a place to sit, like the holler of “four already” to keep the mates steady, like the chatter of who’s taking whose solo before the piano keys go. Not missing a beat, one guitar groans like wind, another flutters like fabric on a clothesline. It’s a barrens-view gust, ominous and picking up speed—something soon comes—and, faster than it arrives on the horizon: a line, a line consumed by a rim, a rim consumed by a ridge, a ridge consumed by a crest, a crest consumed by a crown, a crown consumed by a wall, a wall consumed by a wave, a wave consumed by an abyssal maw. And then the maw consumes you—the listener. Sand slices, dust cuts, eyes a salted, watering mess, crunched furiously to keep needling minerals and particles from piercing through the lids. The liner notes never detail which witch plays the dusted guitar line through the middle of Warpaint’s introduction, and neither will audiences be able to distinguish Emily Kokal from Theresa Wayman as the vocal tracks whip around them, lick them with all the filth of a moribund valley and blind them from witnessing these four musicians of abandon-bound apocalypse weaving each incantation.

Watch them live and one might just lose their self in the dreambroken, sunburned life on the barren plains that Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman, Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa call home and imbue so well on their second record. Understandable, too—each cut of Warpaint is like a siren song, even if their name would suggest something of a more traditional punk-band; a raucous, riotous, ruinous catalyst of cave-bars filled with combat boots, shaved cuts and alternative piercings. A thrashing, speedfreaking, amphetamine-induced explosive affair with strats and SG’s and V’s, jetting past pibsqueak signs of tone and gain on the big amps, beat-up drumkits savaged by their keepers, the deaf drummers, deaf guitarist, deaf—well everyone in that dark, dank hole in the wall should be a sourdine after an oxymoronic, classically proper punk gathering. But Warpaint too is paradoxical; the perception that their punk-sound would involve appropriations of downtrodden machismo and backlogged confidence bursting out of the inseams of a dreg’s pants is antiquated. Joan Jett or Pat Benatar, Debbie Harry or even Siouxsie Sioux, they are not. There is no personality-cult surrounding their cast—each is equal in this warrior band of four Amazons, as such their name is two equal parts: War—combat, conflict, battle, destruction, decimation, bloodbath, massacre—and Paint—water, oil, acrylic, pigmentation, visualization, depiction, cosmetics, aesthetics. A duality presents itself: art in the name of battle, accents in the name of armor, sculpture in the name of scalping; a ritual artistry not limited to any continent or tropic, adopted by the Zulu, the Celt, the Iroquois, the Maori, the Viking and the Mayan alike to craft combat into something tolerable; elevating war into art and struggle into image. The Paint carries a just as crucial and comparable sonic element to the War: it’s nested on The Fool, Warpaint’s mottled debut—largely a collection of half-songs—with a sonic that is smoky, jungled, hazy and well-executed on cuts like the eponymous cut of “Warpaint” and the tasteful “Undertow” (a rare instance of a Nirvana reference sitting in the middle of the Venn diagram between the thoroughly enjoyable, the overwhelmingly goth and the insanely karaoke prone).

When Warpaint find their lines, guitar, keyboard, bass, vocals so on, they tend to curve and jut across the canvas, at once elegant and terrible, beautiful but horrifying, enchanting but utterly fucking haunted. The tracks imitate an artistic ritual: a tableau to dissect terror, the grey, white and black clashing over Guernica, animals, objects and humans broken down to shapes fighting not only each other, but themselves as well, a canvas of darkness highlighted by single, monotone woman, a cut up horse and rider, a hollering paysan, falling from the urban cliff: all honed and hollering into the greyscale of conflict with the clarity of heart-dropping intensity. So too do the single lightning-bolt riffs erupt from the engine of Wayman’s Mustang and Kokal’s Jaguar, cutting across the psychedelic, hysteric fumes of yagé to amp the brain into a voltaic zeal, both their voices chanting with the melancholy of a Theban choir and striking amorphous abstraction into clear depiction—every guitar solo a lightning bolt collected from the acrylic, cloudy layers, layered over layers, coalescing and congealing canvas with ribbed texture. The formula recalls mid-Eighties Cure (with Porl Thompson moving his fingers around the knife blades on the neck of his Gibson), late-Eighties Sonic Youth (with more hooks and less drone) or early Cat Power (with her gift for murmuring everything one wants to scream). Some might consider their live-sound to speak to that barren, rocky horizon of Death Valley as Pitchfork’s Ryan Dombal explains:

Their chemistry is inexplicable and fascinating to behold. With Kokal and Wayman often singing on either side of a central Lindberg– who commands attention with her spaced-out sway– the live attack is engrossing. Together with drummer Stella Mozgawa, Warpaint speak a sultry, desert-rock language that no one else is privy to, but you can’t help but want to crack it nonetheless.”

But!: The Fool emerges from the jungle with barbarian brutalism, hacked from a heart of darkness and muddily put together as frame stories within frame stories; lyrics written by one, sung by another. Guitars backed by muted drums, snare hits and prowlng basslines. The sonic is muddled and hazed over in Kubrickian fashion, with melodies overpowering rhythms in kill-or-killed savagery. This is due to, in short, drummer trouble; Warpaint called in Frusciante understudy Josh Klinghoffer, who is no by means a poor drummer, but who was, ultimately, temporary relief and more tellingly, a guitarist. And while his predecessor Shannyn Sossamon could carry cuts, they both were only holding the kit together until Stella Mozgawa could thrash it behind the tom-toms. Thus, The Fool was caught in an awkward period of a transition from not-quite-yet Red Hot Klinghoffer (an extremely rock oriented drummer) to the experimental Mozgawa (a hip-hop oriented drummer who would probably rock the shit out of an MF DOOM or Danger Mouse record).
The short of it: the record was made by convenience rather than by luxury. It got the name out there and that was it. Wayman, Kokal and Lindberg do well enough to mask a write-in drummer not yet carved into the stone, but the absolute lack of memorable drum sections speaks to their comfort-levels. Either Mozgawa did not want to zoom away on her pads or gadgets, or Wayman, Kokal and Lindberg did not need her to. Understandable for a band that would rather have its day in the jungle rain, just to sell that gauche introduction—letting their debut tell of a band still stuck; to most ears The Fool plays lush and clouded, a wet run for a Zaba Gothica (Zaba itself a poppy Zolo effort from Oxfordshire) and finding little success, still wandering the tropics of Goiania with nothing but a first-gen iPod stacked in nothing but the Cure and Cat Power. Reactions were lukewarm at best: Andrzeh Lukowski made of it as an impersonal heap for Drowned in Sound; Lorrie Edmonds flicks them off her shoulder for Dusted, and scowls at what the open door let in; Prefix writer/user daba glowed across all the faults of the record as intended master strokes; meanwhile, Spin, AllMusic and Billboard all barely dribbled out a paragraph as they fiddled with their pencils, as they do and as to why no one fuckin’ reads Spin (unless coerced by research purposes). In a twist-but-not-so of fate, Dombal and Pitchfork read like the most pragmatic (the Rolling Stone of the internet must be, really, lest it lose the sweet juice of that ad-revenue): making of the album a simulacrum, ultimately astute, for their live show and adopting a wait-and-see policy. And that is what sticks like a dagger through the chest, the most terrible aspect of Warpaint’s debut: it feels like a tableau of potential crumbling under pressures. That potential is a value, and The Fool has, like its namesake, traded it for years, risked becoming a crone with no chance, no fair shot and no happy tidings, so the debut makes of moodiness, muddiness and chaos what it can and that is why it remains so polarizing even eight years on, as I sit here writing about the damn thing. As spooky as a berserking voodoo lady whose hacking exit through the vines was not a victorious pose, but awash with grasping desperation, a wont for open skies and free paths rather than the suffocating arms of the jungle.


It would take a second album to prove the devil’s advocate; but Ryan Dombal was no longer there to describe the tribal ceremony that is a Warpaint record—instead Ian Cohen came forth like a wasp in an indigenous congregation, ready to sting. The review buzzes through each moment of the record like each head at the pews, with its venomous syringe of an asshole primed to pump cc’s of corrosive opinion: Cohen decries the band’s rigor-mortifying approach to music: the over-reliance on bass, the post-rock padding of guitars, the disinvolvement with any juicy studio hardware, the lack of hooks, grooves, friction or interest, the derogatory adoption of Massive Attack and Portishead’s triphop principles, the folly of an album as a “grower,” the compartmentalized functions of Kokal, Wayman, Lindberg and Mozgawa, the incessant pacing between what is pop and what is not, the struggle for balance between the retro and the future, the lack of critical standards by which writers permitted the indulgence of such a record by such a band. The only thing to do after this review is to sit back and admire how much Cohen genuinely hated this LP, such that he vocalized in contrary to the chant like Melkor mucking Eru’s first grand theme. Forgetting every point of disagreement—it takes a moment—the mind refocuses upon refrains seared between the ears searching for the summit of this record’s powers; perhaps these crests are simply hilling, and where one sees the mountain, another sees the molehill; one sees the trial, another sees the trivial.

But not until 2013’s Warpaint did these Amazons stumble upon the dunes they pined for in their live shows; some say it swelters with Death Valley, as barren and lifeless as Cohen’s heart for this record. And the solemnness of the record may hawk the horizon, but from Wayman’s opening miscount, the shoegazing emotionality dips and crests along the Bedsheets of Maranhão, with freshwater pools made from the teary aftermath of the many hill-slide ego-deaths (“Keep It Healthy,” “Love Is to Die,” “Disco//very,” “Feeling Alright,” “CC”). The cool calming clarity of cuts like “Hi,” “Biggy,” “Teese” “Drive” and “Son” tucks betwixt crescendo dunes peaking, ponds like islands marooned in the sonic waves, sloping, rolling, cresting, breaking, falling, crashing ad infinitum; blanket synthesizers pockmarked with guitar blues. As majestic and entrancing an environment as construed reaching by the fingertip steams for great oceans of emotion. The drumwork is stark, the guitars gather together, collect the grains of a softly ambient rhythmic section that gives way to crushingly beautiful open beaches fruiting along a now solid wall of riffs, howling and whistling with more volume than Cat Power or PJ Harvey. Hell, most of those tracks stick the shoegaze dunes and the triphop ponds side-by-side, rather than waiting for one or the other to deliver a punch-counterpunch combo of hillcrest and basin. It’s such a remarkable thing to hear that Chase Woodruff’s piece for Slant Magazine describes the first five cuts off Warpaint as unqualified triumphs—true, in that the tracks are giddy with the amateurism that brought Exquisite Corpse and The Fool down to earth— and then remarks of that same duality:

Warpaint’s complex, operatic highs, its experiments in minimalism and tranquility make for some awfully low lows, but there are worse things than a band that seems to be evolving in two directions at once.”

jennylee2.jpg

Jenny Lee PC: Krists Luhaers

For the casual fan’s tastes, this is fine—so long as the band keeps tailing both directions—the only problem arises when only one direction is pursued. And true, the album begins to delve deeply into hypnagogic and ambient areas of disinterest, as if put together in trance rather than in conjuration. Warpaint trips for the ego-death, gives a word or two on it and then, disconcertingly, plunges right into another as if they never learned from the prior, they push from fight to fight to wet sentimentality with no real desire to stop. This is where the sheets truly meet the sea, where the comfort crashes into the ocean, the skyline swallowed whole by gaping Calypso-like leaps in melody and harmony, aural white spaces of the silent treatment failing to course with the same momentum these elemental ladies possessed but not minutes before. This is, by Cohen’s estimation, a travesty. And by mine, he has misestimated. One should see the experiment—the mad trek through styles, looking for substance and how Warpaint just find it often rather than not. However, record’s many criticisms and commendations fall on either side of pennies for thought: The Fool is derided for sameness, but what is sameness if not consistency? Warpaint is lambasted for languishing into many different areas, but what is spottiness if not exploration? What is depth if not narrow-mindedness? Music nerds will greatly disagree on how and when these nebulous terms apply. But Warpaint’s divisiveness now is going to pay dividends later when people start dissecting these records for full pieces. They’re not seminally attached to the period like Neil Young or Joan Baez or Bob Dylan records, but attached to technical proficiency and an undeniably 21st-century sense of style. In some technomantic cyberwitch world, this is music for emo-cabal, it’s heavy and plodding, playing with more sludge metal triphop than some bastard Black Sabbath/Danger Mouse record could imagine and more riot grrrl sex emotions than even Thunderpussy can handle.

They are a band of pissed-off, banshee-Mojave Carole Kings seeking to shiver cold the listener—not just simple women witchdoctors prowling the Brazilwood jungle and country, but unsparing powakas, chasing evil men from the dunes of Brazil to the branches of the Joshua Tree and then haunting them along the Little San Bernardino peaks—all killers, no filler. Even the slow tracks play like the desolate aftermath of a bloody Western. No survivors, just these four women in black riding their milk-white mares. It’s a great visual for an even greater record but if those slow-burn needed an album devoted to them, it should be found elsewhere (Loma’s debut, for starters). Warpaint thrived on all the heart-stopping moments that brought us to that frame and not just resting their laurels on that singular frame.

Unfortunate then, that such is exactly where Warpaint goes on Heads Up.

Part II

A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships: So good, The 1975 are infuriating

You have no idea how ready I was to destroy this record.

How for the self-proclaimed kings of the indieheads, came a short reply: “well I didn’t vote for you.” How for the self-righteous marketing stunts, came a callous categorization: “are we not too old for this shit yet?” How for the opening static warbles of the eponymous rehash, came a scream overwhelming in defiance of whatever vibe, vice or vicar Matt Healy prayed to before this go around. How for musical switchbacks between anti-hook garage art to slobbering radio spittle, came a cynical sneer—just who do The 1975 think they are, patronizing, repurposing, and parroting back to me my own self-doubt? How for the prophetic posing and messianic motions came a terse assessment: “U2 did it better already—four times over, no less.” How for the soapbox spill youth-power truisms and muddled millennial mottos, came an anti-cohort hmmph, an eye-roll reaction video, an shrug and sigh of ennui and an under-table phone peek, a bizarre-Daltreyian reflex: “ugh, my generation.”

Face like a cold-slate, the release of leading singles “Give Yourself a Try” and “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME” was met with naught but derision, a vicious riposte: I Like It When You Sleep For You are so Beautiful yet so Unaware of It was a fluke—and there it did not stop; this is a band tailor-made for the college freshman, the upgrade from One Direction, the rebound from the Jonas Brothers, the cute boy from Philosophy 101 who listens to Radiohead and Bon Iver and Common and Lauryn Hill. The guy who uses “but I digress” and “mundane” far too often in any dull discussion. The guy who brought his record player to his dorm room and who obsesses over the quality of his stereo more than the quality of his papers. The guy who raises his hand at every question because he thinks he’s the only one with enough balls to ejaculate his opinion on any given topic, not realizing that they were in fact, rhetorical. The guy who hears her favourite 1975 hit and says “that song speaks to me.” God I hate that guy.

I hate him because he is me.

And for a whole week I hated myself for being unable to admit that Matt Healy, does in fact, speak to me like a particularly incisive mental health meme. I felt attacked—I still feel attacked—how does this decadent motherfucker know that my brain vacillates between extreme confidences to overwhelming vulnerabilities so fast it develops whiplash? How does he know that inside the shy boy lurks a lonely forum board observer on the cusp of flagellation? Intrapersonal or interpersonal it doesn’t matter. What matter is how he knows that we don’t know what we want; that we remain restless between commitments or casual sex. How does he understand that we have open-ended relationships because we’re so open to just end it? How does the 1975 get that the young millennial, man or woman, is a garden for some seriously fucked up shit to take root and grow before realizing that the soil is fertilized by Monsantos?

In short: how did he know that the floor actually is covered in goddamn lava?

Because that’s what we have here: a record that swipes right dangerously with all the genres across town. Alternative? Always have a good sense of humour. R&B? Has the best playlists. Jazz? Smart and has a nice sax. Electronic? Likes to get freaky with it. Folk? Knows the route by heart. All these genres shot their shot and strung themselves out on I Like It When You Sleep, just waiting for Matt Healy, Adam Hann (guitar), Ross MacDonald (bass), George Daniel (drums) and John Waugh (saxophone) to pick one of them. And on A Brief Inquiry into Online Relationships, they still wait for The 1975 to make up their goddamn minds for which one they want to pick, instead of staring at their matches like gormless idiots. Except The 1975 aren’t slack-jaw layabouts—they’re polyamorous, metrosexual and genre fluid. Committing to anyone means getting burned by everything else. No thank you. This record rocks modernism despite its catastrophic failures, and then puts that failure on display, curating a musical exposition of social mores all broken and mixed up by post-modern technologies. As Healy sings, “I’d love it if we made it,” keen eared listeners should get the sense that he sings of a world not made for today’s youth, but molded by the collective hangover of a party that was done before we even got here. With the line “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” post-satire news had cemented itself, so Healy is just letting it provide the meta-commentary via its own derisive hashtags and two line insult tweets, mocking the engines of our social discontent by simply quoting the bad faith conductors. The future is the now: a high-speed rail bent out of control, a climate forum touting the benefits of CO2. It shouldn’t be happening but it is; preen and pristine and a colossal fuck up.

And so without much else going for him, me, you, The 1975—we all just want to take a step back with an efficacious “fuck it,” and commit our small ones in peace: screwing each other. And so “Be My Mistake” rests at the metaphorical heart of this record, if only for to rip yours out, reinsert it, and then rip it out again. Our small relational mistakes have nothing on the greater approaching trainwrecks, but indicate and reflect a tired malaise at the blaring warning signs. And replete with singer-songwriterisms that include a soothing, fingerpicked guitar and cooing Healy lyrics, the cut doesn’t want you to cry, but it knows that you will—it’s the acoustic companion piece to “Somebody Else,” detailing the night when you actually find somebody else, your very own mistake, but still can’t stop imagining that somebody you knew, that image of naivety and hopefulness. The 1975 even include a gentle keyboard, twinkling in the background as a touching reminder of the last time the group tore out your heart and left it still-beating, strewn across the showroom floor like a petal plucked from a dandelion. How kind.

But these foppish U2 by Bon Iver lads don’t let listeners rest their laurels, not just yet—the record takes a moment to gather itself back into a rhythm after The 1975 threw listeners to the sobering concrete, and then goes right back at it, continually punching above its lyrical and musical weight on “Sincerity is Scary.” Healy, now at the piano, decries the paranoiac reflex to avoid smitten pillow talk or deep reflection, Ross MacDonald donates a bass thump of a stomach fallen, George Daniel plays Renaissance man behind the kit, the horn-like synths, back-up vocals and that ever-twinkling keyboard and then, feeling something was still missing, throw a gospel choir behind the chorus. And that’s still an incomplete list of all the elements in the cut, but that’s because of the all the tracks on this record this might have been the one where the finally bit off more than they could master. Still, punching above their weight, The 1975 were bound to cop a smack back to reality.

And yet they still don’t take the punches as a no and they don’t take no for an answer—Andrew Hann just decides he needs to make his guitar a little more noticed, George Daniel decides the drum machine just needs to tick that little bit harder, and Healy just wants to play with his new vocoder on “I Like America & America Likes Me.” The ambient synthesizers pulled from the more hypnagogic parts of I Like It When You Sleep only serve as that bloody kitchen sink, that never say die attitude, collaging together pieces with a manic Basquiat or Dubuffet proclivity for color, and then switching to austere Calder-like self-image of cold robotic love on “The Man Who Married A Robot / Love Theme,” a track replete with pitter-patter piano notes, whistling and burring synthesizers and then lightly stirring strings. A Brian Eno-like effort of music made for the modern art museum. These two paired cuts encapsulates an artist vacillate, caught between vomiting hues and tints across a canvas and then crafting peaceful carousels and mobiles. Both serve to stop everything and demand appreciation, but from vastly different angles. On “Inside Your Mind,” they continue the austere piano-rock mobile; on “It’s Not Living (If it’s Not With You)” they again explode with colorful musicality.

And so ends the magnificent seven of this record, the main exposition. Everything else is part of the regular gallery, from the par-for-the-course opening four tableaux, to the ending tetrarchy of Healy-focused pieces, it’s all rather standard 1975 fare. And pithy lyrical cohesiveness aside, the main floor is awash with a decidedly mish-mash modal direction. No delineated sections, just new pieces around every corner with hardly a plaque to explain who or what inspired it, when it found life, why it even exists. The draining effect leaves this record nominally below its predecessor. It’s a beautiful, moving mess, but a mess nonetheless. But then again, I Like It When You Sleep too, delved in chaos with reckless abandon. So what gives, why is it that the preceding muddle receive marks of praise and this newly released cluster of cuts has marks taken away? Because I Like It When You Sleep is their Rumours—it’s meant to be a messy affair—A Brief Inquiry however, attempts something more and unfortunately, the musical mish-mosh holds it back in that regard. Still, it cannot be understated that this record by no right was supposed to be as good as it is, even if it is no OK Computer millennial edition.

That it convinced me to put down the torch and save myself from burning the proverbial museum to the damn ground just proves how powerful Healy, Hann, MacDonald and Daniel’s Art Brut and Dada-esque songwriting instincts are and how much benefit of the doubt they really do deserve.

Album Artist: The 1975
Producer: George Daniel, Matt Healy
Label: Dirty Hit, Polydor
Genre: Art Rock, Electropop

Tracklist:

1. “The 1975”
2. “Give Yourself a Try”
3. “TOOTIMETOOTIMETOOTIME”
4. “How to Draw/Petrichor”
5. “Love It If We Made It”
6. “Be My Mistake”
7. “Sincerity is Scary”
8. “I Like America & America Likes Me”
9. “The Man Who Married a Robot / Love Theme”
10. “Inside Your Mind”
11. “It’s Not Living (If It’s Not With You)”
12. “Surrounded by Heads and Bodies”
13. “Mine”
14. “I Couldn’t Be More in Love”
15. “I Always Wanna Die (Sometimes)”

MassEducation: Low like a candle, still hot like a wick

MassEducation by St. Vincent Review

But if they only knew the real version of me
Only you know the secrets, the swamp, and the fear
What happened to blood? Our family?
Annie, how could you do this to me?”
-“Happy Birthday, Johnny”

How the fuck did this happen? How could nothing but a piano and a voice take a record this far? How could such a spur-of-the-moment concept be so flawless? How could such a world abuzz with post-satire rock and mass media white noise be cut to size by such a sparse record? How could Annie Clark and Thomas Barlett top a record that already topped best-of-2017-lists left and right?

With an equally sparse equation that’s how. Just three steps: add piano, add vocals and subtract all else. Bartlett, the artist also known as Doveman, reworks and reduces synthesizers and riffs to a flourishing left hand on He hangs a heavy right hand across chords and the baritone end, providing tonal counterpoint to Clark’s voice on “Masseduction” and “Slow Dance.” And then, after toying on either side of the keys, he does both for “Savior,” “Sugarboy” and “Los Ageless.” Clark herself reaches for notes just as high if not higher than on MASSEDUCTION without any of the studio trickery and excess instrumentation to fill in the gaps. On “Savior” and “New York” and “Young Lover” and “Happy Birthday Johnny,” the St. Vincent mystique is stripped naked and raw, even breaking in endearment while it pleads for sweet release. Bartlett’s hands largely step back to give Clark even more space in a New York City studio that creates an acoustic more poignant than what was achieved on the preceding record and allows the poetry of her lyrics to hit harder than Mayweather hook—verses such as outro for “Slow Disco,” the ultimate question on “Happy Birthday Johnny,” and the erstwhile muddled “Young Lover” chorus are given space and rhythm to knock motherfuckers out, left and right:

Young lover, I’m begging you please to wake up
Young lover, I wish that I was your drug
Young lover, I miss the taste of your tongue
Young lover, I wish love was enough, enough, enough.”
-“Young Lover”

And while she doesn’t use all of that white space, the recordings are mastered so well that she never needs to. Her voice roams the dead middle to the top of the stereo, while Barlett’s piano filters under, left, right and behind, crafting a solid bed of sound to support Clark’s vocal warbles and power notes, while still leaving enough unsaid for listeners to imagine a threadbare setting which sounds as if it lived life once as an underground jazz bar in the Forties. Hell, sometimes Clark even smokes like a hipster’s cigarette, but the resulting record might as well have been recorded in a high-rise apartment overlooking metropolitan madness, it’s so removed from any background racket. All the traffic needed is contained in Bartlett’s smooth tempo changes, timing the intersection lights like a road magician speeding up, slowing down, leaving space and then guarding it for expected emergency stops. MassEducation may be a little leadfooted at times, but still never as savage as her biochemical cousin.

Because MASSEDUCTION was an acidic affair; a lovechild between late-nineties P.J. Harvey and Thin White Duke Bowie, a toxic relationship on the level of getting freaky with a planetwide collective consciousness, a commentary intertwining the personal with the sociopolitical on a level where asking for just what the hell St. Vincent might be referring to isn’t frowned upon, but required. Because in the multiple-choice test, the MASSEDUCTION lyrics were a run of: value systems, addiction, sexuality and fame, gender norms, all of the above, mental health, sexuality, sexuality again, all of the above again, sexuality and addiction, mental health once more and then all of the above tying off the record like a little cute red ribbon that wraps together the everything-all-at-once clusterfuck of feelings that anyone under-40 knows all too intimately. Forget your millennial conditions, it’s called being young and confused; it’s that anarchic wont for freedom bristling under the calm, cruel smile of social norms and mores. And St. Vincent’s consequent fifth long-player in the solo canon veered between both tones and emotions, switching from icy to hot faster than Shaquille O’Neal can sell it and flailing from elation to depression quicker than Ronald Weasley can believe it. You could have sat there and done fuck-all but close your eyes and listened, dissolved right into that weird extradimensional eyelid space, descended into the album concept like Juliet falls for Romeo, not moved an inch and then: you would feel like you’ve ridden the most insane roller-coaster possible. Headphones not recommended, but required. The end result was you sitting there, forty-summat minutes later with insides flipped upside down and out. MASSEDUCTION was just that addictive, just that wild, just that seductive, just that good.

And MassEducation does it one better. Because the former requires more alert ears, more involvement for the ounces of enjoyment from the fuzzy coating whereas the latter plays a more accessible angle; gently gliding from the digital phonogram to eardrum and spirit. Bartlett’s New York parlor piano recalls the dining room setting of Carole King’s Tapestry while Clark’s vocals and lyrics squirm in the dark subject manner of a Tori Amos cover. Hell, Kurt Cobain once described Amos’ cover of “Smells Like Teenage Spirit” the perfect breakfast music: relaxed but weighted, something that once given the nudge, pushes momentum into the morning. MassEducation does exactly that. The result is a long-player that is more mature, more earnest and more honest in its aspirations while still containing the same dynamic range without all the violent emotional steering. MassEducation doesn’t take the hand and wring its owner like a rag doll child from place to place to place. There’s enjoyment to be had in the build-up taking its time—the record is one track shorter but three minutes longer—and unlike MASSEDUCTION, there’s no unknown force driving someone to repeat listen, no lyric hidden by post-production malarkey that needs be deciphered. You can simply put it on your sleepy Saturday and let it run over and over and over again just because it sounds that pleasant but serious, just because it is that relaxed but profound, just because it is that easy but no less gripping.

It may not explain for others why this record earns such esteem above its cousin, but it boils down to just because it goes well with a glass of wine and a book. What else would I need at that point? To listen again, again, again to this drug of a record is enough, enough, enough.

Don’t it beat a slow dance to death?”
-“Slow Disco”

Album Artist: St. Vincent

Producer: St. Vincent with Thomas Bartlett

Label: Loma Vista

Producer: Piano Rock

Tracklist:

  1. Slow Disco”
  2. Savior”
  3. Masseduction”
  4. Sugarboy”
  5. Fear the Future”
  6. Smoking Section”
  7. Los Ageless”
  8. New York”
  9. Young Lover”
  10. Happy Birthday, Johnny”
  11. Pills”
  12. Hang on Me”