Girl: Eskimo Joe’s damnable, affable debut

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Outside a marketplace on earth
There’s a subject we all talk about
It’s called girls and how they work”

I was this close,” I said, suddenly, interrupting my own train of thought, raising two hands with about of foot of air between them, “to finishing an outline on the damn thing.” But then I thought, if Eskimo Joe only needed deliver halfway on this Girl, then that hands me carte blanche on how to review the damn thing. A crass box from Australian imprint, Modular (you might know them now for releasing Kevin Parker upon the word). But that still couldn’t stop the squints from arriving, the glass-eyed fogey in me, coming to measure how much I love (loved?) this band, how much I bleed (bled?) for Kavyen Temperley, Stu MacLeod and Joel Quartermain. But here’s the secret: nerds don’t know shit about having loose fun. Not just bad jokes fun or racy games fun, but plastered drunk and poledancing in your grundies fun. True in college, true when reviewing this record. As young MacLeod so crassly addressed it: “We’re not hopeless romantics, we just like a bit of intellectual stimulation to go with our poontang.” What a college-level philosopher. It’s only right that we run on feeling with this Girl. Settled on fucking it, maybe edging on an S&M engagement with it. No promises.

There are three career trends that Eskimo Joe would lay down on Girl which will see sporadic listed reference as I ramble from point to point, starting with the first: that this record was inspired exclusively by that Oasis drivel? Bullshit. They may admit to anglophilia, to a nubile britpop fascination, but I don’t care if they brought in veteran producer Ed Buller to curate their debut long-player to that end, because this is as American-Australian independent rock as it comes. Caught between phases of grunge and stadium garage and loving it until literally blue in the face. After two exclusively garage rock EPs, Eskimo Joe begins their career seesaw of influences alternating between Turnstyle riffs and soft blink-182 lyricism like it’s some sordid icebreaker game when before they sounded so free—horny, hungry teenagers—excited that they could even fuck around with a guitar, much less get paid for it. Where’s that goddamn nothing-left-to-lose confidence, the downright pluckiness of Eskimo Joe? Yeah, losers they were, but humans, yeah, youthful they were, but not overwrought. Well that’s all gone—Girl is a blantantly post-grunge affair panhandling, not even for your money, but for your attention.

Look at all these Silverchair and Smashing Pumpkins tricks I know,” she says, spurts, exclaims! Even I can’t help but have a soft-spot for a music taste that fawns on the darling acts, the ones that write anthems and operate at the vortex center of generational tempests and the seemingly resplendent “whatever-the-fuck-they-call-it” factors. If Humbug existed in 1999, Girl would have fawned all over it. She wears her music on her sleeve, which makes the conversation easier, if forced. She’s not shallow, but interests coat her denim jacket. She gives the bait free to keep the conversation focused on her and away from us, the fishers looking for the catch of the night. So when I complain about this guitar-based basicness of influence, I can’t help but be keenly attracted to it, I somehow still find myself enjoying this thing at parts. Which brings us to career trend number two: straightforward lyrical obliqueness.

How painfully playful yet naughty Girl is. How much I wish I could share her naïveté, her naif sense of rough sex and adulting. How 19 of it, to assume her reason of being a kid is going to excuse how people increasingly assume that she’s an adult; that she knew what she was doing all along. The voices on Girl tease from switch-on, switch-off lo-fi vocal filters like pillow whispers, to falsetto coos like kitten chirps then moan deep and drown in husky, heavy, scratching, biting growls. She’s done this before, you should have realized; she’s already bought her first pair of fuzzy handcuffs. And it’s all coming to bear in her dorm room, her student apartment, her own little self-contained stories that venture into metaphors not even remotely connected: “Its hard sometimes being yourself, like discarded rags on your top shelf.” What the fuck does that even mean, Kavyen?

At one point these lyrics were annoying, not just confusing, but the drunken mask erased much of last night feelings, excepting these: waking up, listening to the scrambled-egg riffwork of this record, looking to your right and seeing her there with a grin laid upon the veil. Well, it makes sense why someone would like Girl; just enough volts to wake you up, just enough soft moments to enjoy the puppy-love experience of tangled legs and hangovers:

When I wake up, in the morning
You look so good, you look so good
When I get up, when I’m yawning
You look so good, you look so good, to me”

And to puppy-love something is to know the deal: no conditions. There’s no if, there’s just a when. Neither is there an end. No terminal phase for this premise, no emotional riposte to counteract the pure infatuation of morning. Yes the metaphorical obliqueness is nettling, but it comes from a voice so raw and potent, so goddamn endearing. Which brings us to career trend number three: endearing rhythms and melodies. Whether it’s the aforementioned vocals, light or husky, those cute little pristine pianos like ceiling stars (“Liar,” “Just Like Me”), or the guitar progressions that twinkle like twee and grind like “fuck me” (“Head Hurts,” “Election,” “Driver”) Eskimo Joe are not adults, but they have definitely grown up. Gone is the angst, come is the anxiousness. Girl, by all accounts, is a holotype for alternative rock debuts; agitated, unsure, nervous. Hell, Girl is absolutely agoraphobic, with no single cut threatening four minutes, the closest she comes to the threshold is a whopping three-minutes-43-seconds on “Sydney Song.” The question “Am I doing this right?” bubbles under Girl’s every action no matter how sure she appears or how much others assume her to be, at first listen, adult.

Probably the only “big-hit” cuts I can tolerate are “Wake Up” and “Sydney Song,” but it is obvious that damn near half this record got mixed-up in such disingenuous trappings without the same charisma. The more I listen to “Liar,” the more it slips up in describing dishonesty as a fashion rather than a habit. It denotes the beginning of the less-pleasant twitching, continuing on, in order, to “Take A Rest,” “Love List,” “Just Like Me,” “Who Sold Her Out,” and the nauseating “Planet Earth.” I’ll understand if most of you can’t even get halfway through that conversation. But despite all the chatterbox clutter and try-hard signs of cool-ture, Girl still has something you would have only gotten from bands in the late Nineties: bleeding-heart honesty. There’s a real beating heart down there, it’s just been wrapped in material tinsel. Think of this record as extrapolating on the first love that is Third Eye Blind. Telltale adolescent signs fade away on this record—that 90210 interest is fucking fleeting—and singer-songwriter-rocker compulsions that peak out on “Head Hurts” actually show out on “Slow Down,” “Election,” and “Driver.” Indeed, they lay along this record like hidden gifts; I actually like these tics more then Girl’s incessant need to rely on that anthemic rock bullshit. And they even out the dealbreakers because I’ve lived with her. And she’s still curious to me, if not loveable, this Girl. So I’ll still sing along to every moment of her—she’s too fundamental to my being not to—but I wouldn’t want to introduce someone to Eskimo Joe with this record.

Too much puppy-love y’know?

Album Artist: Eskimo Joe
Producer: Self-Produced with Ed Buller
Label: Modular
Genre: Indie Rock, Garage Rock
Tracklist:

    1. “Head Hurts”

    2. Wake Up”

    3. Planet Earth”

    4. Who Sold Her Out”

    5. Love List”

    6. Liar”

    7. Election”

    8. Take a Rest”

    9. Slow Down”

    10. Sydney Song”

    11. Just Like Me”

    12. Driver”

Release Date Buffet: March 2019

March 1st

Hand Habits – placeholder
Producer: Self-Produced with Brad Cook
Label: Extreme Eating Records
Genre: Singer-Songwriter

The singer-songwriter amble is an admirable trait, but without even a laidback percussionist it has no live drive, no appeal in the flesh. So placeholder, much like its predecessor, does well in studio but it’s all moot in today’s game if she can’t get that drummer to help her hold the stage. A girl and her guitar might work on record but today’s records always require something more lest it’s all the less compelling.
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FEWS – Into Red
Producer: Joakim Lindberg
Label: PIAS Group
Genre: Post-Punk, Shoegaze

Another day, another post-punk band, one word, all caps. But where FEWS(!) prior sounded similar to say, industrial Violent Femmes, now they seem overwrought in that Linkin Park gothica. Gracefully they don’t go the full emo—that would too much, y’know?—but they definitely make this post-emo punk sound their own, combining the drained emotion vocals with that reverbing, warehouse shoegaze. Of the two though, the instrumental fervor far outstrips whatever vocal flavor they’ve chosen.
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Pink Mexico – Dump
Producer: Jeremy Scott
Label: Little Dickman Records
Genre: Garage Punk, Surf Rock

I don’t know why I let this factory (forget about garages, this is a warehouse) punk record run three times over before moving to the next guy. I don’t mean that in a bad way; I let it just kind of take me, beat my skull in with a shovel, and then left me three times in a row and remembered why I like the taste of blood. Sadistic, I know, but then so is listening to this record spin after spin after spin.
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Pkew Pkew Pkew – Optimal Lifestyles
Label: Dine Alone Records
Genre: Pop Punk, Punk Rock

If American Pie ever needs a reboot, Pkew’s got the soundtrack ready and waiting.
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Pond – Tasmania
Producer: Self-Produced with Kevin Parker
Label: Marathon Artists
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Dream Pop

Pond usually like to make their albums difficult, sucking on a lower-grade fume than Panda Bear and his Animal Collective buddies go for, but I think spending all that time with Kevin Parker has paid off—Tasmania follows The Weather in creating records that are their most digestible long-players since Beard, Wives, Denim all without stepping on Currents’ toes. All in all, a fine addition to the burgeoning Australian neo-psych tradition.
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Royal Trux – White Stuff
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Fat Possum Records
Genre: Hard Rock, Psychedelic Rock

Famously off-kilter, bizarre and out of their minds,
White Stuff is as the title suggests: a collection of wonking tonking honking mixtures of hard rock, hip-hop and neo-psychedelia. At times I don’t know if I’m listening to the Gorillaz, Limp Bizkit, Aesop Rock or Cage the Elephant. None of these are contemporaries, all of them came after Royal Trux, but goddamn does Trux make it sound like none of that matters.

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Sundara Karma – Ulfilas’ Alphabet
Producer: Alex Robertshaw
Label: RCA
Genre: Indie Rock, Pop Prog Rock

Oscar Pollock’s voice perplexed me all the way to the shops and back, I, struggling to identify the ingredients, nearly got caught in traffic solving that tenor too low for the Peters, Gabriel and Green, yet not as overblown as Bono’s ever oddly inspiring yelp. That voice even reaches for some of the Nick Cave sardonic appeal and tries to hit notes in Mika’s lower range. But then the lightning was bottled; at its core this is a voice of the Davids: Bowie and Byrne. And Sundara Karma lather that voice in music with so many influences it almost feels Ulfilas’ Alphabet is but a tribute record to turn-of-the-Seventies art-rock replete with keyboards, pianos, violins and time changes.
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Sun Kil Moon – I Also Want to Die in New Orleans
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Caldo Verde
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Folk, Spoken Word

I don’t think Sun Kil Moon records can be graded along the jists of poor, mediocre, good or great. Rather, every Sun Kil Moon record is like a folk rendition of a PT Barnum exhibit. Shit at this point, Mark Kozelek could fill the whole museum with his inane neurotics and obtuse lyrics, no problem, and we’d all take a tour just to see what’s going in that head. The answer is saxophones, random, yet tasteful, saxophones.
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Solange – When I Get Home
Producer: Self Produced with Panda Bear, Pharrell and Tyler the Creator among others
Label: Columbia
Genre: Neo-Soul, Alternative R&B

The mark against neo-soul is a predisposition to never assert itself, requiring other genres to add some vigor to the venom as Anderson .Paak has so gladly demonstrated over the course of his career. Well, Knowles said fuck it to all that noise with Seat at the Table. If Knowles, mad and frustrated, demanded for some r-e-s-p-e-c-t on her 2016 long-player, then When I Get Home is wont for some tranquility. It barely even raises its voice not that Knowles really needs to. But she continues to astound by making psychotropic soul without lo-fi sensuality seem easy.
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Wander – March
Producer: Jack Shirley
Label: Headless Queen Records
Genre: Post-Rock, Math Rock

Wander continue to perfect the already perfected: that sound of post-rock, the quiet-loud pyroclastic flows; oozing, exploding, oozing, then exploding again without much thought given to the reasons why a volcano would explode. It’s all one word titles bhereft of worded explanations; fine, I really don’t mind it, being the guy who finds post-rock relaxing via a twisted meditative value of virtue in volume—yes, I really do use cacophony to contemplate—but its not about that, first impressions limit predictions on whether March will be worth walking back to. Time, unfortunately, never moves at a run.
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Yves Jarvis – The Same but by Different Means
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: ANTI‐
Genre: Neo-Soul, Psychedelic Folk, Ambient Gospel

Montreal-based singer-songwriter-producer madlad galore, Yves Jarvis by any other name, really has made the most confuddling gospel records this year. The neo-soul coating intrigued me, the psychedelic folk gamed me, but it was the vacillation between lo-fi and ambient gospel that perplexed me. And it’s not like the record is a real barn-burning affair; it’s not even a flame, nor a spark. It’s that last little coal that won’t go the hell out, instead burning the whole night long.
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March 8th

Astralingua – Safe Passage
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Self-Released
Genre: Experimental Folk

Totally not intended but a happy accident nonetheless, DM’s should thank Astralingua now for providing them a soundtrack when the squad heads to the High Forest.
Link

The boys with the perpetual nervousness – Dead Calm
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Pretty Olivia
Genre: Garage Rock, Surf Rock

Andrew Taylor (Drop Kick) and Gonzalo Marcos (El Palacio de Linares) make up the boys with the perpetual nervousness if the only reason they could so nervous is if the rest of were just gonna shrug and say “yep, you made some surf rock.” Like, what do they have to be nervous about with their debut? It’s fairly innocuous, twenty-five minutes of easy-listening with no bite.
Link

Dido – Still on My Mind
Producer: Self-Produced with Rollo
Label: BMG
Genre: Downtempo, Electropop

It’s not that Dido’s released bad records; more that some don’t take as much as others. Well, Still On My Mind is probably her first LP since Life For Rent that really takes. She’s always played on the edges electronic music with her brother Rollo; and Still on My Mind’s predecessor, The Girl Who Got Away, was so forgettable, you wouldn’t be wrong to think this was the first real deep dive embrace of skittering electronic. But here, now, on this long-player: Dido has contructed a pixie cut Cher attitude with no autotune, transformed and mastered her role as an elder stateswoman of electropop while the rest of us were just making “Thank You” memes.
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Foals – Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost, Part 1
Producer: Self-Produced with Brett Shaw
Label: Transgressive, Warner Bros.
Genre: Art Rock, Alternative Dance

Art rock is the best that could be done; because Part 1 is beyond any single genre. Not even alternative dance feels right, damn it. Both are superlatives that square this record in. Imagine calling Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon fucking prog-rock. Exactly. It feels wrong and for eight-tenths of the way, Foals tesseract on their style. At then ninth of ten, however, Foals collapse, indulging at the end to slow ballads of gluttonous wrath and ruin to their own irony and lose the pointedness that carried the rest of the record. They rob the record of a good cliffhanger by trying to tidy it up. Still, don’t dabble in some foppish contrarianism; this is a serious album of the year contender.
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Ghost Chief – Paint Leaves
Producer: Self-Produced with Jim Keaney
Label: Self- Released
Genre: Folk Punk, Emo Folk

Oh man, this was not as advertised. Do you like moshing to a folk soundtrack? Well, maybe you’ll like unleashing your inner emo to one. Ghost Chiefs somehow manage to combine the twee pluckiness of early Los Campesinos material with some raw emo rock mike swallowing. I like it and I don’t even like it when artists mike swallow! Oh and Jack Shirley mixed and mastered this thing; dude gets around.
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KOKOROKO – KOKOROKO (EP)
Producer: Self-Produced(?)
Label: Brownswood
Genre: Afrobeat, Instrumental Soul

All the promise in the opening notes of KOKOROKO display that Afrobeat style brimming with energy and then trimmed with free jazz noodles on leading cut “Adwa,” and an absolutely sublime guitar felt on “Abusey Junction,” but the middle of this record just devolves into instrumental soul and that’s not what Afrobeat signed up for. Where’s the flare? Where’s the pidgin message of oppression? Gone, leaving an EP half proficient, half unsurprising.
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Nick Waterhouse – Nick Waterhouse
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Innovative Leisure
Genre: R&B, Soul

If you couldn’t guess it, till now, yes, Nick Waterhouse really plays up that new-age reincarnation look of Buddy Holly. But here’s the thing: he still doesn’t sound like Buddy Holly—and that’s a good thing. His style intertwines, wraps, grips hard on the soul and funk elements that only accent a Black Keys LP. There’s a dangerous swank to Waterhouse’s eponymous fourth record that is all Waterhouse. The closest comparison is Eric Burdon and the Animals with more horns but even that cannot do
Nick Waterhouse
justice; this record manages to connect 1969 with 2019.
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SASAMI – SASAMI
Producer: Self-Produced with Joo-Joo Ashworth, & Thomas Dolas
Label: Domino
Genre: Indie Rock, Shoegaze

Wildin’ stats time: a lion share (90 to 95) percent of music is made for consumption; a lion share of that music made for consumption (somewhere north of 60 percent) is to be consumed mindlessly; and the percent that all these statistics came from my ass is a steamin’ Benjamin. But listening to SASAMI kind of reveals how jaded one can get listening to music written as melodic testimonials; no matter how much SASAMI can break her heart and mine over the course of forty-ish minutes, the temptation is conclude with “another one for the pile.” Not a bad pile, mind you, but another one for another pile nonetheless. Here’s my ultimate suggestion however, pull this one from the pile, dust it off and enjoy it—this shoegazing affair uses all the power of the rustle and whistle to make some efficacious slow tempo rock.
Link

Sigrid – Sucker Punch
Producer: Martin Sjølie,
Odd Martin Skalnes, Askjell Solstrand, Patrik Berger, et. al
Label: Universal Island Records
Genre: Electropop, Dance

If Sigrid wasn’t already before, her debut record will skyrocket her demand as an ace in the festival season undercards. Stitched together from the better part of her EPs, what’s most satisfying isn’t how high she reaches with lead singles, but how the deeper cuts fulfill the early inklings of orchestral dance (“Don’t Feel Like Crying”) or the bluesy Adele-like vocal warbles (“Dynamite”). For the casual fan, she does well to differentiate from Tove Lo’s heavier house dynamism of a bad girl with a conscience, the bar of measure for Scandinavian electronic vocalists for the near-future.
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VICTIME – Mi-tronc, mi-jambe
Producer: Simon Provencheur
Label: Self-Produced
Genre: Post-Punk

French experimental punk band, VICTIME seem to have gotten their wires crossed: trying to fuse together no wave and new wave into a screech jangling affair that sounds like some Thurston Moore tapes better left forgotten.
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March 15th

Baiuca – Misturas (EP)
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Raso Estudio
Genre: Indietronica, Galician Folk

I am a simple man. I hear Maghrebin influences and I like. Even when the indietronica doesn’t quite do that divine sound justice as with Ammar 808’s Maghreb United. Now, Baiuca might not be using any maghreb instruments, and the choral synchronicities with Berber chants might just be coincidence, but it’s done so well. Vocal dervishes exaulting the spirit at its most primal then there mashed together with heartstring and flute melodies, snapclap beats, bass punches and snare slaps. It’s cruel that this EP sounds so easy to make; really it’s just testament to how effortless it is to like the thing.
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The Brian Jonestown Massacre – The Brian Jonestown Massacre
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Tee Pee
Genre: Neo-Psychedelic Rock, Blues Rock

Maintaining standard is hard, man. Even when one hasn’t been in a biz for a long time; that creeping feeling of compromising tastes becomes known, becomes present, becomes hard to stave off. But just as sometimes this feeling gets bucked off for certain bands, other bands know just how to make people tick. The thing is, I like it when the Brian Jonestown Massacre do this space blues sound. And that it swings with the Allah-Las at the same time just puts a peach in my cobbler. It’s nothing amazing from Anton Newcombe and the gang, but it makes the passing of the days easier.
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CHAI – PUNK
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sony Music
Genre: Dance-Punk

I don’t think any culture will ever attain the same level of zany as Japan’s. Yes, I just used zany nonironically to describe a culture with, let’s say, easily 1000 years on the United States. Likewise, CHAI’s Punk effort. It’s dance-punk taken to the logical Japanese extreme. It’s sugary-acid to the point of decaying your teeth. But you’d be too high to care. It’s Kero Kero Bonito but everyone in the band is a Powerpuff Girl. There’s four members. So that metaphor doesn’t really work. Guess what, I’m riding too high to care.
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The Comet is Coming – Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery
Producer: Tom Arndt
Label: Impulse
Genre: Nu-Jazz, Avant-Garde Jazz

Dr. Manhattan listens to Sun Ra. I’m sure of it. And the Comet is Coming, well, they listen to Sun Ra too; and being a Jazz troupe they’ve probably listened everything else in between too. But adeptly, they don’t step on any one other jazzman’s shoes. They play their game, they go to space, they live a life on Mars, but they make music for Earthlings as if Martians who only listened to the underground FM stations of the twentieth century. What’s evident from the start, however, is how much they want this record to be heard—no, really, the mixes are obsecenely loud, maximal affairs. Apparently they picked up the sound wars too.
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Danger Mouse and Karen O – Lux Prima
Producer: Danger Mouse
Label: BMG
Genre: Indie Rock, Experimental Soul

A gem, Danger Mouse sounds revitalized with Karen O in the booth and unconstrained to stretch their experimental sides; this ambient soul funk record is probably his most ambitious since Rome and his best since St. Elsewhere. Karen O matches it with some of her most haunted vocals yet. Together, they fill out a ghost-story collection of under-the-skin spookiness that could haunt any nightclub anywhere.
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Elizabeth Colour Wheel – Nocebo
Producer: Seth Manchester
Label: The Flenser
Genre: Shoegaze, Noise Rock

Elizabeth Colour Wheel are cheeky; edging their thundering toes to the line between noise rock and metal. Of course, these things are always more of a scale, but it’s pretty telling that these boys have tipped it. Curious though; they don’t seem to find any, well, (joy is too happy an idea,) let’s call it catharsis, in doing so. A little lacking in conviction despite the boneshred dread they’ve so clearly made their own. If the difference between metal and blues is that between the hunter and the hunted, then why does this particular hunter sound so lackadaisical about what he’s doing here. It feels less like the most dangerous game and more like the most boring frame.
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Flevans – Part Time Millionaire
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Jalapeno
Genre: Soul, Funk, Nu-Disco

There’s not much new here on Flevans’ fifth record—regardless if it’s new to him, that is—see this thing here is a simple soul record refreshed with disco tinges in that n-u style; Flevans is just mixing, layering, lathering it all together to give listeners that classic Sly-by-Chic Sunday soul record. It’s a step below the headinessof the .Paak, but that’s no dig; .Paak can get a little too lo-fi for his own health. And anymore flattery would ruin this record, so don’t twist your head off when Laura Vane belts it out on “Ex-Factor” like the second coming of the black Mary Magdalene, the famous Ms. Lauryn Hill. Flevans smartly dials back the piano, letting the organ, bass and drums carry this cover cut with a glide. The downside? No cathartic guitar solo to see us off. So sure, Flevans plays clever, but the emotion is being poured in by his guest singers.
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The Hazzah – Post
Producer: Michiel Mutsaerts
Label: Mink
Genre: Garage Rock, Alt-Country

Fuzz is, among other things, fanatically overrated—they ain’t bad, but as with any semi-good symbolic band (Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, Tame Impala), they get hoisted. Well, I’m a hoister and so are The Hazzah. Aptly named, but not sure about this alt-country appelation; it’s about as right as the Rolling Stones were considered alt-country. They might be to country as Weezer are to independent rock. Yeah, but no. And really, they’re hoisting these influences high and mighty (but never too much, less we all grumble comparisons to Greta van Fleet in low tones of disdain). I’ll take it, what is a debut supposed to be if not some sort of overall rip-off or covering affair? Beatles did it, Stones did it, Zeppelin sure as fucking hell did it, the Hazzah do it. The lasting cultural contribution of rock and roll, folks, finding something and making it your own.
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HVOB – Rocco
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: [PIAS]
Genre: Deep House

It’s always a struggle with electronically sourced melodies, beats, harmony; always a struggle to identify if there is something human behind the music. Mr. Fingers, breaking ground, might have known this. Might have not. But he was afforded the affection of being one of the first. Moby’s Play, well that’s a different story; you try to avoid words like “heart” and “soul” when describing musicality and motivations and in that way music writers becomes a car aficionados gushing over Alfa Romeos. But Play, now that was a sleek package. Every bit of pedigree was evident in that set of wheels, 4C power in a fourth record. So, where does HVOB come into this wax? Well, it’s simple; when I have to say that it feels like there is no “heart” or “soul” in the record, then there really is nothing going for it. Sure it gets moody and exploratory, but it’s long-winded, unwieldly, taking too long to accelerate to an unimpressive top speed. At least Silk and Trialog had the decency to cut back somewhat and the debut gets an overall pass for being a long-form introduction, but aïe, aïe, aïe, I have to ask if this double long-player could have done with a little more elegance in its engineering; cutting off the unneccesary toggley wobbley bits on either side of the engine. Huh, guess I’ll just have to keep listening and wondering.
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infinite bisous – period
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Tasty Morsels
Genre: Dreampop, lo-fi

This record is a five out of five, as in, upon playing, five out of five hours. All of them knocked. That is the true mark of an infinite bisous’ record. Can you fall asleep to it and then awaken without a subconcious hatred of the tunes? Glad to say that with period, that you can, and, even better, once you’re awake you will have a solid record to enjoy for a spin before finding something with more of a pulse. Much in the Beach House fashion, this isn’t music for every waking moment, folks; it’s music for the resting ones. But unlike in the Beach House fashion; people can admit it’s a snoozer.
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Nanami Ozone – NO
Producer: Alec Noni-Muss
Label: Tiny Engines
Genre: Indie Rock, Noisepop

When an indie rock band doesn’t want to fully commit to the noise, we get a record like this. Some people will postively puke out the putrid words, “noise pop” to describe it—but I fucking refuse. That’s selling this twee Phoenician quartet the short-stick—and they’re the ones with a good record to sell, no less! Sophie Opich works her Rachel Goswell vocal angle while the rest of the band plays at a decible higher than shoegaze and a couple lower than noise rock. It’s a most gosh darn adorable tweegaze record on the market this year, and somehow I think will it stay that way.
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Oozing Wound – High Anxiety
Producer: Self-Produced with Gregoire Yeche
Label: Thril Jockey
Genre: Sludge Metal, Noise Rock

It’s often stated that metal is violent. In reality, it’s a purifying sponge. I just don’t listen to metal often, having made the divorce final with Blue Öyster Cult’s Fire of Unknown Origin, but Oozing Wound hit something with High Anxiety, either by riding the universe’s vibes of outed anger, gorging on culturally enshrined stupidity or complaining about that tween shitbag who plays FortNite and would simultaneously call you a faggot while boasting his sexual prowess with, who else, your mom. I would be angry about it, but Oozing Wound beat me there.
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March 22nd

Andrew Bird – My Finest Work Yet
Producer: Self-Produced with Paul Butler
Label: Loma Vista
Genre: Chamber, Singer-Songwriter, Indie Folk

Virtuoso and idiosyncratic, Bird does what he does best and melds chamber, folk and singer-songwriter traditions together while discarding his his more neo-classical compulsions from Echolocations: River. There’s no time to lose on My Finest Work Yet, waxing on the absurdity of health pills, civil cold wars and online vitriol and making peace with the modern times. Hell, the recreation of Jacques-Louis David’s Death of Marat should speak plenty of how dire Bird finds America’s current predicament; hence his attempts to summon the feel of pre-electric Dylan into his lyricism, mixing it with literature and scripture to build arguments covering many bases. So you can bet he’s still haute-culture, but you have to listen for it a little harder.
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Avey Tare – Cows on Hourglass Pond
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Domino
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia

Really, hypnagogia and neo-psychedelia should just count as one as the same—the intent is the same and to the untrained ear (read: most consumers) the differences don’t exist. So instead of getting all highbrow critical, sorting tape machine recordings from delay-based synthesizers, I propose we just call it all Neo-Pyschedelia and call it a day. Avey Tare agrees and does his best to combine the two into one cohesive argument here; with the music dabbling in the same
ambient haze of AnCo’s Tangerine Dream, while still putting together a pulse à la Ariel Pink. Wirey, phased out vocals, freeform solos, electric cowbell percussion, the occasional acoustic guitar, they all weave together in Cows on Hourglass Pond to create the first certified GOOD neo-psychedelia record this year.
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Capsula – Bestiarium
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Silver
Genre: Psychedelic Rock

Neo-psychedelic surf rock is certainly en vogue when pre-dated bands like Capsula have jumped into the mix; offering their spin on a La-Luz-by-Oh-Sees-by-Fuzz mélange-à-trois but without sounding nearly as inspired as any other band doing it too. Capsula just sound like Ghost King who sound like Segall when he was doing this shit for demos with Jon Dwyer. Capsula are no instrumental schlubs, it’s true, but Bestiarium is just stale as hell. They would have done better to take a single angle and lean into it with occasional accents, rather than take all three and murk them into a sloppier-than-needed goop of all three because they’re trying to sound like someone else, the problem is I don’t even think they know who that would be.
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CROWS – Silver Tongues
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Balley Records
Genre: Post-Punk, Punk Rock

There is a certain magnanimity to this popular revivification of ancient styles, an effervescent bubbling over of stylistic re-review after the dog years of the hip-hop revolution and the “alternative” rock imperium. It’s not that the underground did not exist, it’s that the public consciousness had lost interest in it. The new revival of new wave, “second wave” become ever more apparent in this, as has its grittier, more belligerent brother, post-punk. CROWS, a typographic and sonic contemporary to Joe Talbot’s IDLES (and signed to his label) and well, that’s about it, the songwriting might swirl in indecision between punk, post-punk and new wave, but its fatal wound came when I asked myself if
Silver Tongues was a
pseudo’d IDLES record the entire time.
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Dream Ritual – Trips Around the Sun
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: 693977 Records DK
Genre: Alternative Rock, Psychedelic Rock

It’s fair to say this record is a bit of psychedelic sure. But as soon as “Breathe In” finishes, it’s gulping garage rock by the gallons—it’s more akin to some sort of half-in, half-out stoner rock at times. Stoner Grunge, even, which “Outside Your Window” does admirably. But at no point do I feel the psychic peel that it purports to have. The best that could be said forTrips Around the Sun is that it performs The Wall trick to middling results as if it were the trump card to the game when really it’s just a high-five to the self.
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Flume – Hi This Is Flume
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Future Classic
Genre: Glitchhop, Deconstructed House

Ahh, the mixtape, the electronic and hip-hop equivalent of impromptu spitballing and combobulation. The sketch book to the long-play canvas. Flume’s second LP Skin, was big—too big—and Hi This Is Flume is the kickback reaction; Flume’s just looking for features and collabs that don’t lend themselves to stadium shows but to a Boiler Room set. This thing glides in a way that Skin dreamed it could and allows for more of Flumes glitchy, futurebass sounds to just ooze into each other before being chopped up Benihana style by JPEGMAFIA bars, Eprom collabs and SOPHIE remixes. It’s also not as bloated as Skin, presumably because it’s arrival isn’t dead in the water, but also because it soaks up all 38-minutes of runtime without turning to a soggy, sopping mess.
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Ibibio Sound Machine – Doko Mien
Producer: Max Grunhard, Tony Hayden
Label: Merge
Genre: Afro-Funk, Electrosoul

Ibibio Sound Machine is the type of future Talking Heads presented to us in “I Zimbra,” not one curated by white artists in the slimy post-punk slums of Seventies London, but one powered by a fusion of West African immigrants in the high-tech wizardry of a society struggling for a path to post-scarcity. One thing not in short supply on Doko Mien is creativity; they’ve given up a bit of new wave and moved towards Chic-like discofunk—that chucka-chucka guitar no lie, man—but in doing so they incorporate a bit of Tuareg blues and major electrosoul vibrations. Eno Williams and the gang are cooking on Doko Mien and inching closer and closer to M.I.A.’s title as Britain’s premiere world music act.
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Marble Arch – Children of the Slump
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Géographie
Genre: Dreampop

The other day I made a declaration: I don’t like dreampop—it’s crawling with too many disaffected sad bastards and bastardettes for me to enjoy. And yeah, I fucking know—the xx are criminal in this regard—but at least they realize that dreampop in-and-of-itself is no longer an album seller; so they send out Jamie xx to do some fieldwork and bring back house and soul elements while Romy and Sims perfect their guitarwork at the cost of putting ANY EMOTION WHATSOEVER in to their lyrics. But that’s alright, it works most of the time. But… uh, shit, this was supposed to be a Marble Arch impression and well, that’s the thing, as much as this French shoegazer imbibes on this whole Dream Academy jive he at least has the courtesy to stick closer to that Galaxie 500 source and even insert some classic Eighties ballad guitar work auf Spandau Ballet, most notably on the tail end of “Today.” So no, I don’t like dreampop, I like dreampop when the artists go beyond it.
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Orville Peck – Pony
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country

Mix Chris Isaak, Elvis Presley, some general Eighties stadium reverb of the Bon Jovie type and a sparse instrumentation that warbles between shoegaze and psychedelic folk and you still couldn’t match the slow burn affair of Orville Peck’s Pony. It’s like an entire record compilation of “Wicked Game” vibes with one glaring exception: this cowpoke’s been poking around the pies and found some colour-inducing caps. It’s heartbreak on the Badlands horizon, so just sit for a while and admire Pony like you admire that big ol’ sky—she’ll never let ya down.
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Ritual Howls – Rendered Armor
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: felte
Genre: Goth Rock, Post-Punk

Rendered Armor is the type of the record that sounds like it came out in 1983 and Ritual Howls sounds like the kind of band that wears all-black, skin-tight leather, jack boots and sunglasses that barely cover its eyes. And that because it would and, actually, they should. They really did just say fuck it to everything else in between then and now and made a record that would b-give, give Bauhaus a run for its money. I mean, er, I’m not complaining, I’m just, er, just laughing. Paul Bancell sells the lyric: “The roses are melting, dripping with science, dripping with hope” too, er, too fucking well and I really don’t know how to deal with it.
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The Sh-Booms – The Blurred Odyssey
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Limited Fanfare
Genre: Garage Rock, Soul

Good God, this is just excruciating—nearly 40 minutes of garage and soul—the second record this month I’ve done the service to listen with this genre-clash and invariably the worse. At least Bencoolen could pass off as well-paced and punchy and even then I feel like my premiere piece on Atwood Magazine gave too much positivism in place of what was solidly serviceable. The opposite of a hit piece. So allow me to right the ship: The Sh-Booms epic aims of the The Blurred Odyssey only manage to make flou the lines of mediocrity. It’s not that the entire record is bad—they just have a violent fascination playing with a thrashing vomit garage-rock brand for far too long and drown out the more interesting Sixties beach R&B, black and white swirl sonic that just complements the soul in a way that their alt-rock propensity fails. Shit, the album-ending cut, “The Final Sleep,” might be the best one on the record because it finally lets you, I dunno, BREATHE. Even Sabbath knew that if you wanted to be a fucking riot, you have to at least pump some goddamn space and oxygen halfway through the record.
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Vendredi sur Mer – Premiers émois
Producer: Lewis OfMan
Label: Profil de Face
Genre: Electropop

Barbie Lafebvre is brune, petite, and chic. Contures that cut diamonds, aviators that hide amethysts. She goes to the beach. Sometimes with friends, sometimes just alone. This is one of those days alone, vendredi sur la mer. She has an AM/FM radio from the eighties, y’know the one, small, black, rectangular, grilled with a slight warm fuzz. She smokes cigarettes, puts them out in the sand and leaves them for the gulls to pick around. Life ain’t nothing but a phase; people ain’t nothing but some means; music ain’t nothing but a sound. And this biopic summary is just like chère Barbie; she’ll drop you off right where you were found. Horny and confused.
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Wallows – Nothing Happens
Producer: John Congleton
Label: Atlantic
Genre: Garage Rock, Shoegaze, Electropop

Well this is just fucking criminal man; most weeks only get one or two records for the year end lists but March 22nd, 2019, well this one might well go down with five big ones. It’s funny too, considering this all might change by years ends, but Wallows’ Nothing Happens is just the right formula: a Garage Rock base marinated in notes of Electropop and Shoegaze, fucking “Scrawny” is your Diary of a Wimpy Kid cum summerbop come early. I mean, when mother earth is moving the schedule up summer, why not start rolling out the hits early? They even throw some latin horn flares on “Ice Cold Pool,” pushing some soulgaze out to keep this hotbox fresh. And when you need cooling off, look to the the B-Sides on this long-player. I mean, aw hell, March has just been a good month for rock n’ roll fans and Wallow just showcases how spoiled for choice they are this month.
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March 29th

Billie Eilish – WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO?
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Darkroom/Interscope
Genre: Electropop,
Bizarropop

If you didn’t know Billie Eilish, you would have thought her the ghoulish princess of electropop, a little shopkeep of musical horrors, and WHEN WE ALL FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO? does nothing to allay this sense of creeping creepiness. Simultaneously trying to lull you asleep and warn you of the monsters under the eyelids, her vocals are ASMR threats and coos, and at times she places hard limiters on her bassier tracks, leading to disconcertion via distortion. Something has possessed this woman creatively and if you’re already a fan, you’ll love it; if you’re a general observer, you will be intrigued by it; but I don’t know if much observers will stick by Eilish’s heavily idiosyncratic bizarropop proclivities.
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Chris Cohen – Chris Cohen
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Captured Tracks
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Neo-Psychedelia

Folk neo-psychedelia is a weird genre type. It’s broadly a minimalist aural affair; kind of like space punctuated by sound, but without the pure quantum melodicism (or lackthereof) of free jazz. Singer-Songwriter, on the other-hand is the soft-rock of folk and bluegrass genres. Yeah it’s folk-eeeee, but it’s not quite folk. So sure, Chris Cohen is by all accounts playing on similar vibes to James Taylor, but with radically different sonic results. I thought this was a Damon Albarn solo record (and a fucking bizarre one at that) for the first three tracks, but no, that’s Cohen. And has me curious; curious to hear Avey Tare or Tobacco go acoustic and gentile—“Edit Out” is a cloudwatching anthem and a sonic that could house some more tenants.
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Garcia Peoples – Natural Facts
Producer: Self-Produced with Jeff Zeigler
Label: Beyond Beyond is Beyond
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Jam Band

Garcia Peoples can’t really wait to let you know how much like they loved the great ones: Jerry Garcia, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Tom Verlaine, Richard Lloyd, the guys who knew how to jam and new how to noodle. They portend to be a part of this group, but I’m not so sure. See I like it when a jam band actually, I dunno, jams and doesn’t just work in little noodles around their songs. It might flow better if I have some cannabisical favours and flavours rolling around inside me, but that’s a poor litmus test. Good psychedelia is the drug and Natural Facts no matter how folksy or outdoorsy it tries to be, is just chock-full of bobo melodies. It really just sounds like a couple dudes from Jersey mucking about with guitars and moaning about vaguely proto-philosophical mary-janeisms and if there’s one thing psychedelia is about, it’s a place of mind, not a sense of place.
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Laura Stevenson – The Big Freeze
Producer: Self-Produced with Joe Rogers
Label: Don Giovanni
Genre: Indie Folk, Sing-Songwriter

Yes, there’s the woo of Emmylou Harris, swaggering down the roadside, but Stevenson sings more akin to a pop vocalist rather than an interstate vagabond; not as much weather on the chords, I’m afraid. And yes, there’s a big-brew-sky offering the little comfort that it can, but this time it’s not blue and the “Hawks” caught outside now have to contend with the rain. It’s the smallest “big-bluegrass” sound that Stevenson puts on the record, employing reverb to make her voice resonate and reflect like a tidepool caught in Kansas. It’s not natural, but it looks and sounds good and it glides the track right into “Big Deep.” And just like a person caught in the tidepool caught in Kansas, the segue is shivering cool.
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Lower Slaughter – Some Things Take Work
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: Box Records
Genre: Garage Rock, Hard Rock

Self-described noise rockers, Lower Slaughter, do more harm than good by calling themselves noise rockers then making a record that never amounts to such. There’s nothing wrong in this record being a run-of-the-mill garage rock record. It does the job quite well and thankfully I was tipped off in that direction by the noble indieheads over on reddit. But if I hadn’t, if I had gone in to this expecting a noise rock affair and instead receiving garage-rock-rabble, there would be a markedly different attitude in this here blurb. Moreover, I think Lower Slaughter would do better to actually discover their noise rock sound rather than rely on fairly standard grunge licks and disaffected soul singing. They sound tired and while Some Things Take Work, some things require too much work for too little return. This garage rock sound is one of them.
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Marvin Gaye – You’re the Man
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Motown
Genre: R&B, Soul

Most “recovered” projects usually never pan out well; always keep the expectations low. Last year’s Coltrane package via Impulse! was meticulously curated by Ravi, but it wasn’t exactly a screamer. Coltrane heads would be keen to collect it, but much like Zeppelin’s Coda, it’s not absolutely necessary. So then, is You’re the Man ultimately necessary for someone looking to bridge the gap between the street slanging What’s Going On and the supplicating Let’s Get It On? Well, I can guarantee it roughly crosses the thematic crevasse, switching between the political and spiritual on a dime, hell, it even does throwbacks to the classical Motown sound; but it also could do without the SalaAM ReMi remixes as much as Thriller 25th Anniversary edition could do without Kanye West and will.i.am reworks. Gaye doesn’t need someone to spruce his message up when “Politics and hypocrites/ Is turning us all into lunatics” proves a more prescient line in 2019 than it was in 1972. Gaye’s augurations aside, even the down-side cuts demonstrate just what we had nearly lost; the smattering of side-project singles sound like they should be a part of the actual record’s runtime and not just tacked on peripheries. Hell, they prove the simplest truth: we came for the Marvin, and Marvin is all we need.
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Quelle Chris – Guns
Producer: Self Produced with Dane, Chris Keys
Label: Mello
Genre: Abstract Hip-Hop, Jazz Rap

I thought I was joking when I mentioned Donald Trump has become the best lyrical gift for songwriters and MC’s looking to inject topicality into their music. Like silicone to the ass, it’s unnatural yet standardized, beautiful revulsion: “I-could-stand-in-the-middle-of-5th-avenue-and-shoot-somebody-and-I-wouldn’t-lose” is broken up word-by-word by third party persons and caps off Quelle Chris’ “It’s the Law” and his simmering anger on legal double-standards wrapped up in a louche, slithering bassline that recalls MF Doom, “your favourite rapper’s favourite rapper.” Quelle (pronounced Kwel-A) works this angle, abstraction menacante, into a jazzier space, like he’s just a New-York-stones’-throw away from Harlem but close enough to a lo-fi Lower East Side, y’know what I mean—it’s all artsy and shit—that instead of your youtube study beats channel, all you political scientist majors could just put this record on and go on your way, enjoying your Dialogues and your Guns.
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Ty Segall & Freedom Band – Deforming Lobes (Live Album)
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Drag City
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Garage Rock

Ty Segall is not a man; he’s a machine, a project, a collective. A Miles Davis. A Pink Floyd. A Ty Segall. Difference is with Miles Davis and Pink Floyd is I have the in with those groups. With Ty Segall things are harder. I’ve not consumed every Ty Segall product, but that speaks more to the sheer cliff of output Segall has managed in a period of 10 years, moving from aJohn Dwyer understudy to the three-hundred album man, then to a weakness of the flesh. Regardless, these are impressions, and on first impression Segall is at once a standard-bearer and an outfit apart from the garage psychedelia of his peers. On Deforming Lobes he moves from puckish Eric Burdon bluesboy vocals to shredding, tone-delayed riff-and-chord-work as if he’s trying to play Television or Replacement licks with the stage presence of Mark Knopfler. Much like the Dire Straits, the crowd is! there to see him. But unlike King Tuff’s Live at Third Man Records “official” bootleg, this record trades live ambiance for studio-like fidelity. You wouldn’t even know if this were a live record had they not faded in audience noise at the end of each track. It’s probably one of the easier Segall products to digest and probably a good buy for some newbie curious to get in on action (even if only chalked together with b-sides and even if probably marketed for the veterans). So as a record, it’s good stuff, but as a live record, it’s kind of just not.
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White Denim – Side Effects
Producer: Self-Produced (?)
Label: City Slang
Genre: Psychedelic Rock

So thas it? We some kinda, uh, sui-side-b squad?”

I like to think that’s what these cuts would say if they had sentience. And it makes since, considering that this album fits together like multiple pieces from multiple puzzles from multiple years, accrued by White Denims mercurial transformation from noise-punk to garage-psych to jazz-and-jam. The highlights are evident: the off-kilter “Hallelujah Strike Gold,” the whacky neo-psych “NY Money,” the baritone bumper “Introduce Me.” The problem too, is evident: the record kind of languishes between them with cuts more like curios than actual curations. As a record, this is the antique roadshow interupting White Denim’s regularly scheduled programs. Side Effects is for the eclectic, the curious, those devoted enough to spend a Jackson for three nuggets and six oddities.
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Pony: Orville Peck’s first in class debut

a2255775736_16From the horses jowls, judge, I damn well hurd Orville Peck neigh and burr it himself, I swears on it!: “Psychedelic outlaw cowboy croons love and loss from the badlands of North America.”

Well, golly, Sub Pop, I never knew a horse could write too. This muss be sum kind o’ Pony, muss be sum sorta showhorse, muss be sum sorta stallion to be so broken up over mares past and passin’ by his tourwagon on the ol’ rodeo trail. The road never felt so empty and lonely and ready to go a-rockin’ ‘n’ a-rollin’ with little cares to them lumps in your beatin’ heart. Sweet baby James, ain’t it sad? Not so, judge, y’see, Peck gets it. He understands that if yer gonna slow ‘er down, get it ‘er done, see ‘er through, yew better know what yew’re holdin’ lest yew start foldin’ and by good golly gosh, I mean goddamn if Peck’s voice ain’t a King-high straight—Presley, Cash, Robbins and Isaak—all right in a row.

Ya see dis cowpoker knows: yew can’t ever capture no “Queen of the Rodeo,” can’t ever transform ‘er intew yer very own empress of the plains; but here come’s Peck, “Ye’re ridden out with nowhere else to go,” he drawls out. Yeah, she’s wild, yeah, she’s free and yeah, she’s rough goin’, all us sorry suckers know it too, damn fools, each and everyone who mistook a Bertha for a sweet Melissa, we jus don’ wan’admit it. But here come’s Peck, he knows how it is—her life is his—so while all us saps just keep bluffin’ on pairs missing one for the trip, he has the blues to put us dumb romantics in our place: “You know the tune so the words don’t matter, beyond this town lies a life much sadder.”

Well hot shit, if Peck is sellin’ the real deal, then this carpetbagger best be believin’ the snake oil; he really did see them last great plain parades on “Buffalo Run.” That cha-ris-ma oozes when the wheels blow out and the trips just don’t come, because even when he loses, he plays for him and his:I caught you staring at the sun, looking out for number one.” He plays like he ain’t got nothin’ to lose, guitar runnin’ on empty, voice singin’ on fumes, he crashes on the shoulder before strikin’ a barter. Your whole tank, his last cigarillo. Looks like he might just make the rodeo after all. And before you get mad at this black mask rider, “don’t cry, you’re just another boy caught in the rye.”

See, Orville Peck understands the “Old” West. You won’t survive out there if you can’t wheel-and-deal like the rest; so if you’re the sad one, tradin’ it all for the tobacco, then you ain’t got no one to blame beside yourself. No judgment, that’s just how it is, all the tautologies in the world understand: keep on keepin’ on isn’t just advice, it’s a way of life. In that way Peck ain’t just a successor to your down-on-his-luck cowboy, he’s a successor to the steel riders, mirroring Jon Bon Jovi’s penchant for a big-sound style to match the ever bigger sky (no small wonder that’s where the planes fly—they’ve got so much space!), he’s a ranchero who watched the farms swallow the plains, a granger who watched the roads carve up the farms, a trucker who watches the robots fill up the roads. See, Peck understands: one way or another, jingoisms grow stale and ponies grow old.

The pacing, then, tracks anything from sunrise to set; “Dead of Night” to “Kansas” goes from dawn to an early lunch, “Old River” and “Big Sky” feel like solitude at high-noon, “Roses Are Falling” rings in the evening and “Nothing Fades Like the Light,” well, y’know what I mean. But yours truly has indeed ripped records over pacing so slow and dreary; so what gives? Why is Pony so different?

Because Peck’s voice is heavyweight and it punches with all the force of a boxer realizing he’s no longer a contender. A main street route hollowed out to an alleyway beat. One Isley Brother who’s lost his other. It’s like an entire record compilation of “Wicked Game” vibes with some exceptions. One: steel guitar, not your regular cowboy’s instrument of choice, but an effective one no less. Two: this cowpoke’s no doper, he’s been pokin’ ‘round the pies for some colour-inducin” caps. Result: a whole lot of space with which to relax. No need to hurry happiness, no reason to break down and cry, just sit, breathe, watch the funny squiggles, and let the past pass with every cut, every strum, every note.

None need hang up over the big sads: girls, trucks, dogs. Usually pop country records sprinkle beer and the open road as it goes. What’s refreshin’ is that Peck decided to subtract the dog, generalize the relationships and keep the album focused on the sky and the road. It’s country as intended, not as sold. The instrumentation is so simple and the moods so sparse, that what we have here is a record that does more with less—think like what xx did to electropop, but in a different direction—this record returns to an old Fifties cowboy blues record spruced up with Eighties production values: “reverb’ration, reverb’ration, reverb’ration.” But that’s not what makes this big iron such a dead ringer. It’s all that lyricism that I wax to. Pointed, but blunt, abrasive but smooth, old but, well, y’know.

Pony deals together twelve hands with the same message: there’s always a heartbreak on the Badlands horizon, so just sit for a while and admire Pony like the big ol’ highway sky—she’ll never let ya down.

Album Artist: Orville Peck
Producer: Self-Produced
Label: Sub Pop
Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Alt-Country
Tracklist:

    1. Dead of Night”
    2. Winds Change”
    3. Turn to Hate”
    4. Buffalo Run”
    5. Queen of the Rodeo”
    6. Kansas (Remembers Me Now)”
    7. Old River”
    8. Big Sky”
    9. Roses Are Falling”
    10. Take You Back (The Iron Hoof Cattle Call)”
    11. Hope to Die”
    12. Nothing Fades Like the Light”

Bottle It In: Kurt Vile tours his back-alley kingdom

Back allbottle-it-in-coverey cats crawl, miaoul and frazzle, hissing hard for a scrap where the down-on-their-luck fix to make tracks, leaving as quick as they got there, pound pavement by the miles, never realizing where they stand is where they might just be staying for a while, waiting for that deal to go down—as bad as they are ungrateful—spending another day-in-the-life running from something in particular to nowhere hidden, out-of-contact or just downright irregular; there’s just too many squares blocking around in this goshdarn fleamarket not to be recognized somewhere, not to catch a glance, hark it and remark it: “hey haven’t I seen or read or heard this before?” Wipe the dust and hide the glare, get lost in that look of the author, that distant eyed stare, or the guitarist, that wick wit’ flare—whether a cold scowl or a snarling grimace-growl, it’s all in them jowls—encircled by a vinyl-pressed halo, what a dude, what a goober, he’s a street angel, probably spent his early day hustling the corners, scouting for the best street angles.

You might think it’s age but really it’s taste right from bottle, wear worn right on jacket, sold faulty with the throttle. The record just lazes and only switches ‘twixt two gears, a fair few tracks just go ear-to-ear and others beckons you here, on the beanbag between the stereo to actually listen instead of leaving your attention in the smoke pillows, cloudwatching the shapes all-a-cannabisical, purple elephants don’t exist except in grayscale and we should refuse to believe that Kurt Vile hasn’t tried medical—he knows the good shit—but he’s a better breath inhaled from guitar to needle to speaker and there’s not a stress-filled day he can’t handle. And his latest effort is no different; just a man and his band and his guitar and some tunes ready to jam, stretch it out and digs his claws into the fuzzy warm carpet, waxing Hobbes to your Calvin.

Summer’s end is a theme among many but this released just as I was thinking when will this summer get bent before vinyl the on Bottle it In warps and bends? It’s happening I believe but these croyances have too much to grieve, too much nuances—Kurt’s never been about that, he’s always been simple:

Oh he’s spoken of beliefs going down, spoken of the smoke rung halos, been the slacker soundtrack coming in, decade too late; “where were you man?” Richard Linklater says, incredulous, “the movie’s done and wrapped, DVD boxset, Blu-Rays coming next.” Guess he didn’t get the memo: what’s the continent but not a bigger island? Cuz somehow Kurt Vile is stranded incognito, in an awkward phase between masterpieces still proving he’s a master too. To who? No one in particular, hazard a guess. Even he knows a record has a shelf-life, even he knows when a record is ripe for the flea market pickings. Just a shame he Jeff Beck’d it and made a record too good for the album art’s intent and purpose, no one’s going to secondhand this record ‘cuz no one should, not unless they’re desparate; it might not be his most astonishing but it is his most solid. Whether Blow by Blow or a Cry of Love, 462 Ocean Boulevard or a Wake of the Flood, a Moonflower or just plain Songs from the Wood, this record takes stock between them all—on the cusp of something great, but instead choosing to stay in a mood.

Not quite as eclectic as Walkin On a Pretty Daze or melancholic like Smoke Ring for My Halo, not as gung-ho as b’lieve I’m going down… or primeval as Childish Prodigy and everything that came before, Kurt Vile is in Mayertown—the mid-career-crisis—and he’s handling it well; he’s cooped up in the industrial parks, hiding out by the byways rather than making moves on mainstreet, looking for inspiration in the shape of oil on water, he has no one to answer to and, hell, he even says so:

I park for free”

He knows the parking officer routes like he knows the notes on his guitars—he can feel them even when they’re not there. But let’s be honest “Loading Zones” is just standard fare. So taking a leaf from Jimi’s book, Kurt decides forward can only be achieved backwards and whether by audio wizardry or just plain technical showboatery, blows out at ten-minute epic, “Bassackwards” perfect for lazing under the hot September sun, watching heat wiggle, warble, worm everything from the ground up and on. Along the whole cut Peter Katis has you second guessing if it’s a guitar riff layered in reverse or just an accordion-synth breathing hoarse and what bubbles to surface might be Mary Lattimore’s harp or buddy Bob Laakso’s bass or even Kurt’s voice, but what pops is Barbara Gruska’s kick drum and Kurt’s fingerpicking pace. Eventually, you won’t care to note, just to enjoy—the track alone is worth the admission price.

But it contains no important moments or career-shifts and it highlights no change in attitude or demeanor, meaning this Kurt Vile record won’t be considered his best; most people probably won’t remember it after the first press.

Maybe a few casual diehards and lackadaisical collectors, the common consumer clay of the industry, y’know, walking oxymorons, will have picked it up last minute at the record shop. But most? Most’ll be back at the old open air market, replete with crystal pendants and hand-stitched attire and some crazy old guy with wispy white hair, khaki shorts and stacks of old vinyl ready to be sold off for debts. No matter where, they should pick this record up, haggle it and take it home. They probably haven’t heard it in a while, haven’t listened to it for even longer—probably don’t remember all the things it could do to make ’em smile, close their eyes and dive; in the past or in the moment, Kurt Vile’s Violaters are playing to foment, there brewing a better record for later, but this long-player plays like the future never mattered.

Album Artist: Kurt Vile and the Violaters

Label: Matador

Producers: Kurt Vile, Rob Laakso, Rob Schnapp, Peter Katis and Shawn Everett

Genre: Blues Rock, Psychedelic Folk, Singer-Songwriter

Tracklist:

  1. Loading Zones
  2. Hysteria
  3. Yeah Bones
  4. Bassackwards
  5. One Trick Ponies
  6. Rollin with the Flow
  7. Check Baby
  8. Bottle It In
  9. Mutinies
  10. Come Again
  11. Cold Was the Wind
  12. Skinny Mini
  13. (bottle back)

 

Post-Earth: FEELS better, FEELS good

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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)”

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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?

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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

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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

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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

 

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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

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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?

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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.