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may 2016

It's been a couple of weeks since Prince's untimely death, and I don't really have a lot to add to the many, many heartfelt tributes that have been posted by others, except to say that, just like practically everyone else of my generation, he was one of my first musical heroes, and Purple Rain was one of the few records (along with Michael Jackson's Thriller and the Police's Synchronicity) that EVERYONE I knew owned and loved.

I remained entranced with Prince for the next several albums after many of my peers lost interest——I have a special fondness for Parade and Graffiti Bridge, his other two albums that served as the soundtracks for movies he starred in——but even I eventually got lost in other musical styles, especially during his extended feud with Warner Brothers.

I never saw him live, but I was seriously considering going to what would end up being his final concert appearance in Atlanta the week before his death——they had a sprinkling of single seats left around the Fox Theatre the day of the show——but I talked myself out of it because he seemed to be reinvigorated about being on stage again, and I figured I'd have another chance sometime soon when he'd be playing with a full band. But of course, that chance will never come now.

Like many fans and critics, I have a complicated relationship with M.I.A., even though I'm a relatively newcomer to both camps. I own both her debut, Arular, and its follow up, Kala, and I'm absolutely in love with Kala. But the albums since have sounded too scattered and unfocused to convince me they are worth a purchase, even though I would like nothing more than another record from her that could stand side by side with those two releases.

Her recently released single "MIA OLA" from her forthcoming fifth studio album is maddening in all the ways her last two albums have been: it grabs you immediately and makes you want more, but it goes on a little too long and veers off in some unnecesary directions that pull energy from the core strengths of the song and weaken its overall impact.

I'm curious to hear more, and I'll definitely give the new record a serious listen, but as much as I like some parts of this track, it gives me enough pause that I'm not going to be preordering it. Listen for yourself below:

In addition to all of the written tributes to Prince over the past couple of weeks, his fellow artists have also unleashed a barrage of covers, most of which are well worth a listen. But the one that has really stuck with me is of Montreal's cover of "Computer Blue" from Purple Rain:

"Computer Blue" was one of my least favorite songs from an album that I absolutely loved, but this cover sheds enough new light on it that it's making me appreciate the original more. And while I always knew that Prince was a big influence on Kevin Barnes, especially the Georgie Fruit-related records Hissing Fauna and Skeletal Lamping, but hearing how much this song is both purely Prince and purely of Montreal at the same time shows me very explicitly how much Barnes borrowed from Prince.

The So So Glos are a band you really, really want to root for. They spend as much of their time supporting other DIY acts by touring with them and founding Shea Stadium, an all ages music venue in Brooklyn, and they seem like genuinely nice guys. I didn't discover their full length debut, Blowout, until it had been out for more than a year (I went out and got it after Patrick Stickles, frontman for fellow punks Titus Andronicus, constantly referenced the band and Shea Stadium on his Twitter feed), but it instantly resonated with me.

They just released its follow up, Kamikaze, and while it's not bad, it doesn't quite live up to my almost impossibly high hopes for it after Blowout. But the things I don't like about it may be the things that lead to broader exposure for them, which I am all for: it's a lot more slickly produced, the hooks are biggger and more obvious, and it's more oriented toward dancey stuff (which I don't have any intrinsic bias against, it just doesn't feel right for them to my ears).

I'd still love to see these guys live, and I'm still going to give this a bunch more listens, so it's possible I'll grow to love it more. But even if I don't, I'm still rooting for them——they're the kind of band that deserves to win, regardless of what I might think of their most recent release.

I have to say, I appreciate how Radiohead goes about building hype for a new release, especially compared to someone like Kanye West, who seemed to forget the value of subtlely and became all bombast in the lead up to his new record The Life of Pablo. Radiohead have instead garnered press and fan attention by making themselves disappear, and giving brief, tantalizing hints to the music that will be officially released over the weekend.

I never grew to love The King of Limbs as much as I did their earlier releases, but it did grow on me, and I did love it more as time went on. I don't know if they'll return to a more traditional pop construction this time or go further down the path of Limbs, but it's going to be long time before I'm not interested in what they're up to.

I had never seen Animal Collective in concert before a couple of weeks ago, and then I saw them twice in one week: once in Atlanta and again the next week in DC while I was up there for a conference.

The Atlanta show took place in a venue that I'd never been to before called the Buckhead Theatre. Parking was kind of a nightmare, and it was a Saturday evening show, so we got there early-ish to make sure we got a good seat in the balcony (I don't know the last time Julie has stood on the floor for a show, and I don't do it all that frequently at venues where seating is an option).

I had an idea in my mind of what I expected from the show——a drummer, a couple of guys with acoustic guitars, and a keyboardist——but it wasn't at all what I had imagined. It was instead three guys situated behind banks of keyboards and drum machines (one of whom didn't look up from his gear from the entire show) with a drummer in the back. The real show was the multimedia presentation that went along with the music, because aside from that there wasn't much in the way of performance since the singers couldn't really move from their stations at the machines.

I wasn't in the right mood for it that night, but there were still some enjoyable elements to the show. Here's the setlist:

    1. Natural Selection
    2. Jimmy Mack (Martha Reeves and The Vandellas cover)
    3. On Delay
    4. Lying in the Grass
    5. FloriDada
    6. Vertical
    7. Daily Routine
    8. Summing the Wretch
    9. Loch Raven
    10. Alvin Row
    11. The Burglars


    12. Bees
    13. Recycling
    14. Golden Gal

The setlist was pretty heavy on their most recent record, Painting With, and the highlights were "Loch Raven", which was an endless dive into some very deep waves (and I mean that in a very good way) and closer "Golden Gal", which was much more lively than it is on the record (although I have since become very fond of the recorded version as well).

The second Animal Collective show was at the 9:30 Club in DC, and for that show I was accompanied by my friend Tom who lives in Virginia. I was in a better mood for this show becuase I had more appropriate expectations, and we also got lucky and snagged two seats at the bar that overlooks the stage, something I'd never been able to do in all my years seeing shows at the 9:30 when I lived in the area.

The setlist was substantially similar to the Atlanta show:

    1. Hocus Pocus
    2. Bagels in Kiev
    3. Natural Selection
    4. On Delay
    5. Daily Routine
    6. Hounds of Bairro
    7. Jimmy Mack (Martha Reeves and The Vandellas cover)
    8. Summing the Wretch
    9. FloriDada
    10. Loch Raven
    11. The Burglars


    12. Bees
    13. Recycling
    14. Golden Gal

I was primed to enjoy this one more——I'd spent a pretty stree-free afternoon with Tom, we had dinner at a cool little Czech bistro around the corner from the club, and I had a drink before the show——and so I did. What was especially amazing to me was how well they were able to recrate the very complicated media show in two pretty different venues——the setup for that part seems like it must be much more lengthy and intense than setup of the instruments.

But anyway. By the second show they had won me over to their live presentation, and I'd happily go see them again. Just be warned: they have long since outgrown their roots of open-tuning guitars and tribal rhythms performed by actual people. It's mostly machines these days, but the coax some pretty convincing, heartfelt performances out of those boxes of wires and circuit boards.

Astonishingly, the Stone Roses (who released their final record in 1994 and broke up in 1996) recently shared a new track called "All for One", their first new music in 20 years:

It's not as terrible as it could be, but it's not good. It's just not, as much as we all might want it to be. There are small moments that remind me of the things I love so much about the Stone Roses songs that I love, but there are precious few of them. If you had told me this was a song from the Monkees reunion album (which is getting surprising good reviews), I wouldn't have thought about it twice and would have had about the same reaction: this isn't as bad as it could have been.

Islands recently released two albums at the same time, one more in a dance-y/electronica vein (Taste) and one more in their traditional style that explicitly references their great first album (Should I Remain Here, At Sea?), and while these are their strongest and most consistent efforts in a while, they are still lacking the magic of that first release so many years ago.

There are no killer songs, and while there are enough decent songs sprinkled across the two discs for a single pretty good album, they suffer by being stretched across two records and being surrounded by filler. I'm likely going to be rooting for this band forever, but it's getting harder and harder to justify buying their releases. It helped this time that I got both albums in a Kickstarter bundle for a pretty low price, but I can't help feeling that they still have a great album left in them if they would just spend a little more time crafting it and clearing away the dross instead of using it to pad out an extra record's worth of material.

Wolf Parade seems on the verge of getting back together (they released an EP of new material today, in fact), but co-frontman Dan Boeckner has been keeping himself busy during that band's hiatus with Handsome Furs, Divine Fits (with Spoon's Britt Daniel), and most recently Operators, a electronic-focused project.

I liked the EP they released earlier this year enough to pick up their debut album, Blue Wave, when it came out a few weeks ago——it had a nice 80s vibe to it that was warmer than something like Wire but cooler and more precise than a lot of the New Wave pop groups that relied heavily on synths for their sound.

Blue Wave continues in that vein, but not quite as successfully——there are definitely a few keepers, like "Cold Light" and "Blue Wave", and the stronger songs benefit from cribbing generously from the Danse Macabre-era style of the Faint, but there are too many forgettable songs on here, or ones that aren't distinctive enough from one another.

This album feels like it might be a grower for me though——it could catch me at the right moment and become the only thing I listen to for a week as I fall in love with it——so I'm going to give it a few more chances before I take it out of the regular rotation.

So I've had A Moon Shaped Pool since the day it was released, but I still haven't listened to it yet. I made it through the opening track, "Burn the Witch" (which I liked), and then through the next two, "Daydreaming" and "Decks Dark" when it became clear to me that this record needed to be listened to in a certain frame of mind, a certain mood, and I just haven't been in that mental state yet.

Also, I haven't seen this mentioned in any of the reviews yet, but the track listing is in alphabetical order. That's usually the kind of thing that Radiohead devotees will spend hours dissecting and looking for meaning in, and I just thought it was curious that it doesn't seem to have been noticed at all thus far.