I'm not sure where I heard Pinkwash's "Longer Now", their first single from their debut album Collective Sigh, but I was instantly taken with it and preordered the record based on that song alone. It's a more brutal take on math rock, as if Death From Above 1979 had gotten obsessed with Battles and decided to veer off in that direction.
The album came out a few weeks ago, and although "Longer Now" remains my favorite track, the rest of the record more than lives up to expectations. There's not a bad song on here, and this could easily end up being on my top 10 for the year.
Mind you, it's not for everyone——if you don't like frequently shifting time signatures, syncopated beats, and loud, metal-influenced guitars, it's going to be hard for you to appreciate the songcraft here. But even though there are a lot of layers of musical complexity to sift through here, at the heart of their sound are some deep hooks that will quickly get hold of you if you give them have a chance.
6.2.16 Dinosaur Jr. has a new record, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, coming out later this summer, and they recently shared a track from that album called "Tiny":
What's incredible about this song is that, after three decades of J. Mascis making music under the Dinosaur Jr. moniker, it manages to sound exactly like what a great Dinosaur Jr. song would have sounded like in 1993 (or even better than their actual album from 1993, Where You Been) and yet still sounds energetic and fresh.
will be the band's fourth record in the last 10 years, and although 2009's Farm was the strongest and most consistent of those, the trio of records released between 2007 and 2012 all have some great moments on them and are clearly not the work of an artist who has run out of ideas and is just treading water to keep income flowing.
Based on "Tiny", Glimpse looks to continue this trend, and will hopefully do nothing to tarnish the legacy of a band that really doesn't have anything left to prove but continues to show us how great rock can be anyway.
I don't know quite how to descibe the music of Oscar Sheller——who simply goes by Oscar as his nom de recording——in a way that will make you think it's distinctive enough to invest your time in him. It's clearly pop music with an emphasis on guitars and frequent reminders of classic 60s harmonies and melodies but with a thoroughly modern palette of musical sounds, and although that's not especially unique, it at least let you know if it might be in your wheelhouse.
But even though it references familiar tropes and styles, there's something special about his debut release, Cut and Paste (those inclined to not to hear his individual stamp on this style of music could have a
field day with that title, but I'm not one of them). His voice is more of a baritone than Morrissey's, but there are moments when he sounds like the Smiths singer (or, more acuurately, like the less earnest, more impish younger brother of the Smiths singer).
The opening track "Sometimes", with its power chords, prominent alien synth sound, and female backing vocals, is my favorite, but there's not an unlistenable song on here, and there are a few tracks that could surpass "Sometimes" given more listens. There's part of me that wants this record to be something more than what it appears to be on the surface, but the less critical part of me just wants the other part of my brain to shut up and enjoy it without thinking about it too much. So that's what I'm going to do.
6.15.16 Car Seat Headrest's first proper album for a label, Teens of Style (which was actually sort of a best-of collection of the material he had recorded at home for his Bandcamp followers that was re-recorded for Teens of Style), quickly became one of my favorite releases from last year (the refrain from the opening track, "Sunburned Shirts"——"I hadn't looked at the sun in so long/I'd forgotten how much it hurt to——still resonates deeply with me).
Less than a year later, Will Toledo has released the follow up, Teens of Denial, which is his first album of all new material to be released under the auspices of a label, and it might be even better than its predecessor. The production is less muddy and his voice is more at the top of the mix, but it's still very lo-fi and very recognizable as the artist who created Teens of Style, Bit there's a bit more straight-out rocking, and also a bit more complexity in the arrangements and structures of the songs. The average song lengths are pretty long——eight of the twelve songs are over five minutes, and one clocks in at close to twelve——but there were a bunch of songs on the last record that were in that range as well.
My early favorite is "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales", which from its title and the complete lack of obvious linkaget between those two song fragments narrative seems like it was two ideas that somehow fit together musically so they got jammed together into a single song, but if you were hearing this in a language you didn't speak and could focus on the music, you would probably hear the killer whales section as a really good bridge that got extended and integrated into the song proper because it was too good to use only once.
I've already got tickets to see Car Seat Headrest in September, and I fully expect this to be one of the best shows that I'll go to this year. Will Toledo is a comer, and I think we can count on a string of strong albums from him for the next few years.
6.16.16 The Hotelier's 2014 debut, Home, Like Noplace Is There, was one of those records that came out of nowhere and really grabbed me. But it was partly a nostalgic reaction, because the music wasn't especially different from a lot of the prog emo bands that were clear influences, so I was curious to see what they'd do on their follow up.
That sophomore record, Goodness, has been in my rotation for about a month now, and while it's taken me some time to digest it, I'm generally pleased with the path this band is trying walk. The sound is still very similar to the first record——they're not going to walk away from this genre any time soon——and there are some artistic decisions that are bound to irritate their critics (for instance, there are three tracks that are titled with GPS coordinates, two of which are sweet but short and forgettable instrumentals, while the third (which happens to be the opening track) is a very restrained spoken word recitation of a poem that could have come from any of hundreds of thousand of angsty high school journals from the past 30 years), but overall, the songs are more focused and the production a touch cleaner without losing any of the emotional punch.
This is one of those band's that I'm near 100% certain would be amazing live, and my guess is that this is how they're building most of their audience. In that regard, the records are almost like teasers for the essence of the band instead of its main artistic statement, and so relating to them is probably more of a challenge than if you were coming at them from the perspective of the already-converted who had experienced the band in concert. But even in that context, there are still many things to love about their recorded documents, and Goodness is certainly worthy to sit alongside its predecessor.
6.17.16 Beck has shared a new single (which doesn't seem to preview of a new album, just a one-off) called "Wow":
So we all know Beck is a weird dude, but, this song has me saying wow not in amazement but sort of stunned astonishment. Granted, if you tie this in to some of his forays into funk and general oddball takes on pop on records like Odelay and Midnite Vultures, you can fit this song into Beck musical narrative.
But it's a decade since he's seriously explored territory like this (excluding another one-off single, "Dreams", from last year), and although I always liked that Beck better than the introspective folkie persona that he seems more comfortable in these days, I'm not sure I can buy it. Damon Albarn has become the gold standard in musical chameleonism with all of his various and varied side projects, and while Beck has historical credibility as a changeling, without that background this single would seem like a total joke. If this was part of a sustained effort (like a full album), it might have more context to legitimize it, but lacking that, it's hard to figure out if he's actually being serious or not.
Indie supergroup Wolf Parade (co-led by Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner, whose other projects, bands, and albums are too numerous to detail) have been on hiatus for five years and haven't released any new music as Wolf Parade since 2009, but at the end of May the released an eponymous EP with four new songs on it.
This is actually their third eponymous EP, but the first EP that they've released in over a decade. The other three were released in rapid succession, and the songs on those records became the basis for their debut album, Apologies to the Queen Mary. The songs here will be instantly recognizable as Wolf Parade, but instead of viewing them nostalgically (wherein we're just happy to have some new music that sounds like Wolf Parade), let's pretend that this had been released in 2009 in between their two most recent album and see how excited we would have been about these songs then.
The answer for me is: only a little excited. There were many reasons this band went on hiatus, but two of the big ones (from my perspective anyway) were 1) the ever-expanding universe of side projects that made it difficult to focus on the Wolf Parade enterprise and 2) a certain staleness to the songs that were being saved for the Wolf Parade banner, like the two principal songwriters were boxing themselves into a certain limited set of ideas and saving their most interesting stuff for their other collaborations.
Even though the songs on here are solid (and interestingly, they get more interesting and creative as the EP goes on, which is the opposite of what typically happens——closer "Floating World" was instantly the strongest track for me), that same staleness is still present, and you have to wonder if the reason the didn't release a full album is because they're trying to figure out whether this format makes sense for them at this point, or if they got together with the intentions of writing a full album and realized they just didn't have enough quality material in the Wolf Parade vein to justify more than an EP.
But I'm still sentimentally happy to have new music from them anyway, and I'm hoping this will lead to a full record and tour despite the multiple ongoing alternate obligations of Krug and Boeckner.
For their past several releases, of Montreal have put out their records in late winter/early spring, so when there was no announcement of a new record earlier this year, I figured 2016 would be a year without a new of Montreal album. But a couple of weeks ago, the band announced a new reocrd, Innocence Reaches, coming on August 1, and shared a song called "It's Different for Girls":
Kevin Barnes hasn't had a great record since 2008's Skeletal Lamping, but aside from 2013's Lousy With Sylvanbriar, of Montreal's records have still been decent, but just not able to meet the impossibly high expecations I have after a string of amazing releases from 2005 (including The Sunlandic Twins, the Icons, Abstract Thee EP, Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?, and the aforementioned Skeletal Lamping).
A big part of what has been missing from my perspective is a willingness to have fun, both musically and lyrically, and this is one of those rare songs since Skeletal Lamping that sounds like it could have at least been an outtake from that period, and many of his old musical tricks (like using multiple layers of his hamonized voice as an almost keyboard-like effect and multiple song fragments crammed into a single composition) and an orientation to pop/dance music are front and center.
I'm still waiting for the true successor to Skeletal Lamping (and I will wait the rest of my life even if it never comes, in the same way that I will always be waiting and hoping for another great Modest Mouse record or a Smiths reunion, things that I've realistically lost all hope of ever happening), and while it's unlikely that this record will actually be it, this track at least gives me some renewed hope.
Ealier this year, the Stone Roses released their first new song in over two decades, the mostly forgetabble "All for One". They didn't announce a new album at that point, and they still haven't officially done so, but with the release a couple of weeks ago of a second single, "Beautiful Thing", I think we're all assuming that a new full length is in the works for release sometime in the next twelve months. Listen to the new song below:
This song is much easier to justify, both in the context of the Stone Roses catalogue and as a marketable song in general, but it's still not what those of us who are still in love with the band's 1989 debut have been pining for for the past quarter century. It is, however, more instantly recognizable as a Stone Roses song, and it could have been slipped into the tracklist of their sophomore release (and also currently their last album) Second Coming and fit very well there.
But just as with virtually that entire record, it reminds us of what was so great about them without actually being great, so the overall reaction is one of disappointment. But it's a more hopeful sort of disappointment than "All for One", so I guess that's something.
I loved Sleigh Bells' debut album, Treats, but I have grown less and less fond of the direction they've moved in with each subsequent release. They don't sem to have a new album in the works yet, but they recently shared a new single, "Rule Number One":
This is a puzzling single for me. The first half is everything I hated about their most recent record, Bitter Rivals——overproduced, bombastic for no reason, completely nonsensical and sports-rock oriented lyrics——but the second half, which at first I thought was just going to be a bridge, is more the direction I thought they'd head based on "Rill Rill", which was both an exception to the sound on their first album and a standout cut.
I'm not inclined to give this group too many more chances, but the end of this song gives me more hope I've had in a while that they will back away from writing empty jock rock anthems and move towards writing actual songs with meaning and content again, even if the bombast is always going to be part of the picture.
6.24.16 Chance the Rapper released his second major album, Coloring Book, back in May, but given that it was only officially released in a streaming format, I've only been able to listen to it for a couple of weeks now.
I'm going to sidetrack for a moment into the new trend of releasing albums as streaming products only, which was pioneered by Kanye West with The Life of Pablo but which has become more and more prevalent in the intervening months. Coloring Book is also a streaming only release officially, which means that for someone like me who doesn't subscribe to any streaming services, the only option for hearing it is to go out and download one of the many easily accessible illegal copies on the web, something that makes me deeply uncomfortable despite the fact that every generation after mine not only feels no moral ambivalence about this activity but actually feels like they have a god-given right to free music.
I am financially able to support the musicians whose work I love. I want to support these artists. I am naturally inclined to do things by the book. But the artists themselves are making choices that seem intentionally designed to lock people like me out of their music, and while I admit that my particular profile is probably a pretty small slice of their demographic pie, it still makes me angry, and I just don't get the business perspective on this, especially given that streams pay a far lower percentage of royalties than digital purchases (unless, like Kanye, you own a stake in the streaming service that holds your new album and you are driving millions of new paid subscriptions to the service that indirectly puts money in your pocket).
I could totally understand if artists wanted to restrict a new release to a particular streaming service for a limited period of time to drive subscriptions to that service (which the artist would still presumably see revenue from in the form of an exclusivity deal even if they didn't own a stake in the service), but after two or three weeks, I just don't understand why the music can't be released in all digital formats across all services. This exclusivity, whether its expressed in a particular format (streaming) or a particular service), locks people out, something that musicians who aspire to create shared moments in contemporary popular culture shouldn't be doing. Even if it were motivated purely by financial concerns, I could sort of get it, but that doesn't seem to be the case, and the lack of a clear reason for this decision-making leaves me bewildered.
Okay. That went on a bit longer than I expected it to, so I'll talk about Coloring Book itself in my next entry.
Okay. Back to Chance the Rapper'sColoring Book as an actual collection of songs instead of a stand in for all my frustrations about where we seem to be headed with contemporary music distribution schemes.
Again, I've only been listening to it for a couple of weeks now because it took me that long to give up on the possibility of a digital release that I could actually purchase and download it from one of the many sites on the web that's hosting free downloads of the album, but my initial reaction is that this is the hip hop/gospel fusion record that Kanye was trying to make with The Life of Pablo.
It's got a lot of the same lanquid vibe of Chance'sDonnie Trumpet release from last year but with a more overt spiritual bent, and many of the same gospel star contributors who made an appearance on Pablo (as did Chance himself). "Angels", which was released last year, serves as a nice bridge between Acid Rap and Coloring Book——it's more kinetic than most of the tracks on this album, and it explicitly calls out the yelp that was used so frequently by Chance on Acid Rap that it almost became a parodic but which is otherwise absent from Coloring Book, but it also references the gospel focus of this record.
"Mixtape" is the one track that doesn't feel like it belongs here——even though there are other tracks whose sounds are clearly referencing the musical styles of their guest stars (like Kanye's "All We Got" and Future's "Smoke Break"), those songs all still fit into the overall vibe of this record.
And while we're talking about Kanye, let me offer a further comment on The Life of Pablo, especially since these albums are clearly linked. Pablo for me was Kanye's weakest record since 808s and Heartbreak——a record that, until this year, had been the only misstep in an otherwise legendary series of releases going back to his debut. Comparing Coloring Book and The Life of Pablo has many parallels to the comparisons between 808s and Heartbreak and Kid Cudi's debut, The Man on the Moon. In both cases, a younger artist who is still finding his artistic footing has managed to take many of the same ideas and themes as his mentor and outdo the more experienced artist.
Despite his annoying public persona, I've always loved Kanye's music, and so his clear rebound from 808s and Heartbreak——his next two releases were My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Yeezus, which are his current crowning artistic achievements——gives me hope that Pablo is just another calibration point that will allow his to refocus and do something so innovative that there won't really be anyone else's record that you'll want to compare it to.
I've talked about a lot of stuff over these past two entries that are only that are only tangentially related to Coloring Book, which is what I was supposed to be talking about, so let me end this on a less muddled note: Coloring Book is a great record, and you should find a way to have it in your music collection, even if that means going outside the official distribution structure.