7.5.16 Waxahatchee recently released a five song EP called Early Recordings, which is exactly what you would suspect it would be from the title: a previously unreleased collection of her earliest recordings that precede even her first direct-to-tape lo-fi album American Weekend.
It would be easy to view this as a blatant cash grab for Waxahatchee obsessives like me, but the quality here, both in terms of the songs themselves and the recordings, is easily on par with American Weekend, which all Waxahatchee obsessives completely love (and in fact the recording quality on average feels slightly more polished than that record). So cash grab or not, I'm glad to have these songs in my life.
I'd still love to hear frontwoman Katie Crutchfield go back and record the material on American Weekend (and now Early Recordings) in a formal studio setting and add a full band to some of the tracks. At this point, that could potentially be seen as another lazy cash grab, but there are some really great songs on those releases, and the extremely raw nature of the recordings mean that there's a segment of her audience that will never be able to truly appreciate them because they can't get past that element.
7.6.16 Okkervil River have announced a new album, Away, and shared a track called "Okkervil River R.I.P.":
This is a band I've loved for a while, but I don't often return to their music except when they have a new album that I'm digging into. I have a lot of their songs tagged with four or five stars, so theoretically they should be showing up in my playlists that filter on those ratings, but they never seem to, and I just forget they exist until I stumble across them in some context and happily seek out their songs for a refresher.
You wouldn't expect a particularly upbeat song with a title that references the death of the band (although they don't seem to be calling this album their swan song or anything), and this is a pretty quiet and intensely introspective track, even when the layers of instrumentation start coming in in the second half and the pace picks up a bit. It's too long and too slow for me to really love it, but I still love this band and I'm really looking forward to this record——they don't really have any misses in their catalog, and I have to believe that this will be another worthy addition to their discography.
I've had a little over a month to react to Beth Orton'sKidsticks, and although I've only made it all the way through two or three times, here's what I've learned about it so far:
It's her best effort this decade.
It's her best effort this century.
It's not as good as her two best records from the 90s, Trailer Park and Central Reservation, but it does at least return to some of the things that made those records great, namely incorporating electronic sounds and beats into her undeniably folky roots.
At its best, this reminds me not only of her best work, but also of Talking Heads and Animal Collective in terms of the use of polyrhythms and electronic instruments mixed with eclectic analog instruments.
I'm not ready to formally endorse this record as a purchase yet, but I could get there.
7.8.16 The Strokes just released an EP called Future Present Past, and although I've only listened to it two or three times so far, it's definitely their most straightforward and rock-oriented release in a decade (since 2006's First Impressions of Earth).
I'm not going to make the argument that this is in any way a return to their roots, or that these songs would have stood a chance of being on the tracklist for Is This It or Room on Fire, and there are still overtones of the synths and goth/krautrock stuff that frontman Julian Casablancas has been obsessed with this decade, but this is the closest they've come to acknowleding musically all the things that made them great for their first few albums and being willing to return to some version of that sound for more than one or two tracks on a given release.
"Threat of Joy" is the obvious single if you're looking for the track where they sound the most like their old selves. It's the third track, but they spoil the ending by closing out the EP with a remix of track 2, "Oblivius", that does its best to remind us of all the tangential nonsense that made their last two albums pretty unlistenable.
We'll see what comes next for this band. It's both encouraging and disheartened to hear that they are clearly capable of still writing and recording good songs, but some act of willful perversity or self-sabotage in the name of growth/freshness/whatever has kept them from doing so for the past decade.
I know I'm a fool to hope, but Frank Ocean posted this to his web site a few days ago:
For those of us who have been waiting an endless eternity for Ocean's follow up to Channel Orange, which is likely named Boys Don't Cry and which he started teasing LAST July, this is a glimmer of hope that maybe he's actually finished the album and will release it sometime this month.
But as I said, I'm a fool to hope for anything other than disappointment at this point, so we'll see...
7.12.16 Deerhoof released a new record called The Magic last month, and it might be their most straightforward and accessible release yet. There are 15 songs, and most of them clock in at well under three minutes, so it's s quick listen, and most of the songs put the guitar hooks front and center.
It's still a Deerhoof record, though, so many of the signature elements beloved by their fans are still present, they just seem more controlled and less likely to spiral off into a tangential space that can sometimes seem self indulgent.
I've grown so fond of the band that I've built up a higher tolerance for those excursions that I might have for a different band, but its pretty satisfying for my three-minute-pop-song-loving self to have a Deerhoof record that retains that distinct Deerhoof-iness while also giving me tight, focused pop gems that I can become instantly addicted to.
For longtime fans, there are stronger records in their catalog, but there aren't any that are so instantly relatable. Apple-O was always my go-to recommendation for where to start with Deerhoof, but The Magic might replace that as a gentler, more immediately lovable record from this amazing band. Because if this record is too weird for you, then you're almost definitely going to have issues with the rest of their catalogue.
Sometimes when I plug my iPhone into my car stereo, it doesn't remember what playlist I was shuffling through last time, so it just starts playing all the songs I have loaded on my phone in alphabetical order. The first of these currently is PJ Harvey's "A Line in the Sand" from her most recent album, and since it is in a variety of different playlists that I listen to in the car, it doesn't immediately set off alarm bells that I'm listening to an alpha-order of my entire collection.
But the next song, the Pressure Boys' "A-Okay", is not on any current playlists except my 80s playlist, so when it comes on, I know my phone has forgotten the playlist I had selected, and I typically choose a new one at that point. But this has had the pleasant side effect of reminding me about the Pressure Boys, and for the past week that's the playlist I've been listening to non-stop in the car——all the Pressure Boys songs I have rated at four stars or more.
I can almost guarantee that unless you went to high school with me or were attending Duke, Chapel Hill, or NC State when I was in high school, you've never heard of this band, but they were a huge part of the Triangle music scene, releasing two EPs and a full-length throughout the 80s before breaking up at the end of the decade and splintering into two other groups that also obtained some degree of local notoriety, the Sex Police and Johnny Quest.
They had a full horn section, lots of reggae/ska influences, and a manic energy that you can hear in the recordings but you definitely felt the full force of when you saw them live. And seeing them live was how you were likely to first encounter them, because they played all the time and at every venue in the Triangle when they were together.
If they had just been able to hang on for a little bit longer, it's likely that they would have landed a major label deal somewhere——I can imagine a talent scout selling them as a hybrid of the southern charm and fire of Fetchin' Bones and the funk and energy of Red Hot Chili Peppers with a dose of the Chapel Hill sound, all of which were coming into their own in the late 80s/early 90s. There are also some quaint touches that remind me of Men at Work, who were definitely not on the upswing at the end of the 80s, but who have a strong nostalgic pull for someone like me.
But alas, it was not to be, and they will forever remain a favorite band of people who lived in a very specific place at a very specific time. If you're curious, it looks like a compilation of their material, The Incomplete Recordings, is available on most digital music and streaming platforms. I like it all, but some particular favorites are "Linda", "Dial Tone", "Lover's Town", "Tina Goes to the Supermarket", "Lost", and the aforementioned "A-Okay".
I STILL have not listened to Radiohead'sA Moon Shaped Pool yet. This is similar to how I sometimes end up interacting with a movie that I've watched the first ten minutes of or a new season of The Walking Dead that I watched the first half episode of——I'll save it up, agonize about it, wonder if it's worth the investment given my initial middling reaction to it, and then consume it in an obsessive way at some completely random point.
I've never had this happened with an album from a band I love so much and whose releases I genuinely get excited about, but the first couple of songs just aren't pulling me to listen to more. It doesn't help that I don't feel like I have as much time to listen to any music these days——the new Car Seat Headrest is one I should have listened to at least a couple dozen times by now given how much I like it, but as of now I've only heard it in its entirety three times.
7.15.16 PJ Harvey shared a new track today called "Guilty":
This song was recorded during the same sessions as the songs on her latest album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, and you can see why it was left off of that record. There are some interesting bits here——the backbeat is simultaneously propulsive and meandering, and the slowly buidling urgency is a nice trick——but there's something about it that just doesn't fit the overall vibe that Hope Six created (although there are moments, especially the chorus, where you can see how it could have built a different way and fit better onto the album proper).
The only bad thing about getting a new PJ Harvey album is that it means you are now a long ways away from another new PJ Harvey album——it typically takes her 3-5 years to make a record. But it's usually well worth the wait.
One year ago Wilco surprise released Star Wars for free, and to commemorate the occasion, they shared a new song called "Locator":
I've listened to it a couple of times now, and the tossed-off, shuffling vibe sounds more like Jeff Tweedy's work in his side project with his son (named, appropriately enough, Tweedy), but it's also somewhere on a continuum with the less fussy, more messy Star Wars. I don't know if this is a leftover from those sessions or a taste of a new record, (given that it doesn't really feel like a single, I would guess the former), but it's a nice little freebie from the band.
7.19.16 The Pixies have announced a new album, Head Carrier, and shared a track from the record called "Um Chagga Lagga":
While this lineup still doesn't feature Kim Deal (Paz Lenchantin, who has played with A Perfect Circle and Zwan, plays the bass on this one), it's time to ask the question: are the Pixies officially a functioning band again? Yes, they've been active in some form for the past several years as they went on various reunion tours, and they released an album of new material called Indie Cindy in 2014, but that record was a compilation of EPs that you got the feeling were more about testing out the band dynamic than actually recording a record.
But this record was intentionally made as a complete album, and while it's not significantly better than the fairly average material on Indie Cindy, it does more immediately call to mind the rawer guitar sounds of the Pixies of yore and the lurching stops and starts that punctuated many of their most memorable songs.
I'm not ready to make a case that the Pixies are back based on this track——it still pales in comparison to anything they releasd in their heyday——but given that they seem to be serious about being an actual band again, this song at least demands that we treat them as such instead of a pure nostalgia act.
Recently an English band called Martha pinged on my radar with the release of their second record, Blisters in the Pit of My Heart, and I was intrigued because they reminded me of a British version of bands like Chumped or of a less complicated version of early Los Campesinos. After listening to both their albums for a bit, I decided their debut, Courting Strong, was more immediately appealing to me, so I purchased that one to see if it would continue to resonate with me enough for me to consider buying their newest one.
After a few listens, it's definitely reminding me more of the Chumped pop punk side of things than the complicated guitar pop of Los Campesinos (although there are definitely moments/songs that hit that mark for me, especially "1997, Passing in the Hallway"). I'm not quite there on buying Blisters yet, but that's mostly because I'm still absorbing Courting Strong and want to give that record a chance to carve out its own place in my mind before I add more songs from this band to the mix. So if pop punk mixed with a bit of English snarkiness sounds like your cup of tea, you might want to give them a try.
2015 was a busy year for Nathan Williams——he released a new Wavves album, a collaborative album between Wavves and Cloud Nothings, and an album with a side project called Spirit Club. He's been quiet on the recorded music front since last fall when Wavves' V came out, but he recently shared a new song from his Spirit Club project called "Room to Run":
I didn't end up buying Spirit Club's debut album——overall it was a little too spacey and mellow for me compared to Wavves (it felt very influenced by Best Coast——Bethany Cosentino and Nathan Willisms are known pals), although from what I heard it wasn't bad, I just never got in the right mood enough to buy it.
This song definitely retains the laid back California Beach Boys vibe, but it's somehow more focused and purposeful than the songs on last year's full lenth. If "Room to Run" had been on the debut album, it alone might have been enough to convince me to make a purchase.
This song isn't officially part of a new record yet——the sophomore record is still in progress——but if this is an indication of what they're working on, their next release might end up in my permanent collection.
On the heels of "Locator" last week, Wilco shared another new song called "If Ever I Was a Child"
and also announced a new album called Schmilco due out this fall. Here's the video for "If Ever I Was a Child":
Since becoming indie rock icons with Yankee Hotel Foxtrot and A Ghost Is Born, Wilco's best, most engaging work has been when they don't seem to take themselves as seriously as their icon status would warrant and instead take the I-don't-give-a-fuck approach to their writing/recording——when they take themselves too seriously, it more often results in ponderous, overbearing, borderline unlistenable dirges rather than the majestic, intricate constructions that made up the more serious parts of Yankee and Ghost.
"Locator" and "Child" are both easily on the chill side of Wilco, which gives me hope that Schmilco will continue what Star Wars started. Star Wars was probably their least ambitious record since Sky Blue Sky, but it also became my favorite since that record. Having back to back good Wilco albums separated by just over a year would be a big win for longtime fans like me; I'm really hoping with Schmilco they can pull this off.
I bought a few things recently from Amazon's version of the cutout bin, their rotating selection of MP3 albums for $5 that changes every 2-4 weeks. This time it was Bauhaus' Burning from the Inside, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark'sHistory of Modern, and M.I.A.'sMatangi.
I've listened to OMD'sHistory of Modern the most so far, and I'm pretty unimpressed with it. This was their 2010 reunion record that marked the first new music from the band since 1996, and the first with the original four members since 1986, and since I have and like the follow up, 2013's English Electric, I was hoping this would be more of the same.
Like English Electric, the cover art for History of Modern intentionally references the very 80s style of artwork the band used on such classic albums as Architecture and Morality and Dazzle Ships, and the visual signifiers are clearly meant to imply that the music is also a return to the band's sound from that period. And while there are elements in common with their early 80s work in some of the synthesizer sounds, the songs themselves aren't that great——not only is History of Modern not anywhere near as good as their early-career work, it's nowhere near as good as English Electric, which returns to their early period style much more convincingly.
It's good to have the album for historical context, but I'm glad I only paid $5 for it——it has a couple of worthwhile songs on it, and it's interesting to hear the band trying to figure themselves out after not working together for nearly a quarter century, but it's more interesting in that regard than it is from a musical perspective. If you want to hear a modern take on their signature early 80s sound, English Electric is definitely the way to go, and you shouldn't wait for it to go on sale to pick it up.
Former Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser and Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij (who here is referenced simply as Rostam) have shared a single called "A 1000 Times":
Rostam also collaborated with Leithauser on his post-Walkmen solo album, and this isn't far off from the best tunes on that release——meaning it's a pretty good song. Given the consistency of Leithauser's body of work with and without the Walkmen, you have to ask two questions: why did the Walkmen break up, because everything that Leithauser has released since the band went their separate ways could have plausibly been released by the Walkmen and 2) what exactly did the other members of the Walkmen contribute to the songwriting process?
I don't know if this is a one-off or if it's a preview of a bigger project, but it's a nice little song that can shoulder to shoulder with Leithauser's other strong tracks.
7.27.16 Dinosaury Jr. shared another track from their upcoming new record Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not, this one called "Goin Down":
"Goin Down" is another strong track that is instantly recognizable as Dinosaur Jr. (although it's pretty straightforward and stripped down in that context). It seems pretty likely at this point that the fourth album since the original members got back together in 2007 will be just as strong as the others, which are, in their own ways, as strong as the first records they made together (although Green Mind, which was the band's major label debut made in the wake of Lou Barlow's departure, will always be my favorite).
7.28.16 Regina Spektor announced a new album, Remember Us to Life, and shared a track from the record called "Bleeding Heart":
I'm a relative newcomer to Regina Spektor——I only picked up her last album, What We Saw from the Cheap Seats, last year, but I fell for it pretty hard, so I'm pretty likely to buy this one too (along with her back catalog at some point). So while I have a pretty limited set of references for her, this track feels a little different from the stuff I liked on Cheap Seats, in the sense that it more prominently features electronic sounds and has a little more bombast to it, but her signature elements are definitely still present, most notably her vocal stylings and her piano.
7.29.16 PWR BTTM recently shared a new track called "Projection":
I was obsessed with PWR BTTM's debut album, Ugly Cherries (which came out last year) to the point where I drove an hour on a weeknight to see them as the opening band on a triple bill in a club that probably held slightly more people than my living room could. And it was totally worth it——they were great performers and I would do it again in a heartbeat.
They played a few songs that weren't on the record that evening, and this sounds like it might be one of them. It's a decent song, but if it had been on Ugly Cherries, I would have put it in the second tier of tracks——not one of my favorites, but strong enough to remain in a playlist for the band (thanks largely to the "chorus", which here contains no vocals but instead is a powerful series of guitar lines).
I was hoping this might mean a new album was in the works, but that doesn't appear to be the case——Ugly Cherries is getting a reissue in the UK, and this is one of two bonus tracks that will be on that reissue. They're also selling this one on their Bandcamp site, so hopefully the second bonus track will follow and I won't have to pay a ridiculous amount of money for the UK CD to be shipped over here just to get those two new tracks.