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june 2017

6.5.17
It seems like Wavves releases a new record every year, but the truth is they've been pretty steady about putting out a new album every couple of years since their 2009 debut (the curiously titled Wavvves). You're Welcome is their latest, coming after 2015's V and their collaborative release with Cloud Nothings that same year.

Like pretty much all of their albums, there is enough of a shift to a slightly new direction to create a unique sound for the record in the context of their overall catalogue, but the DNA that's been present in Nathan Williams' songwriting from their earliest days still exerts a strong influence.

This is catchy, loud pop punk, but it might be their weirdest and goofiest collection of songs yet. And I don't mean that in a negative way——it's unhinged and wacky in a way that feels creatively freeing. There's such a strong template for Wavves tracks that it's hard to do something truly new using that formula, but here there's a willingness to play around with studio effects, unusual beats, and just plain odd song structures. That makes this release stand out compared to some of their other albums, which were sometimes so flawless that their perfection became a weakness in terms of holding your interest.

"Come to the Valley", "Supid in Love", and "Under" aren't necessarily the best songs on the record, but they are the reason why this is one of the most engaging releases from Nathan Williams in his career. It's like a lovesick, malfunctioning robot with a disturbing fixation on California in the 60s took over Williams' brain during the recording process, resulting in something that sort of feeels like clasic pop and sort of feels like catchy punk, but damaged and distorted in a way that makes it something else entirely.



6.6.17
Broken Social Scene have shared another track from their upcoming new album Hug of Thunder, this one called "Skyline":

This is easily my favorite song that they have shared as part of their previews of the new record: it's got the shambling, loose feel that marks so many great Broken Social Scene tracks, and the quieter, more acoustic beginning builds to a crescendo that includes a horns and keyboards rounding out the traditional rock elements

I t also indulges in another of their tricks that I'm very fond of: repetition of the same few phrases with no real verse or chorus structure. Not every band can get away with this, certainly not with the frequency that this band does, but they pull it off beautifully.



6.7.17
There was a brief window——less than 48 hours——when PWR BTTM's new record, Pageant, was actually available to purchase or download before the band's record label cut ties with them and halted all sales of the album, physical and online.

This happened in the wake of online allegations that one of the band members had unconsensual sex with a fan who came back home with him after a show, and that was enough for the community that had supported the band's queer-friendly message and stage personas (including their record label) to turn their backs on the group and essentially excommunicate them from the community and, apparently, the music industry.

I had preordered the album through iTunes, so it was delivered automatically to me in that very small window before the record label yanked it. Although its future (and the band's in general) is still in doubt nearly a month later, I hope really hope the group can find a way to satisfactorily address these allegations, repair their relationship with their former fans, and find a new home, because this is a record worth hearing.

This record (and the supporting tour, which was also canceled when their opening acts bowed out and their management company dropped them) would have been huge for them——the duo's songwriting, especially that of Ben Hopkins (the accused band member), has taken big strides forward since their debut. He's written some rock anthems that would have become staples of their lives sets for years (most notably "Big Beautiful Day"), and would have likely brought them tons of new fans outside the LBGTQ community that birthed them.

Many music sites posted their reviews of Pageant prior to the controversy erupting (and the more transparent ones have kept theirs online), but they were all uniformly positive (there's almost no doubt in my mind that the biggest fish in the indie/alternative music review scene, Pitchfork, would have been gushing over this record, but they never published a review that I know they had ready to go on the Friday the album was released). Its lowest score was 7/10, and it had a solid average of 8/10——I think there's a pretty good chance that it would have received a Best New Music designation from Pitchfork had they released their review.

This is probably the most intense recent conversation I've had with myself about separating the artist from the art. Many of the artists whose work I love——musicians, painters, writers, etc.——were people I would not have chosen to spend time with personally, and whose behavior was at times beyond the pale of acceptable conduct. In this case, I'm even more torn because all of this is coming from unsubtantiated allegations made by one or two people online in forums like Facebook and anonymous interviews with gossip mongers.

But even if the accusations turn out to be true, does that mean we can't enjoy the songs that this person made and shared with us? In many cases, the line would be a lot fuzzier, but here it becomes clearer simply due to the nature of the band's message, which is not only part of their lyrics and music but also because they stand by a very pro-safe space, anti-victim shaming point of view. This is the bedrock on which their previously-loyal fanbase was built, and hypocrisy in this area between their public statements and their private conduct should have greater consequences than if, say, Whitesnake or Poison were accused of taking advantage of groupies.

I'm still rooting for this band, and I hope they find a way to address these allegations, clear their names, and start to win back their former fans. But it's hard to see a path to that right now given the absolute exile they're in, with no tour, no album, no label, and no management company.



6.8.17
Arcade Fire have shared a new track, presumably for a upcoming new album. It's called "Everything Now", which seems likely to be the title of the new record as well:

The slow, pulsing intro seems to have very little do with the main body of the track, which can be best defined as Arcade Fire meets Abba. And despite that description, it's actually pretty appealing.

We've seen them explore a dancier side to their sound, most recently on Reflektor tracks like "Here Comes the Night Time" and "Afterlife", but this seems to go even beyond those experiments, and although I run hot and cold with this band sometimes, I really do like this song——there's a real sincerity behind the aloofness of the vocal and ironic use of disco stylings that makes it all work.



6.9.17
Last week Phoenix shared "Goodbye Soleil", the third track from their soon-to-be-released album Ti Amo:

This song is an odd spiritual cousin to the track I posted yesterday: they're both sincere takes on a disco sound with 80s synth pop inflections made by 21st century post-ironic hipster bands (who coincidentally both happen to speak French, although only one of the groups is actually from France).

This has a more midtempo groove than either of the other two tracks they've already shared, but it's just as recognizably a Phoenix track as those two are. I don't know if anything they release will ever hit the bullseye for me as much as Wolfgang Amadadeus Phoenix, but so far this album is sounding pretty good.



6.12.17
Alvvays have announced their sophomore album, Antisocialites, and have shared a track from the record called "In Undertow":

I liked Alvvays' first album, and I really enjoyed seeing them play live, but the problem for me was that their songs sounded both too much like each other and too much like a generic indie pop guitar band.

I'm sort of having that same struggle with this song even though the sound is a little different than their first album——it's heavier and slower with more distortion——and I'm wondering if they might become another band like Male Bonding or The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. These are two bands who are so perfect at distlling a sound from multiple other similar bands into a nearly flawless imitation, but who, because of this approach, lack a true identity they can call their own.

I'm still looking forward to this record and hoping for the best——I'm rooting for this band to become one I can love unrepentantly——but this song lowers my expectations a bit.



6.13.17
Waxahatchee have shared another track from their new album, Out in the Storm, this one called "Never Been Wrong":

This continues the more rock-oriented sound on the previously shared track, "Silver". I don't like this track quite as much as "Silver", but it's still pretty good, and I do love the "everyone" lyric that stands on its own amid a break in the music.



6.14.17
I don't remember exactly how I discovered Sports' Sunchokes, a record that was self-released on Bandcamp three years ago by students from Kenyon College in Ohio, but I've become absolutely obsessed with it. It's only eight songs and it barely cracks the 20 minute mark, but there's not a single bad track, and a couple of them have become some of my favorite songs I've heard this year ("Clean Jeans" and the title track are the most impressive).

They have another record that was released in 2015 that I haven't heard yet, but I'm already aching for the loss of this band——after recording their sophomore album, three of the band members graduated from college and went their separate ways, leaving the future of the group in doubt.

It appears as though at least a couple of the members have moved to Philly to make a go of a music career. Their Facebook page has some activity over the past year, but no new album news going on more than two years since their last record. So I'm hopeful, but also pessimistic——it doesn't seem like this is something you can pull off as a hobby with people living halfway across the country from one another and trying to build young careers and lives.

But Sunchokes is a brilliant slice of catchy pop punk, and I already cherish it the way I cherish Sarge's The Glass Intact. Even if it's the only thing I ever love from them, it's worth the pain of thinking about what might have been to experience what is.



6.15.17
Iron and Wine have shared a track called "Call It Dreaming", which will be released as part of the just-announced new album Beast Epic:

There's still a full band present here, but the sounds beyond Sam Beam's voice and his acoustic guitar are used very sparingly, and this reminds me of his early recordings more than any record since 2004's Our Endless Numbered Days (which was his first experiment with broadening his sound beyond the lo-fi solo recordings that made up his first couple of releases).

Regardless of what styles and instrumentation he's playing around with, his records have always stood or fallen on the songs themselves, and this is one of his better ones. I'm excited to hear the rest of this record——when I connect with one of his albums, it's a strong, immediate connection, and that's what I'm feeling with this song.



6.16.17
Phoenix released their sixth album, Ti Amo, earlier this month, but for me it's really their third album——my relationship with the band starts with their 2009 release Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and as much as I like that record, I've never really been tempted to go back and explore their earlier catalog.

Phoenix have never really been a rock band despite their fairly traditional rock band setup, and this release finds them diving deeper into disco and 80s influenced synths than ever before. There is a pastel lightness to their synth sounds——they're never bombastic or overbearing even when they are the instrumental centerpiece of the arrangement——and that makes the whole album feel airy and translucent, like morning sun filtering through gauzy, emphemeral curtains.

There are very few weak tracks on here, but there are also few standouts that are candidates for singles. Despite the focus on synths and sequencers, it's not a very dance-oriented record——it traffics in the same kind of electronica as Little Dragon, only with a decidely lighter French influence (as opposed to the Scandanavian darkness that imbues a heavier feel to Little Dragon's work).

If you already know Phoenix, then you know what you're getting here——an even more synth-heavy, midtempo selection of songs that could have just as easily been recorded for their previous two albums as this one. For me, that's not a bad thing, but your mileage may vary.



6.19.17
Arcade Fire have shared another track from their new album, which we now know is going to be titled Everything Now. The song is called "Creature Comforts", and it's also a very dance-oriented tune, although it borrows more from 80s electronica than 70s disco (there's a keytar in the video!):

I might actually like this one more than "Everything Now", and these two songs alone will make the rest of the record worth the ride. I really never know what to expect from this band anymore, except that they're going to do lots of stuff that I'm not expecting, they're always going to feel a little pretentious, even when I buy their sincerity, and as a result there are going to be some annoying moments/songs to deal with. But there are going to be some really brillant ones too.



6.20.17
There's a new alt rock supergroup in town, this one composed of Scott McCaughey (Young Fresh Fellows, the Minus 5, the Venus 3, the Baseball Project, and touring member of R.E.M.), Bill Rieflin (of many of the previously mentioned projects and also essentially Bill Berry's replacement in R.E.M.), Kurt Bloch (Young Fresh Fellows), Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney) and Peter Buck (you all know who he is, right?

The band is called Filthy Friends, and it's essentially the Venus 3 (Buck, McCaughey, Rieflin) with one of McCaughey's oldest bandmates and another superstar from the Seattle/Portland indie scene. They've recorded an album called Invitation, and shared a song from that record called "The Arrival":

Tucker is handling the vocals (at least on this track), and you can hear Buck's signature chiming arpeggios in a few places, but these chords are much chunkier and straighforward rock than Sleater-Kinney even though you can't help looking for comparisons because of Tucker's unmistakable voice.

I've listened to this about five times now, and I still can't tell if I like it or if the novelty of this group of people making music together has me listening over and over to tease apart who's contributing what. I'm not immediatley rushing to preorder the album, which tells me something I suppose, but I'm definintely curious to hear more.



6.21.17
Death From Above 1979 announced they are dropping the 1979 from their name and will now simply be known as Death From Above. They also shared some new music, "Freeze Me", which is presumably from an as-yet unannounced third album:

This is one of the mellower tracks they've done, but that's only compared to their typical bombast——this is still pretty abrasive, especially once the guitars start to kick in. Still, compared to most of their songs, this one is almost danceable, with a prominent synth line and more focus on the bass than on the guitars for much of the song.



6.22.17
My oh my. The Dream Syndicate, who haven't released an album in nearly 30 years, have announced a new record called How Did I Find Myself Here? and shared the title track:

This band wasn't one of my favorites from that early to mid 80s Boston-based rock revival (which took many forms, from Dumptruck to the Pixies), but their record Out of the Grey was always close to my heart. I liked their other recrods well enough, along with some of frontman Steve Wynn's solo material, but I don't think I've heard anything even from his career since the late 90s, so I was as surprised as anyone to see this announcement.

So let's start with the thing that's obviously going to annoy me: clocking in at just over 11 minutes, this track is AT LEAST 7 minutes too long. I get that they are probably having fun in the studio together and aren't nearly as concerned with writing a song that could become a radio single as they were in their heyday, but seriously, this is more like a test than it is a reintroduction to the band. Shouldn't it be enought that we still remember them and want to hear from them decades after their last release?

If I imagine the key parts of the song distilled down to an appropriate 3-4 minute length, then it's not too bad——it has a good balance of the bluesy rock that defined the band's sound and the alternative touches that made them a better fit for college radio than the mainstream AOR stations. Wynn's voice sounds mellower and more smoothed out than it used to, which makes the band lose a bit of its distinctive character, but fans will still recognize it.

I'm curious to hear what the rest of the album sounds like, and I'm definitely going to see them play live when they come through Atlanta even if I hate the new record. I never saw them in concert when I was a teenageer, and there's no way they're not going to play a decent selection of hits from their back catalog.



6.23.17
Vince Staples shared another track from his newly released Big Fish Theory, this one called "Rain Come Down":

This track is more subdued and contemplative than the other two tracks we've heard so far, but it's pretty brilliant, with a complex set of interlocking beats and his trademark heavy bass thrumming underneath. We're witnessing an artist at his creative peak whose really only two albums into his career (plus two EPs and numerous features), and even though his new album just came out today, I already can't wait to hear what he'll do next.



6.26.17
Big Boi released a new record called Boomiverse a couple of weeks ago, and it caught me a little off guard——I don't remember any shared tracks leading up to its release, and I was generally surprised when I saw it on a new albums list. But I was pretty excited——his last two solo efforts have been some of my favorite hip hop albums of the last few years, and he's wonderfully old school and uncomplicated compared to the increasingly artistic leanings of Kanye and the dark complexity of Vince Staples (both of whom I also love).

My favorite songs on his last record, Vicioius Lies and Dangerous Rumors, were the ones that were the most experimental: "Tremendous Damage", a crushing ballad; "Shoes for Running", an indie rock oriented collaboration with Wavves; and my absolute favorite, "Objectum Sexuality", and otherworldly meditation on loss and hiding your feelings from the one you love the most. So I was hoping for more weirdness here.

But Boomiverse might be his most straightforward effort post-Outkast, and while it's solid, it's just not as interesting as his past couple of records have been. The best track is pretty non-traditional in terms of hip hop——"All Night" features a bright and bouncy piano riff that adds that extra dimension to Big Boi's bass and rhymes. This still would have been a good song with more tradtional hip hop instrumentation, but that piano really takes it to another level.

Killer Mike helps out on a couple of the other solid tracks, but overall, this is just an average record from an artist whose proven himself to be anything but ordinary over his career. I don't want to criticize it too much——it's a very listenable record, and it's certainly worth owning if you're a fan of his other stuff——he's just set the bar really high for himself, and I don't think he quite got over it this time.



6.27.17
Radiohead just released a 20th anniversary deluxe edition of OK Computer called OKNOTOK that features not only remastered versions of the original album, but also a bonus disc of songs from the same era, including some that haven't been officially released before.

The remastered tracks sound great, and listening to this record again reminds me not only of what a big leap forward this was for the band, but also how far they've come since them. I'll admit that their last great album for me was In Rainbows——The King of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool were both a little too subdued and abstract for me——but even this band's lesser works are still head and shoulders above most other groups' strongest efforts.

All of the songs on the supplemental record were potential inclusions on the album proper, and it's interesting to view this collection of tracks as an unreleased album that could have sent the band off on a much different trajectory. In general, they are more easily digested than some of the denser tracks on OK Computer, and more suitable for the arena rock track that they band was angling towards with their second album, The Bends.

They still would have been huge if the bonus/unreleased songs had been the actual record they released, but maybe more in the way that U2 is huge rather than the way they became huge on the back of OK Computer, and with the weight of commercial expectations that might have come with a more radio-friendly record, it's possible that Kid A and Amnesiac would never have been made.

"Lift", one of the previously unreleased tracks, is the most interesting to think of in this context. Even though it was a crowd favorite at their live shows and it clearly would have been a massive single, the band purposely decided not only to leave it off OK Computer but to also not feature it on a b-side and leave it completely unreleased. By their own admission, they did this precisely because they realized how popular the song might become, and how much pressure their would be to repeat the almost-guaranteed success of this track.

Instead, they released the nearly seven minute opus "Paranoid Android" as their lead single for the album, won critical acclaim for their willingness to go against the grain, and established a narrative for themselves that they're still living out 20 years later.

Any Radiohead fan should buy this record immediately. Not only will you enjoy revisiting a great album that holds up very well two decades on, but almost every track on the bonus album is well worth hearing, and I don't doubt that two or three of them will become as well loved as the tracks on the original album.



6.28.17
Vince Staples long-awaited sophomore record, Big Fish Theory, was finally released last week (he's been teasing it since early this year). Expectations are high for this ambitious artist, who released a double album as his debut and bookended that record with two critically acclaimed EPs, especially given his stronger presence in mainstream pop culture recently (he's been making the talk show rounds, and he's also now an official spokesman for Sprite, a beverage he's been unofficially endorsing his whole career), but Staples does not disappoint.

It's hard to say exactly how his style has evolved since his debut, but there's definitely been a change. His obsession with death and the fleeting nature of life is still a major theme, but somehow it's lighter and more comical——the weariness of an old man who's seen it all and can only laugh at life's absurdities as opposed to the anger of a young person who doesn't have either the calluses or the coping mechanisms to do anything but rage at the injustices and inherent unfairness of the world.

There's also a weird goofiness here that's pefectly in keeping with Staples' Sprite commercial:

On the surface, it's a piece of lighthearted oddball fluff, but underneath is a subversive metacommentary on the corrupted nature of product placement and endorsement deals. In the same way, it's easy to mistake Staples' big singles like "Bag Bak" and "Big Fish" as party tracks, but the lyrics are deadly serious ruminations on racial injustice, economic inequality, and how those in power use our stereotypes and expectations of one another to keep us under control.

This is a breathtaking record, and one that will undoubtedly become even richer with repeated listens. Kendrick Lamar is the current standard bearer for using his platform as a hip hop artist to create a dialogue about race in America, utilizing his fanbase and the mainstream media as forces he can mobilize in that effort. Staples could very easily fill that role if he wanted to, but he's never going to make something as overt and obvious as Lamar's To Pimp a Butterfly——he's much more likely to give us a test to see if we get it, and then slyly wink at us just when we think we've decoded his message.



6.29.17
The eternally prolific Deerhoof have announced a new record, Mountain Moves, and have shared a track from the album called "I Will Spite Survive":

No matter how frequently they release a new record, I never feel like it was rushed, and I always look forward to hearing it because I'll get several new variations of them branching out in weird new tangents from their core sound. They haven't released a record in more than a decade that didn't have at least five or six keepers on it, and even when they tend towards the more abstract and jarring, they always cut those tracks with some pure pop goodness.

This is one of their more accessible songs yet, and the backing vocals by Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner add an extra layer of softness to a band that can sometime cut themselves of their sharp math rock angles. In another universe this could have been the hit single from an 80s movie soundtrack for something like Short Circuit or Wargames——charming human-focused meditaions on the dangers and blessing of technology. And I mean that in the sweetest possible way.



6.30.17
The National have shared another track from their upcoming Sleep Well Beast, this one called "Guilty Party":

This track is brooding even by the National's standards, and it's not especially memorable in the context of their overall catalog: it's sort of a generic example of a mid tempo, subdued National song. We know we're going to get two or three of these per record, and there's nothing really wrong with that——it's just an odd choice for a single/preview track.