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august 2017

Belle and Sebastian have shared a new track called "We Were Beautiful":

This doesn't seem to be a preview track for a new album, although it also doesn't seem to be a leftover from 2015's Girls in Peacetime Just Want to Dance. There's a lot to like about this track——the start is quiet and minimalist (and is that a slide guitar I hear slinking around?), but it then blossoms into a pretty great chorus. The part I like least is the sort of inverted bridge that leads into the first chorus from the verses——it throws off the pacing of the song and it feels like you could leave it out entirely.

Don't get me wrong, this song still doesn't come close to their greatest songs, but it's one of the more interesting pieces of music they've released in the past decade. And that has to count for something, I guess.

The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die have announced their third full-length, Always Foreign, and shared a track from the album called "Dillon and Her Son":

I am still infatuated with their debut, Whenever, If Ever, but I was less taken with the follow up, Harmlessness. This song doesn't really fit into my overriding impression of either album, although the production, which has a digital sheen that smooths out all my beloved imperfections, is reminiscnet of Harmlessness. But this song is pretty fast-paced for this band——I almost never say this, but this song might have been better if they had slowed it down so that it unfolded with a minute longer running time.

This could sound better in context on the actual record——they've always been a band that's better heard in an album context than a singles context——but I'm not excited by what I'm hearing so far.

Bully have shared a new track, "Feel the Same", which is their first preview of their upcoming sophomore record Losing:

Their first album I ran hot and cold with, sometimes within the same song. Singer/guitarist Alicia Bognanno has a voice that I am equally enchanted by and repulsed by depending on how she uses it. She continues her habit on this track of charming me on the verses and then turning into a whiskey-scorched Cobain-like screamer on the choruses. She sounds like a completely different singer when she's taking the second approach, and I don't care for that singer nearly as much as her other voice.

This isn't anything very different than the kinds of songs they had on their debut——punchy, poppy punk——so I think we can expect more of the same on the rest of the record. I'm still going to give this one a shot, but it could be that, for me at least, one Bully album will be all I need.

Like most longtime fans, I first got to know Arcade Fire via their career-defining debut album, Funeral, and I have followed their evolutions over the years with varying degrees of interest/approval. Neon Bible built on Funeral's deeply personal lyrics with a more political, more global point of view, followed by The Suburbs' slicker sound that threatened to turn them into a Portlandia-like parody of hte band from Funeral.

Reflektor was the first time they seemed comfortable abandoning their early persona as a band——there were still songs like "Normal Person"——serious, stadium-sized rockers that could rival U2 at their most bombastic——but for the first time in their career, it seemed like they were actually having fun. There were a lot of dance-inflections introduced to their sound, and although overall it was a pretty uneven record, that uneveness led to its charm and character. I had almost given up on the band after The Suburbs, but this record won me back over and made me a big fan again.

Their latest, Everything Now, was released last month, and it's in the same vein as Reflektor. That's not to say it copies Reflektor's sound, but it's defnitely got some dance-y numbers (more inspired by disco than reggae this time) and it dips into numerous styles. It still takes some weird detours that don't quite play out as well as the band might have hoped (like the two back-to-back different takes on the same song, "Infinite Content" and "Infinite_Content", or the bookend tracks at the beginning and end of the record titled "Everything Now (continued)" that are meant to create an infinite loop for the album), but it also has some of their best songs to date, and it hangs together a whole album much better than Reflektor did.

It's a more refined version of what they were trying to do on Reflektor, and after listening to it for the past few weeks, it has become my favorite Arcade Fire record aside from Funeral. The faith that was restored by Reflektor is rewarded and renewed even further with Everything Now, and despite the strong disco overtones, "Everything Now" and "Creature Comforts" are two of the most emotional, inspiring, and heartfelt songs they have ever made.

The Dream Syndicate have shared a second track from their comeback album, How Did I Find Myself Here?, this one called "Glide":

This is still a pretty long track at nearly six and a half minutes, but it's nowhere near as trying as the title track that they shared a couple of months ago, which was over eleven minutes long and filled with needless guitar solo detours.

This one is also thick with guitars, and the layers and complexity grows as the song continues, but they never take the place of the vocals, instead building an ever-denser wall of sound behind the lyrics until the last minute or so, when a guitar solo starts to swirl around the other guitar parts. But it all feels very organic and natural in a way that they extended solos on the title track did not——those felt more like they were showing off for its own sake and not in service to the flow of the song.

I really like this track——it has moments that remind me of their best songs, and it's one of those rare six minute songs that doesn't feel like it's six minutes long. The title track made me hesitate about buying this record, but this song renews my hope that this could be a very worthwhile record from a band that we all thought had called it quits nearly three decades.

Liars have shared two songs from their upcoming new album TFCF. The tracks are titled "Coins in My Caged Fist" and "The Grand Delusional":

"Coins" is one of those weird Liars tracks with a disjointed, syncopated beat and odd starts and stops that you get at least one or two of on any given Liars record, and while they add distinctive textural elements to the full album experience, they aren't so great as lead singles or representative tracks.

"The Grand Delusional" also covers familiar territory for longtime Liars fans——its creeping pace and creepy chords feel like struggling to wade through waste-high sludge that may or may not be home to creatures who could attack you at any second. It creates an anxious and tense atmosphere that Liars have become expert at crafting, and it would have been right at home on a record like Sisterworld.

Both of these tracks point to another solid release for people who already own and love the band's catalogue, of whom I am one. Despite the fact that frontman Angus Andrew is the only remaining original member, it's clear that he's also a creative linchpin who is capable of maintaining and extending the band's legacy even if surrounded by completely new players.

Deerhoof have shared another track from their soon-to-be-released new record Mountain Moves. It's called "Come Down Here and Say That" and it features former Stereolab singer Laetitia Sadler:

I don't know whether Sadler had a hand in writing the song or whether she's just contributing vocals, but even if she wasn't a co-writer, it's clear the band is paying homage to her work with Stereolab. It has the bright perkiness of Deerhoof song rather than the cool, distanced feel of a classic Stereolab track, but the rhythms and guitar sounds are definitely referencing Sadler's former group. The only awkward part is the semi-rap about halfway through, but it is mercifully brief, and doesn't significantly detract from an otherwise solid song.

I've never been a huge Depeche Mode fan——I love Violator as any sane person should, but other than that their records have never really resonated with me. But I've been getting back into 80s stuff recently, especially the more electronic stuff from the 80s, so when I found a digital copy of Black Celebration for $5 on Amazon, I decided to go for it.

It's a worthwhile purchase, especially at that price. They are still clearly a young band growing into who they will become on Violator, but there are enough solid songs and hints of what's to come to make a pretty solid record. "Black Celebration" and "Fly on the Windscreen" are the obvious lead singles, but I also enjoy tracks like "Stripped", "New Dress", and "But Not Tonight".

The only song I feel the urge to skip past regularly is "A Question of Time", which I have a feeling was meant to be a centerpiece/best single. I don't khow prevalent this kind of song was at the time——pulsing, pounding electronic rhythm and buzzing synth lines all competing for space in an increasingly crowded soundscape——but it's been done to death in the intervening decades, and it feels like a throwaway track from a historical perspective.

Destroyer have announced a new album called ken and shared a song from the record called "Sky's Grey":

I've been a fan of Dan Bejar's for a while through his work with Canadian indie supergroup New Pornographers, but I've never really taken to his solo stuff despite consistently positive reviews. I did buy 2015's Poison Season because it hit this 70s soft rock/yacht rock sweet spot that I was enarmored with thanks to the soundtrack from the highly underrated HBO series Hello Ladies. I still like that record, but I don't know if I like Destroyer more now or if it was just a perfectly timed release.

"Sky's Grey" gets points for spelling grey correctly (although I guess Canadians might use the British spelling anyway?), but it unfolds a little too slowly and formlessly for me to instantly love it. There are moments of beauty here, as there are with most Destroyer tracks, but I much prefer Bejar when he's bolstered by the pop sensibilities of his New Pornographers bandmates Neko Case and A.C. Newman.

Cut Copy have announced Haiku From Zero, their first new album since 2013's Free Your Mind, and they have shared a track from the record called "Standing in the Middle of the Field":

This is pretty standard Cut Copy fare——dance-oriented with strong hints of New Order (in this case its particularly evident in the synth overlay choices that glide in after about 3 1/2 minutes), but it's strangely midtempo. Upping the beats per minute would make this into a much more dancefloor-friendly track, but it's interesting as it is——it's like they're creating a meditation on a Platonic ideal of a dance tracks without actually making it danceable.

Anyway. Looking forward to this record, even if the tempo choice for this track is a little perplexing.

Car Seat Headrest have shared a new track called "War Is Coming (If You Want It)":

This doesn't appear to be a preview of an upcoming full length release; rather, this seems to be his Trump protest song, and while he's certainly allowed to do that, it's like a lot of these songs that are reacting to the Trump administration (or, remembering back to the early 2000s, the Bush/Cheney administration). Even if this was recorded as part of a larger session working towards a new album, this still would (hopefully) only be b-side worthy, so it's almost better to have it shared now where it can be set apart from his catalog proper.

Death From Above (I kind of miss the 1979) have shared a second song from their upcoming new album Outrage Is Now!, this one titled "Never Swim Alone":

Love love love this song. I was okay with the previous track, "Freeze Me", but this one is a pure shot of adrenaline sugar. There's almost no way this one's not going to end up in my running playlist.

You'd think that with an album title like Beast Epic, Iron and Wine might finally be giving us a true electric rock record that they've never even given hints they're interested in making prior to now. But Sam Beam's latest release is pretty typical of their output over the past decade——a full band, but one that is still pretty minimal, with lots of acoustic instruments and drums that hang around way in the back, like a passerby waiting to be invited into the party.

This isn't a bad thing——Beam occasionally veers off into different stylistic territory, such as on the yacht rock/jazz influenced 2013 release Ghost on Ghost, which was very hit or miss, but he's at his best when he sticks to the folk-oriented narratives and instrumentation that he made his reputation on.

The last official release was actually an archival compilation that collected 16 tracks from those early years, and you have to wonder if returning to that period as part of the selection process for that record got him in the mood to write pieces that were, but for the richer, fuller production and the presence of other instruments, cousins to those songs.

On my favorite Iron and Wine reocrds, even the ones that stick to his most conservative approaches, there are still two or three songs that I just can't live without, and that's the one thing this record is missing: there are a lot of good songs, but no knockout punches, nothing that immediatley rises to the level of his best work. But for an artist who's 15 years and more than 10 releases into his career, it's hard to complain about the level of quality and consistency he's produced here.

A week or so ago I saw my second Waxahatchee concert so far this year, but this time they were the headliners at Terminal West (a great little venue in a converted train depot) instead of opening for New Pornographers at the Variety.

The Variety show back in May was my least favorite performance from Katie Crutchfield by a long shot. She didn't play with the full band, and she didn't play an acoustic show——instead, it was her on stage with an electric guitar and another musician with an electric bass playing Waxahatchee material in a slow grind with no real distinction between the songs.

The Terminal West performance, however, was the full-fledged Waxahatchee, including Katie's twin sister Allison, whose stage presence is almost as important as Katie's. I still haven't warmed up to Waxahatchee's new record, Out in the Storm, the way I did their previous releases, but even though the setlist was heavy on tracks from the new album, it was still a great performance that restored my faith in her as a live act.

It was also their longest performance to date, which is kind of a big deal. Even though all but one of the other times I've seen the band they've been the headliners, the sets have been incredibly short——less than an hour each time, sometimes with no encore. This was more standard for an act at their level——15+ songs in the main set with a three or four song encore.

Radiator Hospital have announced a new album, Play the Songs You Like, and have shared a track called "Dance Number":

For Radiator Hospital, this is a pretty relaxed, midtempo number, but it's filled with the same sweet hooks that made me fall for them on their last record, Torch Song.

The ending is a bit of a disappointment though——it sounds like they just stopped playing in the middle of a take because they ran out of verses and didn't want to bother writing a bridge. A little more care to finish this one off properly would have made a big difference.

So...Billy Corgan——excuse me, I mean WILLIAM PATRICK CORGAN——is doing the Rick Rubin thing and making a stripped down aolo album called Ogilala. Here's the first taste, a track called "Aeronaut":

I actually have a pretty big soft spot for Corgan and Smashing Pumpkins——the last record under that banner, Monuments to an Elegy, was the best thing Corgan has done since the 90s——but I don't really know what the point of this album is. Despite his occasionally knack for heartbreaking ballads, those tracks, and Corgan in general, are best when enmeshed in the overwhelming walls of guitars that made Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie so great.

This reminds me a lot of Adore, a similarly minimalist, acoustic guitar-based approach to Corgan's songs, which was far and away my least favorite Pumpkins album and which was also the beginning of the end for band chemistry, etc. I'm highly unlikely to buy this one based on what I've heard here, but I'll at least give it a listen on a streaming service just to be sure.

Beck announced that his new album will be called Colors and shared a second track for it called "Dear Life":

The previously shared "Wow" was a little weird for me, while this song might lean too far to the other end of the spectrum. The bones of the track are solid, but it might have been a stronger, more interesting track with a less traditional production approach. This is so heavily influenced by classic 60s psychedelic-tinged pop that it verges on parody.

Stars, one of my favorite little bands that no one else I know seems to have heard of, is releasing a new album called There Is No Love in Flourescent Light (which is just about the most Stars title I can think of). They've also shared a track from the record called "Real Thing":

I don't really know how to describe this band to people who haven't heard them, and I don't know how to tell people who don't like them why I love them so much. They're hopelessly sincere, indulgently romantic, and unabashed about both those qualities. They wear their hearts on their sleeves in a way that few other bands I like do; they aren't interested at all in being cool, they're interested in finding a connection with their fans who share their sensibilities. They're like what fellow Canadians New Pornographers might sound like without the sarcastic attitude and with more of a taste for sweeping orchestral pop.

Anyway. I love them, and even though this song is pretty average compared to their best work, I always find a few songs that I fall desperately in love with on their records.

The National have a new album, Sleep Well Beast, coming out next month, and they recently shared a third track from teh record called "Day I Die":

This is the most musically uptempo of the three songs, and one of my favorite little touches is the little high-pitched, echo-y guitar fragment that first gets used about three minutes in——it reminds me of something that would be lurking around the edges of the chorus on one of the bombastic Irish rock bands from the 80s, like U2, Big Country, or Cactus World News. I normally start to get antsy if a song stretches much past three minutes for no good reason, but that little signature is enough to justify the 90 extra seconds that follow just so I can hear it used again in one more sequence.

LCD Soundsystem's first album since what almost became their swan song in 2010, American Dream, came out a couple of weeks ago, and despite the ridiculously high expectations I had for the album, it's everything I could have hoped for. It's not a strict retread of their best work, but there are tracks on here that have clearly evolved from their earlier style while becoming something slightly different.

James Murphy is still writing songs about growing old and living in a world where the real heartbreak doesn't come from the end of one particular relationship, but from the realization that we all have to say goodbye to everything at somet point, and there's nothing any of us can do about it (the introductory refrain on the lead single, "Call the Police", is "We all, we all, we all know this is nothing"). Being a romantic in the face of the pointlessness of hanging on to love is tough, and the deep currents of sentimentality from someone who has cultivated an affect of distanced, sarcastic cool makes the emotional punch of his lyrics even more impactful.

There are several tracks that instantly join the ranks of the band's best work: the aforementioned "Call the Police", leadoff track "Oh Baby", title track "American Dream", and the Joy Division/early New Order-influenced "How Do You Sleep?". LCD Soundsystem is playing two back-to-back dates in Atlanta this fall, and I was lucky enough to get tickets to both. I've only seen this band live once, and that was in a festival setting; I'm dying to see them now, not only to hear some of my favorite classic tracks, but to be reminded just how great of a band they are for being able to pull off the perfection of their albums in a live setting (which I have all confidence they will do).

Wolf Parade have shared a second track from their upcoming full length, Cry Cry Cry. This song is called "You're Dreaming":

The first shared track was a Spencer Krug composition, so naturally this is a Dan Boeckner song. And, as has become the case over the years, I've shifted from Krug being my favorite Wolf Parade songwriter to Boeckner, and that holds true here. I liked "Valley Boy" a lot, but this is punchier and more immediate, and in the increasing simplemindedness of my old age, that's more appealing to me.

The only problem is that it just as easily been from any number of Boeckner's side projects over the years——there's nothing that feels especially Wolf Parade-y about this one. But that's a small quibble——it's a solid song, and both of the tracks that have been shared so far point to a good album from a band that hasn't release an LP in seven years.