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september 2017

9.1.17
Death From Above have released another track from their upcoming Outrage Is Now album, this one called "Holy Books":

I don't like this one quite as much as the last one they shared, the brilliant "Never Swim Alone", but this is still pretty solid Death From Above material. If the rest of the record is as good as the tracks they've shared so far, this release could be even stronger than their surprise comeback album, The Physical World, which came 10 years after their stunning debut, You're a Woman, I'm a Machine.



9.5.17
The Cool Kids teased us with a proper album for YEARS after their debut EP, The Bake Sale, and now it's been another six years since that record, 2011's When Fish Ride Bicycles. But they have a new one coming out called Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe, and they have shared a track from it called "9:15PM":

Bicylces was decent, but it was nowhere near as good as The Bake Sale, and quite frankly, I don't even know what this is. I mean, it's R+B, but that's not what they've ever done before——they are a hip hop group, and they were always pretty beat-oriented. I guess I'll at least give the rest of the album a listen, because I 'm assuming this is an outlier, but if that's the case, then why choose this as the lead single?



9.6.17
Ted Leo has a new record, The Hanged Man, coming out later this week, and he just shared another track from it called "Can't Go Back":

The first track he shared, "You're Like Me", started out more in his standard punk vein, but by the end it had transformed into a Joe Jackson-like sound. This track develops that comparison even further, with prominent use of the piano and an accompanying horn section and backup singers.

As much as I'd like to hear him return to his halcyon days on The Tyranny of Distance or Hearts of Oak, this isn't a bad thing——if a punk rocker is going to mellow as he ages, Joe Jackson is a pretty good role model to pattern yourself after.



9.7.17
Liars have been reduced to but a single original member, frontman Angus Andrew, after founding guitarist Aaron Hemphill left the band just before this album was recorded. It initially might feel appropriate to view the new album, TFCF (which stands for "Theme From Crying Fountain") as an Andrew solo effort (he returned to his native Australia and pieced most of it together by himself in his home studio) rather than something that deserves to be considered under the Liars brand proper——it definitely takes some left turns and subverts expectations, and if Andrew had released this as an actual solo album, most of the reviewers would spend their time talking about which DNA strands belong to Liars and which Andrew has brought in from outside the band's genome.

At the same time, constant experimentation and expansion of Liars' sound is one of the few threads (along with Andrew's voice) that tie together the band's efforts over the span of their career, and in that regard, this is perhaps the quintessential Liars album, with their entire history reduced to a voice and method of creating music that has led to their wildly disparate styles from release to release. The band lurched from their dance-punk debut They Threw Us All in a Trench and Stuck a Monument on Top to their most experimental work, They Were Wrong, So We Drowned (which didn't have drums at all), and that set the stage for radical shifts in style from that point forward.

This record doesn't so much shift to an entirely untried style as sample from the many genres they've co-opted before, from industrial noise ("Coins in My Caged Fist", among others) to heavy dance ("Cred Woes") to experitmental ambient synths ("Crying Fountain", with this influence showing up in several other tracks). Perhaps the most surprising element is the prominent use of acoustic guitar on many tracks, a sound that has rarely (if ever?) been employed in the Liars palette before.

It's fitting that the best song is essentially Andrew and an acoustic guitar: "No Help Pamphlet" starts with an abrupt cut from the previous song, and Andrew's voice is front and center over a simple, repetitive chord sequence on acoustic guitar that doesn't change from verse to chorus. The track is punctuated with synths to add texture, and shuffling, shuddering drums stumble in about halfway through, but this song could be stripped down to its core of guitar and vocals without losing much of its power or nuance.

Liars records have become an automatic purchase from me even though I know I won't like every song or even the general style because they are one of the few bands I listen to that has figured out how to hold my attention even with their detours and incomplete ideas while continually evolving the definition of a Liars song. They're never boring, and there's at least one song on every release that absolutely devastates me (and most tracks have at least a couple of those moments).

There's not really a great starting place for getting to know Liars at this point in their history. Midcareer pieces like Liars and Sisterworld are eclectic enough to serve as a broad introduction, but it would be equally valid to use TFCF as an entry point even though it's a very different version of Liars than the one that made those earlier albums. And that's kind of the point.



9.8.17
The World Is a Beautiful Place and I Am No Longer Afraid to Die have shared another song from their forthcoming Always Foreign, this one called "Marine Tigers":

This is one of their signature epic tracks, and the tone and style remind me a lot of "January 10th, 2014", a sprawling track from their last record, Harmlessness, that became the centerpiece of that record for me. And I don't mean that in a completely good way, because while it showcased their growing confidence as musicians, and also prominently featured some of their weaknesses, mainly a lack of ability to edit themselves and less than amazing lyrics (which are further highlighted by cleaner production that pushes the vocals higher up in the mix).

I'm not convinced I'm going to buy this record, although I would still love to see them live at some point. That might be the transformative experience I need to become infatuated with this band again, because I have a feeling their songs shine much more brightly in person, especially in the glowing adoration of their dedicated fans.



9.11.17
tall buildings shake...



9.12.17
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark have just released their third album since reuniting in 2010 after a decade and a half layoff. This one is called The Punishment of Luxury, and combined with the very good History of Modern and English Electric, they've made a trio of albums that stands as a real testament to their continuing vitality as artists.

Other than Wire, no band that had their start in the late 70s/early 80s has done a better job of revisiting and updating their classic mid-career style that they're best known for and making it relevant for the 21st century. I really wonder what the response to these records from the critial mavens at Pitchfork would be if they didn't know they were from 80s artists who are now in their late 50s (they gave mediocre marks to the first two and declined to review this record).

Yes, they reuse techniques and styles that they pioneered in the 80s, but Pitchfork is sick in love with a lot of bands that ape that style, despite no one doing it quite as well as the originals. You're not going to like these records if you don't have an appreciation for 80s synthpop, but if you like both the classics in that genre and the contemporary artists who liberally borrow from that time, there's a lot to like here.

I'm obviously one of those, so while I was pleasantly surprised with History of Modern, I'm now at a point where I don't expect a new OMD record to be a quaint nostalgia trip, but to actually be records worth listening to——they are not mere echoes of the band's best work that only make you want to return to those albums, they actually extend and enrich the band's cultural and musical legacy.



9.13.17
Radiator Hospital have shared another track from their upcoming Play the Songs You Like, this one called "Pastoral Radio Hit":

I don't like this as much as the last track they shared, "Dance Number", but I'm still excited about this record. I bought and enjoyed their last album, Torch Song, after seeing them open for Waxahatchee, and this sounds like a further evolution of a guitar pop sound that reminds me a lot of the Chapel Hill bands from the early 90s that never made it big beyond the Triangle.



9.14.17
Beck has shared another song from his upcoming new album Colors, this one called "Up All Night":

This has a goofy, dance-y groove that reminds me a lot of Midnite Vultures, although it doesn't get as weird and trippy as the first song he shared from this record, "Wow". I'm not sure why I keep buying Beck albums——it's been a long time since he's made one that really hit me hard.

But then again, he's gone from reliably releasing a record every two years or so to Colors being only the second record he's released in the past eight years, so I guess it's been a while since he's released much at all.



9.15.17
Listen, it's highly unlikely that I'm ever going to NOT buy a new Deerhoof record. The band has earned my trust over the course of a dozen or so albums after the last decade and a half——despite the occasional misfire, their albums are stuffed with ideas and very listenable. Even the records that don't hold up for the course of all their songs have several killer tracks, and the band is always worth listening to.

That said, their latest, Mountain Moves, is not my favorite. It is intentionally political and intentionally collaborative, and while I appreciate the impulse behind both of these frameworks in this particular point in our nation's history, many of these songs feel flat or forced in ways that you rarely hear from a group that thrives on creative reinvention and experimentation.

There are still great songs here, including some great collaborations, particularly "I Will Spite Survive" (featuring Wye Oak's Jenn Wasner) and the jaunty "Freedom Highway" (which features the Staples Sisters). But too many of the other collaborations don't have that spark (I was really disappointed that I didn't like their song with Stereolab's Laetitia Sadler more), and they do far too few songs that are their own.

I'm sure they'll be back in a matter of months with a new record and a new direction that I'll appreciate more——I've never been meh about two of their records in a row——but in the meantime, I'm going to focus on the four or five tracks that I enjoy from Mountain Moves and shuffle the rest off into three star purgatory.



9.18.17
St. Vincent has announced a new album, MASSEDUCTION, and has shared a second song from the record called "Los Ageless":

This song is clearly a commentary on Los Angeles and is a good companion piece to the previous track, a lovely ode to NYC called, of course, "New York". If her last album, St. Vincent, was explicitly focused on electric guitar as the main instrument, this one seems to be putting synths forward as the primary sound.

"Los Ageless" sounds a little like when Suzanne Vega went all Nine Inch Nails on 99.9 Fahrenheit Degrees——and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible (I loved that record). Indie artists reviving 80s synth sounds probably reached its peak a year or two ago, but if there's an artist I trust to take a slightly dated concept and do something original with it, it's Annie Clark. I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us.



9.19.17
Wavves have shared a new song called "The Lung" through the Adult Swim Singles series:

This is almost doubtless a leftover from the sessions for their latest record, You're Welcome, and while it's a perfectly pleasant little b-side, it also makes sense that they aren't trying to sell it and they didn't include it on the album proper.



9.20.17
I really, really like Ted Leo. And I really, really wanted to like his new record, The Hanged Man, which is his first album under his own name since 2010's The Brutalist Bricks. That's quite a long layoff for an artist who release six albums in the first decade of this century, even if you count his collaboration with Aimee Mann released under the band name the Both that came out in 2014.

The Hanged Man starts off on an interesting note, with just Ted Leo's voice and a distorted guitar jumping into an early 70s rock jam that could have fit perfectly well on a Big Star record. But then it goes on...and on...and on. If he had kept it under two minutes it would have been a killer way to kick off the record, but the lack of self-editing really cripples the impact.

This was the first record that Leo has made independently, recording most of it himself in a home studio, and perhaps some other voices in the room would have helped the process and led to more focused songs and a production style that would have highlighted his strengths more. Because while almost every song has at least one amazing idea in it that, if fostered appropriately, could have grown into a great song, very few of them deliver.

The album builds some momentum early on, but it's stopped dead by the middle of the record——tracks 5 through 9 (out of 14 total) are long, plodding, and indistinct. Cutting them out would be a good start to getting us to a better record——things start to pick up again with track 10 ("The Little Smug Supper Club") and stay pretty interesting until the six minute plus closer, "Let's Stay on the Moon".

Eliminate that track, tighten up the songs that remain, and add in a couple more solid tracks for good measure, and then you've got an album I'd be interesting in hearing more than a few of times.



9.21.17
Morrissey recently announced a new album called Low in High School, and has now shared a track from the record called "Spent the Day in Bed":

I find this track charming and vulnerable in a way that I haven't found a Morrissey track in quite some time, despite veering off into explicit social commentary occasionally. He lives a pampered celebrity LA life now, a long way from the socially isolated teen writing lyrics in his mom's house in dreary England, but this might be the closest he's come to identifying with the person he used to be since the very early part of his solo career.

I have renewed affection for his music and hope for a resurgence in his creativity after seeing him live a couple of years ago——I went into that show with very low expectations despite my teenage adoration of him, and I would have considered it an amazing performance even if I had been expecting him to be great. I would love to be as thrilled by the rest of this record as I am by this track, but I'm trying to temper my hope so I can give it a fair chance.



9.22.17
Alvvays have shared a song from their soon-to=be-released sophomore album, Antisocialites, called "Dreams Tonite":

I'd never really noticed a connection between the songs on Alvvays' first record and their countrymen Stars, but this song is uncannily like a Stars song in the instrumention, the moody, melancholy feel, and the vocal style. I don't think this is a bad thing——I'm pretty infatuated with Stars, who can be almost embarrassingly earnest but who I find adorable.

I liked Alvvays' first album, but there was a samenss to the songs that started to wear thin. If they can break it up a little more stylistically (and this track gives every indication that they will), they could really be onto something.



9.25.17
Albums from the National are always slow growers, but I don't know what to make of the new Sleep Well Beast. It's one of the records I've most been looking forward to hearing this year, and I liked the songs they shared in advance well enough, but I've listened it to three or four times in the two weeks since it was released and it has made absolutely no impression on me.

Listening to it now, I can't pinpoint anything that would cause this reaction (or, more accurately, lack of reaction)——there's nothing radically different about the album, either in the sound of the individual songs or in the tone of the overall record——but it hasn't taken me long to find the three or four songs I absolutely love on previous National records, and listening to those in the context of the whole album always blossoms into loving the rest of the songs too.

I'm not going to give up on this one, because I've gotten too much out of this band over the years to believe that they've made something that isn't capable of speaking to me at all. But Sleep Well Beast certainly isn't calling to me like all of their other releases have, and I have absolutely no idea why.



9.26.17
Destroyer has a new album called ken coming out soon, and he has shared a second track from the record called "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood":

I like this song better than the previous one he shared, "Sky's Grey"——it reminds me more of the stuff I liked from his last record, Poison Season (which is the only non-New Pornographers release from Dan Bejar that I own). But I'm still not sure if yet another extremely adept update to 70s soft rock is enough to convince me to purchase this record——I've already got pretty much all I need of that from Poison Season.

I really wish he'd been in on the most recent New Pornographers record, Whiteout Conditions——that was a very solid album, but his point of view and songwriting are different enough from the band's other songwriters that his tracks always stand out, serving as a bit of a palate cleanser from the poppier stylings of A.C. Newman and Neko Case. On his own records there's a bit too much sameness, but that style is very different than the rest of New Pornographers, and they complement and accent each other very well.



9.27.17
Cloud Nothings have shared a new track called "Relief" that they're releasing as part of a compilation meant to raise money for the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

The songs on this compilation are specifically labeled as "previously unreleased", which means they are likely leftovers that the bands have lying around that they aren't planning to do anything else with. "Relief" certainly isn't a bad Cloud Nothings song——it reminds me of a demo that might have been written early in their career, which is my favorite part of their catalog. But it's also very clearly a demo and would never be released in this form on an official album.

There is something very charming about it though, especially compared to some of their recent releases which have focused more on showcasing technique and amping up the production instead of basic songcraft. The basic approach to the instrumentation and the close-miked, softly sung vocals create an atmosphere of quiet desperation and subdued hope. I'd love to hear this song after it got the full studio treatment, but there's a part of me that believes it wouldn't measure up to this minimalistic draft version.



9.28.17
Bjork will soon release her twelfth solo effort, Utopia, and she has shared a song from that album called "The Gate":

My love for Bjork's music is highly dependent on the circumstances——not just the tone or concept of a particular album, but also where I am emotionally and what I'm looking for from music at the time I first hear the record. When her stuff resonates with me, it's on a very deep level, but when it doesn't, I can barely listen to a minute of it.

I'm in a very simple, pop-punk mood these days (there's a near-endless parade of lo-fi indie guitar pop groups with female singers that are ending up in heavy rotation on my playlists)——a description that's almost the exact opposite of how anyone would describe Bjork's music.

Although "The Gate" is glacial, subdued, and complex, there's something about it that really appeals to me. The plaintive, aching repetition of the phrase "care for you" seems like something that would normally agitate me, but I find it soothing and somehow comforting.

I'll need to listen to the rest of the record before I get a sense of whether the album as a whole will work for me, but I'm open to it based on "The Gate".



9.29.17
We've been waiting for U2's Songs of Experience, the inevitable companion piece to 2014's Songs of Innocence, ever since we first heard the title of the earlier album, long before the band had any idea what songs they would write for it. Well, Experience is officially coming out in December, and "You're the Best Thing About Me" is the lead single:

What can you really say about this song, or the band in general? They know who they are. They know what they're good at. They're still capable of capturing some of the magic of the seminal part of their catalog on every album, or on moments in virtually every song, and this track is no exception.

It would likely be one of the top three songs on any album they've released this century, but it wouldn't really matter which one. They've become so expert at creating U2 songs that even the good ones have become virtually indistinguishable from each other, and they certainly aren't tethered to the sound of a particular record. They're lacking an inherent time and place, and without those anchors, they somehow feel emptier than they should, even when they're pleasant to listen to and hit a lot of the same sweet spots that made their greatest songs so great.