7.31.17 Sam Beam has shared another track from Iron & Wine's upcoming Beast Epic, this one called "Thomas County Law":
Like the other track he's shared from this record, "Call It Dreaming", this song hearkens back to the earliest parts of his career, when it was just his voice and an acoustic guitar. This track also has subtle extra elements like drums, a bass, and strings, but they are pushed so far back that there wouldn't be much difference if they were present or not——the bones of the song are front and center, and the extra instrumental enhancements elevate the song to a more refined plane, but they don't significantly change the arrangement.
7.26.17 Nine Inch Nails released a new EP, Add Violence, which is the second in a trilogy of releases. It's clear that these are not going to be EPs that can be stitched together to form a proper album, but rather smaller releases with experiments and odds and ends that they've been working on.
"Less Than" leads the set of five songs, and it's probably the closest to the kind of song you would hear on a traditional NIN album. The next three tracks are all songs that might have been relegated to a b-side during a normal album process——fully executed songs, but maybe ideas that weren't all the way there or that were more for Trent Reznor to work out a puzzle rather than something written for others to enjoy. There are moments in each track that are compelling, but they don't sustain for the entirety of their length.
The song I've ended up most intrigued by is the closer, "The Background World", a nearly 12 minute track that has three distint phases. The first is a pretty solid NIN track that, if it was released on its own would be the best song on this release. Then, around 2:45, a new element creeps into the background, a deep two-note theme that shifts up and down, gets more and more distorted, and gradually becomes the backbone of the song.
Right at the four minute mark, the song stops abruptly, and the series of deep double notes is put front and center as the primary song element. A weird stutter is also introduced as this sequence loops——when it repeats, it comes in a half note late, with the initial part of the note completely cut off. The vocals disappear at the start of this sequence, and the final two thirds of the song are instrumental.
This second third of the song finds this same sequence repeating over and over, with distortion gradually taking over and masking the original sequence (although it's always lurking underneath). This section is still pretty listenable compared to the remainder of the song, but it starts to drift into more abstract territory pretty quickly.
The final third is more of the same, but the distortion and noise are so overwhelming that you would only recognize the original sequence of notes if you have been listening to the song straight through so that the pattern is still imprinted on your brain and your memory is hearing it because you're expecting it——if you were listening to these last few minutes cold, it would be a very diffeent experience.
By the end it's just a jumble of
static, but it's fascinating hearing the decay. I wouldn't want to listen to this song in the car or anything, but I've been surprised at how often I've stuck with it all the way to the end when I'm listening to it at home. This is normally the kind of track that is anathema to me——a good idea spoiled by fidelity to a thought experiment instead of the actual song——but I'm growing a kind of affection for this song that might be in large part because it is exactly the kind of song that normally annoys me.
The are-they-just-on-an-extended-hiatus-or-have-they-actually-broken-up Candadian indie supergroup Wolf Parade returned with a new EP last year, and now they're following it up with their first full-length since 2010. The album is called Cry Cry Cry, and they recently shared a track from the record called "Valley Boy":
When I first started listening to Wolf Parade, I tended to like the songs of Spencer Krug more than those from Dan Boeckner, but when it comes to their non-Wolf Parade projects, I've definitely become a bigger Boeckner fan, which has made me appreciate his Wolf Parade songs more. And on their reformation EP last year, it was Boeckner's two contributions that I liked the most.
This track is a Spencer Krug composition, and I already like it more than I like either of his two tracks on last year's EP. He's always been a little more theatrical than Boeckner, but this song has a lot more hooks than he usually packs in, and the chorus is big and anthemic in a way that the best of early 70s rock (pre disco and pre punk) was.
Full album covers of beloved albums have become like the 33 1/3 book series for musicians——and opportunity to explore and explain a formative influence in the context of who you've become now——but usually these are shared for free or released as part a very limited edition physical release. Death Cab for Cutie frontman Ben Gibbard, on the other hand, has decided to make his cover of Teenage Fanclub'sBandwagonesque an official release that you can purchase through all the usual distribution outlets.
Now, I like Death Cab, and Bandwagonesque is a great record, but I can't see myself paying a dime for this. If it was available to stream online, I might listen to it once or twice just for fun, but barring it being a revolutionary take on Teenage Fanclub's songs that made Gibbard's covers as compelling as the originals, I don't know that I would need to have ready access to this album. Even if it were free to download, I'm not sure I would add it to my collection, and even if I did I doubt I would return to Gibbard's versions very often.
But from the limited amount I've heard, there's nothing to make Gibbard's covers worth hearing if you're already in love with the originals. They're either more slickly produced copies of the originals, or midtempo dad-rock versions that don't add anything substantial to your understanding of the original material.
In short, if you already know and love Bandwagonesque, Gibbard isn't going to make you love it more (but he might make you love him a little bit less). If you haven't heard Bandwagonesque, for god's sake go back to Teenage Fanclub's original recordings. I appreciate that Gibbard is trying to direct a new generation of fans to an amazing record that's now more than a quarter century old, but his watered-down versions don't do the original any justice.
7.21.17 Waxahatchee released their third album earlier this month, the more 90s indie rock-oriented Out in the Storm. I had ridiculously high expectations for this record because I've loved each of Katie Crutchfield's previous releases as Waxahatchee, but even that, I wasn't expecting to be disappointed.
And I'm not really——disappointed is even the right word. But I haven't fallen in love with this record the way I have with previous Waxahatchee releases. I'm keeping in mind that all three of the earlier albums were slow growers for me——even Ivy Tripp, which I absolutely adore now, took about a month to take root with me——but I also couldn't stop listening to those records even as I tried to make sense of them and grew to love them.
That's not the case with this album. I listened to it a couple of times, and I generally like the record, but I haven't had that same compulsion to return to it frequently like I did the others. Part of this might be the musical skin Katie has chosen to wear for this set of songs——the 90s alt rock/indie rock thing is probably pretty fun to play live, but opposed to the spare folk/country approach of Cerulean Salt, the lo-fi demo quality of American Weekend, or even the 80s synthpop overtones of Ivy Tripp, this sound just isn't as interesting a way to frame these compositions.
It also doesn't help that I bought the deluxe edition, which includes demos for every song on the album. The arrangements are very similar——these are studio-quality demos, not alone-in-my-bedroom demos——and I appreciate the rough edges and the more minimalist approach of these version of the songs, so much so that I've found myself preferring the demo version of a song to the official version.
But the songs themselves are all pretty solid, and I'm curious to see if hearing them live will change my perspective of them——I've got tickets to see the band in early August, and I'm hoping this experience will give me a new perspective on the recorded tracks.
7.20.17 Arcade Fire have shared another track from Everything Now, this one called "Electric Blue":
I'll be honest: I really struggle with Regine Chassagne's lead vocals, even though she gets one or two shots at it per Arcade Fire record. It's just too insubstantial to carry the weight of a song; sometimes it's barely strong enough to serve as a backing vocal. I'm not quite sure how to describe it, except it feels like the vocal is being recorded a room away from the microphone——I somehow want it to have more of an anchoring, grounded quality.
That said, I do like this song, and it seems like the best fit so far for what her voice is capable of doing. The music mixes oriental overtones with a robotic sensibility, and the odd nature of Regine's voice fits pretty well in the middle of those two styles. The record will finally be released next week; I can't wait to hear the rest of it given how much I like what they've shared with us so far.
We're only a few days away from the release of the new Nine Inch Nails EP, Add Violence, and the band have shared another track, this one called "This Isn't the Place":
This is a slow burn of a song, a tone poem that's more about mood and atmosphere than anything else——it easily could have been an instrumental and not lost much of its impact. I appreciate songs like this more in the context of the larger albums or EPs in which they're encased and not as a standalone release, so it's entirely possible I'll like this one more when I hear it in sequence with its brothers and sisters.
No official word of a new St. Vincent album, but Annie Clark has shared her first new music in two years, which is a good sign. This song is called "New York":
I'm pretty much ready to follow Annie on whatever adventure she feels like taking me on, but this is a pretty different sound for her, especially compared to the relatively rock-oriented St. Vincent. This starts off pretty subdued, but gradually crescendoes into a climax that is both affirming and deeply melancholy. It's lovely and earnest, and it might be the most sincere thing she's done since Strange Mercy's "Year of the Tiger".
It's a more personal take on the singer's experience with the city than James Murphy'sLCD Soundsystem track "New York I Love You, But You're Bringing Me Down", but it inhabits the same orbit as that wistful and affectionate song.
7.17.17 Broken Social Scene released Hug of Thunder earliest this month, their first record since 2010's Forgiveness Rock Record. That's a pretty long layoff for this group of musicians——there were five years between their last two official releases, but in the interim most of the band collaborated on solo projects for two of the members——but there's not any rust here.
If you were going to criticize anything, it's that they songs are too much what people have come to expect from a Broken Social Scene record. I'm perfectly okay with this——I appreciate a band that's comfortable enough with itself and its vision (especially one that has so many talented members) that they aren't trying to contort their sound to fit new styles that have become more prominent in recent years.
I do wish there were a couple of their really quirky, oddball tracks that often become my favorites——without these, the songs can sometimes blend into one another——but I'm really enjoying listening to this record, and I'm hoping I can catch them on tour later this fall.
7.14.17 Cut Copy announced their first new album since 2013's Free Your Mind. It's called Haiku From Zero, and it features a track called "Airborne":
There's something about this song that reminds me a lot more of the Avalanches than Cut Copy——I don't remember them using samples (or at least vocal elements that sound like samples) too much before. Given their recent focus on mixtapes and DJing, I'm wondering how much of this song would be played on live instruments in concert, and how much of it would be sourced from sequencers and synthesizers.
I'll definitely given this album a listen——I've liked all their previous releases too much not to at least give it a serious chance——but this one's really not appealing to me. It's not that interesting, especially at over five minutes long without a well-defined chorus to anchor the track.
Today Nine Inch Nails announced a new EP, Add Violence, and shared the track "Less Than":
This EP is the successor to last year's EP Not the Actual Events, and is the second in a planned trilogy of EPs from Trent Reznor and company. At this point in the band's career, we're not really looking for new stylistic approaches to making music, we're just deciding whether the song is a good NIN song or not.
In that context, this one is...pretty decent. I'm curious to hear if there's a difference in the overall tone of each EP——if they are smaller coherent groupings of songs that all share some musical or lyrical theme——or if the band is just releasing songs in groups of fives without a larger master plan behind them.
7.12.17 Ted Leo hasn't released a new album under his own name since 2010's The Brutalist Bricks (although he did release a collaborative album with Aimee Mann using the band name The Both back in 2014), but he's back with a new record called The Hanged Man. This was a Kickstarter-funded project that he recorded in his home studio, and the first track from it is called "You're Like Me":
There's something about the production that feels a little off——there are moments when it's simultaneously too slick and too sludgy——and you have to wonder if these were intentional stylistic choices or if it was Leo's inability to manipulate the sound to his liking, either because of his home studio equipment or his lack of experience with the production process in general.
The song is not a bad one at its core——with different production and mixing, it could have comfortably fit on his best albums——but I'm curious to see how recording everything by himself in a non-professional studio without a real producer will play out over the course of the larger album. I'm always rooting for this guy, so I'm hoping for the best.
We finally have Amber Coffman's (formerly of Dirty Projectors) solo full length, City of No Reply. She started sharing music from the album as early as last fall with songs like "All to Myself", "No Coffee", "If You Want My Heart", "Brand New", and "Nobody Knows", and those songs end up being pretty representative of what we get on the album (which I guess makes sense, since that group of songs comprises nearly half the tracks). Coffman's songs are more accessible and more poppy than Dirty Projectors, but from the same genetic strain (and I'm not using poppy in a derogative way here).
"Miss You" is my favorite, and I wonder if that might be one of the few that is looking back on the loss of her relationship to Dirty Projectors frontman David Longstreth rather than looking forward to what's next, which is the theme of many of the other tracks. She has made it clear in interviews that she doesn't regret the end of their professional or romantic relationships (you definitely get the feeling that she was the one who broke it off), but "Miss You" is one of the few songs when she seems to appreciate the good parts of what they had together and to openly long for those moments.
Longstreth's most recent Dirty Projectors album, which will eternally be linked to and compared to this record, is more artistically complex and confident, but it also might be the height of what he's going to accomplish in his career. (Not coincidentally, Longstreth also uses that record solely to look back and mourn what he's lost——there is no optimistic view of what's to come.) Coffman, however, still has room to grow, and her best record might still be two or three albums away, but City of No Reply is a good start to her career as a solo artist.
7.10.17 Arcade Fire have shared another track from their upcoming new album, Everything Now, this one called "Signs of Life":
I don't even know how to classify this one, but if the title track was their Abba homage, then this one is their Bee Gees ripoff. Which means it's less disco-ey than the last one, but it's still pretty disco-ey, just not in the cool way that 21st century bands typically like to reference that 70s genre.
It's a new month, so Guided By Voices have announced a new album, How Do You Spell Heaven, and shared a new track called "Just to Show You":
This track is okay——it sounds more like a decent filler track that you're not going to dislike but which isn't going to become one of your favorites either. But it's pretty midtempo/mature for GBV, and it's already grown on me——I like it more after three or four listens than I did the first time I heard it.
Last month, as I was reading the dueling New Order memoirs from bassist Peter Hook and singer/guitarist Bernard Sumner (Hooky's was way better——funnier and more honest), I realized something: I didn't own, nor had I ever heard, the debut album from the band, Movement.
Power, Corruption & Lies was the earliest record from the band I had ever heard, and I had always wondered how this group went from Joy Division to New Order when there was a pretty drastic different between the final Joy Division record, Closer, and Power, Corruption & Lies. Well, now I know, because Movement is the musical missing link between the two bands that makes the transition seem a little more evolutionary and less radical.
The music itself is much more like Joy Division, except with a few more drum machines and keyboards thrown in. There are songs where the guitar in particular starts to sound more like what New Order's signature guitar sound ("Chosen Time" and especially the opening track "Dreams Never End" are where you can find the best examples of this), but this is a band that is still feeling its way to what it will become.
Even though Sumner had not yet fully taken on the role of lead singer——Hook sang on two tracks——both Sumner and Hook were doing their damnedest to sound as much like Ian Curtis as they could instead of using their own voices. The songs are clearly still haunted by Curtis' presence, and there is an aching for him to be there that is palpable.
Because of all this, I would actually categorize this more as the last Joy Division record rather than the first New Order record——there are too many shadows, echoes, and longing for things past to make this part of the new sound that this band would develop starting with their next record. In that context, it's pretty heartbreaking, because you can already feel that, while Joy Division would never have become New Order, they also were capable of stretching themselves far beyond the dark postpunk sound of the two official Joy Division studio albums.
7.5.17 Liars have announced a new record called TFCF (which apparently stands for Theme From Crying Fountain), and have shared a new song from the album called "Cred Woes":
Against many odds, Liars have become one of my favorite bands over the years, and I'm always happy to hear new music from them, no matter how weird and/or abrasive. Their last few records have had a decidedly more dance-y tone to them, which I'm completely okay with. This track is both weird and weirdly dance-y.
This is the first record from the band where frontman Angus Andrew is the only remaining founding member——guitarist Aaron Hemphill was the only one left besides Andrew on the previous record, and he's gone now. So one interesting question for this album: were Liars always essentially Angus Andrew, or will there be something decidely non-Liars about the record now that he's the only original band member left?
Judging from this first track, I'd say that the answer has evolved into the first option, even if originally the other band members helped shape the sound of the band. This is one of the few bands that, because of their vast stylistic shifts over the years, can release something that sounds entirely unlike anything they've ever done before and yet sounds exactly like you would expect.