notes - a music blog
cd collection

january 2018

teens of denial
car seat headrest
early recordings
the magic
wolves of want
bent shapes
coloring book
chance the rapper

And in weirdly related news, Belly are also back after a long hiatus with a new album called Dove and a track from that release called "Shiny One":

For those of you who might not know the relationship to the Breeders here, Belly is fronted by Tanya Donelly, who in addition to being one of the singers and guitarists for Throwing Muses (along with her stepsister Kristin Hersh) before leaving to form her own band. In between Throwing Muses and Belly, however, Tanya was also part of the writing/recording/touring band for the Breeders' first album, Pod, and she's the only member from that time period who is not part of the sessions for the Breeders' upcoming release All Nerve.

I was never a huge fan of Belly despite loving everything Tanya had down with Throwing Muses and the Breeders, but like most indie/alt rock fans from the early 90s, I did own their debut record, 1993's Star, and that's the only thing I have to compare this track to. It doesn't sound much like what I remember that record sounding like, but it's chugging groove and classic rock guitar figures remind me a lot of another early 90s blip on the cultural radar, Collective Soul. I don't know how much that claim will stand up to close scrutiny, but that's what I'm immediately reminded of when I hear this.

Either way, I don't care for this much, and I don't think I'm going to be investigating this album any further. This might be a nice nostalgia trip for some folks, but Belly is when I started to lose interest in Donnelly's work, and choosing that name for new work signals to me that this likely won't be in my wheelhouse either.

The Breeders are back with their first album in a decade, All Nerve, and they shared the first full track from it called "Nervous Mary":

This isn't the full version of one of the two snippets we heard in a teaser video last month, but like those two excepts, this sounds more like a track from the Pod era than anything since Pod itself. And that's a pretty good sign that this record will be the real deal (and yes, let's offcially count that as a pun on frontwoman Kim Deal's name). I'm getting more excited about this record the more they share with us.

Belle and Sebastian released the third and final EP in their How to Solve Our Human Problems series, and while it has a lot in common with the first two, it's also the best of the bunch and a good way to end the run.

Like the other two, this one has a couple of good tracks and a few okay tracks, but the overall quality and listenability is consistently higher than its predecessors. The two opening tracks, "Poor Boy" and "Everything is Now, Pt. Two" stand above the other three, but if these final three had been included on the previous EPs, it's possible I might have considered them some of the strongest tracks on those releases.

The whole enterprise begs the question of why they couldn't edit themselves and only release the strongest 5 or 6 tracks out of this batch of 15 and given us something more worthwhile to spend time with, but it was kind of fun getting a new batch of music from them once a month for three months straight.

We're planning to go see them later this year (it will be my son's first real rock concert), and though I don't get the sense that they are explicitly touring behind these releases, I'm sure we'll get to hear some of them live. I'll be curious to see which ones the bands thinks are the best based on their inclusion on the setlist, and also how the songs play in a live setting having to stand up next to some of their classic material.

Frankie Cosmos have a new record, Vessel, coming out next month, and they recently shared a track from it called "Being Alive":

The song has a fast-slow-fast thing going on that's a little unusual for this band, but the contrast is nice. I was completely charmed by their last album, Next Thing, and I expect more of the same straightforward songwriting, confessional lyrics, and stripped down production that they used to great effect on that record. "Being Alive" fits pretty well into that mold, despite the mosh-worthy fast parts that buttress the more reflective interludes.

Wonder of wonders, 80s college cult favorites Dumptruck have released a new record called Wrecked, 17 years after their last one and 31 years after the last record that I was aware of, 1987's For the Country. They apparently released three other records between 1995 and 2001, but those escaped my notice. So what I'm comparing this latest one to is their classic releases with the original lineup, especially Positively Dumptruck and For the Country.

Those were two pretty great records, so those are lofty heights to hit, but Wrecked is solid by comparison. Seth Tiven's unmistakable voice is still front and center, but the compositions and overall tone and sound of the record are a slightly modernized version of what they used in their heyday in the 80s. The songs are slightly more mellow and upbeat than For the Country, but the increase in chiming guitars only partially masks the still-cynical lyrics. The country influences are a little more prominent too, but those were always lurking underneath and it didn't make much to bring them more to the forefront.

I'm shocked at how good and consistent this record is overall, so much so that I'm going to have to go back and explore those three releases in the mid to late 90s that I missed to see if they kept up the same quality back then. I don't know how this will sound to a modern listener——there's something about this music that's rooted in a very specific point in time for me——but this is appealing to me far beyond the pure nostalgia aspect.

Eleanor Friedburger has a new record coming out called Rebound, and she recently shared a track from it titled "In Between Stars":

I've been a big fan of hers since her days with Fiery Furnaces, a band she was in with her brilliant brother Matthew Friedberger. I was charmed by her first couple of solo releases, but her last one, New View, felt slow and sleepy and maddeningly even, so I genuinely am hoping for a rebound here.

Based on this song, I'm not sure I'll get what I'm looking for. While this seems immediately more lively and engaging than anything I remember from New View, it still has the same mid-70s casual vibe that dominated the last record, and listening to this amidst a whole record's worth of tracks that sound just like it will be very different than listening to it on its own. I'm cautiously optimistic, but this is defintely going to be a wait-and-see potential purchase and not an automatic buy like her previous records were.

Okkervil River have announced a new reocrd, In the Rainbow Rain, and have shared a track called "Don't Move Back to LA":

I tend to go in alternating album cycles with this band, and since I loved The Silver Gymnasium and really didn't care for Away, I'm due for another one that I'll like. But I'm honestly not sure what to make of this song.

It's a laid back yacht rock jam that would have a lot in common with a downbeat version of the theme from Three's Company, but I don't necessarily have a problem with that. But is it a harbinger of what to expect from the rest of the album, or a weird one-off that's fun but not particularly representational? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but the answer to that question will determine how much I can get into this release.

Alvvays released their sophomore album Antisocialites way back in September of last year, but it took me until late January to convince myself to buy it. I was okay with their debut, but it worked better for me in small doses——when I listened to the record straight through, the songs tended to muddle indistinctly together.

I get a little bit of that sense from my initial explorations of Antisocialites as well, but I immediately like it better than the last one. "Plimsoul Punks" is the standout track——it's easily the best song they've released so far——but the whole record has a meta-referencing feel to its sound: it could be an artifact from the late 80s or early 90s that itself was referencing a lot of 60s material.

I'm still feeling my way through this one, but it could be a grower for me. Let's see how long it stays in the playlist...

King Tuff have a new record coming out, their first since 2014's Black Moon Spell. It's called The Other, and they have shared a track from it called "Psycho Star":

I don't know what the fuck this is but it sure as hell isn't King Tuff. I try to be openminded about artists I like trying out new directions and new sounds, but this isn't an evolution or a genre take on their previous sound, it's someting completely different than anything the've done before, and there's nothing particularly special or interesting about their turn from rowdy but concise swamp rock to this gospel-tinged class rock mess. DO NOT LIKE.

When I love a song or album of Bjork's, I really, really love it, but I'm not a consistent fan of hers. There are plenty of songs on her records that I do own that I don't care for much, and there are also several of her records that I don't own at all.

However, after hearing some shared tracks from her latest, Utopia, I decided to buy it. I don't regret that decision, because there is definitely a lot of great work here, but there are some caveats that will likely prevent it from becoming a favorite album this year.

It's a very slow but lush and beautifully organic record that unfolds like a flower opening its petals to the sun as a new day dawns. There are flutes and harps that flutter in the background of most songs, creating a thematic presense that almost elevates this album to the level of a modern opera. As is typical of Bjork, the instrumentatlon is dense even when it feels minimal, and her layers of vocals create as much texture as any of the instrumentation. Technically and emotionally, it's pretty awe-inspiring if you're in the right mood.

The problem with my increasingly shallow, short-attention-span self is that the songs are just long enough and consistently dense enough that listening to a single track feels like it takes an hour. Even for the ones I like and get completely lost in are almost too much for me to take, and the real problem ends up being not that any of the songs on the album are weak, but that the album as a whole is so concentrated and rich that you just can't absorb the whole thing straight through. You need a palate cleanser in between so you can appreciate and revel in the wonder of each song here.

I'm likely going to end up rating most of the tracks here a four or a five, but I doubt I'm going to listen to the album proper very much. Instead, these tracks will show up unexpectedly in my random shuffle lists, where the contrast between them and most everything else I listen to will highlight their unique beauty all the more. I can't really say anything bad about this record, but you're going to have to find your own way to approach it. You might have the stamina and fortitude to play it end to end, but I'm going to get a lot more out of it by savoring it in small doeses.

The Streets have shared yet another new track, their third in the past couple of months, although a new record still hasn't been announced. This one is called "If You Ever Need to Talk I'm Here":

This track is dark, brooding, and minimal, and it's quintessential Streets. Given this outpouring of new tracks from a group whose last album was released in 2011, it's hard to believe we won't get a new album under the Streets name sometime this year. And based on what we've heard so far, it's shouldn't have any trouble taking its place in the Streets pantheon despite the long layoff from recording.

Chvrches' hotly anticpated third album, Love Is Dead, is due out soon, and the band recently shared the track "Get Out":

The chorus has their signature synthesizer bombast, but the verses are fairly minimalistic compared to many of their past songs, and there is a slinky groove that runs throughout that has a lot more depth than most of their previous dancefloor tracks.

Chvrches have been so consistently good on their first two albums that it was hard to see where they might take their songwriting on future records without betraying their roots. But this track manages to do just that, sounding immediately like Chvrches while also pushing their sound in new directions. I'm the kind of fan of this band that would have been perfectly happy if LP3 was more of the same stuff that I heard on the first two, but I'm genuinely excited to see them stretch themselves a bit now.

I've been pleasantly surprised by my engagement with the Church over the past ten years——I've seen them live twice and enjoyed two of their post-2000 records tremendously——so I was surprised to see that they had released another album that had escaped my notice somehow.

It's called Man Woman Life Death Infinity, and as you might have guessed from the title, it's a return to the looser, more mystical feel of albums like Magician Among the Spirits and Untitled #23. I'm not a huge fan of these kinds of Church albums, and I'm not really a fan of this one, especially on the heels of such a wonderfully tight pop album like its predecessor, Further/Deeper, which was their strongest work since 1998's Hologram of Baal.

It doesn't annoy me like some of their previous works in this category do——I can listen to this one, whereas some of their other records in this vein bore me to the point of anger (which is a neat but irritating trick). But it is pretty dull, and turns into background music pretty quickly.

Hop Along have a new album coming out called Bark Your Head Off, Dog, and they have shared a track from the record called "How Simple":

I bought their first record, and I really, really want to like their band, but the thing I keep hesitating on isn't the music, but the singer's voice. There are moments when it is achingly beautiful, one of the best female voices in indie pop rock/punk, but when she really pushes herself, it turns into a charred, blistered howl that grates on me, especially because the transition is usually pretty abrupt. There are times when I literally crine when listening to their songs.

I like the music here, and the voice is pretty even throughout, but I don't think that will be enough to get me to buy this record without hearing more first. I know her choices with her voice are very intentional, and I'm sure that many of their fans love the band for the exact reasons that I find them difficult, but it's a very primal reaction from me, and those are hard to overcome with reason.

No Age have recently released a new album called Snares Like a Haircut, their first record since 2013's An Object. If you haven't liked their previous art-damaged take on atonal punk, you probably won't like this one, either, but if you tend towards the hook-y side of things like I do, this might be the best place to start if you aren't familiar with the group.

All their hallmarks are here——the deadeyed, neutral vocals, the nods to drone and noise rock, the layers of guitars swirling in the forefront, threatening to drown out everything else. But the production is cleaner and clearer, and the hooks are much more prevalent and consistent across almost every track, and there are moments when it's hard to hear the difference between them and their more mainstream emulators like Japandroids or the Men. If it's possible to say that No Age was going for a catchy record, this would definitely be it.

I don't take this as a negative, but this also makes this a less memorable album in its consistency——the lows are not quite as low, but the highs aren't nearly as high.

My wife and I went to see Jens Lekman last week at one of my favorite Atlanta venues, the Earl in East Atlanta. He's one of my favorite artists, but I've only seen him once before, a few years ago at the Variety in Little Five Points.

The last time he came to Atlanta, he had a full band with him, but this time, he was solo, using a drum machine and later a full recorded song backup. He started the show with a couple of numbers with just him and an electric guitar, then swtiched to an acoustic which he played with the drum machine, and then went full-on karaoke and just sang along with the backing track without playing an instrument at all.

I still really like him, but I was pretty disappointed by this turn of events. I get the economic reasons why he didn't want to bring a full band with him, especially traveling from overseas, but I wish he had designed a set where his guitar work was always front and center, even if he was using a backing track. Even better would have been if he had just done a fully acoustic show——pretty much all of his songs would hold up to that treatment, and that would also allow him to do more of the storytelling thing he's so good at.

I can honestly say that if he was coming back and I knew it was going to be a show like this, I'm not sure if I'd buy a ticket. I was never tempted to walk out on the show, but I did get a little bored when he was just singing along to a recording.

It took me about two weeks of nonstop listening to Sidney Gish's sophomore album, No Dogs Allowed, before I decided to also get her debut, Ed Buys Houses. This record is just as good as No Dogs Allowed, and it's a little surprising to me that this album didn't garner more attention when it was released.

It's got all the same elements that made me love No Dogs Allowed so much: clean, simple production; low-key vocals with witty lyrics; and guitar hooks galore. There's not a single song on either of these records that I dislike——I'm trying to remember the last time I rated every song with at least four stars on two back to back releases from the same artist, but my range of enthusiasm for Gish's songs goes from "really love" to "absolutely adore".

Car Seat Headrest have announced a new album called Twin Fantasy and have shared the track "Nervous Young Inhumans":

I feel like I should be putting quotes areound the word "new", because Twin Fanatasy is a re-recorded of an album that Will Toledo made while he was still recording songs in his bedroom, well before he had a touring band and access to producers and a studio.

There's nothing wrong with this song——if you liked either of their previous releases, Teens of Style and Teens of Denial, you'll probably like this song too. The problem is that, for an artist who used to be as prolific as Toledo (he released a eight proper albums on Bandcamp in a four year period) he's only written one album of new material in the past four years. Teens of Style was re-recorded versions of his best home-recorded singles; Twin Fantasy is a re-recorded version of his best home-recorded full-length. That leaves Teens of Denial as the only new material he's chosen to record and release as a professional, full-time musician.

Denial was an amazing record, and a great sign that he could transition from being a serious hobbyist to a legitimate rock star. Twin Fantasy may be a great record too, but it's hard to see how revisiting something that's half a decade old is going to help him progress as a songwriter. This seems like the kind of project an artist in the mid to late stages of his career might do, not one from a young artist who should be entering the peak of his creative powers.

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