No Coast (2014)
!! CAUTION !! * On behalf of my generation, I apologize for you young folks who have to put up with this kind of stuff. "Post-hardcore," "emo," whatever you wish to call it, it's a fraud and a sham and anti-evolutionary and the world is worse for its existence -- particularly when it's propagated by old dudes like these. It helps that I never liked this sort of thing and that I can hear how much better some members of the subgenre are at pushing their emotions into well-expressed, helpful territory than others. But I don't blame Braid's punker cult for thinking this is a welcome return to form. Here's why...
Old Crow Medicine Show
On behalf of my generation, I apologize for ever encouraging alt-country to exist without taking into account that its now-permanent stasis was inevitable. This isn't a bad album at all, in fact better than this band has been in a while, but I feel that putting faith in a young group's sense of "style," if you can call it that, comes at the expense of appreciating actual good songs. The laziness is played out in the group's jam band-style following; shoulda seen that coming. I don't know if I was ever an alt-c cultist but whatever I was, I sort of regret it now. I did like those records and still do when I hear them, but every time a band like this comes out doing the same tired shtick for years down the line, I realize a lot of that was probably me being a Certain Age at the time.
They Want My Soul (2014)
RECOMMENDED * Rock's most predictably solid modern band -- a role Britt Daniel and Spoon have filled happily since the '90s -- proudly present more of the ever-engaging, agreeably melodic, pleasantly sorta-rockin' sorta-tricky same. The sole surprise is their departure from Merge Records to semi-major Universal imprint Loma Vista, a home they now share appropriately with the equally airless and hip St. Vincent. Honestly, I've got all their albums and they're fine, but Spoon is the sort of thing you put on when guests are coming (especially if said guests are male) so we can all celebrate our love of the vaguely alternative without fear of anything really idiosyncratic slipping through. That's not as sarcastic as it sounds -- unchallenging communal appeal is not nothing. They're the kind of band, as they are quick to point out, that defines "taste" -- cheering someone for walking out of a Zach Braff movie for that specific reason -- and every tired bro-y division and vague elitism thereby implied. Which, in 2014, makes me slightly uncomfortable. Props for the Ann-Margret cover, though.
!!!! AVOID !!!!! * Enough already with this drugged-out fake soul horseshit and the boring-ass fawning over it. (Time Magazine's album of the year, no really. We Did It.) The barely-tolerable "Closer" is as good as this gets musically, and it's unbelievably insipid. Amber: "I just want everbody to stop breathing on me."
!! CAUTION !! * Just what we need after all that disgusting futurism, some dudes who think it's still the '70s, and accomplish very little with this delusion. Though singer Greg Cartwright occasionally evokes Van Morrison ("Once More") in both sound and fields of interest, it's more often these days he comes off like the guy from Train. This beer-rock would sound all right at the county fair I guess, inevitably with the guy onstage announcing "This one's called 'Baby It's Too Late.' [That one features high drama in the form of Cartwright changing his mind every few seconds about whether he wants to use contractions or not.] This one's called 'North Cackalacky Girl.'" The last song, a bad Otis Redding lampoon, is especially funny in a Blueshammer sort of way. This sort of thing is all indie-rock inbred pedigree.
From Scotland with Love (2014)
Wistful folk-jazz from one of Scotland's most prolific singer-songwriters, this documentary soundtrack sounds like what it is -- a commission -- but is also imbued with glory and sadness at its best moments. Creosote has a pleasant voice that (unsurprisingly?) recalls Jim Kerr from Simple Minds. In this context the songs are missing the visual cues that inspired them, but the credible songs rise above this when they're sufficiently forceful, like "For One Night Only." The highlight is the schoolyard chant "Bluebell, Cockleshell 123," plaintive and folky but beautiful, with handclaps like "Iko Iko."
Never Hungover Again (2014)
!! CAUTION !! * Points for economy -- this is nineteen minutes (and ten tracks) of watered-down Weezer, who were only ever good for about that long anyway. The songs might not even be bad if they were sung by someone who wasn't so absolutely anonymous and grating. Otherwise see Braid above; fifteen years and niche status haven't made emo and all its stringent delivery requirements any less dreadful than when I was in high school.
Lese Majesty (2014)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Deceptive and seemingly insubstantial at first blush, this utterly sublime performance scores less on ambiance and subtlety than Black Up but ever more on the element of surprise. The boundless pleasure of the unexpected sounds, rhymes and musical interludes in this patchwork of brief suites and briefer songs are designed to hide pop and hint at pleasure that's swifty denied -- only then creating further pleasure yet with its cumulative impact; it's Pink Flag for 2014. Surprisingly, a couple of the songs are stronger on their own than anything in Shabazz's catalog previously. Both "#CAKE" and "Motion Sickness" grab hooks and grooves and actually concentrate on them for longer than a minute, but you won't be sorry there are few examples of same. This is dreamlike bliss, both sultry and aggressive, up until it sends you completely into space at the finale. Ishmael Butler's MCing is fabulous -- invoking Moby Dick allegory and targeting rap as commodity, it's maybe his best writing and MCing ever, including as Butterfly -- but he's really only one sonic factor in this extraordinary concoction of futuristic surrealism, half George Clinton and half Brian Eno. Only one small request: for god's sake, listen to this on actual speakers or headphones, not laptop speakers or earbuds -- let its effects, synths and bottom end wash over you. Background pleasantness this isn't.
When the Cellar Children See the Light of Day (2014)
!! CAUTION !! * This ghostly folk that barely moves has its charms, astoundingly standstill and morose as it is (and with a closing track that's essentially a musical suicide note, natch), but the only song that sounds like a finished thought is "The Devil's Tongue"; the rest are reptitive and halting in a manner that will start to gripe you quickly. We try not to harp on this, but the lyrics are noticeably bad; Wagner was born in Ethiopia and raised in Finland, so English could easily be her third language, which makes it hard to fault her. Then you remember Kristian Matsson, Josephine Olausson, etc.
Cellardyke Recording and Wassailing Society (2014)
!! CAUTION !! * There wasn't enough attention in poetry, still not enough money in music, but at least it's a vehicle he can use to lecture us in his shapeless, wordy tirades.
Like Jack White or Queens of the Stone Age only about 33% less self-aware, Segall does stoned out rawk & roll with in-name-only aspirations to garage. He ain't punk cause he's alternately too folky and too heavy; his riffs (dig "The Hand") and guitar solos are killer but not in that perverse J Mascis sense. He's a baby, but his talent far outsizes him. Wanna know the big difference between Segall and Ariel Pink? It's that Segall can write a song like "Mister Main" but treat it so seriously you barely notice how ridiculous it is, especially after beer number four. Wank for the kids is still wank, and I honestly never want to hear it again, but for this kind of thing it sure as fuck beats the Black Keys or Reigning Sound.
Angels & Devils (2014)
Creepy crawly ambient music with all-star annoyances like Gonjasufi and (god help me) Death Grips contributing, this is trippy and semi-agreeable but also weirdly aggro for something with such a benign overall sound. It's like if you put out Music for Airports and gave it the song titles from the Replacements' Stink. The ever-dependable Grips' contribution is entitled "Fuck a Bitch," because of course it is.
!! CAUTION !! * Boring as hell. Illuminati must've got to him.
Too Bright (2014)
Sure, Mike Hadreas still sings like a goddamned angel and Put Your Back N 2 It was mostly noodling ballads as well, but it also coalesced into four or five very solid and complete songs, including one out and out masterpiece ("Hood"). Well, Too Bright boasts its own near-masterpiece, the shimmering and multilayered "Fool," but otherwise it's pretty much all noodling. And that might not be so bad, except you just keep expecting him to blow you away again.
Mr. Twin Sister (2014)
RECOMMENDED * I was a big supporter pre-name change (in case you missed the memo, this band used to be merely Twin Sister), but Domino let them go when next to no one bought the lovely In Heaven; the band focused on what they still loved about performing and came up with a weirder, more surreal swirl of disco, Grace Jones and offbeat keyboard swirl. It might be the most assertive sophomore album in indie rock history, but it isn't a whole lot sharper or deeper than someone like Tennis or (pre-awful) Youth Lagoon. If the currency here is excitement at the sheer wonder of chemistry and creation, I'll still side with the record they now kinda-sorta dismiss; its pep and uncompromised simplicity got to me, which is another way of saying the songs were better. If we must, though -- the atmospheres ("Sensitive," "Twelve Angels," "Crime Scene") are all fine, the electronics and beats consistent, and "Rude Boy" is almost as good as "Gene Ciampi." Madonna-circa-Erotica pastiche "In the House of Yes" makes provocation of innocent ideas and quirks, the opposite of what In Heaven did but noble all the same.
Hiss Golden Messenger
Lateness of Dancers (2014)
Tear-in beer whatever folk rock, sounds kinda like the Wallflowers. Title track is OK. Getting bent out of shape about it won't help make the world a better place and would make me look like an asshole, so I won't. See, listening to insipid music isn't the only way to prove you're mature. Oops.
El Pintor (2014)
RECOMMENDED * Paul Banks wants to know: "Am I more soulful?" Sure, to some extent, and a little goofier too; really, after the last two records I'm surprised you'd bother asking. Anyway, yes, there's some cooing falsetto on "Tidal Wave" and "My Desire" has a yearning, a slight pathetic whine, that causes that impressively simple tune to present something like believable emotion. It's also perhaps the most relentless earworm in this stunted band's weird catalog. It comes just after the classically disaffected "All the Rage Back Home," thus at least opening an Interpol album well for the first time in a decade. It's not just Banks' gradually subsiding smugness that tells the tale, either; all through their best release (nearly unquestionably) since ANTICS, Interpol demonstrate a looseness that's proven elusive to them till now. Like class of 2000 alienated brethren the Strokes, their new work speaks well of their resignation to become a functional aging unit -- but much as Room on Fire gave better diminishing returns than ANTICS, the new one, attractive and delightful as it is (neither attribute applied to Our Love to Admire or Interpol), has neither the songs nor the wit of Comedown Machine. Without Carlos D, they lose their jock appeal (which isn't really a debit) and phase out vague aspirations toward surf rock in favor of vague aspirations toward late '70s Beach Boys (which is).
Punish, Honey (2014)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * An unexpectedly engrossing -- and heavy -- collection of programmed, apocalyptic percussive electronics that nevertheless weave around you with their complex rhythms and abrasive grooves. Considering how little this music adheres to any conventional sense of "beat" or even a snatch of tunefulness, it's amazing how accessible it is -- it's one of the best ambient records I've heard in a long time. And while it easily rewards headphone-level concentration, it's also surprisingly relaxing at the right volume, which is the last thing you'd expect for an album that owes so much to industrial techno.
Come to Life (2014)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Gavin Mays a.k.a. Cities Aviv hails from Memphis but is part of no geographic or theoretical scene ("cloud rap" or "Tumblr rap" would lump him in with the likes of Childish Gambino and Chance the Rapper, neither of whom deserve the association), at least none that I'm aware of; musically, his strikingly atmospheric work is singular and unique and barely any conventional or familiar kind of hip hop. Rather it's a stirring mixture of keyboard atmospheres, stoner rap, aggressive post-punk and general aloof weirdness. His proper debut album uses a range of producers; ideas and songs segue into one another, some quick and some hypnotically drawn out but all fully formed and compelling (even the interludes and oddball gags, the kind of stuff that drags down noble records like Frank Ocean's Channel Orange), so that the album falls together as a complete creation linked by Mays' droning but alert delivery, which you can liken to a megaphone he's yelling into from a safe distance, a delightful mixture of the committed and the laconic. But Come to Life delivers big-time because of its layered, unorthodox arrangements. Consistently surprising and unexpected, Cities Aviv one-ups and decries the apathy of the lazy drugged-out R&B subgenre by simultaneously tripping us up and entrancing us. The results are positive, emotional, funky, practically every good thing a witty and inventive musician ought to be. And they are not something we've heard a million times before, within or outside of hip hop. If anything, hip hop as we know it is incidental to what he's doing.
Hesitant Alien (2014)
Looks like a Gary Numan album and is even titled like one, but nah, this is just the guy from My Chemical Romance passing along his glam fantasy on a major. Not much to see here but it's tolerably angsty. Good drum sound.
Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone (2014)
RECOMMENDED * I admire Williams a hell of a lot but have never connected with her work like I wanted to. While I'm familiar with her most celebrated album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, I find I come far closer to being shattered and moved by the first few songs on this much more exhaustive double-set. Perhaps it's just an indication that I've changed but there's something gorgeously engaging in the Neil Young-like slapdash arrangements, and (especially) in Williams' increasingly frayed, slurred vocals. One friend who loves her says every moment is perfect, but longtime supporter Robert Christgau argues that the songs are longer than they need to be, resulting in a record that rambles long after it's made its point. Not having a dog in the fight, I admit that either disc is more than enough of this for me at a given time. But I'm glad they're both there anyway -- and there's something to be said for indulgent sadness. If you're unsure of where to dip in, try "Burning Bridges," "Protection" or "Something Wicked This Way Comes."
Our Love (2014)
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED * Swim was a particular kind of drifting and atonal that got under my skin in the wrong way, but with the vague EDM aspirations and the In Rainbows-like shameless romanticism of Dan Snaith's follow-up, he's located my heart. Owen Pallett's involvement probably doesn't hurt. "Silver" deconstructs hi-NRG until it's an indescribably lovely paean to passion and need that cushions the ears and body. "Back Home" is an irresistibly snaky melody, lushness surrounded by a tweaking away of harsh tones. All of the songs meld repetition into beauty, and get ample mileage from what initially sound like strange and barely related tangents. The record reveals itself more on every revisit, ultimately unfurling itself so gorgeously I can't help but wonder if I wasn't just giving up on Caribou's earlier work too easily. At any rate, this is available as a bargain-priced half speed master from Merge, which is amazing but would mean nothing if the music weren't sublime. It is -- a curious, deeply original new addiction for anyone who loves the depth of really charged, passionate dance music. So consider this personal advice: buy this one on vinyl.
Way Out Weather (2014)
(Paradise of Bachelors)
Absolutely harmless singer-songwriter, John Fogerty-ish melodies, very good and interesting guitar playing. Probably worthwhile if you're in the market.