Friday, October 7, 2016

With you with the windows down: June 2016 music diary

This is three months overdue, and you'll see why in the next couple of days. Somehow I got the idea that I should post this at the same time as my big project I was working on, which quickly resulted in a comical number of delays as I got devoted to making sure said project was going to be solid and infallible. Once I realized this didn't make much sense I did it anyway, and part of the reason I let this happen was that I sort of needed a vacation from everything and to immerse myself in something tied to the past, tied to old loved things, and completely divorced from a reality that, outside of my safe bubble, was getting to be a bit overwhelming. It wasn't new music's fault but I needed a break from the modern world. It felt good to sink into researching something that took a long time. But I'm better now, and will do everything in my power to get us back on the right track with our regular posts.

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Gold Panda: Good Luck and Do Your Best (City Slang) [r]
Push-button UK producer establishes a strange rhythm initially on his latest set, with a kind of repetition that calls to mind Four Tet with an extra emphasis on ear-tugging annoyance. Then the record unexpectedly poises itself to seduce and fills the room with skeletal but absorbing sounds that fall around most pleasingly. He achieves unexpected brilliance when he completely pulls the rug out with the glassy, delicate sound of "Time Eater" and the perfectly barbed retro lounge of LP closer "Your Good Times Are Just Beginning." Stick with this and the groove keeps deepening.

Holy Fuck: Congrats (Innovative Leisure) [hr]
The wonderful physicality of this Big Beat throwback unit from Toronto comes from their use of analogue instrumentation to mimic classic electronica; it will render Amp-sized nostalgia in a lot of folks, the yearning for a manic party atmosphere in others, but regardless it's searing, and the absence of programming gives it all a healthy, invigorating crunch. The pacing is relentless, though faint vocals and moments of flagging intensity offer a seemingly effortless beauty at times, especially on the highlight "Neon Dad."

Whitney: Light Upon the Lake (Secretly Canadian) [hr]
Remember Smith Westerns, who imploded after throwing out some terrific, backward-adolescent rock & roll earlier in this decade? Two of the band's members now show up in Whitney, which retains the T-Rex and David Bowie influences but with a softer, cleaner sound; they're not kids anymore, they're full-on Americana romantics. Their debut is the earworm-filled guitar-based power pop record for our time (with some scattered R&B elements); like the Shins and Beulah before them, they demonstrate the evergreen glory of the great hook. This album isn't nostalgic because it's just timeless, and it seldom steers wrong. Out of the gate, "No Woman" grips with its melodic stillness and florid construction, a perfect melancholic pop concoction that builds and falls seductively, leading right into the low-key propulsion of "The Falls" and never flagging from there. Talking of nostalgia, let's note the instantaneous generation of it with "No Matter Where We Go" and "Dave's Song," songs that sound genuinely classic with amazingly joyous guitars and choruses. Big Star and Badfinger comparisons are unavoidable; how awful.

Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger (Concord)
Getting smugger (and less convincingly rhythmic) as he gets older. It's not pretty and it's sometimes insufferable; a song like "Wristband," which is the sort of thing Cameron Crowe would probably find appealingly witty, reveals how the wit of "Boy in the Bubble" and "Me and Julio" washes away into banality. Say this for him, though: his voice is if anything better than it was in his peak years as a writer. He sounds like Peter Gabriel at times. But the better moments are really those in which he shuts up, and less because they're inspired than because of the fatigue his lecturing and prattling inspires. "The Riverbank" is probably his best song since Surprise, but only sentimental types will likely notice.

Steve Gunn: Eyes on the Lines (Matador)
NYC guitarist used to play with Kurt Vile, so it's no surprise he's a practicioner of what seems to be turning into the Matador Records house style. I suppose you can zone out to his lazybones pop compositions and find some charm here and there but it's music that invariably sounds better when it's not being given your direct attention.

Tegan and Sara: Love You to Death (Warner Bros.) [hr]
A brisk half-hour of almost criminally catchy pop music, carrying over the beats and top 40 influences of its strong predecessor Heartthrob; the duo reimagines glossy '80s pop by the likes of Mr. Mister, Air Supply and Berlin as the glittery harbinger of difficult emotional truth, the breakups and breakdowns and successes and failures of romance stuck between adolescent angst and grownup anxiety. They can't resist writing anthems, and somehow those are tougher to shake than the more lofty and theatrical slow ones; somehow the dance songs also seem more vulnerable. "BWU," about not wanting to get married, and "Boyfriend," about not wanting to be a secret lover, demand and provide gratification, though the burned-out neon sleaze of "Dying to Know" and "Faint of Heart" leave me most exhilarated; thorny complexity and the brokenness it mines always seems to provide us with the most unqualified pleasures in pop.

The Strokes: Future Present Past (Cult EP)
Track 1 sounds like the Strokes covering the Bee Gees. Track 2 sounds like the Strokes covering the Red Hot Chili Peppers covering Journey. Track 3 sounds like the Strokes covering, I dunno, Jimmy Buffett? Paul Simon? Some dad-rock somewhere. Track 4 sounds like Twin Shadow covering the Red Hot Chili Peppers. I loved Comedown Machine and I still don't quite get why this exists.

Joey Purp: iiiDrops (s/r) [r]
Part of the amazingly fertile Chicago hip hop scene, Purp doesn't have much of a "house style"; whether that makes him more or less dangerous is your call -- he screams, he Kendricks, he skews, he Autotunes. The production on this mixtape is equally varied, lyrical content less so, though with a few clever vignettes on sex and conscous nods toward dealing, working class life and the prison state. Major shoutout for the synthpop, Latin and free jazz influences courtesy of a whole slew of producers, but the unassailable highlight is the Chance the Rapper guest shot "Girls @," which swings more than it bangs.

Mitski: Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans) [r]
At first I was put off by the Enya-isms of this NYC singer-songwriter's fourth album (she has a similarly toned voice, and a convenient attraction to something like the baroque, Phil Spector-like flavoring of some of the less Celtic/New Age-based material on Watermark) but closer listens on headphones reveal that there's something of an emotional powerhouse hidden underneath the dross. Atmospheres abound, sure, but also more and smarter thinking than Bon Iver's or Lana Del Rey's to back them up. One likely must be in quite a specific mindset to appreciate a song like "My Body Is Made of Crushed Little Stars," about giving up and starting over, but its rendering of personal fear and hangup in careful, well-considered language offer Mitski up as a sort of millennial Leonard Cohen. The tasteless production helps too, but it's not something that's going to function as background music by any means.

case/lang/veirs (Anti-)
Multi-generational supergroup consists of Neko Case, grand singer and all-around splendid individual inside and outside of the New Pornographers; k.d. lang, about whom I'm realizing I should know a lot more than I do beyond the radio hits; and Laura Veirs, who impressed me when I saw her live in 2009 but whose recorded work never really struck me. The three voices harmonize and ring out in unison sometimes, but mostly this is a cycle of solo songs with the two remaining members serving as backup, and thanks to the homogenized, Nashville-like production, it's all a bit forgettable, if hardly unpleasant. Case and lang are impassioned, engaging if not thoroughly nuanced singers; Veirs is a good deal less technically accomplished and mature, but somehow her songs seem to me the most felt here. Her "I Want to Be Here" leaves me a bit gutted, honestly: "The hungry fools who rule the world can't catch us / surely they can't ruin everything / I just wanna be here with you." For a person hiding out in a dark world with a new spouse, those words sear.

The Jayhawks: Paging Mr. Proust (Sham) [hr]
In running this blog, I occasionally come across gaps in my knowledge that rather embarrass me. Just to cite one recent example, until very recently I had no idea of Al Green's consistency as an album artist, having grown to love him through his singles and hits compilations; as a strong advocate for soul LPs that typically get ignored, like Wilson Pickett's, I feel terribly guilty that I have not been championing and loving these acknowledged classics for years. I'm working on putting together a sort of lists-project like I've done at my movie blog to try and cover some of the things that, in twenty-odd years of obsessive music listening, I've somehow missed; it bugs me that there are big things out there that aren't part of my world yet. So it goes with the alt-country pioneers the Jayhawks; I'm familiar with so many bands in their orbit but somehow barely even knew who they were, apart from their genre and the era in which they began recording. This came up on my list of auditions, then I heard the whole thing and loved it, and in researching it discovered that my praise for this is bound to ring hollow because it's my first Jayhawks album, and one that doesn't even feature their longtime guiding light Mark Olson, whose songs apparently gave the group their bite. I can't testify to the truth of that, though I certainly intend to scroll back and learn more, but all I can say is that this album's melancholic, breezy tone falls wonderfully on the ear and sounds instantly like music you've lived with your whole life. Peter Buck serves as producer, and traces of R.E.M. are everywhere, with a bit of Doug Hopkins melded in with the country-derived traditionalism. Nearly every song on the first half is a gem, while the second is a bit more listless apart from the haunting closer "I'll Be Your Key" and the restlessly catchy "The Devil Is in Her Eyes," but the false moments don't linger like the pure, unpretentious pleasure does. This is not an informed opinion; ignore me if you like, then, but this is a lovely, lilting, well-crafted record anyway.

Pity Sex: White Hot Moon (Run for Cover) [hr]
It's been proven many times in this space that I'm a sucker for knockoff shoegaze; I'm not going to make an impassioned case for Ann Arbor quartet Pity Sex being original or remarkable on a level with, say, Pinkshinyultrablast, but what I will say is that when I played their second album while driving along the street by the ocean in my hometown on a Saturday afternoon, its decadent, burned-out bliss sounded more perfect than perfect. In part because it took me so long to finish this post, this has really been the most dependable record of my summer. Part of its surprising beauty comes from the vocal trade-off between the band's co-guitarists, bored-stoned Brennan Greaves and the silky eagerness of Britty Drake. The best songs are those on which they take lines in tandem, though the ones dominated by Drake are often the most covertly emotive, like "Plum," which is about how much her mom loved them and how much her dad loved her mom. During the summer that I'll always associate with this band, though, they apparently fell apart; Drake left in July, and it's already hard to imagine the point without her.

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* William Tyler: Modern Country
* William Bell: This Is Where I Live
Tony Joe White: Rain Crow
Flume: Skin
The Hotelier: Goodness
Big Thief: Masterpiece
Daniel Romano: Mosey
The Monkees: Good Times!
Kate Jackson: British Road Movies
Beth Orton: Kidsticks
Cat's Eyes: Treasure House
Allen Toussaint: American Tunes

REJECTS:
Kacy & Clayton: Strange Country [NYIM]
Yak: Alas Salvation
Andy Shauf: The Party [NYIM]
Pantha du Prince: The Triad [NYIM]
PUP: The Dream Is Over
Moonface: My Best Human Face
Amber Arcades: Fading Lines
Mourn: Ha, Ha, He. [NYIM]
Minor Victories
Xenia Rubinos: Black Terry Cat [NYIM]
Dan Lissvik: Midnight
Lone: Levitate
Brandy Clark: Big Day in a Small Town
Diarrhea Planet: Turn to Gold
The Invisible: Patience [NYIM]
Gemma Ray: The Exodus Suite
Eli "Paperboy" Reed: My Way Home
Garbage: Strange Little Birds
Let's Eat Grandma: I, Gemini
YG: Still Brazy
Red Hot Chili Peppers: The Getaway
Laura Mvula: The Dreaming Room [NYIM]

ALSO RECOMMENDED:
Imarhan (City Slang) - grooves with a welcome sultriness, though they run a little long
Kyle Craft: Dolls of Highland (Sub Pop) - extraordinary first half, real pained passioned lyrical rock & roll (Rolling Stones / Gram Parsons / etc.) in the finest fuck-all early '70s tradition, but unfortunately it collapses. First five cuts ("Eye of a Hurricane" / "Balmorhea" / "Berlin" / "Lady of the Ark" / "Gloom Girl") all pretty flawless.
Konono No. 1: Meets Batida (Crammed Discs) [relentless dance music from Ethiopia never stops to take even a split second of a breath]
Nothing: Tired of Tomorrow (Relapse) [sort of like if Built to Spill had made it to the radio]
Mark Pritchard: Under the Sun (Warp) [I fell asleep, but I think I was supposed to?]
Oddisee: The Odd Tape (Mello Music) [the deep space vortex in yr bachelor pad]

ORPHAN TUNES:
Pantha du Prince "You What? Euphoria!" [The Triad]

OLD MUSIC RATED (NOT REVIEWED) THIS MONTH:
I need to clear out some space on my hard drive which means I need to form an opinion on a bunch of stuff I downloaded pre-Spotify so I know what I can wipe. I don't have time to review these yet but I do want to briefly share my enthusiasm for the good ones. And so far they're not just good but extraordinary, which means I've totally failed on my free-up-some-disk-space trek.

Al Green: Call Me (Hi 1973) [hr]
Al Green: Livin' for You (Hi 1973) [hr]
Al Green: Explores Your Mind (Hi 1974) [hr]

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Current plan is to post the results of my long excursion into 1960s mythos (it's done apart from the introduction, which is coming easier than I thought it would) and then move straight through the rest of the summer's releases, culminating I hope in a right-on-time end-of-year list, but you never know.

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