Friday, November 4, 2016

I want something to eat: July 2016 music diary

Won't be able to log reviews of them for a few weeks yet but I strongly advise you to listen to nothing but Danny Brown and Kate Tempest's albums for the rest of the year -- they've rendered everything else all but irrelevant for me -- with perhaps a side of Nicolas Jaar and Leonard Cohen. On another topic: please please please please read my Beach Boys stuff.

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The Avett Brothers: True Sadness (Island) [r]
These guys got a deal with a major so they could turn into Counting Crows. Honestly though, I really liked Counting Crows in the '90s and against my better judgment I like this too. I don't remember how many albums it's been since I and Love and You, which is a lovely, mature record right on the precipice of expanding a sound for a bigger audience without completely violating their rootsy, honest, open writing, but like so many alt-country units (as I've mentioned before, I strongly dispute the "alt" label for this band; yes, they cater to the same crowd, but their work is much purer and almost entirely foregoes the "outlaw" imagery so beloved of their elders and peers) it's felt to me like they were continually bowing to the more-of-the-same demands from cultists. I know those people and pleasing them is not a good way to make interesting music. Fortunately, this blander, sleeker folk-rock record feels as frank and direct as Emotionalism and the like, even if it's on a far lower tier musically. I can't defend this strongly but it's very hard to dislike, and there's still the same poetic paranoia in the lyrics if you listen for it.

Deerhoof: The Magic (Polyvinyl)
As eclectic and disorganized as ever; Deerhoof is the White Album rendered as an entire career, though in their schlockier moments they flirt with the worst sort of easy, adolescent cynicism. They're easy to admire and hard to love, maybe because they're no great shakes as songwriters and their best work is "written" in the sound of studio tomfoolery. This new record has a few good moments, usually when it sounds like Dave Grohl covering tUnE-yArDs. Honestly, Deerhoof is the poster child of bands for whom the fragmentation of music culture has been to obvious and highly visible benefit, and they've been around long enough to know it -- their followers' love for them is hopefully mutual.

Blood Orange: Freetown Sound (Domino) [r]
It was already proven on Cupid Deluxe if not earlier still that Dev Hynes has the masquerade game down, a cornucopia of decades' worth of R&B processed through the tripped-out glitz and distance of Great Britain. In other words, the multi-instrumentalist's aesthetics are flawless, and as with Frank Ocean's Blonde, snip this record down to its first half and you might not believe the stuff you're thinking: that he loves not just the music I love but the things about it that I love. Like so many lengthy new albums, it loses the plot, gets sleepy and belabors itself in a way that starts to seem almost grotesque, and it's again a triumph of style over depth despite its streak of freak-flag individualism, but there's so much here to treasure. On "Augustine," Maxwell meets Moby meets Enya; the nocturnal hooks of "Best to You" top anything I've heard on the radio this year; "E.V.P." is blessed with a beat and keyboard histrionics that feel like Bernie Worrell rising from the grave; and "But You" is the sort of gentle, freeing ballad that still bumps in the best "The Lady in My Life" tradition. There are more moments that sound like fallen fragments of hits and classics we've yet to know on "Hands Up" and "Hadron Collider." At its best this is brilliant, and utterly persuasive as a step forward for its author -- but less would be so much more.

G.L.O.S.S.: Trans Day of Revenge (Total Negativity EP)
Busy with other stuff earlier in the year, I missed the whole story here which started with this showing up immediately after the awful Orlando nightclub shooting -- if you can parse out its message, it advocates against pacifism on the part of LGBTQ victims of prejudice -- and ended with the band imploding by the end of the summer, relative anonymity not having been enough to retain a feeling of safety, especially after Pitchfork broadly expanded their stage. This will probably be important years from now as an artifact of the most awful aspects of our time; taken strictly as a piece of music, it's too screamy for this guy and I can't review it cogently.

The Avalanches: Wildflower (astralwerks)
And speaking of less would be more: one of the most eagerly and justifiably awaited records of the century is... not boring exactly, but exhausting. The public conception by the Avalanches' account is of a walk through a busy downtown area a la Touch of Evil, leading to an LSD trip that lifts us all off the ground. Thus we spend the first third with some exciting, if disappointly conventional, festivals of hooks and samples like the klezmer-infected "Frankie Sinatra" (boasting a terrific Danny Brown interlude) and "Because I'm Me." You can carp about how surprisingly familiar and even obvious some of the sample choices are (the Honey Cone's disco masterpiece "Want Ads" and the Bar-Kays' mined-to-death "Sang and Dance" make appearances, as does a chorus of kids singing "Come Together"; I'm half-surprised they didn't throw in "Genius of Love") but the intoxicating grit and exuberance of those first several tracks suggests a level of restlessness right in line with the perfectly infallible Since I Left You. But roundabout the time the drugs kick in the whole thing collapses into an interminable collection of Beautiful Music cues by way of the Free Design or worse, Spanky & Our Gang. How is it possible that a high-tech 2016 conception of drugginess can be so vastly less interesting or edgy than "Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Eight Miles High"? This might be a fun, brief avenue in the record, but it completely swallows it. You think it's almost over and there's nine or ten songs left, the only breaks in the monotony being the fun but formulaic "Frontier Psychiatrist" sequel "The Noisy Eater" and an irresistibly beautiful finale called "Saturday Night Inside Out." This seems like a classic case of overthinking, if anything, which results in a record that hammers its thin point incessantly. Against the odds, the Avalanches were upstaged on the year's best cut and paste job by Samiyam.

The Julie Ruin: Hit Reset (Hardly Art) [r]
Coming off one of the most engaging guitar albums of the last few years, Run Fast, Kathleen Hanna and her cohorts double down on that record's moderate abrasiveness. She has no problem annoying you, driving the '80s garage hooks on songs like "Mr. So and So" and "Planet You" right under your nails. Those hooks do stay in place though, no matter how much the band tries to demolish them -- by the second time through you'll be humming or yelling along with "I Decide," "Rather Not" and "Let Me Go" at the very least. I miss the feeling of easy triumph I got from "Oh Come On," "Just My Kind" and "Run Fast," but given how many times Hanna's been derailed by health problems, her defiance is inescapably admirable, and standing your ground might be just as respectable a maneuver as towering.

Michael Kiwanuka: Love & Hate (Interscope) [r]
29 year-old British R&B singer Kiwanuka has a breadth of influence spanning the entire history of rock and soul music; his work goes down smoothly but at times shows off complex, adventurous arrangements and left-field songs that coax and tease without resolving, like "One More Night" and "Love & Hate," which devolves into a simple chant that grows increasingly distorted, the kind of weird stunt you'd never anticipate in this context. Indeed, what makes this record valuable despite how easy it is to enjoy is the ample tension in it, much of it coming -- in the age-old story -- from being "a black man in a white world."

Maxwell: blackSUMMER'Snight (Columbia) [r]
One of the bigger surprises of 2016, with the former superstar neo-soul singer-songwriter-producer who was ubiquitous on radio twenty years ago issuing his first record this decade, one of the subtlest and most provocative mainstream LPs of recent vintage. It's not quite on the same level as Black Messiah -- much of Maxwell's attention is still focused on low-lit bedrooms, which is not necessarily a less noble cause than the fear, sex and dread in D'Angelo's sprawling magnum opus, but Maxwell seems so much healthier and less dysfunctional that even interpersonal stress doesn't seem to shake him into a paranoid state -- but musically at least, it shows the same willingness to withhold relief in favor of the subtle drama of calamitous, intricate groove. It gets repetitive in the last third, but "Fingers Crossed," "Hostage" and "Gods" are impressively haunting, precarious constructions.

ScHoolboy Q: Blank Face LP (Interscope)
Never found this guy exceptionally trustworthy. Rap operas about The Life are already a hard sell at this point, but especially when you get the weird feeling so much of what you're hearing is a put-on, and so much of the rest of it is just weak ("THat Part," complete with one of the worst verses in Kanye West's recorded career). There is some decent, varied production but in a year with so much great hip hop, ScHoolboy neither innovates nor coasts confidently. And once again, I get why people are annoyed by this criticism, but this album is so fucking long. Since I already find him irritating, though, you might well hear something else in this.

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ALSO RECOMMENDED
William Tyler: Modern Country (Merge) - unassuming guitar vibes with the occasional heroic move, definitely one for the silent scoring file; Tyler is excellent live, if you have the opportunity
William Bell: This Is Where I Live (Stax) - at 77, still full of energy; a set of laid-back, ingratiating takes, only a lukewarm cover of "Born Under a Bad Sign" really failing... at its best, like a great drink in a dive bar
Beth Orton: Kidsticks (Anti-) - nothing that will surprise you, but engrossing and smart
Allen Toussaint: American Tunes (Nonesuch) - on his final recording, the usual peacetime piano with a haunting dimension of present past

ORPHAN TUNES:
Kate Jackson "The End of Reason" [British Road Movies]

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REJECTS:
Tony Joe White: Rain Crow [NYIM]
Flue: Skin
The Hotelier: Goodness [NYIM]
Big Thief: Masterpiece
Daniel Romano: Mosey
The Monkees: Good Times! [NYIM]
Kate Jackson: British Road Movies
Cat's Eyes: Treasure House
Mick Harvey: Delirium Tremens
Fennesz: It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry [NYIM]
GØGGS
Beyond the Wizards Sleeve: The Soft Bounce
Metronomy: Summer 08
Martha: Blisters in the Pit of My Heart
Bat for Lashes: The Bride
Billy Clyro: Ellipsis
Roisin Murphy: Take Her Up to Monto [NYIM]
Clams Casino: 32 Levels [NYIM]

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* Shura: Nothing's Real
Anthony Joseph: Caribbean Roots
Ian William Craig: Centres
BadBadNotGood: IV

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