Back in May, in the absence of any potential future gigs in my current town, I started a new DJing podcast called Sleaze of the Boom Years. I've posted two episodes so far; they consist of me playing a block of records then chatting briefly and informally about what you've just heard. Repeat four times. They are quite long and not meant to be heard in one sitting unless your schedule is that clear. I'm going to try to get the length under control a bit next time. Here is Episode #1, devoted exclusively to stuff from my vinyl collection, some of it very famous, some not so much. Here is Episode #2, which makes an attempt to flow slightly less jarringly. I would have posted a third episode in July but the month was a mess because of family medical issues and I've not been home much. I'll try to find time soon.
The summer of 2017 has been almost overrun with interesting archival releases that are worth noting here. I talked a bit about the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper reissue set last month, a miraculous collection mostly because at one time it seemed the Beatles would never publicly mine their outtakes again. In terms of the finished product, however, you'll find much more pleasure forthcoming from the exhaustively complete Purple Rain deluxe collection, the first foray into Prince's fabled vault since his death. The set gathers the remastered album (I'm told the mastering is too loud but haven't confirmed), a disc of outstanding studio outtakes, and a collection of all of the non-album material corresponding to that era of his career, including alternate edits. I would probably have sequenced that last disc differently but who cares. The physical set also includes a live DVD, which I've not yet seen but I may stoop to buying compact discs just to get it. Less momentous but no less special to me personally is Radiohead's OK Computer: OKNOTOK 20th anniversary triple-vinyl set; the new third record offers all of the b-sides and three newly completed outtakes from that project, whose importance in my own life I attempted to track in a long narrative posted at my other blog. If you sprung for the super-expensive deluxe set at Radiohead's website you also got a cassette of unreleased material, which has of course leaked online and which I'm anxious to hear when I get the time. The commercial set is handsome, although leaving the booklet out seems like a huge oversight.
The Beach Boys' Wild Honey finally received the treatment it's long deserved as well, in a double-set called 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow, which is the finest and most focused archival collection of Beach Boys music in many years. Perhaps The Smile Sessions was more of an event, but the music wasn't as good. I'll be posting a complete review of this collection in the next few days to add to my BB discography pages. Only thing is, I wish we'd gotten something along the same lines for Today! and Summer Days. In the process of researching the contents of the new release I discovered that Capitol quietly released a 1960s-vintage Beach Boys performance as a new live album late last year, with no fanfare whatsoever. It will be added to my extant entry on live albums soon as well.
Three more of Yoko Ono's momentous '70s albums on Apple saw reissue via Secretly Canadian this month: Fly, the magnificent Approximately Infinite Universe and Feeling the Space (which I discovered I had forgotten to grade and include when building my original albums list, oops). These are exceptionally generous packages and it's a thrill to finally own these wondrous records physically, joining the reissue of Yoko Ono/Plastic Ono Band last year. And finally, a much-awaited Pet Shop Boys reissue campaign began, with the dual purposes of continuing their old "Further Listening" series to encompass their later Parlophone albums, and of circumventing the outrageous market that's sprung up for vinyl copies of some of their records. I picked up Release myself and look forward to the reissues of Behavior, Very and Bilingual. And someday I'll even hear the bonus tracks.
But all the while, new music continues to accumulate, and here's another batch -- delayed yet again by external events both within and beyond my control.
Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (Caroline) [r]
These guitars are absolute heaven -- Moore fires off into the subsconscious with these endless drones, robust and powerful like you could live in them -- but then he ruins the vibe completely with his damn singing, which sounds thin and silly in this environment. What a spectacular noise he makes here all the same, though; play "Smoke of Dreams" and "Exalted" loud and find yourself wishing they went on even longer.
Feist: Pleasure (Interscope) [r]
Everything Feist has done since The Reminder has been slightly polite and ineffectual in comparison, even though her launching point seems to be "The Limit to Your Love," her very best song, but still good and worthwhile. The arrangements on her fifth (fourth "proper") album are splendidly idiosyncratic, running down melodic rabbit holes like those on the almost spiritual "Get Not High, Get Not Low," contrasting the florid with the stark in its dynamic production (listen to "A Man Is Not His Song" to hear how she can make a song sound simultaneously expansive and restrained). And even as her songwriting remains curiously uneven -- would the covers that filled out Let It Die relieve the pressure a bit, one wonders? -- her voice still brings chills, with the peak "I'm Not Running Away" harking back to her interpretation of "When I Was a Young Girl" in its earthiness and purity, the kind of song that feels like it existed long before any of us were alive to hear or sing it.
Mark Lanegan Band: Gargoyle (PIAS)
The usual: very classic rawk, very QOTSA with a bit of Dave Navarro goth, very not me.
Brad Paisley: Love and War (Arista)
44 year-old West Virginia native is one of modern country's most celebrated singer-songwriters, capturing the all-American pursuit of meaning well on this amiable collection that struggles with the usual insipid production and lazy writing of seemingly every new record that spews forth from the mainstream of the genre in its present state. He writes about ruined summers, "selfies" and "the internet," Johnny Cash and June Carter, nostalgia, even disgruntled veterans, but I never get the sense that he's putting himself out there or at any sort of risk as he hobnobs around with the increasingly banal likes of Mick Jagger, Timbaland and John Fogerty. 44 probably isn't too early to surrender to being Dad, but 33 is too young to listen to this mess without cringing.
Mac DeMarco: This Old Dog (Captured Tracks) [c]
DeMarco adds shades of psychedelia and even pu-- oh fuck it I can't tell one song from the next from this jackass and I won't lie to you and pretend I can. But I really like the video for the first single.
Perfume Genius: No Shape (Matador)
It's like if Xiu Xiu wasn't deliberately trolling us. I was sold on Mark Hadreas' voice a long time ago but this is his least engaging album to date (meanwhile I'm reeling from the knowledge that it's already three fucking years since the last one), with not one song that bursts through like those two-minute concoctions that could sink their teeth into you so deeply ("Hood" and "Dark Parts," of course, but also "Fool"), and the lyrics seem like a step down. At first it seemed like the songs being uninspired were the problem, just a lackluster set, but his own performance suffers as well, full of affectation and (to my ears) little feeling. Melodramatic anthems are well covered elsewhere; what I miss here is intimacy, immediacy. The production remains beautiful, of course... and also, yeah, kind of annoying.
Slowdive (Dead Oceans) [hr]
Slowdive were one of the bands, Creation labelmates of My Bloody Valentine out of Reading, that I listened to during my exhaustively dedicated shoegaze phase that lasted about a month while I was single, but they never really became a habit the way MBV and Lush did, even though I liked two of their three 1990s albums. (I never heard the last one, Pygmalion, which added electronics.) It could not be said, therefore, that I was anticipating their fiscally wise reunion with bated breath, but their new record finds the quintet reconvening for eight expansive, stunning new songs that instantly render moot any question of nostalgia or revivalism. To describe its sound is misrepresentative and inadequate: yes, dreamlike vocals (by Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell) and beautiful, ringing riffs and maxed-out noise, but there's a reason that people are celebrating it not as a return to form but as a band that has unexpectedly found its voice, and all the vitality implied by that. What makes Slowdive such an achievement is that its songs operate perfectly as a complement to their sonic dynamics and, in terms of their singing and performing of them, the band's subservience to sheer feeling. Written and recorded with the intention of taking it on the road, the LP has the warmth and immediacy of a live rather than a studio creation, mixed at Sunset Sound in L.A. by Chris Coady (whose productions for Beach House are beloved by Slowdive, the influenced influencing the influencers) and rendered as a record for now that's also totally out of time. You can feel it defining your moment. Speaking for myself, its lullabies for the lost are everything I hoped mbv would be and more, from the lilting and bliss of "Star Roving" and "Sugar for the Pill" to the orgasmic "No Longer Making Time". There are great young shoegaze bands that can sweep you up and turn your head right around -- I've come to find Pity Sex's White Hot Moon more and more tragically gorgoeus since they imploded, and I don't think Pinkshinyultrablast's sound is comparable to much else that's happening -- but there's a great deal to be said for the sheer elegance and craft wrought here by the veterans.
The Afghan Whigs: In Spades (Sub Pop)
Cincinnati post-grunge outfit was widely celebrated in the 1990s; I was never aware of them at the time, they've remained a blind spot for me ever since and this is the first album of theirs I have heard. You may claim that I'm therefore missing the context to appreciate it, but that's certainly not a problem with Slowdive, and this just sounds like shitty generic rock to me with very little range. Doesn't mean their old stuff wasn't good, but this isn't.
Pond: The Weather (Marathon Artists) [r]
Not to be confused with yet another '90s act of the same name, this psychedelic Perth group sounds like Bradford Cox or Ariel Pink fronting Deerhoof. Their seventh album (!) is apparently a progression beyond its predecessor, Man It Feels Like Space Again, which I called "Grizzly Bear-lite" in 2015. (I don't remember it, tbh.) Eclectic and weird and emotionally messy, this took a little while to sink it but its slapdash intricacies do end up asserting themselves.
PWR BTTM: Pageant (Polyvinyl [cancelled])
Ill-fated New York punk-queercore duo's second record is a series of anthemic, occasionally goofy and brash songs meant to empower a primarily LGBTQ audience. Singer-guitarist Ben Hopkins had several allegations of sexual assault weighed against him just before this record was issued, resulting in the release being cancelled and pulled from streaming services, the band dropped from their label, but not before a good number of fawning reviews had already made the rounds. You can still hear it on Youtube, to which it's been banished despite the fact that a similar censure never seems to be inflicted upon straight musicians who face similar or worse accusations. (Forget Surfer Blood and Chris Brown; Lostprophets and Charles Manson's albums remain available on Spotify.) I don't want to harp on Polyvinyl, a great label, or on other folks for trying to do their part to do the right thing -- maybe all this means is that those directly affected by this are more conscientious, or maybe times are just changing for the better. But our concern here, where we celebrate all too many problematic artists, is the music, and it's not too great. The revisionist opinion of one writer who says their work now seems "hollow" is onto something, only I don't think the absence of recent news would make me feel any differently about it since these are mostly "Jesse's Girl"-style power chord songs that engage occasionally but mostly pander awkwardly and wouldn't warrant nearly as much excitement if the band's openness about gender and sexuality weren't understandably seen as liberating. Pitchfork posted an article stating that "queer kids deserve better," and they do, not that you'd know it from the publication that dismisses or ignores LGBT musicians such as Ezra Furman and Kate Tempest, but I guess that's none of my business.
Girlpool: Powerplant (Anti-)
Band name is the best thing about this Los Angeles trio, who aren't bad but employ the same boring, whispery vocal style and pedstrian guitar playing on every single track that comprises their second album. The results aren't unpleasant but I can't imagine why all the attention.
(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (Domino) [r]
Alexander Giannascoli hails from suburban Pennsylvania and has spent time in what sounds like a commune where he makes inscrutable bedroom pop in the vein of Ariel Pink and Beck, and his career (this is his second album on Domino after the lovely, strange Beach Music under the name Alex G) has grown organically from music he made for the amusement of his family and friends. Rocket lurches between genres and ideas so violently, and with such conviction, that it can be exhausting, spinning folk and metal plates while remaining best at a weird impasse of intimate country music with an Elliott Smith tone, though "Big Fish" uncannily recalls an early Ben Gibbard song whose name escapes me. "Proud" and "Bobby" are terrific songs, sung like they have the wind of history behind them. The ramshackle structure has its charm but the energy does flag, yours if not his.
Land of Talk: Life After Youth (Saddle Creek)
Probably weird to take on a guitar band and say you mostly just like the arrangements, but this rough Montreal collective led by one Elizabeth Powell has all the polish and professionalism that comes from a second coming (Powell was active in the Bush and early Obama years; I missed her entirely) and a song like "Inner Lover" sounds radio-ready, but the songs tend to be forgettable. It's either a gateway to something better or the first ebbs of a gradual surrender.
The Mountain Goats: Goths (Merge) [hr]
John Darnielle raises a glass to the KROQ bands -- the real goths and their many imitators -- and the cultists who made their moment and legacy sing out in all its leather-clad, blackened intensity. Darnielle's not joking about his affinity for this now-dormant universe (of course there are still goths, but he's interested in the former goths who laugh nervously when you remind them of this time in their lives), but in an abrupt break from Beat the Champ and many of his other records, he's aligning himself with the mainstream of historical narrative if not musical relevance. Celebrated alternative rock is closer to the wheelhouse of most of Darnielle's fan base than almost anything else he's talked about at length, from meth houses to Bible verses to local wrestling matches, and in a strange sense the direct, literal celebration of Sisters of Mercy, Siouxsie and the Banshees (who, lest we forget, inspired Thom Yorke to pursue a musical career, hardly Darnielle's usual casual company) and Gene Loves Jezebel would seem at a glance to be a kind of surrender away from his usual esoteric, unguarded lyricism. What he's actually doing is pushing himself both lyrically and musically, and I don't think I'm saying this because he's singing about and within a world I feel I understand well: not just the era and the genre; after all, I'm more a Flock of Seagulls and Depeche Mode guy than a Birthday Party guy, though I'm sure we could agree on Joy Division. I'm referring to Goths as a paean to California, to its youth culture and music, as deeply felt and honest in its fashion as Endless Summer. The lazy horns, the bursts of sonic energy, the colorful pallette, and the most elaborate Mountain Goats arrangements since The Life of the World to Come gather together to create a parallel narrative with the one indicated on the cover. "Rain in Soho" is kind of an aesthetic lampoon, and the likes of "We Do It Different on the West Coast" and "Unicorn Tolerance" are just slightly expansive, focused variants on the usual Goats material. But on the striking, incredibly engaging "Andrew Eldritch Is Moving Back to Leeds" and on the outstanding suite that begins with "Paid in Cocaine" and ends with the absolutely staggering New Order clone "Shelved," Darnielle and his band push themselves past every sense of expectation and persona and lose themselves in love of a kind of music they've never played before. Does that mean they're growing anonymous, or does that mean they're willing to let these songs sing them while they can? Darnielle alleges that he fully expects people to forget the Mountain Goats one day as completely as they forgot Gene Loves Jezebel. I find it hard to believe that a catharsis this felt, wise and impassioned would be so moving if it came from a less surprising source, and I find it hard to imagine a source capable of such unexpected turns and such personal and varied communication fading into the ether, but maybe I'm just the same kind of lonely fan as Darnielle is here. Either way, this is the most brilliant album about rock & roll since Saint Etienne's Words and Music.
Jlin: Black Origami (Planet Mu) [hr]
Jlin's Dark Energy was somewhat more carefully structured as some sort of dance music than this abrasive, furiously busy collection of playful keyboard loops and often maddening samples. It's all too much, yet it's somehow perfect -- as constantly entertaining as a Chemical Brothers album but as bizarrely addictive in its punchy, noisy restlessness as Crystal Castles or Vessel. It's the ideal motivator for riding out a catastrophe, or staying extra alert while driving, and like Oneohtrix Point Never's R Plus Seven, it has a homespun creative-loafing quality that makes it both modestly impressive and consistently engaging.
Charly Bliss: Guppy (Barsuk) [hr]
Wikipedia lists this fierce but airy Brooklyn quartet (which includes the kid who played Dash in The Incredibles!) as having opened for Veruca Salt and Sleater-Kinney, so I feel less guilty for bringing up that they recall '90s moden rock radio for me -- but not in the strained, obviously deliberate manner of Yuck or Cloud Nothings, more like the organic sense you get with a group like Royal Headache that they're just proud of what formed them. And like Royal Headache, they can write up a storm -- their songs lean punk in arrangement but pure pop in composition, plus furious and funny lyrically, and with Eva Hendricks' terrifically ingratiatingly youthful vocals they bring thoughts of the immortal Cardigans, who I also remember being labeled "bubblegum grunge" at one point. Hendricks sets the stage for the entire record on the introductory "Percolator" when she lets out a spontaneous scream that struggles and succeeds at being heard above the bed of swaying feedback and guitars. Hendricks' lyrics are so splendidly direct, unflinching and familiar, it's like if you stripped the melodrama away from our classic teenage music of yore, even though she's a self-avowed fan of metaphor and hyperbole. There are songs about hookup anxiety, getting high during a show, dreading the looming threat of a day job if this doesn't all work out, kissing someone and instantly regretting it, and just the fully conscious miraculousness of being young and loud. Some people think little girls should be seen and not heard, but we think "Does he love me most now that his dog is toast?"
Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ (Cinematic) [hr]
Meanwhile, here's an album about the constant terror and dread of being young and loud. Bada$$ is the same age, roughly, as Hendricks and hails from the same borough, but on his second full-length record he sees, like so many before him, no possible respite from the institutional impossibility of living life in these United States if you are not white and well-off. With steady beats by 1-900 and a number of seemingly off-script rants about taking up arms against power, and sobering commentary that a Trump administration spells the beginning of the end, it's a strikingly emphatic, angry political record that makes no use of metaphor or hyperbole. It is not cynical, resigned or pessimistic like There's a Riot Goin' On, it's a statement of purpose that begins with the premise that everything is fucked and has to change. It's quite difficult to find anything to really argue with in his conclusions, and impressive that such a popular performer is choosing to address his audience on these terms so early in his career. Maybe its ideas are "undercooked" if you find it easy to dismiss these as frivolous, youthful, misplaced passions to be set aside once the first 401K payments start, or maybe we're being confronted with truths we would like very much to deny. If the screed that closes "Amerikkkan Idol" is less crafty than Kate Tempest's "Tunnel Vision," its pleadings are no less vividly wise and impassioned.
Freddie Gibbs: You Only Live 2wice (ESGN) - a well-produced, morally suspect Second Coming
Spiral Stairs: Doris & the Daggers (Domino) - so difficult to hate Bud Lite rock when you know how much heart there is in it
Saltland: A Common Truth (Constellation) - cellist Rebecca Foon swoons into the long night and I'd seldom slept better before I noticed the subject
Orchestra Baobob: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit) - maybe a little too soft but it sounds good
Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (Mute) - hey, someone's weaning them off the Tylenol PM ["Systemagic"]
Les Amazones D'Afrique: Republique Amazone (Real World) - worldbeat is back, if a little generic and polished
IFE: IIII + IIII (Discos Ifá) - pop gets thrown back at us from Yoruba, delightfully; Rostam should join this gang ["Yumavision"]
ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES: (in addition to Jlin above)
Jacques Greene: Feel Infinite (LuckyMe)
Hauschka: What If (Temporary Residence) - maybe a little too much like what they pipe into hospital rooms; "We Live a Thousand Years"]
Actress: AZD (Ninja Tune)
Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supertown)
FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* Sylvan Esso: What Now
* Paramore: After Laughter
Wilsen: I Go Missing in My Sleep
Mary J. Blige: Strength of a Woman
Ryuichi Sakamoto: async
Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony
Juana Molino: Halo
Forest Swords: Compassion
Don Bryant: Don't Give Up on Love
Do Make Say Think: Stubborn Persistent Illusions
Jane Weaver: Modern Kosmology
Chastity Brown: Silhouette of Sirens
Lydia Ainsworth: Darling of the Afterglow
Rodney Crowell: Close Ties [NYIM]
Yorkston/Thorne/Khan: Neuk Wight Delhi All Stars
The New Year: Snow [NYIM]
Little Cub: Still Life
Willie Nelson: God's Problem Child [NYIM]
John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies
Colin Stetson: All This I Do for Glory
Mark Mulcahy: The Possom in the Driveway
BNQT: Volume 1
Bill Baird: Easy Machines [NYIM]
John Moreland: Big Bad Luv
Chris Stapleton: From a Room Vol. 1 [NYIM]
Joan Shelley [NYIM]
Bonnie "Prince" Billy: Best Troubador [NYIM]
Black Lips: Satan's Graffiti or God's Art?
At the Drive-In: In-ter a-li-a
Ozomatli: Non-Stop: Mexico to Jamaica [NYIM]
Will Stratton: Rosewood Almanac
Jim Jones & the Righteous Mind: Super Natural
Paul Weller: A Kind Revolution [god, this is depressing]
Pumarosa: The Witch
Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures, Pt. 1
Aldous Harding: Party
Nick Hakim: Green Twins
Pokey Lafarge: Manic Revelations
Wavves: You're Welcome
OLD RECORDS RATED (NOT REVIEWED) THIS MONTH
Avey Tare: Down There (Paw Tracks 2010) [r]
Beach House: B-Sides and Rarities (Sub Pop 2009-2017/2017) [-]
Yoko Ono: Feeling the Space (Apple 1973) [hr]