Sunday, December 31, 2017

The Best Albums of 2017

Cut Copy redeems 2017 at the Music Farm in Charleston, early this month. Photo by meee.

I've had a lot of conversations about "narratives" this year. In short, I'm sick of them. In the age we're living in politically, what's even the point? 2017 isn't a straight line from 2008; we thought 2008 was positively nuts. I won't sit here and tell you that great music doesn't reflect the current moment; god, my two favorites last year -- the albums that completely defined the final month of election season and the immediate aftermath for me, in fact -- were Danny Brown's Atrocity Exhibition and Kate Tempest's Let Them Eat Chaos, both of which were about nothing if not the anguish of right-now. Looking over my 2017 list and remembering my experience with each of these records, weighed with how they come across to me now, there certainly is music that's about how it feels to live, endure or deny our collective bout of insanity. Jlin, Laurel Halo and Iglooghost amplify the idea of sensory overload until it overtakes your brain to such an extent that other music and life itself sound quaint for a time.

But life isn't quaint, it's volatile and unpredictable and harrowing in ways art can't predict. 2017 has been the year in which we functioned in the shadow of "It." I'm not just talking about what you think I'm talking about, and when I say "we" I literally mean "we," myself and my family; you can include yourself if you want. I watched an immediate family member die this year, and everything I heard or did or consumed in 2017 is in that shadow; that was our "It." The United States took decisive steps -- by no means its first -- toward fascism; it feels palpably like the first act of the fiery end of humanity more than at any other point in my lifetime to date. That was my "It," too; that was everyone's "It." One's dealings with "It" automatically generate narrative. To borrow an analogy my teenage self would deeply appreciate, the lighting crash of last November is like the moment on The Downward Spiral when there's that sudden bang and one of the two channels stays distorted for the rest of the album. That's right, the whole world became less a disaster movie than a silly concept album. Nonetheless I'm not convinced that being steeped into every detail of our own reactions to "It" is the right way to cope, to go on (not to go on as if nothing happened but simply to go on, as a character puts it in Renoir's The River) or quite frankly to make art that genuinely lasts. (Mount Eerie disagrees with me.)

There are some records with traces of activism and anxiety that of course I can hear resonating strongly across eras; after all, think of how much still-beloved music of the Nixon era is protest music. Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. -- a much more interesting and engrossing record than it initially looks to be -- chronicles a feeling of ennui in the aftermath of "It" while also sorting out internal dramas and devoting itself to just thrilling the largest possible audience. Joey Bada$$, as wide-eyed and earnest in his way as John Lennon circa Some Time in New York City while saying a great deal that both hurts to hear and needs to be vocalized, is less hesitant in his full-fledged attack on "It" and its implications; he interestingly left the supposed bangers -- which aren't nearly as good, bold or inspiring -- off the full-length and issued them as singles. Depeche Mode's strongest album in over a decade gains its vitality -- and reasserts that band's solid reliability -- through a disgust they correctly surmise is nearly universal among, we'd hope, the kind of people who think fondly of Depeche Mode.

But this is also the era in which an endlessly punchable Neo-Nazi proclaimed Mode the music of their movement -- so a band that, despite sustained popularity across decades, hasn't been in a "zeitgeist" for twenty-plus years, if ever, suddenly became headline news briefly. Dave Gahan shutting down the assertion with enjoyable nonchalance didn't change the fact that narrative was having its way. Depeche Mode was never theirs, they were ours -- and those were elastic terms, of course. "They" might be the normal kids in your high school (at mine, it meant the homophobes), or rock critics in the '80s who understood neither the band's love of Shadow Morton-sized melodrama nor their humor (which continues right through Martin Gore's soulful intonation of "oh, we're fucked" on Spirit) but one asshole says one thing and the most dependably minding-their-own-business of all megapopular bands has to react. And as an extrapolation, an opinion of Spirit was no longer just an opinion but a political statement.

On sitting down to write this essay, I realized that talking about the mood of this time and talking about the best music I heard during it were two markedly different things; as implied above, it isn't a strict distinction at all, but I would be lying if I told you that I thought our collective, constant horror at "It" and what "It" means and what "It" did to our lives and the lives of our loved ones was the essence of the full-length records I've come to truly love recently. It was hard for me to locate albums this year with a real throughline of the kind of soulfulness and consistency that keeps me yearning to return to a record again and again, to consider it as a full piece, to dissect and fall in love with it. There was so much terrific music released this year, all the same, and much of it did cope with this specific reality; but I find myself more interested in what would resonate equally across any situation, better or worse. Kendrick Lamar and Sheer Mag, to name but two, locate the universal in specifics; Nadine Shah, whose Holiday Destination is the most slept-on and vital-to-this-moment of my four A-grade records this year, delves into the personal within the political, and vice versa in a manner that exudes compassion and critical self-examination. Chastity Belt is more of the former, less of the latter, with a sometimes devastating bleakness and honesty mixed in. The thing is, not only do we need these voices now, I firmly believe we'll continue to need them. As with Depeche Mode, that's as likely to be "we" in a private sense, alone in our rooms with headphones on, as in the social, "important," buzz-clip sense; that does matter, and maybe I should be forcing it to matter more.

But immersing oneself in Slowdive, a twenty-year dormant act come back from the dead better than ever? Delighting and swooning at the most well-crafted and elaborately performed Mountain Goats record to date? (As long as I breathe I'll never forget the first time I heard the bridge kick in during "Shelved" and thought holy fuck he's committing to this.) Putting the windows down to Vince Staples at just the time of day when you know it will annoy your neighbors the most? Thrilling to the family-homemade qualities of Loyle Carner's record, being able to hear how much it means to him to be able to make it? Wanting to hug Valerie June and London O'Connor for entirely different reasons? Exploring, studying, poring over the words Sarah Cracknell sings on Saint Etienne's record and then forgetting what you've learned and just luxuriating in the longing in her voice? If none of these feelings are as timeless as the feeling of dropping the needle on Joanna Newsom's Divers or D'Angelo's Black Messiah, they're as close as we can get with so much tension in the air and so much trauma surrounding seemingly everybody in some volume. I'm not saying it doesn't matter when these things happened. I'm not saying these people don't have great stories that brought them to this point. What I'm saying is that these were musical moments I loved and they seem less alien than anything about "It," or anything surrounding "It," and they're important and good for that reason. But that doesn't make for a catchy essay about what. it. all. means.

One of my favorite bands who've been good for a long, long time recorded my favorite album of the year, which is about a semi-dead movement I mostly only know about third-hand, but its empathy and detail strike me as both intensely touching and mordantly witty -- variants on a theme that it transforms into high drama, every song remarking upon the others like on The Village Green Preservation Society. Number four was by a rapper who'd previously not done much for me, but his adoption of beats and brevity made the difference. We saw Kate Tempest, Cut Copy and the Mountain Goats play live, surrounded by others like us, all simultaneous catharsis about and respite from "It." These were my favorite albums in 2017 -- mostly concise and hard-hitting, with a lot of variance within and collectively -- and that's all there is to say, ultimately, beyond discussing and comparing our choices and swapping recommendations. Music isn't just some recreational distraction here, it's why we cope with the other shit, and what helps that coping. But does "this helped me cope" generate clicks? And can we keep doing what we do, honestly and passionately, if it doesn't?

***

Boring Statistics: Reviewed/rated 208 albums in 2017, up from 173 last year. Sampled and rejected an additional 205; total 413, down from 427 in 2016.

About the list: Highly recommended albums are bolded, and my top ten is enlarged with capsule reviews linked; anything else in the top fifty probably warrants a closer look if you have the right ears. I keep rankings throughout the year and then re-listen to everything with an A- or A grade (highly recommended) for this post, so those upper numbers are meticulously decided upon. The rankings are a lot less precise from #27 down to the hundreds, and there are some albums in the lower reaches that I only heard in full once or twice. I know that isn't ideal but I've only got so much time, and I don't think I'll steer you wrong here, as everything I put in the monthly posts is quite carefully considered. This was a good year for good albums (and great songs), not so much for excellent or great albums; but my top four could stand up in just about any year. Most years it pains me to decide which two or three favorites will have to be squeezed out of the top ten; this year it was much harder to decide what really deserved to make the cut the most. But on exploring all this material again, I'm quite happy with the final rank and I hope you enjoy perusing it.

***

50. Nicole Atkins: Goodnight Rhonda Lee (Single Lock)
49. Iron & Wine: Beast Epic (Sub Pop)
48. Youmi Zoumi: Willowbank (Cascine)
47. Antibalas: Where the Gods Are in Peace (Daptone)
46. The Horrors: V (Caroline)
45. (Sandy) Alex G: Rocket (Domino)
44. Surfer Blood: Snowdonia (Joyful Noise)
43. Lee Fields & the Expressions: Special Night (Big Crown)
42. William Basinski: A Shadow in Time (2062)
41. Blue Hawaii: Tenderness (Arbutus)
40. EMA: Exile in the Outer Ring (City Slang)
39. Juana Molino: Halo (Crammed Discs)
38. Angelino de Augustine: Swim Inside the Moon (Asthmatic Kitty)
37. Ben Frost: The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute)
36. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Soul of a Woman (Daptone)
35. Broken Social Scene: Hug of Thunder (Arts & Crafts)
34. Wolf Parade: Cry Cry Cry (Sub Pop)
33. Diet Cig: Swear I'm Good at This (Frenchkiss)
32. Jay Som: Everybody Works (Polyvinyl)
31. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines (Sub Pop)
30. Amber Coffman: City of No Reply (Columbia)
29. Peter Perrett: How the West Was Won (Domino)
28. Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black (Anti-)
27. Run the Jewels 3 (Mass Appeal)
26. The Flaming Lips: Oczy Mlody (Warner Bros.)
25. Depeche Mode: Spirit (Columbia)
24. Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star (Sub Pop)
23. The Underachievers: Renaissance (RPM)
22. Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp)
21. Valerie June: The Order of Time (Concord)
20. London O'Connor: O∆ (s/r)
19. Saint Etienne: Home Counties (Heavenly)
18. Charly Bliss: Guppy (Barsuk)
17. Loyle Carner: Yesterday's Gone (Virgin)
16. Joey Bada$$: All-Amerikkkan Badass (Cinematic)
15. Wolf Alice: Visions of a Life (RCA)
14. Iglooghost: Neo Wax Bloom (Brainfeeder)
13. Laurel Halo: Dust (Hyperdub)
12. Songhoy Blues: Resistance (Fat Possum)
11. Kendrick Lamar: DAMN. (Interscope)


10. Sheer Mag: Need to Feel Your Love
(Revolver) | A- | review

9. Cut Copy: Haiku from Zero
(astralwerks) | A- | review

8. Jlin: Black Origami
(Planet Mu) | A- | review

7. Chastity Belt: I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone
(Hardly Art) | A- | review

6. Ibibio Sound Machine: Uyai
(Merge) | A- | review

5. The National: Sleep Well Beast
(4AD) | A- | review

4. Vince Staples: Big Fish Theory
(Def Jam) | A | review

3. Slowdive
(Dead Oceans) | A | review

2. Nadine Shah: Holiday Destination
(1965 Records) | A | review

1. The Mountain Goats: Goths
(Merge) | A | review

***

THE NEXT FIFTY
51. Tyler, the Creator: Flower Boy (Columbia)
52. Don Bryant: Don't Give Up on Love (Fat Possum)
53. Paramore: After Laughter (Atlantic)
54. Bicep (Ninja Tune)
55. Dalek: Endangered Philosophies (Ipecac)
56. Steve Hauschildt: Strands (Kranky)
57. Ryuichi Sakamoto: async (Milan)
58. Dawn Richard: Redemption (Local Action)
59. American Wrestlers: Goodbye Terrible Youth (Fat Possum)
60. Benjamin Clementine: I Tell a Fly (Virgin)
61. L.A. Witch (Suicide Squeeze)
62. Thurston Moore: Rock N Roll Consciousness (Caroline)
63. IFE: IIII + IIII (Discos Ifa)
64. Sylvan Esso: What Now (Loma Vista)
65. The New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions (Concord)
66. Brian Eno: Reflection (Warp)
67. Waxahatchee: Out in the Storm (Merge)
68. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: The Kid (Western Vinyl)
69. Kelly Lee Owens (Smalltown Supersound)
70. Robyn Hitchcock (Yep Roc)
71. Jesca Hoop: Memories Are Now (Sub Pop)
72. Beth Ditto: Fake Sugar (Virgin)
73. Bjork: Utopia (One Little Indian)
74. Feist: Pleasure (Interscope)
75. Rostam: Half-Light (Nonesuch)
76. Teen Daze: Themes for Dying Earth (Flora)
77. Visible Cloaks: Reassemblage (Rvng Intl.)
78. Trombone Shorty: Parking Lot Symphony (Blue Note)
79. Moire: No Future (Ghostly)
80. Living Colour: Shade (Megaforce)
81. Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (Hyperdub)
82. Saltland: A Common Truth (Constellation)
83. Madness: Can't Touch Us Now (Universal)
84. Karriem Riggins: Headnod Suite (Stones Throw)
85. Deer Tick: Vol. 2 (Partisan)
86. Jupiter & Okwess: Kin Sonic (Glitterbeat)
87. Vagabon: Infinite Worlds (Father/Daughter)
88. Tinariwen: Elwan (Anti-)
89. The Clientele: Music for the Age of Miracles (Merge)
90. Zara McFarland: Arise (Brownswood)
91. Spoon: Hot Thoughts (Matador)
92. Blondie: Pollinator (BMG)
93. Denzel Curry: Imperial (Loma Vista)
94. Romare: Love Songs, Pt. 2 (Ninja Tune)
95. Portico Quartet: Art in the Age of Automation (Gondwana)
96. Gas: Narkopop (Kompakt)
97. This Is the Kit: Moonshine Freeze (Rough Trade)
98. Bonobo: Migration (Ninja Tune)
99. Mogwai: Every Country's Son (Temporary Residence)
100. FaltyDL Heaven Is for Quitters (Beat)

ALSO RECOMMENDED IN 2017
Floating Points: Reflections - Mojave Desert (Pluto)
Loscil: Monument Builders (Kranky)
Oddisee: The Iceberg (Mello Music)
The xx: I See You (Young Turks)
The Magnetic Fields: 50 Song Memoir (Nonesuch)
Lupe Fiasco: Drogas Light (Thirty Tigers)
SOHN: Rennen (4AD)
Ibeyi: Ash (XL)
The Heliocentrics: A World of Masks (Soundway)
Goldfrapp: Silver Eye (Mute)
Lindstrom: It's Alright Between Us as It Is (Smalltown Supersound)
Dizzee Rascal: Raskit (Universal)
Hauschka: What If (Temporary Residence)
Crystal Fairy (Ipecac)
Simian Mobile Disco: Welcome to Sideways (Delicacies)
Chuck Berry: Chuck (Dualtone)
Golden Retriever: Rotations (Thrill Jockey)
Freddie Gibbs: You Only Live 2wice (ESGN)
Sherwood & Pinch: Man vs. Sofa (On-U)
Jacques Green: Feel Infinite (LuckyMe)
PVT: New Spirit (felte)
Blanck Mass: World Eater (Sacred Bones)
TOPS: Sugar at the Gate (Arbutus)
Orchestra Baobob: Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit)
Allison Crutchfield: Tourist in This Town (Merge)
Destroyer: ken (Merge)
Molly Burch: Please Be Mine (Captured Tracks)
Beach Fossils: Somersault (Bayonet)
Actress: AZD (Ninja Tune)
Amadou & Mariam: La Confusion (Because)
Do Make Say Think: Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)
Sufjan Stevens/Bryce Dessner/Nico Muhly/James McAlister: Planetarium (4AD)
Samiyam: Pizza Party (Stones Throw)
Ty Segall (Drag City)
Les Amazones D'Afrique: Republique Amazone (Real World)
Forest Swords: Compassion (Ninja Tune)
Spiral Stairs: Doris & the Daggers (Domino)
Alison Moyet: Other (Cooking Vinyl)
Curren$y: The Fo20 Massacre (s/r)
The Shins: Heartworms (Sony)
Big Thief: Capacity (Saddle Creek)
Pond: The Weather (Marathon Artists)

***

EPs THAT SHOULD BE IN THE TOP TEN ALBUMS LIST
Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La (Customs)
Jlin: Dark Lotus (Planet Mu) [only two tracks, the second on Black Origami, but it was here first]
Holy Fuck: Bird Brains (Innovative Leisure)

OTHER EPs RECOMMENDED IN 2017
Rolling Blackouts C.F.: Talk Tight (Sub Pop 2016)
Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference (Young Turks)
The Mountain Goats: Marsh Witch Visions (s/r)
Anohni: Paradise (Secretly Canadian)

******

Sometime in the next week, we reflect with the List of Lists. In January, we reflect with a new series; later this year, the Essentials return. And at the end of 2018, it will be time already to start thinking about taking stock of this entire stupid fucking decade. Godspeed.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Best Songs of 2017

Nadine Shah; photo from Wikimedia.

Here's the first of your two annual end-of-year lists corresponding to absolutely nothing except my own personal taste and the whims of the moment -- or really, the whims of the year overall. For the first time ever (as far as I can recall) I committed to re-listening to every single track on this list and quite a few besides over the past few days to try and make this the best collection of shots and chasers I could; basically the top ten are instant classics I'm already sure I'll keep with me forever, the top fifty or so are probably also all-timers and I bet time will be good to them. The rest are just songs I really really like.

I don't know if there's much point to an introduction here about the "tone" of the year or whatever; a thread I noticed when going back over the songs I'd marked throughout the year is a feeling of warmth, first of all. I found myself moving songs by Martha Wainwright, Laura Marling and Sylvan Esso ever farther up in the ranks each time I heard them again because they felt full of such pangs of instant nostalgia, something I always find incredibly powerful, something that music alone seems able to achieve; they joined Jay Som's "The Bus Song," Slowdive's "No Longer Making Time" and Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever's "Tender Is the Neck" (technically from 2016, don't tell anyone) as the songs currently most likely to reduce me to an inexplicable emotional wreck. The other overarching theme this year is that we're really all hung over from the traumas last year, despite the tragedies large and small that have taken over our attentions, one atop the other since January. In fact maybe that's why we haven't been able to process 2016, and maybe it will be a long time before we can, but the paranoia and dread in Nadine Shah, Vince Staples, Chastity Belt and even the National feel like a megaphoned voice of what we're all thinking. In tying itself so explicitly to the moment, "2016" -- which could really be tied with "Big Fish" for #1 -- in fact promises a transcendence that will likely evoke the first year of Trump fifty years from now as much as D.A. Pennebaker's Monterey Pop evokes 1967, but Shah's empathy and clearheadedness don't have an analogue from the '60s, at least none that I know of, and certainly not from anyone who sounds the way she does or offers the perspective she can.

Still, we need relief. Thank god for Sheer Mag and Beth Ditto.

As usual, one song per album only, and I have indeed agonized appropriately over which song I would use to represent several of these records. Also as usual, I have prepared a Spotify playlist with my top tier of songs from this year sequenced coherently for your listening pleasure. This year I decided to let it run to fifty songs; if that's too much, talk to my manager.

***

1. Vince Staples "Big Fish" [Big Fish Theory]
2. Nadine Shah "2016" [Holiday Destination]
3. Jay Som "The Bus Song" [Everybody Works]
4. Rolling Blackouts C.F. "Tender Is the Neck" [Talk Tight EP]
5. Sheer Mag "Pure Desire" [Need to Feel Your Love]
6. Kendrick Lamar "LUST." [DAMN.]
7. Slowdive "No Longer Making Time" [s/t]
8. Beth Ditto "In and Out" [Fake Sugar]
9. The Mountain Goats "Shelved" [Goths]
10. Valerie June "Long Lonely Road" [The Order of Time]
11. Paramore "Hard Times" [After Laughter]
12. Chastity Belt "Complain" [I Used to Spend So Much Time Alone]
13. Swet Shop Boys "Zombie" [Sufi La EP]
14. The National "Carin at the Liquor Store" [Sleep Well Beast]
15. Ibibio Sound Machine "Give Me a Reason" [Uyai]
16. Cut Copy "Stars Last Me a Lifetime" [Haiku from Zero]
17. Zara McFarlane "Fussin' and Fightin'" [Arise]
18. Laura Marling "Always This Way" [Semper Femina]
19. Joey Bada$$ "Temptation" [All-Amerikkkan Badass]
20. Sparks "I Wish You Were Fun" [Hippopotamus]
21. Amber Coffman "All to Myself" [City of No Reply]
22. Sylvan Esso "Die Young" [What Now]
23. (Sandy) Alex G "Bobby" [Rocket]
24. Songhoy Blues "Voter" [Resistance]
25. Kelela "Blue Light" [Take Me Apart]
26. Jlin feat. Avril Stormy Unger "The Escape of the Blvck Rxbbit" [Dark Lotus EP]
27. London O'Connor "GUTS" [O∆]
28. Ibeyi "Away Away" [Ash]
29. American Wrestlers "Real People" [Goodbye Terrible Youth]
30. Surfer Blood "Carrier Pigeon" [Snowdonia]
31. Martha Wainwright "Take the Reins" [Goodnight City]
32. Loyle Carner ft. Rebel Kleff "NO CD" [Yesterday's Gone]
33. Shabazz Palaces ft. Darrius "Moon Whip Quaz" [Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star]
34. Wolf Alice "Yuk Foo" [Visions of a Life]
35. EMA "Down and Out" [Exile in the Outer Ring]
36. Saint Etienne "Dive" [Home Counties]
37. Diet Cig "Bite Back" [Swear I'm Good at This]
38. Laurel Halo "Moontalk" [Dust]
39. Run the Jewels ft. Danny Brown "Hey Kids" [Run the Jewels 3]
40. The xx "I Dare You" [I See You]
41. Iron & Wine "Right for Sky" [Beast Epic]
42. Tyler, the Creator "I Ain't Got Time!" [Flower Boy]
43. Ibibio Sound Machine "Color in Your Cheeks" {Mountain Goats cover} [I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats podcast]
44. Charly Bliss "Percolator" [Guppy]
45. This Is the Kit "Two Pence Piece" [Moonshine Freeze]
46. Superfood "Where's the Bass Amp?" [Bambino]
47. SOHN "Rennen" [Rennen]
48. Khalid "8TEEN" [American Teen]
49. Iglooghost ft. Mr. Yote "Teal Yomi/Olivine" [Neo Wax Bloom]
50. Antibalas "Gold Rush" [Where the Gods Are in Peace]
51. Depeche Mode "So Much Love" [Spirit]
52. Shabazz Palaces ft. the Shotgun Shot "Julian's Dream (ode to a bad)" [Quazarz vs. the Jealous Machines]
53. The Underachievers "Crescendo" [Renaissance]
54. Wolf Parade "Incantation" [Cry Cry Cry]
55. Lee Fields & the Expressions "Never Be Another You" [Special Night]
56. Feist "I'm Not Running Away" [Pleasure]
57. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith "I Am Learning" [The Kid]
58. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile "Peepin' Tom" [Lotta Sea Lice]
59. Denzel Curry ft. Joey Bada$$ "Zenith" [Imperial]
60. Rostam "Bike Dream" [Half-Light]
61. Bicep "Glue" [s/t]
62. The Horrors "World Below" [V]
63. Mura Masa ft. Bonzai "Nuggets" [Mura Masa]
64. David Rawlings "Midnight Train" [Poor David's Almanack]
65. Lana Del Rey "Love" [Lust for Life]
66. The Magnetic Fields "'83: Foxx and I" [50 Song Memoir]
67. Dawn Richard "Voices" [Redemption]
68. The New Pornographers "Whiteout Conditions" [Whiteout Conditions]
69. Austra "Future Politics" [Future Politics]
70. Hercules & Love Affair ft. Faris Badwan "Controller" [Omnion]
71. Goldfrapp "Systemagic" [Silver Eye]
72. IFE "Yumavision" [IIII + IIII]
73. Yumi Zouma "Ostra" [Willowbank]
74. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings "Girl! (You Got to Forgive Him)" [Soul of a Woman]
75. Peter Perrett "C Voyeurger" [How the West Was Won]
76. The Flaming Lips "The Castle" [Oczy Mlody]
77. Mavis Staples "Build a Bridge" [If All I Was Was Black]
78. PVT "Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend" [PVT]
79. Sean Price "Resident Evil" [Imperius Rex]
80. Terry Malts "Off My Back" [split EP with Kids on a Crime Spree]
81. Chuck Berry "Big Boys" [Chuck]
82. Hauschka "We Live a Thousand Years" [What If]
83. Deer Tick "Jumpstarting" [Vol. 2]
84. Alex Lahey "I Haven't Been Taking Care of Myself" [I Love You Like a Brother]
85. Tinashe "Light the Night Up" [Thursday Night Football]
86. Lupe Fiasco ft. Gizzle "Jump" [Drogas Light]
87. Nicole Atkins "Darkness Falls So Quiet" [Goodnight Rhonda Lee]
88. Thurston Moore "Smoke of Dreams" [Rock N Roll Consciousness]
89. Whitney "Gonna Hurry (As Slow as I Can)" [non-LP single]
90. Destroyer "In the Morning" [ken]
91. Kamasi Washington "Truth" [Harmony of Difference EP]
92. Benjamin Clementine "Phantom of Aleppoville" [I Tell a Fly]
93. Blue Hawaii "No One Like You" [Tenderness]
94. clipping. "The Deep" [non-LP single]
95. Robyn Hitchcock "1970 in Aspic" [s/t]
96. Liane Carroll "Lately" {Stevie Wonder cover} [The Right to Love]

I will be preparing the albums post over the next few days and intend to have it up late on the 28th. Until then, happy holidays and thanks for reading!

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The world finna end: 2017 new release rush

Hi! Songs list up in a couple of days, albums list next week, some cool new things in January.

Julien Baker: Turn Out the Lights (Matador)
22 year-old folkie from Memphis with a wide vocal range has every right to try and enlist us as her therapists but after the year I've had I don't feel up to the task. Repetitive and, if you're not in its audience, difficult not to hear as painfully indulgent. Inspirational sentiment: "You can't even imagine how badly it hurts just to think sometimes how I think almost all the time."

Converge: The Dusk in Us (Epitaph) [c]
A metal album that got through my filters somehow (probably because they are also listed in some places as hardcore punk, which is still in my wheelhouse but just barely), and I never know how to review this stuff. "Universal critical acclaim" and all that. It's sludge. It's screamy and boring. I'm glad you guys like it.

Fever Ray: Plunge (Mute)
A.K.A. Karin Dreijer, half of the sporadically active, hipster-beloved Swedish electro group the Knife, who seemed content to disappear a few years ago; one previous solo album from 2009 that I apparently purchased (!?) but only dimly remember. The follow-up is certainly aesthetically cheerier than anything from the Knife's records, but the purportedly varied and miraculous sound relies heavily on shrill synths and on the library of processes to which Dreijer submits her thin, abrasive but intriguing voice. The challenging politics of the Knife's last record are there but make themselves deliberately inscrutable, which is somewhat irksome, except when the subject is sex -- "this country makes it hard to fuck," indeed. The explicit lyrics on "To the Moon and Back" are less radical than their hilarious matchup with what sounds like someone demonstrating computer speakers with a MIDI file of Depeche Mode's "Nothing to Fear." And in this abbreviation-heavy, emoji-filled hell of a year I can sort of get with the sensibility of "IDK About You," but is this all youthfulness and speed as affectation? It's just more noisy art project than music, just like -- whoa -- the Knife.

Charlotte Gainsbourg: Rest (Because)
Like Gainsbourg's other records, this is solid pop, only without the consistent identity brought to the music by Beck; Gainsbourg cowrote these songs with producer SebastiAn -- apart from one Paul McCartney contribution, which is quite worthwhile and futher demonstrates that McCartney is better at quietly staying relevant in his seventies than he was at loudly doing the same in his thirties -- and they seem designed to demonstrate her vocal chops, which means they meander a bit between polite chamber pop and equally polite dance music. Hers is an endearing persona, even behind the layers of costuming; spinning between languages, enlisting Owen Pallett for some arranging, attaining some Feist-like sinister balladry, it all feels just as crystalline and untouchable as it possibly could.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings: Soul of a Woman (Daptone) [r]
Jones, a gregarious and gifted singer, died late last year -- a major loss for music past and future -- but this feels like a missive for the Trump era she didn't live to see. I've long admired Jones despite feeling that her band often treated soul as too much of an affectation; this holds on the platitudes that cover the first few cuts, but what's surprising about this record is how much Jones, holding onto every second, falls completely and convincingly into the engaging weirdness of many of these cuts, which get slower and less beholden to the record-collector fetish at the back end. "Girl! (You Got to Forgive Him)" is the least mannered music the band has ever made (in the studio, that is); "Pass Me By" is perhaps Jones' finest vocal on record, made more astounding given that she was probably in the final stages of her disease when it was recorded; and her own composition "Call on God" is the most beautiful moment in her sadly brief career. This didn't have to be such an engaging and singular record, and the fact that it does not attempt to summarize or eulogize its singer will ironically allow it to last far longer as a tribute to her talents and legacy.

Mavis Staples: If All I Was Was Black (Anti-) [r]
78 year-old Staples, singing since 1950, collaborates once again with Jeff Tweedy for an album of rootsy, spiritual protest music; Tweedy wrote or cowrote all of these songs, with a few contributed by the singer, and it's clear he worked harder on this than on the last two Wilco records. The variance in the contributions on Staples' Livin' on a High Note by the likes of Nick Cave, Case-Lang-Viers, M. Ward, Valerie June and Merrill Garbus isn't missed as much as you'd expect, strictly because the mood Tweedy and Staples establish here is so earnest and infectious in its political idealism and simplicity. "Build a Bridge" hits hardest, "All Over Again" sinks deepest. Staples' adapts easily to her surroundings, a pro who's known how to do that since long before Tweedy was born, but her ferocity is undiminished and -- if anything -- validated by the changing world she occupies, by the accumulation of the changes she's tracked since she rubbed shoulders with Sam Cooke in Chicago.

Björk: Utopia (One Little Indian) [r]
Björk talks about this being an ego-free dream collaboration between herself and Arca, but perhaps because Arca's work tends to annoy me so much, it certainly sounds to me far more like a record dominated by his bubbly trickery than Vulnicura did. As on that record, Björk seems determined to surrender the idea of obscurity: her voice is mixed so that every harrowing or triumphant word is relatively easy to pick up, and the brew of sex, advice and hard-won optimism can reach out directly to a world full of waiting ears. Despite the upbeat tone it's as much of a slog as Vulnicura, running long and failing to transcend its mood and craft any melodies or beats that you could imagine reeling you back in out of context, apart from the agreeably oddball "Claimstaker." Björk's in a difficult position because musically, it's increasingly hard for her to reach the sense of radicalism that made her best work so endearing, so she has attempted to cover for it thematically with mixed results, but the record -- if somewhat overpraised -- is endearing and smart and rewards attention, though Arca again makes it slightly tough to really ever enjoy the experience even when Björk seems insistent that you must.

Iglooghost: Neō Wax Bloom (Brainfeeder) [hr]
Melodramatic press notes about how this Irish producer almost killed himself making this record full of what '90s ravers called "hellish beats" notwithstanding, this really is the wax to beat if you like electronic music that feels like it's crawling into your ear and battering around in your brain. For a moment after hearing it, normal music seems woefully lacking in detail. Along with Jlin, this proves that abrasive dance music doesn't have to be tiresome in the manner of Arca, can in fact generate bodily responses and pleasure you wouldn't merit possible considering the cerebral origins of the music. The record has a giddiness, coming fast and hard and demanding that you keep yourself surrounded by its weird, indescribable grooves, that doesn't subside for its full forty minutes -- which is just long enough to avoid any real fatigue, as well. Modern and forward-thinking and a product of our times maybe, but its chaotic texture is pure hi-BPM rock & roll.

***

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
This is the annual terse check-in of the Wikipedia, Allmusic and Spotify pages of bands we praised highly at some point in the last ten years who nevertheless had releases, small or large scale, this year that somehow escaped our attention.

Ásgeir: Afterglow (Columbia)
Pretty but bland, overly clean euro-R&B from the Icelandic architect of In the Silence, a much more charming album.

Curren$y: The Fo20 Massacre (s/r) [r]
Curren$y: The Champagne Files (s/r) [c]
The latest two mixtapes, both audible on Youtube and I assume you can download them somewhere. Fo20 is relaxed and casual and effortlessly good, feels like an old shirt or something, and I found myself wondering why I was going through my life without constantly checking for the latest Curren$y tape to carry around with me. Then I listened to The Champagne Files and remembered; it's an uninspired drawl through approximately 50,000 repetitions of the title and no strong production or verses to speak of, though the cover art is extremely good.

Holy Fuck: Bird Brains (Innovative Leisure EP) [hr]
Holy Fuck's small-scale redefinition of the fantasy ideal of what a rock band can be, using organic bodies as machines, analogue as digital simulation, is in a strange way as radical and shattering as something like Wire at their best, and it seems more obvious in a small, beat-heavy bite like this than on their LPs, ingratiating as they can be. This is a recording that can sound like it has a wholly different character depending on where and how you listen to it, but a consistency is that its adventurous instrumentation and commitment to prolonged explosiveness are inspiring and addictive.

Jlin: Dark Lotus (Planet Mu EP) [hr]
In the '90s they used to talk a lot about "junk culture"; without saying anything broad about it, artists like Beck and Radiohead seemed to be communicating something about all human artistic and commercial creation being simultaneously available, condensed, commodified, and the effect of feeling overwhelmed and numbed by both the possibility and limitation of trying to process it all and wondering how the future would look. Jlin's music is the sound of culture actually collapsing on itself, with -- to invoke Johnny Rotten -- no future at all; a sample from the movie The Birds is made both cute and foreboding on the first track, an upside-down Double D & Steinski beat places you in alien territory on the second. It's like being in a sensory deprivation tank with nothing but vague memories of what has been seen and felt in the distant past to comfort you. Jlin would expand and refine this sensibility on her album Black Origami, but here she has to say it all in just two tracks totalling eight minutes, and the effect is thrilling and intense in a manner specifically evocative of the Beatles' visions of the world ending in "Revolution 9"... only you can dance, if you want, but will you? The third or fourth time in a row I listened to this an ambulance passed through the intersection in front of me, and I could have sworn its siren was a part of the music.

The Mountain Goats: Selected Goths in Ambient (Merge EP)
Included as a bonus with certain purchases of the analogous album, this isn't really any less in character than Goths itself but obviously has less replay value... unless you're studying or something. Still, it's mighty convincing, and doesn't slide into parody like the (otherwise more convincing) Devo E-Z Listening Disc, meaning that if John Darnielle really went in on this corner of his versatility it would probably be something.

The Mountain Goats: Marsh Witch Visions (s/r EP) [r]
Bandcamp-only release follows the usual procedure of Darnielle finding some way to get rid of leftovers from his latest record, and to satiate the fans who only ever want to hear him alone with a guitar and some recording equipment. Outside of the extremely interesting demo of "Rain in Soho," the best of the outtakes is easily "No More Tears," the only one that could possibly have stood up with what made the album, though barring a radical rearrangement it would have been its most conventional song by far. All of them have the usual terrific lyrics that further explore the scope of Goths without really expanding it.

Samiyam: Pizza Party (Stones Throw) [r]
Calmer, less jittery and sample-filled than Animals Have Feelings, but still a restless joy after a fashion.

Swet Shop Boys: Sufi La (Customs EP) [hr]
As fabulous as their debut album Cashmere was, this stopgap release is looser, wilder, and goes harder -- Heems and Riz MC have achieved a full synthesis that emphasizes their differing approaches while casting them firmly as a unit, and note that this is the first time since probably Nehru Jackets or thereabouts that Heems has felt comfortable enough to release a song as wonderfully dumb as "Birding" -- "you know I'm birding, baby / where my binoculars at? / I'm with the trees / I'm looking for birds" -- which is an excellent track because it's an unembarrassed exploration of the group's humor and personality, and does not bow to the fear of causing them to be unfairly dismissed as "joke rap," an issue that's followed Heems around for his entire career even though his work has always been as thoughtful and multifaceted as any in the game. The entire EP furthers both rappers and Heems in particular as the masters of the fake low-effort verse, because in fact of course everything here is really impressive and witty, and only a complete fool could disregard the ominous message of "Zombie" or the windows-rolled-down relentlessness of "Anthem." Goddamn, guys.

The Underachievers: Renaissance (RPM) [hr]
The few people who pay attention to this group seem to be upset that their lyrics are no longer completely upholding the anti-gangsta, pro-drug, vaguely New Age philosophy of numbers one and two, and while I guess I can detect a little of that here and there -- but also an injection of real-time politics, which in this terrible world would be inexcusable by its absence -- I'm continually distracted by the fact that Issa Gold and AK have the best, most unstoppable flow of possibly any rappers working right now, and almost certainly of any duo (they come harder and faster than Mike and El-P even if their content is less polished). This takes me back to how much I loved their first album, and I can admit some of this is a bit superficial: what I love is just the experience of hearing them murder the mic, more than anything about the bars or the beats. It just sounds perfect, and I don't think their message has become wholly diluted, but they're now approaching veteran status without getting the recognition they deserve, and you can't blame them for trying to push some buttons here. Try "Phoenix Feathers" and "Cresendo."

***

ALSO RECOMMENDED:
- Yumi Zouma: Willowbank (Cascine) - fuck me, i'm already nostalgic for chillwave ["Ostra"/"Persephone"]
- Lindstrom: It's Alright Between Us as It is (Smalltown Supersound) - demands to be heard in sequence; the parts are what they are but they blend gloriously
- Amadou & Mariam: La Confusion (Because) - a little too E-Z listening at times but some mega grooves
- Zara McFarlane: Arise (Brownswood) - lite, heavy, pleasing, probing and one of the most infectious hooks of the year ["Fussin' and Fightin'"]
- Blue Hawaii: Tenderness (Arbutus) - DJ Shadow-era fridge buzz, capable of being exhilarating ["No One Like You"/"Belong to Myself"]

ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES:
- Ben Frost: The Centre Cannot Hold (Mute)
- Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure (Hyperdub)


REJECTS:
Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the Alps
Hiss Golden Messenger: Hallelujah Anyhow
Alex Lahey: I Love You Like a Brother [NYIM]
Liam Gallagher: As You Were
Beck: Colors
KLLO: Backwater [NYIM]
Margo Price: All American Made [NYIM]

ORPHAN TUNES:
Alex Lahey "I Haven't Been Taking Care of Myself" [I Love You Like a Brother]
clipping. "The Deep" [non-LP single]
Terry Malts "Off My Back" [split EP with Kids on a Crime Spree]
Tinashe "Light the Night Up" [Thursday Night Football]
Whitney "Gonna Hurry (As Slow as I Can)" [non-LP single]

OLD RECORDS RATED (NOT REVIEWED) THIS MONTH
George Harrison: Let It Roll: Songs by George Harrison (Apple 1970-2001/2009) [hr]
Sade: Best Of (Epic 1984-93/1994) [hr]

Sunday, December 10, 2017

You think too much: October 2017 music diary

Saw two great gigs this past week: Cut Copy in Charleston, SC and the Mountain Goats in Durham, NC, each superb and enormous in its own way, each still at the top of their game, both outstanding live. I'd seen the Goats twice before, and I assume most people are either converts or know why they're not, but if you've hesitated pulling the trigger on a Cut Copy gig in your town, I really suggest you try to make it out next time. Dan Whitford's jubilant stage gestures are the life you're missing. They may not have the full muscle of the gatekeepers of sanctioned cool behind them anymore but if you champion the integration of synthpop and dance with guitar music at all, they really are one of the best things going. Speaking of which...

Cut Copy: Haiku from Zero (astralwerks) [hr]
Considering how much their day-to-day procedure has changed with each of their releases -- from bedroom pop to a rock band that dabbled in electronics to synthpop experts to disco revivalists, and remember when they put out an ambient tape? -- you have to hand it to any band as beholden to their influences as these Australian masters that still manages to forge such a distinct sound, unmistakable for anyone else. (No, at this point, not even Hot Chip, who they've now left in the dust for the better part of a decade.) Is the secret their music's thematic coherence (theme here is information overload, filtered through the usual, surprisingly casual passion) and personable qualities? Maybe it's just that they follow their insticts without apology. The point is this is an absolute nonstop pleasure, just like Free Your Mind was... and because it is a former guitar band making another dance record (the sound here brighter but also more organic than on its predecessor, thanks presumably to the presence of an outside producer), it's destined never to get full credit for being as unpretentious and engaging as it is; whatever, it has nothing but bangers, beholden now to classic funk in the sense that they're bangers that take their time to explore their grooves and fully work them out without exhausting them. (Just nine songs, and short enough to fit on one record this time.) It's never just about propulsion, nor is it just about hooks and melody, or just about enthusiasm, but Cut Copy's excellence in all these areas has made them one of the world's most reliable units. And this hasn't a single momentum-killer or remotely weak entry, which wasn't even true of Zonoscope; the single "Airborne" may be the best by a hair, or maybe it's the gorgeous "Stars Last Me a Lifetime" or the splendidly unorthodox closer "Tied to the Weather," or maybe it's any of them. May they go on forever at this rate.

The Clientele: Music for the Age of Miracles (Merge) [r]
Beloved British indie veterans, active now for over two decades, return with their first new record since 2010. As others have pointed out, the songcraft is solid but the zeal seems absent, perhaps an inevitability -- there's the sense that this softly pretty psychedelic folk rock is something they can do with one eye shut, but conversely there's also no reason anyone who doesn't love their older work won't enjoy it. For my part, I like but don't adore some of their older records, and after some apprehension on the first pass I've come to rather enjoy this one, I suspect at least partially for the same reason I feel the same way about Broken Social Scene's new record -- the sound, seemingly untouched by time's ravages, reminds me of when certain things, at least culturally, seemed a lot simpler.

The Horrors: V (Caroline) [r]
And speaking of nostalgia: if this doesn't do anything for you, you definitely grew up with different stimuli than I did. The Horrors are more eclectic than their latest album implies, having made a journey from filthy garage to krautrock and there and back again, but here they're vamping on '80s arena rock and alternative, the stuff that the bands memorialized on the Mountain Goats' Goths would have looked upon with disdain, but while the first couple of tracks lean on Muse-Killers territory more than is legally advisable, the seductive shuffling and New Romantic sleaze of "Point of No Reply," "Gathering," "World Below" and "Something to Remember Me By" are as indefensible and pleasurable as the Pains of Being Pure at Heart's unashamed riffing on the Smashing Pumpkins. Not the best way to spend your music-dedicated time, or even really a good one, but one of the most purely fun.

Protomartyr: Relatives in Descent (Domino)
This band's always been an acquired taste, and their latest, proggiest record is somehow more so; my aversion to their music is similar to what I experienced with Scott Miller's work; the songs seem constructed around verbiage and, as smart as it is, it isn't musical enough to these ears to appeal, even though many of the band's avowed influences, especially Pere Ubu, have historically meant a good deal to me. I spent enough time with this to hear it unfurling and revealing itself slightly, but not enough to make me personally feel it was a good focus for my energy. Your response to this record almost certainly depends on how you felt about their prior work, and I doubt even the band itself would position it as a good introduction, but say this for it: it cannot be described as a parade of generic Fall-isms, which was sometimes the case with their older material.

Wolf Alice: Visions of a Life (RCA) [hr]
So effortlessly wide-ranging and versatile it recalls Janelle Monae's The ArchAndroid more than any recent alt-rock record, this is the rare example of a young rock band delivering hugely on their initial promise on their second album -- if the glide from the uncorked frenzy of "Yuk Foo" to dance music ("Don't Delete the Kisses") to baroque pop ("After the Zero Hour") doesn't convince you on its own, listen to how the melodies refuse to go strictly where expected or where genre and convention dictate -- these are songs, not just costumes -- and more than anything listen to how dedicated singer and multi-instrumentalist Ellie Rowsell is to finding the soul of every cut, whatever it demands of her, and how her exploration of these songs reflects both intense control and unguarded, open-hearted feeling. When My Love Is Cool came out, I liked it and dubbed it "Pretty Good Rock Music"; well, this is Rock & Roll, no more and no less, unapologetic and glorious.

Kamasi Washington: Harmony of Difference (Young Turks EP) [r]
Washington is the sort of jazz musician that has an easier time crossing over -- as this record's broad success indicates -- than convincing the actual dwindling faithful audience jazz continues to transfix generally. I enjoy it less because I love jazz and more because of my misplaced, ill-advised adoration of the long-dead Beautiful Music format; much of this EP -- especially the thirteen-minute closer "Truth" -- sounds like a Reader's Digest cassette, which to me is actually a compliment.

Moses Sumney: Aromanticism (Jagjaguwar)
L.A. singer-songwriter works with the kind of wispy, strained romance, like Sade without hooks, that's lately gone into surprising vogue and has in fact swept indie R&B as a whole; think Sampha, for instance, or take a hike all the way back to the onetime bloghype How to Dress Well. Whatever, it's a little samey but it's not awful, but you're not allowed to complain about Spotify turning everything into Muzak with a uniform, lifestyle-oriented sheen if you willingly listen to this.

Cults: Offering (Omnian)
Everyone knows that Cults was ideally a one-album concept except, it seems, the two members of Cults, who've left or been kicked off Columbia Records and are on the merry-go-round for a third time with their blandest music to date. The only remotely memorable cut is "Right Words," which sounds like mediocre radio pop from 1987; this might have moved a few copies if CDs were still popular thanks to a few people who'd have looked at the cover and mistaken it for a Spoon album.

Kelela: Take Me Apart (Warp) [hr]
It's been years since I hyped up a debut album before I heard it, but Kelela's long-awaited entrance into the LP market has been on my radar for years now, and admittedly it was not the immediate shot to the senses I expected. Because it's following up the best extended-play of the century, it may have been a victim of unfair expectations. After several listens, it asserts itself as a subtler experience that's nevertheless joyous and undaunted by such baggage in its exploration of love and sex. In an era full of progress and renewal for the R&B album, this is truly classicist, and you can already sense its grace and staying power. If you want Kelela to knock you out, put on Hallucinogen, but if you want to slide up and get to know her, sink into "Blue Light," "LMK," "Waitin," "Enough," "Altadena" or the title cut, all of which are standouts within a satisfying whole. I'm really not opposed to an album that takes its time, I was just surprised -- and not unpleasantly -- that it came from this source.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith: The Kid (Western Vinyl) [r]
Electro-folkie makes a surprisingly ethereal, appealing record exercising her considerable gifts as composer, singer and producer. She's better known for her electronic, ambient, instrumental work but tracks like "I Am Learning" assert themselves and reward closer attention. The record does get a little repetitive but its mood is agreeable and engrossing.

Wolf Parade: Cry Cry Cry (Sub Pop) [r]
It's easy to forget what a good, dependable band this is, especially if you still miss Sunset Rubdown; at worst this is solid mood-music rock, at best it's truly good pop music. For proof, slap on "Am I an Alien Here," or move toward "Incantation" and "Baby Blue" for the slow-burn goods, giving Built to Spill serious competition as the best sprawling elder-statesmen guitar gods of indie rock.

Benjamin Clementine: I Tell a Fly (Virgin) [r]
Storied, eclectic poet and performance artist belongs to the modern British multimedia class exemplified by Kate Tempest, Loyle Carner and the longer established Anthony Joseph; of all these, Clementine is the most difficult to pin down, his music the most uncompromised and surreal. His second album is admirably weird, like walking in on a film in progress, peaking with the ghostly and unpredictable "Phantom of Aleppoville"; his words are confessional, overwhelmingly intelligent, his music probing even at its most conventional ("Jupiter"), chilling and absorbing at its most dramatic ("One Awkward Fish"), full of atypical rhythms and dramatic choral interludes that feel both traditional and confrontational. Few will have enough time to devote sufficient attention to this record's many undercurrents and subtleties, but one suspects that Clementine will make a lifelong acolyte of anyone who does.

Ibeyi: Ash (XL) [r]
Cuban-French twins with an agreeable mishmash of musical influences share a label with Vampire Weekend, and their best work's freewheeling and instantaneously appealing ride through its reference points feels initially like a miracle. Things are going fine -- engrossing, slick, gorgeous, hypnotic -- until an awkward, half-assed campaign reel unworthy of the rest or of the feminist philosophies it generically promotes ("No Man Is Big Enough for My Arms") and the album never seems to quite recover, but "Away Away" and the Kamasi Washington cameo "Deathless" are towering.

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice (Matador) [c]
One of my favorite new artists (Barnett) collaborates with one of my most hated (Vile), and the results are as disjointed as that summary implies. Both parties are technically solid indie-rock guitarists, but unfortunately Barnett's enthusiasm and quick-on-the-feet range, as well as her way with a screaming rock song, are drowned out by Vile's vaguely countrified anonymity. Just as unfortunately, they both sing -- and their voices mesh poorly, to say the least. Barnett uses her drawling "Kim's Caravan" voice for the duration, and though the lyrics make a sort of play at being witty and exuberant, Vile can't crack Barnett's bubblier style and Barnett's enthusiasm can't overcome the monotony Vile brings to everything he touches. The best song, "Peepin' Tom," is unsurprisingly the one that sounds like it could have been on a Barnett LP. When the duties are split more equally, it all sinks like a stone. A pity because "Untogether," for instance, sounds like a terrific song underneath all this and I hope she rerecords it on her own.

St. Vincent: Masseduction (Loma Vista)
I've enjoyed St. Vincent's previous work somewhat passively but was never sold on her as a provocateur of any kind, not least because she seemed to feel just as distant from her material as I did; while crafty at times, her music is simply too stuffy and workmanlike to break through the machinations of the PR machine that built it up in the first place. This exceedingly calculated forty-minute stab at indie sensationalism ends up accidentally articulating the flaws that have existed in all of her output. Its lip-biting formalism, the outbursts and flights of fancy at carefully sanctioned intervals, and even its deliberately alienating artwork serve really just to underline how predictable the St. Vincent business finally is, how perfectly streamlined the process behind it, how thoroughly unsurprising and deeply controlled it is down to its very core. The tortured correct-ness of it all recalls Dirty Projectors and (don't murder me please) the Who, a band that seemed to be play-acting even when they smashed their instruments; the strained wackiness of the lyrics feels as studied as Joydrop singing about how they wish they were beautiful like you, or hell, Jim Morrison explaining the benefits and flaws of breaking on through to the other side. Annie Clark is a gifted artist, sure, and knowing what your audience wants is no crime... but how about even the slightest indication that what you're doing with your life means a damn thing to you? Is that, I dunno, passé?

Robert Plant: Carry Fire (Nonesuch)
Not being a Led Zeppelin fan I don't feel especially qualified to review this, but two things bear mentioning: 1) In 2017 Robert Plant sounds like... Win Butler!? 2) This has a cover of "Bluebirds Over the Mountain," which was also covered by the Beach Boys; this prompted me to listen to the original track by rockabilly obscurity Ersel Hickey, which runs less than a minute and a half. The Beach Boys' version is more than twice that long, and Plant's is two minutes longer than the Beach Boys'. Just letting you know.

King Krule: The Ooz (XL)
Or, Archy Marshall's Haunted Graffiti; this is self-indulgent, fussy musical wallpaper that's far too long, and too adaptable to generic moodiness, but the guy at Pitchfork sure seemed excited about it.

Destroyer: ken (Merge) [r]
I wrote Kaputt off as a one-off; I've liked nothing else that came out of Dan Bejar's mouth slash brain before or since apart from his numbers with the New Pornographers, from whom he seems to have momentarily disassociated, which caused that band's latest record to suffer noticeably, while Destroyer's newest is actually a mild success. There are pleasant echoes of Kaputt in the production (his first love's New Order) and flashes of the same playful songwriting as opposed to his usual ponderousness. I assume "In the Morning" and "Tinseltown Swimming in Blood" are the ones he would've sent to A.C. Newman, but the whole record is an outlier for Destroyer in the sense that it doesn't make you want to throw the speakers and yourself out a 21st story window.

ALSO RECOMMENDED:
* Angelo de Augustine: Swim Inside the Moon (Asthmatic Kitty) - acoustic-based L.A. singer-songwriter and presumptive Sufjan associate records hauntingly minimal old-world folk in the vein of Sam Amidon or Horse Feathers; twenty-odd minutes of that could really make or break your Sunday
* EMA: Exile in the Outer Ring (City Slang) ["Down and Out" / "Aryan Nation"]
* Antibalas: Where the Gods Are in Peace (Daptone) ["Gold Rush"]
- Dalek: Endangered Philosophies (Ipecac) - muddy, vague underground rap intrigues, seems like a back catalog well worth exploring for those of us that missed out
- L.A. Witch (Suicide Squeeze) - muddy, vague underground girl band; pin your hopes on guitars
- Living Colour: Shade (Megaforce) - hell yeah son; the only metal band I really like reminds me why with Vernon Reid still a hero, Corey Glover still singing his ass off
- Deer Tick: Vol. 2 (Partisan) - acceptable twang-rock ["Jumpstarting"]
- Rostam: Half-Light (Nonesuch) - that voice is such an addiction -- and how will VW exist without it, or the keys? -- but this meanders and goes on forever; still, I can't help wanting to keep it around ["Bike Dream"]

ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES:
- Portico Quartet: Art in the Age of Automation (Gondwana)
- Bicep (Ninja Tune) ["Glue"]

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* Ben Frost: The Centre Cannot Hold
* Yumi Zouma: Willowbank
* Lindstrom: It's Alright Between Us as It is
Amadou & Mariam: La Confusion
Phoebe Bridgers: Stranger in the Alps
Hiss Golden Messenger: Hallelujah Anyhow
Iglooghost: Neo Wax Bloom
Zara McFarlane: Arise
Alex Lahey: I Love You Like a Brother
Blue Hawaii: Tenderness
Liam Gallagher: As You Were
Beck: Colors
KLLO: Backwater
Lee Gamble: Mnestic Pressure
Margo Price: All American Made

REJECTS:
Superfood: Bambino
Sean Price: Imperius Rex [NYIM]
Chad VanGaalen: Light Information [finally someone's Make a Band with Wikipedia came true]
Dee Dee Bridgewater: Memphis... Yes, I'm Ready [NYIM]
The Bronx: BRVNX (V)
Enter Shikari: The Spark
Wand: Plum [NYIM]
Chelsea Wolfe: Hiss Spun
The Killers: Wonderful Wonderful
METZ: Strange Peace
Van Morrison: Roll with the Punches
Macklemore: Gemini
David Crosby: Sky Trails
Torres: Three Futures [NYIM]
Marry Waterson & David A. Jaycock: Death Had Quicker Wings Than Love [NYIM]
Marilyn Manson: Heaven Upside Down
Whitney Rose: Rule 62 [NYIM]
The Weather Station
Citizen: As You Please
The Barr Brothers: Queens of the Breakers [NYIM]
William Patrick Corgan: Ogilala
Melkbelly: Nothing Valley [NYIM]
Squeeze: The Knowledge
Circuit des Yeux: Reaching for Indigo [NYIM]
Bill MacKay: SpiderBeetleBee [NYIM]
Michael Head & the Red Elastic Band: Adios Senor Pussycat [NYIM]

ORPHAN TUNES:
Ibibio Sound Machine "Color in Your Cheeks" {Mountain Goats cover} [I Only Listen to the Mountain Goats podcast]
Superfood "Where's the Bass Amp?" [Bambino]
Sean Price "Resident Evil" [Imperius Rex]
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile "Peepin' Tom" [Lotta Sea Lice]