Wednesday, April 4, 2018

It's a real big war that they've got in store for us: March 2018 music diary

Only... three days late!?

Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Matador) [c]
Another feature-length diatribe -- this one a rerecording of a lo-fi album he put out on Bandcamp back in who cares -- from this perpetual adolescent with an obsessive cult following, this like all of Will Toldeo's music starts out tolerably generic (he sounds like Mark Oliver Everett, kind of, but gets taken much more seriously) but its smugness reaches critical mass somewhere around the twenty-minute mark when you're still on track two or three. The theme is, of course, John Hughes-like youthful longing with a shot of poetic pseudo-intellectualism, expressing sentiments that will seem trite except in the limited window of time when you need to hear (or remember) them. There's a certain subset of people that likes it when someone has little asides in their songs like "Is it the chorus yet? No, it's just the building of the verse, so when the chorus does come it'll be more rewarding." I am not, to put it very mildly, in that subset. You tread a line when examining this kind of music as an outsider -- it's demonstrable, from a glance online, that it means as much to some people as the Kinks or Neil Young or Lady Lamb or the Mountain Goats mean to me, and it's not my role to impart judgments on the meaningfulness of those relationships. What I can sense, though, is that Toldeo's sense of his own importance appears to exist in a realm far beyond most artists whose bodies of work have endured, which makes it stranger yet that he gains so much press for passing off old music as new, with very little widespread indication that he's doing so. Maybe for some people the sixteen-minute crescendos of simple repeated phrases and chords are big emotive climaxes. Maybe I'm wrong to laugh at "I won't become a nervous wreck / like the people I know who are nervous wrecks" and "I remember you, you had a body / you had hands and arms and legs etc."; but what I can say is that this album is indulgent and I hate it, and I hate listening to it, and choosing someone like this as some kind of Great White Hope of rock & roll feels as homogenizing and dull a notion of modernity and progression as any whitewashing or garbage-shilling any major label or ClearChannel station has committed. There's nothing here to discover, except that this walking bouffant thinks the world of himself. (And if I have to read one more headline about this boring fuck reviewing a movie or getting a cup of coffee or tweeting I will tear this place down.)

Ought: Room Inside the World (Merge)
Less emo than before, more Tears for Fears, still just as wordy; they rock when they can. Somewhat atypically, the song I respond to most -- and I'm not convinced my response is the right one -- is the longest, the five-minute "Desire." Things do make sense if a rocker with a touch of egotism like Tim Beeler can take on a cult, and it seems a little easier to take his lyrics and melodrama than those of than Samuel Herring, not that this band is interesting enough to be as jarring as Future Islands. They do blend in, but never seem unwelcome.

Lucy Dacus: Historian (Matador) [r]
It's very much against the policy of this blog to speculate on anyone's personal life, so let me be clear that I'm making the following judgment on their music alone: I'm pretty well convinced that if you scratch the chrome-plated surface of Car Seat Headrest you don't find as interesting a person as Dacus clearly is, even if there's little chance her music will ever attract the same fervor as her labelmate's. Her own compassion and interest in the world and in other people comes through in every lyric she writes even if the music, reminiscent of the most sophisticated of the '70s singer-songwriters, doesn't necessarily keep up. (There are exceptions; "Nonbeliever" is cunning, "Yours & Mine" and "Timefighter" terrific rock songs that reach beyond Dacus' usual scope of influences.) Dacus has a versatile voice that she seems reluctant to fully employ, which may be deliberate, as it makes the occasional twist or sudden scream much more startling. The point is that even if this doesn't reach for the jugular or the savage gut-punch, the deeper you go into it, the more you find; whether you have the time to invest or not, that's far more commendable than just grousing about an old breakup.

The Breeders: All Nerve (4AD)
Kim Deal and Tanya Donelly's alt-rock phenom of our youths with their first album in ten years; a little pedestrian and familiar, but it sure beats new Pixies. "Spacewoman" sounds more like Built to Spill than the Breeders!

Anna von Hausswolff: Dead Magic (City Slang) [r]
Peacefully apocalyptic sound-immersion from this Norwegian pianist-organist-writer-singer, who finds an ideal audience with those just starting to understand why their parents or older siblings once swore by Pure Moods. This also has shades of metal, and for music that's so bold and monochromatic in its heft and might, it has a surprising stoned-love lilt that can nicely fill up a room. Five songs totalling 47 minutes but you won't get bored, especially during her Yoko-like warbles which are enchanting.

Titus Andronicus: A Productive Cough (Merge) [hr]
Nuts to the idea that this isn't punk; was London Calling, which also explored sensitive balladry and classic rock, a rejection of punk values? Is the bar band wheeze of "Honky Tonk Women" really so far off anyway? The sensation of doubt, anger, perseverance Patrick Stickles can instill in the gut across his best work, "To Old Friends and New" as well as "The Battle of Hampton Roads" and even "My Eating Disorder," has never just been tied to screaming and loudness, and these seven performances -- one a raucous cover of "Like a Rolling Stone" with altered lyrics -- all achieve anthemic transcendence, all feature moments when your impulse is to pump your fists or pogo: anything to keep up with him and make you feel you're living in your emotions as fully as his rock band personage is. The theme is passion: finding it, holding it, shouting it out despite everything, and every track manages to discover a worthy channel for it. In contrast to the elastic band's overblown Merge debut, a 90-minute rock opera I could never get my arms around, this is closer to Local Business (or, for that matter, untitled unmastered.), and is destined to be equally underrated. Maybe it's me, because songs are what it's about and I don't need them to hang together, but somehow the presence of only seven songs, some that sprawl and some that quit before they have the chance, feels like an expectation-defying artistic stunt itself. More importantly, all seven are obnoxious and vibrant and powerful in one way or another, with big hard chords and big dumb growls and the usual impeccable lyrics mapping out the paths to a good-hearted thirtysomething white guy's best way forward in the world, tinged with doubt and challenges to his past self and fears to weigh down the present and future. Paranoia and insecurity are mocked on most of the cuts, but also entertained as an enemy to be surmounted. If the horror-movie throwaway "Home Alone" is too straightforwad for your pensiveness, try the city blues of "Above the Bodega," but mostly just try giving yourself over to all this and let its sheer sincerity win you over. The Dylan cover probably only works in context but it's a bloody, terrific, self-lacerating climax (another sign this is more than a set of throwaways), but any time is the right time to hear the dramatic buildups on "Number One (In New York)" and the country chant "Real Talk" fully commit to justifying their own size, and "Crass Tattoo," the anarchic song that Megg Farrell sings about the band tattoo on Stickles' right arm, is so lovely I hardly want to hear anything else at the moment.

Gwenno: Le Kov (Heavenly) [r]
Curiously, the last time Gwenno came up in conversation here it was also just below a review of a Titus Andronicus album; some sort of conspiracy, no doubt. Her second record is much better, or maybe it finds me in a more fitting spirit, but at times its psychedelic easy-listening tones call up memories of mid-'70s Yoko Ono, and the more upbeat antics touch joyously on free jazz at its most inviting. She continues to sing exclusively in Cornish, which is some kind of a choice, but the music is catchy and colorful enough that the rewards don't require rational comprehension.

SOB X RBE: Gangin (Empire) [r]
With Rae Sremmurd topping charts, Migos a household name despite my letters to the editor, and me begging you to listen to the Underachievers, have we entered the new age of the Hip Hop Collective? If so, this timelessly appealing four-piece is the one to put money on; after a coveted spot on the Black Panther OST they've made a lot of waves with this charmingly frantic and disorganized release with delivery that often gets out in front of itself, in the manner of Lil B but more technically competent by a lot. I'm just glad to hear some rap that isn't totally drowned out by production tomfoolery, and I really love "Anti Social": not really a banger like most of the others, but a song for "us" even though it's mostly about how fly they are -- "I don't wanna shake your hand." Elsewhere they go carpooling, talk lifestyle and brag about being a "bad dad." The lyrics are generally dark and amoral, which makes the hedonism their delivery communicates both more brazen, and a lot guiltier.

A.A.L. (Against All Logic): 2012-2017 (Other People) [r]
It would seem that this Nicolas Jaar project, which calls to mind early '90s hi-NRG club music as well as Jamie xx and (sporadically) the thin range of time when Moby wasn't annoying, is where he's funneled all his hedonistic impulses over the past decade. I bring up Moby because the sampling is soulful and sharp and foregoes gimmickry or self-consciousness, helpfully subsuming to feel as opposed to somebody like Fatboy Slim (who I hate) or even the Avalanches (who I love). As a whole it's an undeniable and even sublime party record, though it doesn't play to what seem Jaar's major strengths; then again, neither does Darkside. Quite honestly, what makes Jaar so remarkable is that every release he's had his hands on sounds like a separate project built for its own moniker, which nearly all of them now have.

Soccer Mommy: Clean (Fat Possum)
The petty jealousies of post-millennium radio pop rethought as bedroom anxiety by this Nashville singer-songwriter-guitarist. "Your Dog" bursts out of the speakers; the rest settles for a generic calm that's not really talking to me.

Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar (Ninja Tune) [hr]
It's become harder to classify this Scottish trio's music with each album, which is surely the point, even as their work has become more refined. The upshot is that this staggeringly addictive collection of tricky, thrilling, immersive noises feels like less a sideways experiment than a full-on recasting of the current indie rock moment (that is, if as many people hear it as heard the last couple). Apart from noticing that "See How" and "Wow" sound uncannily like TV on the Radio and that the jittery, rubbery production throughout the record does as much work as the lyrics at mere storytelling, the takeaway here is the group's willingness to go for a feel instead of formally structuring themselves; the songs here are indeed radically disparate. It's the big small sound of a terribly catchy apocalypse, with the occasional hellish Atari 2600 bassline ("Border Girl") and evidence of a band that refuses to the very end ("Holy Ghost") to surrender to any pigeonholing except that even at their least accessible, the music they make is some kind of beautiful.

Yo La Tengo: There's a Riot Going On (Matador) [hr]
On the surface what's happening here is simple enough: two separate worlds within the same band collide: the hypnotic conditions wrought by their long instrumental demos and film scores, which have more and more become a focal point for me as an aging fan who started listening at 15, and the bubble of transcendent quiet in which their new songs from Fade onward have operated. Want precedent? Try "Weather Shy," a 2001 song commissioned for a forgotten film called The Invisible Circus, or the long drone at the center of "Night Falls on Hoboken," or "Stupid Things" from Fade; at any rate, the methodology of cutting and pasting rehearsal material lends itself to the forming after-the-fact of pop songs that determinedly hold onto the vibe of time passing with a domestic roar drowning out anxiety and pensive dread. In other words, it's the most profound (and, if you like, privileged) kind of protest music: that which seeks to shut the riot out and hide inside love, even if it subtly shares the hard-won pessimism of Sly & the Family Stone's album of almost the same title (which already inspired what may be the greatest record of the decade, D'Angelo's Black Messiah). Less immediately clear is that underneath the murk, the songs on this thankfully sprawling album are honest-to-god songs, by and large resembling golden-era Byrds reimagined as an ambient pop unit, but more truly singular and lilting in a way that resists any kind of reduction (but will invite it anyway, as it always does with this band), in a way that is exclusively the domain of Yo La Tengo. I was uncertain initially -- it felt hazy, insubstantial, though not unappealing -- but now it seems as if I can't name a moment that doesn't lift me in the air as much as anything they've ever released, and I would without question name it as my favorite work of theirs in more than a decade. There's no denying that if there's any modern band this blog perceives unwittingly as beyond fair critique, it's this one, but I'm unable to think of any angle from which to approach "For You Too," "Above the Sound," "Out of the Pool," "What Chance Have I Got," "Shades of Blue," "Let's Do It Wrong," "Ashes," onward and onward, in which they don't come across as slices of well-considered heaven from a band that fully knows the power they wield, but defiantly resists the very concept of wielding power. It's an album that wants you to come to it, not as an act of snotty audience-screwing but as an open-armed gesture toward the listener that needs this escape into the void. That's to say nothing of the jams, which encourage us to space out beautifully into everything we already know, and invite us to hold on to what we can, while we can. I trust no other band as much as this one, but they've never failed to uphold that trust, and this unfathomably beautiful album feels like it exists because they needed it to; maybe their needs are yours too. They're certainly mine.

The Decemberists: I'll Be Your Girl (Capitol)
There's at least a touch of graceful self-awareness here, suggesting Colin Meloy isn't quite as tone-deaf as What a Terrible World... made him seem; the injection of synths is sporadically intriguing. It's a pity; Meloy's a great, distinctive frontman, backlash be damned, and the Decemberists are capable of being a strong and fun group -- you can hear traces of it in the single "Severed," the charm of the like-a-decade-hasn't-passed "Cutting Stone," and hell, I even got begrudgingly won over during the latter-day Shins-like opening power ballad "Once in My Life," though I'm guessing that's because of the entire closing verse Meloy borrows from Yo La Tengo's "Barnaby, Hardly Working." In the end their attraction to dull sing-song simplicity does them in once again; pretension is something they once could use like a paintbrush, sparring with the subtlety on a masterful song like "Shiny" or throughout the cheeky operatics on Picaresque and The Crane Wife. If "Severed" were more indicative of the risks taken in the album as a whole, we'd be in business; instead this is the awkward sound of a band being pulled in too many directions, attempting to please every possible audience and finally satisfying no one. The lazy pessimism and vague political diatribes gel poorly with the usual elaborate romanticism and feigned childlike innocence; it's not a disaster, which is welcome to a longtime fan, but you just know they could do better.

Mount Eerie: Now Only (PW Elverium & Sun) [NO]
Abstain. I just don't understand and never will -- I guess it's handy as a barometer of my tastes that every second of this, musically and lyrically, is like nails digging into my flesh -- so please don't ask me again.

Dean McPhee: Four Stones (Hood Faire) [hr]
Yorkshire electric guitar player joins Kaki King, William Tyler and Nels Cline as one of the finest modern architects of sound with his single instrument, and this soothing yet unpredictable cave of forlorn, beautiful noise could calm you down or could hypnotize you; it falls away into the crevaces of your life when you need it to, it's a thrill a minute when you want to stare right at it. Along with Yo La Tengo's record, it makes a strong case for mood music as the stunned-glare-into-the-void-horizon sound of the moment.

***

ALSO RECOMMENDED
Cindy Wilson: Change (Kill Rock Stars) [an unexpected gem from the full-throated B-52: something pretty, airy, low-key, subtle, intriguingly dark and strange; "Things I'd Like to Say"/"Sunrise"/"People Are Asking"]
Sidney Gish: No Dogs Allowed (s/r) [personable and plucky singer-songwriter chuckles, stabs, has fun and means it; "Not But for You, Bunny"/"Sin Triangle"]
First Aid Kit: Ruins (Columbia) ["Postcard"/"It's a Shame"]
Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo (Night Time Stories) [psycho-soul semi-ambient outer space madness; "Evan Finds the Third Room"]
Shannon and the Clams: Onion (Easy Eye Sound) [punk girl group rockabilly from Oakland (because where else?) re-rendered for outre youth, like a more lovelorn B-52's for the 2010s because they could be ancient but also they couldn't be; "Onion" / "The Boy"]
QTY (Dirty Hit) [a New York garage band that sounds like British new wave; solid songs, even better lyrics]
Jim James: Tribute to 2 (ATO) [My Morning Jacket frontman drops by with a song cycle of ghostly covers better than anything I've ever heard out of his day-job band]
Robert Finley: Goin' Platinum! (Easy Eye) [unfortunately we can probably credit the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach for the fact that this cult-beloved Louisiana singer's big revival soul move is so much weirder and niftier than it seems at first]
L'Orange: The Ordinary Man (Mello Music) [trip hop for swingin' lovers]
G-Eazy: The Beautiful & Damned (RCA) [fun-woke but still tripping: "the government mix politics and religiousness / so a man's body more free than a woman's is," right on, but also "she fell in love off three fucks, like goddamn that's pitiful" so IDK; "Mama Always Told Me"/"That's a Lot"/"Love Is Gone"]
Shopping: The Official Body (Fat Cat)
Xylouris White: Mother (Bella Union)
Calexico: The Thread That Keeps Us (Epitaph) [proposal: remake of The Wrong Man with Joey Burns and Jeff Tweedy]
Stick in the Wheel: Follow Them True (From Here) [gorgoeus folk music]
Red River Dialect: Broken Stay Open Sky (Paradise of Bachelors) [gorgeous folk music]
Curtis Harding: Face Your Fear (Anti-) [smoked out funk, continually surprises with its cheery subversion of retro; "Till the End"/"Need Your Love"/"Welcome to My World"
Maylee Todd: Acts of Love (Do Right!) [ain't nothing like the real thing, but it'll work; "Disco Dicks 5000"/"From This Moment"/"Eye to Eye"]
N.E.R.D.: No One Ever Really Dies (Columbia) [the opening Rihanna guest shot "Lemon" is so head-explodingly brilliant -- if already a bit of a throwback -- it's hard to judge the rest, which is by turns annoying and sublime in its freewheeling restlessness, regularly sabotaging itself as only pop can; "Lemon"/"Rollinem 7s"/"Kites"]
Stef Chura: Messes (Urinal Cake) [grunge guitar sans perpetual neediness; "You"/"Faded Heart"]

ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES
Andrew Bird: Echoloations: River (Wegawam) [incomparably lovely meanderings]
James Holden & the Animal Spirits: The Animal Spirits (Border Community) ["Each Moment Like the First"]
Call Super: Arpo (Houndstooth)

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME
* Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Black Times
* Tracey Thorn: Record
* Phonte: No News Is Good News
Go-Kart Mozart: Mozart's Mini-Mart
Sarah Blasko: Depth of Field
The Low Anthem: The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea
Dedkind Cut: Tahoe
Screaming Females: All at Once
Hailu Mergia: Lala Belu
Camp Cope: How to Socialise & Make Friends
Joan Baez: Whistle Down the Wind
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats: Tearing at the Seams
George Fitzgerald: All That Must Be
David Byrne: American Utopia
Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism
Essaie Pas: New Path
PRhyme: 2

REJECTS
Lankum: Between the Earth & the Sky [NYIM]
Daphne: Joli Mai [NYIM]
Courtney Pine: Black Notes from the Deep
Lost Horizons: Ojala
Bibio: Phantom Brickworks
Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds: Who Built the Moon?
Nabihah Iqbal: Weighing of the Heart [NYIM]
Miguel: War & Leisure [NYIM]
Belle & Sebastian: How to Solve Our Human Problems
Dream Wife [NYIM]
Poppy Ackroyd: Resolve
Rae Morris: Someone Out There
Everything Is Recorded by Richard Russell
The Orielles: Silver Dollar Moment
Mint Field: Pasar de las Luces
Frigs: Basic Behavior [NYIM]
Insecure Men
Public Access TV: Street Safari
Grant-Lee Phillips: Widdershins
Rolo Tomassi: Time Will Die and Love Will Bury It
Andrew WK: You're Not Alone
Jonathan Wilson: Rare Birds
Superorganism
Moby: Everything Was Beautiful, and Nothing Hurt
Richard Youngs: Belief
Judas Priest: Firepower [looooooool]
Nap Eyes: I'm Bad Now
Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens [NYIM]
Creep Show: Mr. Dynamite

ORPHAN TUNES
Lankum "What Will We Do When We Have No Money?" [Between the Earth & the Sky]
Nabihah Iqbal "Zone 1 to 6000" [Weighing of the Heart]
Miguel "Pineapple Skies" [War & Leisure]
Dream Wife "Kids" [s/t]

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