Wednesday, May 2, 2018

You said there's broken links in your brain and I said it's okay, mine's exactly the same: April 2018 music diary

This post is slightly earlier that it would normally be (I typically aim for the first Friday of the month), and the next one will be about a week late, because I'll be traveling for most of the second half of May as well as the first few days of June; the fallout from my absence will correct itself soon enough.

Lots of first person stuff in this post. My editor, me, is going to kill me.

***

Sunflower Bean: Twentytwo in Blue (Lucky Number) [r]
Barely-twentysomething duo from Brooklyn shows off the evergreen agelessness of the tight pop hook on their smooth, sweepingly pretty second album; they're young enough to mention Tame Impala and the New Pornographers (see "Puppet Strings") in the same breath as Fleetwood Mac and the Byrds, and there's something so satisfying about that. But let's not condescend here; "Memoria" is a full-sized fine lyric and a great country number, and the melodies on songs like "Only a Moment" and "Oh No, Bye Bye" are genuinely lovely and pleasing and meld in beautifully with power pop tradition while sounding new. The male-female dynamic on the vocals also brings pleasing memories of the recently departed Pity Sex. The only drawback to all this is that it's a little too airy and slick, but you'll probably have little trouble seeing past that.

Jeff Rosenstock: POST- (Polyvinyl) [c]
Everyone my age is having kids now. I'm not. Suddenly I find that a couple of my best friends are nine to twelve years younger than me, still in their early twenties. Jeff Rosenstock, ska punk singer, is a year older than me and is making music that sounds like an aged-out Brian Wilson dabbling in the emo field. Sunflower Bean were all born when I was in middle school and was already radio-fixated eight to twelve hours a day. I think I kind of understand where the kids are coming from. I don't understand where my peers are coming from. I wonder how this will all play out in the decades to come.

MAST: Thelonious Sphere Monk (World Galaxy) [r]
L.A. producer concocts immersive electrified interpolations of the Monk catalog, having performed similar work with late-period Coltrane in past years. It's long and is sometimes a Ready Player One of jazz -- oh, I know that! I remember that melody! I recognize that part! -- but elastic and vivid enough to be loose and fun.

Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour (MCA)
Checking her phone, looking for a way out of the lonely weekend, rolling her eyes at manspaining John Waynes, she's setting the whole world aflame with her subtly cutting songs and singing, but the firmly Nashville arranging and producing is still just too slick and formal to me and I can't hear under it. Sorry.

Frankie Cosmos: Vessel (Sub Pop) [r]
On one of my runs through this I accidentally left Spotify on shuffle and completely failed to notice till it was nearly over; you might be tempted to think that meant that it's a bit too uniform -- and it certainly is similar to Next Thing, the same clunky klutzy rhythms, Beat Happening-like disaffected vocals and entire songs that sound like studio false starts -- but it actually won me over where I'd been on the fence, because it shows how durable Greta Kline's writing is despite the chaotic put-ons in the way she chooses to present it. Would a more considered atmosphere, a greater commitment to sound and songs make this stronger and more universal the way similar interventions did for the Replacements or the Mountain Goats, or would it erode the music's homespun charm? I can't answer; "Duet" and "Cafeteria" (my favorite, and the second-longest song at 2:56) suggests she could ace at pure pop, "I'm Fried" suggests she's right where she should be. I guess it will be fun to find out.

Amen Dunes: Freedom (Sacred Bones)
So Sacred Bones signed David Gray, huh?

Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog (Saddle Creek)
Same impressions as the last time out -- it's not the songs that leave me bored, it's the sound -- though I notice that Frances Quinlan now takes on a bit of a Hank Williams yodel at times. With much more emphasis on that and less on wanting to sound like a period in rock radio history that isn't that fun to relive, maybe something here?

Wye Oak: The Louder I Call, the Faster It Runs (Merge) [hr]
It used to seem like Wye Oak's conventional live instrumentation was interfering with the dream-pop they were really driving at, but now -- and, maybe not coincidentally, a couple of years past the lush, emotionally staggering indie trip hop / grownup synthpop album from Jenn Wasner's solo project Flock of Dimes -- keyboards and electro-soundscapes fill out the frame, there's churning, addictive rhythm and blessed economy, but just as crucially, Wasner's singing is more confident and beautiful than ever, suggestive of Annie Lennox, specifically the Lennox of unguarded moments like "Walking on Broken Glass" rather than the one forced to defend her own status as an outlier within the rock landscape. The songs are dizzying and tough, sonically towering, a carving out of personal space within familiar territory; you're conscious of the feelings being wrung from memory, of records or radio or just the past itself, but Wasner (and presumably Andy Stack as well, as a writer and player) makes a point of searching inward for the expansive mood she seeks. In other words, no matter how big this sounds (I could name almost any of the songs but take specific note of the suite running from "Lifer" to "Symmetry"), it never stops sounding like a personal quest into a dark night, which is the key to all good stadium-sized rock, whereby thousands or millions can feel as if their own private brood or triumph is being secretly validated; not that Wye Oak play stadiums, but at this point they're good enough to be that revered. The record sparkles, but brush it off and all you keep finding is further sophistication and strength. I'm now crushed that I missed their last two albums somehow (seriously, how did that happen?) and will be working to correct the gaffe.

Goat Girl (Rough Trade)
Decent post-punk outta London; the punks get younger and younger, the post-punks always seem to know more about the world and less about fun, and don't you evah forget that one without the other is an incomplete story.

Daniel Avery: Song for Alpha (Mute) [hr]
You've surely discerned that my default position on what constitutes good electronic music is "this sounds nice while I'm reading or cooking," which means both that I'm a square and that there's a reason I'm not a paid critic, but once in a while you hear something that just leaps out; this English DJ's fourth album and first for the venerable Mute doesn't just tease and titilate with its club atmospherics, it absolutely grooves and in fact makes for a breathless, frenzied close listen all the way through, but especially during a four-track run in the middle ("Projector" -> "TBW17" -> "Sensation" -> "Citizen//Nowhere") serving up some of the most ecstatic dance music I've come across in a while. As my DNB loving friends from the Soapbox would put it, this record is disgusting.

Jean Grae x Quelle Chris: Everything's Fine (Mello Music) [hr]
The hilarious cover art and the guest shots from Hannibal Buress and Nick Offerman (I love them both but get real) might fool you into thinking this is going to be some inconsequential Handsome Boy Modeling School-style novelty act, but nah, go back further to another record with an equally silly game show framing device: De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising, one of the greatest masterpieces in hip hop history. Grae and Chris certainly do make use of sharpened, cynical satire to make their basic points about the paranoia and dread of life in the late 2010s, but a lot more of what you hear on this wonderfully vibrant album is a sense of restlessness and invention that might sometimes seem alien to the music world we now inhabit. As bleak as the record's outlook may be, it's genuinely playful, and the flows and beats (produced by the now-engaged pair themselves) are bouncy, eclectic and endlessly entertaining. It's a record, just like Rising, full of intricacies and buried jokes you could spend the whole summer to come parsing out, and it could very well help you survive said summer. I'll leave it to others to figure out whether my feeling that this and Yo La Tengo's There's a Riot Going On (rather than anyone who's more direct and artless about the threats at hand) are The Sound of Trump Year Two is the result of my own cloistered middle class-ness, or if 2018 just hasn't found its Joey Bada$$ or Nadine Shah yet; in either case, it's easy to forget sometimes how good it feels when a new album arrives precisely when it's needed.

Laura Veirs: The Lookout (Raven Marching Band)
Veirs was more than solid when I saw her band open for the Decemberists in 2009; if anything, her performance was probably more relaxed and musical than the headliners', who were at the peak of their Hazards-era chaos. She also offered, curiously, the most memorable songs by far on her rather excessively relaxed collaborative album with Neko Case and kd lang. But her own studio albums are oddly sterile in a fashion similar to Rhiannon Giddens. It's lifestyle music for the NPR crowd, which doesn't mean you doubt its sincerity.

Tinashe: Joyride (RCA) [r]
Theoretically it should be thrilling that Tinashe's incessantly-delayed second album is as short as it is, and it's a consistently fun listen, well produced and brilliantly performed... and yet nothing sticks, apart from the squeaky bed on "Ooh La La." While it's on it's quite grand, and if anything far more agreeable than its exaggerated reputation as a complete bunt. You're left with the impression that it's so brief because it's been stripped of the individualism and ambitiousness that lifted her marvelous debut Aquarius above the PBR&B fray in 2014. There's no mistaking that it's still her, and that she still brings it, but this simply spent too much time in the oven; it's not even that it's lacking in any serious manner, it just doesn't go where it could.

Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy (Atlantic) [r]
A part of me feels like I'm simply too old to appreciate this the way it deserves, especially since Cardi B's two favorite subjects -- sex and social security -- are pretty serious business to my mind. And there are a lot of miraculous tunes in these brisk 48 minutes, including the first use of Migos I've ever managed to come away admiring ("Drip"), the breakthrough single of the last twelve months ("Bodak Yellow," which loses a bit of its luster when placed on an album with the nearly identical "Money Bag"), two masterful jams on the first half ("Be Careful" and "I Like It") and two hysterical novelties on the second ("She Bad," which is about that ass, and "Thru Your Phone," in which she goes there). As for her rapping, she's effervescent and unyielding and a lot of fun, especially when her various producers don't bury her in the mix. But this is the kind of record so ubiquitous, and whose audience is so built-in, that a coherent opinion about it when you're very much an outsider from its Moment feels pretty much superfluous. It's very good but it's surprisingly lacking in surprise, and yet again, maybe it doesn't need that, and maybe the world doesn't need my take on it.

Kali Uchis: Isolation (Virgin) [r]
Instant star-making debut full-length from this Colombian-American singer is pure, carefully processed pop music beholden to a broad pallette of genres while making its mark in very few of them; her performances are winning and the songs are more than solid, but one is reminded of albums like most of Charlotte Gainsbourg's whereby the artist herself is mostly a sideline rather than the main attraction. Ergo, "In My Dreams" (written by Uchis and Damon Albarn) is the third-best Gorillaz song to date, while BadBadNotGood, Tyler the Creator and Thundercat can't sell a hook the way the artist does on her own on the closing three-minute morsel "Killer." Regardless of any grousing, it's an extremely fun record, more fun than almost anything that attains its level of (possibly overexcited) hype these days.

Saba: CARE FOR ME (Saba Pivot) [r]
Would call up memories of good kid, m.A.A.d. city because of its sharply confessional lyrics even if Saba didn't often sound uncannily like Kendrick Lamar, adopting some of the same tics and seemingly some of the same personas while using these as a vehicle to make his own mark, the culmination of his early collaborations with Chance the Rapper. Self-released, purely underground despite the artist's pedigree, and simultaneously witty and disarmingly sincere, it's a bruising, compassionate chronicle of violence and loss with consistently striking, jazzy production, and lets us bear witness to the emergence of a potentially remarkable storyteller.

Old Crow Medicine Show: Volunteer (Columbia Nashville)
This is what Patrick Stickles' "communal" material would sound like if he sincerely believed he could be the seed of a bros' night out rather than the terrifying cell of dread and paranoia that follows him around; to put it another way, this is Normie Music trying very gingerly to approximate interesting work it very vaguely remembers. I had no idea it was possible for something to sound both undercooked and unbearably clean and processed, but here we are. Maybe it's my long-gone alt-country alter ego talking (I couldn't get enough of the stuff for around eighteen months between 2007 and 2009) but I still think their songs are mostly decent, and can imagine enjoying this if it were recorded differently. There was a time when the decisive move away from bluegrass and toward .38 Special electricity here would've made serious waves, but are the same people paying attention now anyway?

Ibibio Sound Machine: Eyio (Merge EP) [r]
Would've missed this if not for a PR email as it doesn't seem anyone I read has covered it, and maybe that's because it's pretty insubstantial even by EP standards; all four songs, one a bopping instrumental, are leftovers from Uyai including the LP's (very nice) erstwhile title track, and you get why they were left on the floor, which doesn't mean they're not fine as hell. The longest and best cut, "A Forest," is extremely Bernie Worrell-era Talking Heads stuff.

***

ALSO RECOMMENDED:
* The Low Anthem: The Salt Doll Went to Measure the Depth of the Sea (Joyful Noise) [Providence abstract weirdos and onetime Lucinda Williams openers, a strangely ideal combination, with ghostly airless ambient folk; "Give My Body Back"/"Cy Twombly by Campfire"/"To Get Over Only One Side"]
* Screaming Females: All at Once (Don Giovanni) [the perverse joy and release of restraint and frustration, mundane adult annoyances as rock & roll; "Glass House"/"Dirt"/"Bird in Space"]
* Camp Cope: How to Socialise & Make Friends (Run for Cover) [for the first time ever, I'll use this blog to impart life advice: do everything in your power to open your heart enough to live as completely inside your emotions as Maq McDonald does on the best parts of this devastating deep-dive of an album; her voice -- meaning her actual voice as well as her lyrics -- could cut you down until you can't get up again, or it could sustain you through unfathomable tragedy, though the songs that hit hardest really stick out; "I've Got You"/"The Face of God"/"The Omen"]
* Seun Kuti & Egypt 80: Black Times (Strut) [Fela's youngest dances on your face; any cut is tremendous out of context but the record as a whole extrapolates a little too long and politely]
* Tracey Thorn: Record (Merge) [I'm too old for Cardi B, and now too young for one of my heroes; I find some (not all) of the lyrics too on-the-nose or bare ("Face" should sould like 1977 David Byrne interpreting social networks but instead sounds like 2018 David Byrne doing the same, and "Babies," well, I've always loved Thorn's often brutal honesty and I suspect the problem is me here; for the record, I find the words to "Sister" absolutely impeccable), even though I love the music and that's more than I can say for Pet Shop Boys' Elysium, which is another case in which I get the strange feeling that someday I'll understand, and props to her for never doubting the importance of her directness; "Dancefloor"/"Air"/"Sister"]
* Phonte: No News Is Good News (Foreign Exchange) ["Euphorium (Back to the Light)"]
- Go-Kart Mozart: Mozart's Mini-Mart (West Midlands) [tin can Stranglers]
- Sarah Blasko: Depth of Field (Universal) [whispered and dramatic, deadpan and perfectly controlled, tense and beautiful]
- Hailu Mergia: Lala Belu (Awesome Tapes from Africa) [delightful noodling and jamming that seems to emanate from multiple tuned-in radios but coalesces perfectly]
- Joan Baez: Whistle Down the Wind (Proper) [making one last claim on a world gone wrong in various ways she warned us about]

ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES:
Dedekind Cut: Tahoe (Kranky) ["MMXIX"]
George Fitzgerald: All That Must Be (Double Six)
Essaie Pas: New Path (DFA)

FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME:
* Baloji: 137 Avenue Kanlama
* Orquesta Akokan
* Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile
* Novelist: Novelist Guy
* Alexis Taylor: Beautiful Thing
Black Milk: Fever
Bettye LaVette: Things Have Changed
Czarface/MF Doom: Czarface Meets Metal Face
The Vaccines: Combat Sports
Chris Carter: Chemistry Lessons Volume 1
Sarah Shook & the Disarmers: Years
Hinds: I Don't Run
Rival Consoles: Persona
Mouse on Mars: Dimensional People
The Nels Cline 4: Currents, Constellations
Ashley Monroe: Sparrow
Drinks: Hippo Lite

REJECTS:
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats: Tearing at the Seams [NYIM]
David Byrne: American Utopia
Meshell Ndegeocello: Ventriloquism [NYIM]
PRhyme: 2
Preoccupations: New Material
Courtney Marie Andrews: May Your Kindness Remain
Guided by Voices: Space Gun [NYIM]
Jack White: Boarding House Reach
Trembling Bells: Dungeness [NYIM]
Unknown Mortal Orchestra: Sex & Food
Eels: The Deconstruction
Wreckless Eric: Construction Time & Demolition [NYIM]
King Tuff: The Other
John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
The Damned: Evil Spirits
Manic Street Preachers: Resistance Is Futile

ORPHAN TUNES:
Nathaniel Rateliff & the Night Sweats "Tearing at the Seams" [Tearing at the Seams]
Meshell Ndegeocello "Waterfalls" {TLC cover} [Ventriloquism]
PRhyme ft. Dave East "Era" [2]