Big summer for reissues, with Wire's first three LPs finally out on vinyl again and sounding spectacular, and the three most elusive Pet Shop Boys LPs (in America, at least) finally easy to pick up, though the quality is more hit and miss -- Bilingual sounds rough, Very sounds amazing, and Behaviour sits squarely between them. Can't wait to do an Essentials series on PSB one of these days (Wire too, but that's further off). Only other news to report in this hurricane-addled month is that I just finished reading Bob Dylan's Chronicles Volume One; what a book! Now back to the weird, alien present day.
Helena Hauff: Qualm (Ninja Tune) [hr]
Despite its relative traditionalism compared to other explosive electronic albums from this year, this Hamburg producer's second album imparts something else in its minimally textured layers, something you might not realize you've missed: it's the sensation of addiction, of a kind of scratch being compulsively itched by her peeling apart of beats and blowing apart of your speakers: a metamorphosis that never completes. You can hear how fun it was to create this in how enlivening it is to hear it; and the morning after track, "It Was All Fields Around Here When I Was a Kid," just makes you want to start back at the beginning -- because this doesn't alienate as art or as dance, it props you up and supports you.
Tirzah: Devotion (Domino) [hr]
London R&B wizard working with producer-arranger-composer Mica Levi crafts a truly innovative variety of sonic intimacy here, knocking you out with shots of beauty that then deny themselves to you, a facet that you could liken to songs from the old universe like "Stay" by Maurice Williams -- you can't get a handle on it because it keeps slipping from under you, which is a source of passion -- except rendered as skittering, watery randomness you had no idea could be so lovely. The record's mood is both demanding and improbably comfortable, tending toward adventurousness with a faint striving for the moody grace of quiet storm radio or, hell, the xx, and just a bit of '80s pop (there seem to be several pinball-machine Buggles allusions, and "Holding On" sounds like a Cocteau Twins cover). The confounding staccato interjections capture the unpredictability of love being wound around the lyrics; the title cut, a duet with Coby Sey, offers maybe the best of these reticent emotional climaxes, though no cut here is as ruthless, gliding on top of a circumvented beat, as "Reach." But it's also very affected, purposeful, pretty, and really defines the room in which it sits.
Tomberlin: At Weddings (Saddle Creek)
Singer-songwriter out of Kentucky presents lushly produced, astoundingly repetitive dirges that don't have a lot of musical substance but do make for perfectly hypnotic mood soundtracks if nothing else.
Mitski: Be the Cowboy (Dead Oceans)
The first song, "Geyser," sounds like it's about the same thing "I Walk the Line" is about -- shutting down one's wandering eye in the midst of a long-term romantic pledge -- but she says that it's about her career. Nothing wrong with that, but it may say something about why I'm having trouble relating to this universally acclaimed record. Because the music has a formalist texture that doesn't do much for me despite expansive and varied production, like if Human League was all run-on sentences, and Mitski's voice is a Lou Reed-like unaffected monotone intentionally disguising how much of herself is in what she's singing (an admirable feature that eventually sold me on Puberty 2), the record lives and dies by its lyrics, and the issues Mitski focuses on that have won a lot of enraptured hearts this summer, well, let's just say there's just something keeping me from being able to find the protagonist of "A Pearl" anything but insufferable, from finding the simultaneous loneliness and self-absorption of "Blue Light" a sign of any kind of real depth or maturity, or from avoiding the sense that the characterization of masturbation as a path to self-destruction on "Lonesome Love" ("nobody fucks me like me") is oddly joyless in its perversions. Despite its unfashionable classic rock textures, this is the music of Twitter, of hating and loving yourself in equal measures at the same instant, and I'm not decrying it for that but it's way out of my wheelhouse in my thirties. (It also should be noted that Mitski's been praised for navigating nonbinary gender issues with special aplomb, something it's not my place to confirm but I can surely believe that would add to her music's value.) "Old Friend" is another matter, evoking the camaraderie that so moved me on two other songs this year (Courtney Barnett's "Sunday Roast," Camp Cope's "The Omen") with the same ambiguity about whether it's a friendship or a romance being documented, and the same awareness that such details are irrelevant to the warm sensations being explored.
Oh Sees: Smote Reverser (Castle Face) [c]
In the '90s they were OCS, then they were the Ohsees, then the Oh Sees, eventually Thee Oh Sees, and now either Oh Sees or OCS again, who can say, and with each name change has been a genre change or a change in pace of output or a change in membership, and when the music is this fucking terrible who gives a shit.
- Teyana Taylor: KTSE (Def Jam) [new Kanye West protege's entry in the Wyoming series starts well, violates the seven-track rule, is both too conventional and too careless; "Gonna Love Me"/"No Manners"]
- The Essex Green: Hardly Electronic (Merge) [unexpected comeback is enthusiastically sung but a little bland; "The 710"/"Waikiki"]
- R+R=Now: Collagically Speaking (Blue Note) [another all-star Foreign Exchange-like jazz/hip hop hybrid, this one a little friendlier than the Midnight Hour, feeling more timeless to boot; "Needed You Still"]
- Buddy: Harlan & Alondra (RCA) [I admit I get a thrill every time a rapper says "fuck Donald Trump" even though it's the easiest and most obvious thing in the world; this 25 year-old from Compton is an unabashed throwback in most ways, though, collating fond thoughts of Coolio and Bone Thugs, sometimes smooth to a fault but consistently winning and fun, reveling in youth; "Real Life Shit"/"Trouble on Central"/"Shameless"]
- Miss Red: K.O. (Pressure) [supercharged MIA vibes from this Israeli MC, though like a lot of dancehall it gets old if you're not extremely attuned to it; "Dagga"/"Slay"]
ALSO RECOMMENDED FOR THE AMBIENT FILES
- Pram: Across the Meridian (Domino) ["Shadow in Twilight"/"Where the Sea Stops Moving"]
- Arp: ZEBRA (Mexican Summer)
- Blawan: Wet Will Always Dry (Ternesc)
- RP Boo: I'll Tell You What! (Planet Mu) [squelching and breaking and vaguely revolutionary; "Back from the Future"]
- Pariah: Here from Where We Are (Houndstooth)
FURTHER INVESTIGATION TO COME
* Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
* Odetta Hartman: Old Rockhounds Never Die
* Kathryn Joseph: From When I Wake the Want Is
Daniel Bachman: The Morning Star
Gaika: Basic Volume
Israel Nash: Lifted
Ross from Friends: Family Portrait
Gabe Gurnsey: Physical
Ariana Grande: Sweetener
Our Girl: Stranger Today
The Innocence Mission: Sun on the Square
Charles Lloyd & the Marvels with Lucinda Williams: Vanished Gardens [NYIM]
Spider Bags: Someday Everything Will Be Fine [NYIM]
Amanda Shires: To the Sunset
Lucero: Among the Ghosts
Mac Miller: Swimming
Robbie Fulks: Wild! Wild! Wild! [NYIM]
Foxing: Nearer My God
The Beths: Future Me Hates Me [NYIM]
Death Cab for Cutie: Thank You for Today
Slaves: Acts of Fear and Love
Housekeeping note: expect fewer Beatles posts in the next month (though one will probably show up in the next week) because the White Album and attendant bootlegs are going to take me several weeks to get through, plus I have substantially more new releases to listen to before the next regular entry. Thank youse!