April 23rd, 2014 12:27pm

You Can’t Blame The Ones That You Love

The Both “The Inevitable Shove”

Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s first album as a duo is a study in two artists with very distinct styles trying to find a middle ground where their individual quirks complement each other. This doesn’t always work out – the songwriting is as solid as you’d expect from these total pros, but their voices don’t really work in harmony. There’s definitely times on the record where it feels a bit like you’re listening to Aimee Mann sing along to a Ted Leo record in her car, or vice versa. Their voices work really well in contrast though, especially when they are trading off verses in a way that highlights their distinct vocal styles. “The Inevitable Shove” is a great example of this – Mann is typically relaxed and sardonic in her affect, but Leo handles all the parts that call for earnest, emphatic emoting. You really get the thing you’d hope for on a team-up like this, which is basically the sense that these two very different cool people are hanging out together in the same song.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 22nd, 2014 12:44pm

They Love Their Movies

Lana Del Rey “West Coast”

The most fascinating thing about Lana Del Rey is the very thing that makes her infuriating to many people: She’s a total enigma who refuses to give her audience anything other than a vivid, distinct, highly stylized aesthetic. Her mask never slips so it’s impossible to tell when she’s being serious and when she’s just fucking with you, and while I find that tension very exciting and thoughtful, people who yearn for earnest authenticity in their pop music – or even an identifying human being at the center of it all – are left wanting. But I like Lana as a trollish provocateur, and she’s done enough music and videos at this point that there is no doubt in mind that she’s a very intelligent artist with a lot to say. The ironies and contradictions are the point, the distance between “the real her” and what she embodies is meant to be foregrounded. A lot of Lana’s art is about embracing glamour as a way of making life more thrilling, and implicitly asking “Why wouldn’t you want to make your experiences feel more sexy and cinematic?” “West Coast” is very much about this frame of mind, and how the mythology of Hollywood enhances the excitement of being around – or away from – another of her bad boy love interests. Everything and everyone is an archetype in a Lana Del Rey song, but in context, it’s not a dehumanizing thing. If anything, she’s coming from a position that by turning everything into a story, the world feels more alive.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 21st, 2014 12:41pm

Let’s Keep The Secret

Sunny Day Real Estate “Lipton Witch”

It’s strange to think that Sunny Day Real Estate reunited after nearly a decade, wrote and recorded “Lipton Witch,” and then completely lost the will to carry on. I mean, I get it on an interpersonal level, but artistically… surely they noticed that this was one of the very best songs they’d ever done together, right? “Lipton Witch” has an urgent, explosive sound that the band largely abandoned after Diary in favor of knottier compositions or more pensive material. The song is all forward momentum and catharsis, with Jeremy Enigk singing vague, conspiratorial lyrics in his usual tortured rasp, but sounding more triumphant than defeated. If this is truly the end of the band, “Lipton Witch” works well as a final statement: Musically, it brings them full circle, and tonally, it sounds like a happy ending. Or, you know, as happy as they’re going to get.

April 17th, 2014 12:54pm

Find A Nicer Way To Kill It

Andrew Jackson Jihad “Temple Grandin”

Andrew Jackson Jihad has been around for about a decade, so they’re hardly new to sounding remarkably similar to The Mountain Goats, but wow, they sound remarkably similar to The Mountain Goats. Sean Bonnette certainly has his own voice and lyrical style, but the music sensibility is very close to where John Darnielle has been over the past several years – a very particular way of playing acoustic guitar, a very particular sort of melodic phrasing, an emphasis on lyrics above all other things. Bonnette isn’t on Darnielle’s level on that front – not a lot of people are, really – but his words are very vivid and rooted in the kind of bitter, ironic tone of a lot of ’00s emo rock. “Temple Grandin” is both oblique and extremely specific, with words that bring up a lot of bile and ideas about cruelty and convenience, but don’t take shape as a specific narrative. It’s just one of those things where you wouldn’t want to be the person addressed in the song.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 15th, 2014 12:03pm

Breaking Off The Day

Total Control “Flesh War”

My friend Maria sent this to me recently because she knew I’ve become very interested in new wave, and hey, this sounds like new wave! And yes, it does sound like new wave, or at least the more grim Joy Division/New Order/Depeche Mode end of it. But it’s NOT actually new wave, because this is a pastiche of a specific style, whereas actual new wave was about idiosyncratic artists being as distinct and strange as possible while also making bold, accessible pop music. It’s not about a particular style so much as it’s about individuality and imagination. This is a really great song – to me, this mainly sounds like a song that should’ve been on one of the last two Interpol records – but it’s a very post-00s kind of rock song because it’s just making no effort to be distinctive beyond reminding people of other music they probably like. And like, even as much as Interpol is heavily indebted to Joy Division, they really do have their own thing going on if just because Paul Banks is such a bizarre lyricist and singer. As appealing as “Flesh War” is, I’m not really picking up anything special about their personality. I’d like more of that from them – they clearly have the fundamentals down.

Here’s the Total Control page on Soundcloud. Their album is out in June.

April 14th, 2014 12:20pm

The Setting Sun

Thee Oh Sees “Encrypted Bounce (A Queer Sound)”

“Encrypted Bounce” sounds like Can if they were from sunny California instead of dark, dour Germany – the relentless groove and bad-trip vocals are there, but the guitar parts relieve the tension of the rhythm rather than add to it. The bottom end is pretty heavy, but most of this track feels completely weightless, with all the trebly parts seeming to float upward like helium balloons let loose. I find this song to be really comfortable – there’s just something very calming about the certainty of that beat and the incredible looseness of just about everything else going on in the song.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 11th, 2014 12:36pm

The Meant To Be

TEEN “Rose 4 U”

The first two releases by TEEN were frustrating to me because while I was very impressed by some aspects of the band – Teeny Lieberson’s voice, her particular melodic sensibility, the band’s taste in keyboard tones – the songs were, for the most part, too stiff and inert. But now that they’ve got a new bass player, it all totally clicks. Boshra AlSaadi has a very warm and funky style, and it loosens everything up and keeps their treble-heavy music from sounding too flat or brittle. “Rose 4 U” makes the most of the band’s new dynamic – everything in the song pivots off AlSaadi’s groove, in sometimes very unexpected ways. I especially love the way it keeps building as it moves along, and when everything drops out to foreground the vocal harmonies, it comes back feeling vaguely Motown-ish in the finale.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 9th, 2014 12:22pm


Mica Levi “Lipstick to Void”

Under the Skin is one of the best films I have seen in many years in large part because Mica Levi’s score is so effective in evoking the terror of confronting something truly alien and unknowable, and in pushing the viewer to see our world through the perception of an indifferent alien. Much of it is ambient, but the most powerful parts are variations on a melody rendered in scratching, trilling, oddly tuned strings. You can hear a version of the primary theme for the first two thirds of the film at the 4:14 minute mark of this track – it’s beautiful, but also something that feels off and vaguely grotesque.

Levi’s mostly atonal music is like a saw that severs the listener from a sense of recognizable humanity – much of it inspires a feeling of numbness that is different from how numbness usually comes across in music. It’s very alert, and very cerebral – the brain is active, but the emotions are dead. There are emotional cues in the music, but it feels scrambled somehow, or modulated in ways that signal a completely different frame of reference for experience.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 8th, 2014 12:34pm

Colors Getting Warmer

Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks “Strange Colores”

I love how any time Avey Tare goes into a project thinking that he’s going to simplify things, the result is never actually simple, but just a version of what he does that’s shifted slightly in a different direction from what he’s done before. His Slasher Flicks material benefits from collaborating with new people – Jeremy Hyman is certainly a better drummer than Panda Bear, and Angel Deradoorian’s bass and harmony parts depart from the usual framing of his melodies and rhythms – but ultimately, you could play any of these songs for someone and they’d think it was a new Animal Collective album.

I think of Enter the Slasher House as a refinement of the musical ideas Avey was working through on Centipede Hz. Both are pretty direct and emphasize a “live band” dynamic, but the Slasher Flicks material successfully cuts out the overstuffed midrange frequencies that made Centipede Hz feel so cluttered and disorienting. This isn’t to say that there’s a LOT of space in these new songs, but enough to have room for melodic bass lines and silences that give definition to bursts of sound. “Strange Colores,” my favorite, isn’t “simple” by any stretch, but it does feel blunt and focused, so the bright melodies and thumping beat makes the song feel as joyful as it ought to be. I think that if this one was on Centipede, it’d be just as good as a song, but would’ve probably had a bit more sound getting in the way of those elemental things.

Buy it from Amazon.

April 7th, 2014 2:56am

Crazier Than Hell

Miley Cyrus @ Barclays Center 4/5/2014
SMS (Bangerz) / 4×4 / Love Money Party / My Darlin’ / Maybe You’re Right / FU / Do My Thang / #GETITRIGHT / Can’t Be Tamed / Adore You / Drive / Rooting for My Baby / You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go / Summertime Sadness / The Scientist / Jolene / 23 / On My Own / Someone Else // We Can’t Stop / Wrecking Ball /// Party in the USA

What the hell do I say about this? I feel like in a lot of ways you’re better off looking through my Instagram to get a sense of what it was like to see this show. It’s thoroughly brilliant on a visual level – in some ways very Tumblr and in other ways very Tim & Eric, and far more indebted to the work of Jeff Koons than anything Lady Gaga has ever done. It’s overwhelming, surreal and ridiculously fun, but also very emotional. Cyrus has a fantastic voice and is an extremely charismatic performer, and knows how to dial back the spectacle and do justice to the ballads in her set. The only song in the set that had no major visual component was “Wrecking Ball” because why the hell would you get in the way of that song, or specifically that chorus?

I figure that a majority of the people who are going to see Miley Cyrus on this tour have never been to a concert before. This is such an amazing first concert experience to have, but it sets up such unreasonable expectations of other shows, both in terms of glorious bizarre spectacle, and the intense enthusiasm of the audience. I’ve seen quite a lot of stuff over the years, and honestly, this was second only to Nine Inch Nails’ Tension and Lights in the Sky shows in terms of being a complete work of art, both in terms of musical performance and visual design. I’m going to be thinking about this show for a long time.

Miley Cyrus “Do My Thang”

The last time I wrote about Miley here I had to literally flip a coin to decide whether I was going to write about “My Darlin’” or “Do My Thang,” which are my two favorite songs in her catalog. “My Darlin’” won, and I wrote about how thoroughly heartbreaking it is. But “Do My Thang” is easily in the highest echelon of my favorite recent songs; I have listened to it a fairly ridiculous number of times over the past seven or eight months. I think of this song as being the essence of Bangerz-era Miley – in terms of genre, it’s bouncing all over the place and shouldn’t work on a structural level, but yet it does. (The concert arrangement brings bluegrass into the equation to make it even more dizzying.) I really love her voice on the rapped parts – she’s very good with expressive inflection and brings a LOT of character to rhymes that would otherwise be kinda meh. I wish I knew how many times I’ve rewinded to hear her do that “I’m a southern belle, crazier than hell” part over and over. It’s a high number.

But as with a lot of Miley’s music, the bonkers stuff sits side by side with some very intense emotion. This song turns on a dime to big, belty balladry, and at least half the time sounds like Adele if she had a “bad bitch” mode. The beauty of what Miley is doing right now lies in how well she fuses irony with raw, earnest emotion, to the point that it often seems like there’s no fusing at all. It all just exists in the same continuum and nothing contradicts anything. Silly enthusiasms, sexual displays, romantic yearning – it all overlaps here, just as it does in our lives.

Buy it from Amazon.

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