January 30th, 2015 4:00pm
I love when artists throw you a real curveball. Like, who knew that the almighty king of chillwave would be a power pop natural, and could effortlessly channel the best of Matthew Sweet, Electric Light Orchestra, and Todd Rundgren? This is a pretty big stylistic leap for Toro Y Moi, but it’s not jarring since the slick aesthetic of his earlier work is applied to this creamy classic rock vibe. He’s definitely aware of the nostalgic quality of this music, and he foregrounds that in the lyrics with a nod to Weezer, references to doodling in the margins of school papers, and the half-joking idea of making “another hit for the teens.”
January 28th, 2015 1:00pm
Björk labels this track as “five months before” in the packaging of Vulnicura, as in it was written nearly half a year before she and Matthew Barney permanently split. It’s basically a song in which she observes a change in their dynamic, and wonders what to do – call him out on his moodiness, wait it out, stew in frustration. It’s a very passive sentiment, and that carries through most of the album, with Björk addressing the dissolution of a very long relationship as though it’s just something happening to her, rather than something she is directly involved in. I think this rings emotionally true to an extent, especially if you’re the one being left behind. But there’s a strange void in this music, this empty space where the singer’s complicity would be. Is she actually blameless in all this, or is it just too painful to address?
January 27th, 2015 3:33pm
That repeated line – “I see myself as iconic, in that my downfall is kinda ironic” — is so wonderfully arrogant, but delivered in a way that isn’t especially confident. It mostly just sounds pessimistic to me. I really do like the idea of seeing yourself as iconic, even if no one else does – it’s empowering, but also just something a lot of people have to do to convince themselves that their ideas and art will matter to other people.
I love the way Aphex Twin records acoustic sounds – it’s mostly quite dry, but the parts with minimal or natural reverb sound as though they were recorded in a cramped, confined space. This track feels particularly claustrophobic, with the most echoey sounds seeming as though they’re unidentifiable objects clanking off metal pipes.
January 26th, 2015 1:16pm
There’s really not a lot of lyrics in this song, but it’s such a vivid sketch of a girl with a crush on a guy in a band. It sounds like an exciting situation but it’s actually pretty ordinary, and Girlpool does a great job of making it clear how accessible and normal this guy is despite seeming cool and somewhat unattainable – like, he’s telling stories about his mom as he walks her to her car. Not glamorous, but definitely a guy you fall for.
January 22nd, 2015 1:32pm
Erase Errata: The other amazing all-female punk band that returned from a looooooong hiatus with an excellent, vital new record this week. I hate that they are so overshadowed, but that was always the case – even when they got some attention, it wasn’t all that much. Erase Errata haven’t been entirely gone since they released the wonderful and highly underrated Nightlife in 2006 – there were a couple singles, and Jenny Hoyston has released some solo work along the way – but the version of the band that exists today sounds like one that’s made a few evolutionary leaps while they were out of the spotlight. Hoyston in particular has become a far more impressive guitarist, and has developed a lot of interesting textures for her choppy post-punk rhythm style. “Watch Your Language” is all harsh mechanical tones, and reminds me of the severity of early ‘00s Wire, and even a bit of Tom Morello’s style in Rage Against the Machine. This quasi-industrial aesthetic suits Erase Errata very well, and complements the seriousness of Hoyston’s lyrics and stern vocal affect.
January 21st, 2015 1:13pm
I really wasn’t feeling Robyn’s work with Royksopp last year, not because it was in any way bad, but because it just sorta predictable and dull to me. A lot of that has to do with the production style, which was very beat heavy and air tight – it just felt very overbearing and unfun to me in a way the best Robyn songs do not. This collaboration with the producer Kindness is very much in the opposite direction. There’s a lot of negative space in this arrangement, and the song moves in this stop/start pattern that mirrors the unsure tone of the lyrics. The music implies a lot of space but an intimate scale, and this does a lot of favors for Robyn’s voice and her lyrics – she always excels at getting across the subtleties of rather ordinary relationship drama. Here she’s singing about struggling to make a true romantic connection, and you can hear the frustration in her voice. She wants a transformative emotional reaction, but it’s not happening. But she’s there, fighting through that numbness to find a true, meaningful feeling and it’s beautiful.
January 20th, 2015 12:41pm
It makes some sense that the song on No Cities to Love that feels the most like a classic Sleater-Kinney song, or a least something that would’ve fit in perfectly well on Dig Me Out or The Hot Rock, is also the song that’s a message addressed to all the old fans who had to live without them for a decade. Corin Tucker is a bit apologetic for letting people down, but definitely not for any actual decisions she made – “the situation was justified,” and it absolutely was. Playing live is fun but touring is a grind, and it’s not compatible with being a mother, or at least it isn’t without a huge support system. This isn’t the song where the stress and burden of motherhood is addressed – that’s the opening song “Price Tag,” which sung is from the perspective of a cash-strapped single mom – but it’s definitely a song that comes from the other side of that experience. There’s certainly a maternal quality in the way she phrases the sentiment of the song, and explains her reasons for backing away. I think a lot of the passionate spark to this song, and the record in general, comes out of being so excited to do this thing again after walking away from it for totally mature and responsible reasons. Tucker never had to write a song explaining herself and she definitely didn’t need to apologize for her band’s hiatus, but I think No Cities to Love gains something from this transparency, and I’d rather hear this come from her directly rather than read this sentiment into the subtext.
January 16th, 2015 2:59pm
There’s a point in “Leaving Los Feliz” where Tame Impala singer Kevin Parker – in character as a jaded guy hanging out at a party for rich hipsters in Los Angeles – says that he’s pretending to shoot a documentary in his head of what’s going on around him. And to some extent, that’s what a lot of the Uptown Special record feels like – all these wealthy, cool, glamorous dudes reporting on what it’s like in their world. The lyrics for this song, and most everything else on the record, were written by Michael Chabon, and he does a great job of balancing out a novelist’s instinct for evocative detail with the economy necessary to get across an idea in the limited space of a pop song. We get just enough information to have a very specific idea of who this guy is and who he’s with, and just enough to understand that he’s being an unreliable narrator, and deluding himself if he thinks he’s ever going to willfully abandon this lifestyle.
January 14th, 2015 1:18pm
Now that I’ve heard this I just wonder why it took so long for there to be a Southern rap track built around the faux-Terry Riley synthesizer intro of The Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” It works very well, especially because Extraordinaire left in the more squiggly part of the melody as a periodic fill rather than going with a straight loop. Killer Mike sounds great on this because Killer Mike sounds great on pretty much anything, but Extraordinaire’s own verse is what makes this song shine – he sounds ambitious and hungry, very eager to prove that he belongs there with Mike, and not just as the guy making the beat behind the scenes.
January 13th, 2015 5:05am
If you’re just going on his music, it’s hard to imagine that there’s much time when Kevin Barnes ~isn’t~ being the ultimate manic depressive intellectual queen bitch of the universe. The past couple Of Montreal records were odd, transitional works – most of Paralytic Stalks sounds like an actual nervous breakdown set to music, while Lousy with Sylvianbriar seemed to me like a self-conscious regressive move. The thing that really sticks out to me about those records is just how vicious Barnes gets. He’d let that kind of aggression out before, but there are points on those albums where his anger is so raw that it feels like something we shouldn’t be hearing. The worst parts of me related to this stuff a lot, and I have complicated feelings about that.
Aureate Gloom is the first record Barnes has made since his marriage ended. Given the emotional horror zone of the past four OM albums, it’s hard to imagine how it survived that long. I’ve only heard the two songs that have been pushed as singles so far, but it’s not anywhere near as hysterical as what I had expected. “Empyrean Abattoir” has some frantic tangents, but it feels somewhat grounded to me. There’s a hostility here, but it’s tamped down. Whereas a lot of OM songs feel like they’re coming from a place of immediate overwhelming emotion, this sounds more like where you end up after you’ve exhausted your mind thinking about something for too long. There’s a touch of defeat in his voice, but also some relief that something has run its course.