March 5th, 2014 1:47pm
I love the way Schoolboy Q’s chorus seems to bounce off Pharrell’s track like it’s a trampoline – even the down beats sound like they’re up in the air. The synth tone is fantastic too: just fuzzy enough to seem a little jagged and abrasive, but still clean and precise enough to have that classic Neptunes feel to it. “Los Awesome” isn’t that intriguing on a lyrical level – it’s a pretty basic ode to gang banging – but Q’s one of those rappers who makes every syllable sound exciting, so this track is really all about an overwhelming and energetic sound. It’s very hard to resist.
March 4th, 2014 1:27pm
Wild Beasts’s fourth album Present Tense is a lateral progression from where they were on their previous record, Smother: They’re still exploring this slow, atmospheric, sensual aesthetic, and if anything, they’ve only become slower, more atmospheric, and more sensual. They’ve filed off their rough edges, so the music can seem a bit tepid at first, though Hayden Thorpe in particular can’t help but throw in some peculiar lyrics and vocal tics when he sings lead. On the whole, I don’t feel as engaged by this record as I have by the band’s more eccentric and energetic earlier work, but it’s certainly effective and intriguing on its own terms. This is band obsessed with exploring the vulnerable side of male sexuality, so it makes sense that they would take this sort of musical turn. I particularly like “A Simple Beautiful Truth” – it’s rather brief and relatively up-tempo, and the chorus contrasts the roguish tone of Thorpe with the more heroic tone of Tom Fleming as they sing about how you can only find true love by confronting fear.
March 3rd, 2014 1:45pm
Real Estate didn’t change that much on their third album, but their music has come into a sharper focus: Suddenly the vocals are as crisp and assured as the clean, Peter Buck-ish guitar parts, and the lyrics articulate specific thoughts and feelings the band had previously let the music carry on its own. Martin Courtney’s lyrics are simple and direct, but leave a good amount of room for ambiguity. He always seems a bit ambivalent – about what’s going on in his life, where he is, how he feels. The in-between-ness suits Real Estate well; this is music for the times in your life where things basically seem ok but you’re confused by either feeling too much of some ill-defined emotion, or freaking out because you’re searching for a feeling and nothing seems to be there.
February 28th, 2014 3:37pm
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks @ Bowery Ballroom 2/26/2014
Chartjunk / Scattegories / Lariat / No One Is (As I Are Be) / Brain Gallop / Rumble at the Rainbo / Shibboleth / Cinnamon and Lesbians / Out of Reaches / Tigers / Vanessa from Queens / The Janitor Revealed / Houston Hades / J Smoov / Baby C’mon / Surreal Teenagers // Father to a Sister of Thought / Kite in a Closet
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks @ Music Hall of Williamsburg 2/27/2014
Cinnamon and Lesbians / Spazz / Lariat / Planetary Motion / Share the Red / Jo Jo’s Jacket / Shibboleth / The Janitor Revealed / Senator / Asking Price / Stick Figures in Love / J Smoov / Jenny and the Ess-Dog / Houston Hades / Church on White / Forever 28 // Outdoor Miner / Stereo / Harness Your Hopes / Wild Thing
Last night I felt so sick and exhausted that I was seriously having trouble standing up sometimes, but there was just no way I was going to miss a Malkmus show. It was worth it! The show in Williamsburg was one of the best Jicks shows I’ve seen, and I’ve seen a lot over the past decade and a half – playful, surprising, energetic. Despite my state, it didn’t stop me from wilding out to “Stereo” and “Jo Jo’s Jacket” – there’s just no way I could ever stifle my overwhelming joy at seeing those songs played live. The previous night was quite good too, but a bit more sloppy – SM clearly hasn’t memorized the words to “Surreal Teenagers” yet though it’s been in the live set for about four years. Going in to these shows I was most excited about seeing all the Jagbags songs, so I felt a tiny bit guilty freaking out so much over the Pavement songs – I am always thrilled to hear some of my favorite songs of all time, but I honestly would’ve been just fine if he’d played more Jicks songs instead. The new songs were fantastic live, by the way – “Houston Hades” and “J Smoov” were particularly slick and groovy, and “Shibboleth” is even more kinetic and abrasive.
February 26th, 2014 3:10am
A lot of what makes a pop song really stick comes down to some musical element that’s immediately identifiable, but sorta hard to explain without a very specific vocabulary for what’s happening on a musical level. In this song it’s that oddly clipped, sorta swirling wordless vocal hook at the start of the track. The other parts of the song are very well structured and fantastic in their own right – it’s kinda like a more upbeat version of the xx – but that’s the bit that really grabs you and then sticks in your head. The guy in this band produced and cowrote Lorde’s “Royals,” and you can hear his fingerprints on both. There’s something very stark and dry to his style – he’s very good at letting instrumentation frame a melody rather than carry it.
February 25th, 2014 3:40pm
It’s rather nice to hear straight-up unapologetic downtempo instrumental hip-hop these days: It was the coolest thing around back in the heyday of DJ Shadow, but I think over the past decade or so, it’s become a very uncool genre, mainly because it became the soundtrack of so many bougie places. I get chafing at that cultural baggage, but I will always be a sucker for music that has that “late night city” vibe, and this track by Afterhours really nails the form. I mean, it’s pretty generic – the beat, the muted vocal samples, the sax, the atmospheric keyboard parts – but novelty isn’t everything, and literally thousands of rap and rock acts get a pass for doing purely generic things all the time. It’s arbitrary and dumb to underrate something for being a really great example of a genre’s strengths.
February 24th, 2014 5:41am
I was a little slow to embrace Speedy Ortiz because I’m automatically skeptical of any contemporary band who is frequently compared to the likes of Pavement – they almost never sound or feel much like Malkmus – and I distrust the part of me that would be enthusiastic about something because it sounds a lot like the music that was popular when I was a teenager. But Sadie Dupuis and her band really do sound like that stuff, and their execution isn’t merely a matter of knowing the right moves: If their new EP Real Hair came out in 1994 instead of 2014, it would’ve been on par with a lot of the best indie and alt-rock that year. Dupuis’ tendency to write vocal melodies that mirror her guitar parts is very Malkmus-y, but the rest of her band take their cues from the alt-rock side of things, so a song like “Everything’s Bigger” feels more like Veruca Salt than Pavement.
Dupuis’ melodies on “Everything’s Bigger” are very strong, and I love the way they seem to wind loosely around the chords. This flatters her voice, and showcases the expressive, conversational quality of her cadences. Perhaps coincidentally, she calls attention to her own vocal patterns in the song as she wonders why she’s so creeped out by someone who mimics her mannerisms. She seems annoyed by this, but also sorta defeated and compromised.
February 21st, 2014 12:57pm
“Wave” is placed at the center of Beck’s Morning Phase, and this makes a lot of sense: Every other song on this incredibly calm and sober album seems to connect to this track’s egoless, mindful state. There’s a mournful quality to the droning string arrangement and a note of vague sadness in Beck’s voice, but more than anything, this song is expressing a state of zen detachment: “If I surrender and I don’t fight this wave / No, I won’t go under / I’ll only get carried away.” It gets under my skin a bit because as much as it’s a statement of peace, it also feels a little to resigned, as though he’s about to just walk out into the sea and deliberately give in to the undertow.
I wrote more about Morning Phase here.
February 19th, 2014 1:29pm
Cam’ron has had an interesting career of constantly shifting back and forth from critical darling to underdog, and this time around it looks like he’s about to get back in critical darling mode. A-Trak’s chipmunk soul aesthetic suits Cam well – all his best stuff is in that milieu, and the implied warmth of old R&B complements the self-deprecating humor of his rhymes. He’s a little bit sleepy on this track, but it works: Even toned down a bit, he’s got an easygoing charm that feels noticeably different from where hip-hop is at this moment.
February 18th, 2014 3:06am
There’s something very odd about the production on Eric Church’s new album: It’s very clean and professional, but some parts seem slightly off, so perfectly normal things will seem a bit uncanny. It’s exactly the right way to present Church – his whole deal as a country musician is basically being a mainstream country guy who’s just a bit different from the rest. Iconoclastic, but only up to a point. The funny thing about The Outsiders is that part of what Church does to stand out from the pack is occasionally dip into heavy, grungy rock, and he’s basically in the one part of pop culture where that actually would seem like a progressive move to people. But I think he’s better on a song like “Like A Wrecking Ball,” where he’s just doing a low key romantic tune and coming off as totally sincere and unpretentious. The odd bit in this song is the somewhat excessive reverb on his voice – the rest of the album isn’t like that, so it’s clearly an intentional move. But it works, and adds a touch of something a little unexpected to an otherwise very straight forward tune.