September 15th, 2014 12:25pm
I’ve come to really love the K-Pop version of rap, which to me is both a more interesting version of the typical K-Pop aesthetic, and a bizarre reflection of American hip-hop. I love the way an artist like Hyuna can go out of her way to approximate the cadences and lyrical forms of American rap, but when it gets filtered through her voice and aesthetic, it all becomes something else entirely — far more colorful and electrified, and aggressive in a way that doesn’t feel violent or hostile. It’s more like this very extreme expression of the self that is cartoonish and superhuman. It’s taking something that’s always been in rap culture and making it more strange and abstract.
September 12th, 2014 8:33am
I can’t help but wonder what the response to U2’s new album would’ve been like if they had gone with a traditional release with relatively little fanfare. I know they wouldn’t ever want to do that, but I think this record would’ve been far better received if they undersold it, and were just like “hey, we made a kinda personal record about our youth, check it out or not.” It’s more or less impossible for U2 to reclaim the center of pop music now, and it’s just embarrassing to watch them try, but reinventing themselves as humble artists would’ve at least put the press on their side. They could’ve come up with a narrative for themselves that would’ve adjusted expectations in a way that didn’t set themselves up for failure.
You can see just how much they screwed themselves with this “force themselves into everyone’s iTunes library” strategy just in how every discussion of the record is almost entirely about that. And you know, that’s not because writers aren’t listening to the music – it’s because this gambit is just drastically more interesting than any of the songs on this album. A low key release would’ve at least put the focus on what’s actually going on with Songs of Innocence – it’s by far the most autobiographical record in their discography, and it’s a focused attempt to reconnect with the sound of their first two albums.
Yes, there’s some parts of songs that are clearly meant to emulate acts like The Black Keys, Coldplay, and Mumford & Sons, and that is a rather transparent bid to get radio play, but for the most part it’s an extremely regressive record. I can’t help but feel that part of the reason they are cycling back to their earliest work is because they are running on fumes in terms of writing strong melodies, and so it makes sense to go back to the more vibe-centric sound they had before they really had a solid grasp on songwriting. But I think it’s also a classic strategy where people who are having trouble creating try to reconnect with what inspired them in the first place. This record is basically a concept album about that notion.
This album is disappointing for me in that it’s the first time in their career they’ve released a record and I don’t love at least one track. No Line on the Horizon is probably a worse album, but I really like that title track a lot, and “Magnificent” and “Breathe” are fine by me. This album doesn’t really embarrass, but it doesn’t inspire either. There’s some cringe-y stuff, but for the most part it’s just kinda…competent. When they aren’t trying to pull “please put us on the radio moves,” I mainly just think “oh, I get what you’re going for.” I suppose “The Troubles” is my favorite track – Lykke Li’s vocal part is the most memorable hook on the entire album, and musically it’s a cousin to “One” and “Wake Up Dead Man” and those are both amazing songs. “The Troubles” doesn’t quite measure up, but I feel like this is the sort of music I’d want a 50something U2 to make – dark, mature, contemplative. It’s beautiful and moving in a very relaxed way, and feels quietly confident. This isn’t that hard for them to do, they just need to learn that this mode suits them, and is probably what most people want them to be now. I think at this point, most U2 fans would settle for them not acting like old guys who want to party with people half their age.
September 9th, 2014 3:52am
It’s unfair to project your experience as a listener on to the intention of an artist, but Interpol’s last record suffered a lot because it just sounded like a slog. It just sounded like a band who was exhausted with itself, and it gave little indication that they’d ever come back from that. Frankly, I was surprised they didn’t just break up after they made it. But here we are a few years later, and they’ve returned with a record where they sound genuinely happy to be Interpol, and inspired to write the best Interpol songs they can make. Part of this seems to come from them having to change the way they write after the departure of Carlos D. – Paul Banks had to write all the bass parts, so there’s this new spark between him and Daniel Kessler and Sam Fogarino, as they find a new way to work together and be surprised by each other. But ultimately, the songs work because they’re just so at ease with themselves. “Everything Is Wrong” would fit neatly into either of their first two albums, and that’s a great thing. It has that dark drama and fluttering beauty, that grim drive. They have a very particular thing and nobody does it better, and they shouldn’t let anyone else get ahead of them on that.
September 8th, 2014 3:01am
Sloan’s new album Commonwealth splits into four sides, one for each songwriter in the band. You can look at it like four miniature solo albums released under the Sloan banner, or as a typical Sloan album sequenced so their songs don’t really mingle together. It’s a little of both, probably. The four sides do sound like distinct projects, and some members take advantage of this opportunity better than others. Andrew Scott went all the way with it and wrote one big side-long epic, which definitely makes him the most ambitious member of the group. On the other end of the spectrum, Chris Murphy turned in a handful of good songs that are pretty much business-as-usual for him, and Patrick Pentland is just kinda on autopilot doing his bubblegum riff-rock thing. Jay Ferguson is the one who really shines on Commonwealth. His side, which opens the record, is an elegant pop suite in which he weaves some top-shelf melodies together until it all pays off in a harmony full of callbacks in “Cleopatra.” It’s very inspired stuff, and his is the only side of this I actually wish could be expanded into a full length record. Otherwise, I think Commonwealth is a pretty strong argument in favor of the Sloan guys being a lot better together than apart, and for their songs to play off each other rather than stand alone.
September 4th, 2014 12:30pm
It’s interesting to me just how country this song gets without necessarily announcing itself as a country song. The guitar parts are straight up ‘70s country, it’s all twang and pedal steel, and while the organ part definitely calls back to more or less the same era, it’s more ambiguous. It dominates the arrangement, so everything in the track tilts everything towards its warm, vaguely kitschy groove. Ahmed Gallab’s voice is ambiguous too – he’s often an R&B-ish singer, but here his voice is soft and rounded, just sort of lovely and graceful in a way that doesn’t necessarily signal any particular genre. So it all comes together in this way that feels both strange and cozy. It feels like something sent out of time to comfort and reassure us.
September 3rd, 2014 12:43pm
Honestly, I can’t help but feel disappointed by the new Basement Jaxx record because 1) the singles leading up to it were so good, but do not appear on it and 2) the bar is always set quite high for Jaxx records. I get why they didn’t put “Back 2 the Wild” and “What A Difference Your Love Makes” on the album – they’ve been around a while, and it’s maybe better to give people something entirely fresh, but a lot of Junto feels a bit too …ordinary? is that it?… for an act who have always been at their best when the music feels overwhelming and gleefully excessive. “What’s the News?” lives up to that expectation, though, and definitely takes it back to the space they explored on Rooty over a decade ago. It’s funny how that aesthetic still feels so radical and new, but maybe it’s because only recently have acts like Disclosure and Rudimental have come close to matching this sort of hyperactive dance pop. The world caught up.
September 2nd, 2014 2:14am
I was not particularly interested in the earlier incarnation of Merchandise. I didn’t hear fully formed songs in their recordings, and I don’t think that being a band who plays a lot of DIY gigs is even remotely intriguing. But this new version of the band on 4AD has my attention, in part because they’ve embraced a level of craft and a particular approach to recording that reminds me mainly of music that’s extremely unfashionable among the sort of people who had up til now embraced a band like Merchandise – R.E.M., Joshua Tree-era U2, James, later Tears for Fears, and all manner of tastefully produced early ‘90s major label alt-music. They’re good at too! “Enemy,” the best cut on their new record, sounds like Peter Buck strumming alongside The Edge over a relaxed yet brisk beat. There’s a lot of implied negative space in the music, but it’s not begging you to notice that like a lot of airy indie rock does. They’ve just absorbed something really key about the way Brian Eno produced bands like U2 and James – you can play things very straight forward and really let people hear the chords clearly, but it will pop a bit more if you add just a touch of ambience.
August 29th, 2014 12:01pm
This song, a collaboration, between Sophie and A.G. Cook from PC Music, may be actual proof that the universe likes me and wants me to be happy. This is all concentrate energy and joy, and somehow manages to feel fresh and new while also feeling vaguely nostalgic. I’m not sure for what – does it just feel like a pop song from 10, 20, 30 years ago? Is it more about reconnecting with the feeling of loving a silly pop song when you’re very young? Either way, this feels like a big step in Sophie’s evolution in particular – there’s a lot more to the structure of the song than the blunt minimalism of the first two singles, and there seems to be something more pointed here about the way he insists on pitch-shifting his voice to sound like a female singer.
August 27th, 2014 2:14am
In a strange way, this song strikes me as the midway point between Pavement in 1995 and Oasis in 1995. I say “in a strange way” because neither of those bands really did waltzes, and it doesn’t literally sound exactly like either band. But on this song – and a few others – Segall is gesturing towards a shabby psychedelic balladry that Stephen Malkmus sometimes gestures towards, but can’t quite do. And it’s also in the solo, and the pleasing slackness of the rhythm section. The Oasis part is in the nasal pinch of Segall’s voice, and the more refined side of the arrangement, which goes all in on a sort of drama Malkmus has always shied away from. It’s a magnificent song, and maybe it’s ridiculous for me to say this after spending an entire paragraph comparing him to other artists, but I feel like this is the song/the album where Segall has really found his voice as an artist.
August 26th, 2014 12:14pm
Of all the songs on The New Pornographers’ sixth album Brill Bruisers, “Dancehall Domine” is the one that most reminds me of the sleek, turbo-charged sound that made me fall in love with the band back in the very early ‘00s. They never really abandoned that sound, but this one feels like a fresh spin on the signature sound – a little colder, a little harder. I really like the lyrics, which seem to be addressed to a newly famous person, and it made me realize just how many New Pornographers songs address the idea of fame and chasing status. “Dancehall Domine” works so well because it’s both skeptical of the social constructs of fame, but also really sympathetic to someone who may suddenly feel very overwhelmed and out of their depth.