January 26th, 2015 1:16pm

I Just Want To Be The One You’re Talking About

Girlpool “Alone at the Show”

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.

Buy it from The Le Sigh.

January 22nd, 2015 1:32pm

The Language Is Broken

Erase Errata “Watch Your Language”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 21st, 2015 1:13pm

There’s Something Else If You Listen

Kindness featuring Robyn “Who Do You Love?”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 20th, 2015 12:41pm

The Shout Of The Room

Sleater-Kinney “Hey Darling”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 16th, 2015 2:59pm

The Border Between Paradise And The Fall

Mark Ronson featuring Kevin Parker “Leaving Los Feliz”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 14th, 2015 1:18pm

Let Imagination Run Free

Extraordinaire featuring Killer Mike “What You Said”

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.

Buy it from iTunes.

January 13th, 2015 5:05am

Systems Of Subtraction

of Montreal “Empyrean Abattoir”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 12th, 2015 3:26pm

Dark Cloud Descended Again

Panda Bear “Boys Latin”

I love the way Panda Bear will focus on melody and harmony to the extent that the sheer sound of it will make his lyrics nearly illegible, as if the words are only there for architectural reasons. The chorus of “Boys Latin” is all about that cycle of notes, and the way they fall just out of phase with all that reverb. He does a version of this trick a lot on Meets the Grim Reaper, and it has this lovely ghost-like effect – the harmony is like a mirage, and it disrupts a sense of “gravity” in the music so the track feels completely weightless. The song has more of a center in the second refrain in the middle of the piece, but that’s where the mood shifts from a sort of joyful prayer to a vague sense of dread, as he sings about sensing the arrival of depressive feelings. In this context, it’s as though the chorus is there as a defense to ward off the bad vibes.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 8th, 2015 3:15am

I Win, I’m Winnin’

Rae Sremmurd featuring Jace of Two-9 “Unlock the Swag”

This is pure dumb fun. This is the kind of song where I could write about it in great detail but you’d never really get a sense of it because you just need to hear the sound of these guys’ voices. It’s all in the way they bend the pronunciation of words, and how excited they seem to be spitting out every line. You can hear their raw, unguarded enthusiasm right there on the track. They are not jaded, and they are not overly calculated. It’s the real thing, and it’s wonderful and silly and unapologetically weird. I can’t listen to this without tapping into their pure joy. I hope this becomes a hit, because it wouldn’t hurt for everyone to unlock the swag in 2015.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 7th, 2015 5:17am

Candy-Coated Thoughts

D’Angelo and the Vanguard “Another Life”

Every time I listen to Black Messiah I think about how unlikely and amazing it is that a record that was fussed over for soooooo long could possibly feel so loose and spontaneous. This really comes out in “Another Life,” which unfolds with such a graceful ease that you hardly notice that’s a very well-built composition. Like a lot of Black Messiah, there’s something about the way D’Angelo doles out negative space that makes it feel as though the notes are hanging in the air. I strongly recommend listening to this record on good speakers – it sounds fine on headphones, but I think this music was definitely designed to be felt in a space. It’s the kind of music that has an affect on the air in the room.

The sound and feeling of the music is so pleasurable and evocative that it took me a while to even pay attention to the words he’s singing. Before I did that, my impression was that it was a spiritual song of some kind – maybe something about a love that transcends life and death. As it turns out, it’s mostly about desire, and D’Angelo imagining what it’d be like to be with someone he’s fallen for but hasn’t even kissed yet. It’s an overwhelming romantic song, and I don’t think I was wrong to sense a spiritual vibe here. There’s an implication of fate here – “in another life, I bet you were my girl” – but also an implication that this is a desire that’s more than physical or emotional. He makes it feel cosmic, or religious, or magical. That’s certainly the way he makes it sound when he’s shredding those high notes at the climax like he’s Prince on “The Beautiful Ones.”

Buy it from Amazon.

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