June 11th, 2014 12:19pm

Take This From You

xxxy “No More”

I went to the Governors Ball festival over the weekend, and when I was there I had to reckon with the reality that if you want to see dance/house music in a setting like that now, you’re going to have to deal with a lot of asshole bros. Like, a LOT. I tried to enjoy Disclosure but I just couldn’t, it was too unpleasant and aggravating. And while I get how this happened on a lot of levels, it’s still weird to me because Disclosure’s music is not particularly aggressive or macho. But it is physical, and it is what would be played a lot of the clubs where these people go, and I never do. I like the idea of a dance club in the abstract, but my experience with dance music is more personal — I listen mainly on headphones, the physical experience is limited to things like sorta-dancing in an inconspicuous way at my desk, or walking a little faster down the street, or accelerating a bit on an elliptical machine. In the case of dance music like xxxy, my experience is actually not that different from shoegazer indie music – it’s something to daze off to, to just feel on a musical level that doesn’t necessarily intersect with active thought. I know I’m not alone in this sort of thing, but it still feels like something I should apologize for on some level, as though there’s something bad about enjoying something made for a specific utility in some other way. It’s dumb, but I do.

Buy it from Amazon.

June 10th, 2014 3:12am

Lost But Always Found

Shabazz Places “They Come In Gold”

Ishmael Butler makes hip-hop music, but his approach defies many formal conventions of the genre. Even a lot of the most adventurous rap music tends to be somewhat formulaic in structure, as the music is basically scaffolding to support the rhymed verses. Butler’s music has that, of course, but he’s very interested in building something bigger than a rap delivery system. Ever since he started working as Shabazz Palaces, he’s been playing around with tonal and rhythmic digressions, and in setting a thick atmosphere that doesn’t always need to involve vocals. His forthcoming album Lese Majesty pushes this all much further, with its 18 tracks actually adding up to movements divided among 7 discrete suites. The music isn’t as immediate as the songs on its basically perfect predecessor Black Up, but it’s a lot more hypnotic, ambient, and disorienting. To be honest, I’ve barely processed Butler’s dense lyrics, but it’s mainly because the music is so vivid and shifting that it’s a lot to just take in the experience of finding your way through the overall piece. “They Come In Gold” is about as conventional as Lese Majesty gets – it basically serves as a doorway to a very strange but rewarding musical space.

Pre-order it from Sub Pop.

June 4th, 2014 12:55pm

Lost Feelings Of Love

Jack White “Alone In My Home”

Jack White’s last album, his solo debut, is unquestionably my favorite record he’s ever made. So it’s definitely a let down for me that his second solo record, Lazaretto, feels so uninspired. White has a level of craft and talent that keeps the record from being *bad*, but most of the songs sound like he’s just kinda going through the motions and writing material that falls into his stock song types. He seems content with being himself, which is great, but unless you’re a super fan it’s never that interesting to hear an artist just sorta coast along. It’s funny how the things that get on my nerves on this record – his female duet partner, the lush ’60s country arrangements, White’s old-timey affectations in general – didn’t bother me at all when he had a ridiculously strong set of songs the last time around.

There’s a few keepers, though – “Three Women” and the title track are fine if a bit too much like older, better songs, and “Just One Drink” and “Alone In My Home” are well-written pop tunes. The latter is definitely my favorite – I really like White in piano mode, and the lyrics play on his paranoia and anxieties in a way that doesn’t grate with a sense of martyrdom and entitlement, like a lot of the other songs.

Buy it from Amazon.

June 3rd, 2014 12:48pm

Holy Sugar Honey Iced Tea

The Roots featuring Dice Raw and Greg Porn “Understand”

I’m not sure if this song is religious, per se, but it is a very interesting meditation on the way people often reflexively evoke God and prayer when it’s convenient to them, even though they don’t ordinarily live their lives as religious people. Dice Raw flips the idea a little on the chorus, shifting the perspective to a God who is confounded by humanity, where we’re just as much a mystery to Him as He is to us. And if you come at it from a non-religious place, it’s like a structure created so humans can understand themselves has fundamentally lost its ability to do so. And all these people, all of us, are left without really knowing what to do about that.

Buy it from Amazon.

June 2nd, 2014 1:05pm

Answer To The Call

Haunted Hearts “Initiate Me”

Dee Dee has been slowly shifting over the past few years from a more demure ’60s aesthetic to something more lurid and ’80s. Her new record as Haunted Hearts with her husband, Brandon Welchez, is the most overtly sexual record of her career. The lyrics are very clearly about S&M and kink, and it’s all filtered through this hazy, Cure-like atmosphere that’s both romantic and sorta sinister. I think this works really well for the both of them – it’s probably better that this is separate from the Dum Dum Girls catalog, though it’s definitely on a similar wavelength of tonality and musicality as their new record Too True. I like that as Dee Dee becomes more bold and open in her music, there’s still this quiet, shy quality to the music – this album in particular is a very introverted sort of sexuality.

Buy it from Amazon.

May 30th, 2014 12:01pm

Keep It On The Inside

Parquet Courts “Bodies”

It grates on me so much when people say that bands “sound like Pavement,” because they never really do. It’s usually just code for “indie rock band, dude can’t sing.” And while Malkmus is very far from a technically proficient singer, he’s a guy who has a remarkably expressive voice, and that – along with the seemingly effortless grasp of melody and an innate, casual swing to the way he and the others played – is what makes Pavement sound like Pavement. Parquet Courts is a pretty decent indie rock band, but they sound way more like a band who definitely likes Pavement a lot than Pavement. Andrew Savage can sometimes come close to that casual swing here and there, but he and his band can’t help but sound kinda uptight. That’s a really good thing on “Bodies,” which has a vague, neurotic charge to it that makes it feel exciting and evocative. Savage’s voice works here too – he sounds like an anxious guy trying to seem super chill. Sometimes his voice is too flat and dull for me to take, but this is the best approach for him.

Buy it from Amazon.

May 28th, 2014 12:43pm

Work Against Your Strings

Sam Smith “Money On My Mind”

I think it’s to Sam Smith’s credit that I heard “Money On My Mind” many times over before I actually noticed that the song is entirely about him announcing his independence as an artist. It felt more universal than that, and even if he’s going into some details that are extremely specific to a young artist signed to a recording contract, maybe it is. This song is a statement of idealism and authenticity, and that’s something a lot of young people try to make one way or another. Smith’s lyrics could very easily seem petulant or self-aggrandizing, but the breeziness of the track and the gentle quality in his voice keep it from getting douchey. It just feels really pleasant, but with just enough touch of urgency to the rhythm to give it some nervous energy.

Buy it from Amazon.

May 27th, 2014 12:32pm

A Drop Of Secret Blood

Guided by Voices @ 5/23/2014
These Dooms / Table at Fool’s Tooth / A Good Flying Bird / A Bird with No Name / Alex and the Omegas / Authoritarian Zoo / Vote for Me Dummy / You Get Every Game / Game of Pricks / Xeno Pariah / Pan Swimmer / The Head / Buzzards and Dreadful Crows / Psychotic Crush / Wished I Was a Giant / Planet Score / Males of Wormwood Mars / How I Met My Mother / Record Level Love / Echos Myron / Zero Elasticity / Fast Crawl / Tractor Rape Chain / Ester’s Day / Fair Touching / Teenage FBI / Hat of Flames / All American Boy / Gold Star For Robot Boy / Littlest League Possible / The Goldheart Mountaintop Queen Directory / No Transmission / Spiderfighter / Cool Planet / I Am A Scientist // The Challenge Is Much More / Unleashed! The Large-Hearted Boy / 14 Cheerleader Coldfront / Smothered in Hugs /// He Rises! Our Union Bellboy / Shocker in Gloomtown / Awful Bliss / Pimple Zoo / Motor Away /// Cut-Out Witch / Exit Flagger / Quality of Armor / A Salty Salute

Guided by Voices “Males of Wormwood Mars”

I was sorta wary about going to this show, mainly because I haven’t spent a great deal of time with the six post-reunion GBV records, and I don’t feel any particular sentimentality for the “classic lineup” of the band. I simply disagree with that – to me, the version of the live band anchored by Doug Gillard through the early ’00s is the one I love and associate with many great memories. But that was silly: GBV shows are always fun, and Bob Pollard has so much charisma that it’s easy to get on board with an onslaught of songs you only sorta know. I was never tuned out for the many recent songs in this show, and the generous helping of music from the Bee Thousand/Alien Lanes era is always going to be welcome, even if I do wish Pollard would play more from the long middle period of the band’s history. I’m definitely a lot more sold on the new songs, particularly those on this year’s Motivational Jumpsuit and Cool Planet – I think the first few nu-GBV records were a little uninspired, but Pollard and Tobin Sprout are in a good creative zone at the moment.

Buy it from Amazon.

May 21st, 2014 12:21pm

She Was So Absorbing

Kate Tempest “Marshall Law”

One of the most frustrating things to me about genre is how it can create this pressure for artists to conform to a set of established expectations, as if all possible ways of working within a form have been exhausted. This is particularly true within rap – the basics of the genre only really require rhythm and rhyming, but it’s so closely associated with a very specific black culture that artists will feel a need to conform – or perform – culture even if they’re not from it at all. (Hi there, Iggy Azalea.) Kate Tempest is exciting because while she is working within rap, she makes no attempt to be anything but exactly who she is: A working class woman from England with a background in poetry and literature. She is purely herself in this music, and I think in doing that is actually closer to the spirit of hip-hop than the sort of white artists whose entire rap career may as well be shouting “hey me too I can do that too” without much self-awareness or cultural sensitivity.

Tempest’s music and creative voice isn’t far off from Mike Skinner’s work as The Streets, but her writing style is far more literary. “Marshall Law,” the first track off her debut Everybody Down, is densely written short story set to beats. Not even in the sense that “oh, it’s a story in a song,” but like, I’m reasonably sure that if you transcribed it, it would read exactly like prose on the page. Tempest’s lyrics are extremely vivid and precise as she narrates an encounter at a terrible artsy party between a girl and an ambitious but quite lonely guy who rambles on about his feelings and personal goals and becomes convinced that he’s found a special person who GETS HIM. Of course, he never really asks much about her, so she gets bored and leaves. Tempest’s words are a cutting critique of this self-absorbed guy, but the song has a lot of empathy for him – you really get a sense of his misery and desperation for a connection, and his cluelessness about his behavior only makes his situation more tragic. He’ll probably never learn.

Buy it from Amazon.

May 20th, 2014 11:47am

In And Out Of My Life

Michael Jackson “Love Never Felt So Good”

There are three versions of this song – the original demo, the version with Justin Timberlake, and this glorious, classy disco tune arranged by Timbaland and J-Roc. You can’t go wrong with any version of it, it’s just a gorgeous, joyful song written and sung by Jackson at the pinnacle of his talent, but this is undoubtedly my favorite. I don’t think Jackson would’ve ever done a thing like this if he were still alive; he seemed very resistant to going back to his Off the Wall sound. But this is on par with the best music of his career, and even if it’s morally dubious to mess around with his discarded work after he’s died, I really do think the world is a better place with this song in it. It’s also nice to have a song on the charts that truly connects with the melodic and harmonic generosity of prime disco – compared to this, a thing like Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” is revealed to be rather flimsy.

Buy it from Amazon.

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