February 21st, 2014 12:57pm

Some Tiny Distortion

Beck “Wave”

“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.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 19th, 2014 1:29pm

A Product Of Dust, Lust, And Cocaine

Cam’ron and A-Trak “Humphrey”

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.

Get it from Fool’s Gold.

February 18th, 2014 3:06am

That Whole House Is Gonna Be Shaking

Eric Church “Like A Wrecking Ball”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 13th, 2014 2:02pm

Through Your Mind

Ex Hex “Hot and Cold”

To the best of my knowledge and memory, Mary Timony is the only notable indie/alt artist of the ’90s who has never ever looked backwards in her career. No reunions and no oldies in her setlists, just a steady stream of new, finite projects. This has a way of obscuring the natural progression of her overall body of work – there’s definitely an internal logic to her evolution. The funny thing is that her new band Ex Hex isn’t much to do with her album Ex Hex from 2005, which filtered grandiose rock through post punk sensibilities, as much as it’s a sensible next step from what she was writing in Wild Flag. The Mary Timony of 2014 has a more relaxed and groovy sound, and is very pop, but in a “early 70s mainstream rock” sort of way. “Hot and Cold” is sly and feels a bit flirty, and moves along a “Sweet Jane”-ish riff with an unapologetic swagger that seems like a pleasant side effect of playing off Carrie Brownstein all the time for a few years.

Buy it from Merge.

February 12th, 2014 1:41pm

Uneasy Feeling


No, not the Scottish band Bis, sorry. This is a Japanese idol group who seem to be obsessed with contrasting extreme cuteness with abrasive, grotesque ugliness. That visual aesthetic is very apparent in the video for this track, but it’s more interesting how it comes out in the actual song. “STUPiG” is an extraordinarily harsh industrial track, but the vocal melody is full-on cutesy J-Pop, and the chorus is especially sugary. The song is like this absurd jolt of manic energy, and the trebly melody only makes the heavy digital noise feel more brutal.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 11th, 2014 1:47pm

Gonna Hit A Home Run

Guided by Voices “Littlest League Possible”

It makes some sense that it took Bob Pollard a long while to write a very wry song about being a big shot in a very niche part of music culture – he’s alluded to it before, but I think he now has a pretty unique perspective on the ways it’s both very satisfying and completely hilarious. This is not a bitter or angry song – he’s mocking himself and others a little bit, but I think the key is the humor, and being honest about the ways being a big fish in a small pond is very appealing.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 10th, 2014 1:30pm

Make It Drop, Honey

Pearls Negras “Pensando em Você”

Good lord, this song! This isn’t completely out of the ordinary in terms of trap and Baile funk, but the way this all snaps together with that very Destiny’s Child-ish melody is just incredibly exciting. The level of energy and enthusiasm here is just off the charts, to the point that it’s very hard to imagine a language barrier being a problem for anyone who hears this thing. Who would really need to understand the words when it’s so effortlessly amping you up just to drop down HARD like a particularly intense theme park ride?

Get the mixtape from Soundcloud.

February 6th, 2014 1:27pm

Far Away From You

Vertical Scratchers “These Plains”

When I first heard this Vertical Scratchers record I knew absolutely nothing about the band, so I had a moment mid-way through the first or second track where I was just like… is that John Schmersal? And yes, of course it is, because who else on earth sounds like that dude? Though this new band sounds very much like John Schmersal music, it doesn’t feel like Enon or Brainiac at all – the Vertical Scratchers stuff is far more simple, fast, and brief. He took everything distinct about his melodic style and cut out everything that could distract you from it, to the point that the songs have the tight, relentless structure of jingles. I might still prefer the hyperactive excesses of Enon, but this is a really interesting move for a guy to make this late into his career – it’s like he’s the Benjamin Button of spazzy indie guy and has grown into regression.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 5th, 2014 1:49pm

Make The Best Of It While You Can

Sun Kil Moon “I Love My Dad”

I made a joke yesterday about how this new Sun Kil Moon record sounds a little like a very dour Adam Duritz solo album, and I didn’t necessarily mean that as an insult. Mark Kozelek’s voice is similar, much more restrained – the emotive excess is dialed back, and there’s more grit in his tone. But I think there’s a similar investment in the richness of words – Kozelek is a better lyricist, though – and in conveying a direct, unvarnished emotion. “I Love My Dad” is the song that stands out for me, partly because it’s more up-tempo than a lot of the other songs, but mostly because I don’t hear a lot of guys sing so honestly and lovingly about their father. This is a very nuanced and not always flattering tribute to his dad, and it goes into a lot of concrete details about his experience, but I think in doing that it gets at a LOT of men’s relationships with their father. They are rarely perfect and are often aloof or send confusing messages, but there’s always that part of you that only really remembers the really good advice they’ve imparted.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 4th, 2014 2:05pm

The Young Die Young

Gardens & Villa “Bullet Train”

Gardens & Villa changed their sound so much between their first and second records that they could’ve fully justified changing the name of the band. Their debut was very stark and desolate – I described one of the songs as sounding “sorta like the Shins dying slowly in the middle of an endless desert” back in 2011 – and the new one is basically an American spin on gloomy Thatcher-era synth pop. I particularly like “Bullet Train,” which I think is very in touch with the aims of the best ’80s synth pop acts in the way it filters funk and soul moves through this icy palette and uptight sensibility. There’s some really great chilly keyboard tones in that – so cold that it feels like a blast of frigid air over the groove.

Buy it from Amazon.

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