June 19th, 2014 12:23pm

The World Won’t Know

How to Dress Well “See You Fall”

Am I wrong to hear The Velvet Underground’s “Heroin” lurking underneath the pretty, delicate layers of this song? You catch it in some pauses, when the saccharine vocal melody and the gentle tinkling of piano keys recede, and you feel that slight dissonance and anxious pulse. Without that buried beneath it all, this wouldn’t be quite as effective – lovely, sure, but not as moving. With it, we get a context for emotion, and a suggestion that everything Tom Krell is singing is a lot darker than he’s telling you in his words.

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June 17th, 2014 3:50am

Everything Is So Scary

Priests “New”

Priests are a punk band, and they’re good at it. This is important to say because the sort of things they do very well – convey urgency, project defiant aggression, give off a general vibe of violence and danger – are all conventions of the genre that many untalented bands can barely handle. The thing that frustrates me about a band like this is that while they nail these things, they seem indifferent to pushing beyond convention. And I think that’s a fair enough thing a lot of the time – most music is part of some tradition or another – but that eagerness to conform to expectations seems at odds with the sentiment of the music. This is the problem of punk rock, really – people are so brainwashed into thinking that it’s all transgressive and cool that most people working within it don’t realize how conservative their art is. There’s a lot of power and venom in this band, but they’re still new – I’d like to think that they might do something more bold with their music later on. I’m not gonna count on it, though.

Buy it from Amazon.

June 16th, 2014 2:05am

How Do I Get Close To You

Alvvays “Adult Diversion”

My relationship with twee and “indie pop” has always been a little tricky. I mean, I definitely love particularly artists in that realm, but for the most part I have no particular sentimentality or reverence for that canon. I tend to think of indie pop artists as cutesy underachievers with a willfully narrow range of musical influences. In other words, a song in this genre needs to be exceptionally well made and charming to appeal to me. This song is one of those: The tonality and melodic style is familiar, but the execution is fantastic. Like a lot of the best songs in this genre, it’s effective partly because the wistful tone of the song matches the relatively small emotional scale of the lyrics. This is basically just a song about a crush, and not even a particularly intense one. She’s trying to understand it, but there’s no particular urgency. This could be a bad thing for some songs, something that forces your to think “who cares???”, but “Adult Diversion” really connects with the vague pleasure that comes with having this kind of non-problem in your life.

Buy it from Amazon.

June 12th, 2014 1:06pm

His Strange Weather

Lana Del Rey “Shades of Cool”

At least part of Lana Del Rey’s success is owed to the fact that she’s pretty much the only notable artist in pop music who is entirely devoted to performing melancholy ballads and torch songs. That style of pop has been out of fashion for so long that the irony in her music is necessary – the audience’s associations with this particular sort of melodrama and sentimentality are removed from historical context. The music has to be a commentary on its own genre because it’s such a self conscious and contrary thing to embrace, and the modern details in the lyrics should be slightly at odds with the tone of the music. She’s gone overboard with the winking in the past, but with her third album Ultraviolence, she’s found a way to dial down the irony and focus more clearly on the emotion in her songs.

“Shades of Cool” is particularly great because it takes on a very James Bond theme sort of grandeur while keeping the lyrics very direct. This is very plainly a song about a woman who is dealing with a severely emotionally unavailable man, and reckoning with the reality of the situation. She has no illusions about him – the most powerful moment of the song is the part of the chorus in which she sings the words “You’re unfixable” with this odd, trilling tone – but she’s still holding on to some hope that things will work out. It’s a simple and lovely sentiment, and entirely merits this melodramatic arrangement.

Buy it from Amazon.

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.

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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.

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