September 23rd, 2014 12:04pm

The First A Formal Music

Aphex Twin “Minipops 67 (Source Field Mix)”

Right around the time Syro was announced, a few fake “leaks” of the album started going around. I can’t remember what it actually was, but if you barely knew Aphex Twin, you wouldn’t really know the difference probably. It’s sort of insulting, really, the thought that an electronic record with no vocals would all basically be the same. When “Minipops 67” was released as a single, it was clear just how recognizable Aphex Twin really is – his catalog is varied, but there’s just particular tones and rhythms that are very him. Mark Richardson’s review of Syro pointed out that his approach to drum programming is every bit as distinctive as how John Bonham played the drums, and I think that’s very true. It’s an interesting thing to consider, too – a lot of what is recognizable about music played on traditional instruments is in the way the musician’s body interacts with the object. It’s a unique physicality and sensibility. With programming, I suppose, it’s more about recognizing the way someone’s mind works. That’s present in live instrumentation too, but it’s more the focus here. Even if you haven’t been lurking around Aphex Twin’s mind for some time, you immediately recognize where you are when you’re there.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 22nd, 2014 12:04pm

This Is For Nobody

Julian Casablancas + The Voidz “Take Me In Your Army”

Julian Casablancas’ new record barely sounds like what you’d expect of him – it’s deliberately odd and spacey, gleefully perverse, and sometimes he barely sounds like himself as he sings. It’s a genuinely surprising record from someone we’re used to sounding more or less the same every time. A lot of the musical extremes of Tyranny seem to be a reaction against this, and the way working with The Strokes must feel like a creative straitjacket: They’ve got such a distinct sound and specific brand that they can barely do anything outside the formula of Is This It that wouldn’t alienate their fans. This record feels like Casablancas trying to purge a decade’s worth of oddball ideas in one set of songs, and it’s sort of overwhelming, but in a good way. Not every song and experiment works, but when he and his new band click – like on the dreamy yet creepy “Let Me In Your Army” – it’s like he has a new lease on his career.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 19th, 2014 12:15pm

The Virtues Of Cruising

King Crimson @ Best Buy Theater 9/18/2014
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 1 / Level Five / A Scarcity of Miracles / Hell Bells / Pictures of a City / The Letters / Sailor’s Tale / The ConstruKction of Light / Red / One More Red Nightmare / VROOOM / Coda: Marine 475 / Talking Drum / Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part 2 / Starless // Hell Hounds of Krim / 21st Century Schizoid Man

King Crimson “One More Red Nightmare”

I went to this show entirely because I was curious to see what it would be like, and it was kinda fascinating. I’ve seen plenty of arty rock music in my day, but nothing so formal and academic in presentation. It didn’t have the dynamics of any show I’ve seen before, and in the parts where they weren’t being a heavy rock band, it could be hard to know exactly how to respond to the music.

In observing the band I have a few takeaways:

1) It is strange but wonderful to see Robert Fripp play his parts in person, even if he’s off to the back of the stage and seems more like a technician than, you know, one of the greatest and most inventive rock guitarists of all time. The moments when you could really get a sense of the physicality going into the part he was playing were pretty incredible to behold.

2) I have more patience for drum solos – or triple drum solos, as there are three drummers in the band – than I would have thought. Gavin Harrison, the alpha drummer, was particularly great in the solo section of “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

3) I have absolutely no understanding of the Chapman Stick. Tony Levin played one on about half of the songs in the show, and especially when they’d put a close up of him playing on the screen, I’d just be confused by the physics of that instrument. It just looks like he’s doing random hand gestures and getting an absurd range of sounds out of it. It’s like Arthur C. Clarke’s rule that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

4) The songs from Red were amazing live, and definitely the parts I enjoyed the most. “One More Red Nightmare” is just an all-time great art metal song, and it’s funny how in a show full of unusual time signatures – I mean, in a SONG full of unusual time signatures – they still know how to make a 4/4 part sound really cool.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 18th, 2014 12:33pm

You Think I’m The Negative One

SBTRKT featuring Ezra Koenig “New Dorp New York”

Ezra Koenig’s lyrics here are brilliant – he’s evoking very specific images in New York City, and contrasting them so that middle class Staten Island blurs with big money Manhattan. He’s playing a little game with the listener, but he always is, to some extent. I think if there’s any point to be made here, it’s about the way native New Yorkers attach themselves to the GREATNESS of the city even if that’s not reflected at all in their lives, but the pride really becomes a big part of identity and makes life a little bit better. But really, I think above all else, Ezra is having fun with references, connections, and the simple pleasures of alliteration and assonance.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 16th, 2014 2:55am

You Were In My Dream Again

Caribou “Silver”

“Silver” is one of those songs where I have to assume the lyrics were written in some way as a response to the musical arrangement – everything in the song is moving in these slow, sad circles, so Dan Snaith sings about being heartbroken like it’s just being stuck in a painful loop. It’s all about memory as this inescapable thing that even poisons your dreams, and feeling further away from a person who is still somehow taking up all this space in your mind. It’s a gorgeous piece of music, but also one that just has this incredible melancholic undertow and a hazy feeling that reminds me a lot of being on prescription painkillers.

Buy it from iTunes.

September 15th, 2014 12:25pm

A Better Body Than Anyone Else Is A Full Option For Me

Hyuna “Red”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 12th, 2014 8:33am

Somebody Stepped Inside Your Soul

U2 featuring Lykke Li “The Troubles”

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.

This album is already in your iTunes library. I wrote more about this record over at BuzzFeed.

September 9th, 2014 3:52am

Inverse Achievement

Interpol “Everything Is Wrong”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 8th, 2014 3:01am

She’s A 20th Century Fox

Sloan “Cleopatra”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

September 4th, 2014 12:30pm

You Find The Idea Calming

Sinkane “Omdurman”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

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