February 19th, 2014 1:29pm
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.
February 18th, 2014 3:06am
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.
February 13th, 2014 2:02pm
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.
February 12th, 2014 1:41pm
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.
February 11th, 2014 1:47pm
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.
February 10th, 2014 1:30pm
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?
February 6th, 2014 1:27pm
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.
February 5th, 2014 1:49pm
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.
February 4th, 2014 2:05pm
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.
February 3rd, 2014 1:34pm
I haven’t really decided how I feel about St. Vincent’s new record. I feel a little disappointed in that she hasn’t done much to change from where she was at on her previous album, but I like that she’s refining a very distinct style, and she pushes all of her tics to the extreme on most of her new songs. It’s more twitchy, more synthetic, more aloof. It works, but as she moves in this direction, the music feels less and less…human. And that’s a big part of her art – she’s clearly obsessed with the idea of the uncanny valley, and making affectless normalcy seem jarring and absurd. But maybe that works a little better with visuals? A lot of what made her older work, particularly Actor, so exciting was how there was this very human anxiety under it all, and a lot of the art was about that being buried.
“Digital Witness,” one of the best new songs, puts all that anxiety right on the surface, and the lyrics are a fairly judgmental portrait of someone whose intense FOMO has ironically metastasized into full-blown social media addiction and a distance from active life. But even if she sings the song in the first person, I can’t shake the feeling that any anxiety in this song doesn’t come from the character so much as Annie Clark being anxious about people like this existing. It’s fear of the new normal.