February 4th, 2015 1:16pm

Dancing Too Close Behind

Jessica Pratt “Wrong Hand”

Jessica Pratt’s second album benefits greatly from the way it was mic’d. It sounds like there might have been only one used, or maybe two, but it all comes across like it was recorded live to tape in an apartment. You can really feel a sense of space in the sound, and not only in the faint tape hiss. It feels extremely intimate and remarkably fragile. You can hear little errors in her guitar playing here and there, and at some points, actual warping in the tape. (It’s funny how nostalgic that sound feels now, I almost never hear it but I used to hear it almost every day.) Pratt sounds so totally alone on these songs, and that solitude sets her free – this is very much the sort of record that benefits from the emotional vulnerability a person can have when no one else is around to witness it.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 3rd, 2015 1:13pm

Bringing This Back To Life

Charli XCX featuring Rita Ora “Doing It” (A.C. Cook Remix)

I listened to this A.G. Cook remix of this Charli XCX song before I ever heard the original mix, and going back to that proper version is horrible for me now because it just sounds so slow and lethargic. Cook’s mix keeps the structure of the song almost exactly the same – it’s a fantastically well-written pop tune – but speeds it all up to the manic tempo and childlike timbre of PC Music. I think this really unlocks the song, and emphasizes all the best hooks whereas the original downplays everything. I realize that this is maybe the pop music equivalent of dousing a dish with hot sauce, but I am also a person who will pour hot sauce on most things.

Buy it from Amazon.

February 2nd, 2015 1:24pm

A Hefty Catalog Of Wasted Time

Belle & Sebastian “Play for Today”

It’s easy to feel trapped in your life if you’ve bought into a story you’ve told yourself since you were very young, and the only way out of it is to write a new story for yourself. Stuart Murdoch’s character in “Play for Today” starts off feeling lonely and isolated, and trapped in a life story he suspects is very dull. This is contrasted with Dee Dee Penny’s character, who seems no less stuck in life, but takes some pleasure in creating a people-pleasing look and persona for herself, and using her imagination to cope with her buried frustration and hostility.

They agree on a few things:

1. life is a secret
2. death is a myth
3. love is a fraud – it’s misunderstood
4. work is a sentence
5. family’s a drag
6. this house is a trap

Very pessimistic indeed. This all takes a turn in the second half of the song, as the music shifts from this upbeat but strangely hollow mid-‘80s New Order pastiche to something like a new wave gospel tune. As the backing vocals chant “author, author!” the two characters meet and begin to write themselves into new roles. Dee Dee’s character prods Stuart’s to let go of his whole “lonely sad king” routine, because it’s doing him no favors, and is smothering her. As the song ends, the two make an effort to live as though they’re a couple in a movie romance, because as Stuart sings, “we’re braver when we’re on the sacred screen.” It’s a happy ending.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 30th, 2015 4:00pm

My High School Dreams

Toro Y Moi “Empty Nesters”

I love when artists throw you a real curveball. Like, who knew that the almighty king of chillwave would be a power pop natural, and could effortlessly channel the best of Matthew Sweet, Electric Light Orchestra, and Todd Rundgren? This is a pretty big stylistic leap for Toro Y Moi, but it’s not jarring since the slick aesthetic of his earlier work is applied to this creamy classic rock vibe. He’s definitely aware of the nostalgic quality of this music, and he foregrounds that in the lyrics with a nod to Weezer, references to doodling in the margins of school papers, and the half-joking idea of making “another hit for the teens.”

Pre-order it from iTunes.

January 28th, 2015 1:00pm

One Feeling At A Time

Björk “Lion Song”

Björk labels this track as “five months before” in the packaging of Vulnicura, as in it was written nearly half a year before she and Matthew Barney permanently split. It’s basically a song in which she observes a change in their dynamic, and wonders what to do – call him out on his moodiness, wait it out, stew in frustration. It’s a very passive sentiment, and that carries through most of the album, with Björk addressing the dissolution of a very long relationship as though it’s just something happening to her, rather than something she is directly involved in. I think this rings emotionally true to an extent, especially if you’re the one being left behind. But there’s a strange void in this music, this empty space where the singer’s complicity would be. Is she actually blameless in all this, or is it just too painful to address?

Buy it from iTunes.

January 27th, 2015 3:33pm

Wonder What Is Real

DJ Taye “Reality/Fantasy”

That repeated line – “I see myself as iconic, in that my downfall is kinda ironic” — is so wonderfully arrogant, but delivered in a way that isn’t especially confident. It mostly just sounds pessimistic to me. I really do like the idea of seeing yourself as iconic, even if no one else does – it’s empowering, but also just something a lot of people have to do to convince themselves that their ideas and art will matter to other people.

Buy it from DJ Taye’s Bandcamp page.

Aphex Twin “diskhat ALL prepared1mixed 13″

I love the way Aphex Twin records acoustic sounds – it’s mostly quite dry, but the parts with minimal or natural reverb sound as though they were recorded in a cramped, confined space. This track feels particularly claustrophobic, with the most echoey sounds seeming as though they’re unidentifiable objects clanking off metal pipes.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 26th, 2015 1:16pm

I Just Want To Be The One You’re Talking About

Girlpool “Alone at the Show”

There’s really not a lot of lyrics in this song, but it’s such a vivid sketch of a girl with a crush on a guy in a band. It sounds like an exciting situation but it’s actually pretty ordinary, and Girlpool does a great job of making it clear how accessible and normal this guy is despite seeming cool and somewhat unattainable – like, he’s telling stories about his mom as he walks her to her car. Not glamorous, but definitely a guy you fall for.

Buy it from The Le Sigh.

January 22nd, 2015 1:32pm

The Language Is Broken

Erase Errata “Watch Your Language”

Erase Errata: The other amazing all-female punk band that returned from a looooooong hiatus with an excellent, vital new record this week. I hate that they are so overshadowed, but that was always the case – even when they got some attention, it wasn’t all that much. Erase Errata haven’t been entirely gone since they released the wonderful and highly underrated Nightlife in 2006 – there were a couple singles, and Jenny Hoyston has released some solo work along the way – but the version of the band that exists today sounds like one that’s made a few evolutionary leaps while they were out of the spotlight. Hoyston in particular has become a far more impressive guitarist, and has developed a lot of interesting textures for her choppy post-punk rhythm style. “Watch Your Language” is all harsh mechanical tones, and reminds me of the severity of early ‘00s Wire, and even a bit of Tom Morello’s style in Rage Against the Machine. This quasi-industrial aesthetic suits Erase Errata very well, and complements the seriousness of Hoyston’s lyrics and stern vocal affect.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 21st, 2015 1:13pm

There’s Something Else If You Listen

Kindness featuring Robyn “Who Do You Love?”

I really wasn’t feeling Robyn’s work with Royksopp last year, not because it was in any way bad, but because it just sorta predictable and dull to me. A lot of that has to do with the production style, which was very beat heavy and air tight – it just felt very overbearing and unfun to me in a way the best Robyn songs do not. This collaboration with the producer Kindness is very much in the opposite direction. There’s a lot of negative space in this arrangement, and the song moves in this stop/start pattern that mirrors the unsure tone of the lyrics. The music implies a lot of space but an intimate scale, and this does a lot of favors for Robyn’s voice and her lyrics – she always excels at getting across the subtleties of rather ordinary relationship drama. Here she’s singing about struggling to make a true romantic connection, and you can hear the frustration in her voice. She wants a transformative emotional reaction, but it’s not happening. But she’s there, fighting through that numbness to find a true, meaningful feeling and it’s beautiful.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 20th, 2015 12:41pm

The Shout Of The Room

Sleater-Kinney “Hey Darling”

It makes some sense that the song on No Cities to Love that feels the most like a classic Sleater-Kinney song, or a least something that would’ve fit in perfectly well on Dig Me Out or The Hot Rock, is also the song that’s a message addressed to all the old fans who had to live without them for a decade. Corin Tucker is a bit apologetic for letting people down, but definitely not for any actual decisions she made – “the situation was justified,” and it absolutely was. Playing live is fun but touring is a grind, and it’s not compatible with being a mother, or at least it isn’t without a huge support system. This isn’t the song where the stress and burden of motherhood is addressed – that’s the opening song “Price Tag,” which sung is from the perspective of a cash-strapped single mom – but it’s definitely a song that comes from the other side of that experience. There’s certainly a maternal quality in the way she phrases the sentiment of the song, and explains her reasons for backing away. I think a lot of the passionate spark to this song, and the record in general, comes out of being so excited to do this thing again after walking away from it for totally mature and responsible reasons. Tucker never had to write a song explaining herself and she definitely didn’t need to apologize for her band’s hiatus, but I think No Cities to Love gains something from this transparency, and I’d rather hear this come from her directly rather than read this sentiment into the subtext.

Buy it from Amazon.

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