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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

February 3rd, 2014 1:34pm

It Looks Just Like A Window

St. Vincent “Digital Witness”

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.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 29th, 2014 1:36pm

The Quiet Gets Too Close To Me

Sophie Ellis-Bextor “Runaway Daydreamer”

Sophie Ellis-Bextor has spent the vast majority of her career making dance pop for the U.K. market, sort of like a b-list homegrown version of Kylie. Her new record is a change of direction for her – she’s abandoned dance beats, and has embraced a very stately and grand sort of orchestral pop. It works pretty well for her: She’s always had a prim voice that I never found too compelling in the context of dancey stuff, but fits the orderly, uptight tone of this music. “Runaway Daydreamer” isn’t nearly as deep as it’d like to be, but the melody is just lovely and even if it has the trappings of “mature pop,” it’s still very bubblegum at its core.

Buy it from Amazon.

January 28th, 2014 1:45pm

Here’s To A Truth We Knew

TV on the Radio “Million Miles”

For some reason I didn’t really notice that TV on the Radio actually released a couple singles last year – I thought that blogs were just posting live videos of unfinished songs and I generally ignore that kind of thing. But no, “Million Miles” came out for real last summer, and it’s one of the best songs they’ve ever done. It’s a ballad that mourns the ending of a once lovely relationship, which is a topic they’ve touched on before in Tunde Adebimpe’s “You.” But whereas that song expresses confusion as to how and why it happened, Kyp Mallone’s perspective is both far more sentimental and hugely pessimistic. By the end of the song he’s so defeated by realizing that all love eventually fades away that he’s swearing it off forever – “Don’t you let love break your heart / Givin’ all your power to a flame that falls apart.” But in context, you can sense that his words are very hollow, and he’d easily fall in love all over again without hesitation.

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January 27th, 2014 1:56pm

Spin Dizzy Circles

Mouse On Mars “I See Dizzy”

I love the way this track sounds as if Mouse On Mars are poking and prodding the soundtrack of a vintage video game til it screams, or bouncing it off the walls like a rubber ball. They’re geniuses of making you feel like you’ve been tossed into some insane cartoon world, and the rules of animation apply to pretty much everything except for you. Everything’s bending and shifting and bouncing around you, and you just have to dance around it somehow.

Buy it from Amazon.

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