I just celebrated my last day of work on the 21st, my first art show on the 22nd, and my 30th birthday is today. So obviously I’ve decided to write about music today! My album of the month comes out today, and it’s no surprise if you know me and you follow this sort of thing a little bit.
Best LP: Joanna Newsom - Divers
People who couldn’t get into Have one on Me (it’s your fault, keep trying, it’s worth it) should have an easier time with this one, and I think this will disappoint no one. It’s all about the songs here: “Anecdotes” takes a few spins but I now believe it in as a stellar way to show that Joanna is still going to shift a song in many directions like the last few records, but that it’s getting subtler and more artful. The harp leads directly into the piano-led standout “Sapokandian.” “Leaving the City” is my personal favorite, where Joanna pits a slow croon against a quick delivery for one of the album’s most exciting moments. “Divers” the song is bookended by two quiet, short, very effective songs. Before it, “The Things I say” is almost all piano and pith, and afterwards, “Same Old Man” is lovely and has a harp vs. banjo arrangement that’s the folkiest she’s sounded since The Milk-Eyed Mender. “Divers,” with it’s beautiful harp arrangement and musings on life, love, and death, recalls “Sawdust and Diamonds” and is the centerpiece of the album both physically and emotionally. “You Will Not Take My Heart Alive” kicks off the great trio that ends the album, and has an uncharacteristic amount of repetition around the titular phrase. “A Pin-Light Bent” hearkens back to Ys but is as succinct as it is affecting. It segues well into the beautiful “Time as a Symptom,” with ending with the most powerful crescendo on the record. Thanks for the birthday present, Joanna!
Best Indie LP: Deerhunter - Fading Frontier
I was worried that this was going to be in the Monomania lineage but it’s much closer to Halcyon Days, thank goodness. This is actually so pleasant and tight as to invite Real Estate comparisons, but that’s certainly where Atlas Sound and Lotus Plaza have been heading lately. Bradford has some real poetic hits among his misses this time, including the great “Jack-knifed / on the side street crossing / I’m alive / And that’s something.” "Snakeskin" is a rocker and will be great to see them riff on live, and Lockett steps up with his contribution in the pensive "Ad Astra." Overall, there's a lot to like about this one and I image putting it on as much as the other Deerhunter records.
Best Tape: Body-san - Corporate Interiors
This is my feel good tape of the year. I’m not sure it’s corporate interiors that it conjures for me; I think it’s more about comfy, tropical spaces (in which I’ve never lived). I’m thinking the kind where you don’t need walls and there’s always a pile of fruit and a sparkling beverage next to you. Each sound is individually well chosen, and though there’s camp within the melodies, the overall feel is consistent and kept clean by the sound palette. It’s kind of the opposite of what OneOhTrix does with his music, where he chooses horrible sounds and tries to compose them just-so. “KC Vapes” is warm and inviting with it’s shuffling beat, and “My Moments” plays in a fun sonic range with it’s pops and underwater melodies. “Hotspot (She My Wifi)” is a banger with its engaging beat, and the space-disco of the title track to close the record feels a little “Professor Norse” to me. Just like that record, I think this one is something that people with a passing interest in house, dance music, and offbeat pop might all appreciate.
Best Rock LP: Protomartyr - The Agent Intellect
Joe Casey goes full-on Mark E Smith for this one, and what results is much more consistent than the average Fall record for sure. Guitars provide the melodies for the most part, which swirl about in a decidedly indie-friendly fashion. This is rock and roll though; Casey mostly sneers and snarls and songs are built around immediacy. The whole album goes to show how a variety of song structures and techniques can make a cohesive statement around seemingly minimal and inflexible pieces.
Best Abstract LP: Moon Zero - Moon Zero
Moon Zero is one of the most engaging ambient/drone records I’ve heard in a long time. The A side builds slowly through the first two tracks, where subtle melodies carry along the shimmering drones. This leads into “The Solipsist,” which is a frozen expanse of feedback washes and synth rumblings. The B side rushes in with an aggressive noise loop that is kinetic and interesting but I consider it to be the low point of the record. From there, it settles into the concluding tracks which are equal parts serene and dystopian. Overall, a very satisfying listen that will get better as the weather gets colder.
Best Tech House EP: Andre Lodemann - Leaving the Comfort Zone
Everything happens in the right way on this 12". The A side tells a story about how to tell an engaging story with a house track. The intro, plot, build, release, and denouement are all present in such a way that it makes me want to mix my metaphors. On the flip side, "Between the Notes" builds in unexpected ways and uses a not-so-house-y vocal sample to propel the track forward. I like the idea of big room house production with nuanced sound design.
Best Footwork EP: DJ Spinn - Off that Loud
If you're going to make music in an obnoxious style, you better be really good at it. Footwork is a brilliant, horrible genre that is mostly lacking in taste and Spinn losing his artful collaborator was quite a hit. Rashad (and Danny Brown!) collaborate on the best track on this EP, resulting in the best track in this music universe since Spinn and Taso worked with Jessy Lanza. Otherwise, "Off that Loud" is a great footwork track, "The Future is Now" is an annoying footwork track, and "Throw it Back" is somewhere in between.
Best Deep House EP: Romare - Rainbow
I don’t listen to a whole lot of Deep House, but I’m getting the feeling that the best tracks are the ones that can be approached as individual songs the way that other “songs with words” are. Here, “Rainbow” uses enough vocal tracks to confuse it with a remix of a soul track, and the melodies vary across many instruments and develop fully across nine jazzy minutes (check out that round electric bass, especially). The transition to the Bedroom version is interesting and effective as it highlights the sultry parts of the original with an ‘I don’t want it’ on top. Halfway through, it doubles back for the haziest, smokiest version yet. The flip might even be better though: “Love Song” is built around mostly the first two words of a common three word phrase that concludes as the beat is dropped and a new phase of the track is entered. It’s a formula that could go all wrong, but in this case, does quite the opposite.
Best Indie EP: Jacuzzi Boys - Happy Damage
Jacuzzi Boys power pop their way through this quick six song series and slow down very little along the way. “Happy Damage” is as anthemic as garage ever gets, and the same energy is carried through until “Sun,” which only slows down a bit and still squeals its way through it’s comparatively long three minutes. “Platform Licks” uses sax very effectively in a Fun House kind of way. Overall, this is exactly what I want from these guys and I hope they keep diving deeper into aggressive but poppy garage.
Best Punk 7”: Vexx - Night and Day
Vexx is super cool. VU checking Black/White is one burner of an opener, but mostly Vexx sounds like X at their best and most intense. Besides a brief mellow intro to “Walking in the Rain,” every inch of this 7” is covered in blazing garage punk that will tear the paint off the walls.
Best Outsider House EP: Computer Graphics - CCCP
Outsider in general feels like it’s influenced a past before electronic music was even invented. CCCP in particular references a time where technology had only advanced to the point of sending radio transmissions. Primitive computer sounds, tape hiss, washed out synths, and intricate drum programming join the soviet broadcast samples here to make some intriguing and captivating home listening house. Check out the titular opener that sets the pace for warbly synth melodies and “Downloading” for generally creative percussion, including an intense handclap breakdown. There’s also an interesting Boom Bap meets 2 Step influence that runs throughout the drum tracks, perhaps most on “Make Me Juice.”
Best Bass EP: Detboi - Scatter
It took a couple listens for me to get into these futuristic breakbeats. As with a lot of Grime-y Bass, I wasn’t sure there was any point and that it was too template-cut for me to really be interested. There’s a lot of wit and whimsy to these cuts though: check out how the “Give Love” vocal is chopped between the breaks and how the Akkord-checking bass howls surround the whole thing. On “Shots,” one of two vocal clips climb in tone with the drums until both tracks give way to the shooting kick.
Best Abstract EP: Emptyset - Signal
This EP ends up being a series of individual movements throughout the two sides. There are a couple distinct movements in each piece, and intentionally little happens during the 17 minutes. There is some development, lots of whitespace, but mostly seething electronics that grow out of the darkness and fall back from whence they came. I’m an abstract analogue fetishist and I approve of this Signal transmission.
Best Progressive Electronic EP: Ólafur Arnalds & Nils Frahm - Loon
Kiasmos is Arnalds’ project where he has been showing his knack for electronic music, but ultimately the project is confused somewhere between the dance floor and the home. Frahm has been hinting at his talent for machines also, but it hadn’t really come together until this EP. Now, together, they’re finding progressive ambient that is heavily influenced by their modern classical composition, which feels like the holy grail of their composition space (but maybe just because I prefer analogue to everything else). Anyways, this is what it sounds like when professional composers get their hands on synthesizers.