September 2016 Reviews

Hello again!


I found that last month I wrote too much and didn’t have anything left to say about the music. Whoops! I don’t really like repeating myself in anything, so I’m finding it a difficult concept to undertake writing and podcasting together. I also am having this issue with writing where I pore over a release a little too much and end up burning myself out with regards to the details of it. I’m sure these are common things for music writers who actually try to do this for a living. Never make your hobby into your job, right? Then again, if you’re able to 


I’d like to think of actual “creative types” as people who do creative things without remuneration. I also realize that many of the artists that I’m writing about aren’t making a living doing this, which, in a sense, is why I’m interested in them. I love the obscurity toil because it means that you’re doing it because you really want to, against all odds and reason. That’s what it’s all about! Anyways, the refusal of most of these artists to make widely marketable music is not a reason in itself to like them, as is the common confusion with snobbery, but it implies that the art is specific enough to be loved, just like how the more specific a joke, the funnier (if you get it). 


I’m rambling. I have more thoughts. I’m trying to question the very nature of writing any content the way that I do - from highlighting individual songs to talking about it, to how many listens I think it takes to have formed an opinion on an album without having burned it out (usually 10 for songs and 5 for electronic releases). My two favorite music listening scenarios are where 1) I’m doing something else entirely but it’s driving me forward or 2) I’m doing absolutely nothing and paying full attention to the release. The latter is only really possible if you’ve absorbed the album through some alternate method. No one can really give a truly active listen to an album that they have no mental map for and absorb it in one listen. Right? Maybe you can. 


Speaking of can(s), I just got new headphones. It reminds me that I need to write a PSA about headphones. I’m enjoying my Oppo PM-3s in Steel Blue after a brief (nearly a week long) misunderstanding about how the cord plugs into the headphones. Anyways, it’s a short PSA: get better headphones. Your taste in music will changes because you’ll be able to hear things. You might start liking electronic music! That will definitely lead to higher productivity, which of course will lead to more wealth, better relationships, and a longer, happier, more fulfilled life. If you’re sticking something inside your ears to listen to music on a regular basis, you’re doing it wrong.


I digress. Here’s some writing about music that I’ve enjoyed this month that’s as monolithic and impenetrable as ever because I’m terrible at generating digestible content.



Exploded View - Exploded View (Sacred Bones)

Genre: Post-Punk

How Much I like it: so much

How many listens it took: a few

This is climbing my album of the year charts quickly. I’ve been watching a lot of film lately, and I think albums that could soundtrack modern thrillers sound really interesting to me right now. Also, I would always enjoy this because it’s great. Joy Division is almost too obvious a reference point to bring up, but since this might be your introduction to Anika and her boyfriends (deep cut?), I’ll mention that they’re the only influence worth mentioning (…okay and Nico). Born Annika Henderson in the UK, Anika arranged this outfit to be her backing band before it took on a life of its own. Now they’re based in Mexico City, or maybe Berlin. This is one of several things I’ve listened to this month that gathers steam as it progresses. I hear the album in thirds: the first is introductory and the most song oriented, though it explores a few different shades of the band’s sound. The second third, starting with “Call on the Gods,” sees Anika as a ringleader chanting and ranting among chaos that’s going on around her. “Disco Glove” is the odd but fitting centerpiece in this anarchy, while “Parties in the Attic” is continually spiraling out chaos that sees her barely changing her delivery. It all happens in the final third for me, though: “Lark Descending” sets the stage for the wonderfully dark and catchy “Gimme Something,” the clear rocker of the bunch. “Killjoy” is the beautiful aftermath of the whole wreckage though. “You’re a killjoy / little boy” is duking it out with “gimme gimme / something / you know I want” as the most memorably delivered lines on the album. This is one that I’ll be coming back to in the future because it occupies a pretty specific place in my music universe.

Cosmonauts - A-OK! (Burger Records)

Genre: Psychedelic Indie Garage Rock

How much I like it: a lot

How many listens it took: just getting past the initial shock of “Party at Sunday”, which I actually really like now

I was worried when I first heard that Cosmonauts were cutting down the noise on their new album, especially when I first heard “Party at Sunday,” one of the two singles that they released as I anticipated the album. It’s a languid affair such that they’ve never really attempted and it made me worried that it wouldn’t rock hard enough and that they were doing the wrong thing. Not the case! It’s the lone ballad and it works really well as such. Otherwise, there’s more pop than ever, but every time there’s more pop, it’s also better than before. “Short Wave Communication” is peppy and synthy with female backing vocals, but is largely driven forward by up tempo punk rock drums and fits perfectly in the middle of the album. “Good Lucky Blessing” is anthemic indie with charming, chiming psychedelic underpinnings. “Cruisin’” may be the most fun, bolstered by a krauty beat and more catchiness. Besides that, the “business as usual” of the album is generally better than before, with perhaps a couple moments where the psych burners don’t burn as hot and hard as they have in the past. Besides that, it’s the strongest Cosmonauts release in every way.

Yak - Alas Salvation (Octopus) 

Genre: Progressive Garage Noise Rock

How much I like it: quite a bit

How many listens it took: a few

Yak basically invent a new offshoot of garage rock that I’m calling “progressive garage” by shifting between styles and taking huge chunks of style from great artists in noise rock, garage rock, and alternative. There’s quite a bit of variety, but mostly it sounds like vintage McLusky playing in the style of other bands, which it turns out is a great idea! “Use Somebody” is Stooges stomp with hair metal licks and an ending that recalls the horn swells of the B side of Fun House. Later, “Roll Another” sounds oddly like a Spiritualized drug hymnal, “Take It” takes on Radiohead’s “Knives Out,” and “Doo Wah” is 90% a Strokes song with 10% Yak grit, “Interlude II” is kinda like Swell Maps and the final song has a weirdly Animal Collective melody. But all this genre jacking works out really well and the sequencing of this album raises it to a much higher level than any individual idea. Plus, the whole thing is quite high spirited and completely lacking in dull moments. 

Cass McCombs - Mangy Love (Anti-)

Genre: Singer Songwriter, Folk

How Much I like it: Quite a bit

How many listens it took: A few

Mangy Love has a different mood than the other Cass albums recently. I wonder what he’s been doing differently in life since his mostly serious (okay the interludes were weird) Big Wheel to here, where even the most serious moments are punctuated with sarcasm, satire, or wit (“Bum Bum Bum”). I like it best in its most serious moments: the rocker “Switch,” the melancholic “Low Flyin’ Bird,” the Pink Floyd-y “It” and the lugubrious “I’m a shoe.” And the first half’s hits: the mostly serious “Medusa’s Outhouse,” which may be the best song despite its ridiculous breakdown (“If it’s so easy / you try”), the precious “Opposite House” and of course the great “Bum Bum Bum.” Since I know the artist so well from his last four albums or so, I understand in a sense how to receive his strangest moments. I wonder how it communicates to a newcomer though, who knows about this sometimes-nomad’s adventures around the world. I suppose on the one hand I don’t have to worry about it, and on the other hand, I’m worrying about it because I’m not taking him seriously enough. He’s got me doing it, now. This does mostly work though, and I think it may be his best album in a great catalogue.

Cool Ghouls - Animal Races (Empty Cellar)

Genre: Psychedelic Garage Pop

How much I like it: a lot

How many listens it took: It’s been getting better but it was pretty immediate

At one point, I was confused because I was listening to Cool Ghouls, Cosmonauts, and Cold Pumas at the same time (on three different stereos, Zaireeka style). I was like, who are all these bands who are probably from California (Cold Pumas aren’t and I’m not writing about them; California is the best)? Cool Ghouls are unsurprising and very satisfying psychedelic garage pop. There are 11 very modern sounding nuggets on this album: it’s Indie production and sensibility, but 60s influence all the way. Check out “Sundial,” which has as much in common with Real Estate as it does The Seeds until the “ba-ba” breakdown goes all Zombies. They reach a psych jam territory on “Time Capsule” that’s at least part Grateful Dead but much more as played by Woods. The middle of the album has Americana moments, including the pedal steel on “When You Were Gone,” the piano rock of “Days,” and the ironic country callout CSNY-ish ballad “Just Like Me.” There’s a shift for the last part of the album though, with balls out rocker “Brown Bag” ushering in a series of straight ahead pop-rockers to close out the album. Listening back, it would feel a little backloaded if the melodies and the songs weren’t so strong all the way through. 

True Widow - Avvolgere (Relapse)

Genre: Doomgaze

How Much I like it: I think a lot

How many listens it took: a few

The last True Widow album that came out, Circumambulation, was the first that I was already a fan for. I was initially underwhelmed, but the songs had a way of climbing inside my brain and nesting there for a while. By the end of the year, I thought it was an 8/10 on paper (rateyourmusic) but that it was my #2 album of the year in 2013 because of the affect it had on me, and still does. I was interested to see what happened with Avvolgere, as I’d heard a couple of these songs debuted at a recent show in the shoebox that’s known as Great Scott in Allston. So far, I’m pretty sure it’s a better album than Circumambulation, and might be in competition with their first two records, which I think are both very good. More moods are covered by this album than the last and better variety leads to a better narrative. There’s an acoustic number, “To All That He Elong,” sung by Nicole, whose vocals are still largely underused. This sets up a trio of songs at the end of the album that utilize harmony and melody in a new direction, and their impact is large for it. The call and response melody of “Sante” makes it a highlight, and “Grey Erasure” continues the up-tempo (for them) momentum with classic 60s era psychedelic pastiches and an urgent sounding bridge. Nicole-led “What Finds Me” has a set-ending finality to it, bolstered by the best vocal harmonies in their catalogue singing some classic lyrics of love that are rarely heard on such a heavy record. 

Wilco - Schmilco (dBpm)

Genre: Americana

How much I like it: quite a bit

How many listens it took: well, it keeps getting better!

Am I the last Wilco fan out there? Can anybody hear me? Does anyone think that Star Wars was good and this is even better? It reminds me of Nick Cave’s Grinderman project, in way. Like, we’re 50 years old now (as a band, hehe), let’s have some fun and write some pithy songs. These are the mellow half of the new Wilco songs, and they give a lot more than they ask for in effort. “If I ever was a child” sets the Americana tone just right, as though they are reaching back to their Billy Bragg collaboration days. “Cry All Day” hearkens back to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in a way: it’s sad, it’s kind of happy, it rolls along like “Kamera” or “I’m the Man Who Loves You.” The pop is more Summerteeth-y than ever in the middle couplet of “Nope” and the wonderfully catchy “Someone to Lose,” which sees Nels Cline contributing one of the biggest riffs of the record. I think that this is a success in Wilco’s catalogue, as it serves to bring together some of their timelessness along with the immediacy that Star Wars hinted at. 


Noname - Telefone (Self-Released)

Genre: Hip-Hop / R&B

How Much I like it: a lot! Best hip hop so far this year!

How many listens it took: one

I don’t listen to much hip-hop anymore and/or there isn’t a lot of good hip hop anymore. I’m fairly certain that hip hop as an art form has degraded pretty far, and most artists in the genre get by on their charisma as performers and not their ability to release good albums. People seem to think Kendrick is the total package, but I simply don’t enjoy listening to any of his albums. Anyways, along comes Noname, born Fatimah Warner, to save the game for a minute. She’s young, she’s smart, and she sings, raps, and sing-raps insightfully about an array of relevant topics.  Sort of a Lauryn Hill for the 2010s? “Sunny Duet” showcases her amazing skill in communicating feelings and ideas simply but in her own distinct way that continues for the rest of the mixtape. The lead single “Diddy Bop” is a winner, and also highlights her ability to cram syllables together with seeming ease that speaks to her background in Slam Poetry. The choruses on the whole tape are massive in a classic R&B way that sometimes threatens to take over a track, like on “Reality Check.” The production is generally quiet, jazzy, and definitely has some callouts to the boom-bap era of hip hop. Even at her most self referential in “Freedom Interlude,” her wit with words makes the odd format of the song work. The Telefone motif is best expressed in the mournful “Casket Pretty,” especially in the lyric “I hope to god that my telly don’t ring.” With such a promising debut tape, I can’t wait to hear more. 

Junior Boys - Kiss Me All Night (City Slang)

Genre: Electropop

How Much I like it: a good amount

How many listens it took: 0

You know you’re going to like a four track EP that follows directly on Big Black Coat. These just sound like leftover tracks that occasionally sound better than the album from earlier this year. “Yes” is better and funkier than most things on BBC, and “Baby Fat” is maybe a little superior to “Love is a Fire,” which is somewhat similar. The cover of “Some People are Crazy” is interesting - when Junior Boys cover songs, they definitely sound a little bit different than their normal songs. I like how noticeable it is, given how consistent it sounds with their other work. Definitely pick this up if you’re a fan of the Boys already - if not, go check out Big Black Coat!


birdbird - Corporation Setup (self-released)

Genre: Garage

How Much I like it: more than I should?

How many listens it took: zero

I like birdbird. They sound like they’re super hip New Yorkers who have really good recording equipment and work day jobs but then are able to still be awesome and creative in the meantime. So, they’re millennials. They sound much better than a garage rock band ought to. They also have band pseudonyms (Kirt Vomitgut is probably the best) and aren’t afraid to do really weird things. The title track is a great rock song that sounds like a lost 70s punk anthem, but it might be surpassed by the strong rock melodies and awesomely lazy “Yeah / Right” chorus of “Yeah, Right”. There’s a certain fascination with banality and malaise that’s captured generally that’s hard to pull off, but it’s done in a smart, almost cosmopolitan way. The EP doesn’t feel consistent though, (because it’s not, and) because of how the acoustic “The Octopus song” interrupts the flow in the middle. But that’s not too much of an issue since it’s the first recording of a band who shows a lot of promise!


Cosmc - Demos (self-released)

Genre: Garage

How Much I like it: kinda a lot

How many listens it took: zero

Boston duo Cosmc have a case of Grapefruit Seltzer on the cover of their album and they’ve included “seltzer rock” as a tag. It’s destined to be a hit, at least by band camp demo standards. And yeah, it’s the grapefruit seltzer of band camp demos! I think that would mean that they kept it simple, kept to the only truly necessary parts of life: water, bubbles, and fruit essence, and didn’t look back. The water would have to be the steady rocking drums, the guitar bubbles the whole thing up, and the super reverb-y vocals (the likes of which I haven’t heard in a bit, at least done this well) are of course the essence. The whole thing has a wayyy tripped out blues vibe ripped from Blue Cheer and fed through a wash of effects. Anyways, I might go see them Monday, October 10th if anyone’s around (it’s as free as the EP).



Vakula - Cyclicality Between Procyon and Gomeisa

Genre: Abstract Space House

How much I like it: a lot

How many listens it took: I never thought I’d make it but then it had me

I have a way of complaining about huge musical statements that are more about scope and ahven’t enough editing. I think that’s because if you’re going to make something huge, you better do it right. This is basically the 2001: Space Odyssey of albums for me, but with more of a sense of lightness than that film. It starts with a monolithic title track before giving the first hints of house on “Acteon.” It jumps around with shorter abstract concepts before settling into the massive “Double Star System.” This is where the party really starts, though it takes its time in doing so (which is very 2001). You hear the blues guitar licks and plucked bassline among the ambient soundscape, signaling a shift to house that will become more prominent as the record continues. The next song, “Overcoming Distance,” is a solid ambient techno track that might truly conclude the first half. “Deep Motivation” is the first truly groovy cut, as it eventually picks up a house beat as it bounces along. Then, “8600km Radius” is all funky bass, jazz keys, and swagger, like a spacier Mood Hut cut. But all that feels like the lead-in to the true funk house groover of the record, “Intergalactic Funk.” It barely fits, honestly, but after an hour of craziness, it’s so fun. You might think the album is ending for the tracks to follow, for it feels strangely like a protracted denouement. Which isn’t to say that they’re bad - the next two cuts have live guitar and bass blues licks that are extremely satisfying and fit very well in the scattershot funk second half. “Sensei Revelation” closes the album with another odd house moment that stands very well on its own. I’ve been through this album quite a few times now and I can say that it’s one of the most fun times I’ve had with a huge sprawling electronic record in quite some time - perhaps since 2014’s Minutes of Sleep from Francis Harris, which I only realized is a decent reference point just now.

Rian Treanor - Pattern Damage (The Death of Rave)

Genre: Basswork

How Much I like it: a lot

How many listens it took: quite a few

This is a hard one to get into, but it’s exploring a wonderful corner of the universe and I think it’s doing so quite uniquely. The closest predecessors are in the UK Bass and US Footwork realms, but this is really building on the last things that Sasu Ripatti has been working on in recent years on the Ripatti label. This is a dense EP full of choppy, perfectly formed rhythms and bass that slams into your headphones (hopefully). It starts out with the most exciting moment in Pattern A1, which has the most aggressive sound design of the four tracks: seemingly one track that’s modulated into terrifying noisy territory with an occasional bass beat syncopated beneath. It’s terrifying and otherworldly like Emptyset’s best moments. It makes the second track sound like a techno-y bass track in comparison, and has melody and structure that make things interesting in a new way. This continues to the “Damage” side of the EP, where B1 is a very footwork-y track complete with crazy Bass breakdowns and trap-like noises in the upper register. The final track is the most melodic thanks to some fun synth work, though it doesn’t shy away from the chaotic and unexpected with the varying tempo mania. I like the chances that are taken here and how few prisoners are taken by the results.

S Olbricht - ZZM EP (UIQ)

Genre: Outsider Tech-House

How much I like it: a good bit

How many listens it took: first listen I liked it

The new label that released Lee Gamble’s best and most straightforward 12” is back with S Olbricht’s best and most straightforward 12”. It’s not actually that straightforward: the opening track would have you think so, but “Floa1” follows, which kicks off with as much Floa1y Floa1iness as you could hope for in an Olbricht track. It would fit really well on “For Perfect Beings,” beginning with a solid three minutes of ambience before a distant techno kick-hihat steadily creeps forward in the mix. It’s a really fun progression and very expressively done, as it then makes great use of a clapping beat alongside. “Ktrying” is more predictably techno but has all the Olbricht touches that make it fun to put on headphones: the click track, the swooshing synth and warbles and garbles. “J_UC” is the weirdest thing here and shows an ability to tread in waters that Lee Gamble has mastered before in deconstructed techno. 

Forma - Physicalist (Kranky)

Genre: Occasionally Ambient Minimal Synth Pop

How Much I like it: mostly a lot

How many listens it took: it’s pretty immediate, or not if you don’t like it

You’ll know if you’re into this one after the first couple minutes of the introduction. If you like the opening analog notes that you hear in “Sane Man,” you’re all set, because you’re in for a lot of that. There’s a ton of Kraftwerk influence, especially through the first half and the epic title track. In between, there are some ambient movements that recall other German acts from the 70s (mostly Cluster), and go a long way towards making this album something special. “Descent” fittingly starts the flow towards the ambient segue, and it continues in three lush parts that you can pick out of the tracklist easily by their ridiculous names. Kranky had been quiet all year, but I think is about to have an amazing fall that might show this to be a minor release in its catalogue. Not minor to me, though!

G.H. - Housebound Demigod (Modern Love)

Genre: Experimental Industrial

How Much I like it: a good bit

How many listens it took: one

You don’t hear much from Modern Love anymore! At least, not enough to satisfy me. Gone are the days of anticipating this month’s new amazing Demdike Stare release that surely tops their last, at least in some dimension. But here’s G. Howell’s debut! He’s worked with Andy Stott and Miles Whittaker! Hooray. Well, this is a lot weirder than the average Modern Love release, and that’s saying something. Songs aren’t constructed so much as they happen to you, for the most part. It opens strongly, with a pair of woozy industrial tracks with sparse percussion, whacked out samples and tape hiss. Then, “Packhorse” is terrifying slow-motion minimal dub burner that would destroy any sound system that should be destroyed. It somewhat reminds me of Miles Whittaker’s “Irreligious” from Faint Hearted (I’m such a fanboy.). The heavy “Angels and Doormen” gives way to the weird as hell “Yorkshire Fog” (con-tro-ver-sy / con-tro-ver-sy), which, if someone could explain to me, would be great. It’s not unlistenable by any means, but it’s an oddball on a weird album. It ends well, with the mammoth title track spanning both the ideas of the album and the ideas of other similar artists in its 16 minute run.

Kemper Norton - Toll

Genre: Ambient Singer/Songwriter

How much I like it: quite a bit

How many listens it took: a few

I was ready to write off this album on first listen. I loved the thick drone of “Yadnik,” but I was completely put off by the vocals of “The Town,” which immediately follows. I felt like I was listening to Fennesz’s Venice but that the very british vocal interruption came much sooner than on that album! Actually, that album is still my reference point for this one: beautiful ambient passages that have a way of feeling like songs, especially since some of them are set to words. The songs are British folk inspired: they’re simple and quiet, with a similar but not the same sound palette to the rest of the album. “Sirens” follows “The Town” and returns to the dark ambient mood of the album with an utter lack of whimsy, much to my liking. It’s actually quite beautiful: it spirals into an intense rhythmic flurry before splitting apart again. It most clearly evokes the idea of the Torrey Canyon oil spill of 1967 that this album is inspired by and/or written for. It’s interesting because this tragedy, though not one of the biggest oil spills, affected a small area very greatly, making this feel like more personal than grandiose. This theme and story become more apparently in the second vocal track, “Black Silk,” which includes a reference to the “Summer of Love” and “Black Water Descending” that make it obvious the necessity of including some words with an album if you’re going to write it about something (take that, GYBE!). Centerpiece “Agnes and Louisa” may be the most evocative and expansive track, and it achieves this without words more successfully than the lyric “Coming Home.” Overall, there’s a weird clash between the various parts of this album that does work really well as a narrative and I’ve listened to it enough to not be able to think of it in any other way.

Död - Muscle Trax (Opal Tapes)

Genre: Dark Ambient Noise

How much I like it: quite a bit

How many listens it took: .5

This album, in part, helped me introduce Elena to the truly outrageous side of my musical taste. This is perhaps the darkest and blackest recording I’ve listened to this year, and is somewhat in the vein of a D.Å.R.F.D.H.S. EP (they’re also a Swedish production duo) called Persuasion that I really liked last year. The focus on thick, dense texture and the uncompromising nature of this is what make it so powerful - it is a very singular recording in the vein of some of Eliane Radigue and Emeralds’s best work. This tape has the tongue in cheek naming convention that is becoming somewhat popular in heavy electronic music, employed by the likes of Perc, Low Jack, and Powell. These are all references to weightlifting: “PowerBar Bar” is the opening drone and “DBOL,” the first of two vaguely techno like tracks, is a reference to a steroid. The second beat-track, “Protein Acid,” is the most conventional track, with down pitched 303 squelches among the deep ambience. The somewhat hilariously named “Weapon of Muscle Mass Destruction” lives up to its name with it’s thick 16 minute noise wall that is the most unrelenting thing in recent memory.