Welcome to another monolithic block of text about a bunch of different albums that I like! Just wait until next month, when it’s like, ten of these. I probably won’t email it around; you don’t have to block me, yet.
I wasn’t able to get through the Bjork album enough times to review it. I might go back if I have the energy. There are a few things happening on it that really drive me away (They’re Arca and Bjork and flutes). But there are many things that are definitely worth listening to! And that is, probably too, but I just wrote enough of a review to satisfy me, which, I’ll remind you, is the main point of this exercise.
Anyways, take your time, enjoy. Songs at the top, alpha order. Fairly opaque, until next month.
Colleen - A Flame My Love, A Frequency
If you love art pop but worry that there are too many sounds happening and they don’t go on for long enough, then this is the record for you! AFMLAF is all about the essentials: up to two Critter & Guitari synths and just enough voice to remind you that this is a songwriter’s album. If you aren’t hypnotized by the reverb, you might think it’s not quite enough. “Separating” is a natural place to start appreciating the stark palette and contrasts well with “Winter Dawn,” which is the most maximal Cécile Schott is willing to get with the piano family. Also, this video (http://bit.ly/2jbhx8d) of Schott playing “The Stars vs Creatures” really helped me understand the careful composition of the whole. Though supposedly conceived from a place of tragedy (Paris attacks), there’s a palpable romance with life that guides this record.
Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts - MILANO
I’m not a Parquet Courts purist. After all, once they started releasing in-betweeners as “Parkay Quarts” their output became muddled with a slew of interesting but largely inessential releases. This is more essential than those, but doesn’t necessarily fit into your next PC(/PQ) binge. It’s more of a weirdo indie record with quirky instrumentation that changes a lot based on who is singing, with “Pretty Prizes” not having an obvious Karen O pull to it, nor Andrew Savage either. Savage’s performances are more consistent and generally more fitting than O’s, though the “Talisa” vocals are really fun and couldn’t be done by anyone else. I’d actually really like to hear Savage try, though.
Fever Ray - Plunge
I haven’t been a huge fan of Karin Dreijer’s output, save for a few particular Silent Shout singles. I thought her solo project was too dry for art pop. But Plunge is exciting! There’s more of everything on this record than I was prepared for, in a great way: catchy moments, sexual exploration, and artsy minimal synth that alternatively shimmer and bang. Plunge picks up momentum as it goes through its workouts, culminating in the very fun 1-2 of “To the Moon and Back” and the comedown “Red Trails.” It’s nice to hear art pop that’s as fun to listen to as it is uncompromising.
Anna St. Louis - First Songs
A sweet tape from a genre (slacker folk?) that doesn’t really do tapes as a main format. I’d prefer people to only print tapes if it fits with the general idea of the release though, so I approve of this move. This is on a Woodist imprint called Mare and is fairly indebted to the sound that Kevin Morby and friends have been working on. It’s best when it’s starkest: “288” is a beautiful finger picked tune with a warm lap steel drone underneath, and “Sun” weaves in a second plucked guitar and single piano note into a simple but satisfying ode. “Mercy” is Anna’s version of an “I Want You” style psychedelic epic that works really well for it’s lightness and heaviness. The biggest knock is the sub half hour running time: I could use a few more of these, so hopefully there’s more around the bend.
Flat Worms - Flat Worms
Things garage rock should concern: motorcycles, fortune tellers, suburbia, girls, cars, flowers, the failures of radical behavior, earthquakes, bridges, California… This list has been a bit of a failure because there’s plenty of metaphor on this album, which is decidedly un-garage, I think. This is Castle Face though, and it’s one of the more realized and garagey releases on the label. It actually reminds me a little of classic In The Red releases, which CF has surpassed in breadth and depth in the last few years. This is a professional garage record made by a bunch of professional rockers, from the classic A1 of “Motorbike” to the opaque, morbid B1 “11816” to the epic riffy closer that stretches out another minute or two more than everything else.
OCS - Memory of a Cut Off Head
In a sense, this has been a long time coming. John Dwyer has been elaborating on the things that made early OCS (original albums released 2003-2005) interesting for the past 12 years. Now, he’s bringing the string and flute arrangements back with Brigid Dawson, who left Oh Sees a couple years ago, to make an album that’s parallel to the evolution of his rock bandonym. The original psychedelic folk project OCS contrasted with Coachwhips in the mid aughts, subtracting the mania but keeping the melody of Dwyer’s inimitable songwriting. The best songs sound like updates of early OCS songs with better everything: the title track rolls more and has better harmonies, “Cannibal Planet” has the perfect psychedelic folk refrain, complete with electric guitar noodles, and “The Chopping Block” sounds like strings and saw were added to the early live Thee Oh Sees record. It’s nice to hear Dawson sing alone, too, with standout “The Fool” and the closer, especially. My mom said this sounded like Simon and Garfunkel until it got weird, so, that’s a review.
Rina Sawayama - RINA
Pop music always has the “singles” problem. It almost never works to make, say, 12-14 singles within a calendar year, in so many ways. How would you release them? What would differentiate them? How would you transition between them? RINA gets around this issue, for now, with an EP that has 6 bonafide big pop singles and a couple interludes in between. Sonically, it’s 90s pop and R&B, and 80s cheesy guitar wankery taken to illogical extremes. It’s highly listenable all the way through, with “Take Me As I Am,” “Afterlife,” and “Cyber Stockholm Syndrome” being the most fleshed out, and the exact middle of “Tunnel Vision” / “Time Out” a little undercooked. The net effect of all this might be to overhype a disappointing full length…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Enjoy!
Taylor Swift - Reputation
Everyone’s got to have their opinion of the new Taylor album. If you spend enough time with it, you’ll end up talking about it in person with people, maybe even with one of the 1.2 million people who bought it in the first week. Now done with my first ten spins or so, I now think the ballads are the best (“Dress”, “New Year’s Day”), the bangers are right behind (“…Ready for it”, “I Did Something Bad”, “Dancing with our Hands Tied”), and the woeful songs become more tolerable (“End Game”, “Gorgeous”, “…Nice Things”). The production is consistently good and the bad songs are characterized by clumsy vocals (oh god those guest spots, oh GOD the ‘chorus’ of “Look What You Made Me Do”) and unconvincing vocal content. The good parts, which greatly outnumber the bad, are tighter, cleverer, sexier, darker, and more Taylor than ever before. It doesn’t quite all fit with the Taylor narrative that has been created over time, but I like it more for that. It feels like a good pop album from a good pop artist trying to write good pop songs…and sounding misguided about love, fame, parties, beef, the world, and herself. But that all makes for better tunes, so keep the imprudence coming.
Electronic (caveat emptor):
Equiknoxx - Colón Man
A late addition that I haven’t been through too many times, but I’ve been really enjoying my first few listens here. I’m not terribly familiar with Dancehall or why this record comes to me, but I’m glad that people are excited about it. This is what I want the Jlin records to sound like: artsy abstract dance music that’s still very much dance music. Equiknoxx’s (still can’t pronounce it in my head) development mirrors the footwork movement in the samples and jerky rhythms that spin around your head, but there’s just a certain logical progression that’s better on the ears and must be better on the dance floor. The DDS imprint is a great place for this, too: it’s influenced by Demdike Stare and other dark electronic of recent years in its sinisterness and fearlessness. The details and sheer number of tracks happening within a few seconds have made it hard for me to put down, so far.
FP-Oner - 7
Sometimes, when you work full time, you just need big ass 76 minute house album to get some stuff done during. I can’t really think of another function for expertly produced, jazzy tech-house where the long players are too long for a modern attention span. It’s one of those, “well, I’m here, better do something” kind of moments that get me into the sort of records where I never learn the album arc, if there even is one. Everything here is good though! “Smiles and Cries” > “Cosmic Waters” is especially memorable, as is the weird vocal clippings of “Follow the Sound” and Minako’s guest spot on “Light Years.” The back half meanders a bit more without a dip in quality. There are some especially fun moments too, like the toms on “Living Waters” and the spacy synth of “Simple Things,” if you make it that far. But definitely make it that far: be a little more European; put on some house music from New York.
Hamatsuki - Uncertain Loops
This year’s best Outsider House tape came out in March on a brand new Polish label called GASP and was made in Tbilisi, Georgia. It seems like no one covered it all year and it has 17 ratings on RYM, making it officially obscure. Nate to the rescue! This tape never really leaves soporific territory, but all the while there are classic house tropes that are used along the way to interesting effect. For instance, on “Peace to Rookies” when the 4/4 drops out and the synth shuffles in a couple minutes in and the buildup comes a full minute and a half later. “Still Searching” begins with a full minute of a muted version of its already lo-fi drum beat then evolves a bass line that feels more performed than programmed. The title track even threatens acid house with a 303 sound for like, ten seconds. How uncertain! The ubiquitous sample on “Sultiveteba” may be the most playful house reference on the whole tape. This track is a fitting conclusion; it feels like it could be centerpiece at a sleep dance party.
Kettenkarussell - Insecurity Guard
It’s harder, more satisfying, and maybe more destructive to write about abstract, wordless music. You take something away from the experience by trying to lend words where there weren’t any, but now you have some communicated experience of something that was communicated using words like “Gate,” “Everything,” or “Brueder,” which seems useful. I’ve enjoyed my spins of Insecurity Guard, but I haven’t picked it apart in my head now. Now, on my last listen of the month, as is my pattern, I’m finally trying to describe it to myself. It begins as languid ambient house, which is what I’ve been craving, but “New York Blues,” by comparison, is a banging house jam (it’s still pretty laid back). The sound is often some loose combination of Pantha Du Prince / Christian Loffler lushness with the soft spokenness that you find in the outsider scene. “Just for a Second” is the highest tempo that you’ll find, and has a recurring metal brushing sound that fits really well in between the harp trills and banging bass. Closer “Breuder” may be the slowest breakbeat I’ve ever heard, which is right in line with the overall intention of this record.
Lindstrøm - It’s Alright Between Us As It Is
How are people wishy washy about Nu Disco, possibly the least wishy washy sounding music I know? This is probably (I’m under-listened) the best example of the genre since Todd Terje’s greatest-hits-singles-collection (I’m just talking about “It’s Album Time”) three years ago, but it’s not being touted as such. I suppose the bar is set really high with albums like the aforementioned and Lindstrøm’s own actual compilation “It’s a Feedelity Affair” from 11 years ago. The album is centered around three vocal tracks, all maximal and lavish in a different way, all with distinct disco divas. Grace Hall is a little much on “Shinin’,” but in a way that I’ve come to enjoy, and Jenny Hval is very Jenny Hval on Bungl. Both work because Lindstrøm leans into their energy and has his own disco narrative to link them.
Aris Kindt - Swann and Odette
There is a lot of ambient music out there and it’s hard to distinguish between all of the different flavors. Sources of sound are very important, whether it’s composed or improvised, and where it breaks the rules of pure “ambient” are all important. Here, synth gives structure while guitar improvises, and it bleeds between ambient techno and shoegaze because of these two elements. The electroacoustic elements on “Taking 33” are particularly nice, as well as the static washes on “Seagraves,” which is a centerpiece. “Still Undivided” may be my favorite moment and the last on the physical release (it’s printed on one LP with two bonus digital tracks. SMART!), bringing in the shoegaze guitar at the center point for a moment that rivals Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s best work.
Claudio PRC - Volumi Dinamici
I deliberately sought out some specifically chilly music this month, and this is an some of the coldest techno around. This was appropriately released early in this year but wasn’t on my radar because…why would it be? It’s really well-crafted ambient/minimal techno with functionally perfect sound design and influenced by minimal abstract expressionism in visual artwork (and is even shipped with some!). I find the sad techno space to not be very crowded these days, so this is a welcome addition to my collection.
Marcus Fischer - Loss
This is one of the most contemplative records I’ve listened to all year. It’s a nice release for late nights and early mornings, being purely ambient and constructed from tape degradation of field recordings and soft piano strikes. It’s sad sounding; it sounds like I wanted William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops to sound like, though it never struck me in the right way. Fischer talks about “the permanence of absence” as an inspiration for the sonic world that he constructs, and this intention finds its mark. The space and silence that pervades the record are what make it the special work that it is, and allows you to get into the minutiae of the recording process that takes in echoes and buzzes from the spaces in which he worked. This is a work to put on when you’re craving little sound and big impact.