Best of September 2017

Another month another bunch of albums from the world’s lowest profile music critic. I originally thought this month was going to be electronic heavy, and while those are some of my favorite records of the month, it’s actually more show-coming-up-next-week-should-I-go? heavy, which is fun. Also, it makes enough sense given that people’s tours coincide with their album releases, and album leaks happen a certain number of days before then, and in between there’s the requisite 5-10 listens that i’ve given everything here.

I have to come clean that my favorite album all month is from an act who recently had .wmv at the end of their name. The now Death’s Dynamic Shroud(still a terrible name) is one of several midwestern US vaporwave acts that sounds like the deep internet. Vaporwave often consists of familiar, screwed or sped up vocal chops, and DDS is surfing american R&B and K-Pop to great effect on Heavy Black Heart. This album is singular in the genre for taking it to the glitch hop extreme without getting trap-py, which frankly has never worked for this type of music. Instead, vocals, whether in English or Korean, are repeated as hooks rather than mantras, creating weirder pop songs out of other pop songs. Really, this album eschews most of the pitfalls of the genre, except the crazy speeding up and repetition of samples, which feels really drill’n’bass, or, well, internetty. But actually, this is the pinnacle of the newest, weirdest genre on the internet. 

In other digitally sequenced news, Second Storey’s new album Lucid Locations is probably the most satisfying dense-listen electronic since the collaborative ALSO project from a couple years back. It’s released on Houndstooth and I think it sounds like how most Houndstooth artists which they sounded: a projected line of what IDM thought it might sound like 20 years later. The Autechre and Richard D influences are all over the place here, and it’s all underpinned by expressive, irregular bass beats, as is the modern UK style that probably evolved from garage or dubstep in the last decade plus. Storey uses this non-4/4, really hard to work into a DJ set thing to optimize sound design and create interest in all the possibilities that a song can have. I really think this takes up the mantle of IDM as the most fun and active headphone listening can possibly be.

My favorite songs, in the traditional sense of words and chords, were from Susanne Sundfør this month. Her last album, Ten Love Songs, was legit synth pop, her take on what pop songs should sound like. Music for People in Trouble, heretofore Ten Sad Songs, is constant art pop balladry that is canonical folk at best, Adele at worst, and weird arty moments in between. The schmaltzy and arty moments fit really comfortably in the record, actually, it’s just hard not to think of them as a little over the top. Most songs have unique arrangements that draw from a wide sonic palette, that ranges from slide guitar to woodwinds to carefully placed synths. The coda melody reflecting the beginning Mantra is a nice touch, just one of many details that was carefully planned and very well executed.

Lee Gamble has a new record, on Hyperdub this time, and it’s as confounding as ever. It’s called Mnestic Pressure and it veers away from his more straightforward techno leanings of late and back into Autechre realm meanderings in all sorts of eras of their development! If Autechre invented a genre, and they did and no one has an appropriate name for it, this is mostly in that genre. Gamble still has his knack for breakbeats and dreamy passages at a few different points. This is an interesting listen all the way through but impossible to hold in your brain during or between listens. I’m pretty sure it’ll continue to be a grower.

Okay, bands who are coming to town:

10/1: Should I go see Tall Juan? Probably. He’s opening for Together Pangaea, a good garage rock band. He’s an Argentine born Ramones enthusiast in a Mac Demarco world (both of whom he covers on Olden Goldies), and he almost makes me think of NYC in a rosy way. Plus, I haven’t seen Sonia yet.

10/2: How about Metz? Maybe. I like all their records, though I can’t distinguish between them or between songs on a record. Their new one, Strange Peace, has more melody in the crunch and probably has better songs than their other ones. I have been enjoying listening to this, though, and they are basically the first name in Albini style noise rock for the hell of it right now.

10/3: Alvvays, fun fact, autocorrects to Elvis. No matter which show I go to on Tuesday, it’s going to be a little indulgent. It’s this, which is sold out and I don’t have a ticket, or Cloakroom. Alvvays pulls inspiration from the c86 and 4AD heyday of jangly indie pop, but are way indie poppier. It’s held together for me by clever, un-clumsy lyrics and tight songwriting all the way through, which are rare for the genre in my mind.

10/4: If I’m not burnt out by going to maybe three nights of shows in a row, I might go see Wand at Elk’s Lodge. Wand is a psych rock band who has been on a crash course with the style of early Tame Impala for four albums now. Though they’ll never catch up to modern, commercially successful TI at this rate, but they are actually a completely different band and they’re pretty good.

11/6: A good time later, L.A. Witch comes to the Middle East. I saw them labeled as Garage Rock Revival, which irks me. Here are the incorrect implications: 1) Garage Rock died, 2) This sounds like the bands who did the reviving 15 years ago (Strokes, Hives, White Stripes), 3) GRR goes back to the beginning of Garage Rock. L.A. Witch sounds like equal parts The Cramps and The Black Angels. Not to say that either of those bands don’t sound like The Velvet Underground, but VU isn’t even garage rock! Neither of those bands sound like nuggets psych garage of the 60s (The Seeds, Chocolate Watch Band, Blues Magoos), nor what was called garage rock at the time, but retroactively is called proto-punk because it distinctly became punk (The Stooges, Sonics, Monks, some VU). So basically, there’s the Cramps, whose reference points were largely 50s rock and roll, and there’s the strain of heavy blues psych that really originates with Jimi Hendrix and Cream. I actually don’t know where the Black Angels muscly, fuzzy, sustain ridden guitar tone started though. Though it’s Jimmy Page, Tony Iommi, and Josh Homme influenced, it’s a decidedly modern (non Heavy Metal) psychedelic style that’s been in much wider circulation since the first Black Angels record. So, L.A. is an all-female garage psych bad and they're really good.

Other Stuff:

I saw Feral Ohms play a set a few months ago where their lead singer was sick and they just played 27 minutes straight of chugging riffs and proto metal guitar wankery. It was great. The album is a 27 minute Heavy Psych explosion (separated into 9 songs) that sounds like sped up Cream with an unhinged Robert Plant on vocals.

I’m more into Anthony Linnell now with Emerald Fluorescents. I’m a big fan of his Abdulla Rashim moniker, and this is sounding closer to that style of minimal techno than the Dungeon Synth that he was making last year. This may be the best coalescing of his various interests at this point, and it’s a satisfying listen.

Porter Ricks is a thing again! Minimal Dub Techno needed to be saved, so they’re back! It’s no Biokinetics but I’ve been enjoying it.

Hope your Fall is starting well,

Nate