I'm back in the swing of things for the new year! Definitely a full month for me as I latched on to a solid dozen things that came out between January and February. It's fun to listen to new music! Trust me! Enjoy!
Shame - Songs of Praise - My favorite record this month has an album cover with pasty British dudes holding pigs, hardcore influences, and a spoken word passage about a gynecologist’s office. Oh, well, there goes my taste! But no, this is awesome. Shame benefit from their inscrutable Britishness, wielding both passion and neglect in a very UK Post-punk way. But more than anything, they’ve got a brilliance for melody and songwriting, and mostly great influences from their artistically productive little island over there. “Concrete > Rizla” and “Angie” show this penchant for Indie Rock songwriting best, with lead guitar lines floating above varied vocals from Martin Steen. Steen’s vocals are very central to the record, from his punk yelps to quick staccato to his tuneful howl, he sells everything that Shame is attempting here.
Alela Diane - Cusp - My first folk love of 2018 comes in the form of beautiful warm gloom of Alela Diane’s sixth solo album (and first as a mother). Diane hails from the fairytale land of Nevada City, where I assume everything sparkles with magic, just like this record. The arrangements on this record build from quiet piano or acoustic guitar to well-timed swells of strings or electric guitar. It’s consistently lovely and fairly understated all the way through; just everyday songwriting and arrangement mastery.
MGMT - Little Dark Age - This is the first MGMT album I’ve listened to in my current listening paradigm, but really any listening paradigm. I was only familiar with the hits before now, and then the inconsistencies of the last couple albums as reviewed by random internet people. The good news is: this is a good album, and all the way through! There are some standout tracks, like the infectious “She Works Out Too Much”, the much darker title track, and the Ariel Pink leaning “Tslamp”, but this album really excels because of the variety of sound, genre, and songwriting. It’s a weird psychedelic pop album that’s consistently interesting and worth some listens.
HOLY - All These Worlds Are Yours - Definitely the nerdiest album of the month. Possibly a progressive psychedelic pop opera about aliens, but also possibly about temporal mystery and magic that’s just out of reach. This draws a lot from Tame Impala, Spiritualized, Flaming Lips, and Sufjan Stevens, though Syd Barrett, Can, and King Crimson are probably the better influences to cite as far as general artistic influence. As I said, a nerdy record. Songs have several distinct movements and refuse to adhere to any sort of structure, which is either infuriating, exciting, or both. What makes it most listenable, I think, is the return to the arena-sized refrains that happen throughout each movement, though morphing and twisting along the way.
JPEGMAFIA - Veteran - Damn, Peggy! As in, Jpeggy, which I didn’t get for a while, but the whole thing barely makes sense, anyways. This is a singular hip hop tape that’s very entertaining if you happen to like weird industrial sounds and hip hop at the same time, but not even in a fun way. It’s a cathartic and inconsistent mess, but it also has pretty tight internal logic that more or less holds it together. I like it because it satisfies a very particular raw hip hop craving that you can’t really get anywhere else and that exemplifies the devil-may-care attitude of hip hop through production in addition to vocals.
No Age - Snares Like a Haircut - Somewhat of a return to form for the 2-piece, but also somewhat of an amalgam of everything that they’ve done so far. They’ve hit a great point where both melody and guitar texture are working for them consistently. The combination of hooks and distortion is the basic framework of No Age, and both are more precise than they’ve been in the past. After a classic hard hitting trio of openers, “Send Me” and the title track are a spacious suite that recalls the best songs and ambient passages of the Weirdo Rippers comp. Otherwise, though, the pop punk stylings of Everything in Between and the Losing Feeling EP are the biggest precedents of the sounds explored here.
Panda Bear - A Day with the Homies - I wasn’t so into Grim Reaper, and I’m not so into the first track here, but besides that, this feels like a really nice return to form. It’s closest relative is actually the Fall Be Kind EP from AC from 2009, with 5 meaty tracks of psychedelia. The Sonic Boom influence is very apparent, especially on “Part of the Math” and “Shepard Tone”, which use a similar psych guitar wash as the Spacemen 3 epic “How Does It Feel?” I don’t see Kember noted as having a huge part in this album, but I think he’s a great collaborator for Noah if they follow this direction. We might look back and see Grim Reaper as an inconsistent and confusing in between state to a great new Panda Bear sound.
Shopping - The Official Body - For being post-punk in ethos and energy, this record packs quite a bit of funkiness and poppiness into a tried and true formula. The result is a succinct, rollicking, minor key set of songs that are uncompromising but surprisingly pleasant. It’s a great tension game that isn’t attempted by many rock bands, since it involves so much precision and restraint. These brits have it down to a science though, and it’s really fun to listen to.
Ty Segall - Freedom’s Goblin - An epic sprawl of an album that makes his previous double album, Manipulator, seem tame by comparison. I have production, length, and consistency qualms for this record, but it’s easily his best since Manipulator and has a lot of good tracks to mine from for his live experience, which is the best it’s been since the Slaughterhouse days. Highlights for me are the glammy cover “Every 1’s a Winner,” and what’s basically a “She’s so Heavy” cover in “She”. Together with his best live moments being hard rock classics (or even a very spirited “Sabotage”), it makes me think he should ape old music as hard as possible.
Pool Boy - Pool Boy LP - I’m beginning to feel spoiled already by this Coastal Haze nonsense. The balearic and tropical beats here are delightfully out of season and out of this world. This is a post Body-San approximation of pacific beats in a Vancouver way, calling to mind the glory days of 1080p and the outsider house that runs through that beautiful, expensive city. It’s delightfully lo-fi and it has cheesy touches for days. Just check out the horns and bass on uptempo highlight “Karate Kit” or the sounds of the beachside sampled throughout the tape. And yeah, gimme those beautiful chiming synths and downward spiraling melodies on “Overcast” and the decidedly un-sad groove of “Sad Groove.” I’m not sure there is a wrong way yet, but this is yacht house done right.
Jonas Reinhardt - Conclave Surge - Reinhardt is a sound design genius who understands his synthesizers and gets what he wants from them. When I think about my personal relationship with art, it’s much more from an angle of “what could possibly happen with this medium”, but Reinhardt sounds like he’s moved far beyond that to “how will I implement this mood and state with this medium?” This album seems to be conceptually about ritual and the mood during a ritual. I’m not sure it has connection to actual rituals though; from what I can tell, it’s a science fiction indebted alternative view of such things. Either way, you’re in good hands from start to finish here.
Shuttle358 - Field - Some nice ambient textures to get you through the winter season. Lots of pops, crackles and hisses, but a distinctly electronic point of view, instead of being electroacoustic. This has a decent amount in common with Alva Noto’s glitchy ambient style, which is a great thing!
Johnny Jewel - This album is quite a journey. It remains pithy by keeping the running time of each individual song pretty short, and Jewel is able to cram in a lot of different sounds and ideas because of this. Johnny Jewel is the sound design behind Chromatics and Glass Candy, and this is not certain to please fans of either of those. This is more for fans of the soundtrack to the Twin Peaks reboot, where his music was previously featured. This has the eerieness of a Lynch project, switching between ambient washes and arpeggiated synths to create disparity between moods.