NPR: September 2018

I have more realistic expectations than ever and I like music about as much as I ever have before. This month I required a lot of alone listening time to really relate to many of these records. Only the Spiritualized, Emma Louise, and Richard Swift records really could find a way into my personal life for hosting and home listening. Otherwise, I was confined to headphones, as they vied for braintime with my newfound obsession with another highly nerdy cult idea, a podcast called Hollywood Handbook.

I bring that up simply because I'm obsessed, not because it had anything to do with this month's music listening, as far as I can tell. I hope October keeps it going for the year cause I know it's about to drop off in November and December!

Spiritualized - And Nothing Hurt - This is a substantially different album from a man who has pretty specific and intense interests musically and thematically. Spaceman is a big music fan, andI love listening to music from big fans. Songs are shamelessly named after famous songs by artists who surely have brought him to this point ("I'm Your Man" - Cohen, "Let's Dance" - Bowie, "Damaged" - Primal Scream) and "The Morning After" feels like Jason's personal love letter to "European Son" by Velvet Underground, using the bass line, running time, and scope but making a better, less grating song out of it. I've been a fan for four new album releases (not very good for 16 years of fandom), and this is the one I've been most excited for when it's come out. 

Richard Swift - The Hex - What a record to go out on! At times reminding me of Blackstar, mostly in timing but sometimes timbre (see "Nancy"), this sounds like the real conclusion of Damien Jurado's cycle of albums from the 2010s, which were produced by Swift. "Selfishmath" and "Babylon" in particular continue to build on the sound that they were exploring together. Otherwise, "Dirty Jim" ends up sounding like a ragtime Grizzly Bear, and "Broken Finger Blues" is bluesy blue eyed soul with plenty of echo. The end drops off a little bit with the instrumental "HZLWD" and the dark "Kensington!", but it ends in a sweet and lovely way with what ends up being his coda, "Sept20." The lyrics address his fate because of his illness in a direct and earnest way: "When I go, I'll go out alone" - "Death do us part / Sickness and Health." It's a sad and beautiful moment.   

IDLES - Joy as an Act of Resistance - This is as good as I can imagine a punk record being right now. It's a step forward from Brutalism in songwriting, with many of the other elements staying similar. Joe Talbot takes a lot of changes with vocal tone, lyrics, topics to cover, and delivery, and most of them work out really well. It was really exciting to see them launch into Colossus 1+2 into "Never Fight a Man with a Perm" in their live show, showing that this 1 (2) 3 punch is one of the best things to happen in a long time. If a band is going to have a political bent, they have to really sell it, and IDLES does so perfectly. 

Yves Tumor - Safe in the Hands of Love - I somehow had "Yves Tumor," Sean Bowie from Miami, confused with "Yves De Mey," a birth name of a techno producer from Brussels. I was hoping for some hard hitting post-industrial wastescapes, and actually, the beginning of the album had me convinced that I had the other Yves! It wasn't until the vocals came in halfway through "Economy of Freedom", the second track, that I realized I was listening to something I'd never heard before at all. From there, the next four songs are all heavy, weird pop music. "Noid" in particular is a successful marriage of hooks and cacophony, and together with “Lifetime” seems to encapsulate the relatable sounds of this project. From there though, the record takes a murky turn and then doesn’t really come back from it.

Emma Ruth Rundle - On Dark Horses - This is for sure ERR's best work, especially if you like big dreamy guitars underpinning female singer/songwriters. It’s way more Emma Ruth than Helen is Liz Harris, but I think the analogy is a decent one. The full band sound here really changes things for the better and the more intense, calling to mind True Widow’s heavy slowcore at times. “Fever Dreams” and “Darkhorse” are particularly good, and by and large it’s less depressing than her last album - check out the epic “Dead Set Eyes” and the equally great “Light Song” for a bit of hopeful Emma musing. Also, it’s hard to leave the coda feeling unsatisfied if you make it that far.

Guerilla Toss - Twisted Crystal - The Toss continues to fulfill their record a year for their DFA contract with another suite of songs that could hook a new listener and satisfy long time fans. This is a little less consistent and exciting than last year's career peak "GT Ultra", but it's actually pretty close. The first half of the record is kind of mid-tempo GT weirdness that they've just been getting better at all along; it's gotten hookier and it's still chock full of ideas and sounds. The exception in that run is "Meteorological," which is the logical progression from the GT Ultra bangers. Then there's the back side (I still need the vinyl rip for the vinyl-only track) that has a lot of new wave and classic rock influence and is all the better for it. From the ebullient "Come Up With Me" to "Green Apple" there are a lot of ideas that feel like they're from far flung places in the music landscape of the last 40 years, repurposed into GT territory to great effect. 

Emma Louise - Lilac Everything - What is this strange pitched down emotional songwriting? As I'm new to Emma Louise, it ends up sounding more like Perfume Genius or…actually I can't think of anyone else that it sounds kind of like, even. There's a lot of piano balladry that falls in a modern pop radio vein, as opposed to Susanne Sundfør, whose take ends up being a lot artsier and weirder. The balladry is triumphant though, especially in the bombastic chorus of "Falling Apart" and the definitive(ly sad) refrain of "Never Making Plans Again." "Gentleman" is the only time the tempo picks up at all, but it does serve as a contrasting centerpiece that is somewhat reprised in the climax of "Mexico."  

Noname - Room 25 - Getting this out of the way: this is better than 99% of hip hop and maybe 99% of music. I do have beef with it, though, because it ends up feeling like a weird compromise for someone with this much talent and perspective. By that I just mean the stylistic choices are strange: it's really poppy, jazzy R&B for a a majority of the record, and it's best when it's not. Noname sounds best when she and her guests are going hard, like on "Self" and "Ace", or when she's most pensive, on "Don't Forget About Me" and "Regal". Then there's a bunch of stuff in between that's not nearly as good that just ends up feeling like it's lost in R&B purgatory with way too many guest vocalists that no one cares about nearly as much as the reason they came to this in the first place. 

Electronic curiosities

Djrum - Portrait with Firewood - This is the kind of casual cinematic masterpiece that you can only make if you're a master of classical composition, performance and modern UK bass music. Felix Manuel is very talented and captures varying emotions in an even larger variety of landscapes. Sometimes it sounds like house music, sometimes Second Storey / Objekt level electro-bassy mayhem, sometimes classical with a distant deep bass rumble, and oftentimes somewhere in between. If you happen to like the breadth of things going on here, this could be a classic for you, too. 

Tim Hecker - Konoyo - I forget if Tim Hecker albums have always been something to get used to, but his recent output feels especially this way. I rounded the corner on Virgins at some point and never made it there with Love Streams, but it seems like I'm in the minority when it comes to having trouble with this one. I saw someone cite that there isn't much for "emotional purpose" or "logical song progression", and I think those are my main problems. But this nowhere near a bad album so let me say some good things: "This Life" is pretty enjoyable all the way through, and "In Mother Earth Phase" builds nicely through the first half, maybe doesn't arrive anywhere, but has a beautiful cello conclusion. It's also hard not to love the percussive thud at the beginning of the final track, which ends up leaving a good impression after its 15 minute runtime.

Sarah Davachi - Gave In Rest - To contrast with the Hecker, this is a "lower stakes" release by many measures, but it ends up being more satisfying for me, at least so far. It's quieter, easier, shorter, and I'm already warmed up because she's released three albums in the past two years. This is a great companion to "Let Night Come on Bells End the Day", as it delves deeper into space and sparseness that Davachi has been exploring for several years now. The drones and space on "Auster" are unsettling and intriguing, and "Evensong" is a haunting piece with piano and voice, two of my favorite sound sources when it comes to Davachi. "Matins" is a highlight for me, as the bowed string drone gives way to the warm organ and piano. 

Olafur Arnalds - Re:member - Arnalds takes a step towards Nils Frahm territory, which isn't surprising considering their recent collaborations. There's also his work in Kiasmos that brings in a rich ambient house angle that is helping influence this album. But maybe most importantly, there's the triggered player piano technology at the center of this work that gives it a distinct sound that is different from his oeuvre and collaborations so far.  The more traditionally Arnalds sound of piano and string work is consistently good also in keeping in line with his previous work, but the electronic touches bring it all up a notch. 

Aphex Twin - Collapse EP - This feels like the first proper Richard D release since Syro to me, even though it's just an EP. The title track is analogue nonsense in a great way and reminds me of the first time I put on 4 as a teenager. "1st 44" takes a more restrained approach to mayhem, converging on the shifting acid electro sound that the ALSO project found in the post-IDM landscape. "MT1 t29r2" ups the BPM and ends up sounding a little jungly, but it's cleverly anchored by fat synth lines and chiming piano. The final track covers a lot of ground and proves James's willingness to expand further, which is great after all these years. 

Sophia Loizou - Irregular Territories - bouncing between Jungle and ambient with ease and tact is no easy task, but this is an exciting iteration of fitting drones and breakbeats together on the same record. I'm excited to see where Loizou goes with this sound next, since it feels like she has the ambition and the chops to make strange things happen in the same general vein as Lee Gamble and Special Request.