Perhaps the closest thing to streamlined indie rock that Constellation records has ever signed, locals Ought have occasionally raised eyebrows with the more accessible, hook-driven side of their catalog. Signifying the band’s move to Merge, Room Inside the World continues the trend of cleaning up their sound with a generally less jittery overarching feeling, but fleshes out the more tender emotions that classics like “Forgiveness” strived for—on “Desire,” vocalist Tim Darcy’s urgent mannerisms get backed up by a choir. The sense of scrappy youth has faded a bit, but their potency still comes from the emotional energy that’s always served as a backdrop to more anxiety driven jams.
What a call.
After you conquer the world on the back of your major label debut, you decide to take a step back and assess your bag of tricks rather than falling into one of the many traps that second albums can turn into. Especially when you’ve already done the operatic track built on a single twinkling guitar string, things can get hairy, overambitious, and a songwriter can loose the scrappy teenage urgency that made them loveable in the first place.
Luckily for Will Toledo, his high school material was both massively ambitious and heart-warmingly goofy–and he made a shit-ton of it. Strapped with seemingly only a guitar and a fist full of life-sized teenage emotions Toledo blisters through giant landscapes with the wide-eyed childlike look of a happy-go-lucky teenager who just got his heart broken for the first time.
“Give me Frank Ocean’s Voice and James Brown’s stage presence.”
“is it the chorus yet? No, it’s only the building of the verse so when the chorus does come it’ll be more rewarding”
These aren’t lines you can write outside of your teenage years and yet Toledo also touches upon ideas that resonate deep into the 20s when he asks “are we boyfriends yet?”
The revising of the album has only amplified this masterful balance of sober realities and blunt humor. “Bodys” gets a raucous drum-machine foundation and actually-executed beach boys “oohs” but the image it conjures is still a lanky 16 year old who finally feels confident enough to make-out with someone.
Maybe it’s cheating to tweak a fan favorite, but the vision has been honed and when you’ve written so many albums already, maybe it’s not a bad idea to give those who love you most a co-production credit.
From the first gummy synth chord, Ravyn Lenae’s Crush strikes an understated warmth. The five songs see sharp melodic writing and lush vocal and instrumental layering, making for a welcoming personality and an addicting sensibility. Throw in the tale about a missed connection and some help from cell phone king Steve Lacy on the production side of things, the EP doesn’t depart from Lenae’s charismatic past, but sees her jump into a larger pair of shoes and craft her most full-bodied work to date.
Great hooks and lyrical turn arounds are a constant with vivid detailing carrying these moments to new heights. Closer (Ode 2 U) sees a short verse to start with the lyrical couplet “I love it when you take me round your boys like I’m your girl/I love it when you run your pretty fingers through my curls” underpinned by an acrobatic vocal gesture to match the coy lyricism. Flourishing vocals follow as a chorus provides splashes of sound.
The Night Song sees a more driving chorus “Hair down, feeling alright/Got my edges on tight, it’s a party tonight,” before album highlight 4 Leaf Clover finds punchiness in the syncopated synth line to juxtapose the solemn themes in the duet between Lenae and Lacy. It’s short and sweet, but relentlessly rich, hopefully signaling a fruitful career to come.
From the first downbeat, HOLY’s All These Worlds Are Yours sees sweeping expanse articulated by beds of synth, joyous piano plucking, and sweeping high strings. The album operates a bit like an ambient album or an instrumental work as repetitive ideas take one under their wings and envelop the senses in a childlike awe. Six-minute epic Premonition/◯/It Shines Through sees a warm opening with sharp drum fills and swirling keyboards, before the whole structure dissolves down to a foundation of driving bass and drums to eventually crawl back up to the bold-letter opening. More studio magic shows up on Heard Her as the orchestral groove completely dissipates for a moment of silence to reinforce the impact of the snare, later yielding the space to an oddball collection of found sounds to once again reinvigorate the jolting mass of sound. Perhaps the song-structures won’t completely stand the test of time, but the album soothes with its buoyant personality and expansive mix of terrains.
You’ve probably already heard that JT’s latest change of brand is a colossal failure and that’s really all there is to it. For me, the problem is similar to that of the likes of Taylor Swift and Katy Perry last year who were both trying to be everything for everyone. They both brought in trap tinges, Perry tried to go political whereas Swift tried to both play the victim card and make fun of herself for doing so, but neither quite match up to the width of JT’s net.
“Haters gonna say it’s fake” he says on the first track over a combination of dubstep bass and Futuresex/Lovesounds-esque, well, love sounds—it comes across as an attempt to maintain his BET audience. The very next track seems like an appeal to the MAGA side of the room, however, with the line “Ya’ll can’t do better than this/act like the south ain’t the shit.” JT has always been someone who sees a musician/artist do something and respond with “oh I can totally do that” and with the help of Timbaland, he’s generally skated through safely, but here he didn’t even approach passable and his critical skewering is entirely deserved.
On what seems to be coming across as his magnum opus—critical acclaim, 75 minutes long, snuck away to build his dream studio—Nils Frahm delivers a work occasionally self-indulgent, but rife with beauty.
When he’s on, Frahm crafts a landscape with unexpected detailing that simultaneously feels like a single brush stroke. The album opens with distant footsteps before an archaic small ensemble collection evokes a hymnal connotation. The longing string gestures eventually melt into a steadfast electronic groove highlighted by layers of windy synths. It’s combinations and transitions like these that make Nils Frahm stand out, as his knack for momentum makes large swaths of time dissipate. The title-track sees dark, oscillating textures gradually coalesce into one rhythmic unit before a keyboard melody wanders atop the bustling foundation.
Sometimes this desire for oddball ensemble combinations makes for a disjointed experience, however. After sputtering around on the piano alone for My Friend the Forest, a trumpet appears for the first time, conjuring a more grappling mood than the meditative piano lines. After solo work, the chorus returns to offer some sort of depressing funeral march. The timbres just don’t gel as well as the initial pair of tunes resulting in a less natural flow of events.
There’s not really a moment on this album that sounds bad, but it feels like perhaps Frahm tried to spread himself too thin over the categories of electro-acoustic, post-classical, and ambient, making for moments that don’t gell together as impeccably as they could.
Ty Segall’s a figure worth following that never truly disappoints. His projects are all consistent in sound and it’s more a matter if he gets the exact shading right for one’s individual tastes than a question of whether or not he’s delivered a fully-fledged collection of tunes. Not to mention the fact that if an album doesn’t sit right, you probably only got to wait about 10 months for the next one. Freedom’s Goblin is a big endeavor that sees Segall nail down some psyched out grooves as well as some sweet ballads—always landing in an endearing place.
“Fanny Dog” is bluntly dedicated to Segall’s dog: “FANNY KNOWS WHAT HER NAME IS.” Sharp melodic writing and the usually biting guitar solo round out the perfect opener. “My Lady’s On Fire” sees Segall’s first real tender moment, an acoustic guitar proving nimble beneath esoteric, but sweetly sung lyrics.
The backside feels like one long left turn, tossing fiery vocals courtesy of Segall’s wife, a konky saxophone, and warring guitars into one Black Sabbath-induced stew until closer “And, Goodnight” zones out for 12+ minutes.
Freedom’s Goblin feels good. It fills out 19 tracks and well over an hour without ever feeling stale. It’s not going to knock the socks of anyone still not awed by Segall’s aura, but it does right by Segall and his fans. Proving along the way that prolific obsession is in fact the right route for some.