Charly Bliss at the Sinclair 6/9/2019

There’s certain aspects of the Charly Bliss experience that become clearer in the live setting.  This band is theatrical and campy on their new record Young Enough, for sure, but their sugar-based approach to the grunge-adjacent sound that marked their first record made more sense of where their new sonic leanings came from.  

Having toured with PUP in the past, it’s clear that the band is of the same school wherein darkness and emo-influenced lyrical ideas are approached in a fun, musical way.  More in the vein of The 1975, however, the band fluidly moves between different genres and eras, perhaps making the pop in pop-punk more literal. Whether it be pulling from the peak of 90’s alt-rock radio, or splashing in the big, cotton candy sounds out of the Sigrid and Lorde playbook, the band dons a variety of costumes to make their live show vivid and dynamic.

Eva Hendricks is a real highlight of the indie circuit at the moment.  Bounding all around the stage with the most extravagant facial expressions possible, she delivers each line like it’s the last one she’s ever going to sing, and the rest of the band seem to thrive off her kinetic energy.  Bassist Dan Shure and guitarist Spencer Fox, in particular, offered plenty of bass-face and high kicks to complement Hendricks’ highly theatrical energy, making their hour-long set fly by at 100 miles per hour. Luckily, they somehow saved enough room for an impassioned cover of 00’s classic “Mr. Brightside” during their encore–an unabashedly gleaming highlight of my year.

The show was very fun-forward, but there were some moments that served as a testament to Hendricks’ ability to explain relatable emotional ideas in a nuanced way.  Most obvious was the drone based, “Hurt Me,” where her cresting vocal climax made lyrics about the disbelief that comes when a lover goes south hit home. “Young Enough,” on the other hand, proved itself to be one of the most enduring break-up songs in recent memory–perhaps part of the emotionally healthy “Thank You, Next”  school of “I wish you the best and I cherish our memories” break-up tunes.

Self awareness is an important part of any artistic outing and though Bliss address important topics in their own unique way, they also luckily know that they are not too cool for The Killers.  In the future, I’m sure they will continue to hone their lyrical and theatrical knife and offer catharsis without ever losing this fun-loving edge.

-Donovan Burtan

 

Weyes Blood at the Sinclair 5/28

The key moment in Weyes Blood’s current live show is the cover. Though her path from weird experimentalist to near romantic appreciation for classic rock-adjacency is by no means unheard of, you can hear the nuances of her edits to those sounds in the eerie aura that creeps into the “ancient” “God Only Knows.”  Titanic Rising, her latest album, includes a lot of classic dabblings—the phrases “it’s a wild time to be alive” and “give me something to believe” are both said verbatim—but the fresh, galactic sound helps these eternal, existential questions sound as heavy as they truly are.

In the live setting, a few things were clear. Though ending materials like “Generation Why” were wielded into anthemic long jams with Mering’s voice leading the way with extended syllables and “oohs,” the thick beauty of her new material thrives alongside her more structured sounds. Choruses of tunes like “Andromeda” and “Something to Believe,” though still at her usual tempo and energy level, spoke more effortlessly and cleanly than her more rambling older material.

Her sound is also growing more versatile. Self described “jaunty tune” “Everyday,” sounded world conquering with Mering’s velvet bellow belting over her piano stride and, on the other side of things, “Picture Me Better” stuck out almost like a country ballad with the absence of drums. Mering commented on this in a way that’s admittedly hard to describe via text, but she slyly mentioned that all her songs are about here (motioning somewhere below her waist), but for THIS one were going to lower it to here (only moving her hand down slightly).

This self awareness is probably mostly useful for her stage banter (she also jokingly referred to one of her songs as “Vape Cod”), but it creeps into some of her songs, helping to avoid excessive self-seriousness. “Movies” in particular is a bit ridiculous as Mering quasi-earnestly laments her love for these massive commercial cultural objects. Here, she dramatically struck ballerina-like poses, took off her suit jacket, and poshly threw it to the ground, which meshed well with the “fuck it, I love movies” attitude of the song.

It’s not really revolutionary for an indie rock artist to cover a Beach Boys song in 2019, nor is it rebellious to profess love for a summer blockbuster, but Weyes Blood validates these feelings in her work.  Titanic Rising speaks a lot about climate change, and a world falling apart at the seems, sure, but the way we deal with it is oftentimes cathartic and maybe even regressive or contradictory.  Nostalgia and humor won’t save us from rising sea levels, but maybe Star Wars and the Beach Boys will make us realize that its always been a wild time to be alive.

-Donovan Burtan

Tyler, the Creator-IGOR: Album Review

Since his time as the ringleader of Odd Future, Tyler, the Creator has had an impact, but reviewers had a tough time supporting him wholeheartedly until his most consistent and introspective work, Scum Fuck Flower Boy.  Between his antics, rougher lyrical patches, and mixed bag musical ones, Tyler always presented some sort of elephant in the room.

Still, Tyler’s progression has been almost precisely logical throughout his career.  Punky jabs were his start, and gradually his production chops have gotten jazzier and sleeker–yes, Cherry Bomb was a bit of a mess, but Flower Boy would undeniably have been impossible without the likes of “Find Your Wings” and “Smuckers.”  Neither Igor nor Flower Boy, his best two albums, signify the arrival moment were he got it right, rather they both prove that Tyler is in fact here for the long haul.  He will continue to evolve and hopefully listeners will be within the same hemisphere for more albums down the road, but for now we are presented with a consistent pop cultural figure with a remarkable versatility that no one could’ve seen coming.

IGOR is Tyler’s least rap-forward project.  Some have deemed it a R&B project, and I’d have to say I consider it more of a producer work–almost in league with the work of Kaytranada.  The songs find propulsion from warm beats moving in vague directions.  Vocals are repetitious and in a lot of ways secondary to the emotional content of the sound here.  Rather than the straightforward pop texture of “See You Again,” with its catchy chorus and rapped verses, songs here are much more loose.  This probably saves him a bit on songs like “Earfquake,” where Tyler’s almost squeaky voice sings lovelorn words to a former lover.

‘Loverlorn’ kind of takes me to the next key part of the album.  Yeah, its pretty much a breakup album, but its atypical in a lot of ways.  The beginning of the album operates as a blown up version of Lorde’s “Supercut,” capturing the initial explosion where you run back all the good moments in your head and can’t really imagine where or why it went south.  “For real this time…I cannot fall short;” “I think I’m falling in love/this time I think its for real;” “running out of time/to make you love me;” these phrases verge on numbing which is kind of the point.  When your life falls apart there’s a lot of pieces and little analysis of them.

Then, there’s the jealousy of the “New Magic Wand:” “It has nothin’ to do with that broad/But if it did, guarantee she’d be gone;” the “stay the fuck away from me” of “A Boy is a Gun;” and the “I can’t maneuver without you next to me” of “Puppet.”  The production has a meditative, almost calming nature to it, but for sure close listens reveal a bit of Tyler’s internal chaos.  “What’s Good” is the obligatory nod to Tylers former self with firebrand rapping, incidentally the moment that leads to the self acceptance of “Gone, Gone:” “I hope you know she cant compete with me.”  Like Ariana Grande’s thank you, next, Tyler takes advantage of the occasionally crazed break up experience to make a dynamic, wrestling work that never settles into one sound.

I will say that you kind of have to be on board for Tyler already to appreciate this one.  Some of the ‘rap’ verses sound a bit awkward if you remove yourself from the place of ‘fan who finds Tyler’s faults endearing,’ but again the evolution is in some ways the biggest appeal.  If Flower Boy proved that Tyler could make us pay attention for a full 45 minutes, IGOR proves that staying on board is a must.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

Big Thief-UFOF: Album Review

Big Thief makes music that feels close from the jump. Adrianne Lenker’s singing conjures images of the microphone fitting somewhere nicely between her teeth and guitars occasionally sound plucked from your own membrane—matching lyrics that should be relatable to anyone who’s ever remotely been involved with some version of ‘the woods.’

Yet, there’s still an evasiveness. Whether the pronunciations falter a bit in Lenker’s haunting croon, or the imagery remains focused on one particular detail that feels detached from a more substantial story-line—“Jennis in my room?” well, what are they doing there—making meaning sometimes falls on the listener’s shoulder.  Their latest album is called UFOF after all, which quite literally pairs something unidentified with something familiar; serving as the perfect metaphor for music that pairs the kinship of playing hide and seek amongst nature and the incomprehensible nature of death.

Having gradually built cred on Saddle Creek records, Big Thief are clearly ready for more world building with their bump up to 4AD. Whereas older tunes like “Sharksmile” and “Mary” felt cut from the ‘best of indie’ cloth, UFOF serves as a more whole experience. It is a thick swamp of sounds, some terrifying, others crushing, and still others purely openhearted material to wrap oneself up in.

Opener “Contact” tweaks nervously. Though Lenker begs for intimacy, the general feeling is slanted towards dread: “wrap me in silk, I want to drink your milk.” After more disturbing calls for “sinking,” and the body horror like: “she gives me gills/helps me forgive the pills,” the whole song ruptures into terror with a distant scream and impossibly raw guitar line. The title-track that follows pivots to warmth, however, with Lenker imagining a friend taking her off on some sort of emotional journey. This type of flow is par for the course here. At any moment, there’s a complex array of emotional tones and maybe you hold onto one specific affectation.

“Cattails” pairs nostalgia with swaths of a specific place, an “open window,” those plants at the side of the road, whereas “Open Desert” looks at disruptions of the home: “The white light of the living room/Leaking through the crack in the door.” And again, these songs are paired with lots of ambiguity.  The lyric: “After all my teeth are gone/after all the blood is drawn” is spoken with such delicacy that you start to feel like death is some old friend.  Not to mention the sonic details which lift this music up. Towers of piano reach here, and crunches of life bring you down into the earth there. Lenker’s nebulous, androgynous vocal approach bends into all these spaces making a their singular sound rife with life.

“Orange” is a maybe a candidate for the heart of the work. Only accompanied by guitar, it stands out, and Lenker for once doesn’t name her counterpart in the song and simply speaks to ‘her.’ Lenker explores body and flesh as well as the details of their memories: “she kneels down and holds the frozen dove/the moon drips like water from her shoulder.”  This again is what UFOF is all about–the way someone can be full to the brim with so much familiarity and yet still unknown.  Lenker thinks about this unnamed character, and though they’ve been close enough to tangle limbs, one day they will die and Lenker can never know what that will mean.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Aldous Harding-Designer: Album Review

Aldous Harding gives you thoughts to ponder.  Like the splatter-paint way she tosses vocal melodies in different colors onto her canvass of small instrumental devices, she throws out lyrical ideas that the listener must then piece together.  Designer is a vaguely evocative world that maybe could fade into the background on first listen, at least outside of some of the catchy numbers, but rewards deeper reflection on what it all means.

Sure, Harding leans into absurdity on occasion.  One song opens with the question “what am I doing in Dubai,” and closer “Pilot” as a whole can be particularly incomprehensible: “I wish it was white/But it needs blood for the new erection.”  Aside from these lyrics that rupture, however, certain ideas seep into her language throughout the work.

One recurring focal point is the idea of childhood perspective and how that creates tension with jaded adulthood.  Single “The Barrel” features a character who essentially knows how the magic trick works and is not interested in seeing it, but Harding speaks constantly about finding that childlike awe again.  “Do not lose your youthful eyes” she instructs on the title track and elsewhere depicts a literal conversation with her younger self: “I took my inner child to a show/he talked all the way home.”

This then relates to a larger theme of temporality–though with time we grow and change, we are constantly in conversation with different versions of ourselves. The simple contrast of the title “Fixture Picture,” for instance, sees the tension of a moment in your life and a person tangled with you more long term.  In it she plans a meet-up with a friend who’s moved on for now: “And how’s the wine where you live? Bet it’s expensive/One day we’ll share a glass together.”  Though the tune begins with a ending of sorts (“As the memory kisses you goodbye”), the moment is never truly gone; whether a person’s memory remains a part of us or we actually manage to reconnect, the people we interact with remain a part of our life.

Tunes like “Weight of the Planets” and “Heaven is Empty” look at the big questions of time, growing up, and death with a more confounded or terrified glance, but the overall effect of the album is rather playful.  Harding’s videos for this album have gotten a lot of traction, and though they can look rather daunting with their specific color patterns and angular motions, they also give you an out with their sense of humor–a perfect metaphor for a provocative work that also doesn’t seek to get you down.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Beyoncé-Homecoming: Album Review

It’s easy to make a case for Homecoming as the peak musical moment of the decade. Like other decade highlights such as A Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, or To Pimp a Butterfly, and of course Beyoncé’s own Lemonade; Homecoming is a visual-oriented experience with that leans towards high concepts and narratives. But perhaps a bit more than these others, it avoids leaning on its concept too heavily and feeling very tied to this decade.

It presents Beyoncé as the heady auter that the 2010’s pop star was intended to be, but it also presents her as the classic pop system virtuoso of dance and performance, where little is needed outside feeling awestruck by the pure spectacle.  It is the best Coachella performance ever, in a time when the festival is more regulated than ever. This pyramid-stage remixing of her whole discography is perhaps the most flawless run of Beyoncé songs in a row that you can take home and listen to, with a vocal performance so transcendent that it sounds super human.

Aside from the constant stream of sheerly impressive performance, the impeccable planning makes the energy feel like one big climb.  The horn entry of “Crazy in Love” should make anyone making music today green with envy, but you can kind of hear how Beyoncé paces herself a bit.  She doesn’t coast through by any means, but she remains a bit constrained in the verses and the chorus is cushioned by her backup singers.  There’s also a dance break and a half-speed break down following the first chorus.  This way when she sings the absolute piss out of “Don’t Hurt Yourself” or closer “Love on Top;” or starts the quick, undeniable run through “Hold Up,” “Countdown,” and “Check On It” before diving into “Deja Vu,” it subtly hits a bit harder.

The arrangements are also intricate and mostly pretty damn huge, but they don’t become supremely over-the-top or over produced, so it can feel like a balm listening at home, which is kind of what’s compelling about the combination of this album release and the Netflix film to accompany.  Aside from actually being there, the peak experience is watching it all happen with your living room TV turned way up.  But somehow, the album offers something a bit different.  In headphones, you can bear witness to the ways her horns punch into “Drunk in Love” to prop up the chorus without overpowering Beyoncé; the intricacy with which stepping and clapping pulls us into that glassy “Diva” sample; and the way “Single Ladies” effortlessly interpolates a phat New Orleans parade break down without missing a beat. This is capped off by a bonus track, Beyoncé’s rendition of classic “Before I Let Go,” which expertly meshes her modern sensibilities with that undeniable classic horn line.

It might be a bit harder to pin an exact instant to it, as her most dedicated fans already streamed it live in full and now, though freshly mixed and mastered, it doesn’t have the surprise, sudden impact that her two big secret album drops of the 2010’s had. However, Beyoncé has built an astounding live track record and with the addition of documentary footage to illuminate the insane preparation between her giving birth and return to performing, this document illuminates the ferocity with which Beyoncé created this victory lap.

Beyoncé also tends to have a bit of a wall between her and her audience. Sure, she’s penned lyrics referencing their theories, but she doesn’t do interviews anymore, and pretty obsessively controls the narrative around her, but here that is shed to an extent.  She quite literally thanks her Beyhive on stage, and with the accompaniment film seemingly involves us in her personal life.  Of course, the whole experience is directed at the black community and black women in particular, but it also feels like a personal note to anyone who wants to listen.  Perhaps that what the 2010’s were all about.  It was a time period where specific identities (queer, black, queer and black) that may not have been previously accepted in mainstream culture were directly addressed by the people who experience them and more than any of them, Beyoncé transcended this and felt vital to all.

-Donovan Burtan

10/10

Girlpool at The Sinclair 4/23

Girlpool felt limitless at their Boston show last night. A band that once sounded like two friends hanging out at home, shooting the shit with guitars; their latest LP saw an expansion on all fronts, and the live show only amplified this feeling. At parts feeling like the Cleo Tucker show, and others completely in Harmony Tividad’s plush back-pocket, the 45 minute set was magically eclectic and electrically charged by a proper touring ensemble.

Shout outs are certainly in order for openers Hatchie. I don’t love to make comparisons like this, but I couldn’t help but feel like the band sounded like a mixture of Heaven or Las Vegas and Celebrity Skin. In other words, the guitars were cosmic and the melodies direct and sugary. Rocking power trio, it was plainly impressive to hear singer Harriette Pilbeam absolutely nailing it—her bass causing her to lose exactly none of her stage presence.

In terms of Girlpool’s live translation, they brought limitless charm and charisma. Though What Chaos is Imaginary was contained by a particular lens, the live show felt a bit more unabashed.

This was most directly reflected in Tucker’s vocal performance, as the high range showcased at the tail end of “Hire” seemingly creeped in and out all over the place. Tunes like “Swamp and Bay” and “Lucy’s” were made raucous with this jagged vocal approach, and “Chemical Freeze” which closed (at least the pre-encore portion of the show), was wielded into a weapon of contrast. The lilting guitar line of the verses was bait-and-switched, at first sounding like an extended outro before the chorus returned one more rocking time, with Tucker blissfully screeching out each and every word. Encouraging a little bit of noodling and soloing from their touring guitarist, Tucker added a sly, rockist charm to the evening’s festivities.

Tividad, on the other hand, delved more into quiet, translucent spaces. The title track in particular shifted focus from Tucker’s joyful riffage into smarmy harmonies and icy platitudes—her impassioned but clear voice singing in a much more mellow tone.  Receiving vocal assistance from the keyboard player rather than Tucker at times, some of these moments felt a bit bittersweet—like a pair growing apart a bit but, luckily they both collided throughout the set, and returned to their roots with a (fan-requested) performance of “Soup” and “Chinatown” during the encore.

The whole effect of the night showcased a band that could go anywhere and visit any sound, but they also felt like they were still tied to each other in an organic way. Upon leaving I felt a bit like I wanted Tucker to transcend to full blown rock god, but I trust that these two will keep us both guessing and satisfied as their careers bound forward.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 4/20

Here’s some new releases that I’ll be thinking about this week:

Sunn O)))-Life Metal

For a band so notorious for creating some of the loudest live experiences ever, Sunn O))) also somehow have a talent for life affirmation.  Titled after a joke the band formed on the road, Life Metal is typically droney and deep, but overtones blossom and shine like a summer afternoon as the smolder burns on.

Available Now on First Listen

Kevin Abstract-Ghettobaby EP

I have to say that if anyone in Brockhampton is going to make it as a solo artist it’ll probably be Kevin Abstract.  His singing and rapping kind of combines to create the true heart of the group anyways and throughout this EP both shine.

Listen to it on Spotify

Beyoncé-Homecoming

To some degree, there’s no more to say about this.  Of course, Beyoncé delivered the greatest Coachella set of a generation.  Of course, the glance at her every era is immaculately planned, arranged (and even mixed and mastered).  But, that’s kind of her magic.  Beyoncé is a singular auteur, one who painstakingly betters herself and pushes forward with immaculately intricate ideas, pulled off effortlessly.  To have a document for her unmatched live feats somehow continues to up the ante.

Listen on Apple Music

-Donovan Burtan

 

 

 

Billy Woods and Kenny Segal-Hiding Places: Album Review

Ranking Billy Woods projects, at least in recent years between the likes of Paraffin and Known Unknowns, is kind of impossible. His flow is so singular, sonic environment so vivid and rich, that each moment feels carved out of the same holy stone. Hiding Places is fueled by some of the same anxieties of his past work, speaking about gentrification and the livelihood of the poor, the kinds of societal limits that keep economic mobility at bay, classes and races segregated, and bad habits going.  It’s a perfectly balmy listen that may not get stuck in your head, but will keep you coming back.

“You’ll never get no answers/not for the stuff that keeps you up” he spoke on Known Unknowns in 2017, and here, there’s other forms of stagnation amongst daily struggle—in one particular passage he talks about how poor people don’t exactly get their mail forwarded to them because they can’t pay their bills, a song is punctuated by the ATM voice telling you that there’s only $10.22 in your account, these types of things prevent growth. Then there’s lyrics about how tough it is to bridge the gap between this reality and those who might legitimately be able to afford tickets to see Nas play with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall: “no man of the people, I wouldn’t be caught dead with most of y’all.”

Still, his rhymes are typically a bit difficult to unite to one single theme. There’s a line about the emotional lifting of depression; one that showcases the ways in which Woods’ community is forced to eat itself: “tape ain’t even out yet how the hell’d they get a copy;” and another that uses the image of tugging on a joy stick when you don’t have money to speak about an unprivileged life: “life is like a couple of quarters you either have them or you don’t.”

Like the way his rhythmic delivery spills over bar lines and wavers between exacting and loose, his words spill over themselves, ideas constantly developing. Turning on his work is like hopping on a treadmill that’s already moving—you gotta just get right up to speed. “Mosh through the orchestral pit” opens the work, and then his stream of consciousness is off.  The lyric: “too scared to write the book, took it, put in the hook of a song, no one listened to it” showcases his borderline word association methods were each line blooms into new space—it’s MF Doom in its rhyme scheme and spoken word in its imagery.

The metaphor breaks down a bit when you think about the moments after that initial jolt of needing to get up to speed with the treadmill as Woods maintains surprises with each footfall no matter how many times you listen. You cannot know all the words to a Woods verse. You cannot remember the conclusions you drew the last time, there is only forwards on his timeline.  Now, Kenny Beats does give certain hallmarks to the album. There’s little guitar licks here, a disembodied voice there. Like Earl Sweatshirt’s hypnotic loops, there’s a raw darkness and a perfect chemistry between production and vocals, but it’s to be expected.  Woods’ treadmill is always going; approaching it is all on you.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Weyes Blood-Titanic Rising: Album Review

Natalie Merling has previously built a world out of beautiful pillows as Weyes Blood, but her latest effort is more plush than ever. Evoking the cosmos in more than just lyrics, Titanic Rising is a monolith of galactic electronic tones, flourishing Philip Glass strings, and occasionally bellowing vocals. Though Merling’s voice can still be a little bit one note, her emotional senses are more eclectic than ever giving the listener doses of hope, and heart wrench; humor and irony in equal doses. It’s not so much packed with singable hooks and melodies, but these slow burning lamentations encapsulate the puzzles of life and love, and finding yourself in there somewhere.

To a degree, Merling plays the role of the hopeless romantic. Single “Everyday” strikes this rather directly with lines like “true love is making a comeback” and a chorus reading “I need love everyday,” but she’s also hopelessly devoted to giant cultural items–“Movies” frames her as a sucker who can’t resist a good blockbuster–and enamored with the world–“Wild Time” offers a somber answer to “Oh, What a World.”

She’ll add in a dose of existentialism for “Andromeda,” which sings to an empty galaxy, full of nothing to peak her romantic interest. Then on “Mirror Forever,” the concept of empathy creeps in through the lens of a break-up. Noting that no one can ever fully grasp your emotional experience, Merling still accepts that her experience has led to a place where she needs to move on and leave someone behind in the process.

If “Will I ever be satisfied by a partner?” is the connective thread, “what does that mean about connection?” is next on the docket, and “maybe not knowing is ok” is the final conclusion. Or A final conclusion as Merling also sends us off with “Picture Me Better,” which yearns for a world where she isn’t so stunted by these questions and able to just breathe.

The grappling nature of the album is achieved rather effortlessly, however, which makes it digestible and even fun. These may be brooding ideas but they aren’t brooding tunes as the listener is enveloped delicately and openly. Titanic Rising puts Merling in league with the likes of Fiona Apple and Mitski who find the depths of life’s meaning through nuanced exploration of interpersonal relations.  And like those two auters, she comes across as the conversationalist–a philosopher your can see yourself in.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10