Yves Tumor-Safe in the Hands of Love: Album Review

I’m certainly not going to say that Yves Tumor came out of nowhere, as TEAMS he made music that drew all sorts of lines between sonic exploration and pop-minded accessibility, but this past is so fluid and unpredictable that it’s hard not to listen to Safe in the Hands of Love, his most fully realized work to date, as evidence of time or space travel.  Similarly to SOPHIE’s debut earlier this year, the work smashes ideas of song form, album flow, genre all in one feel swoop and somehow lands on its feet for the most part.

Single Noid is the most focused exercise of the album.  The album opens on an intro track that pushes and pulls a trumpet sound over static energy; followed by Economy of Freedom which again takes sound and stirs it up like soup, eventually adding yearning vocals; and the more structured Honesty, a song that almost sounds like something off of Laurel Halo’s Dust with an actual meter and lyrics about the early stages of love when you’re both unsure and infatuated.  All this amounts to a gradual focusing of ideas, which to an extent is what Yves Tumor is all about.  The listener is put out in the dark before a gradual sense of familiarity eventually sets in.

The beginning of Noid is thus both sudden and expected as the gradual decline from the no-man’s land of the very beginning of the album climaxes with some sort of indie-post-disco world with a tightly wound drum part and fat bass line.  Here the lyrics somewhat approach protest music, showcasing how black people feel unsafe basically anywhere outside of their homes due to police presence: “Have you, have you looked outside/I’m scared for my life/They don’t trust us.”

From there, the project meanders a bit in this familiar-ish space before blasting off with distortion on the final track.  A solemn string melody here, some punchy, sharp drums there, contrasted later by a distant maniacal preacher.  More rockist tendencies set in with the vocals between the barked out verses and screamed out choruses of Lifetime or the (dare I say new metal sounding?) calls of “I CANT RECOGNIZE MYSELF” of Recognizing the Enemy.  Even when the songforms somewhat make traditional sense with something approaching normal album flow, there’s a sense that you don’t know where anything is coming from.

The project is certainly an important exploration of sound, but to an extent its ambition is a bit over the top.  Sure, we’ve been given great albums that don’t necessarily give a lot of hooks to hold onto, or leave the listener out in the dark for periods of time to eventually bring them back to light with a big pop moment, but there needs to be some sort of sonic through line, whether it be Sophie’s hyper-fake plastic sheen or Laurel Halo’s crunchy texture feel, or the dark cloudy feel of say Massive Attack;  Tumor’s throughline seems to be the lack of one, which creates a unique experience but also makes it a bit hard to listen to repeatedly.  He’ll for sure develop as a songwriter, however, and the project is certainly going to leave a mark on a particularly vivid year of fractured musical approaches.

-Donovan Burtan



Spiritualized-And Nothing Hurt: Album Review

Jason Pierce sounds a bit weary on his first Spiritualized record since 2012.  A project that seemingly only makes suites of planetary proportions, including their time-tested classic “Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space,” Spiritualized now essentially consists of one man, a lap-top, and a vigorous tinkering schedule.  His soft-spoken lead vocals ground swirling backing tracks that glow with a neon electricity while laying back with a southern rock guitar reference and later completely disintegrating into free jazz.  It’s a 48-minute journey that never comes off heavy handed, yet reaches orchestral proportions and delicate intimacy in one fell swoop.

If there’s one thing that Pierce has really honed over the year’s it’s album flow.  At over an hour, even that classic I was talking about drones on for a little long, but here the ebb and flow is a bit more contained making for an encompassing but not exhaustive listening experience.

The album achieves that burst-at-the-seams energy that all great albums have, of course, but giant moments such as the blistering clip of “On the Sunshine” with its distant backing choir and cacophonous saxophones comes after the delicate “Let’s Dance.”  Opener “A Perfect Miracle” is a sweet introduction to the sound world, with a quaint hope of being with a lover and crafting a relationship together, but it’s gently flowing vocal swirl gradually evolves into the more desperate plea of “I’m Your Man.”

Sure, the work doesn’t necessarily alter the playbook in a super substantial way, but maybe that’s just a testament to their legacy.  No matter the time period or state of rock the band sounds familiar, yet unattainable.  They could’ve toured with MBV in the 90’s, Beach House today, or LCD Soundsystem in 2010 an they would’ve worked.  It’s rare that a musical entity can sound fresh and vital for so long.

I can’t help but think of the Guardians of the Galaxy universe when listening to this thing.  With lyrics professing his ability to love or excitedly proposing a road-trip, with an ounce of loneliness against the 60’s pop meets ELO sonic flair, the album is nostalgic and relatable alongside it’s futuristic space vision.  Pierce is a road-warrior in retirement taking a nap on his porch, but he’s also achieved his goal of building said porch on some floating rock where he’s the only human and the movie credits are about to roll: “I say that a lot about the music I love. I always feel like it’s come from a satellite from somewhere you’ve never been to.”

-Donovan Burtan



Mitski-Be The Cowboy: Album Review

“I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent/I wanna see the whole world”

Mitski Miyawaki knows how to speak to the masses.  Her lyrics are often called confessional, but as she’s mentioned in her latest interviews she’s not a vessel, her words are carefully crafted to skewer the contradictions of youth and life as a whole.  Complemented by her short song structures, Miyawaki’s short lyrical clippings are packed tightly and expertly.  On her third album in four years of 30 minutes in length, this becomes even more true.  Massive sentences like “I fell in love with a war and nobody told me it ended;” “I know I’ve kissed you before but I didn’t do it right;” and “I look for a picture of you…But I can’t seem to find one, where you look how I remember” anchor nearly every track, building a little cell within the overarching work.

Thematically, the songs strike upon various characters in the American psyche.  The lonesome cowboy who finds themselves in the middle american plains.  The Hitchcockian woman who’s a blank canvass for the male audience to project their feelings onto.  Miyawaki builds a world in which the reality–that one cannot live without emotional support–combats against the desire to be entirely self sufficient.  On “Old Friend” she begs to talk about nothing at the old dining spot, a possibility that she made impossible.  “A Pearl” sees a narrator unable to find intimacy for the sake of watching a Pearl glow.  A metaphor for a long lost dream? Or perhaps the last remaining piece of a relationship that’s sure to dissipate. It’s unclear.

Then of course there’s the beating heart of the whole Mitski project on “Lonesome Love,” where we get the lyrical couplet: “Nobody butters me up like you/and nobody fucks me like me.”  Complemented by the refrain “Why am I lonely for a lonesome love,” the song runs circles around itself, a narrator torn between desire and satisfaction.

Sonically, this is reflected in the David Byrne or Patti Smith brand of detachment.  The chorus of single “Nobody” repeats the word to maniacal effect as the disco-lite instrumental speaks right to the hips.  Her live show–complete with choreography–reflects the divide as Miyawaki positions herself center against her band, no guitar in tow, repeating bodily motions and steps that gradually grow simultaneously more huge and inhuman.  For “Geyser,” she reprises the digging from the brilliantly shot video, and elsewhere she literally seizes on the floor as the guitar solos roared.

Mitski Miyawaki was a great songwriter all along, and Be The Cowboy is her first step to full-blown visionary.  I don’t think we’ll see her return to the orchestra she recorded with in college, but her rise is sure to continue in the coming years.

-Donovan Burtan


Dear Nora-Skulls Example: Album Review

I had already fallen in love with this album, but something about listening to it on a drive home at dusk after a long day really clicked with me this past weekend.

“Wifi o’er the land”

Skulls Example is loosely about the insane juxtapositions that today brings.  As Katy Davidson puts it: “Skulls Example is about how our weird, techno-futuristic present juxtaposes so absurdly against the never-ending backdrop of inexorable, ancient elements.”

At least where I live, 4G LTE is everywhere.  In the 8 acres of wetland behind by childhood home, on the old highways that lead out to the obscurely shaped stretches of Rhode Island’s peninsulas.  Driving across hills and stetches of blue and green this past Sunday, I was enveloped in Davidson’s small sounding, rural sound world and simultaneously accessing twitter to see the Newport Jazz Festival’s photos from George Clinton’s closing set.

A festival founded in 1954, honoring one of the broadest genres of the day, the Newport Jazz Festival itself even fits into this theme.  This is a place where Chicago free jazz veterans Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith get called “the sound of the future” while a younger group of musicians are playing standards that pre-date the birth dates of Threadgill and Smith next door.  It’s fun but disorienting to experience George Clinton’s artful excess a day removed from Trio3’s spare improvisational style.

It’s absurd that I can feel the intimacy of the small Portland home where Davidson tracked their vocals, while looking at the sunset over Newport Beach in the corner of my eye and the photos that will be used to commodify my nostalgia in 50 years front and center.

This is what Davidson is talking about when they craft a landscape out of phrases like “where the Morning Glories twine around my door at early morn” or “deserted is the word for all this wonderful nothing” then flatten it all with a reference to today.

There’s the layering effect of instagram/screens/television–the distortion that comes with communication over these forms: “Took a photo of a photo and I got in trouble;” “Sunset in the video game and I’m walking on the beach…it’s all within reach;” “last night I watched a movie about the Oregon trail.”  Davidson presents this world through a critical lens, certainly, but not in the vein of direct disdain: “Simulation Feels Real” she says–but what else is she going to say, there’s no going back under late capitalism.

On Skulls Example, the pastoral tone and lyrical imagery make for a believable simulation, but just as our technological world can feel at once unimaginably beautiful and utterly horrifying, Davidson’s intimate styling has an ounce of despair at every turn.

-Donovan Burtan


“Sunset on Humanity”




Looking Ahead: August 10th

Moses Sumney-Black in Deep Red, 2014 EP

It’s a true testament to Sumney’s vision as an artist that he can immerse his listener in a completely different sound world from his last album in a nine-minute EP.  Here, the barren landscapes of Aromanticism get swapped for massive layering and driving intensity.

Shygirl-Cruel Practice EP

Producer Shygirl makes dynamic, dark music that drives and pulses with energy.

Lotic-Power: Album Review

I’m always interested in how electronic musicians insert humanity into their mix.  There’s space for pure militancy in the minimal techno of Robert Hood or Studio One, but the best IDM cats always knew how to craft a good melody, and DJ Shadow’s lust for analog gives him his undying psychedelic appeal.

Today’s moment sees a lot of artists clashing the electronic and human elements into a more blurred mix, a texture making the divide between electronic drive and melodic/vocal work inseparable.  Along with the likes of FKA Twigs, Arca, or even Death Grips, Lotic falls into this categorization, crafting a world that is at once viciously inhuman and fully alive.

“Hunted” enters with a whisper: “brown skin masculine frame, heads a target/Actin’ real feminine, make em’ vomit.”  In a world where femininity and black masculinity are both frowned upon, I’m sure one can feel like a whisper among caustic electronic violence when walking down the street.  Aside from that juxtaposition, the music also incorporates eerie vocal oohs that are matched by plucked keyboard sounds and broken up by bubbling artificial bass pulses.  Another aspect of queerness is how one feels like the world is just built differently from them so this blurring of electronics and vocals also reads into that feeling as the human opening erodes into something other.

Towards the end of “Bulletproof,” the vocals are doubled with one take deep in Lotic’s range and lightly auto-tuned, “I’m a bulletproof ni**a,” again blurring the space.  The title track opens with shimmering electronics, before disruption in the form of a drum sample—perhaps a bit further removed from a specifically human feel, but still in the vein of colliding worlds.

Power isn’t quite like Laurel Halo’s obsessive recalculation of the human voice Dust, however, the work shatters song-form, colliding artificiality and human touch to capture the violent erosion of feeling other.

-Donovan Burtan 8/10

Palberta-Roach Goin’ Down: Album Review

In some fashion, Palberta’s music operates on a small scale all the time.  The trio adds layers to their thrashy instrumental and vocal swirl in the studio, but their songs are outbursts, rarely lasting more than 90 seconds, and never feeling particularly lush or big. Still, the band looks to new territories on their latest album, occasionally parsing things down to let the music breathe and more tender melodies bloom.

“In My Fame-Jug!” starts rather on brand.  Rough, syncopated instrumentals juxtapose unison group vocals. Then, things shift for the back half of the tune as the guitar moves to a slow, swaying melody–almost in the fashion of early Modest Mouse–evoking a delicacy that shifts the temporal sense from the usual fleeting feeling to a more elongated, emotional place.

Single “Sound of the Beat” also summarizes this shift in the band.  The lyrical couplet “Hey! that’s the sound of the beat/I can hear it now-ow-ow-ow-ow” sees first a grimey vocal feel before swapping over to a harmonized, soft trio.  It’s that manic sensibility that makes the group so fun to watch, but matched with the newfound delicacy, making for a more dynamic feel.

Coming together a little over a year after the release of Bye Bye Berta, the band doesn’t seem to have completely shifted gears, but the album sees a wildly underrated live act again seeking new sounds in the studio setting.

-Donovan Burtan