Hatchie “Stay With Me” Track Review

Hatchie sounds ready to continue her pop bliss on Keepsake—her upcoming debut album for Double Double Whammy. Both singles for the project are unabashedly driving and pristine, emotionally legible without mindlessness—continuing the sentimental energy of her Sugar and Spice EP. First single, “Without a Blush” mimicks the energy of the EP’s tentpole title-track—the washed out beat skyrockets forward throughout alongside plainly joyous vocal melodies—and “Stay With Me” showcases the emotional nuance that could make her album truly remarkable.

Opening with a slightly pulled down texture, the tune waxes poetic about a relationship gone wrong, but is nontheless missed. When the drums and guitars really show their teeth in the last two minutes the tune takes off into another realm. Admittedly the washed out vocal work may lean too heavily into ever-popular shoegaze textures for some, but Hatcie’s somber cotton candy world aligns with the likes of Sir Babygirl and Kim Petras who’ve wielded pop as a weapon of reclamation in recent memory.

-Donovan Burtan

Album drops June 21st

American Football-American Football (LP3): Album Review

If the original American Football record was all about capturing a moment–graduation, the end of an era, a relationship–their latest moment is something new—the marathon of adulthood, where one falls on old habits, some inherited, and the effects the grindstone of aging has on those around us–a reflection of the band’s current epoch and, well, age group.  With a twinkling, and beautiful new sound, the band matches this new reality. Though not their first comeback record, it is the one we will remember, one that honors who they are while providing a new perspective on all the things that make them great.

So what’s the core of the band? There’s the occasional trumpet, the mathy landscapes, lead singer Mike Kinsella’s soft almost-tenor vocals—formerly reaching towards notes they couldn’t hit to expertly nail the aspirational tone of youth and now perhaps reaching backwards, towards one’s younger years—and the band’s moody tones which parse the difference between the somber nature of minor and the satisfaction of major.

On that basis, this is an American Football record, but the main innovation here is in the studio polish. These songs achieve a glacial thickness with all sorts of bells and whistles. Whether it be a huge slew of vocal tracking—especially true on the features—a rogue xylophone set, or some welcome slowdive-esque guitar sounds—the band is not settling down by any means.  Now when a major chord comes in, it comes in crashing, and the moody jam sessions of tunes like “Every Wave to Ever Rise” or “Doom in Full Bloom” gradually become colossal in a way they never could have before.  It’s not necessarily apocalyptic, rather fleshed out about as extensively as possible without becoming over-produced.  Sure, some will miss the scrappiness of yesteryear, but American Football has always taken a tasteful dose from both Emo’s scrappy origins and ambient and shoegaze’s pristine textures, and this accomplishes just that.

The running lyrical themes also equally honor the band and look to the future.  Of course there’s talk of lovers, the realization that someone was never meant for you, the classic falling out of phase moments, but there’s much more speak of time and aging, creating a new type of introspection.

Rather than awkward 20-something lack of experience (see: “Goodbye with a handshake, Or an embrace, Or a kiss on the cheek…possibly all three” or: I’ll See You When We’re Both Not So Emotional), here Kinsella wonders constantly about the relationship between his actions and his father’s. Most directly with the lyric “I blamed my father in my youth/Now I blame the booze,” but then there’s the utterly fascinating incorporation of a children’s choir on Heir Apparent where the lyric “Heir apparent to the throne/the king of all alone” fades into the mix over time.  With lyrics addressed to his father and children sort of in the background, the band poses questions about how our individuality interacts with our upbringing.

This is a true masterclass in wearing “20 years since our break-out” as well as “complete make-over” on one’s sleeve.  American Football know who they are, but they are certainly not done with us yet.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10

Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe: Album Review

Admittedly Nilüfer Yanya isn’t offering a completely new perspective on musical texture or what a song can do, but Miss Universe does more than simply pass the test for “singer-songwriter given a bit of a budget for their real debut.” With Yanya herself offering a bunch of goofy interludes to narrate her speak of self worth and its intersection with validation from others, the album offers a unique glance at its auter. Unpredictable, wirey melodies, build and caressing alongside synths, guitars, and horns that draw on everyone from Aaliyah to Blink-182. It’s sure to be relatable to anyone familiar with those musical references as well as those plunging into the depth of the teenage years today.

“In Your Head” certainly acts as a bit of a thesis. In it Yanya tells a potential love interest that she cannot act until she hears an exact description of how they feel.  Though she doesn’t play this manic type of character throughout, the songs paint a vivid inner dialogue about the growing pains inherent to that time where you have to figure yourself out as much as those who interest you.

“Safety Net” might just be the heart of the record where Yanya seems to find the upper hand in a battle of whether or not she deserves more out of a partner: “I’m not trying to be someone/I’m not/So stop trying to be someone.”. It’s undercut by her self doubt “I’ll find nothing instead/because I’m not good looking,” but that tug and pull between doubt and worth represents the tension between the moment you realize you have to leave and the moment you actually do it.

Closer “Heavyweight Champion of the World” also explores the tension as Yanya pleads for herself to realize that the one she’s chasing will never truly commit. Then there’s tunes like “Heat Rises,” which more metaphorically address anxiety or “Melt” which more devilshly wish for another’s pain.

These songs are well accomplished sonically, though I can’t help but feeling like there’s a little bit to be desired in terms of singularity. Not quite, but if you ignore some of the musical flourishes, sax solos, there’s an inclining of “this product was manufactured to please indie rock and R&B markets,” whereas something SZA’s Ctrl more endearingly combined the two. But overall, Miss Universe is a worthy debut from someone with potential to speak to a generation.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

Looking Ahead: 3/15

American Football-American Football (LP3)

In the wake of the news of Tame Impala coming back, I took another glance at Currents and of course it holds up, but more importantly it took me back to the stereogum review of the album, where writer Ryan Leas says that the album starts with a seven-minute behemoth and then turns into a slow burn to build up to the finale.   Maybe I was a little overly influenced by this, but that’s how the third American Football LP felt on first take.

As previously discussed, “Silhouettes” is likely the most adventurous tune the band has ever come up with and it’s also, quite literally, a seven-minute behemoth.  Then the band calms down for a minute, however, with three-minute tunes that feel comfortable, leading into more substantial work on “Doom in Full Bloom” and the Rachel Goswell featuring “I Can’t Feel You.”  Though it may not feel like a massive rekindling initially, by the end it’ll certainly feel blissfully new and expertly crafted.

Listen to it Now! on First Listen

Dis Fig-Purge

Self described as a super dark answer to the likes of Portishead, Dis Fig combines radio static and apocalyptic vocal work.  Check out my thoughts on lead single “Unleash.”

Out today!

Nilüfer Yanya-Miss Universe

In Your Head was a perfectly straightforward piece of pop-rock that might’ve raised some concerns that Miss Universe would be too simple, but by no means is that the case.  Though the album is a bit long and regrettably features a collection of De La Soul like vocal interludes, it sees Yanya deliver blissfully punchy tunes alongside long form pieces that truly spread their wings–sax solos and all.

Listen to this one on NPR today

American Football “Silhouettes” Track Review

If you’re like me and try, sometimes way too hard, to garner information from an album’s cover, American Football‘s third self-titled LP probably seems interesting right out the gate.  Though still not coming up with an album title, the band has finally abandoned their famous house for a completely new landscape and Silhouettes sounds like it was modeled after it.  Starting with the clink of a xylophone, the guitars and drums swirl up like a blizzard. The resulting despondent ambient tundra drives home lyricism about a relationship that’s turned from passion to muscle memory: “What’s the allure of inconsequential love?”

The band has been like an old college sweater in our collective closets since their 1999 debut.  They remind us of the somber energy that comes with moving on from an era and with their wildly long-awaited follow-up, they got the engine going again. Here, however, they’ve sparked an era of true evolution.  Thinking about some of the comeback albums in this lane, Slowdive, Brand New, hell even LCD Soundsystem, few have been this drastic as the band reaches for a Low level of recreation.  Definitely do not miss out on their release date next Friday.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 3/1

Solange-When I Get Home

Solange hit us with a surprise release last night and you gotta sit down and listen to this thing immediately.  When I Get Home feels like an instant-classic, seemingly taking all the energy on A Seat at the Table and filtering it through a vaporizer.  Little cells of melody lilt and repeat over sparse but lively production making for one of the most adventurous and avant-garde mainstream albums this side of Blonde.

Little Simz-GREY

Little Simz has been a talent in rap and introspection for a while and it looks like it’s only up from here—GREY Area promises to be her most developed work yet.

Yves Jarvis-The Same But By Different Means

Having released more indie rock oriented stuff as Un Blonde, Montreal’s Jean-Sebastian Audet has changed his name and rebranded as a sort of abstract soul artist.  Single “That Don’t Make It So” sounds almost like Flying Lotus produced a tune with D’Angelo.

 

 

Aldous Harding “The Barrel” Track Review

The video for “The Barrel” is, in a word, ridiculous.  Harding stands dressed as some sort of 1600’s puritan with a tall ass hat out of the Badu playbook, and lightly dances to the pluckily produced single.  Though her last album featured many similar little production details, “Barrel” matches the video’s newfound carefree and light energy, becoming more and more dance-able when the shakers really get going.

The lyrics are a bit vague at first glance, but Harding paints pictures of seeing through tricks, which she talks about in an interview with NPR: “I know you have the dove/I’m not getting wet.” There’s a sense of world-weariness, but Harding is also critical of this position, mentioning that as a kid we’re gradually cultivated into certain lanes: “When you have a child, so begins the braiding/And in that braid you stay.”  There’s both a desire to be something more mature and childlike or carefree, which even seeps into the video as Harding first performs a ‘proper’ role and eventually dances around more unabashedly like a child.  Though her past work wasn’t the kind of self-seriousness of say current Mount Eerie, this dive into a looser world is welcome and hopefully signals a larger change of pace for the record.

-Donovan Burtan

Looking Ahead: 2/22

Kehlani-While We Wait

Just gave you my rundown of Kehlani’s “Nights Like This,” today she releases a short and sweet mixtape to hold us over until her next full album–she’s nine months pregnant this month and still releasing music? a prolific queen.  Sporting welcome features from Musiq Soulchild and 6lack, the 30 minutes effortlessly flex Kehlani’s adaptability without loosing her singular voice.

Buy it on itunes like the good old days

Hand Habits-Placeholder

Look at how planned out I look today! Lol, just spoke briefly about how Placeholder the single offers a newfound cushion of studio crafted sound to support Meg Duffy’s voice and songwriting and, though there are some surprises, it seems like that’s an apt description for the rest of the work.  Addressing intimacy in myriad forms, the album evokes a cold smolder from start to finish.

Listen today on NPR

Ossia-Devil’s Dance

A fixture of the Bristol DIY scene, former hub of dub and post-punk intermingling, Dan Davies captures an independent spirit with music that melds all corners of underground music from tape loops to punky freakouts, and even some free jazz touting sax playing.

Purchase here

Priests “The Seduction of Kansas” Track Review

Perhaps as a reaction to their break-out year seeing the band face a constant barrage of critics and fans calling them the #resistance punk band for Trump’s America, Priests are re-tinkering things more than they ever have and growing into new musical spaces.

They’ve always been a slithery band that slides between different zones with dance-able bass lines and kick-ass drums to support punk yelps–not to mention lyrics like “Obama killed something in me and I’m gonna get him for it” that don’t exactly date them to 2016.  Though funk bass lines seeped into classic post-punk bands like The Pop Group, much of this categorization is certainly unfair, the band may embody some spirit of post-punk but they were never simply “Thatcher era political music, reworded with Trump.”

Still, “Seduction of Kansas” doesn’t exactly sound like a band expertly standing on new ground.  The song feels a bit like “Suck” off their last album, but here the tempo is pulled way down to a sluggish pace, leaving Katie Alice Greer out in open space to awkwardly land melodic punches; that opening couplet rhyming “me” and “progeny” simply sounds off and, at least from an outsider’s perspective, Katie Alice Greer’s voice doesn’t sound like it’s in a completely comfortable range.  Lyrically, the band hasn’t forgotten that which makes them great as they paint some middle-america horror story, but the song sounds like a band in transition rather than one ready for a whole new era.

-Donovan Burtan

 

Jessica Pratt-Quiet Signs: Album Review

It’s no coincidence that William Basinski shared props for “Quiet Signs” on his facebook page. Dedicated to the art of selecting perfect sounds, Jessica Pratt crafts a flowing beauty throughout that makes the 25 minute-ish experience fall away effortlessly like one of Basinski’s perfect ambient pieces.  These are the sounds of an unpopulated home, morning breeze, cooking yourself breakfast. “It makes my want to cry” peaks out of the fog of wordlessness on “This Time Around,” not completely making its own meaning, but allowing whatever meaning you like to get attached to it.  It’ll start your day slowly, call you to sleep quickly. Quiet Signs sounds of the earth; new but forever.

Another potential touchstone, oddly enough, is the latest from Earl Sweatshirt.  Some Rap Songs was nearly entirely comprised of instrumental loops, which Earl mentioned in an interview were inspired by the work of Tirzah and other producers who work with the format.  Like both of these artists, Pratt works with a simplistic instrumental foundation, oftentimes repetitive, more about the delivery and production than the musical complexity.

After the intro featuring the lick on piano, “As The World Turns” features a three chord lick that repeats beneath her vague melodic structures.  I’m not going to sit here and lecture you about the exact chords, however, each chord expands further into jazz-like harmonic extensions, giving it a cool, growing motion.  Throughout the album, Pratt lets expertly-crafted guitar motions like this sit there as her voice wanders above, or a flute appears, achieving a certain stillness even when new details arrive.

Perhaps a product of the harmonic openness is the aversion to sounding like a specific time period.  The classy piano opening sounds like an ode to classic 60’s and 70’s recording techniques, but then suddenly Pratt will sound contemporary or Medieval.  The album’s darkest offering, “Crossing,” is the latter, the plucked guitar sounding like some sort of ancient love song from an opera’s troubadour.  “Silent Song” then takes us back to some old art film and “Aeroplane” follows with tomorrow’s sunrise, a rhythmic guitar strum that could’ve been made anywhere at anytime driving the album to close.

Lyrically, of course much of its hard to decipher, but with the likes of Julia Holter, it seems like when you are paying attention and Pratt pronounces with clarity, there’s something to behold. “Reflection of your memory in the window” matches the imagery of the sonic environment and “its so long before my future’s come” pores over the ideas of time and aging that seep from the album’s atmosphere.

Pratt truly hits all the markers of subtle music here.  It’s expertly crafted, yet effortless to listen to, familiar and new, an immediate entry to one’s library of classics.

-Donovan Burtan

8.5/10