Spielbergs-This is Not the End: Album Review

Similar to Foxing‘s magnum opus from this summer, This is Not The End is sweeping and giant, highlighting the bands chugging guitars and anthemic vocals with a lush, expansive instrumental pallet.  If a song like “Bad Friend,” with its straightforward lyrics, is the bands DNA at its most distilled state, the following track “McDonald’s (Please Don’t F*ck Up My Order)” is the band stretching it out with shimmering meditation and an extended metaphor about suiting someones needs in the form of a fast food order.  The album may be occasionally on the nose and by no means earth shattering, but its restlessness gives it a wide emotional pallet, the new band sounding like seasoned vets.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

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

NKISI-7 Directions: Album Review

Melika Kolongo’s current project NON seeks to connect a wide variety of sound art made by members of the African diaspora (you can read their full manifesto here).  This, along with Kolongo’s own psychoacoustic research, perhaps describes the heavy dose of research and process behind her work, but a better first thing to note is her releases with Doomcore records out of Belgium.  Alongside gaudy album covers and dark tones from Belgium’s finest, Nkisi’s work for the label took sinister moods and pushed them to their breaking point with slow builds and apocalyptic vocal clips.

Though considerably more lush than her earlier work, 7 Directions’ first listen showcases its smoldering pummel. The beats aren’t necessarily unrelenting violence á la Blanck Mass, but there’s little sugar as electricity and acoustic-adjacent textures craft an impossibly late-night vibe that evokes the cosmos for a boundless depth.

If first listen will be marked by darkness, more exposure will showcase the work’s dynamic life.  7 Directions may be trance-like repetition at the macro, yet it’s remarkably dynamic at the micro.  Each track is comprised of a darkly electric melodic motion that’ll stick there throughout, but the drum layering beneath provides a stochastic, enveloping feeling, abstracting lines between pattern and random making 10 minute swaths of activity pass by effortlessly.

“II,” for instance, has a gradually moving ghost of a melody deep in the background that contrasts the looped cell of percussion up front, bending time by never completely embodying the same meter.  As time passes another layer of melody is added in the same place to continue this liquid approach to time.  “IV” sports the most sinister, addicting melody, the simple up and down motion phasing left and right as the drum sticks roar dead center and the closing track again phases melodies and rhythms, the bouncing drums accompanied by a seemingly unpredictable shooting stars of electricity.

In an interview with tinymixtapes, NKISI discusses how her research involves a lot of testing out sounds on her own body: “A big part of my music-making process involves listening to it and testing it on my body. I’m really interested in how the body can be affected by music and sound.”  Perhaps this is an element in the increased depth of her work.  Where previously skeletal electronic sounds once stood, now stands a huge block of all encompassing sound that, coupled with these songwriting strategies, never quite sits still for you.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Cherry Glazerr-Stuffed and Ready: Album Review

Though perhaps not the most lyrically nuanced band, Cherry Glazerr tends to bring piercing intensity throughout their work.  Here, the opening trio is the most essential as the somber, drawn out choruses of “Ohio” mold into biting sarcasm on “Daddi” and finally land on blood curdling anger for “Wasted Nun.” From then on out the band somewhat kicks into cruise control with tunes like “That’s Not My Real Life,” which sounds like an anxious Alvvays knock off, or “Juicy Socks” and “Pieces,” which sport drab melodies.  “Stupid Fish” is the band at their most heavy-handed, lead singer Clementine Creevy screaming out the words “I see myself in you and that’s why I fucking hate you” to end it off.

Stuffed and Ready is fun with highlights (check out “Isolation” too btw) but probably wont stick around forever, maybe catch ’em live sometime eh?

-Donovan Burtan

6.5/10

Looking Ahead: 2/8.

Ariana Grande-Thank You, Next

Ariana Grande’s next career step could get dicey, or it might not judging from how well sweetener went over and how she Chaneled herself by releasing her biggest smash, the title track of today’s released, after the fact.  Whether it’s the dark cousin to sweetener’s bliss, or something completely of its own, I think we should maintain hope that today’s pop diva will come up with something endearing for us to enjoy.

Deer Tick-Mayonnaise

Though not really a band that’s become nationwide heroes, Deer Tick are Rhode Island legends, who’re right in line with Foxygen and Cage the Elephant in terms of respectful, fun throwback rock sounds.

 

Better Oblivion Community Center-Self titled: Album Review

Better Oblivion Community Center is a place in a town that doesn’t exist physically, rather dots the lines between Connor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers’ collective past and present.  Referencing a slew of scenarios from the “white noise” that puts Bridgers’ to sleep each night today, to her formerly not-so-smart-phone; a high school summer spent doing nothing but complaining all day, to a current reality much darker, filled with dizzy spells–this self-titled record pulls together Oberst’s scrappiness and Phoebe Bridgers’ clear-toned humor for a ridiculously well-advised collaboration much in the lane of Bridgers’ boygenius crew.

Oberst is a bit more in the backseat here in terms of sound.  Although the scrappy folk vibes of Bright Eyes have certainly aged well, perhaps in this post-Mumford, and Sons reality, Bridgers’ moody, polished sounds are better suited to helm a folky rock album that sounds like indie’s current epoch.

Stand-out single “Dylan Thomas” is bit more up-tempo than Bridgers’s debut album, but her voice leads the driving, slick sound–Oberst’s harmonies providing a cushion to quintessentially Bridgers’ lyrics like “I’m taking a shower at the Bates Motel.” A noisy, messy guitar solo inflects more Bright Eyes flavor of course, but the song remains steadily in Bridgers’s ballpark.

The marginally less single worthy, “Chesapeake” sees dark keyboards underpin gradually lilting vocal melodies and lightly strummed acoustic guitar–very Bridgers–and on “Big Black Heart” we see her primal vocal chops, as heard on “Georgia” or “Me and My Dog,” as the lightly sung opening collapses into blistering guitar sounds and distorted vocal cries.

Oberst’s touch comes more in the form of his ability to humanize basically anything with his lyrics and vocal delivery.  Bright Eyes’ I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning weaved vivid tails about drinking your worries away, or finding a lifetime in a photograph; not necessarily creating works of literature, but singing lines like “And I stood nervous next to you in the dark room/You drop the paper in the water/And it all begins to bloom” or “When everything is lonely/I can be my own best friend/I get a coffee and the paper/Have my own conversations” with a breadth of emotional expression rarely matched.

Probably most indicative of this is Chesapeake‘s unsuspecting take of a childhood’s first concert: “I was all covered in sound/Ear plugs so it wasn’t loud.”  Despite opening with Bridgers’ singing, I Didn’t Know What I Was In For‘s illustration of a boring teenage job also drips Bright Eyes influence and though also in line with the dark tales of Bridgers’ Stranger in the Alps, the empathetic take on a troubled relative on Sevice Road showcases the darker side of the project, sans that trademark humor.

A cynic might look at Bridgers’ career path and see it as simply resume-building; 2017 solo album, 2018 collaboration with other young, buzzy songwriters, 2019 collaboration with aging gun; but these extra projects have both felt like real, fully formed bands, where the songwriting talents truly merged into a cohesive unit.  Better Oblivion Community Center’s doors may or may not open again but they certainly are worth walking into.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

 

Steve Gunn-The Unseen In Between: Album Review

Having been all around the underground block, Steve Gunn’s Matador records output is certainly his most clean-cut and streamlined iteration.  Sporting atmospheric grooves that smolder and bolster, The Unseen In Between and Eyes on the Lines are by no means boring, but rather than seeing guitar chops experiment with texture and form, they serve more as platforms for Gunn’s stream of consciousness-ish lyrics that mull over stories and landscapes.

If there’s a palpable difference between the latest and the last, it may come as a product of his change in recording strategy.  As highlighted in his Noisey interview, rather than meticulously arranging and performing the instrumental parts then adding vocals, he recorded as a band.  The energy and chemistry is more forward as the songs start small and gradually burst at the seams with Gunn’s voice leading the charge.  Coupled with some slight developments in melodic chops and more direct storytelling, its a record that should appeal to everyone who’s supported his trajectory thus far, again providing a new glance at the musician.

The emotional crux of the project is “Stonehurst Cowboy.”  Whereas singles “Vagabond” and “New Moon” maybe continue Gunn’s love of imagery and raucous grooves, “Cowboy” is Gunn at his most emotionally naked.  Inspired by his recently passed father, the song weaves a tale of young, strong men who are left behind by time.  The homes where they made their impact on the world remain, yet the “faces are gone.”  Without being too direct, the chorus beautifully captures the emotional color of a masculine relationship as Gunn realizes that time will eventually take his father away though they may not necessarily talk about those types of things forwardly:  “Teach us right, all those steps/Before there’s nothing left/For all those cowboys in the world.”

Admittedly more cryptic, “Luciano” meditates on somewhat of a similar theme.  Speaking about another fatherly(ish) figure, Gunn mentions the man’s dependency on friends and religion, and hopes that when he’s gone, that he’ll have the same kind of support system: “I hear him howling with his friends/Sometimes it’s Jesus who he calls/And you just hope that they’re all/There for you, just like he was there for me.”

This sheds a slightly different light on the loose beginning.  The opening couplet (“It’s all right here on the floor/A sea of shadows by the door”) might refer to grief and “Roll the gate, turn your key/Unlock your golden song from me” maybe references how family visits can pull a lonely, aging person from the depths. “This is my first place…I’ll just hang and watch the light/Move slowly, with you” showcases how elders in communities become witnesses to time, both in the day-in-day-out sense and also in the year to year reality as younger folks grow up and leave the place, the changes in their appearance visible just as the changes in elements and season.

The rest of the album sports more direct songwriting and maybe showcases how Gunn will likely ease into the most mature portion of his career with more trademark chill jams.  However, the man’s not completely done navigating new emotional territory and the band playing is some of the best heard in his songwriter era.

-Donovan Burtan

7.5/10

 

 

Sneaks-Highway Hypnosis: Album Review

Constantly picking apart melodic and lyrical ideas into a self-referential stew of collapsing rhythms, Sneaks makes dynamic music that cascades through different zones.  It will inevitably be heard as post-punk considering that bass is the closest thing to a constant in the Highway Hypnosis environment, but just as certain bands like the Talking Heads and New Order took dance music as a muse for new wave, the album is lawless; a moody, cold energy the only constant between mechanical bass rhythms and crashing beats.

In terms of subject material, Sneaks is more about exploring sketches than painting a whole environment, which will likely turn off some listeners, but for those into Palberta’s sense of humor, or the classic Wire material, these songs will be laughed at and loved.

“Saiditzoneza” sounds like Sneaks made up a word to see what it would be like as a foundation block of a tune and then didn’t build anything on top of it.  “Holy Cow I Never Saw A Girl Like That,” is classic Sneaks, toying with that title to maniacal effect with the equally evil bass-line accompanying.

The album also sports sonic tricks equivalent to these lyrical quirks.  “A Lil Close” opens with a high-electro melody that could serve as a background for a Weeknd or Drake pop-R&B smash, but a knob suddenly gets twisted you’re left with a hollow rhythmic background for some more bass smothering.  “Cinnamon,” on the other hand is definitely melodically imagined, with Sneaks adopting a childlike awe between bouts of adult mumble–much of the details in the lyrics getting lost in the mix.

The highlights of the work are “The Way it Goes” and “Ecstasy,” however, and hopefully give a glimpse at the material Sneaks may be shooting for in the future.

The first is a hype track for an ambient action sequence in a made up movie with the lyric “and when the match-a-lit it goes up” and an ironic rap verse about skate boarding.  “Ecstasy” is spacier with lots of catchy materials dancing around each other.  Elongated syllables open for “running ’round the world with a planet of my own,” but by inflecting tidbits like quickly sung “I Don’t Wanna Explain” and “all I got is ecsta-sayyyyy,” Sneaks hints at a more verse-chorus-verse dynamic structure.

It’s good to hear sneaks do sneaks, but also sneaks can do structure–something that undeniably could’ve given Highway Hypnosis more buoyant energy from cover to cover.  Hopefully Sneaks the ironic rapper will have more for us next cycle.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

 

 

Looking Ahead: 1/25.

Sneaks-Highway Hypnosis

If there’s any connective tissue between this Sneaks album and the next one on the list it’s the fact that both grapple with the limits of minimalism.  In the live setting, at least around the time of her first EP, Sneaks’s Eva Moolchan plays the bass and sings over a drum machine, mostly one-minute songs.  Like girlpool’s expansion to a 40+ minute ‘proper’ album, Highway Hypnosis is 30 minutes long with more things approaching traditional song structures.  Luckily it feels as if Sneaks has held onto the magic and just given us an all out revamp of her sound sporting 808 flourishes and even more lyrical attitude.

Out today.

Girlpool-What Chaos is Imaginary

Admittedly on first listen, What Chaos is Imaginary the album felt like it took a bit too much breathing room amongst its moody synths, but a tune like “Hire” takes some of the notes I might’ve given them on their last album into consideration and delivers expert pop-punk.

Up on first listen.

Better Oblivion Community Center-s/t

I mentioned that 2019 is the year of adult emo last week and then this happened so naturally, I am right.  Better Oblivion Community Center is the combined talents of Phoebe Bridgers and Connor Oberst and they address teenage thoughts through an adult lens, their immediately palpable chemistry making every moment feel like home.

Out now!!!!!!!!!!!!!