Music Roundup 2/19/18

We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in this week’s music roundup

music roundup 2 Chainz

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2 Chainz – THE PLAY DON’T CARE WHO MAKES IT

Genre: Trap Rap, Southern Rap

Favorite Tracks: All

It’s sincerely tempting to give THE PLAY DON’T CARE WHO MAKES IT a recommend just for keeping things tight in the wake of the CULTURE II debacle, and its brevity is a true asset. Few rappers are able to do as much with so little time as 2 Chainz. Even when he “gets real,” 2 Chainz isn’t a guy who is willing to be 100 percent serious all of the time, and thank goodness—over his career he’s elevated many a middling song with absurd one-liners and guest verses, and even amidst THE PLAY’s slightly more reflective tone, we still get plenty of his signature off-kilter wordplay. Every rapper who has “made it” seems to have an instinct to make a song like “LAMBORGHINI TRUCK (ATLANTA SHIT),” a downtempo love letter to their city featuring an R&B vocal sample and numerous shoutouts to the people they came up with, but these songs are usually afterthoughts at the end of a record. Here, this theme of reflection permeates THE PLAY, most noticeably in “PROUD,” the unique ode to mothers that features YG and Offset. There isn’t a big radio single to be found here, nor is THE PLAY likely to be seen as much more than a footnote to last year’s PRETTY GIRLS LIKE TRAP MUSIC, but to watch 2 Chainz, who serves as the link between the days of UGK and crunk and trap music, reminisce on his city is compelling. And even if you don’t get much out of that, THE PLAY DON’T CARE WHO MAKES IT is a solid quartet of songs from one of the most inventive MCs of his era. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup American Pleasure Club

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American Pleasure Club – A WHOLE FUCKING LIFETIME OF THIS

Genre: Lo-Fi Indie

Favorite Tracks: “all the lonely nights in your life,” “sycamore,” “lets move to the desert,” “new years eve,” “just a mistake,” “the sun was in my eyes”

It’s always a pleasure to see bands and musicians gracefully age, and with Sam Ray’s second release with American Pleasure Club after putting the contentious Teen Suicide to rest, he’s successfully made the leap and stuck the landing. A previously polarizing purveyor of fuzzed-out, bedroom-quality indie pop, with A WHOLE FUCKING LIFETIME OF THIS, a refreshing variety of styles are incorporated and explored, yielding a standout release that confidently owns its inherently grab-bag nature. While the anchor at the core of the album is still a visceral, yearning melancholy most explicitly delivered through subdued acoustic strumming (“all the lonely nights in your life”) or bursts of distorted, slacker ‘90s worship (“this is heaven & id die for it”), tracks such as “lets move to the desert” are like nothing else I’ve heard in recent memory, an alt-R&B-leaning ballad where Ray goes toe-to-toe with a vaporwave vocal loop as his backing. Able to effortlessly pull off any genre or influence it throws at you, be it early 2000s guitar rock (“new years eve”), Casiotone for the Painfully Alone (“sycamore”), an honest-to-goodness jungle track (“just a mistake”), or How to Dress Well (“eating cherries”), all while still keeping a cohesive emotional and atmospheric throughline throughout, A WHOLE FUCKING LIFETIME OF THIS is one of the first “indie” releases of 2018 to really catch the attention. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Belle and Sebastian

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Belle and Sebastian – HOW TO SOLVE OUR HUMAN PROBLEMS (EPs 1-3)

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “I’ll Be Your Pilot,” “There Is an Everlasting Song,” “The Same Star,” “We Were Beautiful”

Despite being labeled mercilessly as the quintessential twee-ster band of the late ‘90s/early 2000s, Belle and Sebastian have proven themselves quite comfortable with genre-shifting. From the subtle, poignant lyricism of THE BOY WITH THE ARAB STRAP to the ‘60s-tinged pop of DEAR CATASTROPHE WAITRESS to the more recent electronic pulse of NOBODY’S EMPIRE, Belle and Sebastian’s sound has never been stagnant. Perhaps that’s why HOW TO SOLVE OUR HUMAN PROBLEMS was released as three separate EPs rather than one full release— because there’s more than one way to solve them, and there’s a Belle and Sebastian for each.

PART 1 picks up where they left off with their last release, the same driving disco beat punctuating tracks such as “We Were Beautiful” and “Sweet Dew Lee.” But Belle and Sebastian has always been about deceptive appearances, with the more upbeat the song, the darker the lyrics. PART 1 directly takes stabs at the current state of affairs in America: “They will make the country great again / Just as long as it’s white and ugly,” Murdoch croons on “The Girl Doesn’t Get It.” Those who favor B&S’s unabashedly catchy retropop will feel most at home in PART 2, with standout tracks “The Same Star” and “I’ll Be Your Pilot.” However, this time the songs are sung with the self-awareness that the band isn’t the same ragtag group of quirky music grads— everyone has turned into middle-aged adults. On “I’ll Be Your Pilot,” Murdoch warns, “It’s tough to be a grownup / Put it off while you can.” PART 3 fills in all the rest of the gaps. There’s the GOD HELP THE GIRL-esque “Best Friend” and the bright, acoustic chant “There Is an Everlasting Song.” By this point in the saga, political commentary is abandoned in favor of romance and hope. Those who have written off Belle and Sebastian as just a B-side off the JUNO soundtrack will find their attempt to solve our human problems pretentious, but they acknowledge that pretense, laugh at themselves for it, and keep singing their song. [Claire Epting]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Brandi Carlile

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Brandi Carlile  –  BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU

Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Folk Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Hold Out Your Hand,” “Whatever You Do,” “Fulton County Jane Doe,” “Every Time I Hear That Song” 

Brandi Carlile’s sixth studio album, BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU, fits into an empowering anthem trend that has become popular these days. What sets this album apart from her previous records is the thematic content. “The Joke” is for anyone who is being put down, because in the end, the joke is on your aggressor. Even though the song has an “it gets better” feel, it actually comes off as genuine. New parents will find comfort in “The Mother,” where Carlile doesn’t shy away about the sacrifices that come with being a parent (goodbye family heirlooms and sleep). These narratives stand out thanks to “Fulton County Jane Doe” and “Sugartooth,” both of which bring up darker topics, the former about pulling a murder victim out of lonely anonymity (“That’s why I’ve written you this song / This is for Fulton County Jane”), and the latter telling the story of her friend’s addiction and suicide (“There’s no point now to judge him in vain / If you haven’t been there, you don’t know the pain”). These different perspectives add a richer layer to Carlile and the Hanseroth twins’ songwriting, so rich that they bring out raw emotions in Carlile’s vocals. She (finally) recaptures the unpolished, honest sound she showed off in “The Story” (from her 2007 album of the same name), which was, until now, her best recording yet. Over 10 years later, she brings out all kinds of pain with a level of lightness and empowerment that uplifts you from the grit of the subjects. You can hear the strain of struggle or breathiness of heartbreak throughout, in a style reminiscent of Patty Griffin. BY THE WAY, I FORGIVE YOU is a wonderful surprise compared to its safer sounding predecessors. As Carlile is coming into her own, she’s learned her strengths and weaknesses, and is using them to her advantage. [Liliane Neubecker]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Field Music

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Field Music – OPEN HERE

Genre: Progressive Pop, Chamber Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Count It Up,” “Open Here,” “Checking on a Message,” “No King No Princess,” “Find a Way to Keep Me”

The very nature of “progressive pop” is virtually a misnomer, as boundary-pushing genre experimentation is an uneasy theoretical bedfellow for the general accessibility and fun-loving aims of pop music. Always at high risk of incongruous and pretentious wankery, OPEN HERE is thankfully a success, hearkening back to the psychedelic experimentation of the Canterbury Scene, the more orchestral side of REVOLVER-era Beatles, and ‘70s New Wave group XTC in equal measure. I will admit that OPEN HERE takes a handful of listens to fully unpack: David Brewis’s voice firmly reside in that falsetto-adjacent register popular in the heyday of the artsier indie revival, a definitive acquired taste, and the loftier songwriting intentions behind some of the tracks in the later half can feel a little lost in the woods. But the further in you dig the more rewards Field Music bestows upon you, all of their arrangements lush, warm, and as meticulously thought-out as they can be complex and layered. That being said, I personally prefer when they tend to err on the side of whimsy (“Count It Up”) or tried-and-true unapologetic worship of the Fab Four (“Checking on a Message”), but even if it’s not quite yet an album I love, it’s certainly one I respect. It’ll be on several year-end lists so you might as well test the waters now, and especially if you have a taste for the edgier explorations of Sufjan Stevens or classic of Montreal, OPEN HERE is an obvious candidate for enjoyment. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Loma

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Loma – S/T

Genre: Art Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Sundogs,” “Shadow Relief”

There are some obvious comparisons when describing the sound of recent Sub Pop signee’s Loma, zeroing in on artists like Marissa Nadler, Julianna Barwick, Grouper, and Julia Holter, all of whom come from a place of classical composition despite their singer-songwriter dispositions. That obviousness is what makes their self-titled debut lack the stinging heartbreak or soaring romanticism of their peers, often delivering songs that capture a been-there-done-that feeling. In a vacuum, Loma make more sense on a label like Sacred Bones, where the emptying energy and lush backgrounds can become either sinister or joyous and really explore focused emotions, but LOMA is pulled in a number of different directions without ever really committing or settling on a central identity. At their best, Loma nail meandering and gruff guitars on songs like “Sundogs,” “Joy,” and “Shadow Relief,” dry western soundtracks that would fit perfectly in a Jim Jarmusch movie. But so much of LOMA remains downtrodden and tired sounding and never in the same way. The songs regularly reach over five minutes without using that time to explore. “I Don’t Want Children” is nearly six minutes of beautiful but repetitive and ultimately boring vocal exercises. “Black Willow,” in spite of offering some refreshing musical ideas in contrast to the rest of the album and a pace that feels like it’s going to build into cathartic explosion comes across as drab and flat. LOMA is bursting with potential but frustratingly drags, failing to make its slow tempo collection of ambient songs shine for more than brief moments. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup Pianos Become the Teeth

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Pianos Become the Teeth – WAIT FOR LOVE

Genre: Post-Hardcore

Favorite Tracks: “Bitter Red,” “Forever Sound,” “Manila”

Though Pianos Become the Teeth have been categorized as part of the same movement as Touché Amoré, their recent output could not be more divergent. Whereas Touché Amoré chose to refine their linear emotional assault to great success, Pianos Become the Teeth have attempted to toss off the screamo tag and expand the post-rock flourishes of their early work to diminishing returns. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been working for me; maybe the emotions have never been strong enough to match the crescendos, maybe the attempted catharsis has just never personally panned out. Listening to WAIT FOR LOVE, while definitely an improvement over 2014’s KEEP YOU, gave me the answer. The best emo and post-hardcore music, especially from the turn of the century, has a nervous tension that keeps the listener on edge in the same way that the lyrics do, and Pianos Become the Teeth’s recent output is too languid, clean, and formless to grip my attention like Jawbox and The Dismemberment Plan do. It’s a shame, because Kyle Durfey has improved a lot as a vocalist, but he still lacks the emotive charisma to carry the record through stretches of reverberating guitars with no body, distant drumming, and intermittent stabs of piano. There a few more builds that work, a few moments where the rhythm guitar adds some much needed direction, but WAIT FOR LOVE is too predictable and nondescript to land the emotional wallop that Touché Amoré hit dead-on with STAGE FOUR. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup The Wombats

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The Wombats – BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Cheetah Tongue,” “Ice Cream”

Look, The Wombats are harmless. Upon catching the first taste of the indie boom of the early ‘10s, I, as I’m sure was the same with many others, feverishly torrented anything with that particular genre tag, to mostly middling results. The Wombats were part of that extralegal cavalcade, and hey, you know what, they have some good singles! I hope everyone made out to “Techno Fan” at least once in early adolescence, and “1996” is a worthy follow-up. But they’ve never been able to keep an entire full-length interesting throughout the length of its runtime, and unfortunately, BEAUTIFUL PEOPLE WILL RUIN YOUR LIFE doesn’t prove an exception to the rule. If anything is notable about their fifth LP, it’s that they sound fully ready for indiscriminate plays on modern rock radio: shiny, crystalline production, rigid, crisp drumming that’s the posh descendant of The Strokes, and that strange love for clinical bass lines that are super prominent in the mix. But they’ve never made even the slightest inclination of attempting to push the envelope, so hey, why not! There’s no doubt that they have a solid grasp on accessible, if utterly vanilla, pop songwriting, and Target commercials are going to need sunny, welcoming music of this nature for time immemorial. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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