Music Roundup 7/10/17

Hopefully you know the drill by now! Here’s our music roundup focusing on the notable releases of the past week or so, letting you know which ones are worth your valuable time. 

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21 Savage – ISSA ALBUM

Genre: Trap Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Close My Eyes,” “Thug Life,” “Nothin New”

I wish I could just link to the 2016 XXL Mag Freshman Class Coverage instead of reviewing ISSA ALBUM, because everything Alec said in his blurb still rings true. While Shayaa Bin Abraham-Joseph’s decision to have no features on his debut is intriguing, it’s put an even brighter and harsher spotlight on him, and nothing on his mixtapes indicated he was up to the task. Savage has an credible air of authenticity that occasionally manifests in gritty, chilling descriptions of street life, but he confuses quietly menacing with boring, his flat, derivative delivery eventually turning grating over the course of almost an hour. As Alec noted, even on songs with more poignant topics like “Numb” or “FaceTime,” Savage has a bad habit of giving up and just endlessly repeating the most banal parts. At least fellow XXL Freshman Kodak Black has some glitzy, punchy production to make up for his many failings as a performer; ISSA ALBUM’s instrumental are skeletal, further putting the focus on Savage when they should honestly be offering a catchy alternative to him. For how many producers were involved in this, the beats are incredibly repetitive, and it left me hoping that DJ Mustard brought his trademark gang vocals, overblown bass, and light piano we all got sick of in 2014 to break up the monotony (he didn’t). Savage’s faint glimpses of potential shine a little brighter, but he’s still only climbed a few notches above the bottom of the barrel, and even the most hardcore fans of trap rap won’t find any notable flows, beats, or hooks they couldn’t also get from countless other mixtapes or albums. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup hug of thunder

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Broken Social Scene – HUG OF THUNDER

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Vanity Pail Kids,” “Stay Happy,” “Halfway Home,” “Skyline,” “Mouth Guards Of The Apocalypse”

There’s a certain Montreal mega-indie act that HUG OF THUNDER will likely remind a first-time listener of, but Broken Social Scene was doing the whole “sexually incestuous Canadian maximalist indie rock band with double-digit members” thing before said act even existed. That comparison is a bit lazy (they’re more like a bigger sounding Wilco), but the reality is that HUG OF THUNDER, their first record since 2010, is the first introduction to BSS for a good number of younger fans, and it really does not disappoint. Though there is some inconsistency with the quality of this record, it has several high points that provide some of the most interesting songs in their catalog. First and foremost is “Vanity Pail Kids,” featuring thunderous drums that sound lifted straight out of Faith No More’s “Midlife Crisis” and an impossibly catchy minor key chorus. Another highlight, “Stay Happy,” has the fidgeting horns and the hip hop-influenced percussion of pre-breakup Dirty Projectors, and lead single “Halfway Home” is a capable old-fashioned twee pop song. While HUG OF THUNDER does lose steam in its second half, it’s an impressively cohesive piece given how many distinctive creative voices are in the collective and a welcome return to a band that deserves to be both known by modern fans and remembered as an important voice in rock history. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup dj shadow

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DJ Shadow – THE MOUNTAIN HAS FALLEN EP 

Genre: Experimental Hip Hop, Electronic

Favorite Track: “Corridors”

DJ Shadow claims his newest EP, THE MOUNTAIN HAS FALLEN, to be something of a victory lap, although for what is unclear. His 2016 record, THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL, was undoubtedly the esteemed producer’s highest profile release in nearly a decade, yet it still failed to live up to the high bar set by albums like ENDTRODUCING….. and PREEMPTIVE STRIKE at the end of the ’90s. THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL seemed poised to re-establish his legacy, in some part, by deconstructing it. Using more samples and more hip hop beats than he had on previous projects, there was a solid attempt at reinvention, even if the project was jarringly uneven. The issue with his victory lap EP is that it highlights, almost more pointedly than the album itself, how odd his production styles can clash. With just four songs, two hip hop cuts featuring extremely different MCs and two choppy atmospheric selections, THE MOUNTAIN HAS FALLEN succinctly demonstrates its predecessors’ awkwardness. The highlight here is easily “Corridors,” featuring GRAVITY composer Steven Price. Unfortunately, that track takes too long to find a groove and ends in a faux-sound-card-error gimmick. Both Nas and Danny Brown feel respectively comfortable on DJ Shadow’s colorful and cinematic beats, but Brown’s “Horror Show” delivers the kind of maniacal teeter-totter ride akin to last year’s ATROCITY EXHIBITION, while Nas’s “Systematic” feels more in line with DJ Shadow’s other notable hip hop collaboration, “Nobody Speak,” with Run The Jewels. Throw in the offbeat industrial ride “Good News,” and you have four songs that neither gel together nor standout in any meaningful way. THE MOUNTAIN WILL FALL is an inconsequential collection of leftovers, and with it, DJ Shadow feels primed to retreat back into the underground. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup gt ultra

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Genre: Art Pop, Psychedelic Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Betty Dreams Of Green Men,” “Can I Get The Real Stuff,” “The String Game,” “Skull Pop,” “Dose Rate”

I have to admit, Guerilla Toss’s transition post DFA-signing had me apprehensive, but has turned out to be exhilarating. Their recent output has actually gotten better, GT ULTRA being their fifth release since signing in 2015, including a live record and Giant Claw remix EP. Often carried by a squelchy interlocking  rhythm section and a cacophonous synth and guitar combo, Guerilla Toss chew up popular reference and real taboo (“Crystal Run,” “Skull Pop”) in their deconstruction, spitting back on tape an open, complex take on psych pop for the folks trying to get their hands on the real stuff.​ Without a doubt, GT ULTRA is the quintessential late-’10s psychedelic record. Judging by the cover art alone, saying so probably sounds shallow—trust me here—GT ULTRA’s character nails psychedelic music to a tee and cuts so much of the preconceived baggage that comes from labeling a record as such (that being the contradictory web of cultural signifiers and misunderstandings that fails to distinguish between altered-state music and anything as banal as pop or indie music with a phaser). The campy art shouldn’t hinder—if anything, it aids GT ULTRA in its earnest effort to remain concise. In prioritizing such a clear thematic tone, vocalist Kassie Carlson’s stream-of-consciousness lyricism appears more contextually relevant than ever before,​ recounting colorful Huxley-esque observations (“TV Do Tell,” “Skull Pop”), or drifting​ towards hyper-awareness and delusional paranoia on occasion (“The String Game,” “Betty Dreams Of Green Men,” respectively); and let’s not forget the implicitly​ and explicitly penned “Can I Get The Real Stuff” and “Dose Rate.” GT ULTRA sees them successfully incorporate and complement that lucid voice with a cohesive and accessible iteration of their unruly alien jams, and in a manner unlike any they’ve done yet, making this record essential for the uninitiated and the eccentric alike. [Micha Knauer]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup mark

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Mark Kozelek and Sean Yeaton – YELLOW KITCHEN

Genre: Avant-Folk

Favorite Tracks: “The Reasons I Love You,” “Daffodils”

BUCKLE UP, FOLKS! For the third time this year, Mark Kozelek has released 40 minutes of music for the purpose of slogging the listener through his middle-aged white dude misery while actively antagonizing his already established fans. And there’s still a fourth album coming later this year! But to give Mark some credit, he’s stepped up his game on YELLOW KITCHEN, at least in comparison to this year’s Sun Kil Moon release, COMMON AS LIGHT AND LOVE ARE RED VALLEYS OF BLOOD, an album as needlessly long and egregiously overstuffed as its title. YELLOW KITCHEN, which features Parquet Courts bassist Sean Yeaton as the musical point man, starts off with a track that’s rough even by COMMON AS LIGHT standards. We’re not here to judge Kozelek by his political views, but I will say that what he has to say about the 2016 election on “Time to Destination” could piss off just about everyone on the political spectrum, and not even in a fun way. Fortunately, the rest of the record actually has some nice moments, as Kozelek suddenly realizes that he’s a far more interesting when he is focused inward than when he’s giving some hot takes on Bill Clinton. “The Reasons I Love You” is a lovely track that harkens almost all the way to Red House Painters and Kozelek’s *unique* style actually works well when focused on the subject of why he loves his girlfriend. 12-minute album closer “Daffodils,” a dramatic account of having a nasty cough, is also surprisingly effective, getting a lot of mileage out of sparse instrumentation from Yeaton and a theatrical vocal performance from Kozelek. YELLOW KITCHEN is hardly a return to form for Kozelek, who still displays tons of the initial turnoffs that we’ve seen from him over the last couple of years, but it does enough to remind fans what drew them to him in the first place. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup channel never

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Nyetscape – CHANNEL NEVER

Genre: Vaporwave, Chopped and Screwed, Ambient

Favorite Tracks: “Untitled 1,” “I Just Wanna Leave (featuring Endless Rain),” “Capital Punishment”

With Nyetscape’s latest release, it’s clear vaporwave as it has been understood is diversifying and changing considerably, although not necessarily in a direction that feels any more original. CHANNEL NEVER is certainly more engaging than your average vaporwave-of-the-week release, with a much more eclectic sound than is generally found in the stagnant genre. However, a lot of the references and new elements added in Nyetscape’s approach aren’t particularly original for those already familiar with the other genres referenced here. DJ Screw and Chuck Person are very obvious influences, as is the usual use of video game scores, all of which are perfectly acceptable, but could hardly be called innovative. The percussion that kicks in about halfway through “Danger Music” is clearly a reference to Run the Jewels’ eponymous beat on their first album, but isn’t applied in a particularly original manner. The collaborations with Endless Rain are mostly satisfying and definitely the highlights of the release. There are also stretches of more ambient music that are dramatic and create good atmosphere, but these again simply sort of harken back to Jefre Cantu-Ledesma and, to a lesser extent, Tim Hecker. It’s a perfectly fine listen, and if you’re someone who’s dropped in and out of paying attention to vaporwave, you’ll probably find plenty worth taking in here, but this is far from the avant-garde boundary pusher that it clearly strives to be. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup poolside

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Poolside – HEAT 

Genre: Chillwave

Favorite Tracks: “Tropical Heartache,” “Scenic Drive”

At some point during my third or fourth listen of the newest album from Poolside, I became fixated on just how blatantly artificial the whole thing seemed. A Los Angeles-based DJ duo created this act named “Poolside.” Their goal? Presumably to DJ the hottest pool parties in LA while playing music that sounds like it should be listened to mindlessly next to a pool. Their album? Well, it’s an album called “HEAT,” with a picture of a setting sun on it. The song titles? I’m glad you asked. Naturally, this thing is littered with names like “Hot in the Shade,” “Which Way to Paradise,” “Tropical Heartache,” “Summer Friends,” and “Scenic Drive.”

Poolside’s rise to fame, with their 2012 album PACIFIC STANDARD TIME, never quite felt like a satisfying narrative. Because their hollow beats operate exclusively as background music and we spent five years watching “Poolside (DJ Set)” on every outdoor, summer-y music event on the planet, it was hard to figure out who was responsible not only for their prolonged success, but also the millions of plays they had on Spotify. While contemporaries like Miami Horror or Classixx made music that seemed to have more lasting (or any) artistic credibility, Poolside’s two albums sound legitimately like high-concept elevator music.  If someone posited to me a theory that Poolside was a fake DJ duo, hired and created by hotel chain owners to create music that was neither boring nor exciting, but just tropical enough to make listeners feel unknowingly relaxed and assuredly on vacation, I would buy it. There’s a scene in the live action  Scooby-Doo  where ’90s hit-makers Sugar Ray are playing the type of pool party Poolside would presumably be DJing in this hotel-owner-conspiracy scenario. In this scene, the gang sees everyone passively dancing in a very creepy and suspiciously trance-like way. I’m not saying that’s what Poolside would represent in this scenario, but I’m only not saying that because Sugar Ray’s music is fun, and Poolside are basically making mobile game soundtracks for dating sims. HEAT is frustratingly stale mid-tempo beach music. At its best it delivers mildly uninspired funk music (“Tropical Heartache”), and at its worst it is so mind-numbingly uninteresting that I wish I could be overpaying for alcohol at a hotel bar. If that was the goal of Hilton, Hyatt, DoubleTree and Poolside, then this album gets a “Recommend.” But, until my conspiracy theory is proven correct . . . [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup quazarz

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Shabazz Palaces – QUAZARZ: BORN ON A GANGSTER STAR

Genre: Abstract Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Shine a Light (featuring Thaddillac),” “Dèesse Du Sang,” “Moon Whip Quäz (featuring Darrius)”

In many ways, it’s very telling that the face of Shabazz Palaces, Ishmael Butler, FKA Butterfly during his stint in seminal ‘90s jazz rap act Digable Planets, said in a 2014 interview with Pitchfork that his favorite drink is water. It’s an utterly inoffensive opinion; water is good, and certainly a daily necessity, but it’s just about the least interesting opinion you could have, comparable to telling someone your favorite band is The Beatles. Similarly, Shabazz Palaces feels like an act worthy of casual appraisal without much passionate investment either way. It’s nice that one of rap’s elder statesmen saw it fit to reinvent himself in the 2010s with a fresh outlook on artistic motivation, but it can just never manage to be exciting, at least not on the first album of what’s being released as a double album event. Structured around the thematic core of an alien consciousness sent back to Earth to take stock of the declining nature of hip hop and society in general, QUAZARZ: BORN ON A GANGSTER STAR feels like something specifically fitted to attract the newly-minted, insufferable brand of millennial old head. Alright, that’s a little harsh; producer Tendai “Baba” Maraire does a commendable job of keeping the production both psychedelic and extraterrestrial enough that more often than not, you’ll find yourself locked into a space age groove, entirely forgetting that you’re listening to a “hip hop” album in general (“The Neurochem Mixalogue”). But this doesn’t bode well for Butler, going as Palaceer Lazaro as presented here. While certainly not helped by the album’s bizarrely obfuscated vocal mixing, Butler can’t help but come across as a fragile, weary uncle warily shaking his finger at the youth, locked into the heady vibes of the hip hop delivery styles popularized nearly three decades ago. That being said, this is certainly one of the more effective “deconstructions” of the genre that I’ve come across, stretching and expanding common tropes into strange corners no one other than someone who has been in the game since its virtual inception could conceive. But at the end of the day, there’s no way around the fact that the delivery style is pensive and cautious enough to the point of boredom, and the production is too “out-there” to really act as a complement to Palaceer Lazaro, or anyone else for that matter. If you’re down to take a hefty dose of mushrooms and stare at the ceiling for the duration of QUAZARZ: BORN ON A GANGSTER STAR, I’m sure there’s some rewards to be found, but for the layman, your attentions are better spent elsewhere. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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Shabazz Palaces – QUAZARZ VS. THE JEALOUS MACHINES

Genre: Abstract Hip Hop, Experimental Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Welcome to Quazarz,” “30 Clip Extension” 

You know what this sounds like? It sounds like that “Moonmen” song from Rick and Morty that the Flight of the Concords guy did, except stretched out over two freaking albums for some reason. Seriously, there was not enough material to this concept to justify two albums, and unfortunately, this one is even more spaced out and inaccessible than BORN. The same conceit holds; Palaceer Lazaro is here to drop knowledge on all the puny earthlings unable to see his wisdom from beyond the earth. The result is an album that feels unnecessarily dense and meandering, both lyrically and sonically. Technically, Maraire’s production is still fundamentally interesting, but it feels so spacious that there is rarely something that grabs the listener by the throat. Furthermore, Lazaro’s vocals remain so low in the mix that making them out at all becomes a constant chore. This concept is radical and crazy; an alien life force coming to earth and infiltrating the music industry, specifically hip hop, and taking it over is a fun concept for a rap album, but it’s hard to really say what they do with that concept. This second album does get considerably more hypnotic, but concurrently less provocative as a result. It really does feel like Palaceer Lazaro ran out of things to say halfway through the album, but had to finish off the second disc just to complete the project. The world of abstract hip hop is vast and enchanting; don’t waste your time with this if you haven’t heard Milo or dug through MF DOOM’s back catalogue. I did a whole primer on abstract hip hop, there’s so much better stuff out there for your ears. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup strfkr

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STRFKR – VAULT VOL. 2

Genre: Indietronica

Favorite Tracks: “Happy Summertime,” “Downer,” “Late Again,” “Queer Bot,” “Listen,” “Snow Tires,” “Jesus Christ Baby,” “Intro Sexton,” “Whateverer,” “Purple and Black,”

Dear readers of Crossfader, I have one simple question for you: am I a fucking idiot? I swear on my life that STRFKR was an Outside Lands 2012-core electronic band akin to Todd Terje or that one Geographer tape that everyone paid a weird amount of attention for one summer. I always assumed I had a blanket dislike for them, and it turns out I’m the one with egg on my face, because VAULT VOL. 2, the first album I’ve heard from them a decade into their career, gave me all the post-midnight feelies. Yes, the first part of my assumption is correct; this is the soundtrack to your first fumbling sexual encounters from sophomore to senior year of high school, the songs you held your first “long-term” girlfriend’s hand to as you drank too much whiskey from a Gatorade bottle in the blistering August sun of a festival you spent all your savings on. But there’s something just a little bit more here, in the fact that there’s something just a little bit less. This isn’t skeletal enough to necessarily warrant the loaded descriptor of “minimalism,” but there is a stark, lean production sensibility that washes away all of the trappings and comfortable nooks and crannies of indie pop and indietronica. This is a collection of hastily sketched ideas and moods, that are, surprisingly, often acoustic, or nearly so, the pitch-perfect recreation of a high mind drifting between ports in an inebriated storm; the catch is that they’re virtually all beautiful in their beatific simplicity, short injections of loping smiles and a comrade-like intonation of, “Feels good, man.” A lot of Youth Lagoon, a lot of Alex G, a little bit of Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, I can’t say anything more in the favor of VAULT VOL. 2 apart from the fact that it feels like something quintessential for the summer. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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