Music Roundup 7/24/17

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. 

music roundup steve aoki

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Steve Aoki – STEVE AOKI PRESENTS KOLONY

Genre: Trap Rap, Electro House

Favorite Tracks: “Kolony Anthem (featuring iLoveMakonnen and Bok Nero),” “Lit (featuring Gucci Mane and T-Pain)”

I hope it goes without saying that nobody should approach a Steve Aoki release expecting a masterclass in artistic restraint and subtlety, but you know what? If you approach it looking to have a good time, you could actually do quite a bit worse than STEVE AOKI PRESENTS KOLONY. EDM Rap hasn’t quite managed to establish itself as an official subgenre, but more and more artists are flirting with crossovers and collaborations, and KOLONY, for better or worse, feels almost like a flagship release in laying out the parameters and capabilities of the sound. At its best, it’s hedonistic maximalism at its finest, beating the listener into submission with Aoki’s monolithic synth blats and surprisingly present rapping performances from some of the biggest names in the game (and comparative newcomer Bok Nero, who somehow manages to shine despite the sound literally being mixed against him). What’s more, KOLONY differentiates itself from something coming from someone like Major Lazer by not feeling solely like a vehicle for singles. While this results in some tracks that take up space, such as the unfortunately impotent Lil Uzi Vert vehicle “Been Ballin,” I can’t be the only one surprised and just a little impressed that Aoki made an effort to inject a flow and range of emotions into an album with his name on it. But lest I come across as hyperbolic, I regret to have to point out that it’s still not very good. This is extremely front-loaded, and things lose a notable amount of steam right around track six. But hey, a world where Steve Aoki can pleasantly surprise me even a little bit is a cool one to live in. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup avey

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Avey Tare – EUCALYPTUS

Genre: Freak Folk, Neo-Psychedelia

Favorite Tracks: “PJ,” “Coral Lords,” “In Pieces” 

I was admittedly weary of a new Avey Tare project. His main act, Animal Collective, have hit somewhat of a creative slump after MERRIWEATHER POST PAVILION, and while one of the solo members, Panda Bear, has proven himself to be capable of a life outside the hive, David Portner’s projects as Avey Tare have been collectively underwhelming. His last offering, ENTER THE SLASHER HOUSE, was reflective of Animal Collective’s struggles on CENTIPEDE HZ, filled with rambunctious and scattershot noise pop: interesting for a moment but tedious over 49-minutes. But I’m happy to report that on his newest album, EUCALYPTUS, Avey Tare is nostalgic for the freak folk that made Animal Collective’s peak work so enjoyable. Emblematic of SUNG TONGS’ primitive and tribal campfire dancing, Tare finds ways to reinvigorate the acoustic guitar as an anchor to his neo-psychedelic soundscapes. Finally, like his bandmate Panda Bear, Tare has assembled an album that seems purposeful from track one. With peaceful yet colorful instrumentals, and a considered, almost meditative, flow, EUCALYPTUS embraces a surreal and cold landscape where isolationism is our only option. And while it might not be as high energy as much of SUNG TONGS, the strange campfire tribalism still exists in tracks like “Boat Race” and “Jackson 5.” With songs like “PJ” or the eight-minute crown jewel of the record, “Coral Lords,” Tare almost simplifies his vision by creating striking acoustic ballads in the vein of Grizzly Bear’s YELLOW HOUSE. The maniacal and often jarring transitions that were frustrating signatures of Tare’s older material are gone, instead featuring tracks that are held together by a melancholic through-line. Like every other Avey Tare record, this LP overstays its welcome; while this project is never weighed down by repetitive ideas, it is constantly lingering in the shadow of Animal Collective’s rich beginnings. Avey Tare’s solo career still has yet to feel justified as a side project, but EUCALYPTUS at least begins to show potential through revisitation. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup euglossine

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Euglossine – SHARP TIME

Genre: Sequencer & MIDI

Favorite Tracks: “Phenomenological Manifold,” “Alofolla,” “Blade in the Grass”

I don’t know how it happens, but every time we write about these underground, vaporwave-adjacent electronic acts, they find our blurbs and get real mad. So to you, Mr. Euglossine, assuming you’ll end up reading this one way or another, I say: SHARP TIME is good! I appreciate the artistic development to move slightly away from the brighter and cartoon-like tones that classified your earlier work, and find this album to have a much more mature atmosphere to it overall. As always, the synth palettes you work with are a delight to experience, and some of the more long-form compositional moments bring an improvisational jazz bent to the proceedings that I thought was a little harder to delineate on your first handful of albums than people tended to say. That being said, I think sometimes the tracks get a little lost in the weeds, too excited to scuttle over to explore a new sound or motif to keep things cohesive or entirely coherent (“Sword of Damocles” and “Imaginary Edge,” in particular). But at the end of the day, it’s still a challenge to come up with another name making electronic music that sounds quite like this, and I’m always a sucker for the small dashes of the sparingly used glimpses of New Age sound you interpolate. With “Blade in the Grass” also evoking the harder edges of fusion acts like Return to Forever and seeming to promise the potential for one Hell of a nu jazz ensemble to come, I’d say SHARP TIME exits the room a success. Good on ya! [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup foster the people

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Foster the People  – SACRED HEARTS CLUB

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “I Love My Friends,” “Loyal Like Sid & Nancy”

As an editor with some clout around these parts, I typically don’t like caveats, but I have to offer one here: I am covering this album out of the necessity to keep the trains running, and know very well that this is not in my wheelhouse of taste. I don’t get it, friends, and I’m not sure I even know how to get it. What’s the appeal here? I haven’t given one modicum of shit about Foster the People since dipping my toes into their singles that weren’t “Pumped Up Kicks” and coming up entirely empty, and it would seem as if they haven’t made any major improvements in the interim. The only thing that ever made Foster the People even mildly interesting was the fact that frontman Mark Foster used to work as a commercial jingle writer, and you can bet your sweet bippy that “Pumped Up Kicks” made that loud and clear. Here, however, there isn’t a single hook that I can remember a mere 30 minutes after reaching the final track. “I Love My Friends” is so gosh-darned well-intentioned that I can’t help but at least crack a smirk, and “Loyal Like Side & Nancy” is the sole example of experimentation as presented here, but the rest is about as middling as it gets. Performances that barely flirt with being melodic while avoiding technicality, vocals that are pleasant but nothing more, and a band that takes themselves just seriously enough to not double down on pop radio appeal. Next! [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup holy fuck

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Holy Fuck – BIRD BRAINS EP

Genre: Indietronica

Favorite tracks: “Bird Brains,” “Chains,” “Raymond”

Holy Fuck are one of those groups that have fallen into that category of “acts I’d see at a festival but wouldn’t pay money to see alone.” Their brand of epic, happy dance music is perfectly acceptable, but has never really seemed all that innovative or provocative. Luckily, their latest EP seems to have really turned the dial up and signals an exciting new turn for the group. It’s not that the music isn’t still danceable and entertaining, it’s just that they’ve added a seductive layer of menace to their sound that makes it absolutely intoxicating. In particular, the percussion from Matt Schultz has become a force to be reckoned with, propelling this record forward at a frenetic pace their previous releases may have lacked. Both the title track and “Chains” ooze with a pulsing swagger that might have been expected from a Prodigy release or a Flatlander-focused Death Grips track, but what’s especially impressive is these tracks never become stagnant or repetitive. This EP may only be 20 minutes long, but Holy Fuck covers more ground on it than many groups will cover on full releases this year. At first, “Raymond” may sound relatively subdued compared to the first two tracks, but the way it builds to a wild crescendo is exhilarating and it incorporates saxophone in a way that feels natural rather than forced. This is a successful EP because it shouldn’t turn off Holy Fuck’s core fan base but has the potential to bring in a new audience that may have been wary of the group’s earlier efforts. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup wins

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Meek Mill – WINS & LOSSES

Genre: Trap Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Fuck That Check Up (featuring Lil Uzi Vert),” “Connect the Dots (featuring Yo Gotti and Rick Ross),” “Glow Up”

People seem to really fucking hate Meek Mill, and while he certainly doesn’t come even sorta close to flirting with my list of preferred hip hop artists, I find it hard to pinpoint anything to vehemently despise about the man. All I can really say is that Meek Mill is almost the poster child for competence. Now that trap rap and its contentious, not-yet-official subgenre of “mumble rap” are dominating the airwaves, it’s almost more interesting, in many ways, to listen to all the C- and B-listers that have kept steadily chugging along all this while. Meek Mill has always made fundamentally listenable pop rap with just a touch of bombast and menace, and WINS & LOSSES appears to exist as an ostensible attempted break from his typical sound, heavily doubling down on the latter. For the most part it’s fine, although it’s similarly impossible to escape the sense of that one cousin the others have all clandestinely labelled as lame trying to fit into a group game. There are a handful of tracks that could fit in on any number of shuffled party playlists without turning heads, “Glow Up” in particular, but Meek Mill tries just too hard to hit the stride of any sort of the head-bobbing “vibe” that’s popular with the kids these days, also missing out on the effortlessly gargantuan personality and presence of a trap god like Gucci Mane. In a year where aesthetic is just as important, if not more so, than the actual content you produce, you just can’t get away with making indiscriminate stabs at Power 106 plays like it’s 2011/2012 anymore, and Meek Mill and Maybach Music in general haven’t managed to catch on to that fact yet. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup nin

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Nine Inch Nails – ADD VIOLENCE

Genre: Industrial Metal/Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Less Than,” “Not Anymore”

ADD VIOLENCE, which sounds like the world’s edgiest baking instruction, is the second part of a trilogy, and following up one of Trent Reznor’s most inspired and diverse projects in a while was going to be a difficult task. At first listen, the beats lacks a lot of the fire and presence that made NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS so striking, and Reznor’s performances are nowhere near as animated. It seems to be pulling more from HESITATION MARKS than WITH TEETH, since the anxiety is much more of a slower burn than a spontaneous explosion. The songs are built on tense synth notes, synthetic percussion, and ominous, skittering bleeps and bloops rather than layers of distorted guitars, and they become more rewarding and immersive with subsequent listens. Diversity is still present as well; “Less Than” is a great industrial dance tune that’s the closest to a killer rock-radio single on the whole thing, while “This Isn’t The Place” says so much with just five lines and a teary, anguished performance from Reznor. The only misstep comes on the song “The Background Wall,” an ambitious 11-minute track with impenetrable, industrial distortion building over the last six minutes. It’s an interesting idea, but it goes on a bit too long and the noise often clips in a sloppy way. For five songs, there’s still a lot to dig through here, and it rewards a patient listener in a way that NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS didn’t. Those who long for the band that produced “The Hand That Feeds” are likely to be disappointed, but it’s still got me hyped for more Nine Inch Nails in the future. At the end of the day, isn’t that what an EP is supposed to do? [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup tyga

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Tyga – BITCH I’M THE SHIT 2

Genre: Trap Rap 

Favorite Tracks: “Move to L.A. (featuring Ty Dolla $ign),” “Run It Back (featuring Young Thug),” “Nann Nigga (feat. Honey C.)”

Look, nobody expected this to be entertaining, provocative, creative, or any other adjective with a positive connotation. It’s fitting that he dated a Jenner, since Tyga is the Kardashian of rap, someone more famous for being famous than doing anything notable and whose devout fanbase is probably quite small given the embarrassing sales figures of the optimistically-titled THE GOLD ALBUM: 18th DYNASTY. But when BITCH I’M THE SHIT 2 starts with Tyga rhyming “feel me” with itself eight times, I knew I was going into something that nobody involved cared about at all. There’s no way around it; Tyga just isn’t a good rapper. His punchlines are non-existent, he never rhymes a word more complicated than “tenacity” (which he uses so much in “Playboy” I can only assume he just learned about it the day before and was blown away by it), and more often than not he just rhymes words with themselves. Even looking past the technicals, his voice and personality are so malleable that he leaves no impression and breathes nothing but stale air into the topics he raps about. Any enjoyment you’ll get from this thing is from a featurem and even they don’t seem to be pulling their weight here, with Quavo’s adlibs being more slurred than ever and Vince Staples rapping like he’s got a mouth full of novocaine. The only instrumental element I found intriguing was an oft-repeated sample of “who you know nann nigga” on “Nann Nigga,” but given that this is an unreasonable 53 minutes and 16 songs, there should a lot more memorable musical moments than that. Not that I should have expected anything memorable from Tyga, but you’d think he would have improved since he was introduced to the world arguing with his girlfriend about what to watch on TV before having sex on “Bedrock.” Nope. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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