Music Roundup 7/3/17

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 algiers

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Algiers – THE UNDERSIDE OF POWER 

Genre: Post-Punk

Favorite Tracks: “Cleveland,” “The Underside of Power,” “The Cycle/The Spiral: Time To Go Down Slowly”

No band has found a way to capture the modern sound of black America better than Algiers. Both their self-titled 2015 debut and 2017’s THE UNDERSIDE OF POWER are gnarly, tortured, and nightmarish reimaginings of gospel and soul music, delivering a perfect soundtrack for the country’s current end-of-days. In the two years between releases we’ve seen the political and social climate change drastically, and Algiers have  shifted their focus accordingly, becoming angrier and more venomous. THE UNDERSIDE OF POWER is 44-minutes of acidic industrial rock twisting itself around plantation gospel rhythms and Southern Baptist energy. Lead singer Franklin James Fisher has always played a charismatic preacher in his work with Algiers and here he digs deeper into the part. He opens the album coming out of a speech by famed Black Panther, Fred Hampton, by howling, “We won’t be led to slaughter / This is self-genocide,” the magnitude of life and death falling off of each word. Amidst the bombastic musicianship are songs capturing the plight of the African American community, not just over the last two years, but throughout American history. It apexes during “Cleveland,” a track about the institutional murder of the black community, where Fisher name checks half a dozen victims who were covered up or forgotten. The swirling fire and brimstone of Algiers’s musical damnation is truly staggering in size and scope—everything from the gospel choir backing vocals on the title track, to the harrowing and depraved piano on “Hymn for an Average Man,” to the frantic and urgent percussion on the closing track “The Cycle/The Spiral: Time to Go Down Slowly.”  It’s all done so with a masterful understanding of how to create and envelope the listener into an experience. Algiers have created a truly important album that captures violence, racism, and oppression, and channels that into music that sometimes uncomfortably reflects that strife and intensity. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup clams

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Clams Casino – INSTRUMENTAL MIXTAPE 4

Genre: Instrumental Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Wavey,” “Kali Yuga,” “Talk It”

New Jersey-based producer Clams Casino may be best known as the man behind A$AP Rocky, Lil B, and Vince Staples’s murkiest beats, but his latest beat tape INSTRUMENTAL MIXTAPE 4 ditches the epic choral samples that Clams became famous for in favor of cleaner, dancier beatmaking. Tracks like “Kali Yuga” and “Talk It” combine Eastern samples with space age elements, taking the listener on a trip through a stereotypically Asian hyperspace. “Uncle” and “Time” utilize glitchy vocal samples and dry trap drums, evoking Burial’s chilling danceability instead of the turbid trap that listeners have come to expect from a glitched-out Clams Casino beat. The tape also contains three instrumentals from Vince Staples’s 2015 album SUMMERTIME 06. Without Staples, the beats take on an eerie emptiness that fits well into the tape’s bleak modernism. Clams progression as a producer is more evident than ever on INSTRUMENTAL MIXTAPE 4, and it is hard to imagine lighthearted artists like Lil B being able to work with the maturity showcased on the project. While Clams has eschewed his expectations, he showcases a newfound creativity that very few modern producers are able to exhibit. With a presence in the hip hop scene that has now lasted for most of the 2010s, Clams continues to show that his spot as one of the top producers in the game is well deserved. [Ted Davis]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup ducktails

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Ducktails – HUMMINGBIRD BABYSITTER

Genre: Psychedelic Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Light Upon the Hill,” “Tomorrow,” “Car Delivered,” “Flying in Neutral Like a Magic Carpet Ride”  

For many fans of Real Estate, Ducktails has always felt like an Easter egg in the realm of indie rock. Being the solo project of Matthew Mondanile, one of Real Estate’s founding members, Ducktails digresses from the relatively more commercial-sounding surf pop of the former and towards a playground of entrancing synth-fueled melodies. Riding the border of free-form jazz and experimental, HUMMINGBIRD BABYSITTER is the second compilation of unreleased tracks that offers yet another glimpse into Ducktails’ vibrant, sublime world. The album uses words sparingly—over half the album is entirely instrumental. Many tracks are sprawling jam sessions that meander through a hazy, smoke-filled summer’s day. Opening track “Light Upon a Hill” sounds like the closest thing to a single on this informal collection. It’s an exquisite blend of acoustic guitar, silvery synths, and sweet vocals, with a catchy hook that always seems to bubble right below the surface. “Car Delivered” is another highlight, a track ideal for a sun-scorched summer day when all you wanna do is melt into your lawn chair. Still, I wouldn’t consider this the best introduction to the band for a first-time listener. Being a collection of unreleased tracks, it’s not as cohesive as a more traditional album format. It’s a bit of a grab bag, and it’s much more enjoyable in the context of the rest of their work. For the uninitiated, I recommend getting acquainted with their 2015 release, ST. CATHERINE. Unlike the rest of the band’s discography, HUMMINGBIRD BABYSITTER streams solely on Bandcamp. You won’t hear it on the radio/Spotify/however the kids are getting their music nowadays. But that’s part of its charm—you have to seek it out, and let me tell you, it’s worth it. [Claire Epting]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup dj

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DJ Khaled – GRATEFUL 

Genre: Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “I Love You So Much,” “Shining”

There’s no doubt that DJ Khaled’s new album, GRATEFUL, is a bad album, but I must also clarify that DJ Khaled is a quietly progressive and overall net force of good in the world of music. Khaled is the 2010s answer to Andrew W.K.: a cartoon-like, hit-making personality singularly focused on spreading positivity. He may be taking pop music down an incredibly shallow road, and it’s hard to imagine a DJ Khaled album ever functioning on its own, but I would never want to live in a world without Khaled. If we’re going to take GRATEFUL’s songs at face value, there’s really not a lot to care about on this album. With a few exceptions (the Nicki Minaj verse on “I Can’t Even Lie” and the Chance the Rapper vehicle “I Love You So Much”) not a single one of the many guests on GRATEFUL is giving Khaled their A game. Consequently, the best moments are those where Khaled’s positivity shines through, and the aforementioned “I Love You So Much” is an example of two artists who have highly congruous visions. A prominent theme on GRATEFUL is Khaled’s love for his son Asahd, which is charmingly and unabashedly sincere, and far more compelling than his attempts to look hard with Future or Rick Ross or whomever else. Somehow I doubt Khaled really cares about impressing anyone with his albums, though. He collects features like Pokemon cards and intentionally drops 90 minute albums that sacrifice any sort of musical or thematic unity for the off-chance of a hit single. Khaled’s background as a radio DJ is an important piece of context when listening to GRATEFUL, because frankly, it sounds like listening to a particularly bland string of songs on POWER 106 or any other pop rap station, with Khaled himself as the DJ. He’s consistently the most entertaining part of each song, despite rarely appearing but to announce his presence on the track, lest we forget whose album it is. I don’t even know if I can say he’s a talented producer, or really make any judgements on his music at all, frankly, but I’m grateful for DJ Khaled and you should be too. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup floating

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Floating Points – REFLECTIONS – MOJAVE DESERT

Genre: Progressive Electronic, Progressive Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Silurian Blue,” “Kelso Dunes”

If you pinned me down and asked what separates interesting instrumental music from boring instrumental music, I would normally tell you contrast. You need to build up to your peaks steadily and give the listener some valleys to relax in between climaxes. The trick in this formulation, of course, is finding the proper balance of crescendo and decrescendo, and to always leave the listener feeling that the music is definitively building somewhere, especially for any sort of music labeling itself as “progressive.” Therein lies the biggest frustration with UK musician Sam Shepherd, AKA Floating Points. There are incredible peaks on this record; basically all the long-form tracks on REFLECTIONS – MOJAVE DESERT are exceptional pieces of progressive post-rock, particularly “Silurian Blue” and “Kelso Dunes.” However, the album as a whole is severely hampered by its shorter form tracks, particularly “Kites,” with its endless, unnecessary noodling synthesizers. Yes, there is an abundance of contrast on this album, but when too much of it feels aimless and stuffed with unnecessary filler, it’s hard to really justify this album as a whole as really being worth most people’s time. If you were a fan of the much more dynamic ELAENIA, I suggest taking the three longer tracks from this album and simply listening to them consecutively, it will probably make for a much more enjoyable experience. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup hardware

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Hardware – BURNING IN THE SUN

Genre: Powerviolence

Favorite Tracks: “False Reality,” “Invader,”Burning In The Sun”

The hard truth of powerviolence is that it was never anything more than another harder, faster iteration of hardcore. The moment it was defined, it was obsolete. In the frankly bullshit state of powerviolence (and grindcore, and extreme music in general) today, where painfully self-aware bands crank out painfully self-aware albums at an increasingly alarming rate—where bands fronted by “pro” wrestlers, grandmothers, dogs and, yes, even cockatiels have an audience—the best bands are those that let the music do the talking. That said, it’s almost a miracle that Hardware have forged such a hard-hitting, no-nonsense debut. Clocking in at just under 14 minutes, they waste no time in smashing open the genre’s narrow conventions, offering a few nice surprises along the way. Combining the immediacy of Charles Bronson and Crossed Out with a pummeling low end that would make His Hero Is Gone blush, Hardware deliver slabs of noise that would falter even the thickest-necked pit warrior. As is necessary of a band that drops in and out of bizarre tempos at jarring speeds, they are tight, but, beyond that, there is a definite groove to their playing—they aren’t just hammering out their songs through muscle memory (or if they are, they’re doing a good job of covering it up). The guitars—their riffs perhaps leaning more towards metal than hardcore at times—come at you like buzzsaws, while the bass is dead set on rattling the teeth out of your skull. They are not screwing around. However, one thing about BURNING IN THE SUN that is sure to arouse contention is that the production is remarkably crisp for a powerviolence record. You can actually make out the individual notes! It may not be tru punx, but I already have tinnitus and I’m not all that old, so it’s something I can definitely get behind. [Joseph Simpson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup kacy

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Kacy Hill – LIKE A WOMAN

Genre: Alternative R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Static” 

Look, I’m sure out there somewhere is an American Apparel model/dancer waiting to be discovered by Kanye West who truly is going to have an incredible music career. Kacy Hill is not that model/singer/dancer, however. Despite having been signed to GOOD Music after a successful stint performing for Kanye on the YEEZUS tour, Kacy Hill brings very little to the table that feels at all attention-grabbing or original. Her voice is perfectly flighty at some times, full-throated at others, but she doesn’t seem to be terribly interested in pushing it to emotive limits at most points on this record. It also doesn’t help that whomever she worked with from a songwriting and production standpoint gave her very little to build on, as none of the tracks particularly grab the listener and demand attention. With the ever-present class of music fans who are more moved by image than actual sound, there’s no doubt that Hill’s evocative image and artful videos will garner her plenty of fans, but anyone who just pops in the headphones and listens to this record without context is unlikely to find a whole lot to appreciate. Make no mistake, this is a competent record, but Hill’s contemporaries such as Banks and Sevdaliza are doing far more interesting things in a similar wheelhouse, and are way more worth your time. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup impetuous

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Impetuous Ritual – BLIGHT UPON MARTYRED SENTIENCE

Genre: Death Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Void Cohesion,” “Synchronous Convergence,” “Denigrative Prophecies,” “Feculence Reveled”

A lot of people really hate Impetuous Ritual, and I must admit, I wasn’t exactly singing the praises of their last release, 2014’s UNHOLY CONGREGATION OF HYPOCRITICAL AMBIVALENCE. But three years later, I think I’m simply just more willing to embrace the contentious elements of their sound. I don’t have to tell you that death metal isn’t a genre predicated on the assumption of melodicism or sounds considered traditionally pleasing, but Impetuous Ritual really cranks it up to 11 in terms of making the overall mix as impenetrable and inaccessible as possible. BLIGHT UPON MARTYRED SENTIENCE is exceptionally murky and muddled, but whereas some of their previous work occasionally came across as obscuring the sound as a crutch, it contributes to an overall sense of misanthropy and pure, unadulterated misery as presented here. A roiling, turbid stew of tortured gurgles, cavalcades of tremolo guitar washes, the occasional stilted, piercing guitar solo, and a constant onslaught of punishing drumming with an affinity for odd rhythm disruption, the album’s sound is perhaps most appropriately described as “nauseous.” However, in what has been a particularly tepid year for heavy music, anything that manages to distinguish its sound to any notable degree is worthy of some attention, and BLIGHT UPON MARTYRED SENTIENCE has so far proven to be one of the more visceral metal experiences I’ve had up to this point in 2017. If you like this sort of thing, this is bound to be the sort of thing you’ll like. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup lifetime

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Moon Diagrams – LIFETIME OF LOVE

Genre: Ambient Techno

Favorite Tracks: “Nightmoves,” “The Ghost and the Host”

There are exactly three facts you should know about Moses Archuleta (drummer and co-founder of Atlanta and GA psych-outfit Deerhunter) and his debut album, under the moniker Moon Diagrams, LIFETIME OF LOVE:

  1. The album was recorded in three separate bursts: After recording Deerhunter’s 2007 album CRYPTOGRAMS, after divorcing his wife, and while “holed up in the Michelberger Hotel after an isolated stint in Berlin.”
  2. He is the only member of Deerhunter’s core group never to have released a solo project.
  3. Prior to being in a rock band full time, Archuleta worked sales at American Apparel.

I bring up that third fact because LIFETIME OF LOVE isn’t designed for Deerhunter fans and could, perhaps should, more appropriately play over the sound system of his former place of employment as background music. Moon Diagrams’ debut feels achingly like something that’s taken 10 years to make, never quite committing to what it wants to sound like. Most of the earlier tracks posit LIFETIME OF LOVE to be a sleepy ambient beat tape, but then a 14-minute song like “The Ghost And The Host” comes out of nowhere and turns everything into a darkwave dance party. I found myself genuinely worried SoundCloud had put on a different artist when the closer “End of Heartache” dropped and Archuleta earnestly tries to shoehorn in an Italo-disco number that, despite being a pretty solid tune, is jarringly misplaced on the project. Never quite sure whether to go for atmosphere or for body movement, LIFETIME OF LOVE is a rather boring and confusing series of misdirections, undoubtedly well-produced, but strangely assembled. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup rancid

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Rancid –  TROUBLE MAKER

Genre: Punk Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Where I’m Going,” “Telegraph Avenue,” “Say Goodbye to Our Heroes”

After 24 years, the most exciting thing about Rancid’s newest release, TROUBLE MAKER, isn’t just that it’s good, but rather that Tim Armstrong and company have still found small ways to surprise and reinvent themselves. Sure, much of their newest album isn’t going to shock anyone who’s followed the band’s career; for those looking for a return to their radio-ready early 2000s days, or the effortlessness of their best work, 1995’s …AND OUT COME THE WOLVES, be prepared for disappointment. But some of Rancid’s best and most interesting work in a decade appears on TROUBLE MAKER, and for a journeymen punk act, that’s high praise. The acoustic guitar strumming on “Telegraph Avenue” or the hand clapping on “Where I’m Going,” amongst other micro details, prove that if Rancid are mostly interested in making a Rancid record, they’re not above making themselves feel current. Even when the band emulates T-Rex’s “Bang A Gong [Get It On]” on “Bovver Rock and Roll,” or the Minutemen on the opening of “All American Neighborhood,” you can feel renewed energy. These are some of Rancid’s most creative songs in recent memory. From tracks about the heyday of their Gilman Street and San Francisco roots (“Buddy,” “Beauty of the Pool Hall”) to some interesting WWII (“Farewell Lola Blue”) and Civil War (“Make It Out Alive”) historical allegories, as well as some of the solid “Hey! Ho! Let’s Go!” rallying cries that Rancid have perfected over their careers, TROUBLE MAKER is as varied and colorful as one could hope for from a band this weathered. While their brand of ass-kicking has softened ever-so-slightly, they’ve created their most sonically pleasant album since 2003’s INDESTRUCTIBLE. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup rozwell

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Rozwell Kid – PRECIOUS ART

Genre: Power Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Wendy’s Trash Can,” “UHF on DVD,” “Blow It”  

On their fourth album, the band that has been incessantly compared to Weezer find themselves making a similar move towards more pop and less power, and I don’t think it’s for the best. It’s not that replacing rawness with beauty is a flawed idea, but Rozwell Kid had a satisfying heaviness and crunch that many of their slacker rock peers didn’t. In particular, it made their last album, TOO SHABBY, an enjoyable update of late-’90s power pop with a jagged, noise rock edge. When you cut out the heart of your sound, you better have something amazing to replace it with, and sadly, PRECIOUS ART does not. The guitar tones are so much cleaner and lack texture or body on most of these tracks, and piano interludes and acoustic tracks add nothing to the experience. Furthermore, the band’s lackadaisical vocals worked well in contrast with a harsher aesthetic, but here they have nothing to complement. The same can be for the band’s sense of somewhat trashy and off-putting sense of humor, as tracks like “Boogers” just seem out of place in this more melodic context. By the end I was reminded of Blink-182’s CALIFORNIA in how the vocals sounded like they were at one pitch the whole time, with the joke songs being so short they might as well not even exist. There are certainly enjoyable tracks; “Wendy’s Trash Can” is a fantastic, forceful opening and mission statement for the band’s new direction, but there are too many slower tracks that lack the buzzing drone of similar songs in the band’s discography. Perhaps I am being resistant to change, but it’s sad to see a band with a more unique style than people gave them credit for dumb things down to something this unremarkable. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup tops

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TOPS – SUGAR AT THE GATE

Genre: Indie Pop, Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Petals,” “Dayglow Bimbo,” “I Just Wanna Make You Real”

TOPS have spent the last five years honing and crafting perfect new age R&B. With 2014’s PICTURE YOU STARING, they cleaned up and polished their sound to create blissful, yet candid, music to daydream to. The question of where to go next with their follow up, SUGAR AT THE GATE, seemed like a lose-lose situation, presenting a conundrum most indie soft rock bands face one or two albums into their careers (recently: The Drums, Mac Demarco). Reinvent yourself and risk losing how straightforward, clean, and enjoyable your music was, or create a pseudo-sequel to PICTURE YOU STARING and risk falling into a cycle of sameness. SUGAR AT THE GATE falls mostly into the latter category, adding some psychedelic flourishes to the musicianship, but mostly doubling down on their previous work’s effortless tranquility, leaning heavily on Jane Penny’s acute angelic vocals. While it may not be more inventive or even catchier than its predecessors, SUGAR AT THE GATE is one of the rare followups where its sameness is perhaps its biggest strength. In spite of delivering tracks that so closely mirror the rest of the band’s discography, you’d be hard pressed to identify and separate them all on shuffle; TOPS hardly feel complacent. Their dedication to hone the craft comes across as warming and assured, not boring or tedious. The small moments where they do evolve (notably the album’s closer, “Topless,” which functions as a slowed down The Human League experiment) exudes a quiet confidence. Even with its low stakes, SUGAR AT THE GATE still delivers some great tracks, including the slow simmering funk single “Petals” and euphoric slow dance “I Just Wanna Make You Real.” TOPS might not be able to avoid innovation for long before turning stale, but for now, continuing to ride this smooth wave is proving just fine. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup zeitkratzer

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zeitkratzer, Svetlana Spajić, Dragana Tomić, and Obrad Milić – SERBIAN WAR SONGS 

Genre: Slavic Folk Music, Experimental

Favorite Tracks: “The Battle at Mackov Kamen,” “When I Go To War,” “King Peter Song,” “Salute to Živojin Mišić”

I’ve never sat in the midst of a war zone in the early 20th century, but zeitkratzer’s SERBIAN WAR SONGS certainly does a good job of taking me there. If you know your World War I history, you’ll know that the Kingdom of Serbia was heavily involved in the war, facing invasion from the then-intact Austrian-Hungarian empire and the loss of thousands of lives. WAR SONGS is a series of interpretations of World War I-era compositions viewed through an experimental lens and played by a mixed ensemble of horns, strings, and traditional Balkan instruments. Its mixture of traditional songs and avant-garde orchestration strikes a compelling and uneasy intellectual balance between patriotism and the horror and loss to come, which comes through particularly well in almost all of the pieces on this record. SERBIAN WAR SONGS employs the voices of Spajić and Tomić, who are described in the album’s notes as “renowned singers” and activists for traditional Balkan culture, who often sing in close, sometimes atonal harmony. Parts of SERBIAN WAR SONGS are absolutely stunning, but like a lot of experimental musical works, they demand to be met at their level to be enjoyed to their fullest extent. Just about anyone who listens to this record will be struck by its sonic depictions of the horrors and thrills and complicated politics of war, and it’s certainly worth digging your heels into. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Recommend

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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