Music Roundup 8/7/17

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 alice cooper

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Alice Cooper – PARANORMAL

Genre: Glam Rock, Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Rats,” “Holy Water”

It’s important to remember that beyond the spooky persona, Alice Cooper has always been a classic rock act. By my count, Cooper is responsible for three of classic rock’s biggest oldie’s station hits (“Poison,” “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and every elementary schooler’s favorite summer anthem, “School’s Out”), as well as one of the great world-introducing singles, “I’m Eighteen.” His newest album, PARANORMAL, flirts with something more hardcore, and ends up dating itself in the process. Alice Cooper’s lineage of hard rock and metal walks side-by-side with acts like Twisted Sister, KISS, and Quiet Riot, mixing power pop chords with the smell of hairspray and a sheen of thunderous choruses and white hot guitar solos. PARANORMAL features all of those qualities and not much more. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—tracks like “Rats” and “Holy Water” have sugar poured all over them, and show a surprising urgency by an artist who has been making music for so long. But with that longevity comes a sameness that plagues most of PARANORMAL’s songs, which are never quite novel enough to distinguish themselves from Alice Cooper’s nearly 50-year long career. As a songwriter, Cooper continues to embrace the nooks and crannies of his onstage persona. “I’m condemned to the long endless night / And I live in the absence of light / And my shadow has a life of its own / Watching you while you sleep all alone,” he growls on the title track, confirming that exploring the hellish landscape he introduced on 1975’s WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE is still paramount to his thematic musings all these years later.

PARANORMAL is a perfectly okay record, for an aging rock star. Utilizing classic rock icons like Roger Glover or Billy Gibbons also reaffirms Alice Cooper’s awareness that a back-to-basics rock record was necessary at this point in his career. But PARANORMAL sounds like most other middling-career Alice Cooper records, and I mean that in both the best and worst ways.[CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup cousin stizz

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Cousin Stizz – ONE NIGHT ONLY

Genre: Trap Rap, East Coast Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Headlock (featuring Offset),” “Lambo,” “Paper Calling”

Boston rapper Cousin Stizz made waves with his excellent sophomore mixtape MONDA, a tape with blunt verses and even more blunt beats. It was an all-meat-and-no-fat-affair, a sentiment that has been copy/pasted onto his major label debut ONE NIGHT ONLY. And while Stizz hasn’t sacrificed any of his artistic vision, he hasn’t forwarded that vision at all, choosing instead to re-establish himself on a bigger stage. While the beatmaking here is hardly worthy of a major label upgrade, ONE NIGHT ONLY’s best moments come from his tried and true collaborator Tee-WaTT, who delivers Stizz’s most essential tracks. The production forces Stizz out of his element, the drawl of his flow kept on the edge of Tee-WaTT’s knowingly clouded beats. But the most worthwhile track here is “Headlock,” which, taking cues from the flute in Future’s “Mask Off,” finds a way to push Stizz’s stark minimalism into mainstream and almost Southern territories. Stizz delivers his most lyrically interesting tracks when he feels the weight of his importance to the city of Boston, as well as the importance of deconstructing regional rap scenes everywhere. Songs like “Jealous” and “Doubted Me” acknowledge that he is carrying a torch for hip hop movements outside of the major cities. Even though ONE NIGHT ONLY feels like it overstays its welcome (funny given MONDA is a solid eight minutes longer), it’s a solid effort by a very exciting up-and-coming rapper and worthy of igniting the Boston hip hop scene’s limelight. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup pan daijing

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Pan Daijing – LACK

Genre: Post-Industrial

Favorite Tracks: “A Loving Tongue,” “Act of the Empress,” “Come to sit, come to refuse, come to surround,” “Eat”

I fully acknowledge that Pan Daijing’s LACK is definitely My Shit, and most likely not the Shit of many others. If you’ve been keeping up with this year’s notable releases, you may have come across the much-lauded experimental compilation MONO NO AWARE from German label PAN, where Pan Daijing split duties with HVAD for a standout closing track. More esoteric than we’ve heard her before (which is saying something), Daijing returns with LACK, a harrowing and often unsettling deconstruction of industrial and techno tropes. Many will find LACK inaccessible, as it makes no concessions for its listeners and requires some amount of thought to appreciate; this is an album of introductions without resolutions, a clanging, oft-abrasive foray into refutations of commonly held musical practices and beliefs. I suppose for the uninitiated, the grimy synth blats of YEEZUS are a good place to start for appreciating LACK; but listen to what Pan Daijing does to them, morphing and warping each song structure into twisted and flickering snippets that worm their way into your ears and stay buzzing there with a quiet menace. I could do without the now-tired ASMR noodling of “Practice of Hygiene,” but on the other tracks, Daijing is able to achieve an uneasy intimacy that will rattle you to the core. You probably won’t like it, but I sure do. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup katie ellen

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Katie Ellen – COWGIRL BLUES

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Drawing Room,” “Sad Girl Club,” “Lucy Stone”

When Chumped called it quits at the beginning of 2016, they left behind a flawless coming-of-age pop punk album in 2014’s TEENAGE RETIREMENT, as well as a ton of recently acquired fans. Perhaps the Chumped narrative would have shifted if their groundswell of support for their music had happened earlier in their career, but regardless, it left vocalist Anika Pyle and drummer Dan Frelly starting from scratch with Chumped’s reformation, Katie Ellen. The duo’s debut record, COWGIRL BLUES, is misnamed—there are no dust-filled ballads or country western cry-alongs on this record, but rather ’50s pop being recycled through Pyle’s high pitched punk vocals and crescendoing garage rock. Even though COWGIRL BLUES isn’t exactly a proper follow up to TEENAGE RETIREMENT, Pyle’s songwriting is still focused on figuring out how to grow up and accept the realities of adulthood, but specifically those involving the heart. The musicality of this record alone is broader, less focused on reinventing early 2000s pop punk hits and instead occasionally striving to deliver crunchy ’90s college anthems (“Sad Girls Club”) or bedroom DIY rock (“Proposal”). The noisy but devastatingly joyous timber of these tracks make COWGIRL BLUES a delightful but depressing listen, wrought with yearning and sadness, but underlined with persevering kick-ass girl rock positivity. While it doesn’t (and never quite tries) to reach the perfection of TEENAGE RETIREMENT, Katie Ellen’s debut delivers a warming feeling amidst the tears. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup the fall

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The Fall – NEW FACTS EMERGE

Genre: Post-Punk

Favorite Tracks: “O! Zztrrk Man”

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know that I’m in the wrong for this one, but NEW FACTS EMERGE is the first album from The Fall that I’ve listened to! What can I say, there are certain “seminal” artists whose discography is far too monolithic and daunting to want to get excited about cracking into when there are laundry lists of indiscriminate black metal cassette rips to get to. Considering that their 2017 effort marks their 30th studio full-length, The Fall definitely fits this category, but I’m going to keep it real with you: I really do not like this album and this was an awful way to be introduced to one of music history’s ostensible greats. NEW FACTS EMERGE is downright unpleasant to listen to, and is not nearly as inventive or transgressive enough to have that feel anything other than unintentional and a strong mark against it. I understand that Mark E. Smith’s impenetrable sneer may have served him well during the UK’s politically turpid ‘80s, but in 2017, he just sounds like a drunk, sad old man growling and grunting in an incomprehensible stab at relevancy. The band behind him is good, almost unfairly so; the melodicism and technical ability on display here is in sharp contrast to Smith’s utter lack of effort or care on the mic, and by far the most pleasant surprise are several instances of foot-tapping rockabilly. I will give Smith and company that it’s kinda cool that they refuse to play any of their material that predates 2007 and are staunchly flipping the bird to becoming a rehashed legacy act, but after hearing NEW FACTS EMERGE, I have to wonder if that’s anything more than a giant piss-taking. This sounds like something your uncle would show to you as an example of a “real band” after getting drunk with his old college friends for the first time in two decades. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup golden

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Golden Retriever – ROTATIONS

Genre: Ambient, Electroacoustic

Favorite Tracks: “A Kind of Leaving,” “Thirty-Six Stratagems,” “Sunsight”

Writing about ambient music is one of the great challenges of music critique and commentary, as it’s arguably the most subjective kind of music there is. Since the entire genre is predicated on the constructions of an experiential atmosphere, it goes without saying that every listener will experience said atmospheres differently. Thankfully, Portland-based duo Golden Retriever incorporate enough elements of melancholic, carefully constructed modern classical to provide a blueprint for guiding yourself through their dream-like mires. While beautiful musical phrases capture the attention, glistening and shimmering in their phantasmagorical motifs, a complex and layered ambient backing churns ever steadily behind them. The apex of this combination is found on the closer, “Sunsight,” where a delicately crepuscular saxophone makes it impossible to not drift off to greener pastures with a smile on your face. Reminiscent of the better works of Sean McCann throughout and anchored by the surprisingly noisy, vaguely ritualistic electroacoustic piece “Thirty-Six Stratagems” to make sure you’re on your toes, ROTATIONS is well worth a listen from anyone looking to expand their musical palette. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup declan

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Declan McKenna – WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CAR?

Genre: Pop Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Humongous,” “Brazil”

Ya know, it might actually kind of suck to be the Declan McKennas of the world. Truly, what does one do if they want to become the next radio “rock” star of the world? If you’re aiming for widespread adoration and acceptance you can’t do the ol’ Bandcamp/SoundCloud scrum, as you’ll naturally have to tamper out any edge that may endear you to the crowds that are actively scouring the internet for new, independent music, but on the other hand, one doesn’t just simply waltz into Columbia Records and demand a major deal in a rapidly failing industry. McKenna himself won the Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015 at the ripe age of 16, and on his major label debut, you can tell the lad is really, really trying. To his credit, he does sound like one of the last bastions of hope a record label might put their cards in; McKenna demonstrates a grasp on songwriting chops, and there’s just enough hints of arena-ready Ed Sheeran sensibility to perk up the ears of a money-grubbing executive. But the clunkily titled WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE CAR? finds itself in a gray area, an effort clearly designed to push out singles to litter the airwaves, but one that fails to give its singles hooks that are really going to bludgeon the listening populace into acceptance of their creator. There’s too much polish here for any legitimate indie hype (although “Brazil” is the star of the show for its Modest Mouse guitar harmonic work), and just enough of an absence of star power to prevent a culture takeover. Nevertheless, it’s competent enough to ensure a follow-up, so maybe next time around McKenna will find more of a foothold. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup naomi

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Naomi Punk – YELLOW

Genre: Garage Punk, Noise Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Cardboard,” “Gotham Brake,” “Perfect,” “Matroska,” “Carniceria,” “Motorcade”

In 1999, experimental rock duo Jad Fair and Jason Willet released a 35-track album of unadulterated, unapologetically weird garage rock entitled ENJOYABLE SONGS that I highly recommend you listen to instead of devoting 74 minutes of your life to this sprawling mess of an album. I completely understand the ethos of going off to some shitty house with your bandmates, all the instruments and effects pedals your heart could ever desire, and letting yourselves go completely free, creating whatever sounds come to mind and setting them to tape. But frankly, the measure of any good artist should be in their ability to self-edit as much as their ability to create. There are plenty of really satisfying tracks on this record, and there is a defiant disregard for polish that you honestly rarely hear anymore, but the listener shouldn’t have to dig through three tracks of middling quality for every great track. It’s not that the jam sessions are bad, or even that they sound the same, but with a clearly intentional disregard for pacing or structure, this album doesn’t feel as though it builds anywhere or progresses in any meaningful way, with each track feeling irrelevant to the previous. The sloppy vocals are clearly meant to be part of the charm, but Travis Coster’s moans really detract from the interesting jamming going on on tracks like “Scorpion Glue.” (This band does deserve considerable credit for coming up with great song titles.) If you’re a Ty Segall or Wipers fan, you definitely might find things to latch onto here, but I’d recommend just dabbling in the recommended tracks before you take the full plunge. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup sontag

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Sontag Shogun – PATTERNS FOR RESONANT SPACE

Genre: Ambient, Tape Music, Musique concrète

Tracks: “no. 13 (sushi rice, AM Frequency Gap, Pines),” “no.19 (Patient Elegy for Bernr’d Hoffman),” “no. 8 (leaves like photographs)” 

There’s no way for this to not sound pretentious, but it really is a shame most people won’t take the time to listen to this achingly introspective album. Ambient, and particularly tape music, is soothing in a way very few other genres can be. In particular, tape music is soothing because it reminds you how hypnotic and rhythmic the sounds of everyday life can be when properly isolated. On PATTERNS FOR RESONANT SPACE, Brooklyn based Sontag Shogun use everything from chopsticks to windmills to AM frequency static to create the base for their minimalistic, highly expressive piano playing. While the piano is often somber and refined, the collected sounds often create a crackling sensation, as if a living thing is attempting to break out of the music, forcing the listener to quietly exist in contradictory headspaces simultaneously. There is a rapacious nervousness to these songs, but also a quiet beauty constantly at odds with it. This duality of emotion may seem difficult to sustain for a whole track, let alone for 31 minutes, yet the group manage to mostly sustain themselves successfully here, mostly by keeping their sound quiet and contained rather than abrasive. Simply put, this is a solid ambient piece because it engenders emotions which are next to impossible to put into words. Perhaps it isn’t as all consuming or particularly divergent as some of the other releases on this list, but if you’re looking for quiet mood music for pensive reflection, this is a good use of half an hour. [Carter Moon]

Verdict: Recommend

Crossfader Staff

The good people of Crossfader Magazine.

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