The Thomas Top Five: 7/18/16
Our Editor-in-Chief listens to upwards of 50 albums per week, so why not let him share the five, presented alphabetically by artist, he thinks are the best for you to hear on this week’s installment of the Thomas Top Five?
Aby Ngana Diop – LIITAL
Favorite Tracks: “Dieuleul-Dieuleul,” “Yaye Penda Mbaye,” “Liital”
Yeah, yeah, it’s pretentious to vibe on obscure cassettes from Senegal, but to be fair, I would argue that LIITAL is one of the few that is valuable beyond crate-digging credit alone. First and foremost: production quality! LIITAL is crafted with a tangible sense of professionalism, allowing each kaleidoscopic drum pattern and layer of keyboard melody to have its own distinct platform of expression. Secondly: Aby Ngana Diop is one fierce female MC! Possessing a commanding, hoarse bark that would shame hip hop queens of a similar time period, even when only coupled with a menacing cascade of drums, Diop manages to make her presence fearfully known. Third: the compositions are surprisingly feverish, schizophrenic, and angry! Although the album starts off with the danceable “Dieuleul-Dieuleul,” by the time “Liital” rolls around, it’s fairly easy to tell that Aby Ngana Diop isn’t taking anybody’s shit, and her rage only builds from there. Ending with “Ndadje,” where her voice cracks as she screams and hollers on the mic, LIITAL is a fascinating female effort from a country that often does its best to stifle similar voices.
Bon Iver – FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO
Genre: Indie Folk
Favorite Tracks: “Flume,” “Skinny Love,” “The Wolves (Act I and Act II),” “Re:Stacks”
The rise and fall of late-aughts indie deserves its own documentary, because any consideration of the sheer amount of former dorm room soundtracks that are now entirely meaningless is absolutely staggering. That being said, upon revisiting, FOR EMMA, FOREVER AGO holds up quite refreshingly, especially when compared to how actually mediocre its Pitchfork-lauded follow-up is. Almost a decade later, it’s easy to see how strange and captivating Justin Vernon’s voice must have been when it burst onto the scene, and the incongruous touches of Auto-Tune and studio trickery juxtapose the skeletal guitar compositions in a way that catches the ear rather than revolts it. The hat-tipping to Neutral Milk Hotel-esque indie that surfaces later is competent, but Vernon’s at his best when it’s just his register-peaking falsetto and a smattering of guitar chords. The strange, almost outsider-like qualities of the vocals heighten the isolation of the oppressively melancholic atmosphere, and the singles from the album belong on any compilation reminiscent of how sad you were freshman year.
The Knife – SILENT SHOUT
Favorite Tracks: “Silent Shout,” “Neverland,” “We Share Our Mother’s Health,” “Like A Pen,” “Forest Families”
Holy fuck, does this shit bang. Although slogging through SHAKING THE HABITUAL should be an acid test for any self-fashioned member of the music blogosphere, SILENT SHOUT was The Knife at their absolute best, a perfect distillation of their more esoteric aspirations and fundamentally rollicking, dance-oriented compositions. Every art school dropout with a keyboard that found success in the last five years wouldn’t have had a point to jump off of if it weren’t for The Knife, and listening to SILENT SHOUT makes everyone from Grimes to Die Antwoord seem much less singular than they fashion themselves. Comparable to two aliens who have been recently thawed from their Arctic prison DJing at the least accessible electro clubs in Eastern Europe, Fever Ray and Oni Ayhun craft a pervasive sense of unease in each head bob that they induce, referencing long legacies of rave, minimal synth, and synthpop while making sure their idiosyncratic brand of twisted ghoulishness remains at the forefront. One of the 2000s best releases, hands down.
Melvins – GLUEY PORCH TREATMENTS
Genre: Sludge Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Eye Flys,” “Echo Head / Don’t Piece Me,” “Influence of Atmosphere,” “Heaviness of the Load”
I’m always a little suspicious whenever someone professes their love for Melvins, as the sheer discursive, shrugging variety of their output makes them a nearly impossible band to wrap a head around, both literally and conceptually. Although the popular choices for their essential output usually consist of BULLHEAD and LYSOL, I’ve always responded to GLUEY PORCH TREATMENTS the most due to the earnest sense of experimentation present as the band tries to navigate the strange and contentious legacy of Black Flag’s MY WAR. For those not in the know, that means that while laying down the blueprint for the monolithic guitar assaults of sludge and drone metal, GLUEY PORCH TREATMENTS also processes the last dregs of hardcore punk, something that would rarely, if ever, surface in Melvins music again. This injects just enough compositional motivation to keep things from veering into the realms of the exhausting, contributing to a highly influential, heavy-as-all-Hell half hour.
Superchunk – S/T
Genre: Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Sick to Move,” “Slack Motherfucker,” “Down the Hall,” “Not Tomorrow”
Discussed during our foray into college rock, I’d like to take the opportunity to remind everyone how great this album is. A slice of alternative rock back when the term had some meaning and before the problematic “indie” term began to be thrown around, Superchunk’s self-titled debut is a messy, passionate affair that’s a perfect answer to the Replacements and Hüsker Dü worship that was chic at the time. What I particularly enjoy about Superchunk is that they toe a fine line between slacker fuckery and commendably solid power pop chops, always slightly out of step but not letting that fact slow down these fervent anthems of being young and displaced. And as only the best power pop can do, the deft balancing of radio-friendly melody and distorted angst is impressive, especially with the regularly catered guitar solos that emerge from the mire. Ah, to be on collegiate radio in the early 90s.