The Thomas Top Five: 6/13/16
Our Editor-in-Chief’s been catching up on music from 2016, so this week of the Thomas Top Five will exclusively feature recent records you should pay attention to.
Deakin – SLEEP CYCLE
Favorite Tracks: “Golden Chords,” “Just Am,” “Footy”
The keyword for Deakin’s SLEEP CYCLE is an obvious one: intimate. Being the member of Animal Collective that, colloquially put, nobody really gives much of a shit about, his long overdue solo record SLEEP CYCLE is as impressive as it is quietly devastating. Existing at a perfect nexus between the early days of his parent group and CARRIE & LOWELL-era Sufjan Stevens, SLEEP CYCLE feels like a watery-eyed gaze back into the halcyon days of youth, even when it’s not obviously carried across on the gorgeously melancholic guitar strums of album opener “Golden Chords.” At times Animal Collective can feel overproduced and overwhelming, and SLEEP CYCLE does a commendable job of insisting that it remains distinctly unfettered (apart from the deliciously chaotic drum breaks of “Footy”), finally giving Deakin a firmly established, tangibly human presence through the catered focus on his personal lyrics. Although it will take much more consistent quality output from Deakin to attempt to tackle Panda Bear, Deakin certainly gives Avey Tare a run for his money, and SLEEP CYCLE lands far above the resolutely disappointing PAINTING WITH.
The Drones – FEELIN KINDA FREE
Genre: Art Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Private Execution,” “Taman Shud,” “To Think That I Once Loved You,” “Boredom”
Any subgenre with “art” in front of it, be it art rock, art pop, or art punk, is inherently amorphous and controversial. Although I can’t pinpoint exactly what the defining characteristics of the genre are on an objective scale, I can say without doubt that FEELIN KINDA FREE is art rock, whatever that may be. Opening up with a blast of synthesizers shifted into the most piercing of registers, the record never becomes much more traditionally welcoming that, although those with an appetite for the angular and challenging will find themselves exceptionally pleased. Constant shifts of tone keep the listener on their toes, regular introductions of noise and drone add a sense of sonic depth, and the playful experimentation of the composition perfectly balances Gareth Liddiard’s entirely idiosyncratic vocals. There are distinct riffs and melodies present, keeping it within the greater pantheon of rock, but they’re filtered and distorted into such ghostly, ominous realms that there’s no greater hope of closure offered. Similarly, the record takes rock’s predilection for focusing on tales of love and desire and warps them into desperate pleas of loss and lust railing against an impending lifetime of isolation. A dark, claustrophobic, utterly captivating gaze into the abyss, FEELIN KINDA FREE is easily one of the standout records of the year so far.
Kevin Morby – SINGING SAW
Genre: Singer/Songwriter, Folk Rock
Favorite Tracks: “I Have Been to the Mountain,” “Singing Saw,” “Dorothy,” “Water”
Kevin Morby doesn’t reinvent the wheel of folk-y singer/songwriters on SINGING SAW, but it still remains the first truly memorable record of the year in its vein. In terms of arrangement and mixing, Kevin Morby readily proves the fact that he’s done the homework, subtly working in dollops of choral accents, horns, and pianos that reference the diverse and storied histories of both folk and country, while avoiding a reticent sense of looking backwards through his use of distorted guitar, subtle electronics, and obvious ability to write an indie festival hook. As such, we have on our hands some fundamentally enjoyable songs, pleasant to consume while still demonstrating Morby’s capacities as a band leader through their structural maturity and deft intra-song shifts in terms of mood. Often triumphant, sometimes devastating, and always human, Kevin Morby is unassuming, but emotionally evocative all the same.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – NONAGON INFINITY
Genre: Garage Rock, Psychedelic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Robot Stop,” “Gamma Knife,” “People-Vultures,” “Evil Death Roll”
I typically despise records emerging from this newfound obsession LA hipster trash has with guitar fuzz and the aesthetic appropriation of psychedelic culture, and I only recreationally enjoyed King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s 2015 effort, PAPER MÂCHÉ DREAM BALLOON, but NONAGON INFINITY plain and simply rocks. Immediately heading off to the races with electric opening number “Robot Stop,” the energy rarely lets up, contributing to an endearing, nearly seamless sense of a perfectly recreated live set. In many ways, NONAGON INFINITY feels like a singular extended piece. While this can be cheaply interpreted as all of the songs sounding the same, the record instead makes a strong case for itself nearly aligning with jam band acts, avoiding the sluggish stonerisms of that particular sound while keeping the same sense of tonal coherence and consistency. Regular incorporations of organs add the requisite “retro” sound; the drums, vocals, and backing guitars are mixed into a broiling lo-fi swamp; and guitar solos are always lovingly catered to. The bizzare, Judas Priest-comparable metal of “Road Train” aside, NONAGON INFINITY is perhaps the only necessary garage rock record of recent memory aside from selective involvement with Ty Segall’s discography.
Metá Metá – MM3
Genre: Jazz-Rock, Vanguarda paulista
Favorite Tracks: “Angolana,” “Corpo Vão,” “Toque Certeiro,” “Angoulême”
The third release from Brazilian jazz-rock juggernauts Metá Metá, MM3 manages to perfectly blend the lyricism of Latin jazz, the fevered intensity of punk, and, of course, heaping doses of blaring, rock-appropriate saxophone solos. What is most fascinating about the record is the high levels of skillful syncretism on display. Bespeaking the rich, multicultural tapestry of Brazil that has been on display in Música Popular Brasileira since the genre split from Bossa nova in the 1960s, the kaleidoscopic, rhythmic complexity that has come to be associated with music from South America finds itself in the drumming, the menacing slink of the bass and backing guitar often demonstrate a layered appreciation of the legacies of both post-punk and surf rock, and the avant-garde inclinations of Vanguarda paulista make themselves known on the entropic climaxes that many tracks elect to culminate in. However, Juçara Marçal’s vocals are warm enough that the result is an intriguing combination of coffee table jazz and acid-drenched freak-outs, occasionally incongruous but always interesting.