Music Roundup 10/23/17

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 bell witch

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Genre: Funeral Doom Metal

Favorite Track: “Mirror Reaper”

Here’s your one sentence review of MIRROR REAPER: it consists of one 83-minute-long song. That alone will scare away 95% of readers, and the 5% of you left probably smoke weed to JERUSALEM or DOPESMOKER every day. Bell Witch are no stranger to heady, arduous tracks in the double digits length-wise, but this is still far more ambitious than anything on LONGING and FOUR PHANTOMS, and the fact that a duo is responsible for this behemoth makes it even more impressive. Their approach to stoner metal is more ethereal and minimal than expected, but even the quiet passages ripple with power and force, and the production is appropriately skin-peeling and raw. The song does unfold in a very predictable three-act fashion, and that would be fine if the song’s peaks, or the last part of each act, grew in intensity each time. However, the last half of the second act features the song at its most monstrous, both vocally and instrumentally, with the last act consisting entirely of eerie clean vocals and paling in terms of intensity. While the mellow, atmospheric coda is chillingly affecting and contrasts the more brutal parts well, I found the final crescendo a little too clean and terse—it should have been scrapped entirely. Nonetheless, the composition is still crushing and unsettling even in its quietest moments, and the inclusion of vocals from a recently departed friend of the band makes the entire thing all the more darkly beautiful. It’s incredibly niche, but it will serve that niche better than anything else for a long time. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup bully

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Genre – Indie Rock

Favorite tracks: “Feels the Same,” “Kills to be Resistant,” “Seeing It,” “Guess There,” “Hate and Control”

Alicia Bognanno, the mastermind behind indie grunge outfit Bully, channeled the volatile attitude of Courtney Love, the raspy howl of Kurt Cobain, and the confessional bluntness of Mark Kozelek on her group’s 2015 debut, FEELS LIKE. The traits above show up again on this year’s LOSING, but finds Bognanno toying with calmer melodies and temper, mostly thanks to the addition of her own harmonizing vocals. “Seeing It” sees Bognanno being forced to dismiss a significant other after some unspecified act(s) of disappointment: “Tried to put you back in view / But I feel nothing when I do . . . I quit seeing it in you.” Bognanno’s softer vocals backing her charred howls produce an intense synergy, her passion firing on all cylinders. The guitars, bass, and drums are, respectively, distorted and pithy throughout as well, suitably paralleling, but not overpowering, whatever Bognanno is belting out up front. Even while she grieves and holds grudges, she also makes some room for her own brand of wry humor. Bognanno admits her loneliness may be catching up to her, even with the stalwart attention from a pet, on “Guess There,” and opener “I Feel the Same” earns an official spot on the “Songs That Mention the Fleeting Joy of Playing With Yourself” list (see: “Longview”), as it harps on the emotional vacancy following a break-up. They’ve made no considerable attempt at jumping out of their comfort zone, but Bully are one of those projects where you can accept it, provided that they continue utilizing the tools that made their debut so enjoyably raw and vivacious. On LOSING, they do just that, but with a welcomed drop more of Bognanno’s voice. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup destroyer

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Destroyer – KEN 

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Sky’s Grey,” “In the Morning,” “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood,” “Sometimes in the World,” “Stay Lost” 

The group Destroyer, headed by singer-songwriter Dan Bejar, delivered a beautifully poetic but slightly jumbled collection on their last full release, 2015’s POISON SEASON. Destroyer has seemed to completely overhaul their sound with their newest release, KEN, delivering a concise and surprisingly synthpop-inspired collection that has quite a few standout dance grooves that are infectiously catchy. The leading track, “Sky’s Grey,” has the largest amount of similarities to POISON SEASON and serves as a good transition from that project to KEN. It begins with similarly tightly woven piano riffs but, unlike POISON SEASON’s lackluster instrumentals that often lacked a proper payoff, the transition halfway through into keyboard and acoustic guitar is very telling of the evolution of Destroyer’s sound on KEN. The second track in particular feels extremely familiar to some of Perfume Genius’s synth-driven pop music, and Destroyer pulls it off masterfully. The electric keyboard used throughout feels like a clear homage to the viral synthpop of the ‘80s, only adding to the richness of the instrumentals. All of the tracks feel extremely fleshed out and developed, artfully woven together and surprisingly groovy. For fans of Destroyer’s past works, there is still plenty to enjoy when it comes to Bejar’s lyricism. The track “A Light Travels Down the Catwalk” is a standout example, where a stripped-back, beat-driven instrumental takes the backseat, allowing Dan’s abilities as a songwriter to truly shine: “It’s grief, It’s suffering / a thorn on the side said hold please / A thorn on the side told me we’ll see.” Despite the more electronic tone, there still exists the same melancholic richness Destroyer is known for, making KEN a fantastic release for older fans and a great starting point for new listeners. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup front bottoms

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The Front Bottoms – GOING GREY 

Genre: Emo-Pop, Power Pop, Indie Rock 

Favorite Tracks: “Grand Finale,” if I have to choose

With their eclectic fusion of emo, folk, and punk, The Front Bottoms made quite a stir in the early 2010s, gaining a solid following and eventually signing and releasing two albums with Bar/None Records, the same label that puts out releases from prolific indie rockers Yo La Tengo and of Montreal. It would’ve been nice to see them follow in similar, more experimental, footsteps of those past labelmates. However, since signing with Fueled By Ramen, their progression more closely resembles that of their current labelmates Panic! At the Disco and Fall Out Boy. On their newest album, GOING GRAY, The Front Bottoms throw away the potential cache that comes with bringing some form of punk to the masses, for immediate conformity to the saccharine pop folderol that fills the airwaves.

While the idea to pair folk-punk acoustics with bright keyboard synths on “Peace Sign” is equal parts unsuccessful and contradictory, the lyrics in the hook are an even bigger abomination: “Next time that she sees him / it’ll be peace sign, middle finger.” And this is just one chorus amongst 10 others showcasing some of emo/pop-punk’s most cliched, hollow, and pseudo-deep lyricism. They certainly have an ear for catchy melodies and rhythms, but you’re more bitter than psyched to have them stuck in your head. Perhaps the saddest truth to come from this release is the revelation of how their most distinguishing asset, lead singer, Brian Sella, is also their most damaging. When he’s not whining “bae” four-times-too-many on “Bae” (yeah, really), he adopts the vocal inflections of either a Scotsman, an Irishman, or Paul Rudd’s best impersonation of Geddy Lee on various points of the album, specifically, “Don’t Fill Up on Chips.” Sella sounds like a combination of two of pop-punk’s most yodel-y vocalists: Brendan Lukens (Modern Baseball) and Tom DeLonge (Blink-182). And while those two excelled for the most part in their respective projects, the results here are unsurprisingly annoying. If that doesn’t initially turn you off, then the newly obtained electric-pop flourishes demonstrated on GOING GREY will. [Nick Funess]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup margo price

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Genre: Contemporary Country

Favorite Tracks: “All American Made,” “A Little Pain”

It seems like everybody wants to “bring country back” and few are more suited to really, truly do it than Margo Price. Backed by Jack White and his Third Man juggernaut, and armed with a classic voice that recalls some of the absolute best of country music, ALL AMERICAN MADE is positioned to be a solid attempt to reestablish country’s roots. It’s a noble goal, as country music is, in this humble writer’s opinion, a vital and uniquely American art form that has been sold out to teeny-bopping wannabes who grew up in an era where Shania Twain was country music’s biggest star, and the likes of Bret Michaels made regular appearances on a TV network purportedly reserved for country musicians and their follies. I may sound like a curmudgeon, but this album made me think that those folks had a point. ALL AMERICAN MADE is just not a great album. It’s one that’s easy to root for, but there’s almost nothing memorable on the first half, save for genre-bender “A Little Pain,” which barely qualifies as such. In fact, the only time that Price really caught my ear was when she borrowed a page from the rock auteur playbook on “All American Made,” a clever inversion of expectations and one of the most poignant political tracks in Price’s sphere. Price just plain fails to pull off some tracks on this record, like the gospel-tinged “Do Right by Me,” a song that, beyond being somewhat lyrically and musically problematic, is an ill-conceived crossover that goes for exciting gospel and ends up as adult alternative radio-friendly schlock in the vein of Susan Tedeschi or Lucinda Williams. ALL AMERICAN MADE, a decently made and very well performed record, is just missing the thing that other artists with similar goals, like Sturgill Simpson or Brandi Carlile, have figured out—innovation within the country genre is the best way to draw folks in for the long haul, not nostalgia. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup robert

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Robert Plant – CARRY FIRE

Genre: Folk Rock

Favorite Tracks: “The May Queen,” “Keep It Hid,” “Heaven Sent”

Alright, so it’s 2017 and Robert Plant came out with a new album. I could end the review there, but I do feel I owe a little more respect to the esteemed Englishman. CARRY FIRE features Plant on vocals, with The Sensational Shifters as the backing band. There are a few traces of Plant’s Zeppelin roots, mainly on the opening track “The May Queen,” through the use of twanging acoustic guitar followed by Zep-style big strumming patterns. As Plant is 69 years old now, we get a lot less of the high intensity belting that we grew to be accustomed to in his glory days, which feels like a major loss on CARRY FIRE. The rest of the album goes in one ear and out the other—nothing about it is noteworthy. To say that the album is bad wouldn’t be accurate; it’s fine, but I really can’t praise any specific aspect of it. Plant doesn’t go out of his way to be innovative or risky, rather playing it safe, taking a photo of himself for the album cover, and calling it a day. The lazy chorus of “Oh oh / Crazy love / oh oh” on “Seasons Song” really sums it up. There is a total lack of excitement on CARRY FIRE, but at the same time, it isn’t quite tame enough to be considered a somber piece of work. You can listen to the album or not—it really won’t affect you in any sort of way. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup quiet slang

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Genre: Chamber Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Androgynous (Replacements Cover),” “Thirteen” (Big Star Cover)

A stripped-down version of Philly rockers Beach Slang surfaced with the EP WE WERE BABIES & WE WERE DIRTBAGS, released under the moniker Quiet Slang and consisting of front man James Alex accompanied by both piano and cello arrangements. The EP features two redone versions of Beach Slang songs followed by two covers of The Replacements and Big Star, respectively. For listeners who have been turned off by Beach Slang in the past for their excruciatingly loud punk sounds, this is your chance to set aside all of that and give them an honest shot. Alex is undeniably vulnerable here, with no overdrive to hide behind. The rawness of the EP makes it feel, at times, like a live performance, while at the same time, the closest thing to lo-fi without actually being lo-fi. Either way, it all feels personal and emotion-driven. Boldly, Alex also takes a stab at the frequently covered Big Star song, “Thirteen.” (Wilco, Elliott Smith, and Garbage are some other notable acts to have covered this song.) The smooth cello arrangements and beautiful grand piano make this one of the more noteworthy attempts to revitalize the classic ode to adolescence. WE WERE BABIES & WE WERE DIRTBAGS is honest, thought-provoking, and unique, with its breathy punk vocals over cello and grand piano leaving me yearning for more Quiet Slang. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup radiator

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Radiator Hospital – PLAY THE SONG YOU LIKE

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Pastoral Radio Hit,” “Dance Number,” “Absolutely Positive”

Grand Rapids indie outfit Radiator Hospital have spent their careers making scuzzy yet simple garage rock around lead singer Sam Cook-Parrot’s intensely personal and committed songwriting. PLAY THE SONG YOU LIKE is the band’s most comfortable and accessible collection of songs yet, filled with brief dosages of scrappy rock vulnerability. The glue that held together 2014’s TORCH SONG and 2013’s SOMETHING WILD was a sense of DIY bedroom rock that humbled the songwriting, and while PLAY THE SONG YOU LIKE is the most highly polished recording by the band to date, that heart still exists. Parrot offers a wide variety of textures across the album; it’s hard to call this record bloated because of how quickly the 16 songs blitz by, but at the very least, that journey is filled with a good variance of songs. Particularly notable is the album’s final four-song run, from the punchy sock hop romp “Love Story,” to the solo acoustic track “Heart of Darkness,” to a zippy cover of Martha’s “Sycamore,” to a glassy-eyed and hopeful mid-tempo closer in “Absolutely Positive.” Not every track here is a winner, notably the three-and-a-half minute, mostly instrumental piano interlude “Also Ran,” and “Half Empty,” featuring fairly generic lead vocals from bandmate Cynthia Schemmer, which has been recorded previously with more personality. But generally, PLAY THE SONG YOU LIKE is a satisfying outing from Radiator Hospital and offers spirited and determined garage rock with gusto. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup stars

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Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite tracks: “Privilege.” “Real Thing” 

Longstanding indie pop group Stars have been active for almost 20 years, a testament to their staying power and the fanbase they have established. Despite this, their newest release, THERE IS NO LOVE IN FLUORESCENT LIGHT, is a bland and uninspired pop album that is an absolute slog to get through. Instrumentally there is nothing poorly done on FLUORESCENT LIGHT, be it the mastering or the technical skills of the musicians—everything is cohesive and fits together well. The issue is that each track feels all too safe and similar, lacking any real sense of experimentation. On the track “Losing To You,” there is a melodic and bare-bones electric keyboard intro which sets a minimalist and pretty beginning, yet unfortunately, it’s completely disrupted by generic pop-rock guitar riffs and club beat-inspired drum work. The instrumentals are not even the largest offender on FLUORESCENT LIGHT, with the most glaring issue unequivocally being the truly lackluster lyricism and incessant use of vocal harmonization throughout. The track that delivers these issues in heaps is “California, I Love That Name.” It almost seems to be the product of out-of-touch board room executives attempting to create the most generic nostalgic California song (as if there weren’t enough already): “California is the place to be / When you’re alone in the world and wanna be free / Up in the hills or down by the sea.” These absolutely saccharine lyrics are delivered with such a cloying vocal affectation (which is also done through harmonization), making it so blandly inoffensive and generic it is sickening. It gives me flashbacks of GLEE—not a musical era I ever wanted to recall. Everything is mastered to such an intense degree that nothing has a bite at all, leaving everything to have the same overall impact of muzak. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup jessie ware

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Jessie Ware – GLASSHOUSE

Genre: Pop Soul, Contemporary R&B

Favorite Tracks: “Thinking About You,” “Your Domino,” “Finish What We Started,” “Love to Love”

Considering the horrific sounds that typically make their way to me thanks to my musical palette, accessible, pleasant, R&B-influenced pop such as this is what forces me to reconsider my parameters of music and how to appreciate it. Her 2012 debut DEVOTION being hailed by many as a modern pop touchstone, Jessie Ware occupies a nebulous and interesting cultural space, largely avoiding any semblance of the UK bass that’s steering virtually every singer towards the realm of art pop, while avoiding EDM derivatives and Chainsmokers remixes on the same token, thereby essentially sealing a career of radio ignorance. As such, my entry point into appreciating this album is the fact that it’s an odd look back over the shoulder towards the adult contemporary and sophisti-pop of someone like Sade, an unpopular sound to try to unironically achieve in 2017. And, y’know, it mostly works! Nothing on display here is particularly game-changing or innovative, but Ware consistently demonstrates a palpable presence and power, even though she clearly favors airy falsettos. The touches of production modernity employed contribute to the album’s more forgettable cuts (apart from the guilty pleasure, tropical house cut “Love to Love”); it’s the splashes of slightly antiquated pop stalwarts such as juxtaposing vocal hooks with guitar licks or making use of an organ that make GLASSHOUSE just unique enough to warrant some consideration. Now that art pop is hitting an oversaturation of SOPHIE soundalikes, and SOPHIE himself, this kind of unassuming and unpretentious shot right down the middle of mildly hokey sentimentality is, in many ways, more daring. Nowhere near AOTY material, but hey, why not. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup young dolph

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Genre: Trap Rap

Favorite Tracks: “What’s the Deal,” “Believe Me,” “Go Get Sum Mo (featuring Gucci Mane, 2 Chainz, and Ty Dolla $ign)”

Why does Young Dolph’s name mean anything to us? Though he’s been around since 2014, he has a grand total of three singles that could maybe be considered standouts (“Play Wit Yo Bitch” being the current stab at relevance), and none of his mixtapes or albums are even close to event releases. And yet, it feels as if he’s always somewhere on the face of popular rap consciousness, mostly due to historical and deep-seated ties to the Trap God himself. That being said, if you put a gun to my head I still couldn’t come up with anything memorable he’s been affiliated with, and THINKING OUT LOUD does nothing to dispel this impression. The coolest thing about Young Dolph is his voice; a languorous, bass-heavy Southern crawl (more extreme than a drawl), though not as nihilistically inebriated as Gucci’s pre-prison prime, Young Dolph is one of the few rappers that come across as living the hedonistic lifestyle they purport to. Unfortunately, this doesn’t make for essential listening, as Dolph turns in tired retreads of hip hop stereotypes with the intelligence knocked down a peg, but not nearly enough pegs to achieve blatant and willful amateurism a la someone like Lil Pump. Unfortunately, the music itself lacks similar character. The production is pure functionality, resolutely competent and unassuming, the bass bleats and hi-hats so high in the mix that most of the instrumental work is a blase afterthought, Da Honorable C.N.O.T.E.’s “Go Get Sum Mo” the lone exception. THINKING OUT LOUD isn’t for discerning fans of the trap rap renaissance, as even B-lister PeeWee Longway wipes the floor with Dolph, and isn’t accidentally transgressive enough to appeal to SoundCloud backpackers. Patrons of late-night hookah bars will surely be the only audience this reaches. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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