Music Roundup 8/7/18

We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in this week’s music roundup

music roundup Houndmouth

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Houndmouth – GOLDEN AGE

Genre: Alternative Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Modern Love,” “Black Jaguar,” “Waiting for the Night”

When last we left them, Houndmouth had established themselves as THE alternative-blues-pop-rock band. They were the melting pot for Stagecoach diehards and Coachella kids, the “country” band for those who swore off country and the “indie” band for Americana-devotees. LITTLE NEON LIMELIGHT’s single “Sedona” worked its way into the atmosphere of coffee shops and trendy retail stores alike, and yet it never felt like a mainstream hit—just a good song that managed to bubble its way to the surface. Tracks like “Black Gold” slapped with well-aimed confidence and a hint of grit, using songwriting techniques that definitely weren’t new, but didn’t feel outworn either. Since then, keyboardist Katie Toupin has left the band, and you can feel the lack of her presence. The blend of male and female voices had created a warm, singalong dynamic akin to Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros (pre-Jade break-off, of course) and without it, GOLDEN AGE sounds cold, mechanical, and just slightly off. At times it’s intentional, such as a drum loop glitch in the opening of the title track “Golden Age.” But many other times, it’s the Daft-Punk-esque modulated voice in “Coast to Coast,” or lyrics such as, “Do you ever feel like a ghost when you’re staring into your phone? / You was a real girl in a digital comfort zone.” Gone are the days of Oliver Asley Lane and Jenny Gasoline—2018 is the year where we erase all traces of our past culture and replace it with nothing but talk of iPhones, Androids, and self-driving cars. “Modern Love” is the only track that bears any similarity with their previous material before a robotic voice counts down three-two-one three-quarters of the way in and the song lingers in a dark sonic interlude for the next minute. Perhaps this is the statement of the album: our last glimmers of authenticity are being pushed down by our AI oppressors, and it’s only a matter of time before we are forced into metallic darkness that resembles the ambience of a graveyard in an ‘80s music video. Or whatever. That being said, not all hope is lost in this new era of Houndmouth. Mid-album cut “Waiting for the Night” cruises by on solid harmonies and a catchy piano hook, and “Black Jaguar” is a quality track in its own right, with a ripping guitar solo and electrifying synths reminiscent of The Cars.

Regardless of its intentions, what I can measure is that MODERN AGE sounds like an amalgam of Young the Giant, Saint Motel, and a touch of AWOLNATION—a sound that had a time and a place in 2013, but does little to inspire a new reaction in our modern age. Perhaps it’s selfish, but I’m less interested in the statement they’re trying to make and more in the result it created. Usually, I’m all for artists pushing towards new directions and boundaries, but their two previous albums were prime examples of timeless, modern Americana that could win over the hardest of hearts. I never thought I’d hear myself say this, but if the wagon wheel ain’t broke, please don’t fix it. [Claire Epting]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup Ross From Friends

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Ross From Friends – FAMILY PORTRAIT

Genre: Outsider House

Favorite Tracks: “Thank God I’m a Lizard,” “Project Cybersyn,” “Pale Blue Dot,” “R.A.T.S.”

Felix Weatherall continues to subvert expectations. The British producer has simultaneously been an outsider and a leader since bursting onto the scene. He’d been anointed as one of the faces of lo-fi house well before most people even knew lo-fi house was a thing, yet much of the relatively little attention he garnered was that of off-hand remarks about his moniker (apparently the ‘90s are still too recent to reference). Now as the newest member of the Brainfeeder label, Weatherall has delivered a dizzying debut that captures the mood of the one dude at the club who’s had far more than their fair share of fun. Tracks like “Back Into Space” and “Wear Me Down” meander in the most psychedelic sense, embarking on a hazy journey with no clear destination in mind. The vocal samples, clattering percussion, and moaning synths present in just about every song harken back to ‘90s UK dance music while still feeling distinctly futuristic thanks to Weatherall’s incorporation of sugary vaporwave aesthetics. FAMILY PORTRAITS’ standouts are the dark dancefloor tracks that are more in line with the mood of fellow lo-fi house stalwart DJ Seinfeld’s TIME SPENT AWAY FROM U (one of 2017’s best records). “Thank God I’m a Lizard” is one of Weatherall’s most clever cuts to date, as the vocal sample from which the song takes its name gets periodically muffled by the rest of the instrumental, rendering it nothing more than a hissing percussive element. But no song compares to the brilliance of “Project Cybersyn,” a stunner that ranks right at the top of the year’s best tracks. The depths and heights it traverses in the matter of five minutes is astounding as it flips between dark, cavernous rhythms and towering, shrill crescendos. Each element is used to its utmost potential, whether it’s the briefly haunting vocal samples, the hissing hi-hats, or the shrill electronics. While FAMILY PORTRAIT may have been better suited as a condensed EP, there’s no denying the weird wonder of Weatherall’s debut. [Ryan Moloney]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Shires

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Amanda Shires – TO THE SUNSET

Genre: Americana

Favorite Tracks: “Take Out the Dark,” “Mirror, Mirror,” “Wasn’t I Paying Attention?”   

In the battle for Nashville’s heart between traditional and pop/bro county, Jason Isbell emerged as a formidable vanguard of the former with THE NASHVILLE SOUND, whereas his wife Amanda Shires has chosen to abandon the skirmish entirely. Shires was never shy about incorporating more eclectic and harsher tones into her singer-songwriter brand of country on albums like DOWN FELL THE DOVES. Her latest album, TO THE SUNSET, is the most synthetic album of her career, ranging from distorted, Dorothy-esque desert rock on “Eve’s Daughter” to the fantastic bassline and shimmering post-punk guitar groove on “Take Out the Dark” that would make Belly proud. Shires has chosen to overload her voice with effects and overdubs, which can create a mesmerizing, dream-like state when combined effectively with the spacier production; they make the quaking anxiety over comparing herself to others on “Mirror, Mirror” even more palpable against wiry synths and a luminous atmosphere, and the closing story of a man committing suicide with her unwitting help on “Wasn’t I Paying Attention?” is even more surreal with the eerie vocal layers. However, on other songs “Leave It Alone” and “Break Out the Champagne,” the vocal overproduction robs them of their sensuality or playfulness and Shires of her natural, earnest presence in place of something too timid and robotic to be engaging. The latter suffers from an especially thin third verse about a girl getting over a dude with nothing justifying her dismissiveness of him, ending on a terrible simile involving golf and rock n’ roll. For every song filled with effective personal details, like a father callously pawning away a treasured gift from her mother on “Charms,” there’s another that could have used another verse or a re-write to scrub away their staleness and not leave the chorus to do all of the emotional heft. TO THE SUNSET manages to tap into the warm, relatable stories and tones of classic Americana even underneath all the electronic effects, but it’s frustratingly inconsistent and takes a while to catch its footing. I’m certainly open to more albums from Shires in this vein, but more time needed to be devoted to the writing portion of the album’s development than the post-production work. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup Underworld Iggy Pop

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Underworld and Iggy Pop – TEATIME DUB ENCOUNTERS

Genre: Progressive House

Favorite Tracks: “I’ll See Big”

Iggy Pop is 71 and he’s survived just about every reckless act a human can attempt, yet for some reason, it’s still shocking to me that he’s made a late-in-life techno record. Teaming with UK electronic legends and 2012 Olympic soundtrackers Underworld, TEATIME DUB ENCOUNTERS finds Pop unabashedly capitalizing on his weathered grumpiness. “Bells and Circles” is an ode to a more socially acceptable time for drug addicts, when one could smoke on an airplane, do a line of cocaine in public, and still get a stewardess’ number. While Pop’s hardened demeanor is part of what makes him such an icon, his musings sound more like an aged grandfather’s whiskey-induced ranting than they do the stories of a cultural icon. “Trapped” showcases a gutteral, Springsteen-esque warble over industrial techno. Though the helter-skelter angst of The Stooges is there, Pop’s intentions as a songwriter are unclear, and he uses his celebrity status as a crutch; even though it’s cool that he still has the energy of a 24-year-old who drinks 10 cups of coffee a day, it doesn’t help TEATIME DUB ENCOUNTERS come off as any less unnecessary. “I’ll See Big” is the only track on the release that feels even remotely in touch with real life. Though he still takes a few bars to reminisce about the heyday of smoking dope, it has some semblance of a soul and isn’t quite as easy to laugh at as the rest of the record. Because of his age and his history of drug abuse, it’s no surprise that Iggy is starting to seem a little senile, but TEATIME DUB ENCOUNTERS leaves me slightly concerned for his mental wellbeing. The EP is a great oddity for diehard fans to gawk at, but it’s unclear what exactly Iggy and Underworld were trying to accomplish while they were in the studio. [Ted Davis]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup Wet

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Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “11 Hours,” “Visitor,” “Love Is Enough”

It’s hard not to kind of marvel at the number of credited people that worked on STILL RUN—it’s a long list, and one that includes some indie powerhouses (Lykke Li! Rostam! MGMT’s James Richardson!). A lengthy list of collaborators, musicians, and producers is part and parcel to big time major label pop records but Wet, who share Columbia Records with Beyoncé, Solange, and Adele among many others, are (and kind of always have been) a strange mark for a mainstream-reaching indie pop or R&B-adjacent act. In that way, it’s funny to see a duo who clearly don’t have any aspirations to make conventional radio fare signed right next to Harry Styles and The Chainsmokers, and a lot of listening to STILL RUN is surreal when you consider just how much money probably went into it—that their breakthrough “Don’t Wanna Be Your Girl” has almost 50 million plays on Spotify is clearly more a product of the early 2010s run on PBR&B gooiness than it is a marketable, sustainable thesis from a label perspective. STILL RUN flirts with the sweeping beauty and big balladry that’s reserved for others on Columbia, but it’s confusingly stuck between a devotion to indie rock roots and an embraced pop schmaltz. Some of the best moments on the album (the bending guitar work on the title track, the rising strings on “Visitor,” the funky horns and sax on “You’re Not Wrong”) come from the sleek, expensive, almost overly-massaged live instrumentation, worthwhile flourishes that add a three-dimensional pull to an otherwise fairly boring record. The frequent slide guitar in particular on this album is frustratingly good in a way that makes you wish Wet had actually just tried to make a Mazzy Star record, because being tethered to unmemorable mid-tempo pop does nothing but hold the album back. The stagnant, almost-tiredness of a track like “This Woman Loves You” is elevated by touches of mandolin, but regularly these moments are small and fail to elevate the entirety of the project. Even with a few decent tracks, it’s unclear what Wet are trying to achieve sonically. Listening to it all you can understand why founding member Marty Sulkow left the band due to tension regarding the group’s artistic direction, because STILL RUN is a muddled sidestep following 2016’s DON’T YOU rather than a true evolution. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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