Music Roundup 9/18/17
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.
Ariel Pink – DEDICATED TO BOBBY JAMESON
Genre: Indie Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Feels Like Heaven,” “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson,” “Another Weekend”
On his latest album, LA weirdo pop father, Ariel Pink, paints a picture of his life in the most intimate and pessimistic light yet, retaining the likable absurdity that gained him traction when he started releasing cassettes in the early 2000s. In 2017, dozens of artists are indebted to Pink, ranging from Animal Collective to Connan Mockasin, but on DEDICATED TO BOBBY JAMESON, Pink pays homage to Bobby Jameson, a failed Los Angeles musician from the 1960s whose late blog posts documenting his legacy caught Pink’s attention in the time since his 2014 release POM POM. Though most would consider Pink a successful artist whose career has yielded itself commendable longevity in the Internet age, the press campaign for DEDICATED TO BOBBY JAMESON employed a surprisingly defeatist attitude. In his latest interview with SPIN, Pink’s ego seems weathered as he lusts for his “retirement,” when his future albums will never be released. Jameson’s ebbed ego manifests itself through Pink’s voice as a songwriter too. On “Another Weekend,” Pink is at his most sincere, reflecting his age as a songwriter for the first time in his career. However, BOBBY JAMESON does not abandon Pink’s bit as an artist. “Dreamdate Narcissist” is a funny and vulgar ode to hookup culture in the age of Uber and chillwave. Closing track “Revenge of the Iceman” amalgamates snotty 1980s street punk and hair metal pastiche to remind listeners that, even at his most heartfelt and despondent, Pink is still the merry prankster we met in 2003. Ultimately, senescence and self-integrity suit Pink well. Despite his defeatist persona, Pink’s legacy as one of the most widely acclaimed crackpots in modern music is well warranted and DEDICATED TO BOBBY JAMESON is a welcome reminder of that fact. [Ted Davis]
Lil Dicky – I’M BRAIN
Genre: Aural Abjection
Favorite Tracks: The silence between track transitions
The rage palpitations kicked off immediately as I realized I would once again have to acknowledge the existence of the worst rapper of our time. Nevertheless, I persisted, only to further feel my vision go red as I realized that this is bafflingly catalogued under “Brain” and not “Lil Dicky” for most streaming services. After catching my breath and calming the hateful jackhammering of my heart, I tentatively pressed play on “On Smash.” Friends, this is so, so much worse than I could have imagined in my worst nightmares. Structured around the juvenile premise of Lil Dicky having a conversation with his brain as a personified figure (haven’t heard that one before), the most obvious problem with I’M BRAIN is that Brain is a problematic example of using post-production effects to hide an artist’s whiteness, ill-advised at best and in exceptionally poor taste at worst. This has long been a problem in hip hop, with everyone from Salem to Lil Ugly Mane coming under fire for it at one point or another. Best summarized by Open Mike Eagle in “Doug Stamper” (“White rappers quit / Rapping in your hood voice, sound like a clown / Hundred pounder that took ‘roids”); essentially, there’s no way around the problematic nature of white artists digitally altering their voices to sound deeper and more aggressive, with the requisite correlation being that lyrics and subject material become more violent and sexual whenever the effects are employed, not touched when speaking in their “normal” voice. That’s nauseatingly present here, Brain obsessed with an image of being “hard” (“Brain fuck a hood bitch (sup bitch),” “Brain’ll look a grown man right up in his face / Tell that man he should toughen up (knuck or buck),” but Lil Dicky can’t even give us the scant aesthetic pleasure of downtuning his voice to complement the trap-predicated production—instead, Brain sing-songs and AutoTunes his way through vomit-inducing “hook” after vomit-inducing “hook,” sounding like a Muppet parody of Lil Yachty that suffered severe head trauma. Some jaunty chucklefuck is going to attempt to tell me that this is supposed to be a “parody” or a “satire,” and that’s precisely right—this feels like rap parody and satire you’d make in high school for a class project the night before and get a B- on. Even when Lil Dicky offers himself unfiltered as a twisted sort of “relief,” we’re treated to his usual inane drivel of unfunny and irrelevant everyday observations and anecdotes, joining his friend Macklemore in the least necessary voices to ever hop on a mic (“Like as a child I was so dismissive of the baked potato ‘till I tried that shit / Now the baked potato is my favorite kind of potato,” “I fuck with Raisin Bran so heavy / That shit hard”). Sure, whatever, the production is fine, a perfectly functional tour of club and trap rap, but there is absolutely no reason you should turn to Lil Dicky for this fix instead of the literal millions of other artists not trying to actively destroy hip hop in an insidious ploy of middle-class banality and privilege. I guess The Game is nice enough on the slightly more tolerable closer, “How Can U Sleep.” Do you fucking suck? Then I’M BRAIN is for you. [Thomas Seraydarian]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Deer Tick – VOL 1 / VOL 2
Genre: Alt Rock, Alternative Country, Indie Folk
Favorite Tracks: “Card House” (VOL. 1), “Rejection” (VOL. 1), “It’s A Whale” (VOL. 2), “Hope is Big” (VOL. 1), “Doomed from the Start” (VOL. 1), “Don’t Hurt” (VOL. 2)
As soon as I made the switch from VOLUME 1 to VOLUME 2, it was clear why Deer Tick decided to release their most recent cycle of songs as two separate records—where VOLUME 1 is a bit more in the realm of singer-songwriter-esque Americana, VOLUME 2 is a direct throwback to the Uncle Tupelo-led alt-country boom of the ‘90s. There are several sonic links between the two records, which allow them to fit together while still maintaining separation from the other. In their seven year absence it’s clear, particularly on VOLUME 2, that Deer Tick is embracing its country influences quite a bit more than before, and seem split on which direction to take. While that usually would hold back a record, the fact that they are two distinct things keeps the project from feeling unfinished or unfocused.
VOLUME 1 is the better of the two, blending together a lo-fi experimental folk rock sound akin to Neutral Milk Hotel, with more traditional roots instrumentation and an inclination for simple, Neil Young-reminiscent melodies. Over the course of the last decade, we’ve seen groups like the Lumineers strip away the unfinished edges of the kind of music found on VOLUME 1, and Deer Tick’s take on the big, melodic 6/8 barn sing-a-long, “Hope Is Big,” is, plainly put, a big fucking breath of fresh air. Parsing music like this for “authenticity” is kind of a useless exercise, but it doesn’t take an expert to tell that singer John McCauley is a much more sincerely emotive performer than a Marcus Mumford or Vance Joy. The lyrics on VOLUME 1 are fatalistic, dark, and absent of platitudes, which is almost enough on its own to bring some freshness to Americana. There’s more to be found than just that particular style here, though—“Cocktail” has a bit of Gram Parsons flair to it, and “Rejection” is highly reminiscent of Nirvana’s “Something In The Way,” both in its role on the album and its construction.
There’s a bit less to say about VOLUME 2, which stays mostly on the same level throughout. This is the stuff you’ll see at a festival—big Hammond organs, crunchy guitars, and more traditional rock guitar riffs abound, sometimes like a punkier take on Built to Spill and sometimes like something that would sound right at home on an Uncle Tupelo or early Wilco record (“S.M.F”). It’s worth a recommendation even on its own, but it doesn’t hit as hard as VOLUME 1. As it stands, though, it’s more or less everything that a fan of a long-absent band could ask for, and stands out even among an absolutely TITANIC summer/fall album cycle for indie rock. [Adam Cash]
Ducktails – JERSEY DEVIL
Genre: Hypnagogic Pop, Indie Pop
Favorite tracks: “Map to the Stars,” “Light a Candle,” “Wearing a Mask”
Matt Mondanile will be forever cherished as the man behind Real Estate, a band that enabled anyone, of any age, to let go of their worries and embrace a sonic daydream at a perpetually sunny beach. Mondanile looked to further embrace this sound in his solo project, Ducktails, this time putting the nostalgia and pleasantry through the chillwave wringer. While it’s earnest in its aim to place us right alongside a teenage Mondanile walking the Jersey Shore, there comes a point where maturity is desired. JERSEY DEVIL is Mondanile’s weak attempt to come to grips with letting go of the past. The gauziness that’s permeated all of his past work may still be here, but it’s been updated with a potent sexiness. “Map to the Stars” suitably kicks off the night out with a gushing, psychedelic beat, underscored by a weaving flute. Mondanile also provides a little self-reflection on his previous style: “You lost your way / through the constellation / I can guide you somewhere else / in the right direction.” Much of JERSEY DEVIL finds Mondanile backed by more woozy synth grooves, vibrant bass licks, and foot-tapping drum beats, unabashedly yearning for a soulmate or, at the very least, a partner to gaze at the stars with.
Exploration is apparent, but fleeting on JERSEY DEVIL. Exultant synths soar in “Light a Candle” before succumbing to Ducktails’ usual mist, and the quivering, Nintendo-like jingle on album button “The Rising Sun” ultimately relies too heavily on Real Estate familiarity. Mondanile has surely abandoned the lo-fi ways of his past for a more fuller, brighter sound, yet a sense of complacency manages to permeate the atmosphere. All too often does he end up wandering back down memory lane. [Nick Funess]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Foo Fighters – CONCRETE AND GOLD
Genre: Hard Rock, Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Run,” “Arrow,” “Happy Ever After (Zero Hour),” “Concrete and Gold”
Ah, Foo Fighters, the comfort food of modern rock. I thought they had permanently broken up after 2014’s ambitious yet dry SONIC HIGHWAYS, their most unfulfilling record to date. Nonetheless, they are back with an album title that seems to symbolize their paradoxical mission statement: pretty, melodic, and geared for a pop audience, but also indebted to an old school, DIY rock n’ roll spirit that never ages. Don’t go into this expecting everything to sound like the ferocious lead single “Run.” There are glorious choral vocals that emerge right away on the far-too-short opener “T-Shirt,” and these pop up intermittently on the rest of the album, along with a greater emphasis on synthetic instrumentation and textures. None of this really works in the band’s favor, who were always somewhat polished but redeemed by Dave Grohl’s versatile yet raucous vocals. Here, he lacks presence, with a breathy tone that worked on elegant, more acoustic cuts in the past, but gets buried and lost on the overloaded “Sunday Rain” and “La Dee Da.” There are also several wasted guests; Paul McCartney is relegated to unimpressive drumming on “Sunday Rain,” and Justin Timberlake’s background vocals on the White Stripes-esque “Make It Right” are so modified and fake-sounding they might as well have come from a synthesizer. Foo Fighters have been most successful at taking what made them great and refining it to perfection, like 2011’s WASTING LIGHT, but attempts to push themselves artistically aren’t backed by competent mixing, interesting material, or any type of intensity. It’s not as barren as SONIC HIGHWAYS, and their are a few definite highlights, but they still have a long way to go before they can convince me a progressive Foo Fighters is a worthwhile one. [Blake Michelle]
Hundred Waters – COMMUNICATING
Genre: Art Pop, Indietronica
Favorite Tracks: “Particle,” “At home & in my head,” “Fingers,” “Communicating”
Back in 2014 when I had just begun to fully transition to the lifestyle of a fully fledged music nerd, Pitchfork gave a glowing review to Hundred Waters’ THE MOON RANG LIKE A BELL. A heavy Beach House fanboy at the time, I found it a somewhat pale competitor, and didn’t give it much thought. As such, I wasn’t necessarily excited for 2017’s COMMUNICATING, but upon listening, I was quite pleasantly surprised! Right off the bat, COMMUNICATING is much more subtle and subdued than the general conception of the band would suggest, making heavy use of singer Nicole Miglis’s sultry twilight alto and a demonstrated background in the less-is-more aesthetics of trip hop. A large number of tracks existing as minimalist piano ballads that tip-toe around the radio-friendly genres of blue-eyed soul, but suped-up with inventive electronic additions and interludes that justify the album’s consideration as art pop (the digitally altered background vocals and jagged YEEZUS synth of “Re:,” for example). There’s always much more than initially meets the ear steadily churning along in the background, and the group’s ability to juggle a varied and diverse of influences and styles, turning them into cohesive backgrounds for the soporific and hypnotic vocals on display, is a treat to behold. I would be remiss to not admit that sometimes things are perfectly pleasant but not deserving of further consideration, but Hundred Waters deserves a step up the ladder of cultural consciousness nonetheless. [Thomas Seraydarian]
The Jet Age of Tomorrow – GOD’S POOP OR CLOUDS?
Genre: Acid Jazz, Neo-Soul, Synth-Funk
Favorite tracks: “Summer is Ending,” “Wool Glasses,” “LocoMotive.”
With an album title like GOD’S POOP OR JUST CLOUDS?, it’s pretty telling that Matt Martians isn’t keen on taking life so seriously. On his new album, he hasn’t abandoned his signature jazz-funk tunes, and aside from what the title might have led you to believe, he has no interest in spouting grand philosophical musings. Martians only looks to accomplish one goal: continue spreading the infectious, carefree vibes.
Tumbling drums and sanguine scatting carry along opener “Summer is Ending” before Martians goofily exclaims. “Take it to the lake house!” A loopy trickling beat lays the foundation for the mesmerizing hook, “stressed out for what the world has handed you / nothing to talk about / let’s go to the lake house,” which doubles as an invite to Martians’s getaway and an effective tone-setter for the rest of the album. Martians’s vocals trill over his backbeats and lounge in groovy warmth; while they’re not striking by any means, there’s an entrancing quality as they hover over the tracks. Like the songs themselves, there isn’t a cohesive structure to the album, but this works to Martians’s advantage—he’s made a quality set of spacey, hypnotic funk tracks that drift from one to another. It’s studying music, something for the daily exercise, or even to be thrown on at the end of the night when everyone is winding down, the beer is almost out, but the cigarettes and pot are plentiful. He may not stray from his usual aesthetic, but there’s enough moments on here to get your head swaying and your fingers snapping to justify his contentment—the more cozy he gets on his production, the more cozy the listener gets as well. Martians has dug himself a snug little crater, where all are welcomed and encouraged to chill out and have a swell time. [Nick Funess]
Prophets of Rage – PROPHETS OF RAGE
Genre: Rap Rock
Favorite Song: “Strength in Numbers”
Have you ever been in a bar and heard “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor, and your friend says, “Oh, I’m a big Limp Bizkit fan,” and then you go “No that’s Fort Minor,” and then your friend says, “Same difference?” Musically speaking, that’s the best way to sum up Prophets of Rage in 2017. A supergroup comprised of members from Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and Rage Against The Machine, Prophets of Rage self titled debut is exactly what you’d think it would be in all the worst ways. A passé rap-rock release in the “Rock and Roll is Dead” era is ALMOST novel enough to work, that is until you realize rap-rock is terrible and its absence on both the radio and in our daily lives is for the better. As good as it feels to hear Chuck D’s authoritative rumble on these songs, this is a band whose purpose works just as effectively through listing off the individual parts of the supergroup than actually listening to their music; when the group was simply covering their older, far superior music, it landed a political message of doomsday protest much better than any of the songs on PROPHETS OF RAGE do. With 12 songs that feel like pale imitations of both each other and the groups source material, Prophets of Rage lazily paint-by-numbers their way through the album, sometimes with vaguely passable Tom Morello riffage (“Unfuck the World,” “Strength In Numbers”), but mostly with such disappointing tunnel vision that it’s hard to imagine the writing process for this record taking more than a minute or two. Let’s check in on a song called “Legalize Me:” “They smoke in Colorado / They smoke in Cali, too / I smoked all night / But that’s alright / I’ll still fight back tomorrow.” Ah, yep, a song about legalizing marijuana, how novel. Prophets of Rage do their best to try and undo the legacy of each of the contributing musicians by painting them as single-minded political artists whose idea of making commentary on our trying times is to point out the obvious and leave it at that. No one asked for the clunkily obvious and depressingly repetitive PROPHETS OF RAGE, and even if its messaging is sometimes commendable, the music itself is anything but. [CJ Simonson]
Verdict: Do Not Recommend
Rostam – HALF-LIGHT
Genre: Indie Pop, Baroque Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Sumer,” “Bike Dream,” “Half-Light (featuring Kelly Zutrau),” “Hold You (featuring Angel Deradoorian),” “Rudy,” “Warning Intruders,” “EOS”
While indieheads of the late aughts have been patiently awaiting a follow-up to Vampire Weekend’s MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY since 2013, former bandmate Rostam Batmanglij has been slowly gardening his own fruitful path as a producer and now solo artist. Between credits and contributions for musicians like Carly Rae Jepsen, Charli XCX, Frank Ocean, Solange, and Haim, Rostam has mastered capturing a wide range of emotions and experiences with the very charisma that made Vampire Weekend’s eccentricity so accessible. What separates HALF-LIGHT from Rostam’s past work is not only that it’s from his own point of view this time, but also a thorough coherence of the album’s scenery. The combination sets the listener up for a pop dreamscape that is altogether wistful, optimistic, reverent, and full of desire.
HALF-LIGHT could not have been more articulately titled, transporting one into the hazy, heavy-lidded glow that quietly slips between curtains, warmly falls upon tangled bedsheets, and stretches across a lover’s spine, while the crackle of a record player reminds us that most of what we’re hearing must be drawn from a memory. If not whittled down to a portrayal of mere dualism, Rostam fluently uses the imagery of the half-light as an emotional anchor and a metaphor for expressing the poignant and lusty gold-leaf with which we remember the past and hope for the future; either way, both directions on the timeline are subject to a blinding romanticism that dulls whatever ache we feel in the present. With a consistent through-line of string arrangements and peppered with African and Indian rhythms, Rostam’s talent as a multi-instrumentalist and producer shine like that very dawning sun, from the chugging drum beat of “Bike Dream” and venerable synth-hum of “Thatch Snow,” to the sweet guitar picking of “I Will See You Again,” and the menacing vocal distortion of “When.” In amalgam with the brilliance of Rostam’s thoughtful instrumentation, pensive lyricism, and nuanced production style, HALF-LIGHT carefully draws upon many charms from his past ventures—languid “Wood” echoes Vampire Weekend’s self-titled, and feverish “Rudy” sounds like a haunt of CONTRA, while “Don’t Let It Get To You” thumps and bubbles similarly to his project Discovery, and “Sumer” reminisces much like the vintage warmth of MODERN VAMPIRES. And, although Rostam never strays too far from his comfort zone vocally, HALF-LIGHT nevertheless carves its own space in the world as a debut solo album that, most importantly, stirs an evocative soundscape for anyone fantasizing about times gone past and yet to come. [Sienna Kresge]
STILL – I
Genre: Digital Dancehall
Favorite Tracks: “Bubbling Ambessa [Afrikan Messiah Riddim],” “Don_t Stop [Wondo Riddim],” “Gozpaal [Mustard Riddim]”
Fresh on the scene and very difficult to find by Google search, Italian electronic musician STILL turns in a bizzaro, out-of-left-field collection of digital dancehall detritus. Demonstrating the deft Caribbean curation capabilities of early Major Lazer (my dying breath will be spent reminding people that their debut was actually pretty good), but augmented by a wonky-indebted headrush of psychedelic pastel synths, the most differentiating aspect of I is the comparatively obscured and unexpected styles STILL makes use of. The obvious route would be to turn in a rote collection of the Holy Trinity of jungle, ragga, and dancehall, and while the percussion programming typically makes use of the prototypical riddim structure, STILL also incorporates complex gospel layers to focus on something far more wrapped up in the long history of the island culture’s spirituality and identity. I pinky promise I didn’t actually read the Bandcamp description before writing this, but further exploration will actually reveal that I is intended to be just that—a layered and challenging exploration of Italy’s unsung colonial influence on Ethiopia and Jamaica. Paranoid, energetic, and occasionally haunting, for those looking for dance music that stretches the parameters of the assumed body politics, I is well worth attempting to find on the internet. The Bandcamp is the best bet. [Thomas Seraydarian]