Music Roundup 9/5/17

Sorry for being one day late, but it was Labor day. You know how it goes. Here’s the music roundup as you know and love it. 

music roundup sandgrown

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Jack Cooper – SANDGROWN

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Favorite Tracks: “Gynn Square,” “Stranded Fleetwood Blues,” “Estuary”

Listened to on a blearily hot day in Sherman Oaks, SANDGROWN turned out to be perfectly suited to a lazy summer afternoon in the triple digits. Half of unsung UK jangle pop act Ultimate Painting, Jack Cooper’s solo work takes a more amiable singer/songwriter bent in the obvious stylistic shadow of Mac DeMarco or Real Estate. I want to establish upfront that I by no means dislike this album. It’s perfect mood music for killing time, and there’s enough of a glowing warmth here to suggest some potential for inclusion in a film soundtrack. But it’s not exactly memorable on the other side of the coin, either. The latter half of SANDGROWN is the superior as a cohesive whole, progressively sneaking in a tangible increase of jazz influences, but Cooper’s overall artistic oeuvre is too… safe to fully imprint itself upon the audience. The guitar pops and crackles with a welcoming tone, Cooper modestly crooning all the while, but we’ve heard it before and we hear it again on SANDGROWN. I’m right in the middle on this one, but I’m leaning towards encouraging you to seek out something more idiosyncratic. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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Genre: Black Metal

Favorite Track: “All Shade of Silence”

It is without a doubt that both Drudkh and Paysage D’Hiver have already earned their place in black metal history. A decade ago one could find Ukraine’s Drudkh at the tail end of an incredible initial run with their first slew of albums, the obvious favorite being BLOOD IN OUR WELLS, all laying the groundwork for a new era of meditative atmospheric black metal. Paysage, member of renowned Swiss band Darkspace, had his seminal self-titled work score surprisingly well on our age-old Never Listened to Black Metal feature article. It’s really good to see them together, but truthfully, both have been in recent slumps of which a measly split cannot redeem them. As with their latest album A FURROW CUT SHORT, Drudkh plays it pretty safe on their two tracks. There’s definitely a full band here with the occasional shift in intensity and a somewhat effective eye of the storm atmospheric break in “All Shades of Silence,” but the rest is too shallow and repetitive for how long these tracks are. Paysage hides within his lo-fi blizzard even deeper than before, making his constant blastbeats muffled taps without any satisfying crunch. Please listen to the aforementioned past efforts from these guys. This is too rudimentary to deserve your time. [Alec Larios]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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Hercules and Love Affair – OMNION

Genre: Electropop

Favorite Tracks: “Your Atmosphere (featuring Fairs Badwan),” “Wildchild (featuring Rouge Mary)”

Nu-disco outfit Hercules & Love Affair have been chasing the infectious grooves of their first single, “Blind,” for almost a decade. OMNION, the band’s fourth record, doesn’t quite reach those emotional highs, but it gets close. Heavy bass riffs and funk-friendly pop hits are scarce on OMNION; by pivoting to steely house beats as their groundfloor aesthetic, the band avoid their often tedious attempts at creating a go-for-broke anthem, instead delivering determined and satisfying dance tracks, the kind that might not be the apex of anyone’s night at the club, but can nonetheless satisfyingly backtrack the quieter moments in the night. The liquidy synthesizers on “Fools Wear Crowns” and the low rumbling bass on tracks like “Are You Still Certain? (featuring Mashrou’ Leila),” and the frantic “Wildchild (featuring Rouge Mary)” are honed-in aesthetics that the band has been mastering for years, but they feel intentionally smaller and more contained on OMNION. At 54 minutes and 11 tracks, Hercules & the Love Affair’s fourth album can drag (note to artists: no album of house beats should be more than 40 minutes long, ever), but by and large, this is the best full release the band has had in their career. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Recommend

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Lil Uzi Vert – LUV IS RAGE 2

Genre: Trap Rap, Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Sauce It Up”, “No Sleep Leak”, “The Way Life Goes”, “Neon Guts (featuring Pharrell)”, “Early 20 Rager”, “Malfunction”, “XO Tour Llif3” 

Uzi still has his moments, both beautiful and cringe-worthy. For every lyrical stinker and wall he raps himself into, there’s a hook or outrageous line that more than makes up for it. “X” was approaching skippable territory until Uzi belted out “LE-O-NARD-O DICAPRI-O,” earning at least a smirk. The absentminded “Early 20 Rager” is saved by Uzi’s best Rastaman and a super dumb earworm chorus of “Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait” which I embarrassingly caught myself reciting to the impatient. While him and his team are not exploring too much new territory, the duality of upbeat AutoTune abuse and cloudy downers that make sense of the hit closer “XO Tour Llif3” keeps LUV IS RAGE 2 going. “The Way Life Goes” and the hook’s Oh Wonder sample nearing tears juxtaposes the “merry-go-round” on “Feelings Mutual,” which is followed by the “Happy” legend Pharrell’s unparalleled class on “Neon Guts”. The conclusive downward spiral into “XO” facilitated by “Malfunction” and “Dark Queen” also proves Uzi can embrace vulnerability in a more graceful and sincere way than many of his contemporaries. Yes, this album tries to desperately recreate the hits, but when it works, it really works. Uzi’s devoted producers strike the balance between listenability and complexity. Most of these tracks have tone shifts and some full arcs of which Uzi takes full advantage of, varying from playground cocky to gangster to heartbreaking all under thick clouds of AutoTune. It may understandably take a few listens, a few hidden layers here or a mumbled reference there, but on LUV IS RAGE 2, Lil Uzi Vert definitely proves he hasn’t outlasted his welcome. [Alec Larios] 

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup mogwai

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Genre: Post-Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Crossing the Road Material,” “20 Size,” “Every Country’s Sun”

Ehhhhhhhh. Here’s the thing: Mogwai is undoubtedly one of the more important acts in musical history, their seminal 1997 debut MOGWAI YOUNG TEAM championing and redefining the sound of the post-rock movement. Their influence can be heard reigning supreme of practically every other band to wear that label since, and as such, their name is always going to pique the interest when a new release emerges. Unfortunately, EVERY COUNTRY’S SUN really seems to suggest they’re not planning on doing anything new with their legacy anytime soon. 2017 Mogwai is “good.” But before pressing play on the horribly titled first track, “Coolverine,” I knew exactly what EVERY COUNTRY’S SUN was going to sound like, and it did nothing to subvert or challenge my expectations in any way. Navel-gazing, introverted guitar layers, soporific rhythm sketches that build into triumphant crescendos, the occasional interpolation of soft, ghostly vocal intonations—yep, that’s a Mogwai album! The increased electronic influence is a nice touch, even bordering on space ambient on tracks such as the once again horribly-titled “Don’t Believe the Fife,” and as we’ve known for years they prove that film soundtracks are an encouraging future avenue to pursue, but you’ve heard it all before, and slightly better to boot. But yes, if you put on the closer and think of someone you miss, it’ll hit you right in the feel like it’s supposed to.  [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup the echo of pleasure

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The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – THE ECHO OF PLEASURE

Genre: Indie Pop, Jangle Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Falling Apart so Slow,” “The Garret”

Former blogosphere darlings The Pains of Being Pure At Heart continue to do their thing, continuing to pursue a sound that is a bit more distant from their original, slightly more twee pop sound, and more influenced by the more upbeat pieces of The Smiths’ catalog, along with dashes of R.E.M. and more morose, synth-heavy groups like Echo and the Bunnymen. However, where 2014’s DAYS OF ABANDON  was successful in deploying light nostalgia alongside well-crafted straightforward pop tunes, THE ECHO OF PLEASURE is missing something that’s difficult to put a finger on. Though “The Garret” will undoubtedly satisfy anyone who has really, truly been clamoring for something that sounds like music from The Smiths, and many of the other songs on the record, particularly “Falling Apart so Slow,” do a pretty solid impression of late-’80s pop rock, it’s hard to distinguish this record from what you would hear just from turning on any Alternative format radio station, and fails to stand out like old TPOBAT records have. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend


music roundup together

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Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “The Cold,” “Kenmore Ave.,” “Better Find Out,” “Peach Mirror,” “Friend of Nothing,” “Southern Comfort,” “Alison”

Well as I live and breathe, it looks like you can still be pleasantly surprised. I disliked together PANGEA’s 2014 release, BADILLAC. Quite heartily, in fact. Already operating in the genre of garage rock/punk, some of the music I consider the least vital, I found things toothless, self-absorbed, and trivial. But BULLS AND ROOSTERS… is a genuine and marked improvement! Together PANGEA always demonstrated at least a functional knowledge hook craft to offset their bratty distortion assault, but BULLS AND ROOSTERS is the first album from them I’ve heard with a discernible penchant for pop songwriting. While the likes of Wavves and Ty Segall are continually brought to mind as influences, there’s enough warmly psychedelic textures and moments of mind-melting technicality here to land a coveted (at least in my opinion) place alongside acts such as Oh Sees and King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, in addition to amiably nostalgic throwbacks to acts such as The Replacements (“Southern Comfort”).  You just try to listen to “Friend of Nothing” and keep a smile off your face. Admittedly, it’s probably a bit too long, with the last three tracks slightly overstaying their welcome, but as a whole, this is the kind of record that will place singles on savvy college radio stations, boost together PANGEA to the upper tiers of festival billings, and is easily returned to in a variety of situations. It’s a career highlight, and likely among the year’s better-to-best. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

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Genre: Synthpop

Favorite Tracks: “Heaven,” “Half,” “Anyone Else,” “What’s Wrong,”

PVRIS’s debut WHITE NOISE has frustrated me ever since its release. It was an album that tried to be many things (intimate, chilling, massive, cool), but simultaneously seemed to be nothing, a monochrome, grey blob lacking in distinct melody or interesting vocals. The fact that “Mirrors,” a song about foolishly trying to find emotional connections with someone clearly unable to have them, was easily the best track is a perfect metaphor for it. ALL WE KNOW starts off fairly strong, with frontwoman Lynn Gunn offering a much spunkier and rawer performance and several choruses and builds capturing an arena-rock intensity PVRIS has always tried for, but it runs out of steam halfway through. I have no idea how they allegedly wrote 45 songs for this thing, because they’re aren’t even six worthwhile ones here. The synths are overall still too low and blurry in the mix, attempts at dynamic shifts can still come off as really clumsy, and many songs possess odd endings that don’t work without a more dream-like ambience the band isn’t capable of delivering. Gunn may have gained more confidence as a vocalist; in terms of songwriting and production, the rest of the band has not. It’s certainly an improvement over WHITE NOISE, but I think PVRIS should stop trying for a spot in-between psychedelia and electropop, as they’ve proven they can’t juggle both sides without their music suffering in the process. [Blake Michelle]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup widowspeak

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Widowspeak – EXPECT THE BEST

Genre: Dream Pop

Favorite Tracks: “The Dream,” “Let Me,” “Warmer,” “Expect the Best”

TWIN PEAKS, a TV show known for its use of music as much as anything else, ended this weekend, and the third season featured significant contributions from Portland-based dream pop band Chromatics. However, when I first turned on “The Dream,” the opening track from EXPECT THE BEST, the latest from Widowspeak, I found myself wishing David Lynch had heard this record before giving so much air time to a band that is, in my humble opinion, a bunch of vapid nonsense compared to this. A muted haziness, often congruous with the sometimes surreal mystery of TWIN PEAKS, runs through EXPECT THE BEST. The record is a compelling combination of shoegazy pop a la Mazzy Star, a dash of the laconic, country-laced stoner rock typically found in the Pacific Northwest, and the swirling psychedelics of Philadelphia indie rock. There’s a bit of Tom Waits’s semi-symphonic noir in there as well, particularly on “Warmer,” a song that slinks through four minutes with klaxon synths and a sultry vocal that feels like a more sophisticated take on Mazzy Star. The album’s energy winds down a bit sooner than it should, but Widowspeak is a band that feels like they could be on the verge of much bigger things very, very soon. [Adam Cash]

Verdict: Recommend

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Genre: East Coast Hip Hop, Abstract Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Made for This (featuring Ghostface Killah),” “Chinatown Swing,” “Stick Ball,” “Elaine,” “NMIM (featuring ACAB and Slicky Boy)” 

If you were even tangentially involved in online music communities circa 2014/2015, Ratking’s debut SO IT GOES needs no introduction. An electrifying step onto the scene that managed to capture youthful energy and drive without giving into the stylistic zeitgeists of the time, instead crafting something much more notably out of left-field, it seemed rap had found its new critical darling. Wiki was clearly the de facto face of the group, and now with even more vetting from his inclusion in Antwon and Lil Ugly Mane’s group Secret Circle, NO MOUNTAINS IN MANHATTAN comes highly anticipated. Thankfully it’s remarkably consistent throughout, painting a vivid portrait of an environment that exudes authenticity and a sharp, discerning point of view. Wiki’s flow is as challenging and unpredictable as ever, warping and twisting its way around the variety of production styles he experiments with courtesy of everyone from Earl Sweatshirt to Kaytranada to DJ Earl. For such a young MC he continues to demonstrate a remarkable propensity for presence and character, and features are the only aspects of songs that occasionally fall flat (not a fan of Your Old Droog!). The only problems to be found are the ones common to much of abstract hip hop, as NO MOUNTAINS IN MANHATTAN can get a little too heady for its own good, always being open to appreciation from a critical distance but throwing up too many barriers that prevent personal identification. Nevertheless, Wiki’s turned in one of the more daring hip hop projects of the year, and has ushered in a new New York that pays respect to its classical portrayals but injects a fresh vibrancy where it’s much needed. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup 17

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Genre: Alternative R&B, Indie Folk

Favorite Tracks: “Depression & Obsession,” “Fuck Love (featuring Trippie Redd)”

I fucking hate XXXTENTACION. Now that Tyler, the Creator is sort of good, I guess, it’s nice to know that there are still artists out there that can get my heart racing upon mere consideration of their existence in the pop culture landscape. As a dedicated Lil Pump apologist, I want to make it perfectly clear that I do not hate cloud rap, mumblerap, SoundCloud rap, or whatever you kids want to call it. I truly and deeply despise, with every fiber of my being, XXXTENTACION and XXXTENTACION alone. Anyone who beats their girlfriend, much less their pregnant one, deserves any and every punishment coming their way, and I would love nothing more than to bathe in an ever-flowing fountain of people knocking this juvenile, reactionary, clout-copping, standoffish, downright embarrassing shitstain the fuck out at concerts. Combined with his resolute and flippant dedication to shrugging off the accusations against him, his putrid, vile, abhorrent, abject, talentless, self-indulgent, subpar LiveJournal entry of a XXL Freshman freestyle, and one of the most vomit-inducing fanbases rap culture has ever seen, XXTENTACION is utterly and entirely worthless. And yet, I will defend the music of acts such as Burzum to anyone who challenges them, so now that I’ve said my piece, let’s talk about 17 on a musical level. It’s lowercase-F “fine.” The one thing I can truly say in its favor is that if it were made by anyone else, it would be commendable that this is brazenly not a hip hop album. I can’t fault XXX for an implicit desire to work towards dismantling what hip hop can be on an artistic perspective considering my ardent love for Lil Yachty, but I can fault him for doing alternative R&B and, yes, bona fide singer/songwriter indie, poorly. “Depression & Obsession” skates by on an Alex G-tinged reverie of hazy bedroom soliloquies and “Fuck Love” literally sounds like it was recorded by Lil Uzi Vert, but I would laugh virtually every other track out the door if released by anyone else. XXX is not a technically impressive or innovative MC by any means, and by shining an often harsh and unflattering light on his technical abilities by removing our conditioned responses as hip hop listeners towards elements of the tracks such as production, we’re left entirely cold. Yeah, I guess that might be the point, but how much can we forgive poor singing, tepid piano and guitar progressions, and a complete lack of aesthetic personality, especially when he directly references hoping the girlfriend he abused gets the desserts he considers just? The singular defense of 17 I will entertain is that it’s earnest. I do believe that XXX means every word he says on this song, which is why I think he’s resolutely irredeemable as a person, but as such, I suppose I have to applaud his stated desire to help those who are suffering depression. If you are depressed and 17 helps you… I’m glad. But you can find better examples of similar content from those that are not unrepentant and vengeful abusers, such as the aforementioned Lil Uzi and Future. Fuck XXX, past, present, and future. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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