The Roundup: March/April 2017
I did it! I finally got this Roundup done. With all the graduating going on, I struggled to find time to write this out, so much in fact that a few albums got cut from this list. If you are upset about that here is the rundown: Cat Stevens and Otis Redding are gods of music and Gustav Mahler symphonies are deeply depressing, yet beautiful.
Deafheaven – New Bermuda
Super angry, but mysteriously beautiful, Deafheaven are experts are crafting razor sharp rage while not coming off like a cartoony farce. It’s a delicate balance they are able to pull off with an expert level of finesse. New Bermuda is harsher and crueler than media darling Sunbather. I am unsure if it is a return to form, or just reminder that the band is still truly evil incarnate, but the riffs are nastier, the howling more gritty, and the beats more blasty. As much as I enjoy it, there are moments where it feels a bit disjointed. Slower melodic numbers still featuring their signature high-pitched shrieking which comes of as confusing. I am sure some fans would throw a hissy-fit if Deafheaven features actual, y’know, singing, but I say it would be welcome in those brief relaxed moments. Either way, more pleasant doom to scare your family with.
Oren Lavie – The Opposite Side Of The Sea
What a charming little soul album. Oren Lavie channels his inner Elliot Smith and Nick Drake and makes lush melodies full of sorrow and pain. There are more components to each song compared to his predecessors, incorporating string arrangements, percussion, and a touch of electronics, which sometimes hinders more than helps, but everything here works overall. His voice is the hero of this album, slightly pained and gritty, but full of range and dynamics. Since so many of our folk soul singers have a tendency to die prematurely I say get on the Oren Lavie train before fate takes him too.
Jamiroquai – Automaton
I adore Jamiroquai, his brand of light-hearted funk/dance/house/rock music is rarely paradigm shifting, but consistently fun. So what happened here? JK decided to go the electronic route without much awareness of how to use it to his advantage. The end result is a very weak output compared to his existing catalog. Jamiroquai’s music has succeeded on its organic nature, a living breathing organism that forces its listener to dance. Here it is programmed, cold, and sterile without the soul that he is known for. It feels like it was made in a lab and all the fun has been formulated out of it.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Flying Microtonal Banana
King Gizzard is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, with their commitment to strange, but loveable music, it is hard to not love them just for the amount of music they provide for their fans. The quirk factor may be high, but not without brilliant and catchy song writing to go with it. Considering many of their assumed influences are not currently recording albums they are also a critically important band in the experiment/psych/prog rock world. Flying Microtonal Banana is another fine example from the group, mixing a variety of ideas and musical concepts, but ultimately creating a cohesive psychedelic experience that drives and drones with brilliant ease. You have the pulsating Rattlensake to the Boredom‘s inspired drone of Open Water. It has a presence behind it, and considering the weak state rock music is in, its desperately needed.
Oddissee – The Iceberg
A fitting title, an album that on its surface is already engaging and pleasant enough. Below, however, is a deep and complex cornucopia of rhythms, music, and lyrics. It’s a scathing cultural commentary on our place as a nation as far as I can tell, and we need more of those for certain. The words are ruthless, hard-hitting, and without any consoling to go with them. It is welcome verbal savagery. That said, the music itself is built upon elegance. Oddissee is a master of creating beats and music; deep and complex, but varied in influence and genre. It is unbelievably lush.
Jidenna – The Chief
A recommendation by Ryan, and a great one at that. 2017 is proving to be an avalanche of great hip-hop albums with The Chief being one of the strongest. A myriad of styles, rich in cultural identity, blend together to form this fantastic album. There is a spaciousness to the album. There may not be a lot going on musically at times, but it is rich in reverb, giving a big feeling to songs like Trampoline, where it feels like a whole room is echoing. This being his first formal LP I am very excited to hear what else comes from Jidenna in the future. I can only assume greatness.
Brain Tentacles – Brain Tentacles
I saw this band when it was a two-person outfit back in 2013, consisting of a baritone sax with loads of effect pedals and a drum that could deliver dem BLAST BEATS BABY!!!!! Now, with a bassist added on, the group has released its self-titled album, a truly bizarre melding of metal and jazz. Let that sink in, metal, and jazz. I would not have thought it would have worked either, but the album has just enough of a sense of humor to make it a charming little outing. A few of the later songs are clearly not as strong, lacking the initial energy and eye-winking lovableness, but overall you have a curious musical idea that is executed quite well. I am curious to see what else the band delivers in the future, as the idea does have the potential to be perfected even further. It is a bit of an oddity but it is a needed oddity, a pushing of genre boundaries that is joyously welcomed.
Roky Erickson & The Aliens – The Evil One
Man who took way too much acid sings a hell of a lot about demons. It is certainly a peculiar album, released in 1981 you can hear the influence of the 70’s musical culture dissipating and the 80’s taking over, with wailing guitar solos and that chugga-chugga 4/4 drum beat, but there is still a strong hint of the 60’s 13th Floor Elevators throughout. It wears a bit thin near the end, with a lot of songs having similar lyrical content (i.e. demons, lots of demons), and the music isn’t anything special. Still, this an odd footnote for the psychedelic connoisseur, an era that had ended long ago by 1981. Roky decided to keep things going well beyond the trippy 60’s, all the way to the Reagan era, where instead of Acid and free love it was Cocaine and shooting the poor.
Slint – Spiderland
I am going to need some help here. Spiderland is allegedly a groundbreaking, super important album, one that ushered in the all-too important era of post-rock and math-rock or something to this extent. This is what I have been told, that it has been blessed by lord Albini and we should give thanks to it every day upon its grey-scale album cover altar. Thing is, I do not get any of that from this album. It is unbelievably boring. It is dull, repetitive, stagnate and completely soulless. Poorly recorded vocals are slapped on top, sounding grossly out of place, a lo-fi mumble that does little in terms of adding value to the drudgery that is Spiderland. Riffs repeat on end, with chugging drums and uninspired droney tones. You might argue that Slint ingeniously shifts in time signature, creating complex arrangements in 17/6 time. Great, cool, it does not help the music itself from being completely void of entertainment. This is Dream Theater for hipsters. A celebration of the technical for the sake of it. I put this album on with great excitement and anticipation, only to be disappointed by its complete lack of engagement. The musicians sound bored, or too self-interested for their own good. I was begging for this album to end so I could put on something less dreary. Is lauded 90’s music a joke?
Shellac – Terraform
Shellac is a personal favorite, humorous considering the above post. Yes, post-rock they may be, but always with enough wit and charm to avoid the pitfalls of their smarmy fan base. You know the ones, the folk that complain prog-rock is too pretentious, said while smoking their black and milds and holding their never to be read copy of Slaughterhouse Five. Shellac always seems just aware enough to not fall down the pit of their own creation. Terraform is an earlier effort, and treads much closer than later albums to its own destruction. The album opener is a slog, a droning repetitive exercise in tedium, which led me to being so close to giving up on, minutes will pass with darn near nothing occurring. Fortunately the rest of the work leaps with excitement, like an overeager terrier, ready to please, confuse, and engage. Styles begin to shift and the ideas condense. If something does not quite work it ends quick enough. It is a well needed sigh of relief considering the onslaught of drudgery that was Spiderland.
Pere Ubu – The Modern Dance
One of my secret loves is early New-Wave/Art-Punk pretentious bullshit what-have-you of the later 70s and early 80s. There was this amazing emphasis on driving bass and drum parts, that thundered like mastodons while the guitar is this thin near nonexistent ethereal tag-along. It is dance music for the sophisticated (aka, pretentious). Pere Ubu is a child of the era, monstrously quirky, outlandish, but with a relentless need to be itself, a K-hole dancehall. The Modern Dance is his first album, and it shows. Influential it may have been in its day, its age is apparent, with cracks in its foundation. Songs are a bit too disjointed, a bit too off the wall, and the vocals are bit too completely out of tune. There is plenty to love and admire, especially when we consider the era from which it came, but it never fired on all cylinders for me. I kept feeling like I was being taken out of the experience with befuddlement and at times even annoyance. It is a must listen to, as it is a primer to an adored era of music for me, but a purchase? I am not so sure.
Ange – Le Cimetière des Arlequins
French prog-rockers is not a term you really want to hear, much like German comedian, or Antarctic farmer (this one may change soon enough…), but surprised you may be as this album has a lot to love. Perhaps it is because that due to the non-English lyrics I can’t understand whatever conceptual absurdities they are yelling, or perhaps it is the less than forty minute run-time. Whatever the case may be, Ange deliver a brief and wonderful prog-rock romp with all the quintessential flares, like wild keyboard work, dynamic vocals, and complex musicianship. Have me think about it, and I would have to say what saves this album is the rhythm section, it is driving and ferocious, giving breathing room for the guitars and keys to play around, but not letting them run rampant and out of control. There is a grounded feeling to this album, ambitious, yes, a bit ridiculous, well what prog-rock is not, but most importantly it does not stink of pretentiousness. It is all approachable, as much as 70’s prog-rock can be approachable, much like early Yes records, but without all the capes.
Example – Impulses
Released in 1997 Impulses is for the hip-hop aficionado who felt the genre had gone astray since 1992. It is extremely retro, or better yet, traditional. Nearly the same beat plays throughout this brief album and features jazz and funk sampling. You might as well put it in a textbook it is so quintessential. Problem is that this is to the albums detriment. Nothing is wrong, but it came out 5 years too late and has nothing that helps it stand out. For the old-head as I think they are called, this will be a joyous reminder of the good ol days. For the rest, you have heard this music before.
Emerson, Lake, & Palmer – Tarkus
Truth be told I am not a massive ELP fan, I really did not care for Brain Salad Surgery, and most of the time I find their music a massive display of talent, but lacking in quality songwriting. Tarkus, a story about a giant armadillo tank looking thing as far as I can tell, is finally an ELP album I can enjoy. A full medley of wildly complex music, but fortunately it is also a complete joy to listen to, textbook British prog-rock. When you think of the lyrical content s well, its absurdity adds to its enjoyment. It is a bit juvenile, but all for the better. It shifts in style and tempo throughout, creating a lush world, and unlike most ELP albums it is not completely soulless technical masterbation. If you have exhausted In The Court Of The Crimson King or Close To The Edge this is a great addition to your nerd music repertoire.
Echo & The Bunnymen – Echo & The Bunnymen
As an adorer of early Echo & The Bunnymen albums this was a painful experience. A member of the early New-Wave, Art-Rock movement, Echo had some unbelievable albums early in their career. Released in 1987, this self-titled album is a sad display, absent of the painful sorrow and dour persona that enveloped the listener in their earlier work. Shiny pop polish and an upbeat tone create a by the numbers album with no real particularly interesting moments. Any album that has a song about “The Game” is likely not to do well in my books.
East – East
East was hyped to me as a curious also-ran in the great prog-rock explosion of the late 60’s and early 70’s. While competent, and featuring some traditional Japanese instruments, I found little to sink my teeth into that really stood itself out from the rest of the era’s music. This is a pretty significant problem too as there is a small mountain of similar music from the time. A bonus for aficionados, but for the less enthused you may be left wondering why bother. It is a bit of a shame too as it is not a bad album, it just doesn’t shine on any specific level.
Cluster – Cluster ’71
After listening to Zuckerzeit in February I was pretty hyped to get into the Cluster discography. I was eager to find more from the “Krautrock” scene (Despite this being mostly electronic). While Zuckerzeit was tight knit and methodical, being as German as it could, Cluster ’71 is an unfocused cloud of confusion. The few tracks are long, sprawling, and completely devoid of organization and structure. There is not method in Cluster ’71. Synthesizers are programmed to destroy and disregard form. It is a marathon of drone, whizz, whir, grind, and calamity. The casual listener will hate it for its lack of purpose. The snob will love it for no real reason beyond its absurdity. As a historical piece it is a curiosity, but not for the meek or the fan of rhythm or actual music. This is not real music. This is the sound of machines coming alive.
Cluster – Cluster II
A little less confounding, key word little. Cluster II is still a massively experimental work, dipping only a skeptical toe into the philosophy of song structure. This small step forward is just enough to pull it away from truly avant-garde and into purely experimental. When you consider when this album was recorded it goes from curious sonic odyssey and into the realm of true revolutionary. You can envision the industrial and esoteric music it would inspire in the future. Its grittiness is masterwork, yet its still bizarre enough for me to say it is not a must listen.
The Infidels – Mad About The Girl
80’s pop rock with a 50’s charm. There is a lot of music like this which begs the question why this album should get any of your time. Answer: it shouldn’t.
Mickey – Eye Witness
Oh cool, pitch-shifted plunderphonics. No one is doing that currently…I guess in 2015 it was a bit more original, but to go back to it now whatever initial wonder it may have had is gone.
SSQ – Playback
Say, how would you describe this 80’s synthpop music that you can barely recall because of its generic nature?
Adrian Belew – Flux By Adrian Belew, Volume One
Damnit Adrian Belew, get Flux on android. This music is amazing, but largely because it was so wildly erratic and unpredictable. A groove would form and be robbed from you seconds later, only to be replaced by some cutesy melody, which then would be stolen again for some super proggy stuff. It is completely unreal just as a compilation, and without the visuals and randomization engine the app uses. I find it to be a wonderful experiment in music and hope to hear more.
Dead Larry – Never Made It To Space
It’s like They Might Be Giants, but not as without such an infuriating singer. There were a few charming jams near the end, and with such a short runtime you aren’t hurting yourself by giving it a listen.