The Roundup: October 2017
I was asking for colder weather, but this seems a tad ridiculous. Jeez it got chilly fast. You know the drill. New music, new month. This is The Roundup.
Amon Düül II – Yeti
All Kraut is not created equal, nor does it sound the same, yet here we are trying to cram the same genre label to this as we do to Kraftwerk. Why? I have no idea. Amon Düül II is far from the pulsating driving type of Kraut that was popularized by Neu! and the bunch and more in the line of British Prog-rock, just with some quirky Germanness. Being early in the “movement” you get the sense that the quintessential “Kraut” sound had not quite cemented itself yet, which is good. There are a lot of ideas swirling around in this weird little sound of music. Kris, one of our co-hosts noted recently the Kosmiche Musik (cosmic music) is a more preferred term for Germany’s experimental tunes of this era and that seems quite fitting. It is reverb dense, lacking the overly spritely nature of the British Prog masses, instead it is dark and sprawling before that was really a concept. The only thing dragging this album down is that in reality it is two albums. One, a peculiar prog/psych inspired album that was clearly ahead of its time, and two, a bunch of improvisation nonsense that is crammed at the end of the album for… some reason. Really, there is over 30 minutes of improvisation just tacked on. The improv is not bad at all, it may not be a as good as some legends like Can and King Crimson, but it is still very good. I just do not understand its purpose or really what is gained for its placement on the album. As it has been glued to the album’s end it is forgivable as one could simply gloss over it without concern. How considerate of Amon Düül II, to note my concerns in 2017.
Applehead – Crepxian Interligne Mixtape
An elusive mixtape which I had heard once in between sets at a concert has finally come int my hands and the wait is worth it. Over an hour of obscure European prog-rock, 70s horror soundtracks, and funky in-betweens is a fever dream for any hardcore crate digger. Andy Votel’s keen sense of sequencing means the music carries its own narrative, like the movies it once accompanied, a tense searching for clues erupts into violent chase scenes and descends into chaos, over and over creating this Mobius strip of tension, yet at the same time grooving ultra hard. It infuriates me that Votel purposely will not release the track list for this mix due to his keen desire for the content to remain in obscurity. That’s fine Andy, I hate you for that, but I’m keeping this on repeat until Shazaam can finally figure it out.
The Breeders – Pod
Much like the last The Breeders album I reviewed Pod is another creative twist on the grunge music of the early 90’s. A few years before the boom, Pod may not necessarily precede the invention of grunge, but appears to have conquered the concept well before the juggernauts of the era had commercialized it expertly. In a sense, Pod is a pure incarnation of grunge, the innocent, hipster in the basement incarnation before money was involved. It was before the Marshall stacks were a must and volume was keen. The music is thinner, less dense and less suffocating, with quirky stop-starts and room to breath. Many of this would be stripped from 90’s alt-rock as superfluous which is criminal as the genre would eventually become a joke on itself, and dare I say a gateway drug into the knuckle dragging nu-metal of later years.
Brian Eno – Reflection
It’s Eno, it is ambient, and he doesn’t drone on about “The Ship” for a solid hour. There is a classic feeling to this recording, a nod to the older era of Eno, with more subtle shifts, but enough changing gears to give a few ear candies among the soothing drone. It is meditative and cozy, but not boring, which is a huge risk for this style of music. Classic, but as always a dice roll for the general audience as 50 minutes of formless soothing waves of calm is not on everyone’s bucket list of music.
Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION
Carly Rae Jepsen is something of a cursed artist, talented, capable of creating an ear-worm, but somehow just a bit too off-center to maintain the same limelight that enchants similar artists. Perhaps it is due to her refusal to realign herself with the demand of the general public, perhaps it is because she is Canadian, or maybe it just bad luck, but whatever the case despite her creative insights she seems relegated to being an also ran in the world of pop music. It is a shame too because E•MO•TION is a really sharp record, a well orchestrated marriage of 80’s and modern pop music, creating a blend of retro yet modern music. I get how this ham-stringed her and prevented her from crashing into the upper echelons, but also somehow has disabled her from being an indie darling as well. It is a strange purgatory for one to land in. Too poppy for the hipsters, to hip for the mainstream, and therefore stuck in some place where no one will listen despite there being so much reason to.
Chelsea Wolfe – Hiss Spun
Previous Chelsea Wolfe albums have blended doom-laden and drone heavy rock with melancholy and post-rock influences to create all absorbing walls of despair, but at the very least they were comforting, like a blanket made of barbiturates. Hiss Spun is less comforting, more gritty, but still full of slow builds and crushing waves. In other words, the blanket is less soothing, and more dangerous. Wolfe’s voice is as enchanting as ever, reminiscent of Beth Gibbons of Portishead, pained, and yearning for something better. Sadly, some of that anguish appears lost in the saw-blade agitation of the distortion dominating guitars and occasionally to crushing drum work. Wolfe’s best work, to me, has been when she has been able to carefully balance the line between anger and despair, creating a sense of restrained rage, an acceptance of futility, but with Hiss Spun to she ventures too far into anger for me. That doesn’t make for a weak record, but simply one that doesn’t seem to showcase Wolfe’s strengths.
Death From Above 1979 – Outrage! Is Now
A bass and drums, drum and bass if you will (HA, music-genre jokes). I had caught what appeared to be the last 3 minutes of this band’s Coachella set a few years back, and it left me curious for more. The hardcore aesthetic but without the blitzkrieg insanity of Lightning Bolt, the only other band I know of with this set-up of instruments, had me curious as to how they would create anything resembling music with just a rhythm section. The answer seems to be that you create pretty standard pop tunes that are reminiscent of 2006 My Chemical Romance. Although maybe not as deep into the Emo genre, but certainly heavily influenced by it, Outrage! is now is nearly 40 minutes of Live Journal angst, but with no charm to it. The vocals are cringe-inducing and what should be a crushing line-up instruments tends to be pretty pedestrian, and designed for a Hot Topic changing room. The limitations this duo put on each other should have led them to a creative niche, but instead forced them to imitate something that has been done long before, just with more people.
Dispatch – America, Location 12
Dispatch, the one tolerable jam band, is back with their first album in five years. I always admired Dispatch, clearly in a similar camp as Umphrey’s, Guster, Phish, and similar acts of dude-bro frisbee throwing chill out tunes, but unlike other acts they were able to craft a fun pop hit and not just relentlessly fart around. America, Location 12 has a strong aroma of contemporary dad-rock. It is far mellower than their older work, which in itself was not exactly ablaze with fury. It is still distinctly Dispatch, with vocal harmonies, blues and folk influence, and a chill-out vibe which fans will love. As a more casual listener I applaud the crafting of a more relaxed album that clearly demonstrates crafty song-writing, engaging hooks, and a likable sound. Life most music of this genre, it is pleasant, but there is just enough to keep it above jam schlock.
Dr. Octagon – Dr. Octagonecologyst
Mid-90’s pre-horrorcore rap, at least I think that is what this was. It was hard to tell as it Dr. Octagon seems to blend shock with toilet humor. Songs about murder are mixed in with random sex jokes, stories of botched surgeries, and a commitment to the narrative that we are in some Adult Swim inspired hospital. Somehow, despite everything working against it, the album does work, but that is contingent on how much leeway you are willing to give this modestly bonkers concept album. The production is airtight, and considering its 1996 release date heavily creative, void of influences of the era that ran dominant. Dr. Octagonecologyst operates in its own universe musically and verbally, as MC Kool Keith delivers off-kilter lyrical delivery, antithetical to the times, and to the music itself. This gives the album a modern feeling in 2017, as it was far off from the norm of the mid-90s. I am not super keen on the stoned teenager lyricism, but otherwise you are given a strange universe to dive into that is a window into a world of alternative hip-hop that was just beginning to exist in 1996.
Freddie Gibbs – You Only Live 2wice
This album was fine. Not bad, not best of the year, but completely serviceable in the continued argument that Freddie Gibbs deserves a seat at the hip-hop table. There is a dated feeling to the lyrics, reverting to an era where drug dealing, and endless copulation were a must in rap lyrics despite that we have ventured far beyond this thanks to wiser artists. The instrumentals are serviceable; sparse, but competent. There, that is the word. Competent. This album is competent. I guess that is something.
Foo Fighters – Concrete and Gold
I’ve heard the radio singles, and one EP two years back of the infamous Foo Fightesr, but never a full LP. That is my awareness of the Dave Grohl mammoth that is Foo Fighters, the equivalent in stature to the legends of the 70’s, filling arenas and selling copious merchandise as if it were necessary for the apocalypse. I was smitten then, truly, at the opportunity to listen to new release from the band, and give it a genuine fair shake. Yes, my cynicism may know no bounds, but I am at least willing to give a fair chance to any band. I was surprised at how aggressive this record was, bristling with screaming and blood-curdling howls from front-man Grohl. Being a novice, I was not aware the band was so aggressive, but what I quickly learned is that the term “I was not aware the band was so….” was a common expression for a Foo Fighters album. There is an innocence to Grohl, the human equivalent to a young labrador pup, dough-eyed and eager to try everything, and try everything he does. Grohl knows how to write a popular rock-song and he also is eager to replicate every style of rock music he has heard. Concrete and Gold starts violently aggressive, as if he had just heard of Deavheaven for the first time, but quickly shifts and morphs into multiple different genres and sounds as it stampedes along with a complete lack of awareness. I would be fine with this somewhat ADHD fumbling around if it ever felt like the band was breaking out of their mold. Everything constantly feels just a hint too restrained for its own good, a bit too planned out, and unable to break free of the need to sell CDs and fill concert seats. With a bit more of a lack of concern about the need to keep the money coming in perhaps the band could have truly broken into their next era….perhaps, I have no clue as I have never finished a full album. Instead, they continue to make consistently catchy rock music, try some new ideas, but never commit to anything beyond good.
Gogol Bordello – Seekers and Finders
Gogol Bordello is under no obligation to consistently produce drunken chaotic gypsy punk rock, but to say it when it does it is playing to its strength is an understatement. This is ever present in their latest release, where the band decided to venture into mellower, poppier, and friendlier waters. The final result being a boring nightmare of pointless pop-rock akin to mid 00’s indie-rock darlings, just without the charm of the era. Gogol’s strength is its cultural roots, and the ballistic nature of them, like a flaming clown car. Similar to when Mumford and Songs decided to cast their heritage aside, the remainder is bland and painful to listen to. Songs drag, desperate for any value or meaning, but incapable of finding any. The songs are soulless, joyless, and worst of all boring. A truly dreadful disaster of an album that should be forgotten about forever.
If we collectively pretend it doesn’t exist maybe it truly does not