The Roundup: September 2017
The weather is getting colder, or wait….no it didn’t. Somehow September was warmer than August. Wisconsin is weird. This is another round-up.
Arcade Fire – Everything Now
Roughly 3 years after their big giant disco monster Reflektor, Arcade Fire return with more disco music. Only this time the catch is that it is not that enjoyable, creative, and one massive step backward. Reflektor, although long, took the band in a new direction, calling upon a multi-decade old era of music, but with a whimsical blend of cultural hi-jacking to create a Caribbean dance club hybrid. Everything Now has half of this formula, and without that charming other half what we are left with is pretty bland music, that while at times catchy, sounds like a collection of uninspired songs that check boxes. While I am not an Arcade Fire fan per say, I would never say they produced a ‘By the Numbers’ album until now. A real strange misstep for an aggressively original band.
Brand New – Science Fiction
Unless front-man Jessie Lacey has had a change of heart this is the final album by alt-rock darlings Brand New, a band that started as a Taking By Sunday spin-off and morphed into melancholy in rock form. Their evolution demonstrated a band willing to shed their history in order to allow for truly creative efforts to unfold. Pop-punk churned into emo-rock churned into a post-hardcore inspired alternative force. Science Fiction is a confounding album, as in some avenues it continues the trend of honoring the creative forces that really put the band on the map while on the other it dives head first into schlock power ballads and cringing guitar solos. It is a strange concoction that works except when it is not. Jessie Lacey’s heartfelt wallowing is encroached upon by half-hearted sway your lighter croonings that sabotage the good will being generated. Lacey seems to play in two realms, providing a swan song for Brand New’s split audience. The half that are (wrong) and love the earlier, pop-punk honorings, and the other (correct) half that came on board for the high-brow post/alt dreariness. Nice of him to wave good-bye to both, but I feel the former has long left the stadium, and no benefits are gained from acknowledging them.
Dälek – Endangered Philosophies
Dälek is the hip-hop underdog that never broke through into the big league despite its truly endless influence on big league acts like Death Grips, Run the Jewels, and Clipping.. After years of silence they resurfaced in 2016 with Asphalt for Eden, a true return to form, full of distorted dread and poisonous word play. Dälek seemed to be back in action, ready to pick-up from where they left off. So then a year later we get another Dälek album to our surprise, and for the first time ever I found their wall of dread to be, well, not very exciting. The instrumentation never seems to hit the high-marks established in previous works, and keeps things very basic and unevolved. As per normal, the word play is still a masterful intertwining of social justice, anger, and hopelessness, but somehow it all just never quite clicks the way it Dälek typically does. There is this by-the-numbers feeling that permeates throughout, and for an experimental hip-hop group to accomplish that something must be misfiring significantly. Still, Dälek is operating above their peers on many levels, which means a Dälek misfire is still not that bad.
Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
I have known of Lana Del Rey for years now, probably heard a song or two, but this is the first time I actually sat, and stood, and cleaned, and wandered around, and listened to Lust For Life. Lana is a gifted song-writer and lyricist, capable of creating crushingly morose melodies and vocal play that leaves a listener wanting to call their mom and apologize for, well anything. In theory then, Lust For Life is a solid musical concoction, but cracks start to form around the 30 minute mark where you realize this train is not stopping yet and you are not even halfway done with the album. This is dense album, without many breaks, chances to breath, or more problematically, variations in the music. Each of the 16 songs has this plodding pace, this near lack of formation, just a molasses like existence that while depressingly beautiful is suffocating. In bite-sized chunks its a treat, all at once and its a stomach ache.
Foster The People – Sacred Hearts Club
After listening to this album the two words that came to my mind were “electronic toilet”. What a vapid exercise in tolerance this 42 minute digital shit-heap is. Foster The People seem eager to pull a Maroon 5, and ditch any instruments for by the numbers electronic rhythms which begs the question, does anyone actually do anything in this band? Probadbly not because it appears no thought went into this formulaic cash-grab dumpster of bleep-bloops. I don’t know if the band actual playing instruments would have helped, but the best song, the minute and twenty second Orange Dream, does leave one wondering.
Burn any store down that has this album in it
Gorillaz – Humanz
I feel I did this album a disservice by only giving it a single listen. This is an involved album, as nearly all Gorillaz albums are, overflowing with layered nuances and creative interjections. Now, that is far from stating that Gorillaz are perfect, as for as many Kids With Guns, there have been….well a lot of Plastic Beach. I get the sense Humanz will not be charting the top of the best of lists. The reaction, as far as I can tell, has been positive, but not Demon Dayz level exasperation. Perhaps that is simply because the fake monkey band is no longer culturally in vogue. It is a shame too because this fifth album, even on one listen, is a sound collection of songs. That is what it boils down to, a great mix of songs. There are a few ‘meh’ songs in the bunch, but this is another high-quality Gorillaz album that the weirdos will gather around to get stoned too, and the straight-laced kiddos will find too strange to really appreciate aside from a song or two. I like that. I like this album.
Tyler, The Creator – Scum Fuck Flower Boy
Tyler’s hipster ICP horrorcore rap has never really been for me. While a single will periodically grab me by surprise most times I find myself bored, annoyed, or insulted by his necessity to shock and offend. He is immensely frustrating, as it is hard for me to deny that he is indeed a highly skilled lyricist and song writer, but he simply has the uncanny knack of sabotaging his good fortune by acting in deliberate defiance of himself. Songs like Yonkers are near perfection only to be muddled by casual use of the word faggot when there was simply no need to do so. Scum Fuck Flower Boy, or Flower Boy as some publications call it, is the first Tyler album where I feel fully on board with what he is doing. His history of trippy moments in Wolf is meshed with his slightly experimental nature found in Goblin and Cherry Bomb. There is a greater emphasis on the former, as the album borrows heavily from the burgeoning cloud rap world, but he knows how to spike to punch-bowl just enough. This is Tyler utilizing his interpersonal brakes for once, not letting himself get ahead of his best ideas in favor of pulling his pants down to upset grandma. Of course it is still Tyler, so do not anticipate a fuzzy and warm album, but to me this finally feels like the perfect balance of crassness and self-reflection. Tyler doesn’t need to be politically correct, but he benefits from at least holding back on his worst attention-grabbing antics. For me, this album is a full on weirdo success.
El-P – Weareallgoingtoburninhellmegamix!!!
Pre-Run the Jewels El-P was a confounding, amorphous, self-deprecating hip-hop demigod. Hidden in the underworld of New York City, El-P was never one for the conventional, even in his most restrained moments he ensured he would take the listener for a wild and disturbing ride. In a strange response to September 11th, 2001 El-P opted to cobble together this strange amalgam of random songs he found interesting, instrumentals in the works, and completed songs all the while a booming voice periodically reminds you the name of the mixtape, usually once every 30 seconds. Viewed as a personal reflection on the emotional density of the time it makes perfect sense. As a commercial item it is strange, bloated, modestly copyright infringing, and dare I say frivolous? Even aside from the grating announcement of the title every minute or so its just a rather cumbersome reaction that must have been very personal.
Goblin – Roller
Italian prog-rock, now I am getting deep into this strange world of self-declared highbrow music. One thing I have grown to love about exploring the same genre of music from different parts of the world is how you discover the cultural trends that each country or continent interjects in the music. Goblin may have plenty of influence from the British, but there is enough uniqueness that allows it to stand on its own. True to their roots as a band making film scores, there is something soundtrack like to this music. The songs create little worlds that are easy to get sucked into, short brief little stories unfold in musical form. Not to mention that at 35 minutes this is easily one of the shortest prog albums you will ever find. That in itself is a feat to behold.
Mobley – Young Adult Fiction
A year into my fandom and I am only now diving into the deeper back catalog of Mobley. There is a certain uncertainty to these songs, as if he is not quite aware of the music he wishes to make or is destined to make. His strong foundation in “post-genre pop” is not quite clear here. There is a frailty to the music, an easiness or even perhaps a lack of confidence. Concert show-stoppers like Torch and Young Adult Fiction feel timid and questioning of themselves. This is all a good thing though, as it shows the innocence of a young artist coming into his own. Without a big label to gloss over these details we see an artist forming and developing his ideas as a musician. The songs here are still solid, full of lush ideas, just without the assertion that would come from his follow-up. It is a must listen in order to better appreciate his process and his development. Beyond that its a tremendous collection of songs, making 24 minutes feel far too short.
Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
A reverb drenched synth/post/indie rock album that tickles the sense and delights the ears. Crunching synth bass tunes create deep trenches from which sharp and erratic drum licks can play around, giving the near perfect backing for wire-thin guitars, other electronica, and melancholic vocals. There is a level of danceability to this album while also being a perfect album to sit and watch the snow too. Grizzly Bear’s penchant for drowning their music in reverb is still here and still a bit much for my personal preference, but the song-writing is top notch, putting other acts that are relying heavily on electronics to shame. It is a reminder that electronic/rock hybrids do work, you just need to know how to do it.
Blondie – Pollinator
Blondie is a cultural icon, embedded in the New Wave lexicon with legendary hits that will forever be played at retro dance nights. Strange how Blondie has survived long enough for their era’s music to come back around. It begs the question then if Blondie can remain relevant in the game they helped bring to the spotlight. There is definitely something deliciously 80’s about Blondie even in 2017. Everything has a retro feeling to it, and not in a synthetic manner, but in an organic sense. There is this time-warp sensation that Pollinator grants you, bringing you back to an era many of us were not even alive in. Sure, there are moments that remind you this the here and now, such as lead singer Debbie Harry’s inability to hit high notes as well as she once could, but it is kind of crazy that at 72 she has no problem belting out these numbers. Considering some of the complete duds in this realm of music I have listened to recently it is a delight to hear such a competent album, not earth shattering, but delightfully well constructed. Some songs like Best Day Ever would have been better mentioned than heard, but overall the older fans will have a nice nostalgia trip, the rest of us can learn how to make a synth-rock band work.
Hawkwind – Doremi Fasol Latido
blah blah blah did you hear how Lemmy revolutionized Hawkwind blah blah blah, wait, is he even on this album? I could check wiki, but I’m opting to skip that step and just talk about Hawkwind as the focused unit of musical madness. Early 70’s, prog rock is at its apex, and while Hawkwind had hints of that sound in their earliest albums this album opted instead for loads of flange, phase, and crushing riffs. Complicated songs are opted-out for straight forward jams that are nearly suffocating under surreal effects. They are obnoxiously long, mostly clocking in at over six minutes for now other reason besides to be skull rattling. It all works too, these numbers have this endless mind-altering effect feeling to them, perhaps because the sound itself is pure intoxicating, like a substance in sound form. Most importantly, despite the truly psychedelic vision and ideal that is being pushed through on this record it is always rooted, it never flies off the rails in self-congratulatory gibberish. Strange, but grounded, a must.