June Quick Takes, Part 3: My Picks

And we’ve made it to the third installment of my June Quick Takes. Here we have the releases that aren’t necessarily the biggest name artists that I wanted to make sure I shared my thoughts on them. This will wrap up my scored coverage of the month of June. This will be followed by another round of quick takes for the month of July to get us all caught up to the current month, and I will hopefully be back to full album reviews in a couple weeks. But for now, check out my picks below from the month of June.

LuckyMe

BAAUER – PLANET’S MAD–Yes, this is the “Harlem Shake” guy, and while that song came out all the way back in 2013, this is only the EDM producer’s second full length album. And I would encourage you to not let “Harlem Shake” sour your opinion towards his music. I’m not really sure how to categorize the music that’s on this album. While he has moved on from the trap EDM of his earlier singles, there is still elements of it present. Specifically, some of the production here is beat-centric with minimal sounds outside of the percussion and bass, to the point of some songs having drops that are basically drums only. And these are mixed in such a way that they hit incredibly hard. There’s also a lot of world influence on some of these beats, giving them rhythms that almost compel the body to move. There’s even a track that dabbles in drum ‘n’ bass and the mandatory synthpop song. They’re not all winners, but it’s a very good album nonetheless. 4.0/5.0

Columbia

HAIM – WOMEN IN MUSIC PT. III–For their third album, the Haim sisters enlist the songwriting and production assistance of former Vampire Weekend member Rostam Batmanglij. This isn’t all that surprising because he worked on a few songs on their second album. But on Women in Music, he worked on the vast majority of the tracks. And his fingerprints are everywhere, to the point that several tracks sound like they could be Modern Vampires of the City era Vampire Weekend songs. But that’s not a bad thing! If you look back at my favorites from 2013, I hold up that VW album as one of the best of the decade, and the Haims obviously bring enough of their own influence to make this clearly one of their albums. In the end, this is a great pop rock album that is loaded with memorable hooks and enough left-of-center production to help it really stand out. 4.0/5.0

Earth Analog

HUM – INLET–I’ll admit that this is the first time I had heard anything from Hum. This album was surprise released back in June and I noticed a lot of people were really hyped on it. I gave it a try and I honestly liked what I heard. Their brand of alternative rock with thick, metallic guitar riffs was pretty cool. I was inspired to go back and listen to their ’90s albums and come back to view Inlet through a more contextual lens. And… my opinion of it decreased a bit. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still pretty good, but when you compare it to the albums from Hum’s peak, it comes across a little one-note and not quite as dynamic, even when compared to Downward Is Heavenward, the album closest to it stylistically. Again, this is still pretty good, but it could be better. Maybe, if this reunion lasts, a really great Hum album is in the future. 3.0/5.0

Dead Oceans/Night Time Stories

KHRUANGBIN – MORDECHAI–This is the third album from psychedelic funk trio Khruangbin. And as might be expected, the band does a good job of pulling off the sound of vintage soul and funk production with their songs. There are a couple tracks that have some really solid grooves and they even dabble in one or two world genres, like on the Latin influenced “Pelota.” But, the bottom line is that the majority of the album is just boring. Save for a few tracks, most of the songs are pretty slow burning tracks that don’t go much of anywhere over the course of four minutes or more. They just end up fading into the background and, before you know it, you’re one or two songs further down the track list. 2.0/5.0

Hospital

METRIK – EX MACHINA–I’m generally not much of a drum ‘n’ bass guy, but I do like a good EDM banger from time to time. And boy, does this new album from Metrik have some bangers. Metrik is an English producer who has been active for over 10 years. What impresses me about this album is that this is DnB music filtered through more modern EDM genres like dubstep and even synthwave. But there’s also an influence of rock music, like the driving verses on “Parallel” that recall down-stroked guitar rhythms, and the literal electric guitar on “Closer” and “Thunderblade.” The best tracks sound like a modern refresh of the kind of songs you’d find on the soundtrack of a ’90s Need For Speed video game. Unfortunately, the album is a little front-loaded with all the best tracks taking up the first half. That’s not to say the back half isn’t good, it’s just not as exciting as the first. 3.5/5.0

Dead Oceans

PHOEBE BRIDGERS – PUNISHER–In 2017, Phoebe Bridgers released her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. Almost immediately, other people wanted to work with her in some regard. Between then and now, she has collaborated in some way with Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus, Conor Oberst, Christian Lee Hutson, and The 1975. It’s like all these people recognized her potential and wanted to get on the Bridgers train before anyone else realized it. The thing is, it also appears that Bridgers realized the value of surrounding yourself with supportive and talented people. Nearly all of the people I mentioned contribute to this album in some way, and it’s that much better for it. Everything that made her debut great is improved and all the flaws have been fixed. The songs are personal and emotional and hit you just the right way, and they’re backed up with fantastic instrumentals. This is a real highlight of the year so far. 4.5/5.0

Night School/Thrilling Living

SPECIAL INTEREST – THE PASSION OF–Fair warning, this isn’t going to be for everybody, but if you’re into noisy industrial post-punk that leans more on the punk than the post, then you’re going to love this. I often say that some artists have a punk energy, but this band absolutely has one. They are always loud with lyrics that aren’t sung so much as shouted. Pulsing, unsettling electronic beats drive just about every song on the album, and they’re not afraid to let their drum machines distort or to throw in a little static to accompany their dissonant guitars. And the loudness and anger isn’t just an act. They come from the New Orleans DIY scene, and you sense that this is the product of a genuine, righteous anger. 4.0/5.0

Velvet Blue

STARFLYER 59 – MIAMI EP–Starflyer 59 is the indie rock project of songwriter Jason Martin, has been consistently active for over 25 years, and was one of the original bands on Tooth and Nail records. That translates to 15 albums and 9 EPs. Miami is the latest EP and the first in over 10 years, coming only a year after his last full-length album, Young in My Head. The track list has 3 new songs and 2 reworked tracks from the last album. Sonically, this is pretty much your standard Starflyer fare: guitar driven indie rock with influences from ’80s post-punk and alternative with the tiniest hint of Martin’s shoegaze roots. The only real deviation is a little flirtation with ’60s rock and roll on “Once More” filtered through the Starflyer sound. Martin’s consistency can end up being a bit of a curse rather than a blessing on longer albums, so this EP’s 19 minute run time keeps things from getting stale. If you’re not familiar with Starflyer 59, this is a good way to get introduced to their current style. 3.5/5.0

Sean’s Favorites: 2014

Yeah, we’re on a roll now! In 2014 I was right smack in the middle of full time engineering school, so keeping up with things like music took even more of a back seat. As such, this is going to be the shortest list of albums in my retrospective series. Yes, I know a lot of really good, and even important albums were released this year. But I’ll just remind you that these lists have to do with albums that were important to me at the time and have stayed relevant through the years. Engineering school must have been brutal this year, because I can’t remember much of anything else that happened in the world. And when I tried looking stuff up, it was all depressing. So we’ll just focus on the music this time.

Downtown

CHET FAKER – BUILT ON GLASS–Like everyone else, I was introduced to Chet Faker with his cover of “No Diggity.” I immediately bought his EP with that track. I loved his blend of trip hop, downtempo electronic, and soul vocals. He was one of the few artists I kept tabs on in this time of my life, so when his full-lenght, Built On Glass came out, I snapped it up. Nick Murphy (Faker’s real name) was already getting tired of being limited to his more soul-oriented sound, so Glass is split into two sides. The first is more like his EP and Blackstreet cover, and the second is more experimental electronic pop. I was surprised with the change, but I ended up liking some of the tracks on the second half more than ones on the first. “1998” in particular is still one of my favorites. Murphy makes music under his own name now instead of Chet Faker, and nothing has quite appealed to me the same, but I still check in once in awhile.

Last Gang

DEATH FROM ABOVE 1979 – THE PHYSICAL WORLD–Dance punk and dance rock are a couple genres that are weirdly specific but they sure do something for me when they’re done right. I also have a thing for rock duos, especially when the duo is drums and bass guitar. Death From Above 1979 happen to check all those boxes. The Physical World is the band’s second album, released a decade after their first due to a hiatus. Apparently the break was a good thing because they came back firing on all cylinders. The riffs and grooves hit just right with fuzzy bass lines and punk energy. I don’t think there’s a single skip on the album for me. They did come out with another album in 2017 but it didn’t quite capture the same magic. Let’s hope a future release can.

Big Machine

TAYLOR SWIFT – 1989–Yes, I’m publicly admitting that I like a Taylor Swift album, but I have my reasons! I personally believe that this album is monumental in Swift’s career because it’s the moment that she stopped kidding herself about being a country artist and fully embraced the role of pop star. Even Red, the album that came right before this was marketed as a country album when there was hardly anything to classify it as such. Swift also made the transition with a relatively simple synth-pop sound that contrasted with her typical over-produced country pop. Some songs even flirt with synthwave. The tracks might not hit as hard as say, a CHVRCHES song, but it’s the first album of hers that I can honestly say that I enjoyed. And there’s even a track that features and was co-written with Imogen Heap!

Vulf

VULFPECK – FUGUE STATE–Ever since their first release in 2011, Vulfpeck have faithfully released new material every year. There were a couple EPs before Fugue State, but this was the first one since their debut where every track is a winner and there are no skips. The title track shows the group flexing their classical music muscles (they are music college students, after all) and “1612” is their second collaboration with vocalist Antwaun Stanley. The rest of the tracks find the band playing even more with studio and production tricks to develop the signature Vulf sound. 2014 would also be the year that Vulfpeck would release the silent Sleepify album to exploit Spotify’s payment model. Seriously, if you’re not on the Vulf train, you really should go digging through their catalog.

Sean’s Favorites: 2013

Okay, getting to this one relatively quick compared to the last few. So let’s see… In 2013 I was in my second year at my third college, still pursuing my engineering degree. As I was deep into it, keeping up with music and such understandably took a bit of a back seat. As such, this list is much shorter than the previous ones, and the next few will be as well. It’s actually a little strange. I like to highlight key historical events in these intros and it’s like the whole world took a little break in 2013. Yes, stuff still happened, but the biggest universal thing I could come up with was the resignation of Pope Benedict and subsequent election of Pope Francis. Movies were a little dry too. The biggest things there were Frozen and Man of Steel. One took pop culture by storm and the other was a feeble attempt at recreating the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Anyway, below are a handful of albums from the year that have stuck with me.

Daft Life/Columbia

DAFT PUNK – RANDOM ACCESS MEMORIES–Anyone who knows me knew that this album was going to be on this list. Everyone’s favorite French robots took their sweet time releasing their 4th studio album. 8 years, to be exact (if you don’t count their soundtrack for Tron: Legacy). And after flirting with disco back on Discovery, they delivered pretty much a straight-up disco album with Random Access Memories. Never ones to do anything halfway, they recruit disco heavyweights Giorgio Moroder and Nile Rodgers, as well as modern heavyweights like Pharrell Williams, Julian Casablancas, and Panda Bear. This album has everything from massive electro-disco bangers that are over 9 minutes long (“Giorgio by Moroder”) to perhaps one of the catchiest and best composed minimal pop songs ever (“Doin’ It Right”). I also feel like this album either predicted or kicked off the recent re-emerging of disco in pop music.

Mercury Nashville

KACEY MUSGRAVES – SAME TRAILER DIFFERENT PARK–I listened to this album on the recommendation of an acquaintance who was a big fan of country music. I had expressed my dissatisfaction with a lot of modern country and he pushed this one on me, assuring me that I would like it. And dammit, he was right. Musgraves’ more folk-leaning brand of country pop and her honest lyrics immediately endeared themselves to me. One could even argue that this album qualifies as outlaw country with it’s musical portraits of middle America. I often credit this album as the one that got me into modern country music and assured me that good stuff can be found in the genre. And Kacey Musgraves has continued to make great music and prove herself to be a formidable force in the world of modern country.

Universal/Lava/Republic

LORDE – PURE HEROINE–Yeah, it’s another one that had a single that blew up and maybe got a little overplayed. But it’s also another one where that overplayed single kind of deserved all the attention and the album is full of other songs that are just as good or better. Lorde released this album when she was only 17 years old, which makes the quality of it all the more impressive. The world of pop music needed something to shake it up, and Pure Heroine‘s dreamy and minimal synthpop with lyrics that critique celebrity culture was exactly the thing. This was further emphasized by the way Lorde delivered here lyrics in a dreary and apathetic way, paving the way for future stars like Billie Eilish. This was an album that I listened to repeatedly, to the point of making myself sick of it.

Century Media

TESSERACT – ALTERED STATE–This album was part of my introduction to the djent side of progressive metal. A roommate let me borrow it when I expressed some interest (a year or two after it came out) and I was impressed. This was the English band’s second album and the only one with vocalist Ashe O’Hara. The album’s 10 tracks are packaged in 4 suites, each named in a way that completes a phrase started by the albums title (Altered State… Of Matter, Of Mind, etc.). What really left an impression from this album was the band’s use of odd time signatures, but still maintaining a groove. There are passages where you want to move your head with the chugging guitars, but you find yourself missing the beat as they take an unexpected turn. I believe this still stands as one of the better albums that came out of the djent boom.

Fueled By Ramen

TWENTY ONE PILOTS – VESSEL–I’d like to say that I knew about Twenty One Pilots before they were cool, but that wouldn’t be entirely accurate. A more appropriate statement is that I knew about them before they were on a major label but they already had a massive hometown following. I loved their blending of indie pop with hip-hop and dark lyrics with upbeat music. I was thrilled when I heard that they were signed to Fueled By Ramen and given a larger platform. The re-done tracks from their indie release were only made better and the new tracks fit with them well. And they took the world by storm like everyone knew they would. Admittedly, this album in particular has not aged all that well, but it’s still listenable. And the band only went up from here.

XL

VAMPIRE WEEKEND – MODERN VAMPIRES OF THE CITY–I feel like I’ve been talking about this album a lot recently, but I don’t really mind because it’s a fantastic album and one of my top favorites from the past decade. Vampire Weekend impressed me with Contra and then blew me away with Modern Vampires. I like to describe this album as taking the band’s sound to its logical, and sometimes absurd conclusion, bringing the trilogy of albums to a nice close. Songs on this album like “Diane Young” and “Everlasting Arms” inspire repeat listens even today, 7 years later. This would be the last album with Rostam Batmanglij as a member of the band, and the band would go on a bit of a hiatus, waiting 6 years before delivering the follow-up. Needless to say, they ended this period of their career on a high note.

Quarantine Quick Takes, Part 3: My Picks

Alright, this should be the last one before we get back to our regularly scheduled programming. Who am I kidding? This thing has never been regularly scheduled. But you know what I mean, we’ll get back to single album reviews. Anyway, in this last entry, we have some albums that I wanted to make sure I got to share my thoughts on. A lot came out in March, so I have a lot of thoughts.

Lesser Known

BRIAN FALLON – LOCAL HONEY–There are a few specific genres of music that I’m just a huge sucker for and heartland rock is definitely one of them. Brian Fallon, lead singer of The Gaslight Anthem, is one of the modern artists scratching that itch. His second album, Sleepwalkers, was one of my favorite albums of 2018. Local Honey is his follow-up and it’s a much quieter, more personal album. Despite this, the spirit of heartland rock is still very much present. With the exception of the murder ballad “Vincent,” all the songs are very personal, with half of them being love songs and one being words of hope and encouragement for Fallon’s daughter. There are a couple moments where I wish the song would go big and loud but that would defeat the purpose of the album. 4.0/5.0

Prolifica

CIRCA WAVES – SAD HAPPY–Earlier this year, I praised the first half of tracks released for this album back in January. The upbeat and catchy dance rock hooks were working a lot better for me than the band’s last album. I was hoping that they would continue the momentum when the full album was released. Now we have the whole thing and it’s a somewhat confusingly packaged double album with only 14 total tracks and a run time of 47 minutes. Unfortunately, as with most double albums, there are tracks that don’t need to be here and it runs out of steam by the end. This is a little concerning when you consider this album isn’t that much longer than your average rock album. It’s still better and more enjoyable than last year’s What’s It Like Over There? but cutting this down to a single album with 10 tracks might have been a better course of action. 3.5/5.0

Vortexan

ERIC JOHNSON – EJ, VOL. II–For 2020, guitar virtuoso and songwriter Eric Johnson has given us a sequel to 2016’s acoustic album, EJ. Much like that album and a lot of Johnson’s recent work, he is showcasing his songwriting and vocal abilities. This isn’t new, even Ah Via Musicom–famous for his signature song, “Cliffs of Dover”–has songs with lyrics. But anyone but his most die-hard fans will find the lack of electric guitar on this album a little disappointing. Is Johnson an accomplished musician across multiple instruments? Absolutely. Are his songwriting skills and vocal performances competent? Sure. Is anything on this album noteworthy? Not really. 2.0/5.0

Republic

PHANTOGRAM – CEREMONY–I’ve had an interesting relationship with Phantogram’s music. I fell in love with the trip-hop-meets-indie-rock sound on their debut. But they apparently decided that they did’t want to make that kind of music soon after releasing it. I’ve been unable to connect with the music on the following albums in the same way. Ceremony is the closest I’ve come and I’m sure that’s due to the fact that some of their trip-hop origins are popping back up on a few tracks. I’m sure it’s always been there, but it’s really front and center here. There are still tracks that just don’t grab my interest and some other just general weirdness. But this is the first time I’ve really enjoyed some Phantogram tunes in about 10 years. 3.0/5.0

Ruby Yacht

R.A.P. FERREIRA – PURPLE MOONLIGHT PAGES–Another one of those genres that I’m a sucker for is jazz rap. I am all about groups like A Tribe Called Quest and Digable Planets. Every year, I find at least one album that scratches my jazz rap itch. So far this year, that honor falls to Purple Moonlight Pages from R.A.P. Ferreira (formerly known as milo). As the “Rhythm and Poetry” on the cover implies, there is a bit more of a spoken word element to this than just rapping. But Ferreira delivers dense and conscious lyrics with clever rhyming and structures that call to mind the best lyricists of hip-hop’s golden age. And the jazz instrumentals just make them that much better. The album’s one major weakness is it’s length, clocking in at a stout 52 minutes. When your music is this dense, length is not your friend. Otherwise, this is a very enjoyable album. 3.5/5.0

UNFD

SILVERSTEIN – A BEAUTIFUL PLACE TO DROWN–Honestly, I had no idea that Silverstein has been consistently releasing new material this whole time. As such, this is probably the first time I consciously listened to new music from them in over 10 years. Which is a funny coincidence because a lot of the album sounds like music that was coming out 10 or so years ago. Given the gap in my listening history, I don’t know if this comes from a conscious effort to recreate the sound or the fact that their sound has changed so little over the course of 15 years. Either way, A Beautiful Place… brings the bad along with the good from the time. About half of the tracks sound like the more produced emo and pop-punk songs of the late 2000s instrumentally and lyrically. And some of the melodies sound like they came right out of an All-American Rejects song. But the other half is full of the things we fondly remember from post-hardcore and screamo from the same era. It’s not bad, but it could have been better. 3.0/5.0

Asthmatic Kitty

SUFJAN STEVENS/LOWELL BRAMS – APORIA–This latest release from celebrated songwriter Sufjan Stevens is a collaboration with is step-father, the Lowell from the title of his 2015 album Carrie & Lowell. The track list consists of mostly instrumental electronic compositions that came out of a jam session that occurred when Lowell visited Sufjan in New York. And it mostly sounds like just that: a bunch of electronic improvisations cut down into digestible tracks. It’s not unpleasant and there are a few moments of brilliance, but the overall impression I get is that it’s all just pretty “meh.” I know it’s not really fair to expect an artist as seemingly restless as Sufjan Stevens to stick to a particular sound or formula, but when you compare this to his previous work, it is a little disappointing. 2.5/5.0

Merge

WAXAHATCHEE – SAINT CLOUD–On this album, singer and songwriter Katie Crutchfield taps into the worlds and sounds of indie folk and alt-country. For me personally, the result is ultimately only okay. There are bright spots both instrumentally and lyrically, and sometimes it’s even on the same song. But one of the pitfalls of the peak of indie folk was forgettable songs for the sake of a sound or aesthetic. Saint Cloud unfortunately falls into that trap on more than a couple songs. That’s not to say it’s bad, the brightest moments shine especially bright. In the end it’s still a good album, just not a great one. 3.0/5.0

TYCHO – SIMULCAST album review

TYCHO – SIMULCAST

Mom+Pop/Ninja Tune

Electronic/Downtempo/Ambient

Okay, you’re getting a bonus review this week because I can’t compress my thoughts on this one down to a single paragraph for the end-of-the-month post. Simulcast is a companion album to Weather, Tycho’s release from last year. As such, I will be referring back to that album quite a bit in this review, so I highly recommend that you watch my review of it here. But the bottom line with Weather is that I liked it quite a bit because I happen to enjoy Tycho’s brand of laid-back electronic music and it’s inclusion of vocals from Saint Sinner gave it that little extra something.

Like I said, Simulcast is intended to be a companion album to Weather, but this time around it’s all instrumental. I actually hesitate to call this a new release because 3 of the 8 tracks on it are the 3 instrumental tracks from Weather with no changes (“Weather,” “Into The Woods,” and “Easy”). And the remaining 5 are just instrumental reworkings of everything else. So I guess you could call this a remix album? But only like, 5/8 of a remix album? I don’t know, the electronic music world can be weird sometimes.

It’s important to point out that while this is an instrumental companion to the previous album, the reworked tracks are not just the vocal-less backing tracks. They truly have been reworked. They have key defining characteristics that tie them to their lyrical counterpart and maintain the same spirit, but Tycho has given them new embellishments to fill in the gaps left by the vocals. These tracks also have new titles and most have longer running times. Interestingly, the only new title that gives you any hint to the original is “Stress,” a heavy rework of “No Stress” from Weather.

So the real question here is whether Tycho managed to sufficiently replace Saint Sinner’s vocals. The answer is… mostly. Some tracks like “Cypress” (companion to “Japan”), are still pretty basic and sound like backing tracks despite being stretched out to almost twice the length. Others like “Outer Sunset” (companion to “Skate”) have clearly recognizable parts but benefit from additional percussion and synths. And then there’s songs like “Alright” which I think is the companion to “For How Long,” but it honestly sounds like an entirely different song.

The second question is if the tracks are any good. And I personally think they are. People like to give Tycho a hard time because his music is so inoffensive. It’s background music for the kitchen or office, only slightly more creative than lo-fi hip hop beats to study to. And I won’t deny it’s good music for that, but I also think it’s impressive that an artist has set out to make music like this and still make it distinctly their own. Despite being electronic music, Tycho finds ways to make it feel organic with electric guitars and vocal improvisations (still provided by Saint Sinner, by the way). And these little touches make the songs unquestionably his, and very rewarding when listening actively with headphones.

At first, I wondered if this album was really necessary. Weather was already so good. Tycho took his music to new places when he incorporated lyrics. Did we really need an instrumental companion? At the end of the day, maybe we didn’t, but I’m not upset that it exists. The vocal-less tracks from Weather represented some of Tycho’s best instrumental work up to that point, and the reworks on Simulcast are just as good, if not better. And if there are people out there who wished that Weather didn’t have vocals, well now you have your wish. I do still think Weather is the stronger release here, but Simulcast is still a strong entry in Tycho’s catalog.

3.5/5.0

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in January 2020

One month into 2020 already. It’s almost hard to believe. Anyway, since I waited until the month was practically over to start writing reviews, I tried to make up for it by publishing two this week. Thank goodness there were a couple easy ones to write about. Since I was silent for most of the month, there were obviously several good releases that I didn’t review. As you clearly don’t deserve to be deprived of my recommendations and opinions, here are a few releases from January that I think might be worth your time. As always, these albums would likely have a score of 3.5 or higher if I gave them a full review.

Triple Crown

CASPIAN – ON CIRCLES–Post-rock isn’t a genre I really keep tabs on, but I do enjoy an album here and there. It can sometimes be tricky to make a good post-rock record. There has to be a balance between crafting vast soundscapes and enough variation to keep it from getting boring. Caspian are not boring on this album. Instead of being just guitar-based, they incorporate keyboards and synths and some of their songs are busier than other post-rock fare. It’s not particularly special, but it’s a good listen.

Prolifica

CIRCA WAVES – HAPPY–Circa Waves are releasing a double album this year, and their releasing the two halves digitally a couple months apart. This is obviously the first half, and I find it far more engaging than their album from last year. I don’t know if that’s because it’s in a smaller 20 minute package or if they’re leaning a little harder into the dance rock sound and their hooks are stronger. Either way, this is a pretty solid offering as far as modern indie rock goes.

Pretty Good

DRAGGED UNDER – THE WORLD IS IN YOUR WAY–This band is on my radar because a YouTuber I watch is their guitarist (Ryan “Fluff” Bruce). They’re a heavy band clearly influenced by the mid-2000s. Their sound has elements of metalcore, nu-metal, and hardcore. But their riffs come off with a welcoming familiarity, rather than cheap imitation. Fluff’s day job is mixing, so it’s no surprise that the mix on this is pretty good as far as self-releases go.

Merge

DESTROYER – HAVE WE MET–Daniel Bejar return once again and as usual, this one is pretty hard to nail down exactly what it is. I mean, it’s clearly a rock album, but there’s nods to synth-pop and new wave all over this thing. And Bejar’s stream of consciousness lyrics just add to the eclectic experience. Much like other Destroyer albums, despite all this weirdness, it draws you in and holds your attention. They know how to take their inspirations and write compelling songs around them.

ATO

DRIVE-BY TRUCKERS – THE UNRAVELING–On their 12th album, the veteran alt country rockers offer their perspective on Trump’s America. With song titles like “Thoughts and Prayers” and “Babies in Cages,” you can be sure they don’t pull any punches. All of it is sung with the conviction of a band that has to deal with this on a daily basis as they’re based in the deep south. If you’re not part of that world and wonder what it looks like from the inside, this album will give you a glimpse.

Napalm

KONVENT – PURITAN MASOCHISM–After last year, I’m hoping that slow metal has a better time in 2020. If this release from Konvent is any indication, I don’t think I have to worry. Konvent is an all-woman death/doom band from Denmark, and boy do they bring the heavy. What they don’t have in riffs, they make up in doomy vibes. This thing is dark, it’s heavy, it’s slow… It just ticks a lot of boxes for me, okay? And doom metal is always good when women are making it. I don’t know why, but it just is.

Warner

MAC MILLER – CIRCLES–Chalk this one up as one of the first pleasant surprises of the year. On this first posthumous release, producer Jon Brion pieces together what was left when Miller passed. Originally intended to be a companion to his previous album, Circles goes even further into the realm of pop and R&B and ends up being a better realization of the direction he started going on Swimming. It makes his passing all the more unfortunate, because it seems like he was on a promising path.

Iron Bonehead

REAPER – UNHOLY NORDIC NOISE–You have to respect a band that describes their sound right on the album cover. Unholy Nordic Noise is a very fitting title for this Swedish black metal outfit. They play really old school black metal. As in hardcore punk and D-beat black metal rather than tremolo picking and blast beat black metal. The recording is old school too, but not so lo-fi that it sounds like it was recorded on a potato. The vocals take some getting used to, but it’s a lot of fun. You won’t find them on Spotify, but they’re on Bandcamp, and you can download the album for €6.66 (the commitment!).

Warp

SQUAREPUSHER – BE UP A HELLO–I don’t know near enough about IDM or Squarepusher in general to give this a full review. I thought I had a rough grasp on IDM, but I wasn’t expecting what I got with this. Most of the tracks on here are frantic collections of sounds with no clear rhythm, but somehow still coherent? And even when the typical drum ‘n’ bass breakbeat shows up, the rest of the track just kind of floats around it. I don’t know how this measures up to the rest of Squarepusher’s catalog, but it certainly was an experience.

NICOLAS GODIN – CONCRETE AND GLASS album review

NICOLAS GODIN – CONCRETE AND GLASS

NCLS/Because Music, 2020

Electronic/Downtempo

Nicolas Godin is better known as half of the electronic music duo Air, but they haven’t released any new music as a group since their soundtrack for Georges Méliès’ 1902 film Le voyage dans la lune in 2012. Since then, Godin and his bandmate, Jean-Benoît Dunckel have focused more on side projects, film scores, and solo releases. Concrete and Glass is Godin’s second studio album following his 2015 release, Contrepoint.

The title Concrete and Glass is a reference back to Godin’s time as a student of architecture. The first lyrics we hear in the title track are “I’m looking for a house/made of concrete and glass,” filtered through a vocoder. I don’t know if this is supposed to lay some kind of thematic foundation (heh, architect humor) for the album. If it does, it’s definitely more of a metaphorical theme than a literal theme as the title track and “The Foundation” are the only tracks to directly mention anything related to architecture, and the latter is definitely metaphorical. The rest of the tracks have more romantic lyrics. Specifically they seem to be post-romantic, describing events after a relationship has ended.

Musically, the album sounds pretty much like an old-school Air album but within the musical context of the late 2010s. You still have your slow jamming, downtempo beats with African drums, funky bass, and the latin presets on vintage rhythm machines, but now you have elements of more modern genres and techniques like chillwave and vaporwave in the form of 808s and more ’80s-style synths. This isn’t a major stylistic shift, but more just a slight change in the range of years that Godin pulls his sonic palette from. Air always looked to the past for the building blocks of their sound, Godin has just broadened the scope. The only track that really deviates from a typical Air style is the final track, “Cité radieuse,” that takes things in a bit of a jazz direction. It’s a welcome change and ends the album on a highlight.

Five of the tracks on this album have guest vocalists and Godin does his best to complement what each guest brings to their respective track. The best results come on “Back To Your Heart” and “We Forgot Love,” featuring Kate NV and Kadhja Bonet respectively. Kate NV especially has a voice that recalls the airy pop music of the ’70s and ’80s, matching Godin’s aesthetics perfectly, though the song does get a bit repetitive. Songs featuring Kirin J Callinan and Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor are fine but not particularly special. Cola Boyy’s feature on “The Foundation” almost falls into the same territory, but his unique voice and Godin’s choices to complement it just manage to save the track. All other tracks feature Godin’s voice filtered through a vocoder, samples of what sound like GPS directions (“Turn Right, Turn Left”), or no vocals at all.

Overall, I think this is a pretty enjoyable album. Godin is operating well within his wheelhouse. And while there’s something to be said for experimentation, there’s nothing wrong with sticking to what you know when you do it this well. He makes welcome updates to the signature downtempo sound he developed with Air and he makes good choices with his guest vocalists. Concrete and Glass is a nice, relaxing electronic album to play in the background, or to enjoy quietly with headphones.

3.5/5.0