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.

Good Albums I Didn’t Review in April 2020

You know the drill! Another month has come and gone and that means that I’ve listened to a lot of good music that I couldn’t dedicate an entire review to. I really don’t want good things to go unnoticed, so here are some albums I thoroughly enjoyed from the month of April. As always, these albums would have received a score of 3.5 or higher if given a full review.

Warner Music Nashville

ASHLEY MCBRYDE – NEVER WILL–I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I’ll keep saying it. A lot of the best country music these days is being made by women. This new album from Ashley McBryde is the latest bit of evidence helping to prove my case. Not every song on it might be a winner, but the good songs on it more than make up for the weak ones. Sounds range from old-time bluegrass to modern, rock-tinged outlaw country and everything in between. Just another album proving to me that modern country isn’t a lost cause.

Freeways

FREEWAYS – TRUE BEARINGS–These guys are almost occupying the same realm as the Gygax album from last year. This is some old-school, Thin Lizzy-esque hard rock with riffs and dual guitar leads aplenty. The songwriting is really solid here and there’s really no filler on the album. If ’70s hard rock does it for you, you don’t want to miss this album. Maybe add it to your list for the next Bandcamp day.

Chrysalis/Partisan

LAURA MARLING – SONG FOR OUR DAUGHTER–Laura Marling’s music in recent years hasn’t done much to grab or hold my attention. This new album has changed that. Song For Our Daughter is some of Marling’s best work in years. The arrangements are more stripped back like her earlier albums, and her songwriting is incredibly strong and compelling. I wasn’t bored once in any of my listens through this one.

Horror Pain Gore Death

MOONS – GO OUT SWINGING–Okay, I’m more than a little biased with this one because I happen to personally know this band. But I wouldn’t be sharing it if I didn’t really think it was good. This is their first full-length album and they bring some truly heavy sludge metal riffs to the party. It’s not very long, but they make their time count. They’re also the type of band to use feedback as its own instrument. If you’re in the Philly area and you see these guys on a show bill, go check them out. Good time will be had.

4AD

PURITY RING – WOMB–Five years after their last album, Purity Ring have finally delivered their third full-length. I was beginning to get worried that we wouldn’t hear from one of the most unique synth-pop groups ever again. Womb doesn’t quite have the same hard-hitting trap EDM sound that their first albums had, but the ethereal atmosphere and creepy lyrics are still there. It’s nice to have new music from them, and I hope we don’t have to wait so long for more.

Dirty Hit

RINA SAWAYAMA – SAWAYAMA–This is one of the more interesting pop albums I’ve heard this year. Rina brings so many various styles together like dance pop, J-pop, and even nu-metal. She also pulls inspiration from some of the best pop acts of the ’90s and early ’00s. But none of these styles and influences clash with each other. Rina manages to mix and meld it all together in an ultimately impressive album.

Gates of Hell

SÖLICITÖR – SPECTRAL DEVASTATION–This is some old-school speed metal with badass female vocals, and it’s some of the best traditional metal I’ve heard this year. They manage to sound classic without sounding derivative and their songwriting is so good that they never sound samey over the course of their 40 minute album. This is definitely another one to keep in mind for the next Bandcamp day.

Brainfeeder

THUNDERCAT – IT IS WHAT IT IS–Funk fusion bassist extraordinaire Thundercat returns with a project that’s a bit leaner than 2017’s Drunk, but still packed with sub-2-minute jams. And that’s really one of the album’s weaknesses. A decent chunk of it feels like it was built around sketches and jams that weren’t fully realized. But when a fully formed track comes along, it’s great. The shorter tracks are still fun, just not as good as they could be.

Fat Possum

X – ALPHABETLAND–The legendary west-coast punks have come together and delivered their first studio album in 27 years and the first with the original line-up in 35! The formula really hasn’t changed for the band either. Along with classic punk, this album has their raw takes on classic rock and roll and rockabilly, much like their albums from the ’80s. The album ends with an observant spoken word piece recited by Exene Cervenka, giving a perspective of a punk who was there from the beginning.

Sean’s Favorites: 2011

Well, I certainly took my time getting to this one. Before you get too far, you might want to go back and refresh your memory of my 2010 list. But anyway, in 2011 I finished my second year of college and left that school for a couple reasons (let’s just say I didn’t transition well to the college lifestyle). The Marvel Cinematic Universe began to truly take root with the release of the first Thor and Captain America movies, NASA flew the last Space Shuttle mission, and Osama bin Laden was found and killed. The role music played in my life was pretty similar to 2010. I was still listening and reading as much as I could. I continued to discover new things and dig deeper into genres I previously hadn’t explored. Here are some albums that have endured for me from that time.

Capitol

BEASTIE BOYS – HOT SAUCE COMMITTEE PART TWO–4 years since their last album, 7 years since their last album with lyrics, and 13 years after their last great album (sorry to fans of To the 5 Boroughs), the Beastie Boys came back in the best possible way. They came back loud, funky, and ready to party. Hot Sauce fits nicely in the sound that the Beasties established through the ’90s with obscure samples, live instruments, synths, and punk rock attitude. Other Beastie Boy staples like instrumental funk tracks and the odd punk song are here too. This really was a return to form for the Beasties and it would become a fitting end to their discography. MCA sadly passed away from cancer in 2012 and Mike D and Ad-Rock announced that they would not make new music as the Beastie Boys a couple years later.

Nonesuch

THE BLACK KEYS – EL CAMINO–2010’s Brothers broke The Black Keys into the mainstream, then El Camino blasted them off the charts. The fuzzy guitars in the opening seconds of “Lonely Boy” tell you immediately that you’re not getting the slow-jamming R&B rock of Brothers. This is going to be a raucous, badass garage rock record, and you better buckle up. But the Keys haven’t forgotten their blues roots. “Gold on the Ceiling” and “Little Black Submarines” still have hints of their beloved delta blues. And later tracks like “Hell of a Season” and “Stop Stop” still pull from R&B. El Camino really is the total package and the crown jewel of the later half of The Black Keys catalog. They haven’t quite captured the same magic since.

Jagjaguwar

BON IVER – self titled–My ass was planted firmly on the indie folk bandwagon in the early 2010s. I had heard of Bon Iver, but my knowledge was limited to the song “Skinny Love,” I hadn’t heard the rest of the first album. When I saw that he had come out with a new album and it was getting very good reviews, I gave it a chance. I pressed play and was met with… not indie folk. I don’t really know how to categorize what I heard but it was beautiful and incredibly compelling. I put this album in my car stereo and it stayed there for months, despite not really being “driving music.” There are so many layers to uncover on this album. Even as I revisit it for this list, I’m hearing new things along with what made me love it in the first place.

Sensibility/Columbia

THE CIVIL WARS – BARTON HOLLOW–Sticking with the indie folk theme, The Civil Wars were one of many groups to emerge during the genre’s boom at the time. A collaboration between contemporary Christian singer Joy Williams and Americana singer-songwriter John Paul White, the band quickly proved they were not just another Mumford clone trying to capitalize on a trend. Their sound was much quieter (mostly), and their lyrics embodied feelings of longing and loss in ways that other songwriters only dream of. Barton Hollow itself plays almost like a timeline of a relationship with lighter songs leading to the explosive and raucous title track. The tone then turns to darker minor key songs and then ends with bittersweet goodbyes. Unfortunately we only got one other album from The Civil Wars before they called it quits, but they will be remembered as one of the better parts of the indie folk boom of the 2010s.

Samples & Seconds/Republic

GOTYE – MAKING MIRRORS–Yes, this is the “Somebody That I Used to Know” album, and that song is fantastic, but I think we can all agree that it was overplayed at the time. However, this album is so much more than that song. It’s track list has just one indie pop gem after another, some with hints of old school soul and R&B and even hints of Paul Simon. There is some art-pop weirdness here and there, but it’s way more accessible than it isn’t. I also feel like the fact that “Somebody…” became such a meme distracted from the strength of Gotye’s songwriting and his voice. You really should do yourself a favor and check out the rest of this album, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what you find. The only downside is this is the last thing that Gotye has really released. But I keep my fingers crossed in hopes of someday getting another album.

Universal

OWL CITY – ALL THINGS BRIGHT AND BEAUTIFUL–I feel like I’m going to lose a lot of music fan cred by admitting that I like Owl City. Say all you want about how he’s a more sanitized, ultra twee version of The Postal Service, but if you follow Adam Young, you find out that he has a serious DIY attitude and he just does what he wants, and I respect that. All Things Bright and Beautiful was his second major label release and, to me, the best example of the Owl City brand of synth pop. The instrumentals are super clean and precise with intricate percussion tracks. These back catchy melodies and lyrics that are full of metaphor and beautiful language (that is, admittedly a little cheesy, but way less than some found on Ocean Eyes). I could go on for awhile on this one. Maybe I’ll do a full write-up for it someday.

Pure Noise

THE STORY SO FAR – UNDER SOIL AND DIRT–By 2011, the emo and pop-punk bands of the late ’90s and ’00s had either disbanded or were making radio rock and bland power pop. It was enough to keep the fans happy, but the world needed a new class of pop-punk to bring the energy back. The new decade brought that with bands like Fireworks, Man Overboard, Real Friends, The Wonder Years, and Handguns. One that quickly rose to the top was The Story So Far who kept the catchy pop hooks but brought back the harder edge of punk with more raw vocals and energy that would permeate through the entire scene over the next few years. 2011 was a good year for pop-punk, and Under Soil and Dirt was one of its best releases.

Hassle

TURBOWOLF – self titled–In the last entry of this series, I mentioned that The Sword left me hungry for more riff-heavy hard rock and metal, but I had a hard time finding it. However, I was lucky enough to find Turbowolf while I was stumbling about in the dark. But Turbowolf is not your typical stoner or doom metal band. They do have sludgy guitars, an occult aesthetic, and riffs for days, but they also have the attitude and occasional speed of punk, the atmosphere of psychedelic, and the weird synths of horror punk. Mix this all together and you get the tasty, hard rocking riff smoothie of their self titled debut.

Vulf

VULFPECK – MIT PECK–Somewhere in Michigan, a few friends decided that they were going to start a band that tried to capture the vibe and sound of old live rhythm sections like The Wrecking Crew or the Muscle Shoals band. Little did they know that they were about to create the minimalist funk powerhouse of the modern era known as Vulfpeck. Mit Peck was the first collection of tracks they released into the world, containing songs like “Beastly” and the band’s signature track, “It Gets Funkier.” With this EP, Vulfpeck introduced us to their brand of retro-styled funk and soul, but more importantly it introduced us to the bass playing of Joe Dart. (We’re not worthy!)