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

Great Albums Made by Women in 2019

Last year, in an attempt to make myself a little more woke, I challenged myself to create a list of albums that highlighted great music made by women in addition to my normal list of favorite albums from the year. My decision to do it again was reinforced by the fact that I listened to over 1000 albums this year and less than 15% were by women or groups fronted by women. That number might be different for you, but on average I believe women make up a severe minority of the music that gets consumed. There’s a lot of great music being made by women that deserves to be highlighted, so take a look at what I’ve put together here and maybe add one or two into your rotation.

Republic

ARIANA GRANDE – THANK U, NEXT–This album was released only about 6 months after Grande’s previous album, Sweetener. And it was a pretty tumultuous 6 months. Ex-boyfriend Mac Miller had passed away and her engagement to Pete Davidson was called off. Much of thank u, next appears to be inspired by these events with direct references to her exes, ending relationships, and the ways that she coped with them, both healthy and unhealthy. Lyrically this is Grande’s most personal and vulnerable album, an aspect that is reinforced by the fact that there are no featured artists. This is easily the best album that she’s released so far.

Dead Oceans

BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER – self-titled–This group is a collaboration between singer-songwriters Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst. The former being one of the most promising and exciting songwriters to come up in the past few years and the latter being indie folk and emo royalty. The album claims to follow a concept, but it must follow it very loosely. The important thing is this is one of the best collections of folk rock tunes released this year. Bridgers has yet to really disappoint me in anything she’s involved in, and Oberst sounds like he’s genuinely having fun. It’s certainly one of the most interesting things he’s been involved in for awhile.

Scofflaw

DIALITH – EXTINCTION SIX–Symphonic metal is a difficult genre to pull off. There’s a balance you have to strike between the orchestration and the badass metal riffs. Dialith strikes the balance right where I like it with a bit more emphasis on the metal. Their orchestration doesn’t sound like it’s played on a cheap keyboard (an especially impressive accomplishment when you remember that this is an unsigned band). Finally, but certainly not least, vocalist Krista Sion has a beautiful, near-operatic voice that complements the music without over-singing. The songs are never overblown or over-done. No one element tries to steal the spotlight from the others. Overall it’s a very impressive debut.

Polydor/Interscope

LANA DEL REY – NORMAN FUCKING ROCKWELL–I used to be a pretty outspoken critic of Lana Del Rey when she first came onto the scene and accusations of her being inauthentic flowed freely. Over the years though, my opinion has softened as she’s turned herself into something of a real deal. Her songwriting and stylistic choices have only gotten better over time and Norman Fucking Rockwell is where they really go to the next level. Cries of insincerity go right out the window track after track, bolstered by the quieter instrumentals on this album. There are a couple missteps, but it does have just about the best Sublime cover I’ve ever heard.

Nice Life/Atlantic

LIZZO – CUZ I LOVE YOU–I know it’s kind of “the thing” to like Lizzo right now but truth be told, if you’re going to do pop rap, this is the way to do it. Lizzo is an incredibly solid songwriter and you can quickly tell that there’s some decent substance here. Her lyrics are full of feminist and positive messages delivered without a patronizing tone. The instrumentals are inspired by funk, soul, and disco of the ’70s and ’80s with a couple clear nods to Prince. These aren’t songs that exist to just be hits, deliberate care was put into them. Like I said, this is pop rap done right.

Compass

MOLLY TUTTLE – WHEN YOU’RE READY–I mentioned Molly Tuttle’s album earlier this year, and it’s managed to remain one of the most impressive country and Americana albums of the year. Like I mentioned in that video, Tuttle is a very talented guitarist and songwriter. She’s not only the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award, but she’s one it two years in a row. Her playing is on display on a couple tracks, but it’s also there in many others for those who listen for it. Her songwriting is impressive as well, so even casual listeners will enjoy this.

Rhyme & Reason

PRONOUN – I’LL SHOW YOU STRONGER–Pronoun is a bit of a one-woman indie-pop band project by singer and songwriter Alyse Vellturo, and it’s some of the best damn guitar pop I’ve heard this year. I’m not quite sure exactly what genres and decades intersect on this album or where, but I think I hear some ’80s thrown in there with some early 2000s indie pop and a couple others. The real draw on this album for me though are the hooks. Some of the guitar hooks on here are just so strong that I have to stop what I’m doing to listen, and sometimes I’ll even play the song again. I’ll definitely be looking for Vellturo’s future releases.

Kanine

TALLIES – self-titled–Speaking of solid indie pop, we have Tallies with their self-titled debut. This is like a modern take on new wave with some surf tendencies. Reverb and jangly guitars abound with single-note leads played throughout the tracks. I’d compare them with Real Estate or maybe DIIV with some more modern surf like Best Coast thrown in. The new wave influences come in with some clear nods to bands like The Cure, especially their more pop leaning tunes. It’s great music for a summer cruise with the top down.

Prosthetic

VENOM PRISON – SAMSARA–I wasn’t going to let you go without mentioning at least one more metal album on this list. Venom Prison mix death metal with elements of hardcore without going full deathcore, and it’s some truly brutal stuff. A true highlight of the band is vocalist Larissa Stupar. The female voice always brings a unique quality to harsh metal vocals, and Stupar’s is especially powerful. Her lyrics take the traditionally dark and disturbing themes of death metal and use them to bring the horrors of misogyny and rape culture to light (that is, when you can understand her). They also tackle subjects of fascism and mental health, making this not only a brutal album, but a socially aware one.

Sub Pop

WEYES BLOOD – TITANIC RISING–I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t get this one at first. This album was getting so much hype and I just wasn’t seeing why. After a few listens it finally hit me what an accomplishment this album is. The production here is just absolutely spot on. Weyes Blood just nails that Carpenters-esque ’70s soft rock and makes it sound timeless rather than retro or dated. Natalie Mering’s sentimental and somehow hopeful lyrics guide you through the struggles of life in the modern world. This is easily one of the prettiest albums of the year, and I can’t believe I almost missed it.