March Music Reviews
Drake's a dick, Big Sean is (suddenly) good, and Lighting Bolt made an album that defies their two-decade legacy.
BEST ALBUM OF THE MONTH
COURTNEY BARNETT: Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (Mom + Pop)
Aussie Courtney Barnett has a super-secret pocketknife that cuts cleanly through the bullshit of social norms. It neatly slices up the gnarled mass of convoluted dating games and traditions that need to be lifted to the light. The rest of us might be self-important, chests all puffed out, but Barnett's chest is concave. She uses that same knife to pop holes in our own chests, deflating us to proper size. Take, for example, "Nobody Really Cares if You Go to the Party." The title says it all, and, well, when a song tells me it's OK to stay in bed, away from people, I will take that shit as gospel.
WORST ALBUM OF THE MONTH
CLARENCE CLARITY: No Now (Bella Union)
Clarence Clarity is a creepy indie-funk guy who's on one of those "let's-make-things-weird-and-disruptive" kicks that aim to throw a seditious wrench into the works of boring old popular culture. And it's working, because Apple's latest big-name signing, Zane Lowe, has already declared him, with forthright vagueness, "part of the future—he's pushing the boundaries on every level, sonically and lyrically." Shit! What he didn't mention is that this is one of the top-ten most irritating albums this century. No Now? No thanks.
BEST COVER OF THE MONTH
ATA KAK: Obaa Sima (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
This is magnificent. Ata Kak is like the Ghanaian Sugar Man, except much better than that makes him sound. He recorded this mix of highlife, beatboxing, hip-house, electro-funk, and Francis Bebey–style minimal Afropop in 1994, but the tape—which was limited to 50 copies—vanished without a trace. When Brian Shimkovitz started the Awesome Tapes from Africa blog in 2006, this was the first find he shared, and it sparked a minor internet conniption, leading to Ata Kak becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. Any hype generated by this hectic, accidentally pitched-up, and slightly wonky slice of pop brilliance, though, is thoroughly deserved.
SPATULA FLANGE SKYWALKER
WORST COVER OF THE MONTH
TWO-9: B4FVR (Ear Drummer/Interscope)
Weed and skateboards are cool, but who ever learned something about human nature from weed or a skateboard? It's a good thing one of the Rae Sremmurd duo comes over to remind us what life is like by yelling he's a functioning member of society, or this could become one of those parties that you think is going to be lit but ends up being a few dudes in cool clothes sitting around and checking their phones.
Dark Sky Paradise
GOOD Music/Def Jam
You know when a meme has been shared so many times that even though you know it's dumb you have to admit you kind of enjoy it? That's Big Sean's career: He kept popping up, and for every two songs where he was cheesy or offbeat or vulgar, he had a third where there was a redeeming punch line or verse. And then it got to the point where he made the perfect DJ Mustard song with DJ Mustard and his album was actually weird and funny and cool enough that suddenly Big Sean was a rapper you looked forward to hearing on a song. It is 2015, and now Big Sean is good.
Young Fathers are kinda like Scotch. Like, I feel as a semi-intelligent adult human I should like it. It's complex and smart, and a lot of complex, smart people like it. It takes a while to get. But guys. Scotch tastes like fucking garbage bacon. Young Fathers aren't exactly garbage bacon, but they certainly aren't... regular bacon. At times they seem genuinely on to something—channeling the more accessible TOTR discography, splashing around with playful pop. Sometimes interesting drumbeats happen. But in general, it seems all over the place and hell-bent on its complexity. Just be real and order bourbon.
Maybe it's my roots in the jaw-grindingly rural South, but I really, really like meth rap. What's meth rap, you ask? Anything by dudes who rap so fast and aggressively that it would be really funny if they ever made a love song. This is the kind of rap that dudes who do meth listen to, since the only way to take in all of the words at once is to be on meth. Tech N9ne is the boss don of meth rap, because he's from Kansas City, Missouri, which I'm pretty sure is one gigantic meth lab. Anyways, next time you blow a rail of crystal, slap on some Tecca Nina, you'll thank me later.
Who knew that you could take hard trap rappers from Atlanta and throw them in the studio with a French techno producer and end up with something that sounds like all the fun parts of the last Kanye album but on space meth? Brodinski, that's who. This record reminds me of all the movies in which a robot plays the hero.
I dunno, I'm kind of over Drake. Like, Take Care is some Marvin Gaye–level sad-egomaniac brilliance, but ever since then he's mainly just rapped about how dope it is to be Drake. Which I sort of get—every rapper raps about how dope it is to be himself, but when Drake does it, it's like he's emphasizing how dope it is to not be you. Which is kind of this shitty psychological warfare waged against everyone who isn't Drake. I already can't afford to get my car washed; I don't need Drake telling me every 30 seconds that he's going to steal my girlfriend. He used to be the greatest rapper in the world because he was relatable, but now he's just sort of a dick.
Dream a Garden
It's a noble aim, trying to rewire electronic dance music to address 21st-century anxiety and the corrosive effects of capitalism on the human spirit. Guess the problem comes when you get the finished record and it feels a bit like an 80s Prince album with a swirling black hole of depression where the thorny little penis should be.
Drippin' for a Tripp
If you've ever wanted to know what mysterious Norwegian DJ Sotofett is all about but were too afraid to ask, then the bumper Drippin' for a Tripp lays things out pretty sweetly. Between his fruity disco cuts and hectic junglist workouts, Sotofett hooks up with kindred spirits Jaakko Eino Kalevi, Phillip Lauer, and Gilb'r for several tracks of soft Balearic noodling and sunny calypso riddims. Listen closer and you'll realize it's the sound of bumming around a beach in Goa with some funny-looking Eurotrash who by the end of the trip are your best buddies.
Lease of Life
The wee Scottish island of Jura is where George Orwell lived when he wrote 1984 and where art pranksters the KLF claim to have burned $3 million in cash. Just in case its place in popular culture looked a bit shaky, we can now add that Glasgow's Errors recorded Lease of Life there, presumably in the hope that some of the island's radical allure would rub off on them. And it did, or they at least worked out how to use a synth properly and combined this with some meaningful life experiences and a choir, because this album is soulful and uplifting and satisfyingly weird. It might even be moving. Never thought I'd say this, but Errors are actually quite good.
As exciting and weird as a lot of footwork is, let's have it straight: It usually sounds like it was made by accident because a dog pissed on a badly wired sampler attached to a sound system in a crack den. By harsh comparison, the luxurious debut by Jlin feels like a limo ride through all the frightening bits of Blade Runner on codeine and diazepam.
YOU'RE THE ONE FOR ME, ROY BATTY
Grumpy New Jersey disco don Mike Simonetti cut ties with Italians Do It Better, the label he founded with Johnny Jewel. Now he's hooked up with another Mike—Mike Sniper of Captured Tracks—to found label 2MR, and he has this new band in the bargain. It's a collaboration with Elizabeth Wight of Silver Hands, and if I tell you their woozy dance-floor raptures aren't exactly light-years away from Glass Candy, that's certainly not to rain on anyone's parade.
In the space of about 36 months at the end of the 80s and the start of the 90s, Ro Maron (real name: Rembert De Smet) holed up in a dark studio in Belgium and bashed out track after track of oozy, slo-mo proto-techno under names like Zsa Zsa La Boum, Sleepwalker, and Miss Nude. They called it new beat, it sounds like acid house after several large flagons of Trappist ale, and this 30-track compilation suggests that the little-known De Smet was one of its most skillful practitioners.
EAST INDIA YOUTH
With his tweed jacket and side part, William Doyle looks like a chemistry teacher from a 1950s English boarding school, yet this has in no way hampered his progress as the bright young thing of bookish British synthpop. After last year's Total Strife Forever, East India Youth's second album is a glorious genre-smashing success that marries Scott Walker and John Foxx sci-fi balladry with Pet Shop Boys romance and Underworld-style techno transportation.
Tossing around some pretty wild and unfounded assumptions here, but I'm going to state quite openly that I doubt Chile has a space program of any real stature. I'm fairly sure they do, however, have access to a shit-ton of pharmaceuticals that, when you think about it, are probably useful in the crafting of minimalistic space-rock jams that go on for more than ten minutes. Apparently German electronica dude AtomTM is on here playing one of Kraftwerk's synths, a nugget of info I can't wait to regale friends with while they desperately try to think of ways to change the subject.
WAKA FLOCKA SEAGULLS
More vicious, nihilistic crust hardcore apparently out to reinforce the notion that Scandinavia is not in fact the liberal, egalitarian paradise with good knitwear of left-wing broadsheet fantasy, but a bleak and oppressive hellhole populated by depressed alcoholics. Halshug's name means "to decapitate," which completes the list of everything you need to know about this record.
The trouble with space is that if you go out far enough it eventually becomes featureless and boring, as UFOmammut inadvertently proved on their last song, "Oro," a 90-minute track spread over two separate albums in 2012. Luckily, the Italian trio of hairy astronauts have reined it in for an album packed with blink-and-you'll-miss-'em ten-minute apocalyptic doom dirges that sound like Christopher Nolan's colossal ego getting sucked out of his anus and straight into a black hole.
There's no doubt that purists will hate this album. It doesn't re-create what it feels like to be confused and tightly packed into a throng of aggravating and sweaty bellends, trying to catch a glimpse of Lightning Bolt while some twat with dreadlocks named Jasper punches you in the back of the neck. It also pisses all over the Providence duo's two-decade legacy by providing something that doesn't sound like you've had a can of partially congealed malt liquor poured in your ears and been hit in the face with a shovel, instead revealing the fiendish complexity of what the two Brians are capable of for the first time ever.
BRI BRI BABY
Flesh Throne Press
Obviously hippies are terrible, but funnily enough I don't mind a whiff of patchouli when it comes floating in on a tide of otherwise fetid doom metal. English duo Pombagira have named their new double album of cryptic dirge and shoegaze-tinged sludge after a post-burial process in which grave dirt intermingles with cadaverous flesh. On the bright side, in the photo Pete Giles appears to be wearing a paisley shirt. See what I mean? It's a nice balance.
He's an old soul in a young man's body—that's what they say about Ryley Walker. They're not talking, like, your dad, wearing slippers 24/7 and not really caring how loudly he farts. No, they're implying that this young Chicagoan fingerstyle dude is tapping the same cosmic folk vein as Tim Buckley or John Martyn, and that the swirling, orchestral folk rock of Primrose Green sounds like it's tanked up on cider and stamping its foot at God's own Sunday-afternoon get-together. In particular, "Summer Dress" is just about the bittersweetest thing since Nick Drake decided he was going upstairs for a nap.
Escape from Evil
Perhaps you recall Jana Hunter as one of those crone-like twentysomething folk ladies in the vague orbit of Devendra Banhart, one with a voice that sounded like a crackly shellac record possessed by the spirit of an old washerwoman who fell over and died in a ditch in 1903. Well, forget all that, because now she's back with an alarmingly close haircut and a band that plays cinematic and serious rock music destined to be deemed "quite good" by couples who squeeze each other's hands while listening to the National.
Time to Go Home
The world is a mountain of shit. People are fuckwits. But hey, there are still a couple of things worth engaging with, and this record is one of them. Chastity Belt are the coolest sluts (relax—it's one of their song titles) in Seattle. They went through the old-fashioned indie grind—made good sounds, toured 'em, made better ones, put out a record, toured it—before getting to make this mighty-fine LP via Sub Pop's Hardly Art imprint. It's a smart, jangling riot from beginning to drunk, giggly end.
This World Is Not Enough
Sacred Bones/Posh Isolation
Sorry, guys! Elias Bender Rønnenfelt is done with being your punk-rock jailbait. The Iceage singer is the hot mess at the center of this new Danish supergroup—also featuring members of Lower, Hand of Dust, and Puce Mary—and the mood is set to sweet, sweet soul. Along the way, there's Tindersticksy balladeering ("Dark End of the Street"), some ridiculously popping bass lines ("King of Song"), and, on "Hungry For Love," the best front-man-gets-himself-into-a-sexy-lather interlude since Nick Cave last loosened his collar.
Seeing Chilly Gonzales live is an intense experience, like watching the spirits of Erik Satie and Rowlf the Dog from the Muppets battle to control the soul of a big, hairy Jewish guy who's seated at a piano even though it looks like he just got out the shower. Chambers is effectively the third in his Solo Piano series, although, as the title suggests, this time there's some nice chamber-music strings. This does mean there's a notable lack of high-perspiration rapping about having three testicles and being the greatest, but y'know, next time.
$HIT & $HINE
54 Synth-Brass, 38 Metal Guitar, 65 Cathedral
The disconnect between $hit & $hine live and on record used to be stark. On paper they were simply one of the best live bands out there, while their records often fell under "easy to admire." Things changed after a series of releases on Diagonal, and now that they're with the hub of Brit psych, Rocket Recordings, things have gotten even better. This is the album Craig Clouse always threatened to give us, smashing together Brain Ticket–style Krautrock, Basic Channel techno, Rembrant Pussyhorse–era Butthole Surfers malevolence, Godflesh-strong industrial metal, and Black Ark dub. Don't get me wrong, it's fucking horrible—but that's what you were holding out for, right?
NO $HIT $HERLOCK
While every other Johnny-come-lately is using his synth to make pastiches of John Carpenter soundtracks, maverick Brit Matt Loveridge runs in the opposite direction, with flaming pants on his head, gibbering wildly. This odd but ace, cheap-as-chips synth-punk album draws on Suicide, the Units, and ancient English folk and is more like the soundtrack to an ultra-violent gay porn film based on Judge Dredd's terrifying sub/dom relationship with Walter the Wobot.
After the heaviness of the Chaudelande anthology and a whole bunch of EPs, the world's finest psychedelic exploratory unit is back with a new studio album, and naturally it's a triple. The first third crawls past in a haze of Throbbing Gristle improv electronics, portentous spoken word, mid-90s post-acid ambience, and dubbed-out free skronk. The pulsating jewel in the crown that acts as a prism to be placed directly in front of your third eye as you stare directly at the sun is undoubtedly the colossal "White Privileged Wank," a juddering, overdriven acid dictator of a track that eventually collapses under the weight of its own awesomeness.
Sometimes I go to a rock show and wonder why an 85-pound androgynous vegan with pearly-white teeth and an expensive leather belt is standing feebly on a stage and whining over power chords about his romantic insecurities. Some bands shouldn't be allowed to exist, and I would be perfectly fine with a rock 'n' roll authoritarian coup if the guys from Pile were its Bolsheviks. This band fucking slays—Rich Maguire's voice sounds like he ate raw venison and then washed it down with two and a half liters of Wild Turkey, but he could still sing you a lullaby.
I don't even really know what this is—if it's hip-hop, R&B, or what—but it reminds me of a dream I once had in which I was a kid who grew up in NYC. I had a Really Cool Older Brother who got me into black metal, and my parents would smoke weed and listen to King Tubby on my dad's $10,000 stereo, which he bought with the royalties from the one Wes Anderson movie he co-wrote. If that were actually my background, I might be cool enough to make music like Yung Gutted.