Words About Music
You know how it is.
February is the year’s shortest month. Yet, the month was ridiculously stacked in terms of great releases. Not everything I heard as a hit, but let’s take a look at all the album’s releases. Here’s what’s up.
As always, the albums I was psyched about are arranged from best to not best. The other categories aren’t arranged in any particular order.
ALBUMS I WAS PSYCHED ABOUT:
Jordaan Mason “The Decline of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization”
One of my favorite albums ever is a mysterious little BandCamp album by one of Canada’s true visionaries. Jordaan Mason is a singer/songwriter that combines the vocal stylings of Jeff Mangum with the instrumental scope of Swans and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. His last album, the aforementioned favorite, is 2009’s “Divorce Lawyers I Shaved My Head.” Half a decade later, Mason is back with an album that possibly even tops that one. “The Decline of Stupid Fucking Western Civilization” is a sprawling, intense listen. The poetic lyricism is passionate and terrifying, and the instrumentation evokes all iterations of post-rock simultaneously. It’s a climactic, cathartic album that I encourage you all to seek out.
Okay, so this one came out at the end of January, but I didn’t hear it until February started. And, boy am I glad I listened. “Xe” is the latest album from long-running avant-garde group Zs, which features Liturgy drummer Greg Fox. “Xe” is a fun, creative record that combines the diverse sounds of Battles with the mathematic precision of a prog-rock Steve Reich. It’s a true sonic journey that doesn’t require lyrics to be interesting. “Xe” is a dynamic record that will please fans of Don Caballero and all the math rock bands that followed suit.
Father John Misty “I Love You, Honeybear”
Father John Misty has improved his sense of irony and his ear for music since his last solo album, 2012’s “Fear Fun.” “I Love You, Honeybear” is the opposite of a sophomore slump. It’s an album that improves upon its predecessor’s strengths and replaces its weaknesses with more strengths. This album is a contemporary love story set in our age of instant information, gratification, and distraction. It’s a truly powerful album that is equal parts sexy, hilarious, and beautiful. There’s not a song on here that won’t weasel its way into your head, and it’ll probably stay there for the rest of the year.
Your Old Droog “Kinison EP”
Now that we know Your Old Droog isn’t Nas’ alter-ego, we can fully appreciate the MC for the talented man he is. “Kinison EP” is a short, sweet ode to the diversity of ’90s alt-rock through the lens of modern hip-hop. Across this thirty-minute EP/mixtape, Droog refutes late comedian Sam Kinison, samples Captain Beefheart, and recalls life as a Rage Against the Machine fan. It’s an album that is loaded with cool references, backed by insane production, and demonstrates Droog’s many capabilities. Whether hip-hop or rock is your preferred genre, you should fall in love with “Kinison EP” the way I did.
Adventures “Supersonic Home”
Who would have thought the members of Code Orange were such softies? Adventures is a Pittsburgh-based band that also happens to share several members with acclaimed hardcore group Code Orange. Adventures makes a very different kind of music, though. “Supersonic Home” is a great indie rock album with a sound all its own. There are some distinctively heavy ’90s guitars and soaring vocal melodies, as well as genuinely catchy song after genuinely catchy song. “Supersonic Home” isn’t an entirely original effort, but it’s a strong debut with plenty of pop sensibility.
Drake “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late”
Drake surprise-released this commercial mixtape so that he could satisfy his agreement with Cash Money Records, but it definitely feels like more than that. “If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late” is an incredibly strong tape, and it features plenty of songs that will probably end up on my eventual list of Drake’s best songs. Drake exhibits all his strengths on this album, and the beats are certainly no laughing matter. No one intersects the sibling worlds of hip-hop and R&B quite like Drake does, and he demonstrates this here more than anywhere else.
Mount Eerie “Sauna”
The domain of creepy atmospheric music belongs to Phil Elverum. He proved this on The Microphones’ excellent albums, and he proves it time and time again with his Mount Eerie project. “Sauna” is the latest, and longest, member of Mount Eerie’s discography, and it could very well be the eeriest. Elverum fuses folk, drone, black metal, and ambient music in incredibly disturbing and beautiful ways. The music on “Sauna” is diverse and very intense, and features some goosebumps-causing vocal harmonies.
Open Mike Eagle “A Special Episode Of EP”
Last year, Open Mike Eagle put out “Dark Comedy,” an excellent album that I pretty much missed until the year was over. Fortunately, I didn’t miss “A Special Episode Of EP,” a sort-of companion piece to that album. It’s very short, but it is still a very solid EP that shows Mike’s many abilities. He’s a gifted rapper that isn’t afraid to get down to Sufjan Stevens, and that accessibility definitely shows. Though it’s not quite as good as “Dark Comedy,” this EP is great both conceptually and musically, so don’t miss it.
Dan Deacon “Gliss Riffer”
Dan Deacon is one of dance music’s most exciting personalities, and that’s not only due to his live show. He also makes upbeat music that doesn’t sound like anything anyone else has ever made. “Gliss Riffer” is an anxious, explosive album that I definitely recommend, even if you don’t like dance music a whole lot. It’s not Deacon’s best, but it might be his catchiest, and it’s definitely a step-up from 2012’s “America,” though I liked that album quite a bit as well.
Screaming Females “Rose Mountain”
Just some good ol’ fashioned angry guitar rock. “Rose Mountain” is Screaming Females’ sixth album, and it’s a true feat that the band still sounds as good as it does. While I don’t enjoy this album quite as much as I enjoy its predecessor, “Ugly,” the band still has a sound that I’ll love no matter what. Marissa Paternoster’s abrasive voice and impressive guitar leads come across as always, and the album is fairly cohesive. It’s a likable album, but probably not one I’ll be returning to a whole lot.
ALBUMS I WASN’T PSYCHED ABOUT
Matana Roberts “Coin Coin Chapter Three: River Run Thee”
This is the latest in jazz experimentalist Matana Roberts’ ongoing series of albums detailing the black experience throughout history. The past two albums have dealt with spastic free jazz and operatic modal jazz, but “Chapter Three” is a different beast entirely. This album is more of an ambient sound-collage, lacking percussion and discernible instrumentation. A cool concept, and one that I did find myself enjoying for a time, but it doesn’t quite stand up to Chapters One and Two. With each album comes a new direction, however, so I’m sure “Chapter Four” will rectify any wrongs committed by “Chapter Three.”
Title Fight “Hyperview”
So wait, Title Fight is a shoegaze band now? The former punk band has gone through a drastic change of pace for its third album, and “Hyperview” definitely isn’t particularly bad. Instead, it’s in a similar league of decent-but-not-quite-great shoegaze bands like Nothing and Whirr, who do a great job at duplicating the sound but don’t really advance it further. “Hyperview” is good for a specific time and place, but there are other, far better shoegaze albums you could reasonably prioritize and prefer.
A Place to Bury Strangers “Transfixiation”
Another shoegaze one. Okay. While A Place to Bury Strangers has a more defined sound than Nothing, Whirr, or Title Fight, it gets boring when that sound is copied over each album. A Place to Bury Strangers is a very noisy band, and its first two albums are examples of fairly great contemporary shoegaze/noise rock, but “Transfixiation” is stagnant. It feels like it was phoned in to fulfill a contract, which is okay if you aren’t into diversity or variation. For me, though, “Transfixiation” isn’t an album worth listening to more than once or twice.
BADBADNOTGOOD & Ghostface Killah “Sour Soul”
Oh, how I wish this was a better album than it was. “Sour Soul” was destined for greatness, but it faltered, mostly due to unremarkable lyrics from Ghostface and a laid back approach to production from BBNG. It’s also an unfortunately short album, and I would’ve liked it more if it felt like either party took the project more seriously. It does have a handful of great tracks on it, though.
The Pop Group “Citizen Zombie”
It’s been 35 years since the last time we got a new album from The Pop Group. It probably would’ve been better if it stayed that way, since “Citizen Zombie” is all over the place and cleanly produced. This is a different band than the group that recorded “Y” and “For How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder?” and the band still has its own definite sound, it just feels awkward. It’s not a boring album by any means, and I wouldn’t expect it to be up to par with the band’s previous work, but that doesn’t mean I need to like it.
Metal band Torche has been on the circuit for about ten years, and since then it has always pushed the boundaries of metal. It’s here that sludge metal becomes pop very quickly. While I love Torche, specifically the band’s last album “Harmonicraft,” this album isn’t much of an update or progression on that formula. It sounds cool and it’s a decent metal record, but I hoped for something catchier and less repetitive.
Future Brown “Future Brown”
An awkward-sounding array of British garage beats latched onto lackluster verses from rappers I’ve never heard of and probably won’t seek out anytime soon. Not for me, but I’ve heard people say good things about this album. If you want to hear what a cleaner version of Burial’s music would sound like if it were remixed by SoundCloud struggle rappers/singers, you should check out “Future Brown.”
Big Sean “Dark Sky Paradise”
This is technically Big Sean’s best release, but it’s also just not good. It’s about as exciting as a J. Cole album produced by DJ Mustard. Actually, it’s even less exciting than that, because a J. Cole album produced by DJ Mustard sounds pretty cool. “Dark Sky Paradise” features some great tracks like “I Don’t Fuck With You” and “All Your Fault,” but apart from that it’s a pretty boring LP, thus proving to me that Big Sean doesn’t really have anything going for him as an MC.
THEESatisfaction’s cosmic mix of soul, R&B, and hip-hop is better in practice than in execution, but that doesn’t mean you should ditch “EarthEE” entirely. It’s still a decent record. I just don’t have much desire to hear it more than I have. It’s like a more relaxed, less challenging version of Shabazz Palaces’ sprawling epic “Lese Majesty,” which I grew to love. Maybe I’ll grow to love “EarthEE,” but I doubt it.
ALBUMS I DIDN’T LISTEN TO
Kid Ink “Full Speed”
Who actually listens to Kid Ink? I’ve heard his name mentioned in passing, but I’ve never read anything positive about his music on any hip-hop forum I frequent. This one’s probably not worth checking out.
Ricked Wicky “I Sell the Circus”
I barely listen to Guided by Voices as it is, though that band does have some truly fantastic albums. In the midst of the band’s second breakup, I don’t feel any obligation to hear lead singer Robert Pollard’s new solo project, Ricked Wicky. If my Pollard hunger was truly that bad, I’d probably listen to one of his millions of albums, either solo or with GBV.
Murder by Death “Big Dark Love”
By principle, I don’t listen to bands that call themselves Murder by Death. Especially when that band is seven albums deep into an indie rock career that has spawned nary a recommendation from anyone I know or any comments I’ve read. Maybe I’ll check out the band one day, but I won’t start here.
John Carpenter “Lost Themes”
I don’t really dig it when film stars or directors make music, but I have a deep respect for Carpenter as both a filmmaker and as a musician who scored many of his own films. Maybe I’ll check it out, and I hope it’s better than David Lynch’s music.
Bob Dylan “Shadows in the Night”
Old ass Bob Dylan covering jazz standards made famous by Frank Sinatra? Well that’s a series of things I don’t care about at all. “Five stars.” — Rolling Stone.
Carl Barât “Let It Reign”
I’ll just wait for the new Libertines album, thanks.
Imagine Dragons “Smoke + Mirrors”
Is this an equation? Smoke + Mirrors = A band whose fans I will probably never be able to take seriously? Smoke + Mirrors = I can’t believe Kendrick Lamar agreed to collaborate with the Mumford and Sons of mainstream rock music? Nothing radioactive about this band, except that its boring, repetitive music is actively played on the radio ad nauseam.
José González “Vestiges & Claws”
Confession: I’ve never listened to a single thing by this guy. Not even his famous cover of The Knife’s “Heartbeats.” Maybe I should, but I probably won’t. There are other acoustic guitar somber indie singers for me to concern my ears with.
Chris Brown and Tyga “Fan of a Fan: The Album”
A domestic abuser and a pedophile together on one album? Say no more! I guess containing the garbage in one space slices the likelihood that I’ll come across either artist in half, but it also doubles the album’s objectionability.
Kid Rock “First Kiss”
Who doesn’t remember their first kiss? Hot summer’s day, back of a rusted pick-up truck, the smell of stale beer in the air, and “Bawitdaba” playing gently in the background.
Gang of Four “What Happens Next”
I guess what happens next is I listen to Gang of Four’s seamless late-’70s discography and ignore the rest.