Words About Music
It’s time to do another one of these, loyal fans. So many excellent albums came out in March that it was hard to keep track, and I’m sure there were a few that came out that I missed. Feel free to send me your recommendations, while I give you mine. The albums that came out this month I loved will be put up in order from most favorite to least most favorite, but the albums I didn’t like won’t be put up in any specific order. Let’s do this thing!
ALBUMS I WAS PSYCHED ABOUT:
Death Grips “The Powers That B”
Death Grips is the most important band to come about in my life time, and I’ll stand by that claim until another band comes along that is equally prolific, mysterious, and consistently awesome. “The Powers That B” has been billed as the Sacramento trio’s swan song, but with a post-breakup (but did they ever really break up?) tour on the horizon, I wouldn’t be surprised if they put out a new album next month. This double album is a hard, harsh record of cryptic raps, busy Bjork samples, and psychedelic guitars. Some of the band’s best songs are on this album, and it’s just excellent. Fans of challenging music should give Death Grips a listen, but if you’ve been on the internet at all in the past 5 years, there’s a distinct possibility you’ve already felt the wrath of the Grips.
Kendrick Lamar “To Pimp a Butterfly”
Every time I think Kendrick can’t possibly be better at what he does, he comes back and completely obliterates all expectations. “To Pimp a Butterfly” is way more than a sequel to 2012’s “good kid, m.A.A.d. city.” It’s an ambitious statement on blackness, fame, and crime. Lamar tackles racism in a way that backpack rappers wish they could. “Butterfly” is a funky west coast hip-hop odyssey with direct callbacks to Dre and Snoop, who both play small roles on the album. It’s an album about self-loathing, self-love, addiction, sex, and history that makes nearly every other hip-hop album look insignificant by comparison.
Liturgy “The Ark Work”
Calling Liturgy a black metal band has never felt right. The band’s 2011 album “Aesthethica” dabbles in black metal sounds, but four years later, the New York outfit is far removed from those sounds. “The Ark Work” features droning, chant-like clean vocals, math rock riffs, and impossibly fast drumming. It’s a long, unfriendly affair that is likely to polarize fans even more than “Aesthethica” did, but I think the busy, noisy nature of this album only adds to the excellence. Chimes, bells, and glockenspiels ring while MIDI trumpets and synths disorient. It’s a tough album to unpack, but I think it’s definitely worth it.
Sufjan Stevens “Carrie & Lowell”
Every time the Suf comes out with an album, there’s at least one song on there that can be on the shortlist of the saddest Sufjan Stevens songs of all time. With his latest album, every song qualifies. “Carrie & Lowell” is a dark, minimalist affair, on which Stevens copes with the death of his mother and his unresolved childhood issues. It’s a tough album, and Sufjan’s quiet singing voice only adds to the eeriness. But, if you’re in the right mood, you’ll definitely get some emotional stimulation out of it. “Carrie & Lowell” is absolute beauty, and those lamenting the maximalist instrumentation on “Illinois” and “The Age of Adz” will quiet down as soon as the opening fingerpicked guitars kick into gear.
Jeff Rosenstock “We Cool?”
Jeff Rosenstock has been something of a pop punk demigod for several years. He does DIY to the extreme, starting the first donation-based label and refusing to market his music by selling merchandise. He’s played in awesome ska and punk bands like Bomb the Music Industry and Arrogant Sons of Bitches. With the dissolution of the former, though, Rosenstock received the grand opportunity to take his career into new territory. “We Cool?” is the result of that, and it’s an awesome, fun, emotional pop punk odyssey. You’ve got his usual brand of funny, sad self-deprecating lyrics, diverse instrumentation, and soaring hooks. Some of Rosenstock’s best songs can be found on this album, and fans of catchy rock music should give it many listens.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor “Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress”
Post-rock anarchists Godspeed You! Black Emperor have been going at it for years, and getting new music from the band is always exciting. While this second post-reunion effort isn’t purely new material, as the band has been playing music from this album on stage for many years, it’s still an incredible doom-rock apocalypse that is guaranteed to make you feel some type of way. It’s also got the pleasure of being Godspeed’s shortest full length to date, so anyone trying to crack into the band’s intimidating discography can reasonably start here.
Ghost Bath “Moonlover”
For a while, Ghost Bath was known on the Internet as China’s answer to Deafheaven. However, the band’s anonymous members semi-intentionally misled the public and the media into thinking they were from China when they were in fact from North Dakota. Sigh. Either way, the ambitious, downtrodden DSBM of “Moonlover” is undeniably awesome, fusing post-rock climaxes with upsetting lyrics. It won’t be the most forward thinking black metal album you hear all year, but it’s certainly a powerful and exciting one.
Courtney Barnett “Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit”
Courtney Barnett is one of the most interesting singer/songwriters to hit the scene in a hot minute. Her deadpan vocal delivery and witty lyricism sort of makes her indie rock’s answer to Hannibal Buress. This debut full length has awesome track after awesome track, and it accurately depicts Barnett’s versatility. From the noise rock of “Pedestrian at Best” to the somber solemnity of “Depreston,” she’s proven herself as a force to be reckoned with, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.
billy woods “Today, I Wrote Nothing”
I’ve been listening to the music of severely underrated rapper billy woods since 2012, and every time he puts out an album he impresses me even further. This latest album from the rapper features an astounding 24 tracks, and obviously it’s a double album. While I haven’t gotten the chance to fully unpack it yet since it just came out, I’m really enjoying what I’ve been hearing. There’s some awesome production from the likes of Busdriver, Aesop Rock, and I’m sure Blockhead was on this thing, too. There’s also some great verses from Elucid, who happens to be one-half of Armand Hammer, a duo that also features billy woods. I know March has been saturated with excellent hip-hop, but don’t miss out on this one.
Swain “Heavy Dancing”
Okay, so this EP is only 7 minutes long, but it’s likely to be the best 7-minute long release you hear all year. Swain is a Holland-based post-hardcore band that used to release music under the name This Routine is Hell. The band has undergone a significant change in genre, however, so it only makes sense that the name be different. “Heavy Dancing” is a badass, catchy debut, and perhaps one of the most exciting post-hardcore releases in quite a while. It rocks pretty hard, and while it will leave you wanting more, it’s worth replaying as soon as it ends.
Earl Sweatshirt “I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside”
Odd Future rapper Earl Sweatshirt appears to be separating himself further and further from his cohorts, now that the hype for that project has died down. “I Don’t Like Shit” is the brief, depressing followup to his 2013 debut, “Doris.” It’s full of wonky, minimalist beats, unnerving lyrics and vocals, and some killer guest verses from the likes of Vince Staples and A$AP Mob member Da$h. This 30-minute record is raw and uncomfortable, but this style of experimental dark hip-hop is the direction I like to see Earl going. Hopefully it’s a preview for something longer and more fleshed out, but if not, I’m happy with this release.
Lightning Bolt “Fantasy Empire”
This is pretty much more of the same from the Rhode Island noise rock duo, but the same has always been excellent. There continues to be no band that even comes close to capturing the same sound and attitude that Lightning Bolt does, and they prove that further on “Fantasy Empire.” It’s 40-ish straight minutes of ear-piercing bass guitar and virtuoso drumming, and if you’re not familiar with this bands M.O., you’re in for a real shocker. Regardless, it’s a damn good album from a band that could literally release the same thing every time and get away with it.
Clarence Clarity “No Now”
I’m not quite sure what to make of this project quite yet. It’s named after a peripheral meme, sounds like golden age Xiu Xiu parodying himself, and it’s an hour long. “No Now” is also an incredibly catchy, thoroughly provocative album that hasn’t left my mind since I heard it. If you’re looking for some noisy, electronically tinged weirdo synthpop stuff (I seriously have no idea what genre to even label this as) then give Clarence Clarity your full attention. “No Now” is an exciting debut that justifies its length with some wild lyrics and emotive singing.
Heems “Eat Pray Thug”
Former Das Racist rapper Himanshu Suri, a.k.a. Heems, has always been outspoken when it comes to thoughts on race. As a Desi Indian, he’s experienced quite a bit of racism in his life, especially after the September 11 attacks. “Eat Pray Thug” captures this, as well as Heems’ issues with relationships and drug addiction. It’s a highly personal, straightforward album with a fantastic array of production. It’s more upfront and unflinching than his previous solo material and Das Racist’s highly political material, but in this day and age that’s the kind of thing people need. Heems manages to balance this without appearing preachy or annoying, because this is his life.
Leviathan “Scar Sighted”
Leviathan, the project of American black metal musician Jef Whitehead (a.k.a. Wrest), has been active for well over a decade. Whitehead’s earlier, lo-fi DSBM material is a far cry from the kind of stuff he’s making today, however. “Scar Sighted” is an experimental black metal release in a critical way that most contemporary experimental black metal releases aren’t: it’s actually really frightening. “Scar Sighted” pulls no punches, with Whitehead’s vocal delivery often serving as the fuel of my nightmares. If you’re looking for a different black metal album to vibe to this year, give Leviathan’s latest a spin. It’s dark, lengthy, and sometimes indecipherable, but I’m sure you won’t regret it.
Merzbow/Mats Gustafsson/Balazs Pandi/Thurston Moore “Cuts of Guilt, Cuts Deeper”
I don’t even know what to say about this one. It’s got a very impressive lineup, with Japanese harsh noise guru Merzbow, Swedish free jazz saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Hungarian drumming virtuoso Balazs Pandi, and American noise rock legend Thurston Moore all jamming and free improvising for 80(!) minutes. If abstract harsh noise and avant-garde music is the kind of thing you’re into, you’re sure to appreciate the sonic assault this record emits. It’ll buzz and shriek until you’re plagued with tinnitus, but I’m the sort of musical masochist that loves that kind of music.
Purity Ring “Another Eternity”
I know not everyone is super into the new Purity Ring, especially since it doesn’t quite hold a candle to the band’s singular and explosive 2012 debut. However, “Another Eternity” is a damn good pop record, and just because it doesn’t quite live up to expectations doesn’t mean it’s bad. I liked it a lot, and that’s all that matters. Plus the production is excellent, as always. It’s fairly sugary in the vein of CHVRCHES and such, but I don’t think that it should be discounted for that. It’s different, and fairly accessible, but I like it nonetheless.
Father “Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?”
Atlanta weirdo-rapper Father is at the forefront of the latest Southern rap movement. He embraces the ignorant intricacies of trap while also demonstrating an ear for melody and a keen sense of intelligence. “Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First?” is a funny, lowkey album that will initially confuse you, but it’s worth giving multiple spins. Plus, it’s so damn catchy!
Tobias Jesso Jr. “Goon”
Canadian singer/songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr. has been receiving quite a bit of attention lately, and for good reasons. His debut album “Goon” is receiving comparisons to everyone from Randy Newman to Billy Joel. This album is fairly straightforward, and not super diverse, but it’s definitely an impressive and humble debut. If you like piano rock with grand hooks and sad-sack lyrics, you’re going to really enjoy this album. It’s good clean fun, and it definitely depicts Jesso’s strengths as well as his weaknesses. The former outweighs the latter, though there’s definitely room for improvement, which I hope to see on his next full length.
Laura Marling “Short Movie”
This is the 5th and latest album from British singer and former Noah and the Whale member Laura Marling. Her brand of relaxed, intelligent, slow-moving folk music doesn’t do too much to set her apart from her contemporaries, but the music on this album is still pretty good. If you’re looking for chill music to vibe to and get lost in, “Short Movie” isn’t a bad one to check out.
of Montreal “Aureate Gloom”
Of Montreal releasing an album is hardly news to anyone familiar with the band, but it’s nearly always a good thing. “Aureate Gloom” is a fresh, funky, psychedelic journey through divorce and… whatever the hell Kevin Barnes is singing about. It’s not the band’s best, but it’s still a decent rock record, and yet another step in the seemingly endless odyssey that is of Montreal.
Ratking “700 Fill”
Here we’ve got the latest mixtape from New York-based hip-hop trio Ratking. While the music on “700 Fill” isn’t as strong as the band’s 2014 debut, “So It Goes,” it still serves as a reminder that Ratking isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Wiki’s exciting flow is nicely juxtaposed by Hak’s more subdued delivery, and Sporting Life’s production is great as always.
I know the idea of an instrumental post-metal band may not seem very exciting, but “Revisionist” is a fairly exciting album. I do think Sannhet would benefit from the addition of a vocalist, but I do think they’re very creative with their riffs and songwriting. “Revisionist” is enjoyable, and certainly worth checking out, but it’s not anything particularly groundbreaking or essential.
Moodie Black “MB I I”
Last year, experimental hip-hop group Moodie Black debuted with “Nausea,” an excellent noise rap album in the vein of Death Grips and clipping. This month the group dropped a 4-song EP called “MB I I” that is definitely worth checking out. It is a short EP, but it does a good job of establishing the group’s sound and aesthetic quirks. If you don’t want to wait around for another Death Grips or clipping. project, give “MB I I” a listen, though you may be better off checking out “Nausea” instead.
ALBUMS I WASN’T PSYCHED ABOUT
Cannibal Ox “Blade of the Ronin”
Cannibal Ox is an essential and underappreciated hip-hop duo, and the band’s first album, “The Cold Vein,” is an undisputed classic. Unfortunately, the highly anticipated followup doesn’t manage to accomplish that quality. It’s been over 10 years since “The Cold Vein,” so I guess this is sort of an example of too little, too late. It’s by no means a bad album, just a mediocre one in comparison to “The Cold Vein.” It’s also way longer than it should be, which sort of adds to the disappointment.
Swervedriver “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You”
Another reunion/comeback record! Swervedriver is the latest in a slew of ’90s shoegaze bands to reunite and return to the studio. While the band’s early catalog is essential to the genre, and really great to listen to, “I Wasn’t Born to Lose You” didn’t feel like a welcome addition to me. It sort of just came and went without leaving any sort of lasting impression on my ears. They can’t all be My Bloody Valentine.
Will Butler “Policy”
There wasn’t much particularly bad about this debut from the Arcade Fire member, it just felt kind of empty and slow to me, even though there’s only 8 songs on it. I just don’t see how one of the people who helped make “Reflektor” a thing can come around and put out a decent indie rock record. Some more experimentation would be welcome.
Modest Mouse “Strangers to Ourselves”
I don’t really think there was any way this album was going to be really good. Sure, there are a handful of really great tracks on it, like “The Tortoise and the Tourist” and “Lampshades on Fire,” but it’s pretty all over the place, and features some songs that show the band at its absolute worst, like “Pistol” and “God is an Indian and You’re an Asshole.”
Twin Shadow “Eclipse”
I was pretty surprised by how bad this album was. I only know of Twin Shadow in passing really, and I’ve never paid much attention to him, but I know for a fact his previous two LPs are much better than what ended up on “Eclipse.” It’s a run of the mill and at some points very cringey effort that is way too clean and poppy to be at all interesting.
Action Bronson “Mr. Wonderful”
This album does have some of Action Bronson’s best and most memorable tracks. Unfortunately, Bronson blew his load and let us hear those tracks months before this album came out. I respect his attempts to move in a more serious and album-oriented direction, especially his attempts to bring more cohesion to the mix. It just doesn’t work most of the time. I do still think Bronson is an awesome rapper who’s proven himself to be way more than the Ghostface soundalike many thought he was. I just wish he’d released an album that, as a whole, was way better than what “Mr. Wonderful” ended up being.
Death Cab for Cutie “Kintsugi”
In my mind, Ben Gibbard hasn’t been responsible for a really good, really worthwhile listening experience since the oughts became the teens. I love The Postal Service, and Death Cab’s first few records are great indie pop rock, but “Kintsugi” left hardly a taste in my mouth. I even prefer “Codes & Keys.”
Portico “Living Fields”
The band formerly known as Portico Quartet has shifted from electronically tinged jazz to a glitchy, wobbly form of EDM. It doesn’t help that not only does the band opt to include plenty of vocal features, but that some of those vocals come from Alt-J vocalist Joe Newman. I don’t have much against Alt-J, but Newman’s nasal croon doesn’t quite fit the sort of music Portico is going for. It’s a distinct change of pace, just not one I’m at all on board with. The band’s first three albums are still worth listening to, though.
ALBUMS I DIDN’T LISTEN TO
Jim O’Rourke “Behold”
This avant legend has so many records it’s hard to keep up, so I’m sure I’ll give this one a listen at some point before the end of 2015. Just not right now, folks, sorry.
Steven Wilson “Hand.Cannot.Erase”
I’m hardly a fan of Porcupine Tree or contemporary prog rock in general, so giving that band’s vocalist the time of day isn’t really on my list of things to do. Plus I doubt I’m missing anything from this album that I wouldn’t get from a classic ’60s or ’70s prog rock record.
Kelly Clarkson “Piece by Piece”
I’m actually impressed that the American Idol winner has continued to maintain some sort of relevancy in the pop music world. Good on her. Not going to listen to a Kelly Clarkson album in 2015, though.
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds “Chasing Yesterday”
It’s been a good 20 years since Noel Gallagher has done, written, or said anything notable in a positive way. The dude is a dick who makes mediocre music, so I have no qualms with skipping his latest footnote. I predict one more High Flying Birds record until Oasis reunites.
Madonna “Rebel Heart”
You don’t need to spend $20 a month on TIDAL to know that Madonna’s latest music isn’t worth a dime.
Marina and the Diamonds “Froot”
Everything that Marina and the Diamonds offers to me is offered in a more memorable, fun way by both Kate Bush and Charli XCX. I don’t see the big deal with her other music, and I don’t think this album is going to change my mind at all.
I honestly had no idea a new AWOLNATION record came out. This band is pretty good live, but their music isn’t anything special. I don’t feel bad about missing this one.
Sleeping with Sirens “Madness”
I think it’s safe to assume you’re going to get plenty of screams and breakdowns on this one. Perhaps this metalcore act is in its EDM phase, and a dubstep drop or two is to be expected. Either way, nothing about this band is redeeming to me, and there plenty of metal bands that I’d rather spend my time on.
Seth Avett and Jessica Lea Mayfield “Sing Elliott Smith”
There’s something about making money paying tribute to dead artists that rubs me the wrong way. I don’t imagine there’s anything this duo can do to make even one Elliott Smith song better than his own performance of that song.
The Go! Team “The Scene Between”
This band still exists?? I might give their debut another spin, just because it’s a really great album. Can’t speak for this one though. I’d say the band’s heyday has been long gone for quite a while now, so I’m sure I’m not missing out.
The Prodigy “The Day is My Enemy”
PSYCHOSOMATIC, ADDICT, INSANE.