Words About Music
Album Roundup: April 2015
Though I might not have thought so on the outset, April did have a fair share of excellent albums. Nothing compares to the sheer madness that was March, but April saw respectable releases and not-so-respectable releases. Here are my thoughts on albums! As usual, the albums I was psyched about will be listed in order from most psyched to least, and the other two categories are fair game.
Disclaimer: Just because I wasn’t psyched about an album doesn’t mean I hated it or that you shouldn’t check it out.
Albums I Was Psyched About:
Bell Witch “Four Phantoms”
This is my first experience with this Seattle based duo, but it surely won’t be my last. This band, much like fellow Seattle-ites Sunn O))), is excellent at making drone doom music that is interesting and multi-faceted. “Four Phantoms” is an album that features four very long songs, each of which feature varying vocal styles, musical ideas, and movements. It’s a beautiful record that rewards with each listen, and metal fans should definitely expand their knowledge and appreciation with what Bell Witch has to offer here.
Speedy Ortiz “Foil Deer”
I really dug the first Speedy Ortiz record, 2013’s “Major Arcana,” so a lot was riding on this sophomore LP. Thankfully, it exceeded my expectations. The songs are better, the lyrics are better, and the instrumental diversity is pretty astounding. Vocalist Sadie Dupuis is on point as always, threatening the musical “boys’ club” by writing lyrics that jab right into the heart of misogyny. It’s a killer rock record that does a lot more for indie than a lot of second albums do, so it’s good to see Speedy Ortiz is still doing cool stuff.
Colin Stetson & Sarah Neufeld “Never Were the Way She Was”
When it comes to the many musicians that make up Arcade Fire, people generally don’t consider the talented folks that play the horns and strings. Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld play saxophone and violin, respectively, for the band and also have some solo material under their belt. This collaboration is way more exciting than the phrase “saxophone/violin album” would have you to believe. It’s dark, sometimes frightening, but always stripped back and exciting. Stetson and Neufeld complement each other very well, with Stetson’s singular style of playing providing a fantastic backbone to these tracks. Definitely worth checking out.
The Mountain Goats “Beat the Champ”
Not only is it strange that John Darnielle is still releasing strong material this far into his career, but it’s also strange that one of his strongest albums in a decade is all about professional wrestling. Darnielle has always made it personal, but the way he goes about it on “Beat the Champ” makes me legitimately excited rather than thinking, “Yep, that’s a well written song-anecdote.” The music on this album is memorable, and it’s a fantastic concept that ended up more awesome than it seemed like it would.
Tribulation “The Children of the Night”
While this isn’t the year’s most provocative metal album, it’s still one worth checking out if you like death metal and black metal. “The Children of the Night” is a macabre affair that remains catchy and attention-grabbing. It succeeds where a lot of metal albums tend to fail, and that in itself is a victory. Tribulation writes some fantastic riffs, and the band knows how to stretch out songs without being boring or repetitive.
Nai Harvest “Hairball”
This British duo has ditched the emo music that led them to mild underground fame, and is instead going for a more poppy garage rock sound. “Hairball” is a fun record with great hooks and some overall good songs. It is a little one-dimensional, but it is catchier and less polarizing than your average Green Day or Wavves or Cage the Elephant record. It’s an enjoyable listen for sure, though I’m sure not everyone will be on board with the genre switch.
Young Thug “Barter 6”
I don’t care that he’s not the best lyricist of all time. I don’t care that he’s caught up in a dumb beef with his idol because Birdman is a jackass. I don’t care that it’s not as good as I hoped it would be. I don’t care that Young Thug can do better. “Barter 6” is a strangely brilliant exercise in minimalist trap that focuses more on Thugger’s completely out-of-this-world delivery. I can understand disappointment, but I’m so interested in Young Thug and how he raps and what kind of beats he works with that “Barter 6” is still good to me. Not his best, and this album doesn’t offer much in the lyrical realm, but I like it. And that’s all that matters.
Alabama Shakes “Sound & Color”
I wasn’t really feeling this one at first, but I’ve grown to really enjoy what the band is doing on this album. Going back to 2012, Alabama Shakes’ first record was pretty forgettable despite singer Brittany Howard’s amazing singing voice. Now, she’s putting that voice to good use behind a variety of developed songs that expand on several different genres. There’s a bit of old school garage rock, some soul, some R&B, but most of all it’s united. The band is now at a point where they can attempt older genres and make them sound modern and cool, and I think “Sound & Color” accomplished that very well. I know lots of people who enjoy this more than I do, and I may not be there yet, but I am happy with what the band has done here.
Albums I Wasn’t Psyched About:
Young Fathers “White Men Are Black Men Too”
While I wished I enjoyed this more than I did, I just was not feeling this new album all the way. While it is a step up from last year’s Mercury Prize winning “DEAD,” it doesn’t hold up to the Scottish trio’s phenomenal debut mixtapes. It’s just a matter of the band moving in a different direction which I’m not feeling too much. Still have lots of love and respect for this band, and you should all check Young Fathers as soon as you can.
Shlohmo “Dark Red”
Shlohmo is obviously a very talented producer. He’s only 23 and he’s been making great beats since he was a teenager. However, I wasn’t feeling this new LP all the way. There are good tracks on here for sure, but it wasn’t the best Shlohmo had to offer, so I didn’t really get the urge to revisit it at all these past few weeks. Again, just a matter of not feeling it, as I have no outright hate or negativity toward Shlohmo. If beat music is your thing, you could very well dig what Shlohmo is putting out there. I’m just not super excited or moved by it.
Toro y Moi “What For?”
I’ve never been a big fan of Toro y Moi, and “What For?” didn’t exactly change things. It was better than his last album, but I wasn’t super impressed by this one either. I feel like Toro y Moi fans are going to like it, but anyone who’s not super into the music he’s making and the atmospheres he invokes probably won’t be roped in by this particular release. If anything, his first and second albums are the essential ones in his discography, though those ones don’t particularly impress me either.
Waxahatchee “Ivy Tripp”
I really liked Katie Crutchfield’s last album as Waxahatchee, “Cerulean Salt,” but this one didn’t really do anything for me. It just felt a little slow and a bit boring, so I never felt like returning to or listening to it. The first track on here is definitely cool because of the thick, droning guitars, but a majority of the songs are so short and uneventful that it never made me interested in what Crutchfield was doing.
Tyler, the Creator “Cherry Bomb”
My biggest issue with Tyler, the Creator is his lyrics, and since I’m 18 and not 14, not much of what he says on “Cherry Bomb” is connecting with me. Instrumentally, the music is fantastic (except for the abominable eponymous track), but I can’t get on board with what Tyler is saying. Maybe one day he’ll come through with an entire project I like, and “Cherry Bomb” is a step in the right direction with its diverse sonic palate, but rapping isn’t really Tyler’s strong suit at the moment.
Merzbow + Xiu Xiu “MERZXIU”
Japanese harsh noise sensation Merzbow has been on something of a hot streak recently. His 2014 collaborative album with Full of Hell and his 2015 collab with Thurston Moore, Mats Gustafsson, and Balaz Pandi were both pretty fantastic albums. His latest, a Record Store Day album with Xiu Xiu, however, is disappointing. While it’s fine as an instrumental noise record, I was really gearing up to hear Xiu Xiu’s Jamie Stewart sing over whatever monstrous textures Merzbow created. That was not the case, and I feel like as a fan of both artists I deserved more out of a collaboration between the two than a phoned-in instrumental album. Oh well.
Built to Spill “Untethered Moon”
I have definite respect for this band, and its ’90s output is essential listening for any fan of rock music. I’m not really feeling this new record though, which tends to happen when ’90s relics continue releasing new music one, two, even three decades after their musical peaks. Modest Mouse is a great example, as is Built to Spill. “Untethered Moon” isn’t bad, it just doesn’t stand up to albums like “Perfect From Now On.” Maybe I’m being unfair by drawing the comparison, but it’s tough not to. This album just doesn’t excite me really.
Henry Kohen is only 20 years old and more talented with guitar pedals and drum machines than anyone I can think of. His Mylets project has been churning out some great songs, and I’ve liked a great deal of them. I never really came around to loving “Arizona,” however. It’s worth some listens, but once I overcame the shock of one person being responsible for all this noise and mayhem, I didn’t get around to enjoying the songs. The vocals kind of annoyed me in some parts, and I didn’t always love the instrumentation. It’s a cool record that will add some variety to your taste, but it was a bit of a disappointment for me overall.
Passion Pit “Kindred”
I’ve never been a huge Passion Pit fan, but they do have some excellent pop songs in their repertoire. Unfortunately, none of them are on this new album. “Kindred” is a fun album to turn your brain off and just listen to the sounds, but it didn’t really have a lot of substance to me. I just can’t do an album’s worth of Passion Pit, but if you can, “Kindred” may be one of your favorites this year.
Blur “The Magic Whip”
This is an album for Blur fans, and Blur fans only. If you’re not a Blur fan, you probably won’t like this album. I’m not a Blur fan, and I didn’t like this album. There you have it.
Raekwon “Fly International Luxurious Art”
I love and respect Raekwon because he’s got some fantastic records under his belt. Of all the Wu-Tang members, his solo career is one of the easiest to celebrate. However, this new album didn’t do much for me. The features felt out of place, the lyrics weren’t mind blowing or special, and the album left me feeling like I’d just listened to 40 minutes of silence. It has sounds, and words, and work was put into it, but I didn’t fall in love with it.
Mew is a good enough band, but this new album had way more boring pop songs than it did exciting rock songs. Every now and then “+-” would blow me away with fantastic, time-signature-defying post-punk, but most of the time I felt bored and sad by what I was hearing. I can see some people liking it, but I’m not one of those people.
Towkio “.Wav Theory”
This Chicago rapper and affiliate of Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa has been making some waves and turning some heads with his latest mixtape, but I’m not all the way impressed. “.Wav Theory” has some excellent production, but Towkio’s verses nearly always fall flat for me. There are great songs, but a lot of these songs are carried by features from the aforementioned Chance and Vic. Hopefully Towkio steps it up and works on cementing his own personality and style, but he doesn’t pull me in or strike me as worth listening to for an entire mixtape.
Dance Gavin Dance “Instant Gratification”
A pretty bad album. I don’t know if that’s because Dance Gavin Dance is always a bad band, or if it’s just because the sound they went for did not go over this time around. Either way, “Instant Gratification” sounds like if The Weeknd was the frontman for a bad metalcore band. The vocals are super whiney, the instrumentation strikes me as complicated for the sake of complexity, and I’m feeling definite negativity toward everything about this album. It’s like if the worst Circa Survive album was a thousand times worse (though I love me some Circa Survive).
Albums I Didn’t Listen To:
Zac Brown Band “Jekyll + Hyde”
Because why the hell would I listen to a Zac Brown Band album? I don’t know anyone that even knows this band, though it’s my understanding they’re pretty popular in the country sphere.
I love the band Wire, but I haven’t even bothered to listen to any recent albums the band has put out. I’ll stick with their first three records and leave it at that.
I haven’t even gotten around to watching the documentary about this band. Maybe I should do that.
Yelawolf “Love Story”
Yelawolf was pretty good until Eminem came along and messed it up. His “Trunk Muzik” mixtape is pretty cool to my recollection, and he’s got an interesting flow. I just don’t really dig his studio material, and my intuition tells me I won’t really enjoy “Love Story.”
Brian Wilson “No Pier Pressure”
If it’s not “SMiLE” or “Pet Sounds,” and it involves Brian Wilson, it probably doesn’t interest me whatsoever.
Matt and Kim “New Glow”
Probably didn’t miss much with this one.
Curren$y “Pilot Talk III”
Never been a huge Curren$y fan, and I figured he hadn’t changed up style significantly since the last time I listened.