Music Reviews

Music Roundup 11/20/17

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This article previously appeared on Crossfader

We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not in this week’s music roundup

music roundup Barenaked Ladies

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Barenaked Ladies – FAKE NUDES

Genre: Alternative Rock

Favorite Song: “Canada Dry”

Canadian alternative rockers the Barenaked Ladies formed some of my earliest memories of music—they were the first band I ever saw live, “One Week” was the first song I knew every word to, and the first time my dad ever challenged me with that often infuriating Name-That-Tune question, “Who is this?,” was while listening to a recently purchased copy of DISC ONE: ALL THEIR GREATEST HITS (1991-2001). So my relationship with the band is naturally a complicated one, as most relationships with post-grunge ‘90s bands seem to be. After Steven Page was essentially kicked out of the band following an arrest for cocaine possession in 2009, Barenaked Ladies expanded their songwriting pool to all the members of the band and their releases have yielded relatively diminishing results. I only provide my childhood context for BNL because having at least a slightly juvenile sense of humor is central to understanding their appeal — despite what their latest album, FAKE NUDES, and the few records that precede it represent, this band is supposed to be fun. Post-Page releases aside, the ‘90s and early 2000s releases by the band were goofy, zany alternative rock, filled with pop culture references, clever wordplay, and bizzaro subject material, mixed with a polished guitar sound that was central to that era of the genre. Part of the appeal WAS being childish, so much so that the band released a children’s album in 2008, but the group’s recent albums have taken on a self-serious quality that can mostly be summed up in this picture of frontman Ed Robertson and drummer Tyler Stewart.

FAKE NUDES is yet another in a growing line of miscalculations, a deeply unfun record that fails to understand the band’s old appeal and frames them as existing somewhere between sitcom closing theme songwriter acts like Phillip Phillips or X Ambassador and earnest yet cheesy late-in-career solo artists like Rob Thomas or Matt Nathanson. “Lookin’ Up,” “Bringing It Home,” and the relatively subdued “You + Me Vs The World” round out a group of over-the-top radio attempts, and for better or worse they mostly nail the coffeehouse turned “alt” rock star vibe. The results are actually pretty effective, even if you were probably bored of that sound the 433rd time you heard American Author’s “Best Day Of My Life” or anything by Gavin DeGraw. The rest of the album features songs that are mostly low tempo, boring, and unsatisfying. “Invisible Fence” is recorded with such earnestness that the hook reads less like a fun sing-along joke and more like an embarrassing, cringe-worthy attempt to plead for peace on earth, while “20/20 Hindsight,” which opens as a potential Creedence Clearwater Revival nostalgia trip, VERY quickly devolves into a tired, faux-blues eye-roll. Kevin Hearn, who absorbed many of the live duties for Page’s parts, has taken a larger role in singing, but lacks Page’s personality and spontaneity, especially opposite now-de-facto lead singer Robertson. Hearn takes lead on six songs here, including on the aforementioned songs “20/20 Hindsight” and “Invisible Fence,” and the other four tracks also represent strange lows, from the ballad-esque “Dusty Rooms” to the whatever the fuck “Bag of Bones” is. The only song that barely taps into the band’s old style (and a song that was co-written by Better Than Ezra founder Kevin Griffin, an outsider who clearly understands the band’s appeal and comes from an act with similar aspirations) is opener “Canada Dry,” which not only sounds like a throwback production wise, but also goofily features unabashedly hometown prideful lyrics, a Joni Mitchell reference, and obviously vaguely co-opts a popular soft-drink company to develop a new meaning. I will continue to cover the Barenaked Ladies, the most celebrated Canadian alt-rock band of the mid-’90s, until I likely die, but FAKE NUDES, even as the band begin to understand what their potential appeal is years after their prime, is not a good album. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup romaplasm

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Baths – ROMAPLASM

Genre: Glitch Pop, Art Pop, Synthpop

Favorite Tracks: “Yeoman,” “Human Bog,” “Adam Copies,” “Out,” “Superstructure”

Anyone worn down by the constant onslaught of trials and tribulations that 2017 seems dead set on offering would do well to give ROMAPLASM a spin. The third full-length album from LA’s Will Wiesenfeld, ROMAPLASM follows his stellar release of ABYSMA earlier this year under his Geotic moniker. But if you last tuned in with the 2013 Baths project OBSIDIAN, considered by many to be his standout release, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the intensely earnest, escapist slices of fantasy and raw emotional vulnerability on display here, a sharp turn from its comparatively more brooding predecessor. As Wiesenfeld isn’t shy to admit, ROMAPLASM was gestated in an insular head space full of anime, video games, books, and comics; this directly correlates to the gloss and sheen of the chattering glitch pop production, coming together to form a tonal palette somewhere between Meishi Smile and the pastel maximism of an A.G. Cook single. There’s a wide-eyed sense of wonder and melodrama here, and rather than coming across as hokey or forced, it makes it seem all the more vibrant and essential. His self-reflections and mulling over identity and self-definition become all-encompassing and feel like the most necessary and important things in the world due to their refusal to temper themselves to even the smallest degree. Let yourself just feel a little joy for once. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup Ascending a Mountain

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The Body and Full of Hell – ASCENDING A MOUNTAIN OF HEAVY LIGHT

Genre: Power Electronics, Noise

Favorite Tracks: “Earth is a Cage,” “Master’s Story,” “Farewell, Man”

By now it should probably go without saying that if it’s me reviewing an album it’s not going to be for everyone. But for this one— the latest collaboration between The Body and Full of Hell, two of the most uncompromising and consistently, resolutely unpleasant bands making music today—that old adage is doubly true. Over the course of their careers, both bands have specialized in making music that can rupture ear drums and induce nausea, and both have irretrievably blurred the lines between noise and extreme metal. Now, on ASCENDING A MOUNTAIN OF HEAVY LIGHT, the two have come together to erase whatever boundaries may have remained. Here, The Body does what The Body does best, creating walls of noise that would clear the floor of all but the most hardened scenesters (or the posers with the most to prove, I guess), while Full of Hell, interestingly, throws much of their usual death/grind approach out the window. What stands in their wake is an album that is, at its core, all about atmosphere—a crushing, claustrophobic, impenetrable atmosphere, but an atmosphere nonetheless, and one that is mesmerizing in just how inhospitable it is. This is fundamentally alien. It is so far removed from conventional sounds, even from more traditional releases in the genres it’s operating in, that it works to shift the conversation on what actually constitutes “music.” The only thing that sounds remotely natural in this album is the drumming, and only because it is recognizable as an actual, identifiable instrument. Even so, the drums foster a sense of unease, because what backbone it provides to the tortured vocals, hyper-distorted guitar riffs, and washes of noise is based around odd shuffle beats that get clipped and syncopated at even odder time signatures. The psychotic tremolo picking, stabbing trumpet blasts, and primitive electronic beats that rear their ugly heads only add to the malaise. There is no staircase leading up out of the darkness on this mountain. There is no guardrail. It is a perilous, punishing climb into a blinding, burning light. [Joseph Simpson]

Verdict: Recommend

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Curls – VANTE EP

Genre: Indie Rock

Favorite Track: “Golden Gate” 

It’s hard to know what to make of Christopher Owens, and honestly, it’s harder to know what to make of his legacy. The trio of records he released with Chet “JR” White under the name Girls remain some of the most exhilarating post-modern pop music in recent memory, with songs that took on ‘50s and ‘60s rock aesthetics, mixing surf, psych, garage, and country and making it all jigsaw together in deeply satisfying ways. But for as fantastic as that run of records was, those releases also feel strangely disposable, having become nearly inessential to the narrative of rock music both at the time and now—a fact that adds to their timeless nature, but also makes them feel lost. This is in part due to Owens’s following solo records, which deconstructed a lot of the mythos around Girls and were each singular and less dynamic, never quite offering the brilliant musical amalgamation that his previous act had effortlessly captured. At their worst, they were boring singer-songwriter fare, and at their best, they were pale imitations of Girls’ songs.

Curls is Owen’s latest musical venture with artists Cody Rhodes and Luke Baće, and while there is certainly more to be admired about the musicianship displayed on their debut EP, VANTE, than there was on Owens’s solo material, the songs themselves still feel like watered-down versions of Girls songs. Featuring baroque pop with undertones of psych and country, Curls, even from their name, beg for the comparison, and that leaves mixed results. As an introductory thesis, VANTE provides four songs that each showcase different musical ideas that almost hyperbolically fit into Owens’s wheelhouse, from the twang on the lead guitar of instrumental intro “Dynamite,” to the pale “Sweet Jane” imitation “Emotion,” to the bossa nova sway on “Golden Gate,” to the deep cut, Bowie-singalong balladry being channeled on “Gentle and Kind.” All of it feels routine at this point, and even if this is vastly superior to Owens’s solo material, these songs still fall short of delivering the palpable excitement of a song like “Vomit” or the pop ease of a something like “Oh So Protective One.” If you’ve been waiting for a Girls reunion, or for Owens to offer something on that level, it might be time to buy stock on Curls—you will enjoy these four songs even if they’re milquetoast by comparison.  But there isn’t quite enough on this EP for me to buy back into Owens as a creative force. Not yet. [CJ Simonson]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup cyhi

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CyHi the Prynce – NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS

Genre: Southern Hip Hop

Favorite Tracks: “Amen – Intro,” “Murda (featuring Estelle),” God Bless Your Heart,” “Nu Africa (featuring Ernestine Johnson),” “I’m Fine (featuring Travis Scott)”

Remember CyHi the Prynce? Back when G.O.O.D Music felt like a project Kanye actually cared about, CyHi came up with a handful of stellar features on MY BEAUTIFUL DARK TWISTED FANTASY and the short-lived G.O.O.D Friday release project. And then . . . nothing much of anything happened. Apart from obligatory appearances on the subpar CRUEL SUMMER collaboration, time wore on and on as CyHi failed to release an official studio album, with only the 2014 mixtape BLACK HYSTORI PROJECT generating even a little buzz. Seven years after his cultural heyday, NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS is finally here. And it’s fine! The frustrating thing about covering new projects from the mid-aughts rappers that came to prominence in the pre-South Floridian SoundCloud rap era is the fact that they’re usually entirely competent; it’s just hard to pin down a distinct commentary on the fact that it feels a little outdated and a lot disinteresting. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS is listenable, in fact even toeing the lines of lowercase-G “good,” but, like, c’mon. We heard this exact sort of sample-heavy, gospel-adjacent, high-budget and slightly indulgent production before when the aforementioned West-led collective reigned supreme. NO DOPE ON SUNDAYS simply feels like a product from another time and place, one where amateurism, no matter how creative and paradigm-shifting it may be, was still definitively “wack” and we only paid attention to the emcees with the means and pedigree to insist we listened. But, again, that’s not to say there’s not elements that are enjoyable. CyHi will never not have a captivating and unique voice in the literal sense, and that’s presumably what attracted the attention of Kanye to begin with. An oddly high-pitched gravel that still manages to come across as commanding, I could technically listen to CyHi as performer all day—I just wish his actual voice was transposed to someone with more innovative lyricism and a stronger voice in the figurative sense. But special shout outs to Travis Scott, who is finally made excellent use of as a specifically Auto-Tuned, hook-slinging feature. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

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Charlotte Gainsbourg – REST

Genre: Art Pop, French Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Deadly Valentine,” “Sylvia Says,” “Les crocodiles,” “Les oxalis”

I am going to make a mostly speculatory claim here and state that I think there’s some line of comparison to be drawn between previous generations’ fetishization of French pop and our current generation’s similar treatment of anything coming from Japan. Though it seems to have lost a general sense of fervor, I can only imagine the Francophilia of those beatniks and ne’er-do-wells in Brooklyn, huddling around a record player and drooling over the new Serge Gainsbourg vinyl, and it doesn’t seem like too big of a stretch to lump them in with all the deep-divers of J-pop, onkyo, and harsh noise that litter message boards. The thing is, though, that there are clear musical distinctions to make between movements of non-Western countries. As for REST, several decades later and faced with the aforementioned Serge’s daughter’s fifth studio album, it’s more apparent than ever that French pop is literally just pop in a different language. Though a perfectly functional tour through chamber music-oriented art pop, and a dark, grief-inspired one at that, there’s a laundry list of far more essential 2017 releases operating in a similar territory. My personal problem with REST is Charlotte’s vocal delivery, which becomes static and treacly as time wears on; half-whispered, delicate, falsetto-predicating personal missives only exhibit presence and agency for so long before fading away into a mire of recyclability. On a musical level, REST is most captivating when it traffics in more straightforward electropop (“Deadly Valentine”) or references the famous disco scene the French nightlife favors (“Sylvia Says,” “Les oxalis”). Experimentation is fairly light if you’ve ever heard any sort of taste for orchestration demonstrated on a pop release, and tracks that stand out, such as the curious synth minimalism of “Rest,” tend to fall flat. Paul McCartney completionists will be happy to know that he once again turns in one of the most boring drum tracks imaginable on “Songbird in a Cage,” however. [Thomas Seraydarian]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup Kamaiyah

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Kamaiyah – BEFORE I WAKE

Genre: West Coast Hip Hop, Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Slide (Bet),” “The Wave”

Kamaiyah Jamesha Johnson, hailing from Oakland, CA (bless The Bay), came onto many music listeners’ radars with her inclusion on XXL’s Freshman Class of 2017. Her city of origin, in conjunction with the inclusion on XXL’s list, made me quite excited to listen to her newest mixtape, BEFORE I WAKE. Much like her debut, A GOOD NIGHT IN THE GHETTO, she has delivered a polished collection of 2000s R&B-inspired hip hop tracks. Yet Kamaiyah’s newest project suffers from corny songwriting and instrumentals that often feel too barren and minimalistic for their own good. The mixtape does not start off on a strong foot with the track “Dope Bitch.” The slowed-down, skeletal beat is functional while working with her confident and ice cold delivery, and everything works quite well up until the introduction of the horrible hook, an incessant male singer just shouting the phrase, “Dope Bitch,” which is about as on-the-nose as it comes. This would be fine if it wasn’t repeated ad nauseum, 47 TIMES on the little-over-three-minute runtime. We understand and agree Kamaiyah, you’re a “Dope Bitch,” but show some restraint. Luckily, the following two tracks, especially “In Slide (Bet),” are the strongest cuts from the listing. The overblown bass beat gives it a greater sense of urgency and power, complementing the background sax sections quite well. She delivers her bars with her usual laid-back delivery, which works well with the backing track, yet as one can hear from the rest of the album, she rarely deviates from this template. Kamaiyah, unlike on some songs from her previous mixtapes such as FUCK IT UP, lacks any energy or aggression on BEFORE I WAKE. It leaves the album as a tepid mish-mash and leaves the listener lethargic. If this more R&B-inspired sound is going to be the future for Kamaiyah, she really needs to brush up on her lyricism, as seen on her song “Fashion:” “Fresh as can be it’s not optional / Cool as a breeze / I’m phenomenal / My style is so different / It cannot be copied.” With so much importance placed upon her voice in the mix, this comparatively weak songwriting sticks out like a sore thumb. There were all the parts to make this a good project, but in the end it comes off bland, uninventive, and only further hampered by the lackluster mixing and vocals. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

music roundup King Gizzard

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King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – POLYGONDWANALAND

Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Polygondwanaland,” “Searching…,” “The Fourth Colour”

POLYGONDWANALAND marks King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard’s fourth studio album of 2017, and they show no signs of losing quality with their ridiculous amount of quantity. Four albums in one year seems outlandish; however, when you factor in that the band has seven members, it seems a little more reasonable. While all of King Gizzard’s music has a psychedelic twist to it, this specific installment seems to take on a more garage rock persona that lasts throughout all 10 tracks. Interesting synth lines and catchy, repetitive guitar riffs are staples of the album, with a lot of the vocals piercing straight into the soul with their atmospheric sound, which is intensified by the interesting drum patterns. The percussion is not limited to a standard drum kit, but also features sounds coming from cowbells and djembes, while the synths tend to take on an incredibly liquid state. The title track is a sort of mathematical average of the album–-songs deviate from this style but, for the most part, this is a formula for how many of them end up sounding. Aside from this being their fourth release of the year, POLYGONDWANALAND is incredibly unique in a different way: the band announced that the album doesn’t actually belong to them, but rather to their fans. They uploaded the album for high quality download and encouraged listeners to press it to vinyl, CDs, and tapes, urging them to sell it for a profit or do whatever they see fit. This is an incredibly unique strategy and it’ll be interesting to see if this becomes something other artists pick up that would be traced back to the Melbourne rockers. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Recommend

music roundup OCS

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OCS – MEMORY OF A CUT OFF HEAD

Genre: Psychedelic Folk, Psychedelic Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Time Turner,” “The Chopping Block,” “Memory Of A Cut Off Head,” “The Baron Sleeps And Dreams” 

This side project from Thee Oh Sees goes back to the main act’s roots with MEMORY OF A CUT OFF HEAD, a love letter to the psychedelic rock of the ‘60s. Their influences might be quite obvious upon a first listen, but it doesn’t leave the album coming off as too derivative or bland—the mastering is full-bodied and rich, making this a great collection of well-composed, psychedelic rock ballads. “The Baron Sleeps and Dreams,” a melancholic, yet beautifully structured, track, is instrumentally vast and beautifully cut. The first half immediately kicks off with a string section, going silent momentarily before reintroducing all of the components back into the mix one by one. At its peak the rug is pulled out from under us as it goes full-on sound art through its use of a theremin, creating an alien and hostile soundscapes and making it a real joy for those seeking something more experimentally tinged. There is plenty to love for those with a taste for ‘60s psych, evidenced by the track “The Chopping Block,” where the instrumentation is pushed to the background and singer John Dwyer’s vocals take center stage, accompanied with acoustic guitar and a violin string section to create a somber, yet bittersweet, composition. The violin goes into the upper registers to create a truly sorrowful emotion alongside Dwyer’s British invasion-inspired delivery. It may be fairly meat and potatoes in terms of psych and garage rock, but OCS has played to their strengths, making it a thoroughly enjoyable listen nonetheless. [Will Turmon]

Verdict: Recommend

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Tame Impala – CURRENTS B-SIDES & REMIXES

Genre: Psychedelic Pop

Favorite Tracks: “List Of People (To Try And Forget About),” “Powerlines”

Bliss is when the B-sides from an already masterful album are barely distinguishable from the songs that made the cut. Over two years after CURRENTS’ 2015 release, Kevin Parker unleashed three B-sides and two remixes on this new EP. Parker is an incredibly unique musician, producer, and DJ, amongst many other things, and I’m comfortable labeling him the Midas of the indie community—everything he touches turns to complete and utter gold. “List Of People (To Try And Forget About),” the EP’s opener, feels as though could have fit perfectly onto CURRENTS. It definitely has a pop undertone, but feels like so much more than that, with the beating synth pattern layered under many different lead instruments existing as a thing of real beauty. “Powerlines,” probably the most highly anticipated B-side, takes the hype and exceeds it. When all was said and done with the song’s mixing and mastering, it ended up sounding quite different from the snippet Parker had revealed prior to this EPs release, and while there were people on Tame Impala’s subreddit complaining about the discrepancy, the fact of the matter is there is going to be a difference between the live recording and post-production. For better or for worse, the song sounds the way Tame Impala wanted it to. The last B-side, “Taxi’s Here,” is probably my least favorite of the bunch. Not surprisingly, panning synths are the foundation of the track, with an incredible drum beat, but the vocals on this song just seem to be less interesting than the others. New releases from Tame Impala are rare and there’s no saying as to when we will get another, so bask in this treat from Parker for as long as possible. [Emmett Garvey]

Verdict: Recommend

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