We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not on this week’s music roundup
Angel Du$t – PRETTY BUFF
Genre: Pop Punk, Alternative Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Biggest Girl,” “Push,” “Bang My Drum,” “Take Away the Pain”
The side project of notable Baltimore punks Justice Tripp and Daniel Fang, hailing from Trapped Under Ice and Turnstile, respectively, PRETTY BUFF won’t see many year-end lists but charts about as pleasant a course as one can hope for. Both parent acts and the previous Angel Du$t albums long having been noted for their surprising incorporation of catchy and melodic riffs amidst the rather dreary landscape of beatdown-inspired hardcore, PRETTY BUFF is all sunshine and roses, doing away with any sense of tough guy posturing for bright tributes to ‘80s and ‘90s alt-rock—if there’s any “punk” present here, it’s only in the tradition of the poppier legacy of Hüsker Dü. To be quite frank, the record starts off on the wrong foot, the first three tracks a vanilla slog through standard riffs that’ll have the hackles raised. Thankfully, the one-two-three punch of “Biggest Girl,” “Push,” and “Bang My Drum” is one of the more dramatic about-faces I’ve experienced from 2019 so far, entirely flipping the script and reframing the experience at large. With sonic references to a wide variety of 20th-century college-focused acts, most surprisingly Violent Femmes, the guitar licks are crisp, the hooks are earworms, and it’s a compliment to say that it sounds like music that would have inspired the Strokes and not the other way around. Besides, you just listen to that “Alex Chilton”-cribbing chorus of “Bang My Drum” and tell me you don’t have the biggest smile on your face. Admittedly, the rest of the record is something we’ve heard before, apart from the earnestly dorky themes and saxophone-utilizing sounds of “Take Away the Pain,” but hey, X and the Replacements were big for a reason. If you’re strapped for time, at least just listen to “Bang My Drum.” [Thomas Seraydarian]
Foals – EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE SAVED PT 1
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “In Degrees,” “I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me)”
Here’s a fact that’ll shock you: Foals’ 2013 single “My Number” has 135 million plays on Spotify. And if you’re thinking to yourself “that’s probably a fluke of some kind,” think again: 2015’s “Mountain At My Gates” has 95 million, and 2010’s “Spanish Sahara” (one of the decade’s best songs) has 39 million. While you weren’t paying attention, the Oxnard band became one of the world’s biggest rock bands which, all things considered, is a pretty good thing! Across 2010’s TOTAL LIFE FOREVER and 2013’s HOLY FIRE, they found and explored an arena-sized space usually reserved for the Coldplay’s of the world without the pop sellout asterisk, and with a groovy, guitar-driven sound that bolstered and elevated Yannis Philippakis’ unique vocals, they were an easy band to root for, even if they were somewhat unremarkable. Even though 2015’s WHAT WENT DOWN’s best moments refreshingly highlighted Foals’ angrier side, it quickly highlighted that this was a band in decline, and the announcement of two albums this year only cemented that fact.
Foals, even at their most fun, could barely sustain the traditional 40 minute record, and on EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE SAVED PT 1, they use the opportunity of a two-parter to justify their sloppiest release yet, with bizzare production choices and songs that fit together like awkward sketches or demos rather than something sonically sustainable across two records. Moments like the first seven seconds of single “Exits,” where a cascading piano riff that is in connection to nothing else abruptly comes and goes as though to present a false start for no particular reason, or the inclusion of a singular one-part interlude called “Surf, Pt. 1” that has its own kind of strange sputter-out ending, as well as the half-ballad, half-dance track “Sunday,” with its muddled vocal production amidst a messy finale, all compound on themselves, offering a listen that’s all over the map. Explosive dance pop, an underlying element of the band’s music that is established with more authority on tracks like the disco’d up “In Degrees” or the rousing but slightly silly “On The Luna,” or even less familiar spaced-out ballads like the “I’m Done With The World (& It’s Done With Me),” or the aforementioned “Surf, Pt. 1,” would both be interesting directions to commit to, but instead leave the record feeling continually disjointed. Neither sound is a particularly bad look on Foals, but alongside the beige alt-rock cuts on the rest of the album, it leaves you wanting them to find a lane and really commit—that “Sunday” even tries to pull off all these sounds in one overstuffed track is emblematic of the level of focus (or lack thereof) presented. EVERYTHING WILL NOT BE SAVED PT 1 will have something for any even passive Foals fan, but it’s a rough and incohesive listen to say the least. [CJ Simonson]
La Dispute – PANORAMA
Genre: Emo, Post-Hardcore
Favorite Tracks: “Fulton Street II,“ “Rhodonite and Grief,” “In Northern Michigan,” “Footsteps at the Pond”
It’s nice when an album reads like a response to criticism you’ve written about other acts. Both La Dispute and Piano Becomes the Teeth have evolved from scrappy, emotive post-hardcore indebted to ACROBATIC TENEMENT, to something more spacious and vast, with plenty of reverb and ethereal vibes. The difference is that WAIT FOR LOVE circumvented any tension or build that provides the catharsis necessary for a genre built with uncomfortable, messy emotions. Even though the records share a co-producer, PANORAMA is thankfully not drenched in effects to the point of homogeneity and creates atmosphere without losing any of the bite. “In Northern Michigan” and “Rhodonote and Grief” are haunting tunes that simmer with foreboding swells and spellbinding flutters, but “Footsteps at the Pond” proves the band can still let the guitars roar with frenetic energy. It doesn’t forget the scuzzy bass and turbulent crescendos of distorted guitar that pays off the liquid acoustic strumming and faint background pulses of the verses, and Jordan Dreyer weaves in enough hooks into his rambling, spoken-word poetry to give songs enough structure to stick. His writing style is an acquired taste, as he oscillates between blunt self-flagellation and pastoral or environmental imagery on a dime, but there’s enough sprinkles of self-awareness and genuine introspection to excuse some pushiness or overly dramatic screeds like “Anxiety Panorama.” The griefing musings about failing relationships and the afterlife are familiar territory and won’t sway anyone who can’t sit through the paragraphs that Dreyer writes, but the main draw is the new musical direction, which takes ideas from Quicksand’s INTERIORS and turns them into a maelstrom of beautiful, colorful, elegantly flowing noise. [Blake Michelle]
Nilüfer Yanya – MISS UNIVERSE
Genre: Baroque Pop
Favorite Tracks: “In Your Head,” “Paradise,” “Heat Rises,” “Melt,” “Safety Net,” “Give Up Function”
I don’t know exactly what I expected from Nilüfer Yanya when I stumbled across her Spotify page a few weeks ago, but it is definitely not what I got when I put on her music. Reading that Yanya is a London songwriter who got her start at open mics and small clubs conjured images of your typical piano-driven wannabe Kate Bush protege, writing music about unrequited love and the dreary English rain. Shockingly, that’s not what lies on MISS UNIVERSE—I don’t know what kind of open mic night allows funk pop to effortlessly merge Vampire Weekend grooves with Melody’s Echo Chamber-fuzzed-out guitar with one-of-a-kind melodies that are somehow still slightly reminiscent of ZENYATTA MONDATTA, but if there is an open mic that straight up epic in the Los Angeles area, please contact me with the address, date, and time, and I will see you there.
Though Yanya’s vocal abilities are impressive, her lyrics are often shielded by her Skepta-esque cockney mumble. The fog blanketing MISS UNIVERSE’s intentions briefly lifts on her postmodern interludes, which center around the fictitious WWAY HEALTH hotline that, for some reason, evokes David Foster Wallace’s Enfield Tennis Academy. “Paradise” has a gorgeous pre-chorus that sounds like Sade and the Shins had some kind of weird, mutant, saxophone-loving baby. Not to be understated, Nilüfer Yanya may be the transcendent and otherworldly guitar god that heralds in the next generation of futuristic song writers; album opener “In Your Head” showcases Saint Vincent-esque distorted riffs, but unlike Sharon Van Etten’s latest REMIND ME TOMORROW, the track doesn’t sound like an homage to Annie Clark so much as it does a siren. The album’s second half sounds like 2009 Brooklyn dream pop took a vacation to Bermuda; “Heat Rises” and “Melt” evoke Mr. Twin Sister and Blouse, but upgrade the fidelity and subtly incorporate reggaeton keys and ultra-contemporary chopped-up vocal samples, while balearic drum machines provide a smoggy backdrop for pop rock that would evoke Sidney Gish if it wasn’t so singular.
Yanya’s only foreseeable downfall is that her debut sounds slightly more mature than it should. The uber hi-fi production and labyrinthian songwriting make me worry that MISS UNIVERSE could be hard to top. This album takes what indie poppers like SALES and No Vacation have been doing for the past four years and refinishes it with a shiny coat of European R&B paint, and I haven’t heard an album like this in a while. In fact, I can’t even begin to understand Yanya’s songwriting process, but something tells me it involves a lot more trial, error, and experimentation than most of us are patient or wise enough enough to embrace. Wonderfully incomprehensible recent releases by Nilüfer Yanya and Japanese rock candy savants CHAI provide evidence that aliens may be among us, and those aliens might just be the next generation of great female-fronted indie rock acts. [Ted Davis]