We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not on this week’s music roundup
American Pleasure Club – FUCKING BLISS
Favorite Tracks: “dragged across the lawn,” “faith”
FUCKING BLISS is anything but. I’m not sure what exactly happened to the group formerly known as Teen Suicide, but their decision to make a mostly instrumental album that’s part cicada-hissing nature tape and part minimalist drone opus, filled with swelling static ambience and a kind of smug “this isn’t the indie rock you were looking for” demeanor isn’t a particularly good look.
FUCKING BLISS is not a good look for multiple reasons: The first, and probably most prominent reason, is that what Teen Suicide/American Pleasure Club was doing before this album was actually pretty great! Sure A WHOLE FUCKING LIFETIME OF THIS was a mess, but what interesting artist isn’t taking weird chances. And I’ll take a moment to check myself on that because yes, FUCKING BLISS is absolutely a weird chance, but that leads to our second reason: This just isn’t that good, and if you’re gonna be messy, do it right. The songs mostly don’t hit any tried and true builds, either exploding in with noisy indifference (the pop on opener “the miserable vision” is enough to turn the record off out of confusion), or just kind of sitting there devoid of sonic vision—this isn’t a Haxan Cloak record where the dark ambience really has a place to go over multiple minutes or through sequencing over a full album. FUCKING BLISS is a jarring eight-song album that for seven of its eight songs is average-to-below-average fuzzy experimenting that is as boring as it is annoying, and then an eighth song that would be a pretty decent Travis Scott interlude (“dragged around the lawn”) if it weren’t surrounded by a wtf ambient soundtrack created by a band who is signed to Run for Cover and wrote this song or this song or this song. I’m far from a “stay in your lane” guy but leave this kind of thing to GAS or Tim Hecker, because FUCKING BLISS lacks any true purpose. [CJ Simonson]
Andrew Bird – MY FINEST WORK YET
Genre: Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Olympians,” “Cracking Codes,” “Archipelago,” “Proxy War,” “Manifest,” “Don The Struggle”
To release 14 studio albums, seven EPs, and six live albums spanning 20+ years in a music career, you either have to take yourself way too seriously, or be repeatedly willing to throw caution to the wind. Maybe, maybe not, Andrew Bird began so long ago doing it for the capital-A Art, but the ironically-named MY FINEST WORK YET certainly points to an artist whose ego is not so in the way. When many, many artists are making (bad!) overly-aware, overly-serious protest music in the unprecedentedly confusing and hostile era of Tr*mp—someone who is a caricature of ancient Greek hubris—it is Bird’s sincere empathy that sets this record apart from other contemporary political albums.
So what do we get from a new Andrew Bird album? The trademark stuff—folksy whistling, cyclical violin motifs, words like “aberration” and “recalcitrant,” and graceful insertions of references to J. Edgar Hoover and Stockholm syndrome. The guy is a master at these things, which is probably why he’s continued doing it over-and-over for more than two decades. Nevertheless, MY FINEST WORK YET features some of Bird’s most splendid and diacritic melodies, such as the cool swagger of “Sisyphus,” in which he throws his hands up to let fate run its course, or the deceivingly happy-go-lucky muse on the climate apocalypse, “Manifest.” Furthermore, the album has an intimacy that distinguishes it from many of his previous studio-polished releases, likely due to the fact that it was recorded live to tape with the band all in one room. Each instrument bleeds into the other’s mics, creating a sonic fullness that wraps around the listener like a warm mist, especially on tracks like the beautifully aching “Archipelago” and the robustly spirited “Proxy War.”
Peppered with images of Greek mythology and historical allusions, MY FINEST WORK YET is an exercise in unpacking the symbiotic relationship between adversaries and the dead ends of our mob mentality (“All my enemies, they just fall in love with me / Keeping us distracted while the till gets robbed” – “Archipelago”). Without claiming to have all the answers, Bird toys with equal parts compassion and disillusion, while ultimately concluding with the belief in our collective strength in the face of chaos (“You will be witness to carnage / You know there’s no you without me” – “Bellevue Bridge Club”). It’s not quite Kumbaya, and it’s not quite a call to revolution, but it’s a pragmatic meditation on supplanting futile hatred with fertile solidarity. Frankly, that sounds like a more noble project than the dead horses we’re kicking now. I’ll take it. [Sienna Kresge]
Drugdealer – RAW HONEY
Favorite Tracks: “Honey,” “Fools,” “If You Don’t Know Now, You Never Will,” “Wild Motion”
For longer than most people reading this have been alive, people have flocked to the glow of the Los Angeles sprawl to pursue dreams of hazy retro-progressivism and dwell in the monotonous trippiness of Florida-esque suburbia. Southern California pop bands have churned out smokey and breezy music since the dawn of rock-and-roll. Although there are decades of almost identical West Coast Woodstock anthems, there will always be sonic spelunkers who believe they are keeping the spirit of rock-and-roll alive while simultaneously regurgitating the music of The Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, and The Byrds. Drugdealer, from the edgy name to the tye-dye revival target demographic, is the perfect example of a band that has acquired millions of plays from overt trippiness and familiarity instead of originality or a more subtle delinquent disposition.
RAW HONEY flaunts the same throwback chic as its predecessor THE END OF COMEDY and, like the record before it, it is as much defined by its guest features as it is by the songwriting and ingenuity of Drugleader’s kingpin Michael Collins. Like Whitney or Woods, much of Drugdealer’s charm is indebted to a Kerouac-ish vagabond spirit and a half baked “Aw shucks” temperament. However, unlike the artist’s fang-bearing peers, RAW HONEY is more reminiscent of Billy Joel and The Eagles than it is of Bob Dylan or Steely Dan. RAW HONEY brings to mind Burbank pre-furnished apartments and bowling alleys pulled straight out of THE BIG LEBOWSKI, and would be a great album to listen to while dragging a mattress found on the side of the road in Hollywood back to a dingy white-washed apartment without air conditioning nestled in the sprawl of the Valley. There is something deeply unsettling about how resigned to sunny mediocrity RAW HONEY is.
The record does, however, have some admittedly wonderful cuts. “Honey” is a stellar Marc Bolan ripoff and, although it is certainly a ripoff nonetheless, gives Drugdealer’s other Weyes Blood feature, the psych pop ubiquity “Suddenly,” a run for its money. “Wild Motion,” though shamelessly unoriginal, is a wonderful replica of a decades-old song I would hear coming from one of my grandmother’s CDs at a family reunion. Instrumental album opener “You’ve Got To Be Kidding” sounds like a very talented King Gizzard fan emulating a Donovan song using a different key signature. Although the British accent employed on “London Nightmare” may come off as softcore appropriation, overall the music on RAW HONEY is objectively good. Much of my prejudice against RAW HONEY stems from my frustration with the minimization of horrific traffic on the 5 and being over my college’s dreaded semesterly ‘70s theme party. Unabashedly proud Californians who still gawk at cotton candy-smog sunsets will, as they likely already do, bask in Drugdealer’s late-mid century modern-bronzed muddle. Though I may be partial to the provocative East Coastiness of Collins’ work as Run DMT and Salvia Plath, if you love camping at Joshua Tree and spending your Thursday night drinking Coors Banquet at Shatto 39 Lanes, RAW HONEY will probably be one of your favorite releases of 2019 so far. [Ted Davis]
The Drums – BRUTALISM
Genre: Goth Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Body Chemistry,” “626 Bedford Avenue,” “Blip of Joy”
Jonny Pierce’s energy on stage has always been that of someone standing in front of a bathroom mirror having to imagine the roar of a crowd, and yet for so long that crowd was seemingly a rock club, a roaring, intense, and unforgiving energy. In their earlier days, the shows were a rush of surf rock energy mixed with a cascading gothic twist, Pierce a kind of odd presence amidst dime-a-dozen sounds that we’ve grown up hearing in the alternative rock cannon. During those live shows he would stare deadly into the crowd, his body possessed with an internal sway that was magnetic to watch. And yet for all his performative showmanship, it seems strange that it’s taken this long to get something as truly eccentric as BRUTALISM. While the transition from band to solo project was a messy one (see: 2014’s all-over-the-place ENCYCLOPEDIA), BRUTALISM takes Pierce’s dancing back to the reality of the bathroom mirror, as close to a DIY bedroom pop record as we’ve heard from The Drums yet. Having made strides across both this record and 2017’s underrated ABYSMAL THOUGHTS to strip back their sound to something less sonically thick, even in spite of the occasional bold flourishes, like the backing choir on “Loner,” this is homespun pop that does a great job capturing Pierce’s on-stage presence. While I’ll ride for the darkness of PORTAMENTO forever, the songs on BRUTALISM are quirky fun while keeping the moodiness that has defined The Drums career in check. Filled with looping, spirited guitar lines, tinny drum machines, and some acrobatic layering of vocals, this is perhaps as close as we’ve come to hearing Pierce’s inner musical creativity as a singular creative voice, and its straightforwardness in that regard is jarring but nice. “Pretty Cloud,” “Body Chemistry,” and “626 Bedford Avenue” are heartfelt romance pop through-and-through, with no hints of gothy cynicism, and even when the dark guitars come back to haunt a song, it’s amidst a swirl of dazed romanticism that Pierce has always nailed (“Blip of Joy,” “Kiss It Away”). This is The Drums’ best effort in years, the kind of lower-stakes late-career effort that takes you by surprise, but above all it’s great to see Pierce really find his voice after years of trying to find it outside of the band’s early heyday. [CJ Simonson]
Idlewild – INTERVIEW MUSIC
Genre: Psychedelic Rock, Garage Rock
Favorite Tracks: “There’s a Place for Everything,” “Interview Music,” “All These Words,” “Same Things Twice,” “I Almost Didn’t Notice,” “Miracles”
Do you guys know “Flagpole Sitta” by Harvey Danger? The one that goes “Paranoia, paranoia, everybody’s coming to get me?” Take that song’s rollicking, distorted guitars, bottomless pit of hooks, and wordy snobbiness that somehow manages to be charming, and tack on the lovechild of Michael Stipe and The Hold Steady’s Craig Finn as a vocalist. That’s basically Idlewild, a Scottish band that evolved from an accessible Dinosaur Jr. clone on HOPE IS IMPORTANT to more majestic, sweeping folk rockers on WARNINGS/PROMISES until a hiatus in 2009. INTERVIEW MUSIC reads like EVERYTHING EVER WRITTEN 2.0, their first record post-hiatus, in its attempts at emotional and musical maturity. Overall instrumental presentation is very maximal and bright—it’s more heavily arranged, there are frequent background vocals from both sexes, the keyboards, pianos, and organs are heavenly and prominent. None of this is new for Idlewild, but it’s more lush and seamless than ever, as songs end with ambient pieces that flow into the next song: the transition from the raw “Same Things Twice,” that could have come off of THE REMOTE PART, to the steady, moody “You Wear it Secondhand,” reminiscent of The National’s “Graceless,” is the most beautiful on the record.
Even though the music has matured, keeping the anthemic hooks while adding more layers, the writing has not, and I love Idlewild for it. They’ve always been at their best when delivering strange aphorisms with very basic language that seems both self-defeating and inspirational, which compliments Robby Womble’s simultaneously flat and wild singing. Their best song, “You Held The World In Your Arms,” is a perfect example of this dynamic, as it’s hard to tell whether Womble is happy with his success or utterly unimpressed by it. The best of INTERVIEW MUSIC hits a similar emotional note, and “All These Words” and its chorus of wondering how he can prove the concept of time to someone is the most quintessentially-Idlewild. Even with ascending guitar chords and piano notes giving a celebratory feel, Womble finds himself unable to define such a seemingly simple concept to his lover, and he feels oddly comforted in that knowledge. Much like Wye Oak’s THE LOUDER I CALL, THE FASTER IT RUNS, the album seems to relish in the limits of human’s capacity and bask in the wonder of it.
There’s certainly a few weak spots; the record is fairly top heavy, and sometimes the production does not know how to properly balance the maximal instrumentation or pivot from quiet to loud smoothly, like on “Mount Analogue” and “Familiar to Ignore.” However, INTERVIEW MUSIC was everything I wanted from Idlewild eight albums into their career: The hooks are infectious, the guitars are chunky, and the psychedelic touches only add to the swell and bombast. Most of all, even with the music stuffed with additional elements, the band’s unique lyrical and vocal charm are just as effective here as they were when I first fell in love with WARNINGS/PROMISES. [Blake Michelle]
White Denim – SIDE EFFECTS
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Indie Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Hallelujah Strike Gold,” “Shanalala,” “NY Money”
Color me pleasantly surprised! While it might benefit from the fact it’s been awhile since a King Gizzard or Oh Sees release (well, comparatively at least), White Denim have turned in a high-octane trip that favors kinetic mind-frying over navel-gazing stonerism: in short, the kind of psychedelia I prefer, and one that perfectly scratches the itch in anticipation of FISHING FOR FISHIES. Having started out more firmly on the garage revival side of indie, that legacy is still present within (“Head Spinning”), but it’s the more kaleidoscopic snippets of altered consciousness (“Small Talk (Feeling Control)”) that suggest that White Denim is still a band worth paying attention to. The dripping cosmic bass of “Introduce Me” hearkens back to P-Funk freakiness, and “Reversed Mirror” is a nice interlude of almost Southern rock-inspired jamming, something even in the general legacy of a Mountain-type, if you step back far enough, albeit it with a flanged-out keyboard twist. However, it’s the hat-trick of “Hallelujah Strike Gold,” “Shanalala,” and “NY MONEY” that ends up being the SIDE EFFECTS’ main calling card, deftly switching from ragged peak-high mania, to cool, groovy missives, to a slightly more laidback slowburn with plenty of rewards to reap in its finale. It’s maybe a bit too affable to truly wander out into the weeds and come across sights fearsome and profane, like the best of King Gizzard, but as the summer sun’s heating up, no reason to not drop out for a little while and give White Denim’s latest a spin. [Thomas Seraydarian]