We’re here to tell you what’s hot and what’s not on this week’s music roundup
Elvis Depressedly – DEPRESSEDELICA
Genre: Lo-Fi Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Who Can Be Loved In This World,” “Holo World,” “Let’s Break Up The Band”
Despite being something that should be in my wheelhouse, Elivs Depressedly has always kind of existed on the fringes of my musical periphery. The lo-fi hum of his simplistic, mentally deteriorating indie rock is admittedly something I should spend more time with more frequently—the desperation that seeps through the tape on 2016’s CALIFORNIA DREAMIN’ or rings out on the lilting psychedelia of NEW ALHAMBRA is compelling beyond measure, human and three-dimensional in ways that many lo-fi projects aren’t. In my defense, Mat Cothran’s actual work as Elvis Depressedly has been sidelined in favor of solo releases and side projects over the last four years, but still, it’s a solid body of work from someone whose work in the lo-fi sector was as good through the early-to-middle part of the last decade as just about as anyone.
If you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, wait for two sentences longer. In a press release regarding DEPRESSEDELICA, Cothran’s latest and a return to the Elvis Depressedly moniker, he says this: “I wanted to experiment and try new things and do weird shit and fail. Everybody’s so scared to fail these days because everybody’s trying to keep up with everybody else on social media, but I just reached this point where I realized that none of it mattered.” I’m here to say that yeah, unfortunately, DEPRESSEDELICA, an experiment in pitch-shifting vocals layered on busy, almost nauseating, sonic canvases is indeed somewhat of a failure, although a pretty interesting one. In many ways I respect Cothran’s choices on this album; those vocals and that drum machine, a constant across much of the record, are hard to listen to alongside his unhurried previous work, fitting somewhere between a lo-fi version of The 1975 and a bedroom indie rock response to SoundCloud rap—the emo companion to Hot Leather’s pop-punk-adjacent exploration of similar sonic textures. While songs like “Jane, Don’t You Know Me?” “Chariot,” “Primal Sign,” “Control,” and “Peace On Earth” radically flip the Elvis Depressedly formula into what I suppose should be considered its natural current iteration in 2020, it’s a sonic flip that’s both jarring and, next to other tracks on the record, feels blatantly like the experimentation that he alleges he’s attempting in press release. But the freedom he’s clearly experiencing making this record is refreshing, and especially on slightly more straightforward Elvis Depressedly cuts like “Holo World” or highlight “Let’s Break Up The Band,” that freedom translates into catharsis. Cothran clearly knows this is kind of a mess, not to mention a risk that he’s presenting to his audience, and doesn’t care, and I think that is commendable even if a lot of these songs are jarring listens. More respect to him. [CJ Simonson]
Hazel English – WAKE UP!
Genre: Dream Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Like A Drug,” “Work It Out”
Hard to believe, but we’ve been waiting essentially three years for Hazel English’s debut album. A combination of overtly lofty expectations and a tame pivot in sound make WAKE UP!, the young Australian-American indie pop star’s proper debut, pretty boring. While her double EP, JUST GIVE IN / NEVER GOING HOME, has only grown in algorithmic legend, dream pop for any auto-generated playlist the world over, WAKE UP! fashions English as attempting to re-tool elements of ‘60s psychedelia and ‘50s rock, retro twinges that ultimately dilute so much of the effervescent cherry-colored funk of her original material so compelling in the first place. Rather than chasing the dreary mirage put on by the likes of Cocteau Twins or Beach House, or even contemporaries like Hatchie, she’s effectively just made a Cults album, the simple melodies and fuzzy choruses on par with anything in that band’s early catalog. And that’s fine, I guess, if you like Cults, but it’s not even like WAKE UP! has anything nearly as compelling and effortless as “You Know What I Mean” or “Go Outside,” perfect fusions of naval-gazing ‘50s doo-wop and modern dream pop. Much of the foggy sheen that added an air of mystery to JUST GIVE IN / NEVER GOING HOME has been cleaned up, the title track, for example, a nice, driving, mid-tempo rock number with a bright chorus and a nice, brief closing guitar solo that feels exposed and boring without a haze of cloudy production sitting on top. Songs like “Off My Mind” and “Five and Dime” are jarring from the top, the former with a perplexingly bluesy swagger in the open and the latter a snappy vocal showcase that before the sway of the chorus kicks in sounds like it could be an Adele song with a bit of work. The desire to write simple rock songs is commendable, and certainly there is a lot to gleam from that era of rock and roll, when the jukebox in the actual five and dime held a treasure trove of exciting sounds, but Cults proved to be a one-trick pony trapped in re-inventing that sound with new textures long ago, why someone with so much genuine excitement around their music would pivot to re-investigating that sonic pallet is beyond me. [CJ Simonson]
Thundercat – IT IS WHAT IT IS
Genre: Psychedelic Soul, Neo-Soul
Favorite Tracks: “I Love Louis Cole (featuring Louis Cole),” “How Sway,” “Fair Chance (featuring Ty Dolla $ign and Lil B)”
Thundercat has always appealed to me more conceptually than in practice. And, now, before the hit squad rolls in, I’d like to make it clear that Thundercat the personality and persona knocks it out of the park. His fits? Pristine. His Twitter? Essential. His appearance on Brandon Wardell’s YEAH, BUT STILL? Must-hear listening. What’s more, and I would like to heavily emphasize this, his status as a technical musician is that of a virtuoso. If you’re not convinced from the live clips you’ve inevitably come across, or, well, listening to any of his music under the Thundercat moniker, this unsung, straightforward hard bop release (featuring Kamasi Washington, no less!) from 2004 should do the trick. But all that said… the only Thundercat release that’s ever really jumped out at me is his 2015 EP THE BEYOND / WHERE THE GIANTS ROAM. With IT IS WHAT IT IS, Thundercat continues to incorporate and combine a variety of “neo-” influences into something impressive, if perhaps something with not all that much staying power. I’ll be honest: it’s the voice! You don’t have to tell me in the comments that that’s a subjective take, but I’m sticking with it. The aggrandized falsetto that many members of the new wave of hip hop-adjacent, soul-with-a-twist artists employ has never done it for me, always feeling flighty and unable to really anchor into a pocket with any particular efficiency. That proves once again to be the case here, batting about .500 when combined with the often bald-faced and earnest lyrics. While Thundercat’s musings on the connection between space and alienation and the infinite cosmos and love (“Lost In Space / Great Scott / 22-26,” “Innerstellar Love”) check out, there’s also “Miguel’s Happy Dance” (“Do the fuckin’ happy dance / Even when you’re really fuckin’ mad / I guess that it’s supposed to subside / Even though you’re probably really mad”). While the frenzy of “I Love Louis Cole” is a welcome injection of energy, from there things are mostly mid-tempo ballads with jazz-fusion backings, notable when he musically channels Return to Forever, or gets to tarantella along the frets, but fairly par for the course otherwise. Apart from the oddball, late-album hit “Fair Chance,” that is, which switches out the virtuosity of the rest of the album for a more clearly production-predicated bizarro stoner love jam that somehow turns Lil B into a crooner to rival both Thundercat and Ty Dolla $ign. I’ll always check out a Thundercat release to hear him play, but musicianship and songwriting are two wolves living inside Thundercat that haven’t quite figured out to slam-dunk their cohabitation. [Thomas Seraydarian]