Music Reviews

Music Roundup 8/14/19

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

music roundup Generationals

Generationals – READER AS DETECTIVE

Genre: Indie Pop

Favorite Tracks: “Breaking Your Silence,” “Dream Box”

My knowledge of New Orleans duo Generationsls boiled down to how catchy “TenTwentyTen” is, a song I didn’t realize was by Generationals at all until my girlfriend, the one who plays the track often, pointed it out after I finished a second listen of their latest, READER AS DETECTIVE. Even after going back and listening to that song (still a bop), I’m not sure I would’ve ever pegged them as being the creators of it, before and especially after hearing their latest album, and furthermore, I’m not sure what any of this says about Generationals in general. But going through READER AS DETECTIVE I had plenty of, frankly, bizarre reactions to the songs—again, nothing bad, in a lot of ways, kind of delightful reactions, but nonetheless bizarre. My biggest takeaway by far is that nearly every song on this record is, in some way, a more platonic ideal of a different, much more broadly leaning 2010s indie pop act of this decade. I mean, “Breaking Your Silence” is the best Foster the People track I’ve heard since those initial hits, “Gatekeeper” is as fun an of Montreal take as has been recorded in a minute, “Xeno Bobby” is closer to what the headline “Washed Out Releases New Album on Stones Throw” should’ve yielded, “Dream Box” is what Scissor Sisters would’ve eventually become had they stuck around, with similar vocals to boot, “Society of Winners” has strong Cults energy, etc etc etc. And somehow this all works perfectly fine—even listening to their other massively popular singles on Spotify you’ll get the vibe these are two guys who are propelled by microdetails in indie pop to such an extreme that they build monuments to the ideas only to radically pivot on the next track. READER AS DETECTIVE, like the albums before it, acts like a singles collection, a kind of greatest hits that functions in its own universe and does so pretty successfully. Broad or not, it’s detail-driven indie pop that functions at a high level and has enough pleasantries to send over to your Passion Pit Radio Pandora-loving aunt. [CJ Simonson]

music roundup Skillet

Skillet – LEGENDARY

Genre: Christian Metal, Alternative Metal

Favorite Tracks: “Victorious,” “Reach”

When I first applied to Crossfader, I was asked to send in two reviews: one positive, one negative. In a bizarre twist of fate, I ended up picking two Christian bands, and to this day my co-workers (re: the MGRM editors) still joke about me being a huge Christian music aficionado. The positive review was for Thrice’s TO BE EVERYWHERE IS TO BE NOWHERE, an album which is too mid-tempo for its own good and features a track about Edward Snowden, which is just embarrassing, but shed the synthy, anthemic bloat typical of Thrice albums like VHEISSU in order to let the hoarse, anguished vocals from Dustin Kensrue and sharp, poignant lyrics about faith and politics on songs like “Stay With Me,” “The Window,” and especially “Black Honey” really shine.

The negative review was for Skillet’s UNLEASHED, an album that makes me cringe and laugh even years later, and the fact that it sold over 500,000 copies should be seen as a sign of the apocalypse. At a time when Linkin Park ruled my life, I eagerly devoured any pop-metal with synthetic violins or glitchy keyboards, and I enjoyed a few tracks off of COMATOSE like the title track, “Falling Inside the Black,” or “Whispers in the Dark.” The problem is that in the 13 years since that album, Skillet have remade the same album with the same set of songs four more times to diminishing returns. While to their credit, they are a slightly more tuneful band than some of their peers, said tunes have only gotten more thuddingly simple, failing to aim higher than stadium chants while creating mosh-pits where the hardest drink involved is Mtn Dew.

The clean choral vocals and sneering, broey lead vocals on the band’s latest, LEGENDARY, sound like they were recorded on different continents. The guitars are both crushed into mush and overbearing at the same time while chugging with enough sluggishness to make Three Days Grace look like Van Halen. Any attempt at swell or bombast is hampered by lifeless production, misplaced sincerity, and whitebread spirituality. For comparison, look at “Stay With Me” from Thrice. It uses a relationship forged in the middle of a radioactive apocalypse as an allegory for faith, as Dustin wonders if his connection to God will continue after he gets through his current crisis or if he is only using faith as a temporary crutch. In their 10 albums and 23 years of making music, Skillet have never written a song with as much impact or thought as a single couplet from “Stay With Me:” “Oh, it seems like every night, I lie in bed and worry that the world would start to heal / Now I’m terrified that if it did you’d start to ask if what we have is real.”

 Say what you will about UNLEASHED, but it went for broke when it came to memorable stupidity. I’ll never forget the horrible refrain of “ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba” on “Back from the Dead,” the six figures of speech on the hook of “Feel Invincible” that rivals Green Day’s “Still Breathing” for its crimes against good simile and metaphor usage, or the delusional “Famous” that seemed to think Jesus and God were not famous. LEGENDARY is just nowhere near as special outside of the band claiming that “Finish Line” has ‘Memphis roots, soul, and swagger’ despite the lack of any groove beyond the same two notes of percussion and blasts of fuzzy bass that every other contemporary song has. There’s an occasional bridge or solo where a decent guitar rollick starts to form, like on “Reach,” “Save Me,” and “Never Going Back,” and I’m still a sucker for that synthetic violin and the pre-chorus of glitchy, female choral vocals on “Victorious” that crosses over into hilarious camp. It’s one of the only moments where LEGENDARY rises above regular garbage and becomes enjoyable garbage, although the fanaticism that still surrounds this band quickly turns my ironic smile into a genuine frown. Christians deserve better Christain music and metal fans deserve better metal. [Blake Michelle]

music roundup Slaughter Beach

Slaughter Beach, Dog – SAFE AND ALSO NO FEAR

Genre: Singer-Songwriter, Indie Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Map of the Stars,” “Tangerine,” “Black Oak”

It’s somehow been basically two years since I wrote about Slaughter Beach, Dog’s last release BIRDIE, and in a lot of ways it’s exciting to see that both this magazine and Jake Ewald have grown over that time. SAFE AND ALSO NO FEAR is unquestionably a step up from the last album, more assured in its production and in its songwriting—even Ewald sounds more confident here. Less afraid to embrace some of the sporadic Philly emo rock energy that made his previous band Modern Baseball one of this decade’s prevailing musical achievements, SAFE AND ALSO NO FEAR does a nice job of being a truer rock record while retaining Ewald’s kind and sensitive prose. He teases something bolder and more explosive with the lingering percussion of opener “One Down” but ultimately keeps things tame before delving into the more intense melancholic crunch of “Good Ones.” There’s certainly stilll some of the classic singer-songwriter singularity that I found to be exhaustively boring on BIRDIE, with Ewald’s vocals just far too heavy atop already quaint coffee shop barstool sonics (see: “The Dogs,” “Anything,” “Heart Attack,” the warped mid-album sketch “Petersburg”), but most of the album is genuinely compelling if for no other reason than it’s musically a more dynamic listen. He offers a genuinely decent American Football impression on “Map of the Stars,” a track I’m already setting aside for evening walks home in October, highlight “Tangerine” is as close to a MoBo song as I’ve heard across the recent catalog but so tethered to Ewald’s optimistic vocals that it fits brilliantly on the rest of the record, and the six-minute jam “Black Oak” is a decent look at what Slaughter Beach, Dog should try and tackle more of: a locomotive jam of layered guitars reverberating off the slowly rising drums. If nothing else, it makes me reconsider the idea of seeing Slaughter Beach, Dog live, where I’d hopefully be having a decent time rather than being bored to death. [CJ Simonson]

music roundup Slipknot

Slipknot – WE ARE NOT YOUR KIND

Genre: Industrial Metal, Heavy Metal

Favorite Tracks: “A Liar’s Funeral,” “Red Flag,” “Spiders,” “Orphan”

 Excuse me for being skeptical when I saw all the rapturous praise of Slipknot’s sixth record. Even though they’re one of the better nü-metal acts soldiering on well past the genre’s expiration date, they’re a group whose death metal influence with IOWA and their self-titled debut made them refreshingly heavy, but nonetheless resulted in making Corey Taylor not nearly as interesting a songwriter as he thinks he is—the clean-vocaled, pretty choruses have stuck out like a sore thumb for the past four records. Slipknot remain one of the biggest victims of the loudness war of the 2000s, as the guitars have only gotten more pristine and overdriven while the drums have lost the variety and flair that their multiple percussionists once brought in favor of loud flatness. However, when the praise was concentrated on a rejuvenated heaviness and new use of electronic and industrial textures, I got a little excited. They’ve always had an underlying industrial edge, with the sort of queasy samples and textures that wouldn’t be out of place on a My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult album, so maybe they’d fully embraced that here.

Well, that sort of happened. The first half is typical Slipknot, with corny hooks like the silly church choir on “Unsainted” or the willowy crooning of “Nero Forte.” The clean vocals are not inherently a problem, it’s that Taylor’s delivery is too inert to convey any sense of Ghost-like eeriness or any other dark emotions to match the squelching, mechanical undertones that are pushed to the front in the second half that are the definite highlight. “Spiders” is an awesome fusion of the HALLOWEEN theme with A Perfect Circle’s “Thinking of You” that ends with a sinister, analogue tone that I wish the band used more, and several songs like “Critical Darling” and “My Pain” fade out to these menacing, static-filled soundpieces that capture a post-apocalyptic ennui. Compared to so many of their peers, Slipknot put thought into these electronic flourishes and choose grim, queasy textures rather than generically pretty ones like Bullet For My Valentine or Linkin Park did. Sadly, such new developments are not quite enough to escape the feeling that it’s just another Slipknot album that tantalizes you with the possibility it will embrace more warped, dissonant samples and industrial body music influence. [Blake Michelle]

Thom Yorke – ANIMA

Genre: Experimental Rock

Favorite Tracks: “Dawn Chorus,” “Impossible Knots”

There’s a familiar voice that creeps in on ANIMA, Thom Yorke’s first solo release in five years. Just after Yorke starts singing on “Twist,” a group of children cheer from beyond a warping electronic fog. It’s an eerie echo from Radiohead past—a similar chorus that greeted Yorke after his sheer drop on “15 Step.” That song was the opening jump from what might have been the last Radiohead album before the band found themselves entertaining their own artistic pursuits on a deeper scale, and more importantly before Yorke found himself lost in his own individual probe into music, technology, and its intersection.

Radiohead, as a band, has long explored technology’s dangerous but inevitable insertion into daily being. But with his trio of solo releases (THE ERASER in 2006 and TOMORROW’S MODERN BOXES in 2014), Yorke has revealed that the tech-paranoid of classics like OK COMPUTER and KID A are rooted in his own anxieties of our modern world’s intersection with something dark and unprecedented. Where those children, a distinct human sound for ANIMA, followed Yorke singing about a fall, here they follow a call to those “who brought me back to life;” Yorke, coming back up from the ground, breaks away from the thorns that have wrapped around him, and this ascent into a new world is something even seen on the album’s cover—an image that is a reverse depiction of a figure on the ground to make it look like he is rising into something beyond.

ANIMA itself feels like a record of rediscovery, a world that Yorke has often explored that is dark, cold, a little dirty and, as he himself described ahead of the release, dystopic. But, there is a new bounce and groove in his step. Still anxious and glitchy as his previous solo work, ANIMA has an elegance found on the crystalline icy run-off A MOON SHAPED POOL—album centerpiece “Dawn Chorus” was even thought to be the title of that album, or at least included on it. Instead, it serves as an ambient analogue anchor that adds an underlying warmth to Yorke’s bleak worldview.

Unlike previous works, and aside from the lone Atoms From Peace release AMOK, there are analogue textures all over ANIMA; the crackle of Phil Selway’s drums on “Impossible Knots” and the muted guitar loops of “Runwayaway” give the record a sense of organic worldliness. It feels alive in ways that THE ERASER and TOMORROW’S MODERN BOXES felt cold by design. The imagery of cities and urban landscapes are all over the record. “Swimming through the gutter” and getting “swallowed by the city” standout on “Last I Heard (…He Was Circling the Drain),” and the opening song title “Traffic.” What makes ANIMA works so well is the balance between claustrophobia and exhalation. The sonic dynamics and twists make it Thom Yorke’s most exciting solo release, and perhaps this reluctant acceptance of the drab cloud hanging over the world, will lift him towards something wholly new. But as of now, there is no better musician to lead into the uncertain landscapes of the modern world. [Jasper Bernbuam]

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