With her latest album, My Woman, the consistently excellent Angel Olsen stays, well, consistently excellent.
The folk-rocker with the inimitable voice has put out another strong release, and one I prefer to 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness.
My Woman essentially functions as two five-song albums with the first five songs being shorter, punchier rock-folk songs.
Whichever distinct side of an album houses the instant-classic “Shut Up Kiss Me” was always destined to be my favorite. It’s just an absolutely flawless blend of perfect bubblegum pop, tortured torch song and lo-fi rock.
“Shut Up Kiss Me” is the obvious standout, but really everything after the de facto intro, “Intern” to the fade out of”Not Gonna Kill You”is superb folk-tinged rock from an artist with an utterly singular vocal delivery.
Everything in that stretch of the album has a distinctive ’60s influence. It ranges from the girl group groove and sentiments of “Shut Up and Kiss Me”, to the early Beatles unrequited love song feel of “Never Be Mine” to the classic rock dual guitar twang of the flat out stomper “Give It Up”. It all builds toward wonderful screaming release and undulating guitar spasms toward the end of “Not Gonna Kill You” which conjures up some serious Grace Slick vibes.
Thoroughly outstanding stuff.
The spacier, longer second half has its merits as well.
The slow, country simmer of “Heart Shaped Face”is incredibly listenable, even if it bothers the hell out of me that there’s no hyphen in that compound modifier.
“Sister” is an absolute epic. It keeps building and building and teasing the guitar heroics to come before satisfyingly boiling over.
Album closer,”Pops”, is a sort of distorted John Lennon-esque piano song that doesn’t quite reach the moony feeling of a ballad feels like a perfect place to end the album.
All 10 songs boast a foible, melody or moment of triumph that demands multiple listens. There’s really nothing justifiably skippable even if aside from “Sister” nothing in the back half really approximates the thrills of the first five songs.
And those first five songs are an unbridled joy to revisit way too often.
Martha are a group of DIY punk-rockers from northeastern England. They’re self-described anarchist, straightedge vegans, and their new album, Blisters in the Pit of My Heart, is fantastic.
Aside from a throwaway line about crooked police being protected by corrupt politicians, not much of Martha’s ethos really come through in the album, but it is a collection of ridiculously catchy pop punk made by a group of people earnest enough to openly support anarchy.
These are the sort of people who would make the closing track of their punk album a gentle allusion to Paul Westerberg’s body of work, and like their source of inspiration, Martha know how to marry ramshackle energy and an anthemic hook. And they do so, over and over and over again.
There is not one skippable song on the entire album, which essentially careens from one massive, fist-pumping hook to the next with chugging guitar to fill the gaps. The longest song, “Do Nothing” is a perfect example of this methodology.
It’s basically two songs–a brooding, shout-y ode to laziness with muted musical backing that allows the lyrics some breathing room. It culminates as it must; with excellently spastic guitar shredding.
It’d be a tremendous song if it ended after four minutes, but then it transitions into a stripped down power pop song that could fit in with the best Exploding Hearts tracks.
Every track is a catchy blast of energy that could serve as an alt-song of summer, but standout track and source of the album’s title”Ice Cream and Sunscreen” probably takes that title for me.
Clever detailed lyrics, duet vocals and a running time just a bit longer than two minutes makes it a damn near perfect pop song, and it’s surrounded by nothing but excellent guitar pop.
If sugary hooks and passionately nihilistic sentiments are your thing, this album is mandatory listening.
Sort of skipping writing much of an intro to get to the embedded playlist. Decided to piece together 20 of my favorite songs from this year, which is a bit more expansive than what I’ve done in the past.
Big takeaway for me is that this year has been uncommonly for Side one track ones in my opinion.
Also, tremendously happy to unironically and unabashedly include a great Weezer track.
The year is about halfway over, and there’s been the requisite wave of blockbuster releases over the last couple of months ramping up toward summer, so it’s time for the customary roundup of my favorite releases from this year.
These are going to be presented in no particular order, because I want to give the albums time to organically grow in my estimation and jockey for sweet, sweet supremacy in my end of the year list.
Teens of Denial by Car Seat Headrest
OK, so the no particular order caveat was a bit of a fib. This is my favorite album of the year so far. It contains some of my favorite songs of 2016 and those songs boast a ton of simple but insightful acerbic couplets. Will Toledo and Co.’s first major label album also draws from a ton of interesting inspirations without being totally beholden to its influences. It’s a wonderfully arch, well-thought-out rock album with plenty of roughness around the edges.
Life of Pablo by Kanye West
At this point, I think there’s three or four versions of this album lurking on my iPod. It’s not Kanye’s best album, but it continues in the wonderfully weird vein of Yeezus, and anytime a major pop star wants to advance the cause of weirdness, I’m on board. It’s also chock-full of interesting sounds and good ideas. Even the de facto bonus track , “30 Hours” is an interesting examination of a disintegrating long-distance relationship with frigging Andre 3000 providing guest vocals. Plus, it presaged some of the year’s best and worst biggest hits by featuring Chance the Rapper and Desiigner doing what they do. Sort of feels indespinsible to this year’s pop culture landscape.
Lost Time by Tacocat
I was lukewarm about this album at first, but it’s grown on me. It’s a collection of hooky punk willing to take on some weighty topics with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Sure there are songs like my beloved “Horse Grrls”and the fantastically buoyant “I Hate the Weekend” but wanton internet misogyny, controversial next-day contraception and the literal end of the world all feature prominently in this album. I’m not sure if it’s as good as NVM, but it’s some of Tacocat’s catchiest work.
Coloring Book by Chance the Rapper
I just realized that this will be my third consecutive entry, where I kick things off by pointing out an album is inferior to one of its predecessors, but it bears saying, Coloring Book is no Acid Rap. It’s still a very fun, vibrant, positive statement from a singular, captivating artist, but it suffers from some bloat, and for someone whose stage name includes the title “the Rapper”, his virtuosic bar-spitting prowess really isn’t on display. Even if it isn’t necessarily the album I want it to be, I think it’s the exact album Chance wanted to make and it’s a blast of free-wheeling gospel-tinged positivity all the same.
★ by David Bowie
When this album came out, it was the middle of a dreary, gray and cold winter. It was my first full winter in the Midwest in five years, and ★’s aural pallet seemed to use the same colors as my surroundings. I thought it was an extremely interesting, sort of haunting piece of spooky art. It was nice to see old man Bowie really going for it with a tight jazz-influenced backing band. Then Bowie died, and the dread, finality and transcendence packed into the songs became that much more profound. Honestly, it’s almost unlistenable now because of how much heaviness was retroactively added to the swan song of one of popular culture’s greatest innovators.
Down in Heaven by Twin Peaks
This album is a shambolic, delightful throwback to ’60s music. There’s lyrical allusions to the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” but somehow, the Rolling Stones song it seems to evoke the most is “Beast of Burden”. The shuffling album-closer “Have You Ever?” is a particularly glorious drunk-sounding shout-along.
Nice as Fuck by Nice as Fuck
It hasn’t been out very long, but the debut from Jenny Lewis’ profane new band might be my favorite effort in her oeuvre. On albums The Voyager and Acid Tongue the lyrics suggested Lewis had a thoroughly spacey side, but it didn’t really come through in the music. Nice as Fuck changes that. It is a nine-song collection of artsy dance rock with driving drums and bouncy bass. I didn’t know I wanted Jenny Lewis, Gang of Four, Joy Division and Franz Ferdinand in a blender so badly, but here it is, and it rules.
Honorable mentions: The Hotelier, Woods, PUP, Whitney, White Lung and A Giant Dog.
Within the last week or so a new Radiohead album came out. The ubiquitous, reviews, reactions and think-pieces made me want to kill myself, but that’s just what Thom Yorke and those jerks in Radiohead would want me to do.
So instead, I listened to Pile by Austin’s A Giant Dog and found it to be an enjoyable slice of old-fashioned, ass-kicking, self-aware and slightly campy rock music. The band’s third release for Merge Records is just a really solid, fun album–basically the opposite of a Radiohead release.
Pile is basically every redeeming quality of FM Rock Radio jammed onto one disc. It’s bombastic, there’s guitar shredding, folksier contemplative songs and the phrase “Rock’n’Roll” can be belted out with abandon in the choruses of multiple songs.
There’s also a cheeky sense of humor to the proceedings, which could be distracting in an Eagles of Death Metal way if executed poorly, but when listening to the album, it becomes pretty clear the band has lots and lots of love for the rock radio they draw their sound from. Plus, the jokes are generally self-effacing or skewering a certain dirtball lifestyle that I get the impression A Giant Dog are more than a bit familiar with.
It also helps that Sabrina Ellis, who splits vocal duties with guitarist Andrew Cashen, has an amazingly charismatic set of pipes. Really, you couldn’t ask for a bandleader who sounds like their having more fun, and it’s infectious as underscored by the video below.
This almost isn’t the greatest album ever made, but Pile is the most unbridled joy I’ve head in a while, and it’s kind of perfect over a car stereo on a summer day.
While Will Toledo had toiled on bandcamp under the name Car Seat Headrest for almost a half-decade gradually gaining production values and band members, it was last year’s very good album Teens of Style that put the band on most people’s radar. (Including me).
Teens of Style was something of a greatest hits record of Car Seat Headrest material from 2010-12, and it’s success ensured the next release from Toledo and company would have an actual budget and an anticipatory audience.
It’s follow-up album, Teens of Denial does not disappoint, but it does surprise.
The Julian Casablancas-esque vocals and early Dylan Baldi project garage rock vibe are intact, but there are also Frank Black howls, sloppy guitar-God jams reminiscent of (pick your ’90s shoegaze rocker of choice for a point of reference), lyrical allusions to Pavement and even a re-working of the most famous song by The Cars.
The insistent, building guitar noise on “Vincent” also gives me a serious Television vibe, but without the interplay of another guitar.
There’s also a variety to the instrumentation to match the varied influence. There’s xylophone, horns, moments of call and response, unexpected studio chatter and even some neat swirling production effects that are super enjoyable in headphones.
This isn’t the usual case of a lo-fi band hitting the studio, losing their reverb and calling it growth. The invested resources really seem to have lead to some shifts, changes and worthwhile experimentation without losing a grounded, DIY sensibility.
Pleasant production surprises aside, Teens of Denial is also an unexpectedly thematically heavy album. There’s examinations of mortality, morality and what it means to define yourself by interpersonal relationships. Plus, self-degrading tales of drug trips and drunk driving enter the fray.
The oddball stylistic shifts and a genuine sense of humor keep things from being all doom and gloom. Somehow even pontification on death terror is delivered with awry sense of humor and there are some moments of guitar-shredding release that are pure bliss.
The one-two punch of “1937 State Park” and “Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not an)” in the middle of the album is an absolute highlight for me. They’re a tandem of weird rockers that leave you excited for but unsure of what will come next.
Teens of Denial is an early favorite for my album of the year pick. Listen to it immediately.
A$AP Ferg’s newest album Always Strive and Prosper is an improvement on his debut, Trap Lord , it’s catchier, more personal and much weirder. I fully recommend listening to the entire album.
But more important than it being a quality album, it introduces a new character to the pantheon of hip-hop uncles–a topic near and dear to my heart.
On the track, “Psycho” we’re introduced to Darold Ferguson Jr.’s uncle Psycho. The very next song delves a little further into Uncle Psycho, but the song named for him pretty firmly establishes his character.
He is a fit man with braids, who smells of liquor, emulates ODB, smokes crack, brandishes weapons, is in and out of mental institutions, has a signature dance and scraps for money in a public park. He also sometimes sleeps in that same park, and it’s also where he brings his two children, one of whom was born as an attempt at emotional blackmail, for recreation.
Literally, nothing said about Ferg’s uncle sounds remotely positive, but the entire description is delivered with affection, and by the end of the song the blatantly obvious reveal that maybe Uncle Psycho wasn’t a particularly positive role model for A$AP Ferg still packs an emotional wallop.
It’s an awesome song, but an even better hip-hop uncle.
The delightfully snide Seattle band Tacocat just put out a new album, Lost Time. It’s a pretty good collection of songs, but maybe not quite as good as their last album, NVM.
One super silly tune off of their new release stood out to me in particular: “Horse Grrls” an ode to females who cherish horses above all else. Everything about the song is delightful, the galloping beat, the drum-stick countdowns that presage the speedy bits and the on the nose descriptions of a certain adolescent female archetype.
This celebration of the people who celebrate horses inspired me to throw together a playlist of my favorite songs about, or ostensibly about, horses. Unfortunately, there weren’t really all that many horse songs I would willingly endorse, so I had to get creative.
By using band names, lyrical content, thinking of songs that mention horse racing and remembering the Mr. Ed theme song was sampled once, I was able to come up with a decent collection of vaguely horse-related songs.
Frightened Rabbit’s latest offering is a collection of brooding, generally pretty songs acutely aware that decay is an inevitable conclusion and atrophy is the natural order of things.
This could easily turn into a slog, but Painting of a Panic Attack is a fine album and sometimes even a fun one. There’s a peace to the universal nature of the bleakness that permeates the record and somehow makes songs about existing in the face of inescapable decline seem triumphant.
The idea of resigning one’s self to disappointment and eventual demise, but realizing the intervening years still have to believed and approaching them with something resembling optimism is a theme in just about every song on the album.
And when that optimism is explicitly expressed, it feels particularly earned because everything else is so dire.
This is why I would recommend the deluxe edition, which includes 3 extra songs and vastly upgrades the closing track.
“Die Like a Rich Boy” is a class conscious spin on “Thantatopsis” and honestly a bit boring.
“Lick of Paint” which closes out the deluxe version is an earnest seesaw folk song with some really lovely harmonizing. It concerns the patchwork, ultimately cosmetic improvements that go into refurbishing self and relationships without making fundamental change.
It’s also much catchier, and on an album that can sometimes be a bit strapped for hooks, is very welcome.
The extension makes structural sense, as well. The lively “Break” becomes a halfway-point and a respite from gentle, dour noises, and “Lump Street” provides enough of a jolt to carry the next three tracks straight through to the better closing song.
Still, even the standard version is a solid collection of glum tunes, acerbic observation and tales of questionable sobriety that I’d recommend.
Of course that means in other words, it’s a Frightened Rabbit album, but it does have some distinguishing features.
Painting of a Panic Attack finds the Scottish indie rockers in gentle, restrained form.
Not that Midnight Organ Fight was a stomping guitar album, but this album is particularly docile. Even the songs that prominently feature guitar don’t exactly rock. Instead, spacey shimmers generally supply a sense of texture.
The sense of distance is underscored at points by John Carpenter-esque icy synths that show up throughout the album– to particularly strong effect on the standout”Lump Street”.
Aaron Dessner of The National who handled production also provides some sonic flourish. The cresting guitar-strumming, piano-twinkling intro to the excellent “An Otherwise Disappointing Life” is unmistakably out of The National’s playbook. Painting… sounds rich and fully realized throughout which helps keep things interesting.
Overall, I didn’t love Painting of a Panic Attack, but I absolutely love some tracks on it, and even when it isn’t great its attempts to grapple with some weighty topics are still admirable. Definitely worth a listen.
Pavement are a band I’ve never really been able to get into. I appreciate that they’re sort of a quintessential indie rock band–basically a slacker version of The Replacements: sloppy, fun live performances, an implosion right before they should’ve been huge and lots of disdain for their more self-serious peers.
I even appreciate that Stephen Malkmus is an excellent musician. He’s maybe just a half-tier below Jay Mascis on the indie rock guitar god totem pole.
Still, it’s never really clicked, but there is an exception. I absolutely adore most of the song “Shady Lane/ J vs S”. Specifically, I love the “Shady Lane” portion.
I’m on board as soon as the song gets to the hyper-specific, very funny second verse. “Redder shade of neck on a whiter shade of trash/ this emery board is giving me a rash.” Those are some of my all-time favorite acerbic lyrics, and one of the more creative ways I’ve heard a redneck described in song.
The rest of the song is just a shaggy, plodding joy that always makes me inadvertently nod my head. It’s catchy, and while the lyrics never really soar to the heights of the second verse, it does include awesome somewhat-obtuse but memorable phrases ( You’ve been chosen as an extra in the movie adaptation of the sequel to your life).
Unfortunately, what could have been a tight two-minute musical joy has to unwind with “J vs. S” a zonked out minute-long guitar outro that sort of wrecks things.
Still, the part of the song with lyrics are among my favorite 160 seconds of music.