It seemed like 2016 screeched to a halt during the month of August: the heat was unbearable, the news was a continued spiral of despair, my headphones only sometimes worked in both ears, and maybe worst of all, the well of good music had almost gone dry. August was an embarrassing cap on possibly the weakest summer of music in recent memory. Status wasn’t good. 2016 was rough already and now this August had to happen? We as a people did not deserve it. Or maybe we did? One too many Harambe memes or op-ed hot takes pushed the King Of All Cosmos out of our favor and now we’re paying the price. Either way, here are some records that I liked from August.
Carly Rae Jepsen – E•MO•TION Side B – Interscope
Is it hard evidence of a slow month that a b-sides compilation makes it onto my favorite 10 records of the month, or is it that Carly Rae Jepsen is just that good? I’d like to err on the sides of both. Side B is and feels like a collection of leftovers from her incredible 2015 record E•MO•TION, but it’s still a showcase of brilliant & catchy pop tunes that vary in moods, just like her last album was. “Higher” is dark & propulsive, “Cry” is somber and emotional & the chorus of “Store” embraces a Kero Kero Bonito kind of approach on songwriting. “The One” is my overwhelming favorite on the EP, with a bouncy synth lead and the best chorus hook on the whole project. If more pop music starts to adopt some of Jepsen’s formula, Trev is gonna be a happy camper.
Exploded View – Exploded View – Sacred Bones
Exploded View came into my view late in the month, practically September at that point, but I’m glad I finally got to it after being in my peripherals for so long. It’s an anxious, knotted array of post punk, complete with industrial and kraut flair, veering all over the sonic spectrum. I’ve read that each of these tracks were record in one take and are “completely improvised,” which is pretty cool and adds an element of excitement to the already odd & invigorating music. The instrumentals are dark and murky, despite a recurring, harshly bright flash on tracks like “Lost Illusions” & “Disco Glove.” Maybe think a more restrained Guerilla Toss, perhaps? Either way, it’s a real cool record that adds some dimension to the boring state that post punk is in right now.
Hoops – Hoops EP – Fat Possum
Oh cool, another lo-fi, dreamy, jangly rock group? Hell yeah it is. Hoops finally get onto a great indie label for an EP, adding some dimension to their discog of independent tape releases. The whole project is really easygoing with plenty of gentle fuzz, billowing reverb and shimmering guitar work to carry the listener through a field of sunflowers. Speaking of the sun, this is a fantastic record to put on in the mornings while getting ready for work or school. It’s quiet and non-confrontational enough to not disturb the grogginess of the morning, but will keep you moving through the motions and keep you entertained during the slow moments of the day. Can’t wait to hear more from these guys.
Ka – Honor Killed The Samurai – Iron Works
One of the best hip hop albums of 2016 so far comes from Brooklyn rapper Ka, who has been around for a while peddling low key, mysterious bars over dark, minimal instrumentals with virtually no drums. Many hip hop fans will find this record dreadfully boring and strange. It’s depressing most of the time. It’s not something you can blast in your car or get hyped on. However, there is no denying Ka’s serious ability to lay down some mind blowing bars that are somehow simple and complex at the same time. He’s able to provide social commentary while also telling a story. He doesn’t get in your face by getting too political or standing on a soapbox, he’s telling tales that come from his own history. On this album in particular Ka uses the narrative of samurai in feudal Japan to frame growing up and surviving in the urban jungle of the big city by use of samples and metaphors to samurai culture. Songs contain similar themes, like needing money to survive and helping the ones you love survive (“$”), what one needs to do to get the money (“Just”) and talking about what the dreams are once money arrives (“Finer Things”). An extremely chilling and goosebumps-raising listen. What you need to do now is listen to the whole thing and read the lyrics along with it. Prop your jaw up because it’s gonna try and drop multiple times. My favorite album of the month by far.
Katie Dey – Flood Network – Joy Void
Australian-based bedroom pop artist Katie Dey confounded me on her last release asdfasdf, so I was hesitant to get into this new one. The vocals were so mangled and the instrumentals were so disjointed, I had trouble getting through even half of the record. Thankfully, Dey has organized things a bit more coherently on this record, just enough so that I can compehend what’s going on. She uses interludes between every track that flows one into another, bridging one manic thought blast to another, despite each song being very different. The easy comparison to draw to the music on here is to Alex G in his pitch-shifted, splintered pop moments. The guitar playing is deliberate and pained, the piano holds a sentimental quality, but there’s also just so much going on in this record at all times. I’ll just tell you to check it out for yourself, cause it’s a wild and interesting ride.
Kornel Kovacs – The Bells – Studio Barnhus
FUN house music. Sure, there’s cool house and experimental and all sorts of different strains and brains of house music, but FUN house music is what I’m into. Fun can be all sorts of things. All different scenes have their own brand of fun. Fun goes all the way back to the roots of house, disco, to the current stadium shaking forms it’s in now. It can be hi-fi or lo-fi. From the basement to the arena. It’s all over the place. So why not splice them all into one type of music, put out a record and call it The Bells by Kornel Kovacs? Sure, why not. This thing is a blast and a half, with some of the best head-bobbing, feet-moving, heart rate-rocketing electronic dance music of the year. Taking cues from the previously mentioned disco (“BB”), to latin club rhythms (“Gex”), to the icy, German minimalism of The Field (“The Bells”), Kovacs has made an album that is one that’ll make you smile to yourself on the subway and bring you out on the dancefloor in the same beat. Also the bass that comes in on the latter half of “BB” is some of the dirtiest stuff I’ve heard all year and I love it so much.
Rival Consoles – Night Melody – Erased Tapes
If Kornel Kovacs’ album from this month is the electronic pump up, then Rival Consoles’ Night Melody is the electronic cool down. This six-track mini album carries some weight across its short length, calling upon comparisons to Jon Hopkins and Shigeto in the realm of slow-building electronic soundscapes. There’s nothing too complicated about this release either: the rhythms are simple, the emotional peaks and valleys are straightforward and the beats are solid. So what sets this apart? Execution. These songs are very easy to listen to and get lost in. Sound hypnotically travels across channels, the dynamics are woozy and the synth textures are out of this world. Check it out and vibe the hell out.
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung – Dead Oceans
Can’t be a monthly recommended list from me without a Secretly Group release! Ryley Walker put out one of my favorite records of 2015 with Primrose Green, a jammy collection of folk rock that struck a ton of correct chords with me thanks to its similarities to Van Morrison, a person I like to fool people into thinking he and I are related. This new one is much more subdued compared to Primrose Green, with songs taking a more subtle approach, focusing on gorgeous Primitive American Guitar style playing and song development rather than taking a jam-based, experimental method. However, tracks like opener “The Halfwit In Me” and “Sullen Mind” do rise from the somber mood into louder moments, but for the most part, this is an easygoing ride.
Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits – Castle Face
Another year, another album from Thee Oh Sees, as they say. I’m at the point now where I’m looking forward to and dreading each upcoming Oh Sees album, just because I know I’m probably going to like whatever’s on it, despite it being no different from the band’s record from the year previous, save for a few minor variations. The quirks on this one finds a spacey organ adding greater scope to certain tracks like closer “The Axis” and “Crawl Out From The Fall Out.” Other than that, it’s a pretty standard garage rock chug factory of freaky riffs and unrestrained energy. Tracks like “Ticklish Warrior,” Gelatinous Cube” and my favorite “Plastic Plant” are rollercoaster rides that line up with the other Oh Sees theme park staples. As frontman John Dwyer repeatedly says: “WOO!”
Young Thug – JEFFERY – Atlantic
There is nothing that has ever existed that is like Young Thug in his current form. Young Thug is a singularity in the matrix. Even when he names his tracks after other artists and loosely emulates their style, he is in his own league. Sure, he might not be my thing some times, but I can’t help but appreciate what he’s doing. It’s absurd. There’s actually a track called “Harambe” and it no joke goes hard as hell. He’s wearing an amazing dress ensemble on the cover that looks like it’s straight out of Mortal Kombat. The beats are all over the place and are all incredible (the laugh sample on “Wyclef Jean,” the wooziness on “Guwop,” the signature siren sound effect on “Future Swag”). Who knows what we’ll be saying in five to ten years about a legacy or whatever, but right now, it’s nothing but impressive to see Young Thug to continually forge a sound that is literally like nothing else.
OTHER NOTABLE RELEASES:
- Cass McCombs – Mangy Love : The switch over to Anti- proves to be a good thing for McCombs, cause this is one of his best albums yet. Tons of dad rock influence on here, which is proving to be the newest, hottest thing for indie rock dudes. Or maybe it always has been? Dad rock will always be king.
- De La Soul – and the Anonymous Nobody… : Veteran hip hop group come back and put out an actually pretty dang good album. David Byrne is also on this thing. How neat is that?
- Dinosaur Jr. – Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not : Another legacy act putting out a solid album. Definitely sounds like old dudes but how can this band be so continuously good? Bands that rip off their sound must be excited to see them succeed.
- DJ Earl – Open Your Eyes : More footwork from the Teklife crew. New twist on the formula here is that Oneohtrix Point Never assists on some tracks & his touch is clear in the really odder moments of the chopped up frenzy..
- Frank Ocean – Blonde : Was gonna write more about Blonde but no one needs another block of text about this one.
- Haley Bonar – Impossible Dream : MN-based musician wowed me on her last record and this one is great as well. Showcases strength of a great range of structural song styles. Killer job covering the bases, Haley!
- Roosevelt – Roosevelt : Bright, propulsive dance music. Tons of fun with expansive retro grooves. Think something like Cut Copy.
- Russian Circles – Guidance : Instrumental post-metal staple add another notch to their great catalog. Nothing boundary blasting this time, but surely some satisfying carnage.
- Tobacco – Sweatbox Dynasty : Honestly a decently disappointing release from one of my favorite electronic weirdos, but there’s no denying this is a record made by Mr. Tobacco. Getting covered in this “fantasy trash slime” is worth a shot.
- Vince Staples – Prima Donna EP : One of my favorite personalities in hip hop lets himself shine with a quick EP. Not a fan of the skits tacked onto the ends and beginnings of tracks, but there are some solid flows and intense beats. Vince is great.