In this edition of Recommended Albums, Warm Visions sells out. Four out of ten records this month came from a major label or affiliate. I just received an oversized check in the mail for one trillion dollars from “Big Music Executive Man,” and in the memo it says “thanks for promoting our artists WV, you’ve saved the industry” so it looks like I’m all set. Aside from those big guys we have the rest, a bunch of whatever hum drum bands from small labels like uh Ninja Tune and XL?? Yeah ok, chump change. You’re lucky a blog of this stature is even paying attention to baby bands like you. Call me when you’ve got a song on an iPod commercial or something.
Actress – AZD [Ninja Tune]
In this album’s reality, a scientist has created a time machine that has completely erased all notion of linear time and space. Things move freely between eras. The stone age casually co-mingling with intense cosmic warfare. Everything is in complete chaos, but no one has known anything different. Our protagonist, an emotionally desolate radio DJ born in the early 1990s but residing in the late 2140s, is on a personal mission of retrieving forgotten dance records from war-torn warehouse spaces from their time and getting them on their show. The DJ’s chilly disposition makes them an enigma on the dance floor, so it’s unknown why our hero has decided to risk their life to recover these records. It turns out that the specific records they were looking for are the keys to unlocking the holy power of the cosmos. True cosmic power, true understanding, true enlightenment coming from the power of these records.
Arca – Arca [XL Recordings]
Unlike Arca’s previous projects, this self-titled effort, with a macro close up of his face, is all about him. Previously, Arca had focused on a certain alternate persona as the subjects of his albums. Xen was about a flirty, dramatic side. Mutant was about tormented, freaky shit. Entrañas was getting closer to what we have here, but in the guts, the innards. This is purely Arca; front and center. Also unlike his other albums, he sings on almost every track. His understated voice billowing above his contorted electronics like a dramatic specter, morphing from mournful, to vengeful, to angelic, to sensual. It’s a brilliant reinvention to his work, which is saying something considering he sounds like almost nothing else out there. Only he could find a way to add more depth to an already omni-dimensional project.
Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory [Constellation Records]
My favorite big sax boy Colin Stetson is back on his rootin’ & tootin’ grind with this messy, knotted gut punch of a record. If you know what this guy’s about, read no more, just listen. If you’re new to Stetson’s work, you’re in for a treat. This guy is one of the smartest, most skilled performers and composers out there right now. His saxophone playing is that of a man possessed. You can hear the brass bending beneath his will. His circular breathing shows up in the mix, giving signs of life to this clanking goliath. A steampunk nightmare. Groans and squeals escape from the labyrinthian oscillations, while valves clamping shut act as percussion. He can be high-flying and graceful, he can be broken and desperate, he can be brash and violent, he can paint entire narratives through his performances without a single lyric being spoken. And it’s all just one guy with a saxophone.
Feist – Pleasure [Polydor]
With no expectations beyond a shallow impression from the Feist songs my girlfriend has played for me, I went into this thinking “haha oh whatever, 00s indie rock.” I came out being like “ok well damn, I’m an ass.” Granted, I don’t know how this record compares to her other records that I know many people swear by, but who gives a heck? I really enjoyed pretty much every song on this album. What sticks out to me most of all are the arrangements. Not only are the songs well-put together, but there’s an excellent use of small flourishes across the board to add unexpected, pleasurable kicks. A patch of breathy backing vocals here, a glassy synth stab there, a shy saxophone hidden around the corner, some lackadaisical piano noodling… These small details and effortless elevate Pleasure‘s atmosphere from something that could feel decently familiar to something that feels dynamic, exciting and memorable. It has a deeply personal touch, something that is vastly underrated in 2017. Don’t be a knob like me and initially write this off like an old iPod commercial, cause this is a small sliver of goodness that only 2017 can offer you.
GAS – Narkopop [Kompakt]
Ambient legend Wolfgang Voigt is back with Narkopop, his first album under the GAS moniker in 17 years. The album puts an emphasis on reinterpreting sounds from a full band & orchestra, with sunken trumpets and submerged timpani echoing out into a watery amphitheater. Songs are slow to develop and usually don’t do a whole lot, but that’s the point. It honestly feels a bit strange to be listening to an album like this in 2017 and classifying it as a relevant release. I’m used to going back deep into recommended ambient collages and plundering records made in the 80s and 90s to get my fix. But here we are in 2017 and I’m putting it in a list alongside Kendrick Lamar and The New Pornographers. If you’re a fan of ambient records, definitely listen to this and all of the previous GAS records.
Kendrick Lamar – DAMN. [Interscope]
While on my first listen of DAMN., I had to physically brace myself. “DNA.” comes on and knocks me back. Then the beat switches up of course and my jaw drops. I’m trying to find someone else in my empty room, someone to say “are you really hearing this too??” And then “YAH.” smooths me back out like a sequel to “Bitch Dan’t Kill My Vibe.” Then “ELEMENT.” makes me think of a superior Drake impression. Like, he’s doing what Drake should be doing. Then I have Rihanna’s lines from “LOYALTY.” stuck in my head. This was also my first time listening to “HUMBLE.” All I have to say is that Mike Will Made It is a genius. The minimal beats he makes are nothing short of extraordinary. With the beats on here plus “Mercy,” “Black Beatles,” “No Type,” come on man. Legend. But back to Kendrick and me on the floor listening to Bono go trip hop. “LUST.” sees Lamar as Andre 3000. I mean, I could go on. Any haters that haven’t listened should just go in already. You’ll come out a believer. I’m definitely going to listen to this more than To Pimp A Butterfly, for real.
Lake – Forever Or Never [Tapete Records]
Featherlight indie rock from the Pacific Northwest. Soft 70s rock vibes permeate throughout, with plenty of mellotron, slinky basslines and Stereolab-like synths. But occasional ripples shake things up across the record’s otherwise placid surface. “Gone Against The Wind” reminds me of moments from louder Mount Eerie records, with warning siren guitars and a haunting choir of vocals. “Christian Comedians” adds a bit more noise to the calm atmosphere as well, but for the most part Forever Or Never is a calming, airbrushed voyage through a foggy tunnel of love.
The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions [Concord Music Group]
Never the most dedicated fan of The New Pornographers, I’ve usually gravitated more towards the solo careers of its players. Destroyer of course being my favorite, Neko Case following that as a high second, Fancey galloping in as a strong underdog, Kathryn Calder in there as well… A.C. Newman, though, eh. Always on the fence. However, on Whiteout Conditions, with Dan Bejar out and Newman taking more of the “male vocal” spotlight, I’m surprisingly okay with how things turned out. New Pornos get down with some synth pop on this one and Newman & Case trading takes fit really well in a swaggering posse type of way. The hooks on here are some of the strongest I’ve heard from the band. Excepting “Avalanche Alley,” it kind of limps out at the end, but I’d say I had a really good time listening to this after going through of a slog of other disappointing albums from this month.
Playboi Carti – Playboi Carti [Interscope]
Playboi Carti is a rising player in the cloud rap-esque, aesthetic-heavy hip hop scene, a scene that focuses more on overall sound & beats and sloppy braggadocio rather than topical substance. Its populated by overwhelmingly popular, young rappers like Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, Famous Dex and other Soundcloud stans. A derivative of Future, Migos, A$AP Mob, Lil B, Young Thug. Very few instances of “damn, BARS” and more instances of “yuh yuh yuh yuh” and just riding out things out. Repeating lines and rhymes like zen mantras. Hybrid beats of something between trap, drill, cloud rap… who even knows. Something to turn your brain off to. It’s pretty satisfying when it hits. Listening to it makes me feel old though. Like this music is not meant for me. I’m still able to gain some pleasure from it though, so that’s good.
Weed – Born Wrong Love [Smoking Room]
The most pleasant surprise of April. Vancouver band Weed, in my mind, have usually been lumped along with the Exploding In Sound Records 90s rock revivalists. They make real heavy rock with tons of layered guitar, almost bordering on something one could call shoegaze. Droning vocals, killer riffs, wicked distortion, lots of feedback. Pretty standard faire, I’d say. But on this record it just hits so hard, especially on my favorite track “Leash.” The riff is so sick and it really sounds like the band is playing out some frustrations. I feel like 2017 has been a rather light year in rock so far, so get this and go heavy.
GR8 SONGS OF APRIL
- Actress – “Dancing In The Smoke”
- Arca – “Reverie”
- Charly Bliss – “Glitter”
- Colin Stetson – “Spindrift”
- Feist – “The Wind”
- Gorillaz – “Hallelujah Money (ft. Benjamin Clementine)”
- Happyness – “Anytime”
- Kendrick Lamar – “HUMBLE.”
- The New Pornographers – “This Is The World Of The Theater”
- Playboi Carti – “Magnolia”
- Slugabed – “Infinite Wave”
- Sylvan Esso – “Song”
- Weed – “Leash”