The Black Angels – Death Song (2017)

Death Song

The fifth full-length album by The Black Angels, released on April 21st.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

The Black Angels sound like a late-60s band with access to modern recording equipment. Heaven, basically.

Death Song is nearly their best effort (2010’s Phosphene Dream still takes that title). It’s also a huge improvement over their last full-length release, Indigo Meadow (2013), which had me fearing for my future with the band. Indigo was unfocused and uneven and weirdly flirting with pop-psychadelia; an album I only listened to a handful of times before sticking three songs on my iPod and calling it a day. Thankfully, starting with the Clear Lake Forest EP (2014) and now with Death Song, The Black Angels are back on track. Continue reading

Grandaddy – Last Place (2017)

last-place

Grandaddy’s fifth studio album (coming after an eleven-year break), released on March 3rd.

4 out of 5 stars.

By the time I started listening to Grandaddy (circa 2007), they had already split, so I am delighted to get a new album from them and more delighted to report that Last Place picks up exactly where they left off.

Grandaddy is the soundtrack to the modern world, evoking the present with an uncanny ability to convey malaise, yearning, irony, boredom and love in music and lyric.

For the already-Grandaddy fan: Last Place belongs in your collection. It’s close in style to The Sophtware Slump with clean piano tracks and strings and the return of our friend Jed. But though it has a feeling of immediate familiarity, Last Place is in no way redundant. Also – bless your hearts, Grandaddy – it’s an album that works as an album and rewards you for front to back listening (so no shuffling off the bat, guys). Continue reading

5 Songs for Beatles Skeptics

beatles

(my credentials)

Do you believe The Beatles are:

Overrated.

Nothing special.

Not influential anymore.

Stupid/boring pop (they did “Yellow Submarine” and “Octopus’s Garden” and “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da”, right?).

I respect your right to retain that opinion. But if you’re wondering what makes them dear and special to a prog/post-rock-loving heart, I present five songs off the beaten path:

1. The Ballad of John and Yoko

This could have been a Plastic Ono Band number; stripped down, functional, focused on the lyrics and not the music. Instead, it’s the best example of what McCartney brought to Lennon. The two performed the entire track themselves and McCartney’s bass, drums, and vocals create a dynamic energy. It hums with life.

2. I Want You (She’s So Heavy)

Dark, moody and, well… heavy. The guitar/bass line in the chorus kills.

3. You Know My Name (Look Up the Number) (or Anthology version)

One thing often overlooked when talking about The Beatles is how weird they could be. Not LSD/psychedelia weird, but kids messing-around-with-toys weird. “You Know My Name” is bizarre and wonderful and I can listen to it endlessly. (And for anyone who assumes all the musical avant-gardism was Lennon’s, please, please, please listen to McCartney II.)

4. Revolution 9

A messy, juvenile sound collage on first listen. And fourth and fifth. But then it stops becoming a gimmick and creates its own strangely compelling narrative.

5. Her Majesty

A fully realized, wonderful song – start, middle, finish – achieved in twenty-three seconds.

To the already-Beatles fans: What five songs would you use to explain your love to someone who’s written them off?

Anna von Hausswolff – Ceremony (2013)

ceremony

4.5 out of 5 stars.

The second studio album by Swedish musician Anna von Hausswolff.

Von Hausswolff has an amazing, strange, strong voice (a bit of Kate Bush, but mostly all her own). Her voice isn’t the focus here, though. It’s simply another instrument; sometimes central, sometimes used for accent, sometimes not used at all. Vocals don’t even enter Ceremony until we’re ten minutes in.

The musical sensibility here is insane. The care put into mix, dynamics, structure, ebb and flow makes for a hugely rewarding listening experience.

Ceremony ranges from deliberately structured instrumentals (“Epitaph of Theodor,” “Epitaph of Daniel”) to radio-ready three-minute pop (“Mountains Crave”). Each song is a journey with every step building logically on the last.

The organ stands beautifully in the forefront with the occasional complementary guitar, reminiscent of Rick Wright and David Gilmour at their best. It’s stunning. I’ve been listening to Ceremony on repeat for weeks and I’m still getting chills.

Standout Tracks: Deathbed, Mountains Crave, Red Sun, Ocean

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Anna von Hausswolff’s site

Perfume Genius – Too Bright (2014)

perfume-genius-too-bright

 

5 out of 5 stars

Third studio album by Mike Hadreas, who uses the excellent stage name Perfume Genius.

Perfume Genius’ first two albums are lo-fi, thin, delicate recordings which, while good, are not albums I’m likely to ever own. Too Bright is a different beast altogether. It’s amazing. I’m hard pressed to think of other artists who succeeded in such an impressive leap in style between albums.

The best way to describe Too Bright is in attributes: beautiful, haunting, sincere. Accessible yet entirely unique. Some of the tracks are intimate and piano-driven, others are forceful, driving electronica. It all deftly fits together, somehow.

Heartbreaking lyrics mixed with fascinatingly cryptic ones. Interesting chord choices/resolutions. (“All Along” and “No Good” make very cool melodic shifts that elevate them from good to absolutely striking.) The simple riff in “Queen” will dig into your brain. The first time I heard “Fool” I had to stop everything I was doing and immediately put it on again.

Consume Too Bright as a single unit, in order, instead of piecemeal purchasing tracks.

(My one complaint: I usually skip the track “I’m a Mother.” It doesn’t have a melodic center and the vocals are jarring and unfocused.)

Standout Track: I can’t narrow it down. To get a feel for what you’re getting into, you could start with “Queen” and “Fool,” but “No Good,” “Too Bright,” and “All Along” are also incredible. Five of the six remaining songs are above average. This is one of the best albums of the last twenty years.

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Perfume Genius’ site