Fuck You, It’s February
Could be greater critical acuteness on my part or the general ho-hum quality of 2013 releases, but I keep rubbing elbows with albums good but not good enough. A few more records in the queue (very few) that make the A-cut, but had I to place them in a list—last year’s list, say—they’d wind up towards the bottom. So as it goes, Parquet Courts is the best I’ve heard so far. Other albums ride the line between B PLUS and A MINUS, so I’ll hold on to them. And it’s possible that if I revisit Thao & the Get Down Stay Down later this year it’ll have grown on me. We’ll see.
Everything here—save for the Lemons—are B PLUS records where more * is better. Listed in order of preference with recommended songs accompanying. For the first time you’ll note that the Lemons have a few attending comments, not because I’ve gotten in the habit of panning stuff I don’t like, but because of a newfound and useful technique of jotting down thoughts as I listen to stuff. And since I wrote it and really do feel these ways about said releases, I don’t see why I shouldn’t share why I dislike them.
SERENGETI – Saal (Graveface Records): Serengeti sings. Experimental producer Sicker Man deploys acoustic guitars, cello plucks, lullaby chimes, and woozy synths to accommodate David Cohn’s down-tempo demeanor. Geti trades his usual storytelling for stream-of-consciousness or glimpses of half-remembered moments; daydreaming on a bus to LA before his bottle of wine bursts, reminders that keeping it real in hip-hop doesn’t prevent aging, or a shot of a drug-addled mother belt-whipping her karate-trained tike. Purchased download provides eight tracks and five bonuses bringing total running time to 40 mins. (“Karate,” “Erotic City”) ***
THAO & THE GET DOWN STAY DOWN – We the Common (Domino): Bay Area Thao Nguyen, described as alt-folk, compared to Beck/Apple. Beck I understand, Apple not so much. Starts off like a real pop machine with her words masked by mic distortion; loses steam on slow, dinky numbers that can’t support her non-lyrics. Much better than 2009’s scatterbrained Know Better Learn Faster. (“City,” “Every Body”) ***
FOXYGEN – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic (Jagjaguwar): Catchy tunes for sure—twang-happy instrumental blues shuffle they haven’t the slightest clue what to do with (“Bowling Trophies”), sharp riff-laden proto-punk off the title track that confusedly exalts Jim Morrison instead of Iggy Pop—and preferable to peers Tame Impala or Congratulations-era MGMT. But in between inanities like “the doors of consciousness” and “I got the roofies and the discotheque inside my mind” I didn’t catch anything not completely asinine other than “There’s no need to be an asshole / You’re not in Brooklyn anymore,” which to me sounds like something an asshole would say. Could be a fine record, but the LA duo aren’t the brand of asshole smart enough to pen a goddamn lyric; instead they wind up dredging the depths of San Francisco flower-power hoo-ha, take quite seriously their self-appointed hippie titles. No wonder they’re on Jagjaguwar. (“No Destruction,” “We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic”) ***
LOCAL NATIVES – Hummingbird (Frenchkiss): LA group’s sophomore effort. Vocalist Kelcey Ayer impersonates Robin Pecknold, backup band intimates Fleet Foxes’ ‘rolling melodicism’ as Pitchfork puts it (meaning melodic abstinence), occasionally Arcade Fire’s intensity. But Ayer’s croon doesn’t have the umph of fellow intenseindie singer Haley Mary, say, and can’t quite drive the sentiments expressed home sufficiently, but does better on softer, falsetto-reliant ditties. (“Colombia,” “You & I”) **
JIM JAMES – Regions of Light and Sound of God (ATO): Solo debut of My Morning Jacket frontman, a band I never cared much for until 2011’s Circuital, which had at least two really good tracks. This is surprisingly slow-paced, with a few decent moments up front and towards the end (“All is Forgiven”), but more surprising is all the God-talk, which, and I don’t say this often, could’ve used a helping of irony. (“A New Life,” “State of the Art (A.E.I.O.U)”) **
SBTRKT – Live (XL Recordings): London DJ’s 2012 set at Shepherd’s Bush, mostly from his 2011 eponymous debut full-length. Sampha’s singing suffers out of the studio, not helped by the bizarre appearance of the Heritage Orchestra. Probably the first instance of fans singing lyrics at an electronica concert. (“Wildfire”) *
SINKANE – Mars (DFA ’12): Electronica-infused post-rock with forgettable talk box-altered vocals and noodle-y rhythms that Sudanese Ahmed Gallab fails to open up or lets fizzle. (“Makin’ Time,” “Runnin’”) *
EDWARD SHARPE & THE MAGNETIC ZEROS – Here (Vagrant ’12): Band from Cali fronted by Alex Ebert with something like eleven people on board though none are named Edward Sharpe. Second album, first reached 76 on Billboard, this debuted at 5 and did well in Rolling Stone’s 2012 Top 50; easy to see why though I wish it wasn’t. Billed as “Neo-Psychedelia” by Allmusic among other things, I hear an attempt at blue-eyed soul that chases Delaney & Bonnie and ends up somewhere between hippie-folk and dub-dabbling. Where D&B were talkin’ ‘bout Jesus, these guys don’t wanna pray. In short, the tunes were pleasant enough I didn’t ruin them by hearing Ebert out. (“Man on Fire”) *
NEW ORDER – Lost Sirens (Rhino): Eight outtakes from 2005’s Waiting for the Sirens’ Call serve as 40-minute swan song and death knell of low-key electro-arena rock. (“I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Shake It Up,” “California Grass”) *
FIDLAR – FIDLAR (Mom + Pop): Fast and loud, stoned and proud, driving drunk and flipping the bird, these LA coke whores are either unaware or uninterested in their impending death by overdose. Ah, youth. (“Cheap Beer,” “Cocaine”) *
MUMFORD & SONS – The Road to Red Rocks (Glassnote): Four years, two studio albums, one collab EP with Laura Marling and Dharohar Project, one live album with said collab, four live albums on their own. Smells like Dave Matthews. (“I Will Wait”) *
GROUPER – The Man Who Died in His Boat (Kranky): With a title even gloomier than Dragging a Deer Up a Hill, Liz Harris’s newest ersatz shit is said by Pitchfork to focus on her voice and strum—e.g. her inaudible moaning and one-chord drone—which is spot on because there ain’t any words. Still gets an 8.3 and “Best New Music” tag, so I propose next time she plays her guitar with working gloves, gurgles twenty feet away from the mic, and calls it Rabbits Contemplating Suicide on River Logs.
CHRISTOPHER OWENS – Lysandre (Fat Possum): Girls frontman offers largely acoustic lousy love songs set with splashes of flutes, horns, and strings for a renaissance fair aesthetic that requires a high whimsy tolerance. “What if I’m just a bad songwriter?” he ponders. “What if everybody thinks I’m a phony?” You are. And we do.
PANTHA DU PRINCE – Elements of Light (Rough Trade): Four tracks, fifty minutes or so of bell chimes, called ‘ambient techno’ because ‘avant techno’ might be too pretentious, as if making an album’s worth of this schlock isn’t.
RA RA RIOT – Beta Love (Barsuk): Not so much annoying as it is embarrassing, this once-superindie Syracuse quintet lost overzealous cellist Alexandra Lawn after 2010’s completely songless The Orchard, leaving leader Wes Miles scrambling without orchestral backdrops, so he steers the band towards tinny indie-dance with his computerized “Oh, why?” falsetto, squeezing in strings wherever it’s convenient or conceivable on their latest release. Presumably called Beta Love because the new approach is to test the waters; not the real thing and could lead to something better once the kinks are worked out.