October through November was a time of transformation for me. I quit my job at The Malibu Times and got a position at DailyVoice.com in New Jersey. I drove from one coast to the other, which took roughly 40 hours of driving total. That allowed a lot of time to listen to music. Unfortunately the trip occurred from Oct. 27 through Nov. 2 so it took me a while to write this addition of 52 Weeks, 52 Albums. Here’s everything I covered:
Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
I listened to Bottomless Pit quite a bit when it was released earlier this year. At the time I hesitated to say anything about it because my opinion was pretty negative. Of course, that’s how I felt the first time I listened to The Money Store, which has gone on to become one of my favorite albums ever. Sometimes you need to give things time and let them sink in. Especially a band as experimental as Death Grips.
Now time has passed, but despite some appreciation for songs I originally disliked, my opinion is the same. I see the appeal for the barbaric mess of “Hot Head,” the aggressive flow in “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood” and the bizarre shifts in “Ring a Bell” but the fact remains that this album feels unfinished. I don’t hear a lot of novelty in these tracks. Their flaws stick out and it’s harder to find the good stuff. “Eh” is the same chorus repeated four times within three minutes meanwhile “Houdini” seems like a good part of a longer song. “Trash” ironically mirrors the mediocrity the songs it criticizes. Other songs are interesting at first but quickly lose appeal. I liked the loud opener with “Giving Bad People Good Ideas,” but I never want to listen to the sound of that song. “Spikes” made an awesome first impression with its killer hook, but oddly shares the fate of pop songs where you’re waiting for the chorus instead of enjoying the whole song.
I think “Warping” and “80808” are probably the best songs on the album. “Warping” captures the feeling of insanity that overcomes you while listen to a Death Grips album. The meandering dinosaur bass is unnerving and syncs very well with the irregular bass drum. “80808” has a nice groove and atmospheric sound which reminds me of “Double Helix.” I regularly revisited those two (along with “Bubbles Buried in This Jungle” and “BB Poison”) but on a whole I kept thinking “why not just listen to The Money Store?” Which I frequently did.
The Magnetic Fields – 69 Love Songs
I knew early in October that I would be traveling cross-country, so I tried to tackle some albums that were a mammoth’s length to get them out of the way. The first contender was 69 Love Songs, a two and a half hour album separated by three discs and made up entirely of one to three minute pop love songs.
I’ll cut to the chase: This album sucks. Stephin Merritt, the lead vocalist (and practically “the guy”) in Magnetic Fields said he was in a gay bar and realized he had a knack for music. His way of introducing himself on the scene would be to write 100 love songs, but decided 100 was way too many so he cut it down to 69. As it turns out, 69 is also too many.
The majority of this album is complete junk. On the off chance you find a song that’s kind of ok, it doesn’t last very long with the average song being under 2 and a half minutes. On the other hand, there are literally dozens of songs that overstay by about 90 seconds. One wonders why you’d make a commitment to 69 love songs when tracks like “How Fucking Romantic,” “Two Kinds of People” and “Punk Love,” are so low-effort they might as well not exist.
Don’t make the mistake I did and assume there must be a solid nine-song album hidden away in the cacophony of melodramatic crap. The album peaks early and even the highest high isn’t worth the time it takes to discover it. If your morbid curiosity persist: I personally liked “I Don’t Believe In the Sun,” “Reno Dakota,” and “The Book of Love.” If any of those strikes your fancy than delve deeper into the album, but I doubt it.
Swans – The Great Annihilator
I’ve heard nothing but good things about Swans’ recent reemergence onto the music scene. Their last trio of albums (The Seer, To Be Kind and The Glowing Man) were praised for their immensely long operatic epics. I had some interest in that stuff but apparently Swans were already popular before their recent reemergence thanks to albums like The Great Annihilator.
I didn’t dislike the album but I’m truly puzzled by what people see in Swans. This album feels like the muddled down version of several other bands. There’s some metal/industrial influences but in general the album feels like a more satanic Joy Division. Of course Joy Division was novel in the 1970s and The Great Annihilator was released in 1995. So what’s the big deal?
The album has its eclectic moments. “Mother_Father” departs from the dreary tone with a punk-influenced drum beat and different singer. “Warm” is completely different from the rest of the album and practically sounds like the closing moments of a feel-good sports story. Finally “Out” is straight out of a smoky jazz bar. Everything in between commits to a dark gothic tone that may have been more worthwhile if they had committed to it. For example, “Killing For Company” starts off pretty oppressive and dystopian but quickly transitions into this weird organ-droning track that sounds like something a classic rock band would make if they were suicidal. There’s signs of truly great songs in “Telepathy,” “Where Does a Body End?” and “The Great Annihilator,” but the effect is muted. The album doesn’t pack a lot of punch (in fact the mixing is one of the quietest I’ve heard). Perhaps their live shows are different? You get a glimpse of what the Swans experience could be with their bonus live rendition of “I Am the Sun.” So maybe seeing them live is a whole new experience. But as it stands, this album is a disappointment waiting to be found.
Kamasi Washington – The Epic
The second of the mammoth albums I wanted to listen to. What better way to kill time then a three hour jazz album released in 2015?
I really can’t say anything significant about a jazz album. I like jazz music, but I don’t know what “bad jazz” sounds like. I lack the musical expertise. I didn’t really pay attention to this listen either. There were a lot of songs I flipped back to for my journey across the United States, but I don’t remember much about them. I used this album as something to play in the background while I thought about other things. For that purpose, it’s perfect.
Brand New – Deja Entendu
As you can see, the previous four albums were pretty big duds in my experience, so I wanted to fall back on something reliable. I really enjoyed the other Brand New album I listened to earlier this year, The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me, so it seemed like a safe choice. I wanted to go back to feeling something when I heard music, rather than indifferently letting the tracks run through.
Deja Entendu is not as dramatic as Brand New’s other work. This album is more poppy, with catchy hooks and a lighter tone. “I Will Play My Game beneath the Spin Light” is practically made for drunken singalongs and a few other songs fit that description. I ended up liking more songs on this album than Devil and God but in a similar way that I like a Fall Out Boy album– They’re fun to sing to and not much past that.
Into It. Over It. – Proper
I decided if I’m going to listen to post-punk pop music I might as well go hard with a bonafide emo album. Apparently Into It. Over It are part of an “emo resurgence” movement that’s going on right now. These new bands are returning to what made bands like Fall Out Boy, My Chemical Romance and Panic! At the Disco so popular (oddly enough Panic! is part of this resurgence as well). Proper’s fast pacing and personal lyrics scratched the itch of emotion + punk influence that I was looking for.
Compared to other albums in the genre, Proper is harder to distinguish. I recall thinking on my first listen that the opening track seemed very long, only to discover I was five songs in and didn’t notice the track change. The songs blur together and it’s difficult to figure out what you’re listening to immediately, but with enough trained listens you can separate the good stuff from the bad. I ended up liking every track other than “Write It Right,” and “An Evening with Ramsey Beyer,” they’re especially generic in an album that’s already difficult to discern. If the rest of the album doesn’t do your fancy, give “The Frames That Used to Greet Me” a listen.
Arcade Fire – The Suburbs
Last year I listened to Arcade Fire’s Funeral, and wasn’t a fan of it. A few months later I found myself listening to it on repeat. So perhaps I’m in that first judgmental stage when I say The Suburbs is largely uninteresting. I gave “Rococo” a few listens but otherwise this entire album is a big snooze.
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
This might be one of the few truly great albums I’ve listened to this year. I’ve learned more about my rap tastes through this experiment than anything else and they seem to culminate with A Tribe Called Quest’s brand new album.
The core trio have undeniable chemistry with each other and the guests they bring onto various tracks. “Solid Wall of Sound’s” second verse is a masterpiece. Q-Tip, Phife Dawg and Busta Rhymes trade lines that interweave lyrically and aesthetically. Q-Tips high pitched clear lines contrasted with Rhymes’ deeper voice register with a Rastafarian flow. I can’t hear what they’re saying as I listen to the track but it’s a beautiful rhythm between these three artists who have a clear understanding of one another.
The whole album has a moment worth highlight every track. I personally liked the villainous laughing track that’s played over the opening verses on “The Space Program.” Q-Tip’s lyrics in “We The People…” are both politically conscious and clever. The piano sampling on “Lost Somebody” is an absolute killer. Anderson Paak’s (nearly solo) guest appearance on “Moving Backwards” is better than any song he made on his own. “Ego’s” creeping trumpet melody injects a playfulness into the second half of the album. Finally, “The Donald,” is not only a terrific tribute to Phife Dawg (who died in March 2016) but simply the best song on the album (also funnily enough has nothing to do with Donald Trump).
It’s a hell of an album that I look forward to binging.
Well there’s only one month and four albums left. What will the concluding choices be? What a mystery.