Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: October – November

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.

3/5

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.

1/5

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.

2/5

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.

3/5

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.

3/5

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.

4/5

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.

1/5

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.

5/5

Well there’s only one month and four albums left. What will the concluding choices be? What a mystery.

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Music

52 Weeks, 52 Albums: May-June

I’ll be doing monthly wrap-ups for now on. Since I missed the end of May, I’ll just pretend I didn’t in the future. Anyway, let’s talk about some stuff:

Chvrches – Every Open Eye

I got introduced to Chvrches after going to The Game Awards in 2015 where they performed Leave A Trace. They’re what I would call electronic pop hooked together by lead vocals from Lauren Mayberry. I say pop because all of the tracks are insanely catchy. I found myself, someone who typically observes stoically, dancing along to a lot of the tunes. Tracks like Clearest Blue, High Enough To Carry You Over, and Empty Threat just asked to be moved along with. Whereas other songs like Never Ending Circles, Keep You On My Side, and Playing Dead are easy to sing along with.
You can see how the album’s variances between karaoke and dance tracks makes it easy to listen to the whole thing without realizing it. I ended up buying Every Open Eye pretty quickly and I still listen to it on occasion. Whenever I start playing it I’ll end up going through the whole thing. It also helps that the final track, Afterglow, is a decent finisher track. 4/5

Christine and the Queens – Christine and the Queens

I was invited to a Grimes concert in Los Angeles and the opening acts were Christine and the Queens, and Tei Shi. I had never heard of either artist so I decided to check them out before going to the show. Christine and the Queens is practically a solo artist from France. “The Queens,” are the band members, much like “Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.” Christine’s lyrical content touches on LGBT topics, which seems to be the draw for a lot her fans (by the way her legal name is Heloise Letissier, but every fan I met at the concert referred to her as “Christine”). For example the first track on the album is called “iT” and some of the lines include: “she wants to be a man, but she lies, she wants to be born again, but she’ll lose, she draws her own crotch by herself, but she’ll lose because it’s a fake, it’s a fake, it’s a fake, it’s a fake.” Of course she’s not a one-trick pony, with other songs delving into typical topics like love and loss, etc.

Christine’s music is something that would fit at a Grimes concert. I’d characterize it as more low-key than the hyperactive Grimes-style of electronic music, but there’s still a lot of synths. Some of my favorite tracks include Saint Claude, Tilted (which was named Song of the Year by Time), Science Fiction, and Paradis Perdus. Paradis Perdus is unique because it’s actually a mix of an original song by Christine and a cover of Kanye West’s Heartless. It’s an interesting blend, and as a huge Kanye fan, made me like Christine quite a lot. I purchased the album, and I’d say the whole thing is worth listening to but the last few tracks are extremely forgettable. For a first album, it’s a quality debut. 3/5

Tei Shi – Verde

The other opener at the Grimes concert was a lesser known artist named Tei Shi. On her Wikipedia there’s a line from The Fader that says she’s “known for making whispery, slow and sensual bedroom pop,” which sounds somewhat accurate but her best song is the complete opposite. I specifically listened to her “Verde” release because it had the track “Bassically,” which might be the most empowering song I’ve ever heard. An explanation doesn’t do it much justice, so I’d give it a listen. The anchor point of the song is Tei Shi’s vocals that start off timid and build to this visceral yell of emotion. It’s goose-bump inducing. Hearing that song live is an experience. The rest of the songs off of Verde are ok. Go Slow is a stand-out, but otherwise I’d hope that Tei Shi releases more. There’s potential. 2/5

Death Cab for Cutie – Transatlanticism

The friend I saw the concert with is a bit of a music junkie and they suggested a few different albums based on the previous albums I had listened to so far. Since I had The Postal Service, and I mentioned I liked it, they suggested Death Cab’s Transatlanticism. I was skeptical since Death Cab has been synonymous with ridicule but since I’m not in High School anymore I figured why not. I can say with some amount of confidence that I ended up embracing my inner emo and enjoyed the album quite a bit. I think Death Cab gets away with their style of music because the lead singer, Ben Gibbard, doesn’t make excuses for himself. All of the lyrical content on Transatlanticism is equally as hard on himself as it is on “life.”

Gibbard’s lyrics are one of the main attractions to Death Cab, specifically because of his ability to articulate difficult emotions. The track “Title And Registration,” starts off a bit bizarre, declaring that glovebox compartments should change their names because they never have gloves in them, but transitions to be about how he’d open the glovebox (a compartment that is rarely opened) and find old pictures of a past relationship. It’s a very human song, without any of the pretense found in other songs that try to depict love emotions as some grandeur concept. The rest of the album continues these themes. As for Death Cab’s comparison to The Postal Service, I’m personally more of a fan of Death Cab’s sound. The guitar/bass/drum conventional sound is more appealing to me. Especially on the pop tracks like Sound of Settling or Expo 86. 4/5

Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People

Let the nostalgia of High School continue. You Forgot it in People is a deceptive album because I began listening to it for the first few tracks, but I really fell in love with the second half of the album. The first few songs are very eclectic. They fall under the loose “indie rock” definition, but with my limited palette I would say some of the songs reminded me of Interpol’s catalog. Then after the track “Looks Just Like the Sun,” which is an acoustic track, the whole album is practically a designed nostalgia trip. Every song’s content, instrument choice, and overall sound, feels like it dropped out of memory in the back of your head.

The tracks themselves are called “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl,” or “Late Nineties Bedroom Rock for Missionaries,” and songs like “Lover’s Spit,” describe a room full of people making out. Apparently the band Broken Social Scene is made up of upwards of eleven people dedicated to various different instruments, and you can hear that in the songs. With various flutes, violins, trumpets, trombones, and whatever else coming in when it feels right. It’s practically impossible to listen to these songs without reminiscing about your past. It’s a neat little experiment, and I didn’t mind having my emotions manipulated with while listening to the album. Although the first few songs grow tiresome very quickly. 3/5

Brand New – The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me

Hey while we’re reminiscing about High School and listening to emo music, let’s bring out the dark side, yeah? The side that listened to Linkin Park. What happened to that person? Well if they didn’t grow up, they’d probably be listening to Brand New and I mean that in the best way possible. Brand New is basically a credible version of Good Charlotte or some band like that. Their music is legitimately constructed and the content is more mature. This specific album was apparently written when the members of Brand New “had gotten very accustomed to going to funerals,” which explains a lot of the divine questioning in songs like “Jesus Christ.” I liked this album because Brand New is pretty good at crafting quiet moments, but by and large they prefer to go loud and heavy, which I wasn’t a huge fan of. Some songs, like “You Won’t Know,” are pretty obnoxious about it, with a minute and a half of near-silence then loud guitars. This is repeated in “Welcome to Bangkok.” I get that some people live for those massive drops, but I’m really over it. My personal favorites were Millstone, Jesus Christ, Degausser, and Limousine. 3/5

Death Grips – The Money Store

I actually tried listening to The Money Store a lot earlier in the year but it didn’t click. I had listened to Death Grips’ mixtape last year and was a fan of a few songs, but their first album wasn’t coming together in the same way. Then in the middle of May, it dawned on me: I need to listen to Death Grips right now. This album has practically been on repeat since. Part of it might be that there’s simply no other band like Death Grips. Within that qualifier, there’s no other album by Death Grips like The Money Store. Their approach to each album is different and the results are never exactly the same. The Money Store’s raw adrenaline and unique aesthetics are a mood you have to be in. Oddly enough the only song I skip on the whole album is I’ve Seen Footage, specifically because it’s not insane enough. It sounds too normal. Otherwise, I start the album at Get Got, and listen to the whole thing. Sometimes I skip to The Fever, or The Cage, if I’m in a rush. The whole album is a syringe of adrenaline, but one you have to get acquainted to. 5/5

Death From Above 1979 – You’re A Women, I’m A Machine

Death Grips kicked off an aggressive trend for a few albums, continuing with Death From Above1979’s You’re A Woman, I’m A Machine. This duo is made up of a drummer, and a bassist/vocalist which makes for a very identifiable sound, but also one that struggles to mix things up. Most of the songs sound like all the other ones. I found myself preferring the tracks Romantic Rights, Blood On Our Hands, and Little Girl, compared to the rest of it so there’s clearly some difference. I can commend the sense of energy brought to the album from a distance, the truth is I didn’t spend much time listening to it. 2/5

At The Drive-In – Relationship Of Command

Feeling the need to fill that hole for quality post-hardcore/punk, I gravitated toward At The Drive-In. Relationship Of Command was released in 2000 as the band’s third and final album, although the guitarist Omar Rodriguez-Lopez and frontman Cedric Bixler-Zavala would go on to form The Mars Volta. Some similarities can be drawn between the two bands but At The Drive-In’s signature is the kick-your-face in energy. The album starts off big with Arcarsenal, with a build-up leading to Bixler-Zavala’s yelling vocals. Personally I was impressed with Bixler-Zavala’s ability within the first song. He’s very clearly yelling for most of the album, but it still sounds melodic, as opposed to an untrained guttural scream. Even though rowdier frontmen have proven to be a one-trick pony, Bixler-Zavala proves his singing credentials on later tracks such as Quarantined, Non-Zero Possibility or the album’s best track: Invalid Litter Dept. As much as I enjoyed Relationship Of Command for what it was, I felt like it was really close to something even better, which is why I decided to immediately jump into the next album… 3/5

The Mars Volta – Deloused in the Comatorium

After Relationship Of Command was released, Omar-Rodriguez and Bixler-Zavala left At The Drive-In and started working on a band called “De-Facto,” they eventually formed a “fluid” lineup and the band formed into The Mars Volta. “Fluid” may be an understatement. Renown bassist Flea, plays bass on 9 of the 10 tracks for Comatorium because they individually asked him to play the track for each of the nine tracks, unable to find anyone else. In their early days, The Mars Volta were heavy into drug use, and not kind that gets humorously represented in Hollywood movies. One of the founding members of The Mars Volta died of a heroin overdose during the tour for Comatorium. Afterwards Bixler-Zavala vowed to stop doing opioids, but there’s a lot of stuff in between sobriety and opioids. Bixler-Zavala and Omar-Rodriguez’s departure from At The Drive-In was partly because of their “creative difference” over drug use in the band.
However the results speak for themselves. Deloused in the Comatorium is one of those albums where you think “you’d have to be out of your mind to make something like this.” The average song length is technically six minutes, but if you take out the two intermission tracks, the average is a little over seven minutes. The songs demand these lengths to encapsulate their epic scale. The words “rock opera” come to mind. Reviews for the album have compared The Mars Volta’s first effort as a combination of influences that lies somewhere between Rush and Tool.
As a huge Tool fan, I can say I certainly found myself falling into similar listening habits. The songs themselves have an obvious hook. Most commonly found in Bixler-Zavala’s vocals, as he sings cryptic lyrics which allude meaning even when you know what he’s saying. After the initial listen I would go back and listen to one instrument: the bass, the guitar, the drums, or the little sounds in between. Each part will go off and do their own thing or come back together in ways that makes dedicating a listen worthwhile. In short—I feel I can keep coming back to this album for a long time. I feel pretty confident saying that, since I got into Frances The Mute sometime late last year and I still turn on Cassandra Gemini and listen to the whole thing without fail. 5/5
Alright, next time I’ll post at the end of July.

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