New releases worth a listen
By Christopher Schutte
One of the perks of being a music writer for the Dayton City Paper is that I receive a bunch of free music before its release date. Like many other things in life (such as 89 cent Taco Bell burritos and Robert DeNiro films), this is both a blessing and a curse. For every Radiohead, there is a Modern Skirts. For each genre-bending James Blake, there’s another Bright Eyes record, and so on.
While I’m generally a fan of liberally sharing my pain and angst with others it just doesn’t seem very sporting to skewer records I hate. It seems more sensible to reward your reading time by recommending records that I would actually lay out a few bucks for. Not that I actually buy music anymore, but you get the idea.
That said, here are some of my favorites from the past few months …
Given the influences (Van Morrison, SMiLE-era Brian Wilson) singer/songwriter Robin Pecknold cites in the lavish liner notes for Fleet Foxes’ second full-length, I find myself a bit surprised that I like this record so much. Helplessness Blues resonates with beautiful melodies, seemingly effortless acoustic strumming and soaring harmonies that take what is essentially a traditional music form and elevates it to elegant heights.
While 22-year-old wunderkind James Blake is most closely associated with the dubstep genre, don’t let that scare you away. Blake is decidedly experimental – skittering beats, effects-laden vocals and cavernous sub-bass define his palette. Unlike his contemporaries (Burial, Four Tet, etc.), Blake’s genius is grounded in actual songwriting and musicianship. A beautiful, restrained and groundbreaking record.
The King of Limbs
Since the release of OK Computer, Radiohead have carried the enormous burden of expectations. Moreover, they have been expected to exceed those expectations while exploring unprecedented new musical frontiers. Most of us would agree that this is a ridiculously high bar. While The King of Limbs mines no new emotional terrain, it succeeds wildly on its own terms. Maybe a little less human than its highly underrated predecessor, In Rainbows, and just a notch below their best, but still rewarding on many levels.
Toro Y Moi
Underneath the Pine
Those who thought chillwave would die a quiet death obviously haven’t caught up to Underneath the Pine. Chaz Bundick has warped the template with his latest release by infusing the hazy, psychedelic genre with a shot of retro funk and disco. This is a party record for people who (think they) are far too cool to play party records.
It’s not necessarily a good sign when:
A) It takes a band five years to record a follow-up to a so-so album.
B) Said band’s singer doesn’t actually record with the band, but rather mails in his vocals via MP3.
C) The band’s guitar player ends up in rehab for a nasty heroin habit that even further delays release of the album.
I can’t lie, Angles is definitely a train wreck. But it’s a damned entertaining train wreck that covers just about every musical genre from white-boy reggae (“Machu Picchu”) and 80s synth-pop (“Two Kinds of Happiness”), to an Elvis Costello homage (“Taken For A Fool”) and a note-for-note Thin Lizzy rip-off (“Gratisfaction”). Angles is a disjointed mess that also happens to be a pretty irresistible listen.
While both less adventurous and smoother than his 2007 breakthrough, Person Pitch, Panda Bear (aka Noah Lennox of Animal Collective) has created a record in Tomboy that is otherworldly yet immediately familiar. Panda embraces his influences (primarily Spaceman 3) on Tomboy, which, depending on your point of view, is either a propulsive, eerily devotional album, or a repetitive drone. What tip the scales for me are Lennox’s impeccable vocal melodies that are nearly unparalleled.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
A strange thing happened to TPOBPAH on their path to “twee” sainthood. Seems they took a detour to 90s alt-rock, hooked up with Flood and Alan Moulder (best known as the producers behind Smashing Pumpkins, NIN and U2) and conceived a bastard child called, Belong. The record is shiny and slick with punched-up fuzz in all the right places – a far cry from their self-titled debut. What hasn’t changed is the band’s innate ability to build to the perfect chorus on virtually every cut. Is Belong derivative? Sure. But you could do a whole lot worse than emulating the Cure, Yo La Tengo and My
Thom Yorke, Four Tet, and Burial
Given the collaborators on the Ego/Mirror 12”, it was a pretty good bet you’d end up with something special. The results do not disappoint. What’s most unusual is the fact that while you can readily identify all three artists’ contributions, the net is a seamlessly melded combination of their strengths. You may have trouble locating this vinyl-only 12”, but when you do, let it rip on the best speakers you can afford!
Reach DCP freelance writer Christopher Schutte at firstname.lastname@example.org.