08.08.2017
Mary Halvorson Octet
Away With You

I'd heard of Mary Halvorson before in recent years, but I mostly randomly happened upon this new Away With You album. It's a fascinating listen. Halvorson is a jazz/improvisational guitarist, and the octet is made up mostly of what you'd imagine a traditional jazz octet to contain. But the music feels like something truly its own. It's jazz in that it contains improvisation, is mostly instrumental, and moves itself along themes and modal movements, but save for its occasional forays into noisey free-jazz nonsense, the goup plays more like an experimental post-rock band attempting to translate marches and waltzes through the freewheeling horns of a New Orleans parade band. Except I just read that sentence and it's not like that at all. I don't even know. The high points on here are near miraculous; everything comes together behind some beautiful descending chord progression and weirdo guitar melody, and it feels completely fresh and new. And fun! But then all too often, the tracks fall apart into noodly free-jazz bullshit and aimless drum solos. It's not going to find a place in my life the way that more melodically-composed recent albums by Mammal Hands or Courageous Endeavors, but still, this is something worth hearing, refreshingly outside any sort of modern jazz orthodoxy.

07.28.2017
Cornelius
Mellow Waves

The first half of Mellow Waves is Album Of The Year good. It takes everything you loved about Cornelius and melts it down into perfectly composed prog-pop that could only have been created by this one guy. It's a dang joy. The second half, as you probably guessed, sort of comes down from that high. It's not bad at all, but you want it to kick into some newer crazier gear, but instead it just chills out and slowly fades off. Which is fine. But I just feel like this could have been an all time great album. Instead it's merely very, mind-blowingly, frustratingly amazing.

07.22.2017
Sly and the Family Stone
There's a Riot Goin On

Holy shit this is a good record. I'm a little mad that I've never bothered with it before. It's basically the fundamental blueprint of all the best neo-soul and Dilla/Shadow/Kanye hip hop beats that came a couple decades later. It should be played at all parties. Mandatory.

07.17.2017
MIKE
May God Bless Your Hustle

MIKE is a teenager from Queens who I assume is named Mike, and he raps. I can't really pinpoint anything particular about his voice style, he doesn't have any particularly memorable lines to quote back to you, and nothing about his beats or hooks are hummable. But from the standpoint of artistry and honesty, May God Bless Your Hustle feels great. The beats, produced apparently mostly by MIKE and some character named Sixpress, land somewhere in the Madlib/Shadow sphere of rough, analog, introspective hip hop, without worrying too much about old school boom bap or modern day trap bullshit. The whole album just flows, with MIKE's vocals often pushed so high in the mix that his verses sound like late night audio confessionals rather than attempts at stardom. And even if his style isn't exactly flashy or unique, it works through pure honesty and thoughtfulness. Basically, this is a dude I want to root for over the next few years, hoping that he doesn't get caught up in the seemingly bottomless hip hop hype machine that turns every young Bandcamp and SoundCloud rapper into an overexposed sellout.

07.16.2017
Girlpool
Powerplant

Girlpool's first album was a surprise favorite of mine in 2105. It had this rough, tossed off vibe, sounding like two girls who decided to record an album together at the same time that they're just learning to play guitar, yet totally unafraid to just go for it, arranging their perfectly written songs to fit within the constraints of their limited chops, belting every melody in catchy 2-part harmonies, and not giving a damn that they don't know any drummers.

This new one, then, disappointed me at first. It sounds like a band. A band that knows what they're doing. With a quality set of distortion pedals and a drummer who probably teaches lessons on weekends. "And this is a bad thing?" Well, considering the charm of the first Girlpool album, yeah. The rough edges are generally gone, and their vocals have gone from joyous bellows to more generic breathy indie whispers. And yet. And yet it grew on me very quick. The songs and melodies are still fantastic, and their trademark 2-part harmonies are still everywhere. And the drummer kicks ass and it basically rocks. It was a quick turnaround from "Ugh, Girlpool just ruined their sound" to "Top ten of the year" in my book.


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07.16.2017
Sufjan Stevens
Planetarium

I'm filing this under "Sufjan Stevens," because it feels like his album, but in reality, Planetarium is a collaboration between Sufjan, Nico Muhly, and Bryce Dessner. That sounds like a perfect combination of collaborators, and an album where each song is about some different celestial object or idea sounds like a perfectly batshit dumb idea for Sufjan to absolutely pull off. And when you hit play, it works. It sounds like a beautiful surprise Sufjan album that basically came out of nowhere, and it's terribly exciting. But then it just keeps going, and nothing much happens. It doesn't build to anything great, no single song stands out from the others. It's just, sort of present. Like a lesserAge of Adz. Which sounds harsh, but I don't know if there's anything on here to even be harsh about. It just doesn't land.

07.16.2017
Cigarettes After Sex
Cigarettes After Sex

Cigarettes After Sex sound like some beautiful combination of Rhye and Mazzy Star. And if that sounds good to you, I agree. Album-wise, there's not a whole lot different happening from track to track, but whatever, because [re-insert first sentence here].

06.03.2017
Elder
Reflections of a Floating World

I haven't finished listening to this new (fucking killer) Elder record yet, so I can't really form any real thoughts about it (except that it's fucking killer). I just love the album cover so much that I want it on the top of the page. So here it is. Pretty sweet, right?

06.03.2017
Nightlands
I Can Feel The Night Around Me

Remember a few posts down when I accidentally bought the Cameron Avery album thinking it was a different album by a different bass player of a different popular indie band? Well I knew you were wondering, and here it is! The actual album I meant to buy! Nightlands' I Can Feel The Night Around Me! It's pretty good. Lots of (dare I say?) Beach Boys-y harmonies, chill moody washes, just barely funky. It's good enough.

06.03.2017
The Catherine Wheel
Ferment

Back in late high school I decided I should like the Catherine Wheel. I didn't. Then I tried again in college, still no. Once more around the early-oughts, no dice. But recently I woke up in the middle of the night, and could just feel it. "It's time," the voice told me. "You totally like the Catherine Wheel now." So I picked up Ferment, and I do!

06.03.2017
Father John Misty
Pure Comedy

I've always had a hard time appreciating Father John Misty. Which is odd, because he seems to fit right in to the Harry Nilsson / Randy Newman / Benji Hughes singer songwriter continuum that I'm such a sucker for. But this new one finally tipped the scales for me, and I'm totally sold on this thing that he does. I don't know if I'm ever going to just take it out for fun and enjoyment to listen to all that much in the future; this is some very specific, disruptive, thesis-oriented stuff that doesn't necessarily play well at parties. But to sit and listen to Pure Comedy is like reading a good book, or watching a good movie. Glad I did it, who knows if I'll need to revisit it in the future.

04.21.2017
The New Pornographers
Whiteout Conditions

The New Pornographers put out a new album, and look, it's not too great. It's good and competent like their last 3 or 4, but just doesn't have the highs of their best stuff. But more importantly, I finally managed to see them live! And even more importantly than that, I saw them live with Neko Case on the tour! Dan Bejar wasn't on this tour, but that's okay. To be honest, they all seemed a little bit tired and sleepy, looking a lot like a band that's been doing this for 18 years. But they still played great, they played the hits, and holy crap can Neko Case seriously sing. She's unbelievable. I'd follow her into battle.

04.09.2017
Future Islands
The Far Field

I'm super impressed by Future Islands' ability to stay the course. They easily could've gone the obnoxious route after 2015's "breakthrough", hiring big-name producers (Danger Mouse?) or bringing in bigger sounds (Danger Mouse and an orchestra?) or—mercy—partnering with Young Thug or something. But what they did is make another Future Islands album. And while part of me is curious about what exactly "next level Future Islands" might've sounded like, I'm perfectly happy just taking 12 more songs of Sam Herring—possibly the best voice in all popular music right now—singing over some steely driving indie new wave.


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04.08.2017
Mastodon
Emperor of Sand

Over the last 15 years, every Mastodon album has been something. Remission was the brutal and concise debut. Leviathan was the transformation from concision to confidence. Blood Mountain was the big weird bold step into 'anything goes and we can do it all.' Crack The Skye was the mellowed out prog concept album. The Hunter was an all-out refinement down to songwriting basics. Once More Round the Sun was seemingly an appeal to mainstream popular metal. Things were going so well until those last two. So I was a little nervous for the state of Mastodon leading up to Emperor of Sand... and I'm still a little nervous. I'm really not sure what this album is, how it fits in. If anything, Emperor of Sand is every Mastodon album at once—there's some Remission/Leviathan rage, there's some Blood Mountain weirdness, there's a lot of Skye vocal trading and layering, and there's unfortunately still plenty of Hunter/Once More 3-minute tunes potentially ready for hard rock radio. I don't know what to do with it. Luckily, Mastodon happens to be really, really good. So even if I'm confused by its mission, I still enjoy the hell out of this album.


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04.07.2017
Mount Eerie
A Crow Looked at Me

A Crow Looked at Me is such a personal record that I hesitate to even call it a 'record.' I hesitate even more to attempt to write a review of it—or at least I would if I wrote reviews professionally for some critical venue or another. It's probably the best Phil Elverum record since The Glow Pt. 2, and I wouldn't be surprised if I hear people say it's his best work ever, but even that praise feels imprudent. The situation is that is the man's wife died, and he wrote these songs to try to bear it. Some of them are journalistic records of post-loss minutiae, some are memories of the days and months previous, and some are urgent pleas to the universe to make sense of it all. It's all deeply moving and deeply personal, but written beautifully and honestly, prose poetry just barely formed into songs—and it's all written specifically to her, rather than to the listener or some omniscient third party. I'm not using hyperbole when I say that it's somewhat uncomfortable to listen to, as if these are private recordings not meant to be heard by anyone else. But Elverum released it because he wants to share, so I'm okay with it (although, in honesty, I haven't even turned the record to Side B yet. It's just too painful to engage with all in one sitting). Musically it's very pretty, free of nearly all of the instrumental obfuscation that he's practiced over the last decade, generally acoustic guitar and some assorted droning keys and basses. But lyrically, I think there's no question that it's the best work of his career, although again, even raising the question or placing these words in the same canon as his previous work feels entirely beside the point. The whole collection is wonderful, really, and while I'm sure Phil might appreciate hearing that, he almost certainly doesn't care. This isn't a record of music, it's a record of a man who is trying to cope by doing the one thing he knows best how to do: making a record.

10.14.2012 - by Steve
East Corner WontonManhattan
Roast duck and pork on white rice

"We should go check out Chinatown and get some lunch," said a particularly unimaginative part of my brain. And so we did. And it was quite a sight. Like, it was like China. And I'm only being half sarcastic; New York's Chinatown is quite a scene. Even more so than San Francisco's. Very few English signs. Banks I've never heard of (good luck finding an ATM). A different world, man. I'm mildly embarrassed that when I saw some people exchange money for something on a corner, I was actually surprised it was U.S. currency. Even more surprised when I caught a glimpse of myself in one of the mirrored walls at East Corner Wonton, shocked to see that, "Wow, I forgot I'm a white guy!" This was after only about 30 minutes. Anyway. We chose this place, of all the hundreds of similar Chinatown restaurants, because the Village Voice named their roast duck and pork on white rice dish to be the best dish in Chinatown, and I'm a sucker for hype. The duck was too fatty and boney for me, although the skin had a great flavor. But that roast pork was incredible! It was like what roast pork at every other shitty Chinese place is trying to do. I didn't even care that it was cold. Plus the whole plate was only $5, and the service was awful to us, and the Chinese patrons, so we didn't feel too bad about it.


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