05.31.2019
Sing Sinck Sing
Are Sing Sinck Sing

Sing Sinck Sing is a new project (are you keeping track?) of one of the ringleaders of Godspeed You Black Emperor, Efrim Manuel Menuck. It's a beauty, an intense collection of droning analog oscillators and maybe some guitars and some voices, still as harmonic as you might expect from the Godspeed guy. But what strikes me most about the Godspeed guy, as I've come to realize in the last couple years, is he really might be one of the best writers in music, which of course is ironic considering how most of his music is instrumental. I believe I went into detail about this theory back when I wrote up the latest Godspeed album, but just the song titles on this Sing Sinck Sing record are captivating to read. "Do The Police Embrace?" / "A Humming Void In An Emptied Place" / "Joy Is On Her Mount And Death Is At Her Side" / "Fight The Good Fight" / "We Will" (these last two on their own might sound too college-freshman on their own, but in the context of his decades of work there's a certain pugnacity in their basicness). Even the name "Sing Sinck Sing" is an enigmatic wordfuck.

05.30.2019
George McCrae
Rock Your Baby

I was shocked to learn, just last year, that Yo La Tengo's modern classic "You Can Have It All" is in fact a cover of an old 70s soul/disco song. I suppose it makes some sense; doing tasteful covers of record-bin classics is a longstanding part of Yo La Tengo's modus operandi, and the song always had a sprightly bounce that stood out on that album. Anyway, I found the original on YouTube, enjoyed it, and moved on with my life.

So then at the beginning of this week, I checked on in Stereogum's "Number Ones" article, part of a daily series running down every Billboard #1 single since the 1950s (it's truly a great series, giving new context to songs you've heard thousands of times, and offering some surprises as well. Recommended!), and that day's #1 was "Rock Your Baby", an early proto-disco hit by George McCrae. You've heard the song before, I'm sure, but as I was listening to it, something struck me: it sounded like Yo La Tengo. I mean, it didn't sound like Yo La Tengo—nobody was ever going to think "Rock Your Baby" was a deep cut from I Can Hear The Heart Beating As One, but it had this droning organ and crude synthetic drum that felt like something Yo La Tengo would do, as if "Rock Your Baby" was a part of their musical DNA, maybe from their youth. Then reading down the article a little, it's mentioned that McCrae is the one that originally recorded "You Can Have It All"! I had no idea that was his song when I made the connection from a different song! But really, something that George McCrae was doing seeped its way into those mad genius Hoboken Gen Xers 15 years later.

Part 3 of this tale is that while I was trying to unravel this "Rock Your Baby"/"You Can Have It All" situation, I found myself really, truly enjoying this record. Disco was just becoming a thing, and this (as you can read in that Stereogum article) was technically the first ever #1 song to be recorded specifically for disco clubs. But it doesn't have that gold-foiled, coked-out jumpsuit vibe that later disco would piledrive into the floor, it has some gentle soul to it. The whole album is a completely enjoyable listen, and I've been putting it on a lot this week. I'm not going to try to push some nonsense "George McCrae was a secret genius" line, because that's not the case—although "You Can Have It All" and "I Get Lifted" (later sampled on "Gin And Juice" and 100 other 90s hip hop tracks) are damn fine pieces of record-making. But this album is just a total pleasant surprise for me, and I'm going to keep coming back to it for a while.

05.29.2019
The Shins
Oh Inverted World

Imagine a world where the Shins released Oh Inverted World and then broke up or disappeared or perished in a plane crash or imploded into a black hole or whatever else would lead them to not release any music anymore. Also maybe Zach Braff also found that same fate in that same black hole. Oh Inverted World would be legendary today. Sure, it's always been admired and lauded to an extent, but I think that the subsequent years of consistently okay-to-good Shins releases have obscured it.

Listen to this album with fresh ears. It's phenomenal. Everything about it is perfect, from the unique melodies (I love when a songwriter is able to find paths through chords that are fully their own, like musical fingerprints, which James Mercer does—or did—better than nearly anyone else in indie rock at the time), to beautifully expressionistic lyrics, 90% of which I have no idea what they even are to this day, simple instrumentation just barely twisted into a lo-fi psychedelic audio palette, flawless sequencing, upbeat jams, melancholy ballads, and a very pretty (albeit very early 00s) cover. It's all so simple, yet composed and performed so beautifully that it becomes its own (inverted?) world.

I wrote something like this in my post on the last Shins album, but to sum up: the Shins never went Full Weezer. They haven't embarrassed themselves, they haven't released any duds or genre experiments or collaborations with Billy Ray Cyrus. But there's been a slow dulling of the edges, that started all the way back with their follow up to this one. Things got shinier, the simplicity disappeared into studio perfection, and when that became too boring and they tried to move back into scarier territory, they'd seemingly gotten too good to accidentally create a work of transcendence like Oh Inverted World.

This has never been my favorite album, or even on my all time top 10 (if I was to make such a list). I have no particular emotional bonds with it, despite listening to it a lot in college, but it's not a specific nostalgia trip for me. But when I listen to it now, it's like a hot knife into my ribs. It's so pure and good. I've never broken down crying listening to it, but I wouldn't be surprised if that happens at least once by the time I'm 70.

05.20.2019
Vampire Weekend
Father of the Bride

Father of the Bride is Vampire Weekend's Blonde. But not their Blonde on Blonde. Or is it Blond? That's what the cover says. No, I think it's Blonde.

04.29.2019
Sunn O)))
Life Metal

The guys from Sunn O))) dress like wizards, but Steve Albini actually is one.

04.29.2019
Possible Humans
Everybody Split

Possible Humans are extremely Melbourne in that weirdly specific way that bands from Melbourne are. Dry and jangly and direct and melodic with just a hint of bitterness. The first few songs are great, but then I zone out a little, so I don't know.

04.29.2019
Billy Woods
Hiding Places

Billy Woods isn't the most charismatic, energetic, transformative, convivial, melodic, magnetic, revolutionary, or even entertaining rapper, but he writes like a damn Pulitzer winner. Three brief excerpts:

But the sun crept,
diggin' at that empty house as the shadow stretched
The dog ran off, didn't come back yet

Overseas connection choppy, she's gettin' worse
Your sister talked to the nurse, everybody in church
Everybody wants to know if you comin'
But they won't say the words

I don’t wanna go see Nas with an orchestra at Carnegie Hall.

These are just three kinda random pulls, but every song on this album plays out with the tension and release of a very good short story. And not in like a "um actually rappers are really storytellers have you ever listened to Ghostface?" kind of way. Even though Ghostface is great. But Billy Woods is on his own level as far as wordsmithing goes. And the beats he works with are dark, minimal, and weird, making this whole album a gripping listen, if not a very fun one.

04.20.2019
George Harrison
All Things Must Pass

Have you ever noticed that the second disc of All Things Must Pass really sucks?

04.18.2019
Brutus
Nest

Brutus is a metal (post hardcore?) band from Belgium, with a rare triple threat drummer-slash-frontwoman, who sounds exactly like Bjork destroying her vocal chords to At The Drive In. The first two songs they released convinced me this would be the album of the year, and the album art was even engaging enough that I hauled myself all the way to Williamsburg to buy a physical copy of it on its release day. Two weeks later, I'm already kinda bored with it. After the initial excitement of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to some steely, reverby heaviness, you get a little sick of hearing Bjork howl her guts out to steely reverby heaviness. And also it's not actually Bjork.

04.09.2019
Wyes Blood
Andromeda

This is a very lovely album of graceful Laurel Canyon-inspired writer-pop, lush pristine and precise, and that's all I really have to say about it at the moment. I just wanted to post this right away because the album cover is so nice that I want it up at the top of this blog for a while.

04.06.2019
These New Puritans
Inside The Rose

This new These New Puritans album isn't as good as that old These New Puritans album. But it's still real good, in a way that music in 2019 rarely is. Slow, thoughtful, intense. I'm not going to sit and write a big obituary for Talk Talk's Mark Hollis (which is a huge bummer, and he's every bit the genius all the other obituaries have made him out to be), but These New Puritans really do feel to me like a 21st century continuity of Hollis's late Talk Talk and solo work. Not at all in a soundalike way, but in the way that they seem spiritually in touch with each deliberate sound they make. I have issues with some of their choices that I don't with Hollis (such as, why are so many of their instruments electronically programmed instead of recorded in studio?), but the effect in the end is nearly always beautiful.

(Side note: The CD version of Inside The Rose has fantastically designed packaging. Clear sleeves, overlapping printing, a unique booklet. I know nobody really buys CDs anymore [of course not "nobody," but that's the standard line], but it's worth checking out if you're in to this kind of thing.)

04.06.2019
Moon Tooth
Crux

When Moon Tooth's Chromaparagon came out a couple years ago, I liked the shit out of it. It was easily in my top 2 or 3 or 5 albums of that year, and I actually listened to it. A ton. It took a while to fully embrace it, because at first blush their music leans pretty heavily into the lamest of muses. Incubus, for one. Alien Ant Farm (even though, look, I kinda like Alient Ant Farm). Tool (sigh, same). And especially Dillinger Escape Plan, who isn't necessarily lame, but they're not really at the cutting edge of metal in the 20-teens. If you weren't really paying attention, Moon Tooth could strike you as a marginally progressive nu metal or post hardcore band, and then you'd never think about them again. This is what I nearly did at first, but some of their music was just too interesting to ignore. The more I listened, the more even the initially eye-rolling parts started to reveal themselves as subtly brilliant. Drum patterns played with rhythm while guitar lines went to surprising places; riffs would morph into new forms instead of repeating ad nauseam, and actually revealed an unpredictable, Mastodon influence that wasn't initially apparent; the singer didn't just sounds like The Guy From Incubus, but he actually found surprising and soulful melodies within the band's chaotic churn. And perhaps most amazingly, given the state of metal over the last, oh, 25 years, their music is fun. It's energetic, affirming, and downright joyful.I swear I listened to this fucker once a week the entire year of 2016.

Then a month ago, as I hoped might happen (they're from Long Island, and I'm now here in New York), I caught them live at a heavy metal bar in Greenpoint. The bar was over half empty, which is maybe to be expected because it was a weekday night and they hadn't yet released their new record (that this review is ostensibly about), but most simply because Moon Tooth is not a popular band. Did you read the first couple sentences of this post? They're not cool, their music is not en-vogue, and they are basically ignored by the metal cook kids table. Still, it was a bummer to see how few people actually came out to see this band, because shit: they put on a show. They play with energy and feeling like you barely see these days, the singer constantly jumping into the crowd, running back and forth (even running back to the bar to sing directly to seated drinkers, who may or may not have even been there for the show), guitar player fucking feeling it. But they weren't just a bunch of douchebags hamming it up on stage. They were total pros. They played flawlessly, tight as hell, and exploding with energy. Honestly one of the best performances I've seen a band give in a long, long time. I was double sold.

And now their sophomore album Crux is out. Honestly there's nothing terribly surprising on it, no major stylistic shifts, no huge surprises, except maybe for the proggy-ass double-time King Crimson saxophone breakdown at the end of the opening track, or the Van Halen influence that shows up for brief moments on two different songs. But it's fucking great, from front to back, in a way that confirms everything I'd thought about these guys in the last couple years. And more; I'm honestly at the point right now that I feel comfortable calling Moon Tooth one of the best metal bands working today. Full stop. I don't think many other people will jump on that train, but whatever. Maybe they speak to me in a way they don't speak to other people. Maybe they need to get some high profile gigs to convince the tastemakers of their value. Maybe their bass player needs to stop wearing a backwards baseball hat.

Crux rules. Moon Tooth rules. I promise my next post won't be as long.

05.30.2019 - by Steve
Philadelphia GrillBrooklyn
Philly cheesesteak

Cheesesteak: Pretty good. Employees: Extremely deep Brooklyn and kinda intimidating and probably named Vinny. View of bridge: Superb.