This month on the new music countdown, I’m happy to report that I’m splitting the load with our new contributor, Josh. Josh will bring a sunnier disposition to these proceedings, as he occasionally actually likes things.
What better time to inject some fresh blood into this ol’ blog than in the stinkin’ days of July to take a closer look at some
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Murder of the Universe
Mark: So, I reviewed and briefly enjoyed a King Gizzie Lizzie record last year. I missed another one like six months ago and now they have another one out? For a band that must smoke boatloads of pot, they are unbelievably industrious and prolific! Or maybe this band just smokes enough pot to forget that they already just put out a record, so they panic and put out another one. (The preceding jokes are jokes that I’ve already made on Twitter! If you would like to follow me on Twitter for more good times just like that, I invite you to!)
This album sounds remarkably like the last one I listened to, although it is maybe even druggier and strange. There is an icy-voiced woman reciting the nerdiest spoken-word narration around the fringes of most tracks. The album appears to be… about Altered Beast? Or at least referential to it? It is a baffling piece of work.
To be honest, this band appears to only be capable of one thing. This may not be a huge problem, given that their herky-jerky brand of propulsive jam rock seems to have garnered a substantial following, and remains entertaining and WAIT WHAT. Okay, it seems that this is a three-disc set and only the first one is about Altered Beast. Hahaha. Fuck this band.
Jeff Tweedy – Together At Last
Mark: As the front person for Wilco for the last one-hundred and fifty years, Jeff Tweedy has amassed a substantial body of songwriting. I’ve been an on-again-off-again fan of the group, loving some of their catalogue entries and entirely ignoring others. I’m not sure that I’ve ever desired a loose “greatest hits” collection performed by Tweedy solo, but it’s here.
This is a minor release, but a pleasant one. The performance and production are spare and unvarnished. Most tracks consist of just Tweedy’s guitar and voice, the latter often wandering slightly off-key. There’s an intimacy in how rough around the edges this presentation is, and it’s a treat to hear some of the songs reduced to just their elemental songwriting.
Together At Last seems slightly inessential, and certainly isn’t going to win over the uninitiated. For Tweedy fans and completionists, though, this collection will be as good as gold.
311 – Mosaic
Mark: You may remember 311 as that band that you’ve been making fun of for 25 years. They were certainly a curious blend of maligned genres. Part nu-metal, part white-guy reggae, part derivative alt-rock, this phone-number band had their fingers in all the wrong pies. You’ll be pleased to learn that this has not changed.
“Too Late” is emblematic of all three terrible styles mentioned above. It’s the kind of track that just gets progressively more embarrassing as it goes along. By the time the full-on rap metal bridge begins (and sounds like licensed video game music from 1998), it’s become apparent that these gents are banking on a resurgence. Let’s pray that they’re wrong.
Imagine Dragons – Evolve
Mark: Apparently Imagine Dragons’ understanding of evolution is taking Fun.’s 2012 hit “We Are Young” and remaking it in the laziest way imaginable.
Imagine songwriting and innovative, interesting music?
This is worthless.
Josh: Imagine there’s no dragons. It’s easy if you try, because this band is more forgettable than last Friday night’s drunken 2 AM quest for a 20 piece McNuggets meal. I actually like the beat and 80s pop sound of “Start Over,” and “Believer” is fun in the way that you could conceivably partake in a group hand clap during a live performance, but then you’d also be at an Imagine Dragons concert. Like much of this album, “Walking the Wire” sounds like it was written by an algorithm to be performed by the house band on American Idol. Half the time this band sounds like Cage the Elephant is trying to start a supergroup with The Chainsmokers, and the other half of the time (which is more like 18% of the time) they sound like Coldplay, which is only marginally better. To be fair, evolution takes millions and millions of years. I just don’t have that long to wait.
Fleet Foxes – Crack-up
Mark: I’ll never listen to this again, but it sounds like it is either music made for smart people or music made for people who like to project to others that they are smart people. There are interesting things going on, but it’s the summertime, dawg! Cut loose and cut to the chase! Also, the album is called “Crack-up” and I barely laughed at all.
DJ Khaled – Grateful
Josh: The older I get, the lower my tolerance seems to get for things like 22-episode TV seasons, events that start after ten PM, and albums that run 87 minutes. There’s a lot to like in DJ Khaled’s tenth (!) album, which feels like a great summer party that regrettably doesn’t know when to quit. True to his aesthetic, Khaled feels here like a party host who invites the coolest people in town and then makes them pour their own drinks and clean up after he goes to bed. You could make a drinking game out of every time he comically interjects his own name or shouts, “another one!” or “we the best music!”
The double LP is split evenly enough down the middle that I would propose a revised and reordered track listing that cuts out at least a third of the more forgettable songs and doubles down on the sweaty joy of tracks like the Santana-sampling “Wild Thoughts (Feat. Rihanna & Bryson Tiller),” the Jay-Z and Beyoncé collaboration,”Shining,” and bouncy “Don’t Quit (Feat. Calvin Harris, Travis Scott & Jeremih). There’s altogether too much Future bogging down the second half. But that’s what you get when you make your infant son the executive producer.
Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory
Josh: “Bagbak” has been my jam all year since it was released back in February, so I’ve been looking forward to this second record from rising rap star Vince Staples. And it does not disappoint.
Heavily relying on elements from Detroit techno and house music, Big Fish Theory layers Staples’ smooth flow over pulsing drum & bass in a way that resembles a less aggro and less effortful version of Kanye’s Yeezus, without sacrificing any of the dark forcefulness. When he suggests listeners should “just drown in the sound” it’s a double-edged sword—music as escapism but never without being a suffocating reminder of uncertain times. Staples captures the experience of what it’s like to feel trapped on one side by the reality of being Black in America and on the other side by the excesses of hip hop hegemony, unable to grow beyond the limits imposed by this tank but unwilling to stop bringing attention to it.
Big Fish Theory is a deliriously dense record for its tight 36 minute run time, and one of the best rap albums of the year.
Nickelback – Feed The Machine
Mark: There’s a new Nickelback album, everyone! Ah, Nickelback. The perennial argument that someone should go back in time and prevent the early 90s grunge explosion from happening, because it totally wasn’t worth having to put up with the rotten fruits of its pitiful legacy. Really, the only thing I can think of that Nickelback have done of note in the last decade plus is the recent feud between Chad Kroeger and the dingus from Stone Sour/Slipknot.
This song and video are basically what you’d expect. Any Nickelback song is basically like rubbing your face with sandpaper for five minutes and then immediately forgetting what happened. You’re just left with a bad feeling and your life suddenly seems cheaper. The video is worth watching to see just how much Chad Kroeger looks like a CGI character now. Watch the video. There’s some really bizarre “uncanny valley” vibes every time the guy is onscreen.
I’m not sure that anything this month will top this latest entry into the list of things that Canadians should be ashamed about, especially given all of the Canada day celebrations that just occurred.
I wish you all a great, Nickelback-free week!