Although the weather has been terrible this year, we’re elbow-deep into the summer and I hope that by now you’ve uncovered some songs that will serve to be your
If not, don’t fret. We’ll continue to keep you abreast of what’s fresh (and what’s rotten) in these, the dog-days of July.
Nicole Atkins – Goodnight Rhonda Lee
Throwback-y stuff is often a tricky proposition. It can at times seem a little too posed, too put-together, and altogether insincere. Like The Darkness. Remember The Darkness? I wish you wouldn’t!
Nicole Atkins’ new album seems to be squarely aimed at evoking the likes of Patsy Cline or Dusty Springfield. The songs are smartly written and Atkins is talented enough that this doesn’t wind up simply being an exercise in pastiche. If you like sounds of that vintage (as I do), you’ll probably find something to enjoy here. There’s no new ground here, but the old ground is being trod with respect and confidence, as Neko Case’s earliest work did in the early 2000s. I like it.
Jay’s take: I don’t like to agree with my illustrious colleague, but in this case I think he’s right on the money. This balances enough genuineness against the familiar schtick that the end result is quite listenable. In particular, I love those guitars.
Foster The People – Sacred Hearts Club
Remember that song from a few years ago about kids with shoes, and no matter how good your shoes were, you couldn’t run fast enough to ever get away from that awful song? Those people are back with a new album.
This sounds like the Space Bee Gees and I have no use for it. It’s like having a really boring cocaine party where the cocaine is reverse cocaine that makes everyone around you seem more boring. Pass.
Jay’s take: Music generated by an algorithm to evoke the after-party vibe. Wants to be sexy and ends up reptilian. Blech. Is this cool? What’s this shoe song Mark’s talking about? Actually, don’t tell me. This is abysmal.
Childhood – Universal High
Take a look at words I wrote about throwback music above and reiterate it here. This could be a disastrous and shameless stab at revivalist soul music, but it manages to sound both fresh and familiar. “California Light” is an uber-warm slice of dance-able soul, delivered with charm and style. The band and production sound great. I’m interested in the rest of this album.
Jay’s take: It’s certainly drawing from an era, but unlike my colleague, I would argue this one isn’t going for verisimilitude like the Atkins track above. In particular, the drums have more of a sampled vibe, and the mix is very contemporary. In any case, I really like this track. Great hooks, great complementary vocal lines, excellent backing band, and a nice balance of old and new. I’ll listen to the rest of this record for sure.
Goldfinger – The Knife
I’ve been pretty clear about my feelings regarding “lyric videos” and this seems like a particularly egregious example of why these things are a bad idea. Do we really need to go deep on the musings of Goldfinger? What nuggets of wisdom are the public going to be missing if the lyrics to “Put The Knife Away” aren’t jiggling across the screen in 140 point font?
Goldfinger are mediocre in the same ways that they’ve been mediocre for 25 years. This is not the worst “punk” album that will come out this year, and apparently they’ve got enough of a following that they can continue to peddle this slop. Fine for them. It’s a no for me.
Jay’s take: The guy singing this song is fifty fucking years old. Born in 1967! Dude, you’ve had years (twenty-three in this band alone) to build your musical and lyrical vocabularies, and this is the end result? What a depressing piece of garbage.
Josh’s take: Remember when ska was a thing? I do, but I didn’t expect to be listening to it in 2017. It’s kind of fun to revisit a band I liked when I was thirteen—Hang-Ups was a rad record, guys—but I seem to have grown up while Goldfinger has not. Is “Orthodontist Girl” a song about crushing on a woman in her place of work? Creepy! Look, Rancid and Less than Jake both also put out music this year, so listen to that instead.
Holy Fuck – Bird Brains
Holy Fuck deserve credit for having a band name that is really fun to say. Beyond that, this sort of thing has never been my cup of tea. The title track lurches along with a dirty bass line that brings “Mr. Oizo” to mind, and the video seems to aim for the quirky eeriness of Daft Punk’s “Da Funk” video (in a more self-reflexive ironic “let’s party” kind of way). In a party setting, this track would probably get people moving just fine, but as I will literally never hear it in that setting, I’ve gotta say that I have no use for it. Some interesting sounds, and the dirty bass tone is admirably filthy. It… it’s fine.
Jay’s take: Lousy video. But I really dig these sounds and the overall vibe of the music. Has just enough messiness that there’s no way to mistake it for an actual club track, but also seems to be cribbing from the oldies like Chemical Brothers or Moby. I’d be happier if the song had more of a shape to it, but this is far more listenable than Goldfinger.
Josh’s take: The cover art for “Bird Brains” shows a vulture’s head melting into digital static. Which is also kind of the effect this music has on my brain. Every scuzzy idea you can conjure about electronic music, partying, and total abandonment seems to be on display here. So, I dig this weird Dionysian fever dream. This is better than that shitty Bassnectar EP that came out last month, but not as replayable as the awesome Year of the Snake EP by the other Canadian band with “Fuck” in their name.
In This Moment – Ritual
Whenever Marilyn Manson tries to take a stab at aping “authentic” music, such as old-time-y blues, southern rock or 1970s arena rock, he’ll always wind up with something that sounds a lot like this. A clumsy hodgepodge of by-the-numbers southern stomp-rock adorned with the laziest possible de-tuned metal guitar work and vague “goth” trappings, In This Moment seems like the kind of thing that a very specific subset of heavy music fan will love and everyone else will ignore. The vocal work is technically very competent, but seems posed and unconvincing. I’m not entirely positive of what it means to be goth in the year 2017, but if this is what it means to be goth in the year 2017, it’s the kind of goth that you can buy at the mall.
Jay’s take: This sounds like music that people set to movie and video game trailers. I mean that in the worst possible way. This is awful and hurts my (not-so-)inner goth heart. Go listen to Chelsea Wolfe instead.
Lana Del Rey – Lust For Life
I’ve always found Lana Del Rey to be a bit of an enigmatic figure. I fell in love with that “Video Games” song when it was released and felt like I hadn’t heard anything quite like it. At the same time, I feel as though her vocal affectations are all over the place these days on other artists’ work, so maybe her music is exactly like everything I’ve heard before. I don’t know. She lands in some uncanny valley of seeming simultaneously idiosyncratic and generic. “Lust For Life” continues this trend.
Featuring Canadian falsetto-factory The Weeknd, “Lust For Life” alternately makes me feel like cringing and makes me feel like this might be well-produced retro-fied pop music. Frankly, the sections involving The Weeknd are particularly strong, featuring a more natural (non-autotuned) production style than I’m used to from him, and the chorus might be… good? I’m having a hard time saying. The whole thing seems awkward enough that this might just be a trainwreck and I’m only enjoying rubbernecking at the spectacle.
Bottom line, the whole thing is so druggy and sleepy that I can’t imagine this being party music, so I expect that this record was produced with the express purpose of providing people with makeout music for when they’re wrecked on club drugs and not ready to pass out yet.
Jay’s take: I’ve heard people I respect go on at length about how Lana Del Rey gets performative music right. It’s not like I don’t occasionally indulge in music with theatrics, like David Bowie or St. Vincent. But even these artists, whom I so love and admire, fall short when they lean all the way into phoniness; it’s when they balance their actual feelings against their persona, when you can see both magician and magic trick, that they really succeed for me. Plus, Bowie and St. Vincent have the added bonus of being great songwriters and musicians. Admittedly, this track is more tolerable for me than plenty of Del Rey’s other music, and the Weeknd parts don’t make me wish I couldn’t feel my face (as the rest of his music does). But this is still a bad track that relies on callbacks (“lust for life”, “my boyfriend’s back”) to generate any emotion whatsoever. I would be happy to never hear this again.
Meek Mill – Wins & Losses
Josh’s take: Meek Mill is a technically-proficient rapper if there ever was one. His style is aggressive, confident (sometimes to a fault), and really listenable. Then how does something with this much energy feel so boring? Over seventeen tracks with too little to say, Mill’s latest record can’t sustain any sort of momentum. “Young Black America,” with its Jay-Z sample and guest vocals by The-Dream, is a highlight. But there are more losses than wins here.