IT IS THE LAST WEEKEND FOR
AND THERE ARE A LOT OF RELEASES SO LET’S
Queens of the Stone Age – Villains
Mark’s take: I like QotSA in the same kind of way that I like a mojito. I’ve almost never gone out of my way to get a mojito, but if somebody throws one at me, I’ll drink it and think it’s fine. This song is nowhere near as good as the two great songs that they released fifteen years ago that I still consider to be the QotSA songs, but this is catchy rock n’ roll music with a couple of surprising chords and surprising drum licks thrown in to cultivate interest. I have no quarrel with this, an album that I will not seek out the rest of.
Josh’s take: I must admit, Queens of the Stone Age are a band I haven’t really followed. I’ve always been familiar with them, but never really into them. That said, this album crushes. A respectably restrained 9 songs over 48 minutes, Villains is filled with Josh Homme’s sweaty croons and non-stop fantastic crunchy guitar work. Sometimes it’s good in 2017 to be reminded that there are still great pure rock bands out there.
The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Mark’s take: I’ve seen a lot of buzz around this group recently, which is curious because I’ve gotten to this point without ever having really noticed them. This just sounds like 80s vintage Bryan Adams to me, but with better arrangements and better-sounding synths. “Holding On” is waaaaay too long for what it is, though. Give me a war on song-bloat, am I right? This is reasonably competent pop-rock music otherwise. But the internet tells me that it’s actually “indie”, so what do I know?
Josh’s take: There may be no band right now more cinematic than The War on Drugs. Their albums feel like a journey, their sound feels grand in scope, a portrait of Americana both cosmic and intimate. A Deeper Understanding, a 66-minute epic that feels more ambitious than their previous work, contains all of the emotional impact and densely-layered beauty of their last record, Lost in a Dream. But with nine of its ten songs breaking the 5:30 mark, it results in a whole with perhaps a little less urgency. But considering this is an album whose first single, “Thinking of a Place,” was an eleven minute odyssey about traversing darkness, should we have expected anything else? The War on Drugs crafts steady tempos as frames on which to build gorgeous, hazy tapestries—and those are always worth getting lost in, like a dream.
Iron & Wine – Beast Epic
Mark’s take: Where’s the line between this guy’s music and, like, Jack Johnson or some other mildly maligned Starbucks-soundtrack folk troubadour? Because Iron & Wine seems to get a lot of respect and I’m not sure that it’s ever been warranted. It’s like Bonnie Prince Billy for people who hate taking chances and being interesting. You might just like having music on in the background of whatever you’re doing that features an acoustic guitar with a wispy-voiced guy, and this fits that bill. I’m not going to pretend that I think that there’s anything deeper going on here.
Josh’s take: 2013’s Ghost on Ghost was a huge step forward for Iron & Wine, an experimental, unhinged magic realist foray into a hostile, surrealist wild kingdom. Despite its title, Beast Epic feels smaller and more in the spirit of Sam Beam’s earlier work. It’s a lilting and more joyful world, where “for all the love you’ve left behind you can have mine.” It’s not Beam’s most challenging work, but it’s as pleasant a half-hour as you could ask for, and maybe just what we need.
Fifth Harmony – Fifth Harmony
Mark’s take: This is amusing, because it seems like it’s for young people, but it directly references an MC Hammer song that nobody young could possibly know. This song is about asses, and the video features a lot of asses being shaken around by swivel-y hips. If I had a kid, I’d be mad about them watching this, so I guess it is exactly doing its job! Boilerplate pop/dance sound and structure, but interesting to see a for-reals Girl Group. Are groups still a thing?
Oh Sees – Orc
Mark’s take: Thee Oh Sees have put out like four albums in the time that I’ve been writing New Music Monday posts, and I’ve reviewed a couple of them. The track record is about as spotty as you might imagine, but some of it is actually kind of fun. At their best, this group is a daffy brand of garage/noise punk. The guitar work on “The Static God” is a freewheeling disaster in all the right ways, but the frantic vocals may be an acquired taste. Like King Gizzard And The Lizard Wizard, these folks get my respect for making the most of their time on this planet by releasing scads of music of wildly varying quality.
PVRIS – All We Know Of Heaven, All We Need Of Hell
Mark’s take: This band is billed as a rock band, but this is really more of an electro-pop thing. Perhaps the “dark edge” that they’re reaching for makes them a “rock” band. “What’s Wrong” is painfully predictable and fails to have an impact despite the shout-heavy bridge and the incessantly pounding four-on-the-floor kick beat. This is Katy Perry for people who shop at Hot Topic.
Josh’s take: I’ve been eagerly awaiting Pvris’ album release since their great single “What’s Wrong?” premiered in back in June. And the album doesn’t disappoint. This is a band that manages to distill the melodic, aggressive sound of 90s alternative into something that feels contemporary and throwback at the same time. Vocalist Lynn Gunn is alternatively guttural and heavenly, full of pain and beauty. “I could touch a hundred thousand souls, but none of them would ever feel like home” she sings on “Anyone Else.” There’s a longing and a defiance that characterises the whole work, an album that lives between the earnest soaring velocity of post-hardcore and alternative and the catchy rhythms and melodies of arena pop. Tapping your feet to the dense refrain of “No, I never sold my soul / Don’t need a metaphor for you to know I’m miserable” is alarming but impossible to resist. It takes real talent to make despair feel this goddamn good.
Gogol Bordello – Seekers and Finders
Mark’s take: Part of me is happy that this goofy band is still around, and part of me thinks that this song is terrible. Gogol Bordello’s brand of oompah-punk would be utterly unlistenable without the few gimmicks that the band employs that make them special. Problem is, the gimmicks are just that. The heavily accented, hammy vocals and the bleat of a tuba don’t make up for hackneyed songwriting and boring presentation. Once you’ve gotten tired of the novelty of it, there’s little or no meat to maintain interest, and you drift away from caring about these guys. I did so about a decade ago after seeing them live once, having a very fun time, and then never really bothering to think about them again. But I’m happy that they’re still making music in the same way that I’m happy that Troma is still making dogshit movies that I would have liked when I was 20. There are still dumb 20 year old nerds in the world, and they need this kind of thing.
A Giant Dog – Toy
Mark’s take: Only a day or two ago, Grandmaster Hosking sent me a link to some of A Giant Dog’s earlier work, likening it to my new favourite band, Melkbelly. I don’t 100% agree with his comparison, but A Giant Dog have a style and energy that demands attention of their own. “Bendover” is profoundly weird and wonky, turning the form of a pop-punk song on its head in the strangest, most excessive art-rock fashion. It packs a punch and a tongue placed firmly in cheek, and is probably the most refreshing thing I have heard this week.
Liars – TFCF
Mark’s take: This is for people who are on the weed.
Daniel Caesar – Freudian
Josh’s take: On his debut album, Toronto R&B singer Daniel Caesar foregoes the trap-influenced digital tools so du jour in the genre, opting for the purity of gospel. It’s a sound that stands paradoxically in contrast to and in play with a persona seemingly in awe of and turned off by the realities of love. It’s an album that lives in the idea of romance as both sacred and profane, doomed by the imperfections of the people in it but only existing because of them. Beauty is always shot with pain, and relationships are always messy. There’s something depressingly cyclical about the lyrical refrain “We find love, we get up / We fall down, we give up.” Caesar, like Frank Ocean, is occupying a space of masculine vulnerability and ambivalence. Freudian is a groovy, pleasant, and conflicted, if down-tempo, affair.