Josh: Holy hot damn, Internet. Like most of you, the Fraudsters were under the impression that summer, and our collective lives, had crawled to a close. But with us all still here Monday morning, it turns out this weekend’s apocalyptic promises weren’t about our demise, but merely unseasonable 40 degree temperatures (which, lets be real, are probably going to be what kills us all in the end). You know, all of these unfulfilled doomsday prophecies are starting to feel like when you’re a kid and your parents say “maybe” you can go to McDonald’s—eventually you figure out “maybe” just means “no.”
If summer can hold on for one last gasp, we too can hold out hope for one more week of
There’s a lot of new releases this week, so let’s cut the chitchat and get to the music.
Mastodon – Cold Dark Place (EP)
Josh: For a collection of songs that were extras from previous recording sessions, Cold Dark Place is pretty cohesive. Fans who have gotten colder on some of Mastodon’s more recent rock-forward releases might find solace in this four-track EP, which finds them working more with the shifting time signatures, vocal melodies, and complex guitars that made them one of metal’s most exciting bands. For those who have stuck around the whole time, it’s a solid bonus to this year’s Empire of Sand.
Jay: I don’t know very much about Mastodon, aside from their general sound and that friends have been disappointed in their trajectory over the last few years. Hearing this track, maybe I know nothing about the band. Aren’t they more aggressive than this? Aren’t they more of a twenty-first century rock band? This just sounds like the late 1990s. It’s fine, if uninspired, guitar rock. I’m not sure why, but my first thought was, “I’d rather be listening to Soundgarden’s Superunknown.”
Counterparts – You’re Not You Anymore
Josh: I don’t listen to much hardcore punk anymore, and when I do it’s with a pretty short attention span for it. Thankfully, these albums usually clock in around 30 minutes, which is a perfectly digestible length. This new record from Hamilton’s Counterparts, is 27 minutes of relentless guitars and growling. That this band doesn’t try for the whiny clean vocals so common among their peers probably helps them. Short, punchy songs make for a pretty satisfying listen, with a propulsive energy that only slows down to diverge into chugging metal breakdowns. This is fun!
Jay: This sounds like the better version of every local band I grew enormously bored of seeing live. Very nicely recorded and mixed, but super dull in its monotony. But hey, there’s kind of a cool breakdown at the bridge, I guess.
Megan Nash – Seeker
Josh: Saskatchewan’s folk queen Megan Nash has created a triumphant new record that deserves all the praise and attention I hope she’ll get for it. Not only are these great, catchy songs that showcase Nash’s talent as a songwriter and a vocalist, but they prove she belongs in the mainstream conversation with artists like Serena Ryder and Neko Case. On Seeker, she enlists Regina indie rockers Bears in Hazenmore to accompany her, to great effect. The brass addition especially works, punching up high-energy songs like “Bad Poetry” and acting as a sort of mournful touch on slower tracks like “Vampire.” This album is great.
Jay: I’ll have to take your word on it, illustrious colleague. There’s something performative (and, to my ears, disingenuous) about the vocals that I can’t get past on a first listen. I tend to enjoy this sort of music more when it’s a little disarmed, or less bombastic, or something (e.g. Lucy Dacus). But maybe hearing more than a single song would help. I’ll agree that the horns are a great touch to the band sound, though.
METZ – Strange Peace
Josh: I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find METZ pretty samey in their sound. It’s not a bad sameness, but it’s one that would start to grate if they continued to release albums with no discernible deviations. Thankfully, Strange Peace has enough deviations to their formula of chaotic, amped-up noise that it feels like METZ isn’t content with sameness. There’s breathing room and, dare I say it, actual hooks on some songs! “Where do we go from here?” Alex Edkins [airquotes]sings[airquotes] on “Cellophane” (which has one of the raddest music videos I’ve seen in years). Good question, but I’m sticking around to find out. Strange Peace might be METZ’s best record.
Jay: Beautiful recording. The drums have that Steve Albini sound that I love, and it suits the music well. This is enough of a departure from the last two albums that I’ll probably give Strange Peace a shot (I had expected more of the same). Lots of neat drum and guitar ideas, and I like the vocals more than previous records.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers
Josh: For a band so driven radical leftist politics, GY!BE don’t sound angry enough on their latest record. But what they lack in a forceful expression of collective rage they make up for in promises of a future after the fall. There’s a lot of frustrated noodling around with prog jazz elements the 7+ minute opener, but it’s across the three part “Bosses Hang” that the record starts to have an emotional tenor. “Anthem for No State” feels climactic as hell. With its rolling drumbeat and Morricone-esque guitars it culminates in the tiniest bit of hope. In a present as dark as this one, that’s enough of a future to hold on to.
Jay: Holy hell, it’s a good day if there’s a new Godspeed record. I’m just going to say it: GY!BE’s post-hiatus output (Allelujah, Asunder, and this record) has been superior than even their brilliant early run. They were my introduction to the world of instrumental post-rock, and they still continue to make it better than virtually everybody else (RIP Jason Noble and his Rachel’s). More often than I used to, I wake up and think it’s the beginning of the end of the world. Bands like Godspeed remind me that there is hope to be found in these times, too. Lift your skinny fists like antennas to heaven and rejoice for this record.
The Bronx – Bronx (V)
Josh: The Bronx are a pretty solid punk band, when they want to be. On their fifth record, though, the digressions into jock rock and arena metal (see the abysmal “Two Birds” above) are too frequent to really make this album catch. It’s that inconsistency that really taints Bronx (V), when a track as loud and breakneck as “Sore Throat” is followed by something as dull and pedestrian as “Past Away.” It’s half a good album, if nothing else. But in a week with so many good releases on the heavier side, this one is the most disposable.
Jay: This is abysmal pastiche.
Cold Specks – Fool’s Paradise
Josh: Ladan Hussein sounds as good as ever on Fool’s Paradise, crooning soulfully over electronic rhythms. But the arrangements here lack most of the forcefulness of her last two records. Gone are the layered instrumentations and density of sound that practically forced Hussein to match them in intensity with her vocals. Here, the songs are pleasant, and sometimes beautiful, but rarely challenging or surprising. The exception is the closer, “Exile,” which creates a striking distinction between the layered vocals and the electronic drum and bass loops that feels like a genuine exercise in tension.
Jay: To my idiotic ears, this sounds like a demo. All of the elements are fine, but the instruments, mix, vocal performance, all of it, has an unfinished and slapdash quality to it. Doesn’t do much for me, but I’d much rather listen to this than its pop culture opposite, the maximalist, hyper-produced dreck that is currently clogging the radio. I could at least see this growing on me.
Circa Survive – The Amulet
Josh: Call Circa Survive what you want—post-hardcore, emo, experimental rock—, but one thing they’ve always been is consistent. Marked by a density of guitars and drums and Anthony Green’s dynamic and distinctive voice, The Amulet finds the band honing that consistent sound for urgency and purpose. They’re a band that simultaneously sounds sonically playful and lyrically defiant, railing against hiding behind beliefs that justify turning fear into extremism.
Jay: Lots of good stuff from the rhythm section. I like the guitars. I could probably listen to more of this. Maybe I’ll download the record… hoo boy, that’s some terrible album artwork!
The Killers – Wonderful Wonderful
Josh: The Killers have a tendency to be at their best when they lean into the grandiosity of their influences. To be sure, they’re always over-the-top, but they’re always sincere while being so. Wonderful Wonderful touches on topics like mental health and masculine empathy. Yeah, it does this while pulling from the recognizable sounds of U2, Bowie, and Fleetwood Mac, but Brandon Flowers is precise in the way he uses these influences to his own effect. It doesn’t reach the heights of their first couple records, but Wonderful Wonderful tops anything The Killers have released in a decade.
Jay: Just terrible. Like if David Bowie had waited 40 years to write “Golden Years” or “Fame”, while ripping off “Uptown Funk” (itself a corny ripoff) for good measure. Didn’t this used to be a band? About as emotionally genuine as the Fabricland theme song.
Fergie – Double Dutchess
Josh: Nicki Minaj makes a welcome appearance on a record that’s otherwise a confused mishmash of balladry, second-rate raps, and lazy beats. “A Little Work” sounds like an Enya-cribbing, less interesting take on Kesha’s “Praying.” “Tension” sounds like a Madonna track. It’s not particularly that any of it is terrible—with the exception of “M.I.L.F $”, which is in fact terrible—it’s just that Double Dutchess sounds like a pop star without an identity, at the whims of whatever producers and writers she’s working with. At the end of the day, it feels like a lesser version of so many others who are doing better versions of the same thing.
Jay: Great, this starts with a faux-interview. Wait, what? This video is eleven minutes long? When does the goddam song start? [Fast-forwards to song.] Oh god, this song is terrible. Wait, what? Now we’re back to the interview? What is this horseshit? And what is this imagery? It feels exploitative of genuine mental health issues. I hate this. I hate all of this. Pop culture is doomed.
Jhené Aiko – Trip
Josh: By any measure, this surprise 85-minute album about drugs and grief, is an ambitious release. But it may not be a particularly ambitious project. Over 22 songs, it’s consistently listenable while rarely that engrossing. Aiko’s voice is a pleasant touch that, over piano-heavy and aquatic synth tracks with digital beats, creates a formula that works. The propulsive new wave-tinged “Only Lovers Left Alive” is great. The rest of Trip makes good background music.
Jay: Maybe I’m just sensitive from that eleven-minute hellscape I just endured, but making me sit through a minute of a reimagined Adam Sandler / Drew Barrymore movie before the song starts is not a good way to get me to like this music. I found this song unremarkable, which again I’d take over remarkable in the bad way.
Lights – Skin&Earth
Josh: Lights’ latest record starts off feeling familiar for the electropop songstress, who sounds more polished than ever here. But by the time “Savage” rolls around, she’s trying new things. The rock track has a little Nashville magic that we haven’t heard from Lights before. It’s a potent level of rage in a sonically-concise package that Taylor Swift wishes she’d made. “New Fears” has a bit of a Weeknd vibe, and “Morphine” finds Lights’ vocals more frail and mature-sounding than ever. It actually wouldn’t be out of place on that Jhené Aiko record. It doesn’t all work: there’s some lag in the middle that could have been excised for a tighter album, but it’s still worth checking out.
Jay: Very much not my thing, not the hyper-EQ’d vocals, not the slow-mo vocal samples, not the goofy guitar, not the hammy songwriting. I guess I heard a synthesizer in here I didn’t hate. Hah. This is bad.
Macklemore – GEMINI
Josh: At this point, Macklemore must know he’s kind of ridiculous. You hope he’s in on the joke, but, as with most corny white dudes, it can be hard to tell. GEMINI parts with producer Ryan Lewis, but adds a host of guest stars. For better or worse—that depends on your feelings about the man—, Macklemore himself gets lost in the crowd. He can be fun when he’s having fun—”Thrift Shop” and “Downtown” are still bangers—, but he’s more interesting when wrestling sincerely with his own social and personal identity, like on the Kesha collab “Good Old Days” and the Chance-sounding “Church.” I wish he was doing that more on GEMINI.
Jay: Josh, you sneaky bastard. You saved most of the stinkers for the second half of this post. For a moment I thought I didn’t hate most music, but you did that just to twist the knife deeper. This is abysmal. Do people really enjoy this music?
* Summer jams should only be consumed with crunchy peanut butter, regardless of what Mark says.