Spring is a time of rebirth, so it is fitting that almost every album released this spring (except for one…) is either from a legacy artist or from an artist making reference to a legacy artist.
Let’s take a look at this year’s soundtrack to your seasonal allergies.
Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel
Mark: I’ve been filled with anticipation for the new Courtney Barnett release for months, following the release of two excellent singles. Tell Me How You Really Feel has arrived and I’m happy to report that it is stacked with the same satisfying and astute rock ‘n roll that made Barnett’s previous releases such gems. Barnett appears to be coming from a darker place thematically on this album, and the tunes are consequently a more challenging initial listen than their sunny-but-self-effacing progenitors, but the lyrical turns and songwriting flourishes are as clever as ever and the album grows into a real winner upon repeat listens. It’s good, guys!
Jay: I’ve only heard the two singles, and yeah, 1) they are more blue that her first record, and 2) I enjoy them and want to hear more from her. I worry that that diminished verve might make me enjoy the new album a little less, but I certainly can’t fault anyone for being lost in their own head, a little sad, and unsure of what to do. Now that I’m writing it, maybe this record is for me!
Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – Sparkle Hard
Mark: I’m a great big giant fan of Pavement, and my enjoyment of Stephen Malkmus’ music persisted through until perhaps his third post-Pavement release. Sparkle Hard marks the first album from Malkmus & The Jicks that I have given the time of day to in about 15 years. Pleased to report that the group’s edge doesn’t appear to have dulled, yet puzzled by the fact that they simultaneously haven’t appeared to have progressed in this time. Sparkle Hard could plausibly be a Malkmus release from any time period, perhaps speaking to the timelessly daffy nature of his songwriting aesthetic. The tunes here are pleasantly spacey and varied, in the same vein as the Jicks’ earlier releases. I can happily listen to this album for an afternoon, but I question whether or not any of this will stick with me in the same way as Pavement’s more distinctive “hits” have. Sparkle Hard is helped out by very strong arrangements and interesting production ideas. If anything, it’s nice that Stephen Malkmus is still releasing new music in this current climate wherein so many acts are achieving great success with material that uses his past work as an obvious touchstone (*cough*see above review*cough*).
Jay: I chuckled when you put Barnett right next to Malkmus. Thing is, Courtney Barnett managed to do something that Malkmus never did, which is make me enjoy listening to this particular person. Malkmus always seemed, I don’t know, cynical? And Barnett took that same wit and applied it in a more generous, less cocksure way. Anyway, this new Malkmus record doesn’t seem to do anything to change my mind. I shall remain impressed by his intellect, as I suspect he is himself, but uninterested in hearing more.
Parquet Courts – Wide Awake
Mark: Parquet Courts appear to be moving in the direction of “horseshit Talking Heads pastiche” and it is very bad. People will probably love it.
Jay: I don’t know this band. I see what you mean about “horseshit Talking Heads”. This seems to be about nothing and is an awful song.
Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
Mark: I’m not sure that I’ve ever bothered to check this band out, but have they always sounded like they were bending over backwards to try to ape David Bowie? I realize now that I get this band mixed up with The Avalanches, but they don’t actually sound anything like The Avalanches. I guess it’s because of the letter “A” and band names that evoke… snow? Anyway, this is some new music that sounds old and tired in about a dozen different ways. It’s like a bunch of Englishmen who have subsisted for decades solely on a diet of other Englishmen.
Jay: I wish we could call a moratorium on extended, theatrical intros on videos. Also, these vocals are awful. There might be something here, but I can’t get over the grating performance on the first listen. It feels like a Spacehog impression. At least Spacehog was fun!
Beach House – 7
Mark: Kudos to Beach House for finding a use for that one sound on every Casio keyboard that I could never figure out the purpose of. “Lemon Glow” seems to be built entirely around this wacky synth patch, and that is interesting to me in and of itself. It’s a good thing, too, because this is otherwise a real pretentious slog. I don’t get it, guys!
Jay: Hey, I like synthesizers! I like that lo-fi drum sound, too. But the vocals aren’t doing much for me (my theme for the week, apparently). Wait, there’s four minutes of this without any major progression? Yeah, no thanks.
Sevendust – All I See Is War
Jay: Well, as far as these tired old bands go, it could be worse.
Jennifer Castle – Angels of Death
Mark: Jennifer Castle has a knack for penning throwbacks that seem to exist on a continuum of tradition rather than being simply referential. The singles from the recently-released Angels of Death don’t win me over as successfully as anything off of her essentially perfect Pink City, but they’re potent little slices of rootsy songcraft in their own right. “Texas” shines more brightly due to it’s starkly personal lyrical turns than to any strong melodic hook, but still contains enough authentic re-spinning of vintage aesthetics to prove a pleasing listen. For fans of: Jennifer Castle.
Jay: I wanted to love Pink City. I almost did. But I didn’t. The moments where it surpassed its “tradition” (as you well put it, old friend) were what I adored. But ultimately there weren’t enough of those moments. This seems like more of the same. Great vocals, though!
The Body – I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer
Mark: Every release from The Body that I’ve heard has given me the feeling of what a person would probably hallucinate to themselves while drifting in and out of consciousness as they bleed out on a hospital gurney. If you’re into that vibe, this sounds like more of it. It’s pretty great in a despairing sort of way, but this is niche cult music for good reason.
Jay: Hah. What the fuck is this? A+ for audacity, but I’m not sure I’d ever be in the mood to reach for a record of this.
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Okay, I’ll give a little bit more attention to this. At The Gates crank out serviceable but unremarkable metal records and have done so for years. They deserve credit for innovating the style in the mid-90s, but at this point they’re kind of just the AC/DC of melodic death metal. This single sounds like it could be a licensed track used in a straight-to-streaming zombie movie. Which is fine, I guess.
Jay: Yeah, you ruined me with the Armed. This sounds harmless in 2018.
Jon Hopkins – Singularity
Mark: I don’t typically dive into instrumental EDM stuff, but there are some terrific sounds on this album and the overall production is a glitched-out sort of wonderful. Terrific music to put on while you’re immersed in a task, like writing a bunch of short reviews making fun of a bunch of musical artists who may or may not deserve it.
Jay: This is a great record that does a great job of straddling the line between expansive, ambient synth music and a solid dance-music foundation. Great music for focusing on a task (shit, I just read that Mark wrote the exact same thing), and also rewarding when you stop to pay attention to the individual elements.