Beach Slang do hard work. They are conductors: energy flows through them. All their songs crackle and pulse. There is nothing torpid or fatigued or half-hearted about any of their music. It is all tight-fist-around-the-mic intense; lots of uninterrupted eye contact. This is the kind of music that, if you were the type of person to not only attend but also organize church/community-center basement shows, you will receive it gratefully and cherish it. And even if you were never part of that kind of scene: this is just good music. Reminiscent, to me, of Art Brut’s early years—it’s the same spirit of joy, excitement, and ruthless pursuit of an aesthetic ideal.
Sometimes you want your old faves repackaged in a different skin. He-Man as a virtual reality installation; The Fox and the Hound staged as a super-allegorical play; MC Hammer’s Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em rereleased with a 1,000 page oral history of the album’s recording process. For example. Or old punk, punk-adjacent, and new wave songs covered by two sweet-voiced singers, as is the case here with Katy Goodman and Greta Morgan’s Take It, It’s Yours. Cover albums are, for sure, weird things in general, but they can make you reconsider old classics, think hard thoughts about why you love what you love, and newly hear and enjoy music that you might not have spent a lot of time with lately. Take It, It’s Yours is pleasant and chill, good listening for a Sunday afternoon.
Memory is to Preoccupations’ self-titled album as Death was to Viet Cong’s self-titled album. It’s the mega-song, the big statement, the protean centerpiece. It starts with a stutter and lurches into a pseudo-groove, then the song opens up and Matt Flegel’s voice (which sounds uncannily like Jeremy Irons’s voice, at least to my ears) enters. In the chorus, he sings: “You don’t have to say sorry/For all the things you failed to do/You don’t have to say sorry/For all the times when everything fell through.” The song feels at first like a dour sort of eulogy, a cry of grief, but then it shifts and the middle section of the song lifts off. The music speeds up, the rhythm changes, a skipping guitar riff pulls everything upwards, then Dan Boeckner starts singing, and it’s like a perfect 80s British post-punk song has been placed in the middle of Memory as an interlude. Flegel comes back in to join Boeckner for the last anguished bit, “Erasing/Your memory,” until the song degrades into a long, pulsing drone for its final four minutes.
Preoccupations, the album, has a sustained mood over most of its tracks—it’s agitation, ennui, and being unwell. And Memory is so effective because it offers a respite from that feeling of unease, a calm breath, a moment of actual tranquility. Preoccupations, like Cymbals Eat Guitars’ Pretty Years, is an impressive work and one of the most remarkable albums of the year. Super focused and intense. Not easy listening, but rewarding listening.
Cymbals Eat Guitars’ new album, Pretty Years, is even better than LOSE, which I thought was such a perfect distillation of the band’s aesthetic that they’d never be able to top it. Pretty Years is slightly less elegiac (the song Have A Heart is even a very pretty and happy love song), and a little more forward-looking, though there’s still no other band that does sad-as-fuck retrospection as well as this band: Wish, about missed chances; Dancing Days, about slowing down and settling; and the album-closing (and heartbreaking) Shrine, which is about, among other things, the question of what happens to our accumulated memories, experiences, and mental bric-a-brac when we die.
Over these last two albums especially, Joseph D’Agostino’s lyrics seem to have become more personal and more focused on his home regions—he sings in a way less guarded way about New Jersey, Staten Island and New York City, and Philly, where he lives now. As someone who moved from the East Coast to the West, when I listen to some of the CEG discography, it triggers the activation of so many memories and associations, particularly with 4th of July, Philadelphia (SANDY), which is so Philly it might was well be wearing an Eagles jersey (Cunningham), holding a soft pretzel, posing like the Rocky statue, sporting an unkempt goatee, and dialing the number for 94WIP. D’Agostino sings about spending time in Philly on Independence Day and encountering some (I’d say) typically aggressive Philly behavior, which shocks him out of his depression and listlessness, though he admits, at the end, that, even though he’d experienced something surprising and intense and wanted to remain in that mode, i.e. being present in each moment, he slipped back again into the same feelings he’d had before. It’s so fucking bleak, but it’s also so goddamn good. Cymbals Eat Guitars are an incredible band and they definitely deserve way more attention than they get—Pretty Years is one of the best albums of the year.
Dianne is a memory pulled from the past, set to a pulse. Jess Cornelius’s voice gives us detail, emotion, commentary. She sings with a non-diegetic narrator’s authority and distance from the action, even though she’s singing about herself (but a self that is long gone and far away). It’s a volatile story paired with a dance tune from the 00s: surprising rhythm and sweetness. A song to bop around with, to puzzle over. I love the way Cornelius sings, “Some things just down work out that way, Dianne.”
Aimless art projects with friends. Photo collage. A cassette player. Crafts not aggregated on Pinterest. Can play a song, if pressed. A long ago cherished item: a pin bought at a show in 2000. Remember Heavenly. Loved Marine Research. Archives of mailing lists contain a name, some notes, the most heartfelt words ever typed.
Slow tones. Emanating! See also: 18th Dye, Poolhouse Blue. Snowy white skies. Bonfire smoke. Dead trees (snags in the forest). Cigarettes, walks to and from the creek. Fog in the cemetery. A community assembled around an old kitchen table. Card games, cider, some wine, and a bag of chips.
Sundial is some San Francisco ichor. Or the SF of the past—long, long past. The music of the current San Francisco would be an unending musique concrete track of tenants’ objections and wails of despair as they’re evicted from their apartments; the sounds of people slurping Soylent and nootropics; keyboards clacking; and new portmanteaus like “disruptovate” and “pivotation” spoken in a chilling, quiet tone by an old man. Sundial is referring to a city that no longer exists. It’s a pretty artifact, a recreation, an optimistic sketch.
“Are you something aliquot?” Kevin Barnes asks this question midway through ‘let’s relate.’ Kevin Barnes is a lover of words; I think that’s apparent throughout Of Montreal’s discography. What’s impressive, to me, is the way that he uses that love in the service of creating catchy, weird, sometimes annoying, sometimes incredibly invigorating music. There’s no complacency with Barnes. Of Montreal is the band of an explorer, a tinkerer—and like with a lot of artists who are restless, who try things that they might not be precisely suited to try, there are some works that fall a little flat, and there are others, like this new album, Innocence Reaches, that align successfully with natural strengths. I mean, it's just always fun to hear what Barnes does.
This is some classic, classic, classic-rock radio music distilled down into a kind of viscous syrup. Wyatt Blair has seized the spirit of double-shots, morning zoos, and roughhouse riffs and given that spirit expression on his album Point of No Return. Monday Morning Mess in particular is a great work of late-80s rock homage; it’s like a lighter, brighter Def Leppard (with the synths of Moody Blues’ Your Wildest Dreams (maybe?)). I kind of love it when musicians (and other artists) adore something so much that they recreate it wholesale; this is a work of obsession and devotion.
Pylon Live is a great document, a great record, of a band at an end, one end, of its life. It recalls, in that say-goodbye way, other records of that type—Life Without Buildings’ Live at the Annandale Hotel in particular. There’s a release of tension and worry and (maybe consequently) a lot of energy as well. You can hear it in every instrument and in Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s jagged and electric singing. Pylon Live is all classic post-punk: these songs are wiry, tough, bare, industrial, pessimistic, unrestrained. Music that labors on your behalf. [Here is also a pretty wonderful interview between Vanessa Briscoe Hay and Michael Lachowski of Pylon and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter].