Preoccupations – New Material

Mount Hood from Mount Tabor

Preoccupations' new album, "New Material," operates at a high level, just like all their music. This album is more approachable, to some degree, than previous albums, but all the songs still have that sharp edge that the band has carried with them since their formation. "New Material" is not as dark as the self-titled album, which felt like it had a flat and dim tone (not a bad thing; I love that album). Songs like "Disarray" and "Solace" feel poppier than anything on the other albums, there's a weird kind of flashiness to the guitars in those songs that puts some of the other music into sharper relief. It's exciting to hear them play around with their sound and experiment a little bit with the shape of their albums--"New Material" ends with an instrumental track, "Compliance," which to me seems like it should be playing over the end credits of an elliptical and terrifying sci-fi movie, and the album lacks a mega-song statement like "Memory" or "Death" (the closest is probably "Antidote"), and it feels like a quicker and easier listen because of those changes.

[BUY New Material]

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The forever helen

If you ever dug Unclassics or the Italo DeRuggiero mixes, you will love the sound of this fantastic track by Peggy Gou. The synths have that same tone, and I don't know what it is about that sound, what quality it possesses, that seems at once deeply uncool and supremely enjoyable. Gou raps in a matter-of-fact, casual way, as if she's explaining stuff that should be totally obvious, and in the chorus, she gets right to the point: "You gotta do it right/enjoy your night/you gotta do it right." Fun song on a great EP.

[BUY Once]

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Huwelijk 2

Anderson Island beach

Oneida are always alluring; they go where they want to go. “Romance,” their new album, continues in a vibe that’s similar in some ways to the sound of the latter two albums of the “Thank Your Parents” trilogy (“The Story of O” and “Absolute II”), but with a slightly higher proportion of all-out jams. “Romance” comes close, in an Oneidan way, to being an actual rock album—some of the tracks, like “All in Due Time,” “Lay of the Land,” and “Reputation” revolve around tight grooves and rival songs like “Up with People” or “Story of O” for dynamism. And there’s “Cockfight,” towards the end of the album, a wild (tongue-in-cheek?), let-loose, super-entertaining, riff-heavy tune (that also ends with a beautiful, fluctuating coda). The other songs on the album are Oneida explorations, where they’re burrowing down in a certain trajectory, into sometimes gnarly territory (“Shepherd’s Axe,” the final track, is one of those--18 minutes of investigation, with maybe seven or eight distinct parts).

“Good Lie,” which comes in the middle of the album, is another sort of exploration, although this one feels more delicate than the others. It starts with a simple arrangement of elements, a pulse, some piano, some background synth and vocals, and then band lets it evolve over the course of seven minutes: the song picks up small variations and minor faults along the way, and those spread and become magnified until, by the last minute, it’s become something else entirely.

[BUY Romance]

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Physical personhood

It is staggering, watching the time-lapse evolution of the planet. First: accretion. Then it was a ball of hot iron and nickel. Volcanism reigned. Lava was everywhere, moving, spurting, flying all over and inside. Meteors hit, brought water (maybe?), and the moon was ejected, too weird and wicked to be a part of the planet. Atmosphere began to pile up, slow and steady, from the volcanic exhalations. Oceans pooled. Then everything was on fire again for a while. Then the planet cooled again and everything started to get its act together. It was a great time. Some chemicals and proteins and acids mixed together and flowed towards and away other chemicals. Then everything was on fire again.

"Unfolding" is the first single from Rival Consoles's forthcoming new album, "Persona." The song builds and annihilates itself. It collapses and rises up again. Subduction, erosion, eruption. It is beautiful and massive, pulsing, vivid, wild.

[Pre-order Persona]

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The beginning of the song is bleak, rough, austere: cascading drums, bass. “Sending current down the barbed wire/burning currency in bonfires....” and “Whether we ask for it or not/deliver us to suffer again and again.” Matt Flegel’s lyrics read like a manifesto and he declaims them like a manifesto. There aren’t many people who sing with the same stentorian ferociousness as Flegel; every time he sings “Whether we ask for it or not…” it sounds like he’s rallying people on a battlefield.

Antidote takes on a different shape midway through. The drums trip over themselves, the pattern shifts. Flegel sings (utters) with flat, dead resignation: “Information overdose/looking for antidotes/uneven ratios/under a microscope.” (and variations of that). You get fed up with what’s happening all around, the sickness of it, but then it overwhelms you, there’s nothing to be done, you’re left searching—in a futile and perfunctory way—for answers that don’t exist.

[Pre-order New Material]

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In the refectory

MONKS boozing in the cellar

Long ago, monasteries were places of: work, prayer, meditation, bread-baking and eating, wine-and-beer making, lectio divina (a form of extreme reading, self-interviewing, and internal monologuing), endless grave-digging, and practical jokes. Novitiates were, of course, figures of fun for the more established brothers, often made to wash all the monks’ dirty robes by hand, handcraft the entire abbey’s supply of sauerkraut for the winter, or, on feast days, prepare the banquets for the rest of the abbey while being permitted to consume only a lightly warmed stew of water and old potato peels for themselves.

Kunzite’s “Monks” is creaky, lurching, segmented fun. A utilitarian jam. Mike Stroud, of Ratatat, is half of Kunzite, and you can hear that Ratatat sound—those guitars (which seem to shift between phases of being tightly wound, or whiny, or growling, or glowing, it’s an unmistakable sound regardless).

[BUY Birds Don't Fly]

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Car University

There’s probably not many more frustrating things about human experience than miscommunicating with the person you love. Saying too much, not saying enough, saying things at the wrong time, saying insanely stupid shit, etc.; there are manifold ways to fuck up. Would it be more or less enjoyable if we communicated our internal states directly via a different medium, like our skin? If we could change colors like a cuttlefish when we were alarmed, or lustful, or defensive, or content?

Anna Burch sings about this topic—miscommunication, not cuttlefish—on “Tea-Soaked Letter.” Love, missed connection, frustration. She has a bright and seamless voice, it’s so present, so ‘there’ on every track. She has an intimate presence across the whole album, like she’s sitting in a chair a few feet away while she plays these songs. Every song on this album is catchy, Burch is a melodically inventive songwriter and it’s all supremely enjoyable. It’s that intimacy and catchiness that reminds me of bands like the Aislers Set and the Softies. “Quit the Curse” is straight-up great.

[BUY Quit the Curse]

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Jay Som released two great albums in two years, and now there’s a 7” of outtakes from the sessions that resulted in the absolutely unbeatable “Everybody Works.” Both “Pirouette” and “Meet Me Underwater” fit, in terms of quality, with the other songs on that album and have the same kind of energy. “I pray for answers/beneath the moon” Melina Duterte sings, seeking clarity, and then, halfway through, the song leaves the earth and lifts off into space. Incredible.

[BUY Pirouette]

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Big album in every sense. Long, epic songs that swell and subside. A man with a microphone imparting essential info. Attention-getting guitars and drums and bass and synths. A voicemail intro. Inexhaustible energy. POST- feels like a throwback to basement battle-of-the-bands shows, Jets to Brazil, (a little bit of Piebald too, maybe). Catchy songs sung forcefully. Defiance and neck-straining optimism.


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Accounting Procedures, 2017

2017, what a weird and immiserating year. I felt like I had a hard time paying close attention to music in the same way I have in the past, partly, no doubt, because the world was basically on fire both literally and metaphorically every day, and also because I'm getting older and don't have the mental energy or acuity to think as intensely about music as I used to. But I was thankful this year, maybe even more so than in years past, for the songs and albums that brought me joy or solace or provided me some distraction.

Anyone looking for better, more comprehensive lists, presented in more coherent ways, would do well to check out the year-end posts by Said the Gramophone, Fluxblog, and Recommended Listen, all of which give great overviews of what was happening in music this year (and will doubtless introduce you to new songs/bands/acts that you may not have heard otherwise).

Here are my favorite songs and albums of 2017, presented in no particular order:

Mount Kimbie – Love What Survives


Photay – Onism

Photay's Onism is one of my favorite albums of the year. It is endlessly playable. News sounds arranged into new types of songs. Static crackle bent into sheets of fine music. Synthesized animal vocalizations carefully calibrated to harmonize with buzzing radiators. Cosmic background radiation sampled, scrubbed, and used as a foundation for an unfurling and swaggering thing like Off-Piste. I don't know where these sounds come from, but they're beautiful and pleasurable. Each song seems like it runs miles deep, there are sounds beneath sounds beneath sounds. Onism feels new, like it's pushing into a different place. [BUY Onism]

Broken Social Scene – Hug of Thunder


Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up


Alvvays – Antisocialites

Here is what I wrote about Alvvays's debut album a couple years ago: Alvvays's songs grab your interest immediately. And it's good and fitting to be grateful for that, particularly when there is so much music (now, always) that does little more than float by in the background. Molly Rankin has one of those voices that's so bright and clear that you can't ignore it, the kind of voice that you realize in retrospect you've been longing to hear.

All of the foregoing continues to be true, and even more true on Antisocialites, the band's new album. The whole thing is eminently listenable and engrossing. Rankin's voice seems more present on these songs, whereas on the self-titled there seemed to be at least some layer of separation between her and the listener (compare Plimsoll Punks with Archie, Marry Me and you can hear it: a wall of cushioning haze). This record is filled with magic moments, like this, from Forget About Life: "Did you wanna forget about life/with me tonight/under condominium signs?" a line that, for me, evokes a scene of strong and romantic yearning for elsewhere/otherwise while trapped in hard and pure mundanity and disappointment; Dreams Tonite, a sweet soft juggernaut of awesome beauty; Plimsoll Punks, which feels like it could be an Orange Juice non-album single; the creeping gull-ish squawk of the guitars in Already Gone when Rankin's singing about the ocean. One of the best albums I've heard this year. [BUY Antisocialites]

Jay Som – Everybody Works

Jay Som’s Everybody Works is one of the best albums I’ve heard in 2017. 100% enjoyable from beginning to end. There are the songs that rush, like Take It and 1 Billion Dogs, full of energy and the spirit of Yo La Tengo at their most sprightly; carefully observed songs like The Bus Song, Baybee, and One More Time, Please (which has what sounds like a beautiful little piano move that reminds me of early Microphones tracks); and songs like (BedHead) and For Light that are slow and striking and elegiac. This is an album packed with ideas and awesome melodies and it all flies by so fast. So many good lines too--one that just popped into my head, from Remain, "Our pinkie promises/were never meant for this."

Everybody Works is that rare type of album that’s both immediately rewarding and stands up to repeated and intense listening. I’ve been listening to the album once a day or more for the past month and a half and I’m still finding new things about it that I love. This album definitely deserves a ton of attention. [BUY Everybody Works]

Kendrick Lamar – DAMN.


Colin Stetson – All This I Do For Glory

Colin Stetson's new album, All This I Do For Glory, is an incredible album, and I mean that in the most literal sense: that I cannot believe that music like this exists. The new music seems like a distillation of his aesthetic and his technique, the songs feel sharp and willful and hard and yearning, somehow approaching a limit. When I saw him in concert some time in the fall of 2013, I was awed by what he did alone on stage. From way back in the crowd where I was, his silhouette suggested something more like a volunteer firefighter wrestling a humongous piece of plumbing pipe, but he produced unearthly sounds. All This I Do For Glory is a tremendous achievement, I think that's fair to say, but not one that everyone will admire, I guess; for me, there's a lot there, the album is spectacular and I listened to it maybe twice a day for a month. It is absorbing. There's no one making music quite like this: haunting, urgent, vivid, human, wild. One of the best albums of the year so far. [BUY All This I Do For Glory]

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins


Waxahatchee – Out in the Storm


Bing & Ruth – No Home of the Mind


Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory


Do Make Say Think – Stubborn Persistent Illusions


Spoon – Hot Thoughts


LCD Soundsystem – American Dream


Ellen Arkbro – For Organ and Brass


Hand Habits – Wildly Idle (Humble Before the Void)

I like a song as offering, which feels like the case with Hand Habits’ “yr heart.” Song as an extension, an evolution, of something that maybe started as a private message, a poem left on the kitchen table, a little note in the bathroom. This is one of those songs; your understanding of it unfolds as you spend more and more time with it. Gentle and understated at the beginning, the music gradually expands and deepens as the song progresses. Staggeringly beautiful. Just like with Hand Habits' excellent LP (Wildly Humble (Before the Void)), the songs on the single sneak up on you--all of a sudden, you realize you've had these melodies stuck in your head for days. [BUY YR HEART]

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Luciferian Towers


The Clientele – Music for the Age of Miracles

The Clientele's Music for the Age of Miracles is definitely one of my top three or four favorite records this year. I guess it's not so unbelievable that a band that had a run of classic albums emerged after a long hiatus, suddenly, to drop another great album. Music for the Age of Miracles belongs with Suburban Light, the Violet Hour, and Strange Geometry as one of the band's masterpieces. This album is packed with incredible lyrics and melodies from start to finish. Alasdair MacLean works magic with a short deck of lyrical fixations: stars, night, wet streets, autumn, headlights, lamps, trees (cypresses, elms) & leaves, and longing; he shuffles these, combines them with quiet and quotidian observations, and produces song after gorgeous song.

After listening to this band for something like 16 years, I finally got to see them live a couple weeks ago, in Seattle. This band is amazing live--it was just the three of them, MacLean, James Hornsey (bass), and Mark Keen (drums). The sound they produced was staggering and the live versions of the new songs they played were almost better than the studio versions. MacLean, who seemed to fingerpick basically all the songs, is definitely underrated as a guitarist. They played a good deal of the new album and mixed in a lot of stuff from the older albums as well.

The Age of Miracles is one of the best tracks on the new album, a freakishly beautiful song with lyrics like this: "Always, tonight, I’m coming home/The Pleiades and the Lyre/Over the cranes, the harbor lanes/The world will end in fire." There's something there, and elsewhere--something elegiac and haunted in this album that I think captures a lot of what has felt very prominent this year: a sense that things are emptying out, things are disappearing, things are ending. [BUY Music for the Age of Miracles]

Floating Points – Reflections-Mojave Desert


Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes


Dmitry Evgrafov – Comprehension of Light

This is all dynamics: delicate and small, then big and audacious; slow, contemplative and calm, until it turns capriciously from one thing to the next. Rootedness is high drama and a beautiful piece of music. It is piano and strings sliding into each other. An overcast day interrupted by shafts of light that break through the low skull-gray sky. Comprehension of Light, by Dmitry Evgrafov, is full of beautiful pieces of music. The album starts off with menace and static and hush, and opens up slowly over the first four tracks. Wandering starts with a friendlier tone, freer and more hospitable (though still down, still grim). From that point Comprehension of Light builds (through digressions, volatility) up to Rootedness, which feels like a kind of climax, and the album dissipates in the vaporous Sattva at the end. This is a great album and such a rich listen. [BUY Comprehension of Light]

Shannon Lay – Living Water

A tidy piece of art. Neat business. Shannon Lay's Living Water is a great album of voice, guitar (in manifold forms), and strings. With these few simple components, Shannon Lay builds a tiny, quiet world. Living Water is also a supremely autumnal album--I would put it with Archer Prewitt's White Sky or something like Gravenhurst's Flashlight Seasons--it has that feel of early sunsets, chilly air, transition. So many of the songs on the album contain surprises: a cache of violin notes here, a burst of electric guitar there, a sudden change in direction. What a sweet voice and what a pleasant diversion. It's nice to get lost in someone else's world for a while. [BUY Living Water]

King Krule – The OOZ


NHK yx Koyxen – Exit Entrance


Kelela – Take Me Apart




Gabe Hascall - Trying To Find Out If I'm Lost

I've written about Gabe Hascall quite a few times before (here and here on the new blog, plus a couple other times back when this was a sub-domain of another blog). The dude is a consummate songwriter and he's been releasing great music for a long time now, though it's been a few years since his last solo album, Love It All. Earlier this year, Hascall put out a sort of odds-and-ends collections called @@@@@, which was filled with fascinating sketches and catchy experiments, much of it along the same lines as what he did on Love It All and some of it recalling Slowreader (his band with Rory Phillips, also his bandmate in The Impossibles). @@@@@ is 35 songs long, so it's pretty packed and maybe best to digest over several sittings, but it was a good sign--after a couple years of silence, it was clear that Hascall had been busy.

At the beginning of August, he released Trying To Find Out If I'm Lost, which is a polished and tight collection of 13 songs. It's similar in many ways to Love It All, though it also feels like it's a refinement of that album's aesthetic. These are like get-in-and-get-out songs, with most of them coming in at two or two-and-a-half minutes long, all super-catchy. I don't know if Hascall can write a melody that isn't memorable or engaging in some way. Synths, a little guitar here and there, simulated drums, and that great voice. It reminds me, in a weird way, of some of Stephen Merritt's late-90s stuff, like the first 6ths album specifically. Trying to Find Out If I'm Lost is a great album, start to finish. It has a kind of low-key brilliance--all these songs keep getting stuck in my head. [BUY Trying To Find Out If I'm Lost]

Ted Leo – The Hanged Man


Japanese Breakfast – Soft Sounds from Another Planet


Angel Olsen – Phases


Midland – Fabriclive 94


Syd – Fin


Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me


Makaya McCraven – Highly Rare

You might think, like I did when I first heard this song, that this is music as building, as construction; music as hammering, welding, concrete-pouring, cutting, binding. But it’s all a little less solid and defined than that. Above & Beyond has a thick and kinetic rhythm track that fluctuates and shapeshifts over the course of the song. Over that, a sax delivers an argument, calm and elegant at first, then with increasing passion and vehemence (because you weren’t listening before, you didn’t get it). It’s thrilling how you can’t quite get a handle on it. Above & Beyond is incredible, as is everything on Makaya McCraven’s newest album, Highly Rare. [BUY Highly Rare]

Davy Kehoe – Short Passing Game


Ricardo Villalobos – Empirical House


Jlin – Black Origami


Also, because I never got around to it, here's the list from last year too, also in no discernible order. I started writing about some of these, but then never finished (which is probably why I didn't post it):

Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Schoolboy Q – Blank Face
Angel Olsen – My Woman
Pinegrove – Cardinal
Kendrick Lamar – untitled unmastered.
Paradis – Recto Verso
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Bon Iver – 22, A Million
Avalanches – Wildflower
Cymbals Eat Guitars – Pretty Years
Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP
Okkervil River – Away
The Range – Potential
Kaytranada – 99%
Tim Hecker – Love Streams
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Into It. Over It. – Standards
Islands – Charm Offensive/Should I Remain Here at Sea?
The Hotelier – Goodness
Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Gold Panda – Good Luck and Do Your Best
Wolf Parade – EP 4
Rival Consoles – Night Melody
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
The Field – The Follower

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