I truly hope that the Black Lips’ recently released single, Can’t Hold On, is not an accurate representation of what the rest of their upcoming album will sound like. Their last album, Underneath the Rainbow was mediocre at best and a huge disappointment following their awesome 2011 release, Arabia Mountain. There is not a distinctly good or bad feature of this new single. It simple sounds substanceless. It is as though it may have been a recording the Black Lips disregarded from one of their previous sessions. Can’t Hold On is five minutes of unremarkable noise and will likely let down any Black Lips fans.
This song has been coming on my shuffle lately. Its funky beats and simple lyrics keep me listening and its a love song for Yoko so what more could you ask for? But I think this track off of Plastic Ono (1970) also appeals to me as fourth week in my impossible math class and spring break approach. It’s not too much of an commitment, over in less than 2 minutes, so go ahead and give it a listen. John also gets away with growling “cookie” halfway through.
I’ve found that pretentiousness in music seems to be most despised by people who are extremely pretentious about music themselves. In order to fully embrace this phenomenon, I have created Pitchfork Pitchfork, a column in which I review Pitchfork.com articles based on their pompousness.
To start things off, I’m going to take an in-depth look at Pitchfork’s review of Vagabon’s latest release, Infinite Worlds. The ‘fork gods were generous enough to bestow the highly coveted “best new music” label upon this album, anointing its 8.5 score with the red glow usually reserved for legends. Normally, Pitchfork’s scoring system is their downfall. The seemingly arbitrary assignment of decimals to various music can lead to outcry from spurned fans and artists alike. It’s made Pitchfork’s writers seem like that one friend you have who refuses to listen to anything that has over 10,000 plays on Spotify because it’s been tainted with mass appeal at that point. For Infinite Worlds, however, the 8.5 score is well-earned. I can’t argue with it. Points for you, Pitchfork.
The review goes downhill from there, unfortunately. The first sentence raises some eyebrows. The writer, Kevin Lozano, claims to have been so struck by one of Vagabon’s lines that he “had to remove my headphones and take stock of my surroundings.” Really? Really. I get that Vagabon’s lyrics are powerful, but I highly doubt Lozano was so shaken that he had to check to make sure he was still in his studio apartment or ultra-mod Pitchfork cubicle. Infinite Worlds is certainly potent, but it hardly transported me from the broken futon in my living room.
Another aspect of my grading rubric is readability, with specific regards to vocabulary. I get that music writers don’t want to be just another idiot with a WordPress account and opinions (haaaaaaa), but Jesus Christ, if I have to look up half the adjectives in the dictionary in order to understand what they’re trying to say, then it’s gone too far. Case in point: Lozano described Vagabon’s work as “pyrrhic”. That is some shit I haven’t heard since my 9th grade ancient Greek history class. I get that a pyrrhic victory is one where the winner loses so much they’re practically defeated, and I recognize that it’s totally a phrase. But dropping that in an album review is just showing off.
The review goes on to a track by track overview, and the writer describes the song “The Embers” as a “paean.” I have literally never heard that word in my life. Maybe I’m uncultured and illiterate, but to me it seems like this guy is struggling to put his useless English degree to good use.
All in all, this review isn’t bad. The score is reasonable, and aside from a few five-dollar words, the author does a good job summarizing the emotional content behind Vagabon’s album. Not bad, Kevin.
Pitchfork Pitchfork Score: 7.2
Now, go listen to Vagabon’s new album below.
Angel Olsen’s stage presence left the audience in the Gothic Theater silent. You could hear a pin drop as she crooned out notes from many hits of her newest album, “My Woman”. At first one could look around the theater wondering why everyone got the memo to act as a phalanx of statues staring straight ahead. But it was not that the crowd wasn’t enjoying themselves. Following their gazes it was not difficult to figure out why; and fall under Angel’s spell and be captivated by her stage presence. Although Angel sounded amazing on stage, her presence was one of the best aspects of the show. She had the complete attention of everyone around, I think even her bandmates had stars in their eyes.
Her set lasted around an hour, where I was left hungry for more (of course) but I knew it wasn’t the end. Soon to follow was one of the best encores I have seen in a while. Featured was an amazing cover of Motel’s “Total Control” and after being subject to that I can’t think of one person in the audience who wasn’t obsessed with Angel.
2016 was undeniably rough. Lots of shit happened, and most of that shit sucked. Still, it’s worth taking a look back at the year, because a lot of fantastic music came out. These are, in my opinion, the best projects of 2016. Whether you agree with me or not, hopefully this list will point you towards some new tunes.
These are thirteen fantastic records, in no particular order, that I didn’t feel particularly inclined to write about. And that’s on me/ But these are among the best releases of the year, and I felt that they at least deserved a mention.
Holy Wave – Freaks of Nurture
Anderson .Paak – Malibu
Swans – The Glowing Man
Preoccupations – Preoccupations
Woods – City Sun Eater in the River of Light
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled. Unmastered.
A Tribe Called Quest – We got it from Here…Thank You 4 Your Service
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
Mitski – Puberty 2
Nicolas Jaar – Sirens
Alright, now let’s get into The Top 12
12. Christian Fennesz & Jim O’Rourke – Its Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry
I really fucking like Jim O’Rourke. From his days in the seminal post-rock band Gastr del Sol to his streak of exceptional solo albums such as Bad Timing, Eureka, and Insignificance, he’s made a some of my absolute favorite music of the past twenty-five years. O’Rourke has also solidified himself as one of the premier producers in indie music, producing Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Smog’s Knock Knock, Stereolab’s Sound-Dust, and Joanna Newson’s Ys, to name a few. He also has a dauntingly extensive and continually growing experimental and collaborative discography. As a result, new O’Rourke releases often slip by unnoticed, but luckily It’s Hard For Me To Say I’m Sorry caught my eye. Sorry is a collaboration between O’Rourke and Christian Fennesz, one of the foremost glitch and ambient artists of the past two decades. The result is a beautifully lush ambient album. With just two tracks around the twenty minute mark, Sorry doesn’t deliver any catchy moments. But the atmospheric soundscapes Fennesz and O’Rourke create on this record are gorgeous and serene. In such a tumultuous year, Sorry provides a much needed peaceful pause.
11. Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
What is there to say about Death Grips that hasn’t been said a million times already. Not much. But even after all the cancelled shows and overt fucking with fans, they still got it. Bottomless Pit really doesn’t have a weak moment, but there are certainly some stand outs. “Eh” might rival “I’ve Seen Footage” for the catchiest Death Grips song, and “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” is a terrific opening track. The hook on “Spikes” is catchy as fuck, and tracks like “Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood” really showcases Flatlander’s impressive production. Nothing super new for the band, but Bottomless Pit is a fantastic release regardless.
10. Arca – Entrañas
Arca’s Entrañas is a brilliant mixtape, a dark, glitchy amalgam of samples, wonky drum and bass production with ample noise. On Entrañas, or “bowels” in English, Arca takes an introspective look at the deep dark parts hidden within. As a result, Arca does not shy away from grimy, messy sounds on Entrañas. An eeriness permeates Entrañas, from the Cocteau Twin’s sample worked into “Baby Doll” to the ghostly closing track “Sin Rumbo”. The textural depth Arca creates on Entrañas is truly staggering, as are the many atmospheric shifts. Soothing ethereal moments and abrasive explosions of noise are brought together by consistent and tight breaks making Entrañas an arresting record, surreal, cryptic and disorienting. Entrañas is a truly unique project that solidifies Arca’s position as one of the most idiosyncratic and forward-thinking producers of the decade.
9. The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free
Australian noise-rockers The Drones come through with an anxious, aggressive, politically charged record full of punchy, noisy experimental rock and post-punk tunes. While this album still features some frenzied, raw tracks, many of the songs are more calculated and restrained. Feelin Kinda Free is the most dynamic The Drones have ever sounded, and with abounding dissonance they explore a very dark, anxious side of neo-psychedelia. There are also tons of fantastic one-liners on this record, and the cynical, biting lyrics perfectly complement the frantic, fervent instrumentation. “Taman Shud” and “Boredom” are standouts, but the whole record is fantastic.
8. Mild High Club – Skiptracing
Skiptracing is a gorgeous psych pop record, expansive and serene with a built-in sense of nostalgia. The band’s lethargic brand of psychedelia is lush, warm and enveloping, with a healthy dose of funk. Skiptracing is a radiant record, with Alexander Brettin’s distant, muffled vocals evaporating into a hazy aura of reverb-soaked guitars and mellotron that meld together to form expansive soundscapes. Tracks like “Cary Me Back” and “Chasing My Tail” gently wash over you, while more soul-influenced cuts “Tesselation” and “Chapel Perilous” are mellow and funky. Skiptracing is vibrant, layered, and downright gorgeous from front to back.
7. Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN
After the folk-rock leanings of Burn Your Fire for No Witness, I was surprised when Angel Olsen dropped “Intern”. With just icy synths to back her vocals, “Intern” was an arresting track, minimal but deeply emotional, reminiscent of Yo La Tengo’s And Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out. But it works, and for my money MY WOMAN is Angel Olsen’s best LP to date. The first side of the LP retains some similarities to Burn Your Fire. The crunchy distorted guitars are still there, as is the 60s pop influence. But unlike Burn Your Fire, MY WOMAN is stylistic diverse, sparse, and more melancholic. More minimal tracks like “Pops”, with just a lonely piano line, and the dream-pop leanings of “Woman” are juxtaposed with the country-rock tune “Heart Shaped Face” and the fantastic single “Shut Up Kiss Me”. Olsen’s vocals are enthralling; her range is extremely impressive. The highlights are many, but the two longer tracks, “Woman” and “Sister”, are my favorite Angel Olsen tracks to date. MY WOMAN is a gorgeous record, heartfelt and formidable.
6. King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity
The prolific Australian psych/garage outfit King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard love their fuzzy guitars, and they take it up a notch on Nonagon Infinity. Nonagon Infinity is a blistering record, gracefully walking the line between experimental and fun as fuck. This record never skips a beat or gives you room to breath; the album actually works as a continuous loop, with every track seamlessly blending into the next. The last track even blends into the opening track perfectly. Despite the furious, suffocating, psychedelic walls of noise, the hooks and infectious melodies cut through and are catchy as all get out. With heavy riffs aplenty, Nonagon Infinity kicks some serious ass.
5. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree
Skeleton Tree is one of the darkest, most emotionally raw albums Nick Cave has ever released. In the midst of recording Skeleton Tree, Cave’s fifteen year old son fell off a cliff to his death. And even though the album was already written, this tragic loss of his son Arthur seems to have led Cave to make Skeleton Tree the bleak, cavernous record that it is. The sparse compositions let Cave’s vocals take the forefront, and his haunting voice reverberates through the record like a restless spirit. Cave’s lyrics have always erred on the poetic side, and Skeleton Tree is no exception. But on this record, Cave’s voice is as frail as it has ever sound. This album is a prescient outpouring of grief, making it one of Nick Cave & the Bad Seed’s most moving records in their storied discography.
4. Thee Oh Sees – A Weird Exits
Thee Oh Sees return with a hypnotic, krautrock-inspired psych punk record that might just be their best record to date. John Dwyer and company have been nothing but prolific since their first release ten years ago, and with records like Carrion Crawler / The Dream, Floating Coffin, and Help it seemed like the best of Thee Oh Sees might be in the past. But A Weird Exits squelches that notion with spine-shattering force. This record is energetic, raw, and trippy as all get out. This is the most psychedelic Thee Oh Sees have ever been, and that’s a fantastic thing. The slower, longer tracks allow for ample experimentation, but that doesn’t make this thing any less heavy. A Weird Exits is one of the most cryptic records of 2016, shrouded is a hissing cloud of fuzz and reverb. Thee Oh Sees prove yet again that garage rock is alive and well.
3. Deakin – Sleep Cycle
Animal Collective guitarist Deakin opted to work on a solo record rather than writing, recording and touring the band’s 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion, a move that seemed questionable at the time given Merriweather’s success. Sleep Cycle is that album, and it does not disappoint. It is a lush, dreamy, melodic record, bearing heavy resemblance to Merriweather and Strawberry Jam. And this is why Sleep Cycle is such a welcome surprise. The two most recent Animal Collective LPs, 2016’s Painting With and 2012’s Centipede Hz, have been dense, cluttered records, suffering from chaotic samples and noise that muddle many tracks. Sleep Cycle is free of these issues, making it easily the best Animal Collective-related project in years.
Sleep Cycle is short, sweet and absolutely infectious. Deakin’s warbling vocals are delightful, the lyrics are personal and resonant, and Deakin’s vocal melodies are phenomenal. Instrumentally the album throws back to mid-2000s Animal Collective. “Footy” recalls “Cuckoo Cuckoo” and other Avey Tare songs from Strawberry Jam, but Deakin makes it distinctly his own. “Just Am” is a brilliant track, bouncing along with a subtle groove and skeletal drum beat. “Seed Song” floats along effortlessly into the emotional, panoramic closer “Good House”. Sleep Cycle is healing music, meditative, introspective and soothing. While Animal Collective has recently forayed into more manic territory, Sleep Cycle inhabits a different realm entirely, blissfully calm and hypnotic. I just wish this album wasn’t so fucking short.
2. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
Atrocity Exhibition is an absolutely brilliant album. Danny Brown creates an album so mind-blowingly different and weird that it’s mere existence almost seems impossible. The production is bizarre and off-kilter and freaky, with cuts like “Golddust”, which features a sample from krautrock band Embryo, and “Ain’t It Funny”. The opener, “The Downward Spiral” sets the dark, manic, nihilistic tone of the record with themes of drug abuse, depression, and desperation. The lead single “Really Doe”, while unlike most other tracks on the record, is a banger with exceptional features from Kendrick, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. But even ignoring “Really Doe”, Danny Brown consistently kills. His flow is insane, especially given the angular, skeletal production. Danny’s verses are heavy and honest, but his twisted sense of humor pushes through the gritty, bleak atmosphere he creates. This record is grotesque, unsettling, dark, and without a doubt one of the absolute best hip-hop releases of the century so far.
- David Bowie – Blackstar
David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, 18 months after being diagnosed with cancer, and only two days after his 25th and final studio album, Blackstar, was released. Entirely removed from the context of his death, Blackstar is still an incredible record. With arranged jazz, electronic, and avant-garde elements tied together with an art-rock sensibility, Blackstar is perhaps the farthest Bowie ever strayed from pop. Intricate grooves, screeching horns, occult imagery and some of Bowie’s most emotional vocals ever make this an astounding record. But this record is more than that; Blackstar is Bowie’s swan-song, a response to his own impending death. The menacing, dark vibe of the record is cut by undercurrents of acceptance and self-reflection, highlighted by musical and lyrical allusions to Bowie’s past records. Never has a record so poignantly captured the uncertainty of death as this one. Blackstar is Bowie’s flawless farewell, and shows the dedication he put into his art, regardless of the circumstances.
Gwen Wolfenbarger is behind one of Colorado College’s most unique sounds. Also known as Seal Eggs, her new album Sunday Will be Snow is a beautifully ethereal collection of layered and looped tracks, she describes as “drinking Sleepytime Vanilla tea….” that truly “sounds like winter.”
I remember the first time I saw Gwen perform in Cornerstone last year, I was brought to tears during her performance of “One Day”, which is featured on the new album. She drew on many inspirations during the composition process, one of the most important being the journey of understanding her transition, which expresses itself thematically through the development of the tracks. Gwen describes the progression of the tracks to reflect her transition: “begins hopefully, kind of sinks into depression through the middle, and then ends on another positive note…I think the most depressing part is dysphoria”.”
Gwen’s process of composing, recording and performance is extremely unique. During composition, Gwen describes the process as a “snowball effect”. Sound-layer upon layer build up after long periods of improvisation, to produce a sound she didn’t plan out. Because of the complexity of her tracks, I am dumbfounded at her ability to reproduce this in live performance. During performance, she describes her experience: “I forget that I’m even performing for anyone, and so its incredibly jarring when at the end there’s an applause…I am extremely vulnerable to the memories and experience of the transition.” She describes getting lost in the music and the performance; music is her form of escape. The songs themselves are intimate and exposed, and this is clear through Gwen’s raw emotion. It is a beautiful experience just to witness a Seal Eggs performance.
I asked Gwen about what music means to her and what she thinks it could do for others. Of course this is a big question, but she comments on how music has always been the biggest and most important part of her life. Even before she could play any instruments (which she plays many and if she doesn’t, could learn in an unfair amount of time) baby Gwen was found chewing on her family’s upright piano. To this day music envelops her life, “I don’t even know where I would be without it, music is my best friend.” There are clear resonances of Gwen’s musical background in choir throughout Sunday Will Be Snow. Music frames Gwen’s experiences of the world and in terms of her new album; music has been a very healing experience. It was not only a healing experience for Gwen, but as a huge fan of her music, a restorative experience for all listeners.
Catching up with Gwen on her new album also led to some entertaining responses about Sunday Will be Snow:
Q: “If you could collaborate with any musical artist who would they be?”
A: “One of my big influences, Grouper. She’s a drone singer and guitarist from Portland who uses a lot of tape loops…. A lot of it sounds like it’s underwater.”
Q: “What colors and shapes embody the essence of this album for you?”
A: “Powdery blue and pink definitely, I mean those are the trans flag colors. Also warm colors like burgundy. Shapes would be spirals and circles.”
5 things you need prior to a PWR BTTM concert
- A good lipstick shade
- An outfit that is comprised of funky patterns, bright colors, and/or anything mesh
- Shoes to dance in
- More glitter
Since Sunday night I have showered three times and my hair is still shedding silver and gold glitter. My sheets are spotted with the remnants of the blue mascara that was covering my eyebrows approximately 48 hours ago. It’s hard to convey the magic that occurs at a PWR BTTM concert. Starting with the name of the band, the shows are unapologetically queer, but I think the importance of PWR BTTM concerts lie in the safe spaces that they create. At every concert venue, the bathrooms are turned into gender-neutral bathrooms for the night, allowing individuals to focus on the music being played rather than gendering themselves while they go pee.
The authenticity found at PWR BTTM concerts is rare with other bands. Liv and Ben, two trans-feminine members of the band write their music about queerness. In “I Wanna Boi, they sing “I wanna boi who thinks its sexy when my lipstick bleeds/I wanna boi who can go all night without stopping/I wanna boi who knows exactly what he needs.” In “Serving Goffman” they sing “I want to put the whole world in drag/But I’m starting to realize it’s already like that.” At every show, Liv wears incredible shades of lipstick while Ben’s face is covered in multiple layers of glitter. Everything about the band is interconnected with Liv and Ben’s identities as queer and trans individuals. On Sunday, between bars and lyrics, vocalist Ben talked about how they wished the Apple store sold weed (and how they wished they could buy the weed in exchange for a blowjob). Liv told a story about hooking up with a boy from Grindr and spoke about the process of shaving as a Jewish trans-feminine individual.
When looking through the crowd, 99% of the audience was shimmering—quite literally. There was glitter everywhere. Everyone’s make up was on point. For a band to create a space that people feel comfortable enough to express themselves so authentically without fear is rare. When Liv and Ben begin “I Wanna Boi,” everyone is singing along. Fans know every word. They relate to the words being sung. This is not to say that going to PWR BTTM concerts with make up on or dressed up exists without fear. In fact, for many, the only safe space in the entire process is the actual show. The process of getting to and from the venue incites fear due to larger societal expectations of the ways in which people should express themselves. But as PWR BTTM reminds fans: queer is invincible.
Ever since my first PWR BTTM concert a few months ago, I have gone to other concerts hoping for the same unapologetic sense of self from both the artist and the crowd members. Most of the time, I leave impressed with the artist’s talent, but feeling like I am missing something as an audience member. Why is talking about love so acceptable in the music industry, but explicit queerness almost always seems to be missing? If queerness is discussed, it is oftentimes in code or vague. With the rise in PWR BTTM’s fame, I worry that these queer spaces wont be as accessible. Both PWR BTTM shows that I have attended were 16+ and at a small venue in Denver. However, within the last month or so, they’ve received coverage from sites like AV Club and NYLON. What happens when ticket prices go up? Will they start being booked at 21+ venues? What will happen to the 16 year old queer high school fans that feel like they can authentically express themselves at PWR BTTM concerts? This is not to say that PWR BTTM’s rise to fame is not well deserved, but I do wonder what will happen as they continue to gain traction in the current music scene. But for now, I try to remind myself that queer is invincible, even within the capitalist heteronormative music scene.
From their 2000 debut Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished to the release of the seminal Merriweather Post Pavillion and excellent Fall Be Kind EP in 2009, Animal Collective were a force to be reckoned with. The band released one fantastic record after another, each with a unique ever-evolving take on psychedelia. From the freak-folk meanderings of Sung Tongs to the eclectic, glitchy, psych-pop of Strawberry Jam, Animal Collective’s distinctive brand of psychedelia was always on point. That is, until 2012’s polarizing, and, in my opinion, disappointing Centipede Hz. Centipede, more than any other Animal Collective record, had songs that were forgettable. The hooks were duller, the instrumentals muddier, and with the exception of a few stand out tracks, the record was, all in all, forgettable. Centipede Hz was hardly painful to listen to; it was simply a mediocre record. But when a band known for their greatness, innovation, and universal acclaim puts out a record that is met by a lukewarm reception, uncertainty hangs in the air.
Painting With is Animal Collective’s tenth studio record, and the follow up to Centipede Hz. Animal Collective has not been totally silent since 2012, however. Dave Portner, better know as Avey Tare, released his Slasher Flicks project in 2014, and 2015 saw the release of Panda Bear’s fifth studio record, the Sonic Boom produced Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, as well as the Crosswords EP. Given the direction Panda and Avey went with these respective project, the sound of Painting With is not shocking. Painting With is Animal Collective’s most stripped back record in recent memory. There are no droning, ambient, or spacey passages on the record. Rather than their usual brand of drawn out, slow burning, atmospheric jams lathered in layers of effects, the band present twelve short, succinct, synth driven pop songs. As far as I’m aware, this is the first Animal Collective record without a track reaching the five-minute mark. Guitarist and most-of-the-time AC member Deakin is also absent from the record, which like on Merriweather, results in a record sans guitar. As a result, Painting With is Animal Collective’s most by the books pop record to date.
The album kicks off with “FloriDada”, which would not seem out of place as a Strawberry Jam outtake. The bouncing groove to this track, Avey and Panda’s vocal harmonies, and gently swelling synths on this track recall AnCo of old, at least to some degree. The track is infectiously catchy, danceable, and well arranged. The less energetic “Hocus Pocus” follows, and features Panda Bear on vocals. As on PBVSGR, Panda Bear delivers stuttering, hocketed vocals. John Cale is featured on this track as well, providing a viola drone low in the mix on this track. The synth swells and jabs on this track work in unison with Panda’s bouncing vocals. Avey Tare sings in double time on most “The Burglars”, with Panda coming in on the back half of the track to harmonize with Avey, resulting in one of the best vocal performances on the whole record. The short but sweet “Bagels in Kiev” has a brief droning intro, which subsides to reveal shimmering synths and a danceable drumbeat.
The record’s two best tracks are the final two on the record. “Golden Gal” features the distorted synth bass that is ubiquitous on the record, but with the pulsing synth lead, the galloping percussion and the Avey Tare’s excellent vocal performance carry the track. By far, “Golden Gal” has the best vocal melody of any track on the record. The track has brief stop time in the middle, and features some of the lushest and strangest instrumentation on the record. The lysergic closer, “Recycling”, features Panda Bear’s bouncing vocal delivery, and is instrumentally the most dissonant song on the record, which is not saying much. This is not the In addition to gently modulating chord progression, some high frequency synth jabs and swells, and wonky, modulated notes over a punctual xylophone melody are among the most lavish and strange effects on the record.
Still, the record’s shortcomings are hard to ignore. First of all, Panda Bear’s hocketed vocals, which work well on tracks like “Hocus Pocus” and “Recycling”, on tracks like “Summing the Wretch”, “Lying in the Grass” and “Natural Selection” become redundant and, for lack of a better word, boring. “Natural Selection” especially indulges in this vocal style, to the tracks detriment. This vocal technique was extensively used by Panda Bear on Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, rendering many of these tracks annoyingly similar to the more forgettable tracks on that record. The instrumentals on these tracks do not stand out among the other songs on the record, and with out any hooks or infectiously catchy melodies, these tracks are almost instantly forgettable. So many tracks on the record have the same squelchy distorted synth bass, and on songs like “On Delay”, “Lying in the Grass” and “Natural Selection” this synth base is overpowering, and the bass melodies are homogenous from track to track. For trying to make a more simplistic pop record, Animal Collective’s hooks are underdeveloped or all together lacking on too many tracks. So many tracks, especially in the middle of the record, fail to stand out. Not that these tracks are terrible; they simply feel underdeveloped, rushed, or otherwise uninspired. On prior records, Animal Collective has always had the ability to write songs that are infectiously catchy while maintaining an experimental nature. On this record, Animal Collective has massively toned down their usual experimental tendencies, resulting in several tracks that, at the end of the day, are lackluster and highly forgettable.
When a band that’s been around for as long as Animal Collective puts out a record or two that don’t meet their usual standard of excellence, it is easy to write them off as past their prime, as some have already done. However, I think there are enough excellent moments on Painting With to make the possibility of another excellent Animal Collective record seem plausible at least. More so than Centipede Hz, the stand out tracks on Painting With are enough to convince me that Animal Collective is far from done. Animal Collective has never been a band to linger on one sound for long, so it is nearly impossible to speculate where they’ll go next. But Painting With presents just enough excellence to keep me optimistic.
At first listen, Is The Is Are is but a slight departure from DIIV’s 2012 debut, featuring breathy vocals barely float above the guitar melodies that have defined the band for years. With a runtime of 63 minutes, the signature sound makes Is The Is Are a comfortable commitment. Longtime DIIV fans will find little to complain about with this album, though a few may stop to ask: what the hell took so long?
Those who regularly reads music news will remember when frontman Zachary Cole Smith and his girlfriend Sky Ferreira were arrested in upstate New York on misdemeanor charges of heroin possession in 2013. The couple was riding dirty in a stolen van en route to a music festival, and though Cole Smith took responsibility for both the drugs and the vehicle, Ferreira’s reputation took a hard hit as well. The singer and model, who was only 21 at the time, lost contracts with several major labels once they got wind of her involvement in the arrest. Media coverage of the arrest consistently depicted both Smith and Ferreira as drugged-out losers, ugly products of substance glorification in the music industry.
As a standalone event, Smith’s brush with the law would have been bad enough for the band. Unfortunately, the ordeal was hardly the first of DIIV’s roadblocks. Not only did the arrest mark a particularly harsh rock bottom in Smith’s struggle with opioid addiction, but it also came on the heels of a failed attempt to use drug-fueled creativity to record a new album in San Francisco. Defeated, humiliated, and existentially wracked with guilt, Cole Smith found himself ordered to twelve days in chemical dependency treatment in January 2014, effectively setting DIIV on a road to uncertainty.
Whether Is The Is Are came to fruition in spite of Smith’s stint in rehab or because of it is unclear. In the two years since the incident, he has written hundreds of songs for this album, driven by the need to release a perfect product to atone for his very public mistakes. Whittled down to 17 tracks, the resulting record is a reflection on Smith’s attempts at recovery, thinly disguised as a DIIV album.
In an interview with VICE’s i-D this past October, Cole Smith stated that he intended the album to be a cautionary tale, a chance for him to “explain to people where [he’s] coming from – what happened.” The lyrics of Is The Is Are darkly convey a story of Smith’s relationship with heroin, an unglamorous depiction of the road to recovery. Lines like “Got so high I finally felt like myself” and “I know I gotta kick but I can’t get sick” paint a bleak portrait of drug use not often seen in rock music. Any glimpses of hope are tongue-in-cheek at best, always twinged with an air of nihilism. The album’s final track, “Waste of Breath,” is nearly a light at the end of the tunnel, but instead claims “It would be a waste of breath to tell a man who / believes in me that he’s got something better to do,” perfectly encapsulating an addict’s tendency to reject the support of others. In sharp contrast to DIIV’s first album, Is The Is Are trades in seductive metaphors for heroin for raw descriptions of overdoses: the sweating, shaking, and ringing ears. DIIV hardly aims to be the new face of Narcotics Anonymous, and Is The Is Are is by no means a sermon for sobriety. Yet its raw expression of Cole Smith’s experience falls right in line with recovery culture, the success of which relies on brutal honesty in the confessional exchange of stories.
Intriguingly, the musical style of the album remains diametrically opposed to the lyrical content. Quite frankly, Is The Is Are is exactly the sort music you’d want to get high to – reverberating dream-pop that melts right into your ears. Smith’s boyish voice often fades to incoherency behind interweaving guitar lines, making it easy to tune out his heartbreaking words. Listening to the album in its entirety is kind of like watching a Stanley Kubrick film, as its richness can backfire and cause you to get lost in your own thoughts. A few key tracks help to cut through the haze, however. The punchy guitar riffs on “Valentine” wakes listeners from the spoken-word dream that is “Blue Boredom,” a song that features Sky Ferreira. The dissonant instrumental “(Fuck)” serves a similar purpose. Softer songs such as “Take Your Time” are the album’s hidden gems, and the final track is downright velvety, albeit anti-climactic.
Is The Is Are does not immediately come off as a concept album, but by the third or fourth listen – and a quick trip to a lyric website – it becomes obvious that this is the musical equivalent of a heroin fix. It’s exactly what DIIV fans have been craving since Oshin’s release in 2012; it warms from the inside out; it leaves you wanting more. Listeners can only hope for a steady supply going forward, as the band’s future remains murky as ever as they embark on their international tour. Despite the constant uncertainty of the rock outfit’s trajectory, Is The Is Are is reason enough to believe in DIIV, no matter what form they may take in the years to come.
After seeing The Neighbourhood live for the second time this past September, I could scarcely contain my excitement for the release of their second album, Wiped Out!. Released on October 30th, the album follows up The NBHD’s first full-length, I Love You., released back in 2013. Equally strong in content and variety, Wiped Out! has been my go-to album recommendation for anyone looking for an alternative album that satisfies from start to finish.
Beginning with “A Moment of Silence,” the album starts with a literal 30-second track of silence before launching into “Prey,” one of the several songs I was exposed to at their concert. In classic NBHD fashion, the track starts with faint background sounds, perhaps of a chorus, along with the dim intimations of a guitar. Then the tambourine and bass come in, producing an irresistible beat to complement frontman Jesse Rutherford’s smooth tenor voice and honest confession “Something is off, / I feel like prey, / I feel like praying.”
The album continues its momentum with “Cry Baby,” relying on another catchy chorus and beat that has even been placed recently at the end of Alt Nation’s Top 18. The song is framed around a common theme of the Neighbourhood—loving a girl that you shouldn’t love, or at least has quite a bit of baggage. This theme is woven throughout the album, particularly in “Daddy Issues,” “Baby Came Home 2 / Valentines,” and “Single.” Also prevalent is the band’s connection to the West Coast in songs such as “The Beach” and “Greetings from Califournia.” Often, one can hear waves crashing distantly towards the end of the songs, combined with electrical feedback. Listening to these songs and their lyrics, it comes as no surprise that the band used birds, palm trees, and highway roads as imagery at their concert to bring the music and its message to life. Moreover, along with this imagery, the juxtaposition of easy-going, relaxed beats and deep emotional expression seems to foster a profound connection with listeners while also making them feel small and distant, a strange yet somehow comforting sensation.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of Wiped Out!, however, is the final song, “R.I.P. 2 My Youth.” The tambourine and drum once again lead the song, until Rutherford comes in with the title from the get-go: “R.I.P. to my youth, / And you could call this the funeral. / I’m just telling the truth, / And you can play this at my funeral.” Combining Rutherford’s R&B-style voice, a hip-hop beat, and electronic waves, “R.I.P. 2 My Youth” encapsulates the album’s feeling of hopefulness despite internal struggle and compositional vibe. It’s relatable enough without becoming discouraging, and it will occupy your mind for days after listening to it. If you have to listen to one song from Wiped Out!, it’s this one. But I don’t know why you would only listen to one
—after all, everybody deserves a moment of silence and a trip to the beach before laying their youth to rest.