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Article count (354)

Date: Jul 19, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

A confounding, capricious album that dances with the freedom of having nothing to prove.

Laurel Halo is one of the most exciting techno producers to emerge this decade, and she’s now operating at the peak of her powers. She came up as a producer-vocalist, but her last album, Chance of Rain, spoke through the slam of fingers against bank pads and seemed like a reaction against the inordinate focus on her vocals (Halo chalks it up to the sad fact that women are still typecast as singers). Now that we can be reassured she can hold her own behind the mic and the boards, here’s Dust, a confounding, capricious album that dances with the freedom of having nothing to prove.

Dust is really good—as good as Chance of Rain, maybe better. But it’s not good in a way that plays to expectations; it doesn’t come off as a culmination or a blog-conquering statement so much as another dash of mischief from an artist who does what she wants. It feels giddy with invention, benefitting from both Halo’s wild whims and those of the collaborators on which she presumably spent most of her label money—keyboardist Craig Clouse, who contributes chintzy organ, or the installation artist/percussionist Eli Keszler, whose congas and vibraphones bring an organic messiness to the texture. (Click on “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 18, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

One of the most painstakingly sound-designed techno albums you’ll hear this year.

Dub techno never had much time for albums. Its full-length milestones—Porter Ricks’ Biokinetics, Basic Channel’s BCDseries—tend to be singles compilations, and these can be difficult to find, even while individual tracks are easy to cue up on YouTube or Spotify. The subgenre remains a niche in an indieverse that still speaks the language of albums—blame it on rockism, or perhaps on the fact that albums are more convenient and don’t leave you pressing the next button every couple minutes.

Anguilla Electrica, the first Porter Ricks album of the millennium, is a strange thing: a dub techno album that’s obviously crafted as an album. There are no versions or variations of the same track, no time-wasting experiments in dub and delay. It comes on strong—the title track, with its phocine chords and jagged sidewinders of bass, seems to rush at you out of the abyss. Designed to make an impression as soon as it enters your ears, the album is over in a tidy 42 minutes, before you’ve had time to process what just hit you. (Click “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 18, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Gee, Norse religion sure is a lot cooler than whatever you believe.

Varg Vikernes (better known as Burzum) is a committed white nationalist who’s made some of the most influential music—beloved, even—of the last 25 years of metal. The defense of his work is always the same: he doesn’t use his art to further his views, he’s even said so himself. Ah, but it’s not as simple as that. As anyone who’s seen a Woody Allen movie or listened to an R. Kelly record can attest, artists’ deplorable tendencies tend to creep into their work, and Vikernes’s is no exception.

Dauði Baldrs is the first of two albums Vikernes released from prison after murdering a bandmate. Normally, he’d make black metal. But all he seems to have been allowed in jail was a cheap Casio, so that’s what we hear on Dauði Baldrs. The music is rooted in medieval-folk cliché: kingly fanfares, pounding war-drums, pointy-toed minstrels tooting the flute on one leg as hoary men dance with buxom maids. And the titles and sleeve drip with the signifiers of Norse legend (non-Norwegians will recognize names like “Hel” and “Ragnarok”). (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 16, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Bill Orcutt is one of the most radical instrumentalists of his generation.

Bill Orcutt’s surely spent long hours digging for blues and folk obscurities, but it’s when he tackles a beloved standard that his gnarled genius shines. Take his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” from his new, self-titled album for solo electric guitar. The first three notes bring a pang of instant familiarity, but inevitably his mind goes down its own dark, spidery path, and within seconds the song is barely recognizable. It’s great fun to hear him navigate a melody everyone knows and see what he can milk out of it, and we can practically hear the gears in his head turning.  (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 12, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

There’s not much reason to listen to A Walk with Love and Death.

It’s inevitable the Melvins would arrive at a double album at this point in their career—the worst possible time they could make one. The group has long given up on making music for the sake of music. Every album has a gimmick: a lineup change, a hokey concept like the smirking cover album Everybody Loves Sausages. The double album is the kind of classic-rock cliché these KISS-loving pranksters can’t resist. So here’s A Walk with Love and Death, split into Love and Death discs.

Double albums can be a springboard for rock bands’ wildest ideas, either showing off an impressive range or ending up bloated self-indulgence. The Melvins’ entry is neither, and is really just two separate albums. Death is 39 minutes of the same sludge they’ve been churning out since they put their experimental period to bed with 2006’s A Senile Animal, while Love is an ambient score to a film that, if the snippets of dialogue are any indication, is mostly about tough guys getting really, really mad. It’s only a double album because cool, a double album.  (Click on “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 12, 2017

Publication: Jewish News of Northern California

In 1969, Miles Davis was all but exiled from the jazz world for daring to splice together recordings from two or more different sessions on his album “In A Silent Way.” Jazz was all about improvisation — argued the critics — the camaraderie of a bunch of people in the same room playing off each other’s ideas. To pick the best out of a bunch of tapes would be blasphemy.

Such purists would surely blanch at the sight of Kutiman’s “offgrid,” a 38-minute audiovisual composition that’s coming to the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco on Thursday, July 20. Fully titled “offgrid offline,” the exhibit by the well-known Israeli musician and composer is scheduled to run through June 24, 2018.  (Click on “web or pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 09, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Will prompt some interesting discussion.

Boo Boo has the feel of a spectacular failure without actually being one. When it stumbles, it’s not because the record is boring or too polite or compromised in any way, but because Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi, simply reaches too far. Even when ideas don’t work, at least they’re ideas chased to their logical endpoint, and they end up hitting and missing with equal probability. If he was a bit timid on his last few records, he’s mustered up the courage here to go for broke, and that alone is kind of exhilarating.

The most effective moments often involve tried-and-true ‘80s sounds, like the seductive cluck of disco guitar on “Mirage” or the pearly pianos of “Embarcadero.” These sounds might have come off as cheesy when Toro y Moi first debuted in 2010, but now they gorgeously speak to the gut rather than to our mental log of Reagan-era hits. Other experiments fail with aplomb, like the trap ballad “Windows,” sung through heaps of Auto-Tune. And sometimes the best songs on the album contain the most cringe-worthy moments, so the listener does have to put in some effort to get to the good stuff.  (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jul 04, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Do we treat it as a chillwave album or an album about chillwave?

Mister Mellow starts with a thick mist of phasers and a riot of sampled coughs and manic laughter. Are we supposed to think of “Laughing Gas,” from Neon Indian’s Psychic Chasms? It’s possible. And it’s also possible we’re meant to think of Toro Y Moi’s “Blessa” when a sampled voice sighs, “I go to work, I try my best” on “Floating By.” This is an album that embraces—or, perhaps more accurately, reckons with—chillwave rather than running from it.

Ernest Greene helped define chillwave with his first two EPs, but he could never quite escape it. By 2011, the genre had hit saturation point, and peers Neon Indian and Toro Y Moi turned left into weirder territory. Greene refined his sound instead, perhaps out of stubborn commitment to his style or a disinterest in leaving his comfort zone. Paracosm, with its acoustic guitars, was marginally more serious but didn’t gain him much more than a few Pandora plays. (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 26, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Curren$y makes weed rap for people who love weed.

Curren$y makes weed rap for people who love weed, not for people who like the idea of weed; they can stick with their Afroman and pot-leaf-printed beanies. I mean people who still remember why they started burning the bud in the first place. There’s a pervasive sense of comfort and serenity in the man’s music. He’s always curled up in a couch, or jetting off to some faraway place, or staring out the window and remarking on just how beautiful the view is. Even those who don’t smoke can understand his fixation with creature comforts, often the kind you’d expect to be enjoyed by a middle-aged man rather than an MC in his mid-‘30s. He’s the type to brag about his argyle socks or recommend the hand-squeezed lemonade at his favorite diner. (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 25, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Proves Lorde is the real thing.

Lorde’s new album Melodrama is so good it’s made us forget the year’s other big Lorde-related news story: that she was the proprietor of onionringsworldwide, an Instagram devoted to reviewing onion rings around the world. After the cat got out of the bag, Lorde shut down the account. Why? Well, being pelted with onion rings on tour would be pretty unpleasant, she confessed on Jimmy Fallon. Understandable. But later in the interview, she let slip a more revealing reason: “It reads like the kind of thing a pop star would do to be relatable.”  (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 22, 2017

Publication: Pretty Much Amazing

The overwhelming impression one gets from this album is a sense of benevolence. Beautiful Thugger Girls might be one of the most heartwarming rap albums ever made.

Beautiful Thugger Girls may underwhelm at first, if only because the forms it works in are so familiar. Young Thug cycles through a lot of styles here: lovebird R&B, sensitive acoustic folk, even country. But he doesn’t terraform them to his whims so much as try them on for size, like a kid posing with a cowboy hat in the mirror. He loves a good reference as much as Tarantino, and listeners who measure Thug’s progress by the difference between his albums might spend most of their listening time trying to spot them. This’d be a mistake. In fact, measuring Thug’s career by its progress towards some goal—his long-promised studio debut HiTunes, which may never come, or an album where he makes good on his potential to transcend hip hop—is a fool’s errand. Young Thug has arrived, he’s given us more fantastic music in two years than most MCs dish up in a lifetime, and Beautiful Thugger Girls continues his great run with gusto. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 21, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Few rap veterans are going this strong in their mid-40s.

Snoop’s earned the right to be nostalgic—partially because he’s one of rap’s most hardened vets but mostly because he’s never been content to coast on that fact. Like Neil Young, Snoop’s fully aware that as the game’s weird great-uncle, he can do essentially whatever the fuck he wants. In the last half-decade alone, he’s made not one but two funk albums, a reggae album and spat over a goddamn Gary Numan track on what was supposed to be his return to rapping. It’s not too worrying that he’s looking backwards on his new album, Neva Left; his next could be an acid-folk album with Van Dyke Parks orchestrations for all we know.  (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 19, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

If introspection is a marketing ploy, Halsey’s a hell of a huckster.

Halsey’s a real artist, and she’ll be the first to tell you. She’s spent long Twitter hours taking apart the themes on her second album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom—what means what, which songs reference other songs, how it’s somehow a parallel of Romeo & Juliet. She sees herself as an “alternative” artist who’s “more than capable of writing radio music.” Not a pop star. This is usually a bad sign. The best pop stars embrace their status, and those who don’t tend to fall into stale signifiers of authenticity, like the post-glam rootsy turns from Gaga and Miley Cyrus.  (Click “web of pdf” view to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 18, 2017

Publication: Spectrum Culture

Dawson shows us and makes us believe it.

If nothing else, Richard Dawson’s Peasant should serve as a sobering reminder that while the Muslim world was revolutionizing art and science well over a millennium ago, the Brits were still dragging their pigs to market through deep puddles of shit. This might just be the most compelling musical portrait of medieval unpleasantness since the Child ballads, and Dawson, an uncompromising and challenging songwriter, takes almost sadistic delight in painting a world where life is nasty, brutish, and short. (Click on “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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Date: Jun 07, 2017

Publication: Dog-Doo With Daniel

I’m gonna come out and say it — I love “When I’m Sixty-Four”, I love “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”, I love “Penny Lane”, I love all those sappy-ass Paul McCartney songs that are the one thing keeping the Beatles from being as cool as the Stones or the Who or whatever leather-clad edgelords they had to compete with. I even love some of the sappy John songs, like “Good Night”, and I love them because they tap into a primal, happy part of my brain. When I hear these songs I feel the way I imagine animals feel finding food after a long (cold, lonely?) winter. (Click “web or pdf” link to continue reading.)

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