Record #439: Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins (2017)

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Any time I find myself in a conversation about how modern music is garbage, I always bring up Grizzly Bear. Veckatimest is a flawless record that deserves to be listed next to albums like Pet Sounds and Odyssey and Oracle. It was a breakthrough that netted them an invitation to tour with Radiohead.

Grizzly Bear might have been doomed to live the rest of their career in the shadow of one perfect record, but the records that have followed have been similarly glorious.

Shields saw the group exploring sparser arrangements and a more measured composition. But, the record had a hard time maintaining the bliss of the first few tracks. The last half slowed the tempo down to dangerous levels, and the record ended up being a little forgettable.

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2017 Year End

2017 has come and gone, and it’s left us with some really great music. Here are my favorites.

Elder – Reflections of a Floating World
A masterful piece of psych-metal that’s as exploratory as it is heavy

Slowdive – Slowdive
The return nobody thought to ask for that ended up being my favorite Slowdive album.

Fleet Foxes – Crack-up
The most intricately composed work they’ve ever given. Abstract and wonderful.

Cool Hand Luke – Cora
My favorite band from high school is back with bigger beats and sleeker basslines, but all of the hard hitting songwriting is in tact.

Salt Creek – Where Strangers Go
Indie rock that walks the line between shoegaze, post rock, and post-hardcore. I’ve been waiting on this EP for a while

Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
Their always brilliant psych pop is back. They have yet to disappoint.

Jeremy Enigk – Ghosts
Is this his most focused solo release? Maybe. It also gets closer to SDRE than he’s gotten in years.

Pallbearer – Heartless
Their doomy palette is broader here, with faster tempos and more aggressive riffs.

Naal – A703
A piece of ambient post rock that is as heartbreaking as it is subdued.

Boy Rex – Better Vision
Nostalgia set to pure exuberance. The best summertime record of the year.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Exactly the same Americana+Krautrock=Profit format he’s used in the past, but his songwriting is more focused than ever.

All is Well – I Swear Someday
Intricate math rock that aims for the heart too.

Planning for Burial – Beneath the House
Slow, plodding, and heavy doomgaze that doesn’t have to muddy it up with distortion and screaming all the time.

Self-Proclaimed Narcissist – I Am the End Boss
Is the saddest folk punk record ever? Maybe.

Glassjaw – Material Control
The comeback of the year, with their most aggressive and relentless album of their career.

King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering
Melodic doomgaze that is as hypnotic as it is heavy.

Room & Board – There’s No One Else That You’ll Ever Be (And If You Can Hang With That You’ll Do Fine)
Dancy indie rock twitching with 60s nostalgia.

Brand New – Science Fiction
Scandal aside, this record is an alt rock masterpiece. The work of a band who knows that a return to form doesn’t mean a retread of their earlier stuff.

Gorillaz – Humanz
Their most political and apocalyptic release ever, in a global climate that needs some more dancing. Grace Jones is on this, you guys.

SPACESHIPS – Son of Man
Ain’t too proud to put my own record on my year end list. It IS the most important record to me that came out this year.

Record #437: Deftones – White Pony (2000)

It seems fitting that in 2017, a year that saw me obsessively dive into the Deftones’ catalogue to determine if I like them or not (spoiler: I really, really, really, really do), it’s fitting that my last purchase of the year would be White Ponythe record most people regard as their magnum opus.
Listening to the melodic, shoegaze-influenced alternative metal of Koi No Yokan or Gore, there’s very little to suggest that Deftones was ever a rap-metal group. That trajectory is thanks to White Pony, the record that eschewed the nu-metal of their peers and becoming one of the best alt-metal bands in the business.

This change was in large part due to the group’s new emphasis on atmosphere and melody. Songs like “Digital Bath,” “Knife Prty,” and the eternal “Change (In the House of Flies)” made great use out of a quite-loud dynamic that became the blueprint for many of the group’s best songs. “Rx Queen,” “Teenager,” and the first half of “Pink Maggit” saw them using a quieter palette than ever before. “Teenager” even had electronic drums and acoustic guitars!

While there are no raps on this record, the band hadn’t completely shed their nu-metal skin. Some of the riffs are still drenched in hip-hop swagger—”Elite” in particular. But even these songs haven’t aged as poorly as most of their contemporaries. While songs like “Freak on a Leash” and “Nookie” sound like embarrassing time capsules, most of  White Pony sounds practically modern.

Which is good news, because I can’t stand rap rock anymore.

Record #436: The Cure – Disintegration (1989)

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In a conversation with some fellow music nerds recently, it somehow came up that I had never spent much time with The Cure. I had picked up a copy of their 2004 self-titled album once in high school and listened to it maybe once or twice, but that was hardly an accurate picture of these 80s darlings.

My friend nearly demanded that I listen to Disintegration  that instant. And friends, it changed me.

I already have a deep love for 80s post punk. Joy Division and Cocteau Twins are staples of my collection. Disintegration hits every one of those buttons:  atmospheric synths, moody bass lines, and sparse guitar riffs set the stage for Robert Smith’s tortured croon.

At times, it’s deceptively poppy. You might even think that they’re happy. “Plainsong” opens the album with a major key anthem for the end of the world. “Pictures of You” sounds so triumphant that you’d be forgiven for not noticing how isolated Smith feels. The perennial classic “Lovesong” flips the formula a little bit, juxtaposing joyful lyrics to a minor key ballad.

They can only keep up the facade for so long, though. The second half of the album is all gloom, all the time. And it’s exactly what the Cure does best. “The Same Deep Water as You” is a nine-minute meditation on toxic codependency that sounds as beleaguered as its lyrics. The title track starts with a poppy drum beat, hinting for a moment that the gloom has lifted. But this beat sets the stage for one of the most harrowing tracks of the album. The album doesn’t return to a major key until the closing track, “Untitled,” a gentle major key ballad that feels like two friends holding eachother after a bridge collapse.

Which is apparently exactly what was happening to the Cure during this time. Smith was filled with dread as he looked forward to his thirtieth birthday, and his rejection of his sudden fame and internal tension within the band brought him into an existential crisis. And while these sorts of crises aren’t uncommon, it takes a rare artist to perfectly capture that feeling for others to experience. Robert Smith is that artist, and Disintegration is that feeling—71 minutes of ennui and alienation perfectly captured on tape and pressed to vinyl. A rightly-lauded masterpiece that I will not ignore any longer.

As a sidenote: I think I’ve isolated the reason why I’ve ignored the Cure so long. In middle school, I was a big fan of Adam Sandler’s The Wedding Singer. In the movie, he sings a song that he prefaces with, “when I wrote this, I was listening to the Cure a lot.” The song is a sad punky song with an angry, yelly chorus. Punk kid that I was, I loved it. I wanted more like that. The Cure reference made me think that this is what they sounded like. It was not. I lost interest.

Record #435: King Woman – Created in the Image of Suffering (2017)

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The last couple metal records I reviewed weren’t afraid to have a little fun.

But Created in the Image of Suffering by King Woman is loathe to the idea.

Which shouldn’t come as a surprise, judging by the artwork and title alone. This is an album about suffering, dammit. And boy, do they suffer.

This is textbook doomgaze, which means the riffs are heavy and the atmospheres are lush. Bandleader Kristina Esfandiari’s mournful croon hangs above the sludgy cacophony as she airs her laments. Her lyrics are unabashedly spiritual: “I’d wash your feet/with my dirty hair.” “I’m your garden of Eden /I’m your promise land / You deny me the freedom / Still / I’m innocent.” “You break the bread and you drink the wine.” Her melodies wouldn’t be out of place accompanied by an acoustic guitar.

But the plague-like storm created by the instruments is a fitting world for her sorrow. The guitars are low and slow and the drums hit like an earthquake. The record’s gloom is singularly focused, taking few moments for breath.

The deepest of these breaths is the seven minute “Hierophant,” a love song that treats the lover as the divine. “If you’re a holy church, I want to worship.” The record actually shifts into a major key here, borrowing a few tricks from post rock as it cycles around the same melody.

Record #434: King Crimson – In the Court of the Crimson King (1969)

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The sixties were a weird time. And it had the music to match.

Every band, from the Beatles to the Byrds to the Beach Boys, dabbled in making some of the weirdest music of their career. Every band had at least one psychedelic album—even perennial rock and roll heroes the Rolling Stones. But by 1969, most of them had moved on from the weirdness of psychedelia.

But nobody told King Crimson that.

Their debut, In the Court of the Crimson King, isn’t just a coattail-riding, trend-following copycat that happens to be late to the game. It is a magnum opus of psychedelia that is still rightly celebrated today. The opening track, “21st Century Schizoid Man” is a balls-to-the-wall freight train of horns and guitar noodling (that Kanye West sampled, strangely enough). It’s seven and a half minutes of frenzy.

But as it fades, the record never revisits that bombast again. Which it doesn’t need to. Most of the record is driven by subdued, exploring guitar lines and Mellotron. At times, it flirts pretty heavily with jazz fusion (high praise). “Epitaph” and “The Court of the Crimson King” are epic ballads that manage to capture a dramatic scope that most psychedelic acts were devoid of. And it does that through extended arrangements and experimental composition.

While many psychedelic bands would eventually evolve into progressive rock, In the Court of the Crimson King manages to ride the line between them. As a result, this record is an absolute gem.

Record #433: Bailey William and the Cherranes – Emerson (2015)

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Let me tell you a little bit about my friend Bailey Williams.

The first time we met, she was just 16. She was opening for a punk show, armed only with an acoustic guitar. She scraped the strings and wailed with the abandon that for a moment I felt like I took a trip to 1960s Greenwich Village.

She was a force of nature, and it was immediately apparent. It didn’t take long for her to enlist a band behind her. But there was some talk amongst the local scene that perhaps her storm would be tempered by the expansion in her soundscape—that it would tame her rawness to a more “palatable,” and lukewarm sound.

But then, they dropped Emerson.

Any worries that Bailey’s edges would be dulled by introducing more instruments are completely assuaged. This album is a storm of Moogs, electric guitars, and keyboards. And in the eye of the storm is Bailey and her acoustic guitar, playing with just as much grit and fire as she ever did.

Which isn’t to mean that this is an angry album. By no means. This is an album filled with great pop tunes and love songs. But there is a chaos to those songs that creates a consistently engaging and powerful listening experience.

Record #432: Elder – Reflections of a Floating World (2017)

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Metal is a strange beast. For all of its tropes and archetypes, there is as nearly as much diversity under the metal umbrella as there is in pop music.

And while many metal bands focus narrowly in on their niche, Elder sprawls out in all directions.

Reflections of a Floating World runs the gamut from Sabbath-y doom metal, ISIS-esque post metal, Pink Floydish progressive rock, and some straightforward Krautrock.—often in the same song. With the exception of the singularly focused “Sonntag,” every song here is a massive, shapeshifting epic of cosmic proportions.

But despite the scope of its massive sprawl, the record never seems unfocused. No moment feels out of place. Rather, Elder has created a sonic world that is wholly its own, exploring each unique region throughout the record. It’s a world I want to get lost in, and maybe even my favorite album from 2017.