The neo-psychedelic haven of Melbourne, Australia is also home to the Grammy-nominated “Future Soul” group Hiatus Kaiyote, whose second album, Choose Your Weapon, is making people go “like, wow”. There’s some good reason for the hype: Hiatus Kaiyote crafts some next-level soul music out of the cutting-edge sounds of contemporary hip hop and R&B and then adds the funk-mining groove that the group is best known for. When gets into a serious thing, it’s some of the best head-nodder music you’ll find.
The problem, though, is that beyond an unearthly ability to find their way into the pocket there isn’t much to recommend on Choose Your Weapon. Tracks like “Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” and “Atari” are stone killers, but there’s sixty-nine minutes of tracks just like them, and after a while it wears thin. By the time “Building A Ladder” comes along it’s exhausting, and you’re left feeling tired and aimless. Choose Your Weapon is at its heart a groove in search of a message, or an anthem, or something to bring it up to the next level and turn them from a pretty great jam into a band worth encapsulating on an album. Choose Your Weapon feels like a demo reel of its maker’s talents, which is unfortunate when you consider those talents.
According to Internet culture archivists Know Your Meme, this song – “Omissions Of The Omen” from Canadian alt-folkie Matthew Good’s 1995 debut album Last Of The Ghetto Astronauts – is the first known reference to the phrase “First World Problems”. The song contains the lines “Somewhere around the world / Someone would love to have my first world problems“.
It’s been a full decade since My Morning Jacket hit their undisputed peak. 2005’s Z was a masterpiece of soaring, momentous rock that fit together the Dead, the Who, and the Flying Burrito Brothers. When they released the scattered, utterly forgettable Evil Urges as a followup in 2008, the band was written off, and despite a decent comeback attempt in 2011 with the solid Circuital they have obviously gone down the same path of descent as Band of Horses or Plants and Animals.
All of this makes The Waterfall something of an unexpected treat. Rather than continue down their road, they stop and make a case for being one of the great…slightly less appreciated bands? There’s no point in pretending that they’re obscure – they were an episode-long obsession for Stan Smith on American Dad after all – but their stature has certainly depreciated. “Believe (Nobody Knows)” is a great classic rock track though, and “Spring (Among The Living)” features some searing guitar work that holds its own with the great works of the past. “Big Decisions” is a crunching anthem shot through with pedal steel guitar, and serves as a perfect reminder of the power that country inflection in music can have when it’s done right. “Only Memories Remain” is a textbook closer, something to ride the sunset out on at a festival, but it has a hook that will stick in your head and leave you singing it at 2 AM when you actually should be sleeping. If it sounds like I have first hand experience in this then you would be right.
The Waterfall is at it’s heart a stellar summer album, something to listen to in a field, or on the deck, or while on a hike. It screams early evening relaxation and mid-afternoon sunshowers in equal measure, and the juxtaposition is epic.
The music world has lost a true game-changer today. Ornette Coleman has died of cardiac arrest at the age of 85.
Coleman was amongst a handful of similar innovators in the late 1950s and early 1960s – a group that includes Mingus, Coltrane, Parker, and Davis – that changed the rules of jazz. The sharp divide between people who hear the word jazz and think of vocal American Songbook exercises a la Norah Jones and people who hear it and think of angular note-heavy freakouts is due in large part to the early work of Coleman, especially his 1959 masterpiece The Shape Of Jazz To Come.
Some background: Single Mothers is one of my favourite bands. Hailing from my birth town of London, ON, they kick ass in a serious way. They’re like a hardcore version of the Hold Steady – imagine that band if they ditched the classic rock and played the stuff they grew up getting fucked up to. That’s Single Mothers. They’re a small band, up-and-coming: broke up in 2009 and have been touring ever since. Their debut, Negative Qualities, was well-regarded, but they’re still a small band touring their asses off to support themselves. Like all small bands in their situation, they survive partially off of gig money but mainly off of merch sales.
Enter Andrew Fucking Bankovitch.
Andrew Bankovitch likes to steal band logos, slap them with the sloppy style of a rank amateur onto a t-shirt, and sell them for his own profit.
Bands need that merch money to survive. They can’t survive and continue to kick ass if the likes of Andy Bankovitch steal their logos and sell them as their very own. Andy Bankovitch is literally killing rock ‘n’ roll.
I heard Oleander on the radio the other day. You remember Oleander, don’t you? If you’re under the age of 25 the answer to that question is probably a resounding “literally who?” Well, Oleander was a one-hit wonder grunge band from the latter half of the Nineties, and their main claim to fame was “Why I’m Here”. “Why I’m Here” was a crunchy little soft-loud-soft song that perfectly encapsulates how artistically bankrupt the alternative movement was by 1999. It had moody minor key verses, over-produced fuzz guitar on the choruses, and absolutely nothing in the way of originality or progression.
Superheaven reminds me an awful lot of Oleander.
Right from the get go we’ve got the whole checklist going: moody Seattle’s Best Coffee drinking singer, fuzzy power chords, verses that serve as a bridge to soaring-but-doomed choruses, bassist that does nothing but follow along, drummer that learned his chops from a drum machine. It’s like someone was producing a film set in Seattle in 1995 and wanted a band that was specifically a bunch of trend-followers. 1995 was twenty years ago. Hold on a second, though, didn’t we just go through a phase where the kids were wearing flannel again? Are we going to have to live through this all over again. Craig Finn once opined that “at least in dying you won’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time” and I’m starting to realize that I might be experiencing the same thing, but with warmed-over grunge rock.
No more, okay? I listen to Sirius 34/Lithium whenever Dirty Projectors or My Old Kentucky Blog comes on XMU, but I turn off Lithium whenever Alice In Chains comes on. No exceptions. It isn’t even AiC’s fault, really – it’s the legion of shitty bands they inspired that have utterly ruined them for me. Here we go again, apparently.
2014-2015 is already shaping up to the be the year that cool, slinky funk slips back into the hipster playlists of the world. Between D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and Kendrick’s To Pimp A Butterfly the sounds of the early 1970s are coming back in a big way. Add in Van Hunt to this conversation. Hailing from Dayton, OH – home of Guided By Voices! – Van Hunt has been on an upward swing since the early 00s through a judicious usage of soul, funk, R&B, and smooth sexuality. He’s also the poster boy for talent being screwed around by major labels; after two albums with Capitol Records he was shuffled around to a subsidiary label and his third album, Popular, was shelved despite being a solid album by all accounts. Van Hunt struck out on his own afterwards, turning to crowdfunding to get The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets made. Thank god for a generous internet, because this is one rewarding album.
It’s a subtle album, full of understated percussion, slinky basslines, versatile keyboard work, and expertly integrated guitar lines, almost all of which are played by Van Hunt himself. It’s a tour de force for a talented man, a modern day disciple of Prince with a hint of both Sly Stone and David Bowie. The Prince influence is the big one though; subtle and restrained as The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets is, it is absolutely awash in sexuality. In that it sets itself apart from the political and cultural examinations of America that characterize both Black Messiah and To Pimp A Butterfly. This is the bedroom addition of the modern retro-funk movement, the freak in the sheets in contrast to the righteous movement in the streets.
One of the problems with hardcore is that you can only do so much with it. The Replacements discovered that limitation after Sorry Ma Forgot To Take Out The Trash. They switched over the course of two albums to a much rootsier version of themselves, taking their hardcore roots along into a more generalistic approach. Same with Husker Du, whose monolith of American hardcore – Zen Arcade – showed cracks of folk and straight up rock (New Day Rising would go on to widen those cracks considerably). Ian MacKaye could only sustain the white-hot minute-long intensity of Minor Threat for so long before cutting out to broaden his horizons with Fugazi.
Metz has not learned this lesson. Coming off of a very well regarded self-titled debut, the Toronto band has chosen to double down on their sound and reproduce another album of crushing modern hardcore. While this is nice – METZ was a great album after all – it does nothing to advance them at all. II is the sound of a band perfectly content to tread water, which is an inadvisable career move in 2015. Where the first album felt fresh, II just comes off as a stale retread, which is a real shame considering the possibilities.
California Nights is the perfect example of why picking your lead single carefully is important. Leading off with the title track, it would seem that Ms. Bethany Cosentino had decided to go in a much darker, much more downtempo direction on her third LP. This would have been actually kind of welcome: While her debut, Crazy For You, was the perfect pop album for hitting the sunny beach in style, The Only One was like it, but without the charm and winsome longing that she’d brought to the first one. “California Nights” is a big leap forward for her as a songwriter, a slow psych-rock number that could double as a soundtrack for, well, light-blinded California nights.
It’s the only song like it on the record, however. The rest of the album is a return to the tempos and structures that she brought to the table on Crazy For You, but with a bit less sun and shrug. In and of itself this is a good thing – there’s none of the mid-tempo L.A. slog that marred The Only One and quite a few places where the speed spikes and Cosentino stretches into pop-punk territory. “Heaven Sent”, and “Fine Without You” both mine this vein, but the rest of the tracks aren’t terribly far behind.
Can we just pretend that The Only One didn’t happen and that California Nights is her follow-up to Crazy For You? Her second album can just be considered a strange aberration, much as Bad Religion’s Into The Unknown is seen as an ill-advised dip into something best forgotten.