Animal Collective – Time Skiffs
Released on Domino
The last time Animal Collective, arguably the indie band of the Oughts, had a good record was January of 2009. For reference, that was the same month Barack Obama was sworn in for his first term. Remember that? We all swallowed the hype about facing an unprecedented era of progress and prosperity? That whole thing? Anyway, that album was Merriweather Post Pavilion, arguably their best record (although AC fans all have different favourite records, and Strawberry Jam gets more play than MPP does around here these days) and we all swallowed the hype about facing an unprecedented era of psychedelic noise-jams that would just keep getting better. Of course, what we got was thirteen years of missteps, solo projects, and, in “FloriDada”, the absolute bottom of the barrel. But something miraculous happened. After three albums or so of half-baked experiments and vacuous wannabe pop bangers, Time Skiffs came along. This is…actually good. More than that: there are spots on this record that rival or exceed their previous high points. “Prester John” is an absolute jam. “Cherokee” brings their old ideas up to date without sacrificing anything in terms of listenability. “Royal and Desire” is sheer bliss. Better: there’s none of the purposefully obnoxious stuff on here. None of the repetitions that go on to the point of being a Tim & Eric sketch. This is the nostalgia dream version of AC – all the great points, and none of the stuff you’d rather forget anyway.
Black Country, New Road – Ants From Up There
Released on Ninja Tune
As soon as it was released, For The First Time was nearly disavowed by the band. Most of it had come out as singles prior to the release, and the band was very clear that the direction they were headed in was away from what that debut had presented. Ants From Up There proves that this wasn’t just the usual British press shenanigans. Whereas their debut conjured up storms like Slint (a habit slyly referenced on “Science Fair”), their sophomore (and potentially final) record embraces big sounds, enveloping moods, and a loving sort of despair. The songs on Ants From Up There are allowed to breathe, something that the music on their debut wasn’t always allowed to do. Isaac Woods’ lyrics are a focus, as they were previously, but he lingers over them more, chews out the sadness in them until they feel more textured and alive. It takes a gigantic Neil Armstrong-sized step past the post-Brexit UK post-punk scene that has produced some of the best music of the Plague Era and stands alone, their former peers left to play catch-up, if they can. Count the band themselves among that latter category, paradoxically. With Isaac Woods’ unexpected departure, it’s hard to see where the group goes from here, but that’s not necessarily a bad or even new thing. Putting out two stellar records and leaving on a high note is a second-wave punk calling card, and if this is BC,NR’s Solid Gold or Jane From Occupied Europe, then so be it.
Mitski – Laurel Hell
Released on Dead Oceans
Ever since chillwave spilled over onto the deck of the S.S. Indie Rock in 2009(ish) artists have been chasing after the Eighties to varying degrees. The music of the decade, once considered the nadir of artistic expression, has been freed from the constraints of grumpy white rockists and its voices have been thoroughly explored by artists ranging from indie to pop to hip hop and beyond. Mitski, who made her name with a more rock-oriented sound, has on her sixth album, taken the plunge into the decade. In a lesser artist’s hands this would have been a mistake, but Mitski manages to keep her voice and her sensibilities intact. This is more of a simultaneous revving-down and expansion of her music. Laurel Hell is a bit more mid-tempo and ballad-driven than 2018’s Be The Cowboy was, but it allows for a lot more nuance to be injected into the songs. Strings and brass (synth brass, I think, but we’ve gotten a lot better at that since 1987) populate the nooks and crannies where once guitar and bass carried everything. The rhythm section has more of that 4/4 city pop pulse that indie dreamcore kids like Small Black and Pure Bathing Culture love, which provides a solid platform for Mitski to explore stretching out and languishing in parts of her songs that previously might have blown right by. That’s not to say that everything is subtle and dreamy, of course: “Love Me More” is a pure pop bolt of lightning, for example. It’s far more exploratory than before, though, and you get the feeling that she’s searching inside of herself for meaning, rather than through character sketches of other people.
Cate Le Bon – Pompeii
Released on Mexican Summer
Her last record was recorded during a regimen of listening to David Bowie everyday, but it’s really Pompeii that feels like the fruit of that labour. “Labour” is a strong word; “Listening to David Bowie everyday” is also my regimen, just not for songwriting. Either way: Pompeii feels like the master’s work from the end of the Seventies, the Berlin days of The Idiot, Low, and “Heroes”. That means languid grooves, experimentation with instrumental voicing, and a lot of cushy impressionistic saxophone. There’s also a fascinating, thrilling sense of teetering on the edge: between modernity and the past, between the endless now of the Plague Years and the oncoming rush of the climate-scarred future, between knowing and not knowing, identity and ego death. She provides a way forward, a curiously specific take on the same thing the Bene-Gesserit were always going on about. Fear? Loathing? Doubt? Fuck it, send it to Pompeii.
yeule – Glitch Princess
Released on Bayonet
Noisy euphoric post-modern pop with aspects of glitch and hyperpop. yeule is at times uncomfortably real, morbid and earthy all at once. She is damaged and pure, real and the idoru simultaneously. She’s basically everything Grimes wants to be but can never really approach being, the soundtrack of an uncertain future. If you want a glimpse of that future, imagine this album slamming into your eardrums – forever.
A Place To Bury Strangers – See Through You
Released on Dedstrange
Once upon a time Oliver Ackermann and Co. were the Loudest Band in Brooklyn, crowned as such following their explosive 2007 self-titled debut. I fell for that album as soon as I heard “To Fix The Gash In Your Head” and have been hyping them more or less ever since. With that said, their Dead Oceans releases were muddled, as though the trio were on autopilot. See Through You is something of a return to form, albeit stripped of the squalling feedback and most of the wall-of-sound effect that made A Place To Bury Strangers a highlight of the late Bush years. The songwriting is back on top, though, with ominous atmospherics and the occasional stormy blast providing excellent counterpoint to Ackermann’s moody vocals.
The Reds, Pinks and Purples – Summer At Land’s End
Released on Slumberland
Last year’s Uncommon Weather held little charms for me but something about this year’s entry from San Francisco’s premier shambling outfit has everything I want: hazy songs with echo-laden, tube-driven guitar and sad boi vocals. It’s C86 as fuck, which is probably where my entry point is. I once spent the hour before my sister in-law’s wedding in Brooklyn explaining C86, late-80s British indie, and why I was buying a vinyl copy of the second Wedding Present record with my coffee. Apparently, according to the liner notes on Bandcamp, there are all sorts of these bands haunting S.F. right now, so that’s something I should look into.
Thank – Thoughtless Cruelty
Released on Box
They hail from Leeds and they have a sort of off-kilter, cynical, word-jazzy songwriting style. So you could, if you wanted to think broadly, lump Thank in with bands like Yard Act, Black Midi, and Squid. Thank are a little more noise-based, though, with a nearly industrial feeling on some tracks. These are songs in the active process of melting (a line I stole in part from the liner notes, admittedly), moving from horror-moaning into disco-punk pogos with liquid ease. It probably sounds great in a dank underground space.
Saba – Few Good Things
Released on Pivot Gang
It’s less focused than his 2018 breakthrough but, much like Joey Bada$$’ post-breakthrough album, Saba thinks big picture and asks himself what it means to be black in America in 2022. The production supports the musing, with intricate, jazzy samples interwoven with thick bass. “Survivor’s Guilt” is probably the best link to Care For Me but everything ultimately satisfies both body and mind.
Hippo Campus – LP3 ★★★ (Grand Jury)
Rolo Tomassi – Where Myth Becomes Memory ★★★☆ (MNRK Heavy)
Los Bitchos – Let The Festivities Begin! ★★★☆ (City Slang)
Wovenhand – Silver Sash ★★★ (Glitterhouse)
Various Artists – Death By A Thousand Covers ★★★☆ (heavenly creatures)
EXEK – Advertise Here ★★★ (Castle Face)
Wild Rivers – Sidelines ★★☆ (Nettwerk)
Bastille – Give Me The Future ★★★ (Virgin)
Beam – Alien ★★★ (Epic)
Bodega Bamz and V Don – The Lost Pack ★★
2 Chainz – Dope Don’t Sell Itself ★★★ (Def Jam)