Aluminium: 10 Years of And Their Refinement Of The Decline

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Stars Of The Lid – And Their Refinement Of The Decline

Released April 7th, 2007 on Kranky Records

Stars Of The Lid, here at least, deal with symphonies that have been compressed and stretched out and compressed again until the word “minimalist” doesn’t mean anything anymore.  This is music where the drones fade in and linger and then fade out again, creating the definition of ambient music and also establishing the purest sense of a symphony of drones.  Often times the tracks presented here feel like the tail-end of some greater whole, like someone cut off all of the end bits of Godspeed You! Black Emperor suites and stitched them together to create something new and bizarrely compelling.

There is something akin to Phillip Glass here, or a more spaced-out Brian Eno, but neither is really accurate.  It’s stark music that is too atomized to really be all that striking, and yet you’ll find yourself coming back to certain moments throughout the impressive length of the album time and time again.  There is a certain peace to the record, although it is an edgy peace, not entirely at home with itself.  If we return to the previous Godspeed analogy:  if Godspeed is the soundtrack of the apocalypse (as I’ve thought on numerous occasions) then And Their Refinement Of The Decline is the soundtrack to the still world that comes after the apocalypse, when the dust settles and the spiders spin their webs and all is but a silent, irradiated ruin.

Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

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Chance The Rapper – Coloring Book

Released May 13th, 2016

During the wild, chaotic run-up to the release of The Life Of Pablo, Kanye West announced that it would be a “gospel album”, inspired by the African-American tradition of blending worship in church with soaring choral music that God himself might hear.  Despite the label, the only gospel moments on the album were the admittedly brilliant opener “Ultralight Beam” and “Lowlight”, an intro to the more traditional (and Young Thug guesting) “Highlight”.

Fellow Chicago musician Chance The Rapper was on the former, and it’s Chance The Rapper that is now bringing out what ‘Ye promised:  a full-on gospel hip hop record, embracing the worldliness of life in often-violent Chicago, and simultaneously the glory and life guide of his religion.  Rather than the lysergic uncertainty of his breakthrough Acid RapColoring Book finds a man confident in his faith and in sorrow for his city and his people.  “Blessings (Reprise)” has him saying “They never seen a rapper practice modesty, I never practice, I only perform”, and this serves as a good overarching theme for the record as a whole.  It’s an album that stands in direct contrast to the nihilistic, violent drill scene that Chicago is known for; rather than a finger-waving sermon, though, tracks like “Summer Friends” seem to offer a prayer for those caught up in the summertime violence that is endemic to the drug and gang-ridden city streets.  The problem with overtly “Christian” artists is that the music often seems to take a backseat to the message; they’re so concerned with connecting with “the kids” that they don’t take the time to actually figure out what makes the secular music so appealing in the first place.  Chance succeeds exactly where “Christian rap” or “Christian rock” fails:  he lets his faith infuse his music, rather than supersede it.  He’s intensely relatable, even when you’re outside of the continuum of his experience.

Even better in this day and age, Chance is staunchly independent.  He doesn’t need a label, and he doesn’t need to sell his album just to fulfill label quotas.  Coloring Book is free, and as such it’s technically classified as a mixtape.  It’s a subject he addresses on “No Problem” with Lil’ Wayne (no stranger to label problems himself) and “Mixtape” (with ultra-prolific fellow mixtaper Young Thug), but it’s also a subject he brought up originally on “Ultralight Beam”:  “He said let’s do a good ass job with Chance 3 / I hear you gotta sell it to snatch the Grammy / Let’s make it so free and the bars so hard / That there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”.  Mixtapes are ineligible for Grammys, and if there’s an album that deserves a Grammy it’s Coloring Book – a fact that perhaps led Chance to release it on DatPiff and then shortly after make it a short-term iTunes exclusive.  Nonwithstanding whether having it on a paid streaming service makes it “for sale”, Chance’s Twitter fans ended up tweeting all of the lyrics to Coloring Book.  They’re a loyal group and Chance is the sort of artist to reward them for their loyalty with both quality and (between his own work, his guest spots, and his gig fronting Chicago experimental pop group The Social Experiment) quantity.

Chance deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the other giants of modern hip hop – your Weezys, Drizzys, Yeezys, K. Dots, et al.  He’s got a killer flow, has a Kendrick-like appreciation for intricate wordplay, and has the ability to ride a vibe for all it’s worth better than pretty much anyone else.  In a genre dominated by a careful balance between artistry and crass mercenary sales grubbing, Chance takes the left hand path and is all the better for it.

AND THE REST…

A$AP Ferg

Always Strive And Prosper

04/22/2016 on Polo Grounds Music

The perennial also-ran to A$AP Rocky comes into his own with a solid album of hard-hitting verses backed with a staggering amount of high-profile guest spots.

Wire

Nocturnal Koreans

04/22/2016 on Pink Flag Records

Eight songs from 2015’s Wire record were redone for this mini-LP.  As it turns out, the pioneers of jittery indie rock fall apart when they try to hold themselves still even for a moment.

Greys

Outer Heaven

04/22/2016 on Carpark Records

Toronto has a reputation for noisy rock ‘n’ roll – emphasis on the noise part.  In the grand tradition of METZ, Fucked Up, et al. comes Greys, who pile noisy parts on top of each other until they approximate songs.  While their sound has expanded somewhat from their debut, it’s still fairly limited in terms of it’s overall impact.  Still, for something to crank up to ten and annoy the neighbours with, you could do worse.

Plants And Animals

Waltzed In From The Rumbling

04/29/2016 on Secret City Records

A pleasant surprise from a band that’s been very hit and miss since their stellar debut, Parc Avenue.  Strives less for radio play than it does for campfire grit.

The Jayhawks

Paging Mr. Proust

The veteran alt-country band has lost quite a bit of oomph over the years, and their ninth album can’t hold a candle to their earlier career.  Decent enough stuff, but unexceptional.

White Lung

Paradise

The standard-bearers for the modern Riot Grrl movement get a little slicker and a bit more commercial on their third album.  It works, but I miss the fireworks and slashing of old.  At least the punk rock feminist righteousness is still intact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extended Roundup (More April Stuff)

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Because there aren’t any albums in this list I want to take the time to commit more than 300 words to.

Woods

City Sun Eater In The River Of Life

04/08/2016 on Woodsist Records

The veteran Brooklyn lo-fi folk group plays it safe on their latest album – entirely too safe.  Everything here sounds like Woods, even when it’s trying hard not to.

Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals

Call It What It Is

04/08/2016 on Fantasy Records

Ben Harper’s first album with his Innocent Criminals backing band since the first Obama election is a solid return to form, a slick and professional amalgam of his styles:  funk, rock, soul, reggae, and old school R&B.

The Dandy Warhols

Distortland

04/08/2016 on Dine Alone Records

The poster children for diminishing returns approach the singularity.  Why even bother at this point?

The Lumineers

Cleopatra

04/08/2016 on Dualtone Records

The band doubles down on their folky Americana tracing, with a graver tone than the first time around.  The best that can be said is that at least they didn’t just go full-on Coldplay like a certain other indie-folk band of saps.

Royce Da 5’9″

Layers

04/15/2016 on Bad Half Entertainment

The veteran Detroit rapper isn’t gunning for radio singles or memorable street bangers here.  Instead, he leans on his top-notch lyrical skills to deliver a solid, message-driven album that also happens to feature some great hooks.

The Liminanas

Malamore

04/15/2016 on Because Records

The French psych-garage band combines a variety of European traditions – Italian giallo soundtracks, French ye-ye music, Spanish guitar melodies – with hard-hitting American psychedelic garage rock.  Features New Order bassist Peter Hook in an obvious cameo on one track.

The Coathangers

Nosebleed Weekend

04/15/2016 on Suicide Squeeze Records

Like Drew Storen, The Coathangers are a once-reliable outfit that has lost its velocity and therefore it’s meaning by 2016.  They try to develop some new tricks but, also like Storen, it remains to be seen whether they can pull that off in the long-run.

Kevin Morby

Singing Saw

04/15/2016 on Dead Oceans Records

The former Woods bassist puts out a lush album of moves cribbed from the Bob Dylan playbook.  Not exactly essential, but not a throwaway album either.

Suuns

Hold/Still

04/15/2016 on Secretly Canadian Records

A sort of lazy-eyed post-punk, like if Thom Yorke fronted an underground band.  There’s nothing here that reinvents the wheel or even improves upon an aspect of their influences, but it passes the time well enough.

Surgical Meth Machine

Surgical Meth Machine

04/15/2016 on Nuclear Blast Records

After putting Ministry to bed with a trio of albums that all said the same thing (“George W Bush sucks”), Al Jourgenson returns in 2016 with a project that blends industrial oblivion with the blurred effect of speed metal.  It doesn’t have the hard-hitting punch of his Ministry days but it’s funnier than anything he’s done in years, and the latter half of the album has more hooks than a bait shop.

Sam Beam

Love Letter For Fire

04/15/2016 on Sub Pop Records

The Iron & Wine frontman teams up with Jesca Hoop to put together an album of rich country-tinged folk ballads that I can’t remember a blessed thing about as soon as they’re over.

Kowton

Utility

04/15/2016 on Livity Sound Recordings

When it comes to electronic music meant to get you moving, Utility is competent.  That’s not really a compliment but it’s not altogether denigrating either.  You could do worse.

Susanna

Triangle

04/22/2016 on Susannasonata Records

An effective blend of the baroque majesty of Joanna Newsom and the cutting-edge mystique of St. Vincent.  It would be a much better album if it wasn’t so overly long.

Dalek

Asphalt For Eden

04/22/2016 on Profound Lore Records

Dense, thick, and lo-fi, the hip-hop group’s first album in six years (with new members) hits all of the right notes from their previous, critically acclaimed efforts.  Noisy without being willfully so, and brief without being truncated.

 

Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 2

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Special Friday Edition!

Friday is the day on /r/music where the mods like to turn off the ability to post YouTube videos in the hopes of the subreddit actually becoming one for music discussion and not, say, where Reddit likes to dump it’s garbage fire taste in music.  Ha.  Ha ha.  Well, they try, that’s the important thing.

If you tuned in yesterday, you’ll get the basic gist:  I take a look at the top ten songs posted on /r/music in the last 24 hours and tell you how terrible Reddit’s taste in music is.  In much rarer occasions, I’ll tell you where they get it right.  Fridays will be fun because of the phenomenon mentioned above:  it’s going to be a collection of those songs with the staying power to make it through the discussion posts.

Also, for the record, no I don’t plan on this being an everyday thing, but I would like it to be an everyday I can manage it thing.

Anyway…

June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 3rd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Mr. Bungle – “Air Conditioned Nightmare”

Reddit manages to kick it off with something weird and cool, courtesy of Mike “Weird and Cool” Patton.  Goes through four different changes in tone and structure, each completely different than the one before.  In anyone else’s hands, it would be a gigantic mess, but Mike Patton isn’t anyone else.

A

#2:  Dinosaur Jr. – “Feel The Pain”

Sirius XMU’s favourite Dinosaur, Jr track is also Reddit’s most commonly posted DJ song.  Thankfully it never gets old, although I’ve heard it three times today between the radio and this particular set.  Two good tracks in a row, Reddit, maybe Fridays are your thing.

B+

#3:  Beck – “Wow”

Ah, the new Beck track.  The one that starts off like a generic hip hop beat, or maybe something like what Beyonce might have rejected for her self-titled 2013 album.  Then Beck manages to bull through it in a display of sheer Beck-ness.  Still, it feels a little empty and it’s not until 2/3 of the way through that Beck lets his freak flag fly in even a limited fashion.  Honestly it feels a little like Beck chasing a hit and I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Holding out opinions for the album, we’ll see.

B

#4:  The Cult – “Love Removal Machine”

The Cult were an Eighties goth band that scored some hits when they decided to be an AC/DC tribute band instead.  My mom knew the lead singer in high school at one point, to no one’s surprise he was a dick.  Trust Reddit to go ga-ga for generic hard rock because “it has guitars”.

C

#5:  A Day To Remember – “Bad Vibrations”

Why do metalcore bands have such fucking awful band names?  Why do metalcore bands all recycle the same damn low-end chugging?  Why do metalcore bands mistake sung choruses for depth?  Why do metalcore bands insist on breakdowns that are cheesier than a Wisconsin hamburger?

Anyway, you can always tell when the pre-teens are posting, because there will be metalcore.

F

#6:  The Monkees – “Birth Of An Accidental Hipster”

Okay, show of hands.  Who was crying out for a Monkees comeback?  Anyone?  Put your hand down, dad, Jesus Christ.  Wait, this is actually sort of good.  I…I kind of like this.  Noel Gallagher co-wrote it?  I suppose that explains some things.

B+

#7:  Portugal.  The Man – “Plastic Soldiers”

Who gave the indie kids access to the internet?  They managed to find a Portugal. The Man track that isn’t all that great.  It’s about as middling a work as you can find from a middling also-ran indie act.  You thought you were doing something good, but instead you fucked it all up.  Good work, Reddit.

C+

#8:  Soundgarden – “Rusty Cage”

The rest of the post title literally reads:  “I know this has been posted before, but not for months & I think it’s well worth posting again.” Oh, well, I guess that makes sense except wait IT WAS LITERALLY POSTED YESTERDAY AS THE JOHNNY CASH COVER.

Who are you trying to fool, anyway?  We all know where the inspiration to post this came from.

Decent tune though.

B

#9:  Link Wray – “Rumble”

Link Wray  poked a hole in his speaker cone with a pencil and invented hard rock single-handed.  That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much.  Reddit of course knows it from its multiple pop cultural appearances, including Tarantino.  At least it’s better than just posting the songs from Guitar Hero .

B+

#10:  Joywave – “Nice House”

Lyrics are the only really halfway interesting part of this song, the rest is a really generic and straightforward electro-pop song, like what Hot Chip would write if they got really, really boring all of a sudden.  The outro is rather nice though.

C+

TODAY’S AVERAGE:  B- (Not bad, Reddit!)

 

Critiquing Reddit’s Taste, Part 1

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And now for a new sequence, brought to you by the…ahem…”tastemakers” of Reddit’s infamously awful /r/music community.

It’s often said that Reddit has shitty taste in music.  Granted it’s usually 4chan’s /mu/ community saying that, but let’s be serious here.  Whether it’s the constant love of Queen and Foo Fighters that makes me roll my eyes or the circlejerking over how superior they are because of their love of Tool, /r/music is a bottomfeeder in terms of music communities.

Or is it?  I’ve decided to start an ongoing series where I listen to the top ten songs posted to /r/music in a 24 hour period and assign them completely subjective ratings based on my own insane whims and thought processes.  Then we’ll see if /r/music’s taste actually sucks as badly as I’ve always thought.

Without further ado, I give to you:

June 1st, 2016 (12:30 PM) to June 2nd, 2016 (12:30 PM)

#1:  Rancid – “Ruby Soho”

The most poppy and milquetoast of all of the Clash-rip-off’s poppy and milquetoast songs.  /r/music loves punk rock, but only if it’s from Le Nineties and it’s been beaten to death on the radio since then.

 D+

#2:  The Avalanches – “Frankie Sinatra”

The first time since 2001 that Australian sample-stackers The Avalanches release new music AND it’s fucking stellar?  You win this time Reddit.  You win this time.

A+

#3:  Dethklok – “I Ejaculate Fire”

I’d say something snarky about how the only way metal gets to the top of Reddit is in cartoon form but I can’t hate on Dethklok.  This isn’t completely dildos.

B+

#4:  Johnny Cash – “Rusty Cage”

The best that can be said of this is that at least Reddit took a break from jerking off over “Hurt”.  At least with “Rusty Cage” I don’t have to read about how “REZNOR TOTALLY SAID THAT SONG BELONGED TO JOHNNY CASH NOW BECAUSE THE COVER WAS SO MUCH BETTER!!1!11!”.  In fact, one of the top comments is the exact opposite.  Thank you, Jesus.

C+

#5:  The Distillers – “The Young Crazed Peeling”

Man it has been a long time since I thought of Brody and The Distillers.  It still sounds like Courtney Love fronting Rancid to me, and as the years have gone by that prospect appeals to me exponentially less.  Also, those fucking spikes.  Jesus Brody, how much money did you shell out to get that look down just right?  How punk rock of you.

C-

#6:  Huey Lewis And The News – “If This Is It”

Jesus Christ Reddit, Bret Easton Ellis was being ironic.  What the hell is wrong with you?

F

#7:  Lagwagon – “Island Of Shame”

Apparently it’s awful pop punk day on Reddit.  Lagwagon was that band that was there for you if Pennywise was too edgy for you.  Completely indistinguishable from anything else on Epitaph in the mid-90s.

D

#8:  Grand Funk Railroad – “I’m Your Captain (Closer To Home)”

GFR got a lot of hate back in the day from critics because, well, they’re not really that good on average.  Still, they were capable of moments of brilliance, and “I’m Your Captain” is one of those.  For more on Grand Funk Railroad, consult your local library.

A-

#9:  Men At Work – “Down Under”

Goofy Eighties pop rock from the Gowan of Australia.  I often wonder who posts these sorts of songs.  Kids nostalgic for a time they never had to live through?  Adults putting on rose-coloured nostalgia glasses?  Mouthbreathers who listen to bland Mix FM stations at work?  At least in dying you don’t have to deal with New Wave for a second time.

C-

#10:  The Justified Ancients of Mu-Mu (aka The KLF) – “It’s Grim Up North”

Reddit’s sizeable school shooter community comes through in the clutch.

B+

TODAY’S AVERAGE:  C+

Tim Hecker – Love Streams

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Tim Hecker – Love Streams

Released April 8th, 2016 on 4AD Records

My first exposure to Tim Hecker was Ravedeath, 1972, a 2011 ambient album that had a deep undercurrent of resigned acceptance flowing through it.  Mortality, the daily grind, the frustrating minutiae of relationships:  all of this and more has happened before and will happen again is the meaning it all throbbed with.  His followup, 2013’s Virgins, made a profound abstraction out of something as mundane as acoustic instruments played in a room full of natural reverb.  Here lies the connection to the basic primitive human it seemed to tell us, the heart of what it means to “make music”.  Love Streams takes a different tactic:  instead of focusing on the ancient process of engaging with a physical acoustic instrument, Hecker spends the album exploring the possibilities inherent in the human voice itself.

This is an ambient album in its truest sense.  The synths and other instrumentation that make up the bedrock are blurred and smeared until they become impossible to separate.  The vocal work – supplied by the Icelandic Choir Ensemble – sounds as though it’s echoing through the original caves of the species.  When Hecker’s pieces lock into a temporary groove it is something out of the deep history, some vital bit of pop bliss from beyond the veil of civilization.  It’s inspirations are a bit closer in terms of relative history; these are examples of 15th Century choral music brought forward into the digital era, baroque music deconstructed and built back up into strange new forms.  At times – such as on “Music Of The Air” – Hecker’s manipulation makes an eerie approximation of Auto-Tune on choral voices; at others, the sublime “Castrati Stack” especially, he lights the whole thing on fire and lets the synths corrode and burn in the foreground.  That’s the balance that gets struck throughout Love Streams: the ancient and the modern, tussling together in such a tight embrace that it becomes difficult to tell the two apart.

 

 

 

 

Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers

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Fat White Family – Songs For Our Mothers

Released January 22nd, 2016 on Fat Possum Records

Fat White Family are a London band that likes to do two things:  first, get in your face and slay sacred cows in the name of being offensive (in order to get at the truth of things, of course); and second, hoover up every known drug in existence.  They’re sort of semi-legendary for both, even this early into their career.

Now neither of those things bothers me, per se.  I enjoy irreverence, and there aren’t many cows I consider sacred when it comes to music.  A similar band in this vein that I absolutely adore would be Future Of The Left.  The big difference between Fat White Family and Future Of The Left, however, is that FOTL isn’t the most utterly boring collection of tripe I’ve come across in months.

Songs For Our Mothers starts off promisingly enough.  “Whitest Boy On The Beach” is a fun, ramshackle kind of song that straddles the line of post-punk while urinating on it.  Unfortunately, everything that comes after moves along at a crawl, coming off as a collection of dirges by ruffians who are trying to shock you but end up just putting you to sleep instead.  I honestly fell asleep a couple of times listening to the album.  Not a good sign for a band that wants to get by on being provocative.

Ditch the opiates and try some crack next time, lads.  It’ll bring out your personality more.

Ulver -ATGCLVLSSCAP

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Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP

Released January 22nd, 2016 on House of Mythology

The Norwegian black metal band turned art-house experimental collective Ulver has gone even more out-there for their twelfth album.  Bored of the usual way in which they made albums, they embarked on an experimental series of live concerts that they branded “free rock”, in which they got up on various stages throughout Europe and jammed on whatever motifs came into their heads that night.  These live recordings were then culled and cut into shape by the band, further enhanced with noise and, on “Moody Stix”, samples of their older work.  The outcome is the ultimate ambient jam, not so much a collection of songs as a roadmap of their trip through Europe and the noise that came into their heads on any given night.  There is a freeing quality to the recordings that is remarkably free of the sort of formality one comes to expect from studio jams; the off-the-cuff nature makes for a series of aural hallucinations that move in and out of grooves as the group chooses.  “Cromagnosis” and “Om Hanumate Namah” are the best examples of the trance-like groove state the band would find themselves in, although the lysergic ambiance of “England’s Hidden” and “The Spirits That Lend Strength Are Invisible” evoke the same feeling without locking themselves into an outright beat.

Forget Explosions In The Sky:  ATGCLVLSSCAP is post-rock, in that it clears the space of anchors like structure and studio formality and sets the stage for something potentially new and exciting.

(And if you’re wondering, the title is an acronym referencing the twelve signs of the zodiac).

Mount Eerie – Sauna

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Mount Eerie – Sauna

Phil Elverum is an odd sort of cat, crafting drawn-out ambient folk songs that every once in a while erupt into jagged, distorted sections that edge up into black metal.  Sauna sticks mostly to the ambient drone-folk part, eschewing the black metal influences that characterized previous highlights like Wind’s Poem except for the more obvious “Boats”.  For the most part this is okay, since Elverum’s strengths lie in exactly this sort of music.  A lot of it stems from the surroundings Elverum records in:  the quiet, pastoral wilderness of his home on the island of Anacortes, Washington.  Like the remote places it springs from, Sauna can be equal parts contemplative relaxation and rumination, and unease over things felt rather than seen.  “Books” is the clearest example of this dichotomy, since it starts off as the former and splits into the latter with a jarring suddenness, but “Pumpkin” layers in some dread alongside its purely quotidian walk to the village, and “Emptiness” goes one step further by using a droning synth to cause deep-seated paranoia in the listener.  “Spring”, clocking in at over thirteen minutes, throws everything together into one cacophonous brew of squalling feedback, planet-sized organ noise, string, bells, etc. It’s a very subtle album, one whose charms are not immediately apparent on first listen; for those into quiet folk, ambient music, or drone, there’s a lot to like.

Noveller – Fantastic Planet

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Noveller – Fantastic Planet

Sarah Lipstate has, on Fantastic Planet, created an essential dichotomy:  an album that is at once a deeply interesting work of beauty that is also utterly banal.  As far as ambient music goes, the best stuff has always been able to function on its own, giving the listener room to conjure up their own ideas about what’s going on.  Mediocre ambient feels as though it lacks context; they’re soundtrack pieces without a soundtrack,, backing tracks to over-ambitious poets or underground performance art pieces.  Lipstate crafts something that sits squarely in the middle, saved from being purely mediocre by virtue of the deft touches she brings to her craft.  The synthesizers are draped in glammy nostalgia, the bass is immediate, and the guitars sound like dozens of hours were spent on the processing of them alone – which, given her main focus on the instrument, they likely were.   From a musician’s standpoint it’s an interesting album to pick apart for the “how did she get that sound” aspect, but that can only carry you so far.  Divorced from gear-nerdiness, it becomes apparent about halfway through that there’s nothing to really hang your hat on in the pieces.  Nothing sticks.  I’ve listened to the album three times and there’s nothing that stands out to bring me back in, just a blur of well-arranged instruments.  If you have some futurist art piece you’d like a musical accompaniment to, here’s your thing, but otherwise there are better ways you can occupy your time.