Ten Recommended Albums From January 2023Standard
Julien Baker – Little OblivionsStandard
Beyonce – LemonadeStandard
Beyonce – Lemonade
Released April 23rd, 2016 on Columbia Records
Within the first thirty seconds of Lemonade it becomes painfully obvious that there is a story going on here, that there is a sordid tale of infidelity, anger, empowerment, and a relationship coming through to the other side embedded within. The tabloids have been on fire since the album dropped by surprise three days ago; rumours of infidelity and divorce have swirled around Beyonce and her husband, rap mogul Jay-Z, for years, reaching their peak around the time Beyonce’s sister Solange beat the snot out of Jay in an elevator. Lemonade just adds fuel to the fire, and not just for people breathlessly trying to figure out the identity of “Sorry”‘s “Becky with the good hair”. How else can you take lyrics like “I don’t wanna lose my pride / But I’m-a fuck me up a bitch” (“Hold Up”), “This is your final warning / You know I give you life / If you try this shit again / You gon lose your wife” (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”), “Looking at my watch, he shoulda been home / Today I regret the night I put that ring on” (“Sorry”), “My daddy warned me about men like you / He said baby girl he’s playing you” (“Daddy Lessons”), “Ten times out of nine I know you’re lying” (“Love Drought”)?
If this were an anguished breakup album it might be awkward, mopey, and forgettable. Beyonce, however, is nothing if not an Independent Woman and as such her strident sense of self-confidence is only slightly dinged here and there by the revelations of her man cheating on her. She questions herself on the Mike Dean-produced “Love Drought” but it’s only for a second. The best tracks on Lemonade are the ones where Queen Bey walks across the stage like a boss and slays everyone in her path: “Don’t Hurt Yourself”, “6 Inch”, “Freedom”, and “Formation”. “Don’t Hurt Yourself” is vicious, and the Jack White feature feels like the production of a man just barely able to hold his own against the star’s righteous fury. “6 Inch” is Bey in Bad Bitch Extraordinaire mode, and the presence of The Weeknd on it marks the first time I’ve ever felt him to be overshadowed. “Freedom” is a militant black power anthem, stretching the metaphor of freedom beyond simply being freedom from a philandering partner to seeking freedom for her people as a whole (and damn whatever Azalea Banks thinks) and “Formation” is another in this vein, being the song that caused such faux outrage when she performed it at the NFL’s Super Bowl Halftime Show.
The rest of the album seems to be a grab-bag of styles amalgamated into the area of Greater Metropolitan Beyonce. “Hold Up” features contributions from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig and has Bey interpolating the chorus from “Maps” by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs. “Daddy Lessons” fuses arid East Texas country with New Orleans brass as both an homage to her once-domineering father and I suppose as a potential crossover hit, not that Beyonce really needs such devices in 2016. “Sandcastles” is the lone offering of your Standard Diva Piano Ballad, and the decision to keep such proceedings to a judicious one serves both the album and the artist well. There’s nothing worse than stuffing an album with awful, maudlin piano ballads, especially if you’re just going to spray melisma all over potentially decent melodies anyway. Beyonce does neither; it’s one ballad, and her delivery is far more Aretha Franklin than it is Contemporary Post-American Idol Diva. It’s also devastating. “Dishes smashed on my counter from our last encounter / Pictures snatched out of the frame” sounds very different in the context of the song than it would on, say, “Don’t Hurt Yourself” and the reason why is the reason as to the lingering power and impact of Lemonade.
Regardless of whether or not it’s about her relationship with her husband or if it is (as my all-too-cynical friend Steve suggests) the marketing ploy of billionaires looking to drum up controversy to sell albums (because Beyonce’s ever needed that), Lemonade is another notch in the increasingly stellar belt of the singer’s career. If it really is about her relationship with Jay, that makes it all the jucier: as his career continues to decline, hers remains ascendant, more so than ever.
[Lemonade is currently available for sale on iTunes and is streaming exclusively on TIDAL. I don’t have a TIDAL subscription.]
And The Rest…
Three Trapped Tigers
04/01/2016 on Superball Music
A hard-hitting blend of instrumental prog, metal, and electronic influences I’ve taken to calling post-math rock. A deconstruction of math rock and a reformation with interesting additions.
04/01/2016 on Columbia Records
At first blush Autolux feels like a Radiohead knock-off, blending the Kid A and Hail To The Thief eras. Then, after awhile, you realize that this is a weird, fascinating band in it’s own right.
It’s The Big Joyous Celebration, Let’s Stir The Honeypot
04/01/2016 on Run For Cover Records
The second and supposedly final album from Maryland’s Teen Suicide is a smorgasbord of lo-fi indie song styles, many of which excel but which, taken together, overstay their welcome by an uncomfortable margin.
04/01/2016 on Kompakt Records
Brasher than Axel Willner’s 2007 breakthrough From Here We Go Sublime, more traditionally “electronic”. Still thumps pretty well though.
School Of Seven Bells – SVIIBStandard
School Of Seven Bells – SVIIB
Released February 26th, 2016 on Vagrant Records
School Of Seven Bells were never one of the bands pushed by indie radio that really ever appealed to me. They came off as the nadir of the cross-pollination of shoegaze and dream pop, an amalgamation of the worst parts of both that hung around like the miasma of a bad dream for just long enough to get obnoxious. I didn’t expect much when I sat down with SVIIB, their fourth (and now final) album.
As it turns out, it’s leaps and bounds beyond their earlier material, a record that takes in the best moments of Eighties alt-pop while still remaining aloof and individual. It’s slick, but dreamy; the drums hit hard but the melodies remain slippery. It seems like a celebration and in a way it is. During the process of recording (in 2013), one half of the duo, Benjamin Curtis, passed away from lymphoma. Alejandra Dehaza took what they had, polished it up with some help, and released this one last School Of Seven Bells album. I wouldn’t have blamed her if she had just walked away from the project after her creative partner died, but the fact that she stuck to it and released such a stellar final album is a bit inspiring in its own way. It’s a hell of a way to go out, and at the very least it leaves me with fond memories of a group that I previously had no such memories of.
And the rest…
Cavern of Anti-Matter
Void Beats/Invocation Trex
02/19/2016 on Duophonic Records
Electronic music may be a big festival draw now but it’s origins lie in open synth work layered over Krautrock-inspired motorik beats. Cavern of Anti-Matter take their chosen genre back to its retro moment, conjuring up images of later Kraftwerk or E2-E4.
Life Of Pause
02/19/2016 on Bella Union Records
As usual, Wild Nothing’s latest record conjures up a daydream of the Eighties, a snatch of John Hughes remembered at the moment of death. Like most Wild Nothings records, the single is the best part, but there are some real moments of strength and revelation found throughout.
02/19/2016 on Golf Channel Records
A seamless blend of West African heart, German efficiency, and the classic thump of the Roland TR-808 drum machine. Harder to pin down than your average hip hop record, and a good sight more freeing.
Meet The Humans
02/26/2016 on Domino Records
Overly sensitive without being eye-rollingly weepy, Meet The Humans dances all over the pop-rock map in search of Mason’s heart, and hits far more often than it misses.
In Search Of Harperfield
02/26/2016 on Chemikal Underground Records
Country-folkie with a nice enough turn of phrase and a decent sense of navigation around a plaintive melody, still not much to really write home about. A record you can take home to mama, but not a record you can really take out and party with.
My Morning Jacket – The WaterfallStandard
My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall
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.