Guided By Voices – Mag Earwhig!
Released May 20th, 1997 on Matador Records
Guided By Voices was never supposed to be a full-time thing. Formed in the late 1980s as a real band, it slowly morphed into a revolving door of Dayton, Ohio musicians – basically anyone who would come over and drink with 4th-grade teacher Robert Pollard. 1992’s Propeller caught Pollard by surprise when it found a listener base in the wake of the Alternative Revolution, a base that expanded exponentially with the one-two punch of Bee Thousand and Alien Lanes. Under The Bushes Under The Stars, a 1996 album recorded with Pixies bassist Kim Deal, solidified that base, but by 1997 Pollard was pushing at the boundaries of what was possible with his new found underground rock star status, a status that had finally allowed him to ditch his day job and pursue his high-kicking rock frontman dreams full-time. To this end, he got rid of the 1992-1996 Guided By Voices lineup and hired Cleveland garage band Cobra Verde to be his backing band; the first record of this lineup was Mag Earwhig!, the last great Guided By Voices album.
Mag Earwhig! is at once much more professional sounding than previous Guided By Voices efforts (except perhaps for the “sterile-sounding” REM-aping 1986 EP Forever Since Breakfast) and as a result it can be jarring for a listener who has been going through the band’s ridiculously lengthy discography. The joke of this is encapsulated in the sketch-song “I Am Produced”, which finds Pollard musing on all the prepping and packaging that goes along with bigger recording contracts and studio time. As a “pro-level” GBV record, it’s still messy and filled with a certain willful need to colour outside of the lines; “The Old Grunt”, “Are You Faster?”, “Choking Tara”, “Hollow Cheek”, and the title track are all barely filled-in sketches in the vein of what studded the length of Bee Thousand. At the same time, there are any number of songs that point the way toward the rock-melody-genius three-minute British Invasion style tracks that would comprise the band’s output up until 2004; “Bulldog Skin”, “Not Behind The Fighter Jet”, “Portable Men’s Society”, “Jane Of The Waking Universe”, and the utterly sublime “The Colossus Crawls West” are among the best of Pollard’s compositions, overall, but it is interesting that the best track on Mag Earwhig!, the high-energy “I Am A Tree”, is actually a composition by Cobra Verde’s Doug Gillard.
After, GBV would release a major label debut, Do The Collapse, that was a crushing bore, with few exceptions. They would release some solid albums after that, both before the 2004 breakup and after the 2012 reunion, but none would hold a candle to the classic lineup or to Mag Earwhig!.
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 Rap, Coloring 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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Because there aren’t any albums in this list I want to take the time to commit more than 300 words to.
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
04/08/2016 on Dine Alone Records
The poster children for diminishing returns approach the singularity. Why even bother at this point?
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″
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
#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.
#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.
#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”.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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 .
#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.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: B- (Not bad, Reddit!)
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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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?
#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.
#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.
#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.
#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.
TODAY’S AVERAGE: C+
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Released April 8th, 2016 on Rough Trade Records
Parquet Courts are a lot of different things. A little bit Modern Lovers, a little bit Guided By Voices, the odd bit of Pavement, some old-world post-punk, the poppier moments of Swell Maps – it all rides a certain smoky nonsense, something borne out of the septic days of the Velvet Underground. I asked them recently on Reddit if they were kidnapped, locked in a room, and asked at gunpoint to choose between Pere Ubu and Swell Maps who their choice would be. Frontman Andrew Savage responded that first, this was an odd outlet for aggression, and second that he would have to be a patriot and choose Pere Ubu.
Parquet Courts are a post-punk band, but they’re an updated iteration of that exploration of what punk rock means. What does Wire and Swell Maps fronted by a deadpan, jittery Stephen Malkmus sound like? It sounds like Human Performance. The opening track, “Dust”, extends a Pink Flag era type riff while capturing a narrative out of the anonymous textures of everyday life. The title track lives on the edge of its own churning emotions, for sure, but it kicks off with one of the most succinct descriptions of love: “I know exactly where I was when I first saw you the way I see you now, with these eyes.” From there Andrew Savage tries to figure out exactly where it all went wrong, with regards to his relationship with both girl and city. Tracks like “Outside”, “Steady On My Mind”, song-of-the-year candidate “Berlin Got Blurry”, and “Keep It Even” tackle the former subject. More interesting are the songs that wrestle with Savage’s hot-and-cold relationship with NYC: “I Was Just Here” wonders fiercely where that Chinese restaurant got off to so quickly; “Captive Of The Sun”‘s Dylan-esque word vomit models the bustle and restlessness of the street; “One Man No City” examines the loneliness of the uncaring hordes; “Two Dead Cops” uses a real double-homicide of police officers in Bed-Stuy in 2014 to talk about the seemingly random and impersonal violence that crops up constantly in urban situations. The loneliness of a failing relationship is thus juxtaposed against the loneliness of the impersonal big city and a constant back-and-forth connection can be established between the two.
Parquet Courts have been on an upward trajectory of, if not maturity, increased awareness of their position as “artists” and of the art that they are creating. Light Up Gold was a mile-a-minute cross between pop punk, post-punk, and early Nineties indie rock a la Pavement and Guided By Voices. Sunbathing Animal followed suit, but on Content Nausea they got jittery, angular, and all of those other words we used to describe post-punk inspired indie rock with in the early Oughts. Monastic Living doubled down on that path, giving us a solid minute and a half of melody before spewing noise for the remainder of the EP. Human Performance brings it back around to the beginning, but with a heavy dose of that dreaded word I disavowed above: “maturity”. The noise terrorism is kept to a judicious minimum and the tempos have lost some velocity, and in this is the structure of a brilliant album.
AND THE REST…
Painting Of A Panic Attack
04/08/2016 on Atlantic Records
“Get Out” is a great track and having National pedigree on production is promising, so why does this album fall so goddamn flat?
04/08/2016 on Reprise Records
So you can’t go home again, as it turns out. Gore kind of sounds like the past glories of Deftones, if you take out things like edge and excitement.
The Hope Six Demolition Project
04/15/2016 on Vagrant Records
While not being as wall-to-wall brilliant as 2011’s Let England Shake, the veteran’s newest album manages to bring her politics local again, while getting off a few good shots. “The Wheel” happens to be a particular classic, and “The Ministry Of Defence” brings it all back around to Rid Of Me.
Mike & The Melvins
Three Men And A Baby
04/01/2016 on Sub Pop Records
The gods of Sabbath riffery were supposed to do this album with underground Mike Kunka 16 years ago, and it shows. Like most Melvins collab albums, it’s only as essential as your sense of completion requires it to be.
04/01/2016 on Hardly Art Records
Breezy, fun pop-punk from the Seattle heirs of the riot grrrl movement. Doesn’t differ all that much from their debut, but then again it probably doesn’t need to.
Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
Released April 1st, 2016 on Yellow K Records
The dream of the Nineties is alive in more places than just Portland these days. With every second kid out there wearing a flannel overshirt and a fitted cap, and every second band trading in post-Dinosaur Jr. guitar crunch, one can be forgiven for thinking that they were reliving their memories of 1992. Unlike their fuzz-pedal worshipping contemporaries – Bully, Speedy Ortiz, Joanna Gruesome, the Crutchfield sisters – Japanese Breakfast takes their cues from a more esoteric place. Psychopomp is a little bit Isn’t Anything-era My Bloody Valentine, with the airy charm of vintage Asobi Seksu and a bit of the more out-there moments of Guided By Voices. “In Heaven” is a shoegaze paradise; “Everybody Wants To Love You” is a chug-along lo-fi anthem. “Jane Cum” and “Triple 7” are the highlights, soaring numbers that focus their attention on the impassioned vocals of Michelle Zauner.
Zauner is the real show here. The songs on Psychopomp are reworks of some lo-fi stuff she worked on when her old band, Little Big Leagues, was still active. She and collaborator Ned Eisenberg rebuilt them into something both strongly reminiscent of the shoegaze/dream-pop days of the late Eighties and early Nineties while retaining a vibrant mysteriousness that sets the music apart from the merely derivative. The fact that it breezes by in a scant 25 minutes only adds to it; unlike a lot of her contemporaries, Zauner knows when to call it a day. The quick runtime means that each of the songs on Pyschopomp stands out on its own as a strong contender, and lets the strengths of each song shine through, something that might have been lost in a much longer work. It’s wistful and heavy, pure indie pop at its finest.
And The Rest…
03/25/2016 on R.J.’s Electrical Connections Records
Self-produced hip hop albums can get quite self-indulgent, and Dame Fortune is no exception. The producer’s long-standing talent is there, but only in fits and doses.
03/25/2016 on Saddle Creek Records
The Portland supergroup’s strongest album in quite some time. It’s not The Body, The Blood, The Machine, but then again what is? Solid, fist-in-the-air power-pop that often edges into punk.
03/25/2016 on Domino Records
A deeply human record, all the more so for its electronic starting point. Brooklyn producer James Hinton used samples gleaned from YouTube for the vocals on this record, which is something I do that I didn’t realize was actually legitimate. Off to the DAW I go.
Open Mike Eagle
Hella Personal Film Festival
03/25/2016 on Mello Music Group Records
Like his fellow Milo on the (now-defunct) Hellfyre Club label, Open Mike Eagle twists words, scratches out lyrics, courts controversy, and lives in the interstitial zone of the black middle class in America. Like Milo, he lets his desire for alt-hip hop vibes and out-there production overshadow the songs at times.
Patch The Sky
03/25/2016 on Merge Records
Another record from a man who seemingly just can’t stop recording them, former Husker Du and Sugar frontman Bob Mould may not be Robert Pollard but he’s close. Patch The Sky is one of the best albums he’s ever released, a stripped-down collection of power-guitar songs that bring to mind what his legendary punk band might have sounded like had they allowed it to age gracefully.
03/25/2016 on Downtown Records
Solid white-boy funk and soul, Stiff is a breezy, poppy album that sounds like it’s the 1970s that have come around again, and not the 1990s. It’s the sort of album that invites you to have a great ol’ time, and then helps you get there.
03/25/2016 on Epitaph Records
An abrasive, jittery album that is secretly formed of big hooks and a lot of punk rock swagger. Like a serrated switchblade, it’ll stab right into your gut and then stay there.
Ty Segall – Emotional Mugger
Released January 22nd, 2016 on Drag City Records
It’s 2016, and after eight years and fifty bajillion albums, Ty Garrett Segall is the undisputed master of modern psychedelic garage rock. On his own he has classics like Melted to his name; Slaughterhouse, recorded with his touring band as the Ty Segall Band, is one of the most vicious rock ‘n’ roll albums you will ever hear; his work with Fuzz is some of the best stoner rock ever recorded. Disciple/touring bandmate Mikal Cronin has gone on to stake a claim of his own, and his work with King Tuff brought Black Moon Spell to the next level. He’s the guru of the noisy underground, and with good reason.
His last two proper LPs, however, seem to have been a transitional thing for him; they seemed searching, as though Segall was no longer sure of who he was or where he was going. 2013’s Sleeper was uncharacteristically subdued, favouring acoustic guitars and hushed songs over the thick fuzz and twisted weirdness of Melted or Twins. Released a year later, Manipulator returned the volume but left out the bizarre out-there experimentation that characterized his early work. It was also very straightforward, for Ty Segall: it was a wall-to-wall collection of stately classic rock tropes lifted out of Zeppelin, Sabbath, and Bad Company, without much of the high-flying psychedelia. It’s good stuff, but in the face of everything that came before both Sleeper and Manipulator feel staid, like what would happen if a normie tried to approximate Ty Segall.
Emotional Mugger brings him back around full circle to Melted again, returning the weird conceptual nature, the odd noises, and the sense of trippy dread while keeping the traditional structuring he explored on his previous two records. The opening riff of “Squealer” shows that his old love of slathering his stuff in thick layers of goopy fuzz has returned; “Diversion”, “Mandy Cream”, and “Candy Sam” all continue in this vein. “Emotional Mugger/Leopard Priestess” and “Baby Big Man (I Want A Mommy)” hearken back to the experimental vibe that he brought to albums like Hair and Reverse Shark Attack while keeping their feet planted in the earth. “Squealer Two” is funky, adding wah into the fuzz-guitar mix to create something that sounds like David Bowie’s “Fame” as done by a severely drugged out Black Sabbath- which is to say that it rocks. The only real missteps on the album are “Breakfast Eggs” and “W.U.O.T.W.S.”: “W.U.O.T.W.S.” probably doesn’t need to be explained, as it’s the sort of weirdo run-down-the-radio-dial that sounds cool once and then gets skipped every time after; “Breakfast Eggs” has a nice rolling groove of a riff but the whole “Candy, I want your candy” line falls flat. I get that it’s playing with a rock ‘n’ roll trope but it doesn’t succeed in subverting it so much as it revels too much in its overall cheesiness.
There is also an overall theme running through Emotional Mugger, about how modern existence and the overabundance of technology robs us of our emotional response to stimuli and overburdens us with information and experience, but to Segall’s credit it doesn’t interfere with the proceedings at all. In the end, it’s a summation of everything that sets Ty Segall apart as an artist and a performer, and it sounds really great when you crank it up loud.
Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Under The Savage Sky
If the late 2000s and the 2010s have proved anything, it’s that good old-fashioned garage rock seems resistant to the vagaries of time. The late 1960s and the early 1970s – whether it’s the retro-funk/soul of an act like the Honeybears or the raw, amphetamine proto-punk revival of Ty Segall – have proved to be a continually fertile source for people who are nostalgic for a time they never lived through. Barrence Whitfield and the Savages fall under the former, fusing old-school R&B, Stones-esque garage music, early funk, and Motown soul into a compressed nugget of Nuggets. This is pure rock ‘n’ roll, free of toxic adolescent angst, radio-chasing pop blandness, and cutting-edge trend chasing.
There may be some out there who remember Whitfield from his first decade, running from 1984 to 1995, where he traded in pretty much the same stuff he’s got on display here. His hiatus ended in 2011; since then he’s put out three albums just like Under The Savage Sky, cloaked in nostalgia and dripping with raw, crunchy attitude. The only misstep is “Angry Hands”, which sounds too close to Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen” to be entirely comfortable. Otherwise this is a solid collection of retro-rock that hits all the right notes. While it doesn’t break new ground, it also doesn’t really have to. Certain sounds, while they may not be chart-topping, are timeless; the sound that Whitfield has staked his name on is one such.