Santigold – 99 Cents

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Santigold – 99 Cents

Released February 26th, 2016 on Atlantic Records

Santigold – born Santi White in Philadelphia – is at a strangely awkward place in her career.  After wowing the indie-blog glitterati in 2008 with her debut Santogold, she followed it up four years later with Master Of My Make-Believe, a record that received more muted applause despite being a generally stronger album.  The trend continues on 99 Cents, an album that has been largely slept on by critics despite being the strongest recording of Santigold’s discography to date.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that she’s no longer new and shiny.  It’s fairly obvious by now that the blogosphere – spearheaded by Hipster Indie Bible site Pitchfork – is enamored with artists when they’re new and exciting and ditches them as soon as they release follow-ups that build upon strengths in increments.  Santigold has fallen victim to that phenomenon; witness the number of outlets that have reviewed 99 Cents as “restrained”, “empty”, and “unambitious”.  This, to describe an album that playfully encompasses any number of styles without ever committing to a generic reading of genre.  Lead single “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself” bounces on a summer-breeze pop groove while “Big Boss Big Time Business” adds some solid weight to its Carribean bass-boom.  “Rendezvous Girl” switches things up for an Eighties-tinged New Wave-inspired rocker while “Who Be Lovin Me” (featuring ILoveMakonnen) puts her squarely in the ambient-shaded singalong world of modern hip hop.  99 Cents goes in a lot of directions at once, but it manages to strike the right path in those directions a lot more than it wanders off.  Only “Chasing Shadows” and “All I Got” come off as forgettable; the rest have their own individual character , one infused by the warm, sarcastic vision of their creator.

Santigold may no longer be the shiny hype-draw that blogs are looking for to draw readers in, but 99 Cents is an extremely solid record and Santi White is an artist who’s still willing to take risks and explore sounds.

And the rest…

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon

01/22/2016 on Rough Trade

The combination sounds like a wild winner – post-rock masters of ambient dread and the Neil Young-inspired folkie without any lyrical filter whatsoever – until you realize that Jesu and Mark Kozelek is just Jesu and Mark Kozelek.  Every song is squalling chords dripping with fuzz that have Kozelek getting unhinged over top.  While it’s a nice effect in general, it gets exhausting in the long run.

Future

EVOL

02/06/2016 on Epic Records

Easily the best thing the Atlanta trap star has put out, EVOL shows a willingness to push forward both musically and lyrically.  “In Her Mouth” is the most hilariously over-the-top he’s ever gotten, and Weeknd-collab “Low Life” shows that crossover success is a when, not an if.

 

The Dirty Nil

Higher Power

02/26/2016 on Dine Alone Records

Ontario punk rock is a beast that keeps savaging everything in its path, year after year.  I first saw the Dirty Nil in a tiny bar backing the always-amazing Single Mothers and their debut LP is a welcome addition to the canon.  Treads a tightrope between crushing brutality and soaring sing-along.

Thug Entrancer

Arcology

03/04/2016 on Caroline Records

An inoffensive enough electronic record that is nonetheless too heavily indebted to Boards Of Canada to generate any thrills.

Anna Meredith 

Varmints

Once the composer-in-residence for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, now crafting odd, off-kilter electronic songs that have a strangely chiptune bent to them.

Guerilla Toss

Eraser Stargazer

03/04/2016 on DFA Records

The Boston noise band takes junk shop sounds and welds them together in the backyard to create something willfully abrasive and strange.

Robert Pollard

Of Course You Are

03/04/2016 on Fire Records

Look, if you know anything about Robert Pollard, you know exactly what you’re getting from a Robert Pollard record, or a Boston Spaceships record, or a Ricked Wickey record, or (soon, again) a Guided By Voices record.  It’s guitar-driven British Invasion inspired stuff with a strong sense of melody and a lysergic tendency in the lyrics.

Esperanza Spalding

Emily’s D-Evolution

03/04/2016 on Concord Records

Artful, lyrical, and jazzy as all hell, like Janelle Monae and Joni Mitchell had a jazz baby and that jazz baby liked to blaze it.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

A Man Alive

03/04/2016 on Ribbon Music

Saved from being an exercise in tUnE-yArDs lite indie-clatter by the presence of a heavy, thumping bass that makes those speakers push more air than they have a right to.

The Coral

Distance Inbetween

03/04/2016 on Ignition Records

There was this band in the Nineties – The Tea Party – that really wanted to be Led Zeppelin (later Nine Inch Nails) with a singer who really wanted to be Jim Morrison.  The Coral, as a parallel, really wants to be Faust but the singer really wants to be Alex Turner.  Either way it’s hot garbage.

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 4 (2012-2014)

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Let’s Go Eat The Factory (2012)

In 2010, Matador Records threw a 21st birthday party for itself in Las Vegas, and it was topped off by a reunion of the classic GBV lineup (the 1992-1996 incarnation, when the real magic occurred).  This was followed by recording sessions and, on New Years Day 2012, a new GBV album.  Like the albums they’d originally done, they recorded on home equipment in garages, living rooms, and basements, and it seems to have given them the impetus to just relax.  While it’s not quite on the level of, say, *Propeller* or *Bee Thousand*, it’s much better than anything made from 1997 onward.  It showed that the band wasn’t quite done yet, although that would of course prove to be something of an understatement.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=975Ml2_Klpk] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vn8z7k-Qqk0] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6_YAtr0x48]

Class Clown Spots A UFO (2012)

Six months after *Let’s Go Eat The Factory* the band returned with another sprawling album that sounded like a *slightly* less inspired version of the original lineup’s glory days.  Gone were the professional, solid, unexceptional albums of the early 2000s; the band brought back the quick bursts of British Invasion rock ‘n’ roll, the quirky lo-fi recording quality, and the weird song-sketch collages that interspersed their best work.  The off-kilter moments are still there, of course, but the good moments are brilliant, and numerous.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVF_q1ZbU-4] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nh72hROAzFw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tiyqCbOSv0w]

The Bears For Lunch (2012)

Then came the *third* reunion album in 12 months, and it became obvious that the band was literally incapable of not writing songs.  *The Bears For Lunch* is arguably the best of the three 2012 albums, although it’s not by much.  The style is the same, though; classic early Who and Kinks type songs filtered through a stormy night when radio signals bounce all over the ionosphere and snatches of great old pop songs can be heard fitfully and from far off.  The hit percentage is, as the others, not as high as it was in the mid-1990s, but it’s close.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DvaHuls6p7c] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Hn0_uFEa5E] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D_m1YmrOxv4]

English Little League (2013)

The band’s fourth album in the space of a year finds the third era of Guided By Voices beginning to run out of steam a bit.  When they’re on, they’re **on** (especially on Tobin Sprout’s songs), but when they’re off they seem muddled and distant, like a lover who’s beginning to tire of you.  Time will tell if the relationship will begin to sour, but if it does, this will mark the point where you can look back, broken and alone in a rented efficiency with hotdogs thawing in the sink, and say that it all began here.  The hit-to-miss ratio, always pretty high on even mediocre GBV releases, slips a bit here; it is proof, perhaps, that even a band as fiendishly prolific as Guided By Voices can eventually wind itself down.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79mXK2oFSMc] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vA9W3l11IOM] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=amB9S8Z9HY8]

Motivational Jumpsuit (2014)

And just like that the pendulum swings back and the band seems on fire once again.  After taking a (relative) break through 2013 the band released *Motivational Jumpsuit* and proved their continued vitality.  If the four albums of 2012-2013 sound like they could be cherry-picked to produced one really stellar album, *Motivational Jumpsuit* sounds like that album.  20 tracks in 40 minutes seems as breezy and concise as it did in the days of *Bee Thousand*, and while the quality is, again, not quite up to the standards of those hoary old days, it’s closer than it’s been at any point during the post-reunion period.  The rockers are chunky, with fat, bottom-scraping guitars playing off of drums that actually sound well produced despite the lo-fi recording.  The ballads are the best part of the album, especially on the joyous singalong of “Some Things Are Big (And Some Things Are Small)” or “Jupiter Spin”, on which the band reprises its love of appropriating Beatles melodies and takes a new look at “Tomorrow Never Knows.”.  It’s a solid album that points the way forward for another busy year of prolific songwriting, and remains as yet another indication of the inhuman creativity of Pollard and Co.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q-MioyVHn-8] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NDfI59euLQg] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oJp6rH798A] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_kIvD2BStU]

 

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 3 (1997-2004)

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Mag Earwhig! (1997)

Following the demise of the Tobin Sprout era, Pollard hooked up with Cleveland rockers Cobra Verde and recruited them to be his new version of Guided By Voices.  The album is perhaps the most consistently focused album of the post-Scat era; it’s a direct continuation of *Under The Bushes Under The Stars*, with even higher production values.  The songs seem more like the songs of a regular band, only written by a guy that can’t seem to take two steps without writing a pair of knockout pop songs.  The professionalism can be off-putting to fans of the wild, anything-goes era, but those used to mainstream rock will find a lot to love on this one.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZV1fPyh53Ik] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ayd-MIyKerw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wrn_8JmBJWo] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b5cNgnHUevU] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWje0GJmU8I]

Do The Collapse (1999)

The band’s major label debut (on TVT Records), produced by Ric Ocasek (of The Cars), and honestly not all that remarkable.  Often pointed to as a weak link in the band’s discography, the pressure of being signed to a major label after having spent so many years poor and recording through basement walls seems to have pushed Pollard into writing a really bland group of songs.  There are really only a couple of standouts and the rest can be discarded at will.  Interestingly, both standouts were used in pop culture:  the stellar, misleading lead-off track “Teenage FBI” was used in *Buffy The Vampire Slayer* and super-ballad “Hold On Hope” was used memorably in an episode of *Scrubs*.  At the same time, their live show, a ramshackle affair involving a **LOT** of drinking, kicked into epic mode, with sets often going over the three-hour mark.  Anyone who grew up on modern rock radio will find *something* to like about the album, but in my humble opinion it pales in comparison to what came before or (to a lesser extent) what would come after.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9bg6iVqMLOQ] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RY2lSSmKBNk]

Isolation Drills (2001)

A bit of a return to form after the relative snooze-fest of *Do The Collapse*, *Isolation Drills* contains some of the best tracks of the post-*Under The Bushes Under The Stars* era, and puts back the muscle and heft that Ric Ocasek’s glossy production sacrificed.  There’s a lot of love for the Seventies here; while Pollard’s songwriting will always remain anchored in the British Invasion, there’s a sense on *Isolation Drills* that the band set out to make the best Cheap Trick album ever recorded.  In this, they succeed:  the songs sound ready for the arena at first blush, and the fact that radio didn’t immediately pick up on the universal accessibility of the album just goes to show the problems with terrestrial radio right from the beginning of the internet age.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mV4b9SNZkU4] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iGwThqr472s] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O7KiLRCxt58] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZsi9uEOJLg]

Universal Truths And Cycles (2002)

Back to Matador they went, and even though they went from a major to an indie they managed to do better, chart-wise, than anything that came before (relax, it was only #160).  It’s a bit tighter than *Isolation Drills*, and the reduction in recording budget actually seems to bring a bit of the old wild Pollard out to play in places.  The magical moments seem a bit forced at times, but it’s a good album – not essential like *Bee Thousand*, or as lifeless as *Do The Collapse*, but it lands somewhere in the middle of their discography.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MNuTvWO3rKI] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lw273CvvG5o] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7wyJXZJDTm4]

Earthquake Glue (2003)

*Earthquake Glue* was an album that showed a band on a real upswing.  Their previous two albums had shown a willingness to be consistently good, if not great; they were albums you could listen to all the way through a couple of times, and then skip to the good parts thereafter.  *Earthquake Glue* recaptures a bit of that old magic, though, from the 4-track garage recording days; there is a light, mellow groove that permeates the album like a particularly good bag of weed.  It’s still not as consistent as anything from the lo-fi era, but it can be considered as being perhaps the most solidly satisfying of the second part of the band’s career.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8NaiQYgaSSw] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl1965lkmTA] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJdiBIruHUc]

Half Smiles Of The Decomposed (2004)

This was supposed to be the last album – they announced in April of 2004 that it would be, and for a while it was.  It sounds like an attempt at crafting something a bit more wide-screen than anything they’d done before, like an album composed of the last songs of the night at their panoramic live shows.  In this it really only half-succeeds; many of the songs, even though they fall into the usual two-and-a-half minute mould, seem as though they are wearing out their welcome by the end.  It seems a bit tired, more than anything else, and Pollard was more than happy to spend the next several years following his muse through a series of typically ramshackle solo projects and albums with his sometime band Boston Spaceships.  For all intents and purposes, Guided By Voices was put to bed for good.

Standouts:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MTzCxFlT8g] [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3oahhlvwZKk]

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 2 (1992-1996)

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Propeller (1992)

This was supposed to be the last album.  Having spent five years playing to handfuls of people, selling albums in the hundreds, and getting into debt, they released *Propeller* in a pressing run of 500 copies, each of which bore a unique cover hand-crafted by the band, their friends, and family members.  These albums would circulate and gain the band a larger following, which would snowball in each subsequent year from then on.  *Propeller* is the beginning of a stellar period of extremely fertile creativity for what is considered the band’s classic lineup, featuring the band’s only other real songwriter, Tobin Sprout.  It’s the first album to really exemplify the “GBV sound”, which combined basement recording with tight, heavy guitar work juxtaposed with lighter-than-air songcraft.  The initial “GBV! GBV!” crowd chant at the beginning (fake, of course – the band had never played in front of that many people) would be replicated at every show thereafter, and the sledgehammer that many of the songs wield make it feel like the biggest arena show you’ve ever heard through the living room wall.

Standouts:

File:Vampire on Titus.JPG

Vampire On Titus (1993)

A very abrasive album recorded after Pollard decided to keep going with GBV but before he re-solidified the classic lineup.  It’s a notoriously noisy album that will prove to be a difficult listen for casual fans, but it’s fuzzed-up, blissed-out tracks will yield their secrets for the patient.  “”Wished I Was A Giant”” sounds like a bootleg of the greatest arena performance ever recorded from the roof of the stadium.  “Marchers In Orange” proves that there’s melody even in the midst of layered tape hiss.  Not their most accessible album (maybe their least accessible, in fact) but fascinating nonetheless.

Standouts:

File:Bee Thousand.jpg

Bee Thousand (1994)

This was supposed to be the last album.  After catching some interest with *Propeller* and *Vampire On Titus*, the band was still in debt and Pollard was facing demands to focus on his family and his teaching career.  The band threw together *Bee Thousand* in a very informal, very spur-of-the-moment fashion.  The album caught the ear of the thriving indie rock underground and word of the band spread.  They began receiving notice in large publications and people actually began to show up to their shows.  As a result, Matador Records (who had handled the distribution of *Bee Thousand* through the small Scat label) offered to sign them and they became critical darlings.  *Bee Thousand* is one of the most well-regarded albums of the last thirty years and regularly makes the cut when it comes to the listing games music critics like to play.  The secret is of course in the songwriting; the album feels like a cut-and-paste collage of the best moments of what Pollard calls the “four Ps of rock”:  Pop, punk, progressive, and psychedelic.  In the vein of that last genre, the album is absolutely chock-full of strange, noisy moments; during the recoring, the band members used tape manipulation, edits, and noise effects as instrumentation, resulting in what often seems like the aural equivalent of DaVinci’s sketchbook.

Standouts:

File:Alien Lanes.jpg

Alien Lanes (1995)

Their first album for Matador was a continuation of the style they had really hammered out on *Bee Thousand*:  short, sweet bursts of songwriting gold with a ridiculously high percentage of catchy winners.  The percentage is perhaps not as high as *Bee Thousand*, but *Alien Lanes* also out-numbers the previous album, 28 tracks to 20.  The seconds-long sketch-tracks can be a bit useless at times (especially “Gold Hick”) but they do provide valuable contrast to the longer tracks, making the album feel like you’re flipping through a particulary fertile stretch of radio dial.

Standouts:

Under The Bushes Under The Stars (1996)

For their ninth album, the band decided to go the professional route again, something they hadn’t attempted in a decade.  They recorded a number of sessions on 24-track, and enlisted several producers, including Pixies bassist Kim Deal and noise-auteur Steve Albini.  The result is an album studded with solid nuggets of pure pop framed in punchy rock ‘n’ roll.  The art-collage sensibility is largely done away with, in favour of well-executed songs that, in a just world,  would have been hits on rock radio. As it was, it would be the last album the classic lineup would record for sixteen years.  Tobin Sprout left the band to puruse being a father, and the rest of the regular players drifted away.

Standouts:

 

 

With Endurance Like The Liberty Bell: A Guide To Guided By Voices, Part 1 (1986-1990)

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Guided By Voices are less a band than they are a collected catalog of songs by the inhumanly prolific Robert Pollard and whatever band members/drinking buddies he had hanging around him at the time.  Springing directly from the blue-collar surroundings of Dayton, Ohio, they provided an outlet for the creative tendencies typically stifled in practical factory towns and an excuse to get drunk and play loud rock ‘n’ roll to very small bar crowds.  Inspired by college rock and the early pop masterpieces of the British Invasion, they have spun out a sprawling career of hard-worn rock ‘n’ roll and have come to define the lo-fi aesthetic that underwrote much of American indie rock in the 1990s.  To properly outline everything they’ve ever recorded would take a lifetime, and if you finished you would find that Pollard would have outdistanced you by no mean distance; it is only a half-joke that by the time you finish this sentence he will have written six more songs (In fact they’ve released two full albums since I first posted this to Reddit seven months ago).  In addition to what’s included in this guide, there are myriad EPs, singles, live albums, compilations, split-EPs with other bands, Robert Pollard solo albums (13 or so), Boston Spaceships albums, and the *Suitcase* series of albums, that dig up 300 toss-off songs and pretend they’re done by 300 one-off garage rock bands.  It’s daunting, to say the least, which is why for now this guide will focus mainly on their GBV-branded ‘studio’ albums.  Pack a lunch and find some (a lot) of beer; we may be here for a while.

Forever Since Breakfast (1986)

While this *is* technically an EP, it’s also sort of necessary to place us into context at the beginning.  To keep it short:  *Forever Since Breakfast* was the first thing the band recorded and was the last to be recorded in a proper studio for about a decade so.  It sounds uncommonly like early R.E.M., a comparison that would hold true for the band for the rest of the Eighties.  Decent enough stuff, although Pollard would later disparage the album as “a mediocre recording in a very sterile environment”.

Standouts:

File:Guided by voices dbmt lp.jpg

Devil Between My Toes (1987)

The band’s debut LP takes the same sort of tone as their debut EP, although it is much more charming by virtue of its cheaper production values.  It still sounds like *Murmur*, although the band’s later style still shows through in places.  While not essential, it is still a fun listen and contains some real winners.  Only 300 copies were originally made of the album, which set the tone for pressing runs for the band up into the early 1990s.

Standouts:

File:Guided by voices sandbox lp.jpg

Sandbox (1987)

The band’s second album found them attempting to add a much harder guitar sound into their college rock sound, to middling results.  Pollard considers it the band’s worst album, and there is little to be said against this; it sounds muddled, with gain-fuelled guitars present often for the sake of having them.

Standouts:

File:Guided by voices Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia lp.jpg

Self-Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989)

Considered by many to be the first “proper” GBV album, in that it’s the first album to introduce the lo-fi, 4-track manipulation vibe that would go on to form the bones of the group’s sound.  The album has much more of an off-the-cuff cut-and-paste vibe than their first two albums, and the willingness to commit just about any idea that comes into Pollard’s head has its spiritual origin here.  It still drags in places and is haunted by the jangly ghost of IRS-era R.E.M., but for all intents and purposes the legacy of their lo-fi era begins here.

Standouts:

File:Same Place.jpg

Same Place The Fly Got Smashed (1990)

My favourite of all of the pre-popular GBV albums, *Same Place The Fly Got Smashed* is also Pollard’s favourite album for lyrics.  The album is sort of a concept album about the lives and deaths of alcoholics in the great go-nowhere of the Midwest.  It’s fairly straight-forward, as far as later GBV releases would go, although the interspersed short sketches are definitely a harbinger of things to come.  “Blatant Doom Trip” is one of the great rock ‘n’ roll grooves.

Standouts: