Pearl: 30 Years of Sign ‘O’ The Times

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Prince – Sign ‘O’ The Times

Released March 31st, 1987 on Paisley Park and Warner Bros. Records

RYM: #300

BestEverAlbums: #251

Sign ‘O’ The Times was Prince’s first album after the breakup of The Revolution, and came in the middle of a sort of creative free-for-all.  At the time of the Revolution’s demise, Prince had been working on a Revolution album (Dream Factory) as well as a solo album, Camille, which featured sped-up vocals and an androgynous new persona (named after the album’s title).  After a flurry of activity, recording, and the breakup of the Revolution, Prince had the idea to release all of the above in a 3-LP set called Crystal Ball.  Warner Bros. said no, because they have no sense of humour.

 

Instead, Prince culled down his recordings and released a double-LP set, solo, called Sign ‘O’ The Times.  The album drew in large amounts from both cancelled records.  “Housequake”, “Strange Relationship”, “U Got The Look”, and “If I Was Your Girlfriend” come from Camille and all bear the squeaky, sped-up vocals that Prince was experimenting with on those recordings.  “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “Starfish And Coffee” were part of the Dream Factory recordings right from the original demos.  In lesser hands, such a hodgepodge of components would have ended up as a gigantic mess, a hymn to overreaching ambition.  Prince, though, comes across on Sign ‘O’ The Times like he knows exactly what he’s doing and where he’s going at all times.  Without hyperbole, the album is an encapsulation of everything that went right with pop music in the 1980s.  The drum machine (a Linn LM-1 for the gear nerds among us) is precisely funky, and never comes off as mechanical or stiff.  Prince’s expert sense of in-the-pocket grooves when it comes to bass is on point everywhere, especially on the rather apocalyptic twilight rhythm of the socially conscious title track and the sensual “If I Was Your Girlfriend”.  There’s a decent balance between funk, soul, R&B, and that Eighties brassy pop.  Underneath all of that, however, is evidence (provided on “The Cross” and to an extent on “I Could Never Take The Place Of Your Man”) that Prince played rock ‘n’ roll guitar like a motherfucker.

 

Sign ‘O’ The Times would be the last great Prince album – unless you count The Black Album, which was supposed to be Prince’s followup to Sign ‘O’ The Times until he had a bad trip and became convinced the album was evil.  Instead, he rushed out the half-baked Lovesexy, followed that up with the Batman soundtrack (which was okay as well) and then got into a horrendous, legendary fight with Warner Bros. that saw him change his name into a symbol and churn out a series of rushed albums to get out of his contract with the label (although Love Symbol is honestly pretty decent).  Legend (and Kevin Smith) has it that Prince has a vault of music that could last us all until doomsday, but chances are good that, as far as quality goes, none of it is going to top what Prince was doing on Sign ‘O’ The Times.

 

 

 

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Ruby: 40 Years of The Idiot

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Iggy Pop – The Idiot

Released March 18th, 1977 on RCA Records

The Idiot was Iggy Pop’s first release since the final (epic) Stooges album four years previous.  The intervening years had been, to put it mildly, chaotic; the last Stooges show in 1974 had been highlighted by a brawl between the band and a group of bikers, and Pop had delved into cocaine in a heavy way in the years afterward.  At one point in 1976, unable to keep himself from shoveling drugs up his nose, he checked himself into a mental hospital.  An old friend and collaborator, David Bowie, visited him there often and when he was released Bowie took him out on the Station To Station tour, which probably didn’t do wonders for his inability to stay off drugs.  They got busted together in Rochester, NY (although just for marijuana) and in 1977 decided to decamp to West Berlin to kick their habits.  While there, Bowie started playing with the ambient, electronic textures that would inform his Berlin trilogy, and in many ways The Idiot is the first album of Bowie’s Berlin era.  It is entirely unlike much of the rest of Pop’s discography, and musically it is far more reminiscent of, say, a connection between Station To Station and Low.  It’s a funk-influenced R&B and soul album written and recorded by musicians surrounded by German electronic pioneers (Kraftwerk’s seminal Trans Europa Express also came out in March of 1977).

 

The Idiot may not be the most “Iggy Pop” album, per se, but it is a great album nonetheless.  Bowie’s work in Germany is presaged in most ways by his work here, and he admitted several years later that he used Iggy Pop as a sort of guinea pig for the sound that he wanted to flesh out on his own records.  As such, it features Iggy Pop crooning like the sort of deranged android Lothario that the Thin White Duke himself was at that time.  Bowie himself would in fact nick a couple of the songs a few years later:  the grinding “Sister Midnight” would become “Red Money” on 1979’s Lodger and of course the Bowie version of “China Girl” from 1983 was a much bigger hit.  The Idiot is a perfect summation of where both of them were at when a desire to get the hell out of L.A. hit them in very early 1977:  drugged-out, discoed-out, dragging themselves through the night and generally feeling as though the entire world had been struck down an octave or so in pitch (or, how “Mass Production” sounds).  It would go on to have great influence on a number of up-and-coming goth, post-punk, and eventually industrial groups.  Siouxsie Sioux and Martin Glover (of Killing Joke) both singled the album out as a favourite and it was still spinning on Ian Curtis’ turntable when he hung himself in 1980.  The drum beat from “Nightclubbing” was reworked as “Closer”, the biggest hit Nine Inch Nails ever had; it was also appropriated by both Oasis and the Sneaker Pimps, proving a sort of bizarre cross-genre affection for The Idiot‘s Pop-Gone-Bowie charm.  While the Sunset Strip bands would try to manufacture and sell a flashy, inclusive sort of sleaze, The Idiot was a piss-take of sleaze-rock that skewered all of those bands ten years in advance.

 

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+

Goodnight Prince, 1958-2016

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News has just broken over the internet that Prince Rogers Nelson – better known by his sole artistic name of Prince – has died in his Minnesota mansion at the age of 57.  Although it was originally sourced from TMZ – and therefore was suspect – Prince’s publicist has confirmed it just now via Twitter.

Prince was, to put it simply, a pop music legend.  Hailing from the rather unlikely beginnings of Minneapolis, Prince came to define both the sound of a city and the sound of an era.  Marrying disco, R&B, soul, funk, and rock ‘n’ roll into a signature brew all his own, Prince scored a series of best-selling albums throughout the 1980s:  PrinceDirty MindControversy, and 1999 were classics with his backing band The Revolution, and 1987’s Sign O’ The Times was a massive solo hit, both commercially and critically.   Besides his music, he is also well-known for being a controversial figure in the music industry.  In 1993, sick of the machinations of his record label, Warner Bros., he changed his name into an unpronounceable symbol and wrote the word “SLAVE” on his forehead before a prominent performance at the Brit Awards in 1995.  He also banged out a large amount of material in a very short time in order to break himself out of his record contract, a tactic made possible by the fact that he was more prolific than the next fifteen musicians combined (excluding perhaps only Robert Pollard).

Now that he has passed on, that prolific nature will keep his name alive into the time of my grandchildren.  Rumours of the insanely large size of his unreleased vault have abounded for years, and now that he’s died that vault will inevitably be opened and plundered for the wealth contained therein.  Regardless of what comes out of there, however, he will always be best known for his creation of the post-disco sound of the early 1980s, which gave birth to the pop sound of the rest of the decade.  It’s rare that one actually gets to use this line legitimately, but:  Goodnight, sweet prince.

 

Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp

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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…

RJD2

Dame Fortune

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.

The Thermals

We Disappear

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.

The Range

Potential

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.

Bob Mould

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.

White Denim

Stiff

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.

Plague Vendor

Bloodsweat

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.

The Best 100 Albums of 2015, Part 2: 80-61

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#80:  Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl

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What is soft dick rock? Using the elements of dick to create a softer, toned-down sound. You’re free now, that battle is over, and feminism is over and socialism’s over. You say you can consume what you want now.  Merry Christmas.  War is over.

#79:  Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down

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A stronger, more focused collection of songs than his previous efforts, B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down finds the former War On Drugs guitarist coming into his own.

#78:  Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment – Surf

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This is most emphatically NOT a Chance The Rapper album.  At all.  This was drilled into everyone when Surf was released.  Instead, it’s a breezy, soulful hip hop album that Chance just happens to be the vocalist on.  Either way, it’s a hell of a way to spend an afternoon.

#77:  Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin – The High Country

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Hey, remember these guys? They’ve been kicking around the periphery of indie rock since forever. 2015 brings their strongest album in a long series of years, pushing out power pop with a poppy-punk edge like no one’s business.

#76:  The Tallest Man On Earth – Dark Bird Is Home

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The Dylanesque folkie keeps turning out solid work that bubbles just under the radar. Dark Bird Is Home finds him getting a bit more Paul Simon, and it turns out a bit more romantic than the highs and lows of joy and despair that he’s been known for in the past.

#75:  Myrkur – M

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Indie popper Amalie Bruun (Ex-Cops) manages to pull off a new persona as the Burzum of the neo-black metal scene. That is to say, she is able to craft an album that is as close to black metal as humanly possible without actually having anything to do with black metal. Sure, there’s the Scandinavian song titles, the occasional chugging riff, and the backbone of screams and blastbeats, but it, like Filosofim, owes much more to dark ambient, goth, and darkwave than anything else.

#74:  Prefuse 73 – Rivington Nao Rio

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The veteran electronic producer turns in a warm, psychedelic collection of tracks that brings the beat back to his work, something that’s been sorely missing for years. This is an artist who made their bones on fusing hip hop to more stylish electronic elements, and Rivington Nao Rio is a welcome return to that form.

#73:  Hop Along – Painted Shut

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Painted Shut is strongly dominated by Frances Quinlan’s vocals; once you get over that, though, it’s apparent that the album is at its heart a love letter to the origins of indie rock – your Dinosaur, Jr, your Sonic Youth, your Pixies. Rock n roll is dead? Whoever told you that was sadly mistaken.

#72:  Braids – Deep In The Iris

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After the emotional apocalypse comes the time of healing; Deep In The Iris is an examination of this state, coming to terms with all sorts of uncomfortable aspects of life and reaffirming that life is there to be lived.

#71:  Speedy Ortiz – Foil Deer

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An old friend I hadn’t seen in a while asked me if there was any good alternative rock being made these days. Speedy Ortiz is the answer to that question.

#70:  Matthew E White – Fresh Blood

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In a year where the need to go back to mine fresh sounds flipped the calendar from the chillwave Eighties to the piano-man Seventies, Matthew E White stood as the complicated alternative to the chord-on-chord simplicity of Tobias Jesso, Jr, and the synth-heavy sex jams of modern Tame Impala.

#69:  THEESatisfaction – EarthEE

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Swampy, psychedelic, and built on a solid foundation of R&B and soul, THEESatisfaction made an album that could easily be the bedroom jam of a whole new generation, if not for the sharply political bent many of the songs take.

#68:  Mark Ronson – Uptown Special

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The British producer pillaged the back catalogues of The Time, Prince, and James Brown to create one of the funkiest albums in recent memory. Everyone knows “Uptown Funk”, but there’s enough great stuff here to keep the party going all night long.

#67:  Bjork – Vulnicura

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An exquisite examination of the complicated feelings that churn up in the wake of a messy breakup. At first blush Vulnicura feels subdued; there’s nothing of the far-out musical exploration of her previous albums, and yet under the surface there is a strong reverberation of emotion that haunts the listener well after the record closes.

#66:  Jamie xx – In Colour

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Jamie xx is 2015’s Ravemaster General, and In Colour is his Mission Statement. Kicking off with the ominous drum n bass percussion of “Gosh”, it whips through a shocking variety of forms before peaking on the summer jam of a lifetime, “I Know There’s Gonna Be Good Times”.

#65:  Faith No More – Sol Invictus

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The legendary funk-metal band came back strong in 2015, putting together a record that had all of the wild freedom of their best albums with only a slight blunting of their edge.  While there were better comebacks in 2015 (more on this later) there were few that were as animalistically satisfying.

#64:  The Sword – High Country

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While previous efforts from retro-minded stoner metal demons The Sword were largely based around blissed-out riffs on old Black Sabbath tracks, High Country expanded their pallet to include some breezier stuff from the Seventies – Styx and Blue Oyster Cult, mainly. More rambling than their older stuff, and a bit more fun.

#63:  The Sonics – This Is The Sonics

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As the sheer force of their primitive, pounding rock and roll pummels you into submission, take the time to appreciate that these men are in their seventies.

#62:  Built To Spill – Untethered Moon

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The first Built To Spill album in a long while to feature more than one stellar track, Untethered Moon constitutes something approximating a return to form. At the very least, Doug Martsch is still wailing on that guitar in a manner that can only be considered his own.

#61:  Napalm Death – Apex Predator – Easy Meat

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The grindcore legends return with more grindcore.  What else were you expecting?  They’re the best, and this is why.

Barrence Whitfield & The Savages – Under The Savage Sky

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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.