Ghostface Killah & Adrian Younge
Twelve Reasons to Die
[Wax Poetics; 2013]
Rap music lends its self naturally to the narrative form, so it’s no wonder that many modern MCs have created conceptual albums focused around an overlying story. The problem is that these attempts at concept are usually failures in terms of following the traditional story arc. Tyler the Creator’s psychiatry session Goblin was a haphazard, sloppy mess; Kanye West’s mental breakdown on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was entertaining but a little bit too self-absorbed (go figure), and Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city lacked any sense of character development or maturation. Maybe they could all learn a thing or too about storytelling from the legendary raconteur Ghostface Killah with his 2013 masterpiece Twelve Reasons to Die.
[Dead Oceans; 2013]
When Phosphorescent first broke onto the indie-folk scene in 2003, comparisons to Bob Dylan were a given with Matthew Houck’s knack for writing imagery-laced lyrics over jangly guitars, hints of Freewheelin’ Bob abound. 10-years later with his latest release Muchacho, Houck is still redefining one of Bob’s concoctions, but this time around his inspiration comes from a much different section of Dylan’s cookbook. No, it’s not country-fried Nashville Skyline nor is it the late night munchie snack of Blonde On Blonde. Instead, Muchacho takes on the essence of the seminal Infidels.
In late 1983, Infidels was heralded as Bob’s return from grace (a return from the “grace of God” in this case after two panned “religious albums”). Infidels is often considered his best album since 1975’s Blood On the Tracks. The album marked a definitive change in Bob’s approach. Rather than strumming away on his acoustic like he’d done for the better part of the past two decades, Bob stepped back and allowed the organs and synths to broaden space and time. With Mark Knophler fiddling around on his guitar, the songs often feel spacious and airy. Of all of his albums, Infidels is his most 80s album to come out in the decade of post punk and new wave.
Ores & Minerals
[Fat Possum; 2013]
In Billy Collins poetic plea “Introduction to Poetry,” he asks his students to “drop a mouse into a poem / and watch him probe his way out.” Recently while reading this poem, I found myself making a connection between the lab rat metaphor and the London band Mazes. The obvious association is in the band’s name, but my connection went much deeper than the literal.
From the first time I heard Ores & Minerals, I knew I loved the band’s sophomore album. The problem was in the fact I didn’t know why I liked it so much. Like the students in Collins poem who “…begin beating (the poem) with a hose / to find out what it means,” I wanted a clear analysis of what was at the core of my enjoyment. Few of the songs feature choruses, and if they do, they aren’t instantly memorable. There aren’t any tracks on the album that beg my attention nor do the lyrics ever delve much beyond the contents of a fortune cookie. The songs seem to ramble on for long stretches of time, never really going any place. Yet, despite all this monotony, I couldn’t quit listening to the album. Like the mouse in the maze, I was lost in the music but had no real way of figuring out the answer as to why.
My Bloody Valentine
[Self Released; 2013]
Shortly after 9 p.m. on February 4th, the indie rock universe imploded with one simple message on My Bloody Valentine’s Facebook page: “We are preparing to go live with the new album/website this evening. We will make an announcement as soon as it’s up.” As if preparing for an eminent bomb, fans raced to their Twitter accounts, all a-tizzy about what had to be a preeminent April Fool’s joke. Since the band’s last release in 1991 “Loveless,” front man Kevin Shields has been hinting at the release of a new album for over two decades, making the next MBV album the indie music equivalent of “Chinese Democracy.” But there it was, on the front page of Facebook, a promise that a new MBV album would be running through millions of ear buds and speakers within only hours.
And when the band actually went through on their word and released the album independently on their own website? Well, the fallout from the impact was instant. With so many rabid fans bombarding their website, many spent the majority of the night facing one 404 message after another, relaying the message that the website had crashed instantaneously.
As with all movements, the lo-fi trend has tapered off over the past couple years. In its wake, many of the artists who found their niche within the genre have had to step outside the tape hiss and attempt to tread water on the strength of their songwriting. The entire ethos of the lo-fi movement was the idea that great songs will always be great, regardless of the production (this is the gospel of Robert Pollard). As the dust has settled, some have found success moving away from the 4-track recorder (Ty Segall, Wavves, Times New Viking) while others have been exposed (Male Bonding, Matt and Kim, Psychedelic Horseshit).
After the release of Wood’s 2011 album “Sun and Shade,” I felt that they belonged in the latter category. Without the amateurish production, the band seemed lost. Many of the songs come off as lazy, while others meander aimlessly from one guitar solo to another with several songs stretching past the seven-minute mark. The band’s knack for melodies seemed all but gone and the charm of the past erased.
There are a lot of bands out there today trying to recreate sounds from decades past. Whether it be aiming to recreate the stilted synth of the 80s, the lo-fi simplicity of the late 50s and early 60s, or the early 90s indie rock distortion. One of the most common victims of this resuscitation of rock Gods is the psychedelic rock of the late 60s with bands like Olivia Tremor Control, The Amazing, and Brightback Morning Light relying heavily upon ancient equipment scoured from pawn shops and auction houses. While bands like these have been able to recreate a sound from the past, Tame Impala have taken the psychedelic genre and flipped it on its head.
On their first album Innerspeaker it seemed like they were just another band that was into the hobby of refurbishing old sounds, but with their latest release, Lonerism, the band has found a way to cut from the same psychedelic fabric while still creating something completely original and exhilarating. Many of the instruments used on Lonerism are lifted from that same mystical pawn shop mentioned earlier, yet they manipulate these amps and instruments in ways that bands like The Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane couldn’t have ever imagined.