Despite my constant search for new music, there are times where I’ll buy an album simply because it’s being released on a great label. Names like Merge, Sacred Bones, and Dischord are a seal of quality and will rarely do you wrong. Such was the case when I decided to get Heron Oblivion’s debut album on Sub-Pop (another trustworthy entity) after only hearing a couple of songs on YouTube. I didn’t know where the band was from, how long they’d been together, or how many albums they’d released. The combination of the Sub-Pop name and the hints of early 2000s Comets On Fire psychedelic space rock were enough to sell me on them.
[Memphis Industries; 2016]
Throughout the history of rock and roll, the arrival of parenthood has often marked a decline in an artist’s creativity and output. We sometimes get gems like Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” and David Bowie’s “Kooks” as a result, but the schmaltzy, lackluster content that most post-parenthood artists churn out far outweighs the memorable material.
Field Music have bucked this tradition with their recent release, Commontime. The band’s past five albums were overtly busy and bookish, often riddled by a case of having too many cooks in the kitchen. The two head chefs, brothers Peter and David Brewis, both recently entered parenthood, and based off of the songs on Commontime, the distraction that having a child brings has helped the band be more carefree with their songwriting approach.
[In the Red; 2016]
Since emerging from the San Francisco music scene back in 2008, Ty Segall has released eight albums (not including his two albums with side-project Fuzz, a handful of EPs, and a collaborative album with White Fence). His workhorse output has resulted in a breadth of material that can become bewildering for avid fans. Despite every album having its highlights, there comes a point where much of his garage rock anthems begin to all sound the same. There are a couple of exceptions to this commonality: 2012’s Slaughterhouse was a nice, doomy side-track, and 2015’s Manipulator was a blatant and largely unsuccessful stab at glam rock. But for the most part, Ty Segall’s sound has remained the same for the better part of eight years.
The Agent Intellect
Hardly Art; 2015
In the past few years the once crumbling city of Detroit has seen a resurgence. In the wake of the automotive industry’s near collapse, companies like Quicken Loans and Shinola have made the corpse of the motor city their home. In 2010, Detroit became the fastest growing region for technology jobs with names like Google, IBM, and ProQuest seeing the bedraggled city as a great place to make their mark (tax breaks don’t hurt, either). As a result of this resurgence, many in the area fear that this gentrification of the city is wiping away the remnants of the city’s rugged history.
Protomartyr, a band of Detroit natives, execute this narrative perfectly in their latest release, The Agent Intellect. On the surface, Agent Intellect explores frontman Joe Casey’s struggle with the recent death of his father, but this discussion of mortality also doubles as an omen for the state of the band’s hometown. This isn’t Dan Gilbert’s squeaky clean, renovated Detroit; this is the seedy underbelly, filled with songs of arson, auto theft, drug abuse, and violence.
Sun Coming Down
One look at the presidential race in the two respective parties, and it is easy to assume that the United States has lost its mind. Leading the GOP is Donald Trump, a megalomaniac millionaire who trumps himself daily with more and more offensive/ludicrous statements that somehow only bolster his standing with conservatives. Young democrats have found their flavor of the week in Bernie Sanders, a self-declared socialist whose idealistic platform seems highly unachievable in a beltway that is more partisan than ever. One can’t help but wonder how these two unlikely candidates have gained such a following.
I like to believe it’s not so much the message of this duo that has excited the American people – it’s the fact that they are outsiders. Both candidates have refused to take money from corporate entities and special interest groups, the usual suspects who have put a stranglehold on the government, making citizens feel frustrated and powerless.
The Canadian quartet Ought have mirrored this frustration in both of their releases on Constellation Records. On 2013’s More Than Any Other Day, the band boiled down this helpless feeling to a life where shopping for milk is a highlight in a world where we can only assure ourselves that “everything is okay” while always “sinking deeper.” It’s common for bands today to focus on the dystopian, apocalyptic downfall that lies ahead, yet Ought have remained focus on the mundane patterns of everyday existence that we have all passively agreed upon.
[Loma Vista; 2015]
When HEALTH first started, they were noise-art to the extreme. If you want to test someone’s intestinal fortitude, put on that self-titled debut, turn it up as high as you can without bursting eardrums, and sit back to face the carnage. The drums were tribal bedlam. The guitars were shattering dissonance. The synths were icicles, sending chills down your spine. But amidst all this chaos, Jacob Duzsik’s vocals eerily sang vaporous melodies like a deceased choirboy stuck in limbo. Despite all the madness, the vocals represented the deus ex machine, keeping the sputtering tank from crushing over mankind.
The remix album DISCO that came out a year later helped expose the band’s serene little secret. While I prefer the debut to its remix predecessor, that album gave hints toward what this band could possibly sound like going forward. 2009’s Get Color stayed true to their initial style, although it featured moments of pop sensibility, and once again, the remix album that coincided with it even further revealed the melodies buried under the violent synths.
I think Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker is slowly becoming a real life version of Don Draper. The obvious connection can be seen in their shared creative brilliance – Draper in the fictional world of Mad Men with his ability to come up with advertising ideas off the cuff and Parker’s track record of releasing psychedelic pop music tailored for the 21st century. But the connection goes deeper than just their mutual ingenuity. The similarity I see is in how both struggle with change.
During the final two seasons of Mad Men, many loyal fans jumped ship due in large part to the show’s retreading of familiar tropes. Unlike most dramas, the antagonist never really showed growth. Instead, he continued his cycle of infidelity and alcoholism, followed by a fleeting realization of his mistakes before returning back again to his vices. Even the finale suggested that he hadn’t really changed during his West Coast spirit quest, finding only an idea for a Coke advertisement waiting for him on the cliffs of Big Sur. Instead of seeing Mad Men mastermind Matthew Weiner as a pessimist, I like to believe he wanted to show the struggles found in the human condition, that internal yearning for change and growth followed by the eventual return to our bad habits.