Album Review: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights by The New Pornographers


Album: In the Morse Code of Brake Lights
Artist: The New Pornographers
Release Date: September 27, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “You’ll Need A New Backseat Driver,” “The Surprise Knock,” and “Falling Down the Stairs of Your Smile”
Thoughts:

I’ve been a longtime fan of The New Pornographers but finding my enthusiasm for the Canadian band dwindling over there past few releases. This new album has everything one would expect of the New Pornographers, the unique mix of power pop and folk rock, harmonies, virtuoso instrumentation, and clever titles.  The first three songs on the album are good, but there are no standout gems like “Sing Me Spanish Techno,” “Challengers,” or “Crash Years.”  The remainder of the album is just boring.  I guess The New Pornographers and I have just drifted apart.

Rating: **

Related:

Monthly Mixtape – September 2019


It must be autumn, because we’ve got a BUMPER CROP of new songs for the Monthly Mixtape!

Fran :: Company

Carolina Eyck :: Commemoration

Dry Cleaning :: Sit Down Meal

Girl Band :: Salmon Of Knowledge

Overcoats :: The Fool

Sturgill Simpson :: Sing Along

Thom Yorke & Flea :: Daily Battles

 

Leslie Stevens ::  Depression, Descent

Shredders :: Ayeyayaya

Previous Mixtapes:

Monthly Mixtape – August 2019


Mandolin Orange :: Golden Embers

It’s also worth checking out the band’s Tiny Desk Concert.

The Regrettes :: I Dare You

Clairo :: Alewife

Palehound :: Worthy

Gauche :: Pay Day

YACHT :: (Downtown) Dancing

 

Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: The Center Won’t Hold by Sleater Kinney


Album: The Center Won’t Hold
Artist: Sleater Kinney
Release Date: August 16, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Hurry on Home
  • Bad Dance
  • The Dog/The Body

Thoughts:

This is a new sound for the band, one that incorporates electronic instruments and an industrial music sound to its raging guitar riffs. The producer is Annie Clark of St. Vincent and her stamp on the sound is clear, although not overwhelming.  It’s not without controversy as drummer Janet Weiss announced her departure from the band over the change in direction.

The lyrics touch on the politics of being women continuing to perform as they age, defying the expectations that women in the public eye always be young and beautiful.  Similarly, these songs are steeped in the experiences being women and identifying as queer in the Trump Era even if the lyrics aren’t always explicit on that point as they are on the album’s finale “Broken.”

An experienced band and a big name producer bring with it a lot of expectations.  I’m not sure if The Center Won’t Hold lives up to those expectations, but its worth listening on its own terms.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Fongola by Kokoko!


Album: Fongola
Artist: Kokoko!
Release Date: July 5, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Likolo
  • Azo Toke
  • Singa

Thoughts:

Kokoko! is a collective of artists from Kinshasa, capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  They use instruments fashioned from trash to create sounds for a musical style that blends electronica with dance punk.  The synths layered on by their French producer Débruit also gives it an 80s freestyle dance pop sound.  Kokoko! makes refreshing music that functions equally well at a dance club or a political protest.

Rating: ****

Monthly Mixtape: July 2019


Only three new songs for the month of July, probably because I’ve been too busy listening to “Old Town Road.” All of these bands share in common band names that are challenging to find in a search engine.

Necking :: Still Exist

Punk rock women from Vancouver.

Abjects :: The Storm

Punk rock women from London.

CUP :: Soon Will Be Flood

Electronic experimental music from Brooklyn

 


Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: Freya Ridings


Album: Freya Ridings
Artist: Freya Ridings
Release Date: July 19, 2019
Favorite Tracks: “Castles,” “Wishbone,” and “You Mean the World to Me”
Thoughts:

Freya Ridings is a young singer/songwriter from England who joins the tradition of women with bold, powerful voices (such as Adele or Florence Welch) singing songs of love and love lost.  There’s nothing innovative on this debut album, but if you like this style of pop singing – and I do – it’s worth adding to your playlist.

Rating: ***

Album Reviews: 80s Flashbacks


Today I will review three recently-released albums by artists who were 1980s superstars.

AlbumWestern Stars
Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Release Date: June 14, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • Western Stars
  • Chasin’ Wild Horses
  • Moonlight Motel

Thoughts:

I’ve always liked Springsteen well enough, although my knowledge of his work is fairly superficial.  This album reminds me of the Rolling Stones’ Blue & Lonesome in the sense that Springsteen is at an age where he has nothing left to prove, and has the leisure to dive into his roots.  Nonetheless, it’s a different sound for him, especially the string arrangements. Strings can be cheezy if done poorly, but they’re are well-integrated into the songs and the stories they’re telling and complement Springsteen’s voice which is as strong and expressive as ever. Springsteen is famously from New Jersey, but here is voice is baked in the Americana of the West.

Rating: ***


Album: Absolute Zero
Artist: Bruce Hornsby
Release Date: April 12, 2019
Favorite Tracks: none stand out, but they’re all decent
Thoughts:

The less-famous Bruce had his biggest hits at the beginning of his career in the 1980s, and probably for most people that’s all they know about him.  In the 1990s, Hornsby toured with the Grateful Dead and created new albums with a jazz fusion sound.  When I lived in Williamsburg, VA, his hometown, he was a local celebrity and people exchanged stories of Bruce sightings.  I saw him in concert several times and have always thought his music sounds far better in live performace than on an album.  Neverthless, over the past 15 years or so I’ve failed to keep up with his career – until now.  This album uses elements of classical, jazz, and avant-garde music with Hornsby’s virtuosic style.  Jazz drummer Jack DeJohnette guests on some tracks as does Justin Vernon of Bon Iver which gives it some NPR Music cred.  It’s a creative experiment with dissonant sounds and juxtapositions, but I don’t think it’s something I’ll want to return to.

Rating: **1/2


Album: Originals
Artist: Prince
Release Date: June 7, 2019
Favorite Tracks:

  • 100 MPH
  • Holly Rock
  • The Glamorous Life
  • Wouldn’t You Love to Love Me?
  • Nothing Compares 2 U

Thoughts:

Prince, of course, is deceased and will no longer be releasing new music.  But his famous vault will be mined for music for the forseeable future. Following up on Piano and a Microphone, 1983, and collects mostly unreleased versions of songs Prince wrote as demos for other artists. So now we can hear Prince’s take on songs like “Jungle Love,” “Manic Monday,” and “The Glamorous Life,” which were hits for The Time, The Bangles, and Sheila E.  A number of these songs were crafted by Prince for his proteges in the Minneapolis scene so they’re not familiar to me, although the most bizarre of the songs that are new to me is “You’re My Love,” which Prince wrote for Kenny Rogers!  The demos exude Prince’s hard work and musicianship and would’ve been good enough for Prince to release himself.  On the other hand, there are things the other artists brought to these songs that I think Prince was aware was needed.  This album is enjoyable, but I think it’s worth more for historical/musicological study than for just listening for fun

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Keepsake by Hatchie


AlbumKeepsake
Artist: Hatchie
Release Date: June 21, 2019
Favorite Tracks: Without a Blush
Thoughts:

This is the first full-length album from Australian singer-songwriter Harriette Pilbeam, who records under the name Hatchie.  The songs are lush and dreamy and a suitable soundtrack to a lazy summer day.  The sound is reminiscent of early 90s bands with ethereal female lead vocalists like The Sundays. I really liked her 2018 EP Sugar & Spice, but the songs on Keepsake don’t packe the same punch with the exception of “Without a Blush.”  A lot of songs suffer from a repetitious nature where they start with a good groove or lyric but it becomes grating as the song goes along. The song “Obsessed” is a good example of this.  I was looking forward to this album but I don’t think I will be revisiting it.

Rating: **

Monthly Mixtape: June 2019


I’ve been in a blogging slump, so forgive me for posting my June Mixtape on July 12.

Hayden Thorpe :: “Love Crimes”

Floored Faces :: “Birdwatching”

Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars :: “Living Like a Refugee”

Mattiel :: “Keep the Change”

The Nunnery :: Take a Walk

The Seratones :: Got to Get to Know Ya


Previous Mixtapes: