Album Review: Structure by Water From Your Eyes


AlbumStructure
Artist: Water From Your Eyes
Release Date: August 27, 2021
Label: Wharf Cat Records
Favorite Tracks:

  • “When You’re Around”
  • “Track Five”
  • “”Quotations””

Thoughts: This album from the Brooklyn electro-pop duo Water From Your Eyes documents a break-up.  Specifically the end of the romantic relationship between band members Rachel Brown and Nate Amos, although they remain together as a band and as friends.  There’s a lot of variety to hear: Beatles-esque harmonies, shoegaze guitar, ghostly vocals, relentless industrial noise…  It changes from track to track and sometimes within the song.  But there is, er, structure here as the album is broken into two sets of four songs symmetrical to the other four.
Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: Menneskekollektivet by Lost Girls


Album: Menneskekollektivet
Artist: Lost Girls
Release Date: March 26, 2021
Label: Smalltown Supersound
Favorite Tracks:

  • “Menneskekollektivet”
  • “Carried by Invisible Bodies”
  • “Love, Lovers”

Thoughts: This debut album from a Norwegian duo consisting of singer-songwriter Jenny Hval and multi-instrumentalist Håvard Volden is one of the most remarkable things I’ve rested my ears on in some time.  It sounds like ambient music layered on Laurie Anderson avant-garde styles, layered on 90s techno, layered on 70s disco.  Maybe it won’t sound that way to you but the best way to describe it is as layered and rich.  The lyrics focus on feelings and capture emotions in their sound and repetition as much as in their words.  Their is a lot of improvisation and exploration in this music. I expect this will be on my favorite albums list at the end of 2021.

Rating: ****1/2

Album Review: American Head by Flaming Lips


Album: American Head
Artist: Flaming Lips
Release Date: September 11, 2020
Label: Warner
Favorite Tracks:

  • Dinosaurs on the Mountain
  • Mother Please Don’t Be Sad
  • Assasins of Youth

Thoughts:

The Flaming Lips enter their fifth decade as recording artists with this trippy new album. This seems weird to me even though I first heard the band in the 1990s, and began listening to them avidly with their legendary releases of the 2000s. The album is a loose concept album drawn from band leader Wayne Coyne’s childhood in Oklahoma City. Musically, the Flaming Lips aren’t breaking new ground and the lyrics are full of gratuitous drug references. But the melodies are gorgeous in this collection of mostly ballads awash in rich instrumentation. Kacey Musgraves provides counterpoint vocals on a few tracks.


Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: National Freedom by Lonnie Holley


Album: National Freedom
Artist: Lonnie Holley
Release Date: July 3, 2020
Label:Jagjaguwar
Favorite Tracks:

  • Like Hell Broke Away
  • Do T Rocker

Thoughts:

Lonnie Holley of Alabama works in many art disciplines, visual media and sculpture, as well as experimental blues music.  This album collects music recorded in a 2014 session. His music is rooted in blues with his gravelly vocals reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf but his performance draws on the improvisation of jazz (particularly on the 11-minute final track “So Many Rivers (The First Time)”).  The result is oft-time weird, but not inscrutable, and evocative of deep human emotions.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Fetch the Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple


Album: Fetch the Bolt Cutters
Artist: Fiona Apple
Release Date: April 17, 2020
Label: Epic
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shameika
  • Under the Table
  • Relay
  • Rack of His
  • Cosmonauts
  • For Her

Thoughts:

I remember Fiona Apple as the tiny woman with the big, bold voice who had a hit with the song “Criminal” (and its unsettling video) back in the 1990s. I’ve heard whispers that Apple continued to have a great career, and I should’ve listened to them since this new album is absolutely brilliant.  In a way, it’s surprising that Apple has returned to widespread acclaim with this album because it’s very experimental with a heavy emphasis on percussion, only holding onto vestiges of pop music around the edges. Apple sings repetitive lyrics in a variety of chants, using her voice like Yoko Ono to become another percussion instrument.  As the title implies, this album is about release, and there’s anger there, but there’s also catharsis and humor.  It has to be heard to be believed.

Rating: ****1/2

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: May 2019


The Monthly Mixtape for May will take you on a journey!

Sarah Pagé :: Ephemeris Data
Kick it off with some experimental harp music.

The Silver Lake Chorus :: Tabu
Follow up with some tight choral harmonies and hot rhythms.

Black Pumas :: Colors
Then slide into some classic psychedelic soul.

 

Sass :: Spoiled by Rotten
Nex, some aural time travel to 1991.

Sleater-Kinney :: Hurry on Home
And while you’re in the 90s, pick up Sleater-Kinney and bring them to the present to work with St. Vincent!

Is there any great new music I missed along this journey?  Let me know in the comments!

Previous Mixtapes:

 

Album Review: I Like Fun by They Might Be Giants


AlbumI Like Fun
ArtistThey Might Be Giants
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • I Left My Body
  • By the Time You Get This
  • Push Back the Hands
  • The Greatest
  • Last Wave

Thoughts:

I wouldn’t be fair to say that They Might Be Giants peaked early, but it’s hard not to judge any new TMBG album without comparing it to their early work.  TMBG were one of the first “alternative” bands to gain widespread appeal and yet while they sounded nothing like mainstream music of the late 1980s, they also sound nothing like the other alternative bands.  All of this is a long way of saying that TMBG have dropped another solid album although nothing they do will ever seem so transformative as Lincoln and Flood when they were first released.

True to form, I Like Fun contains cheerful ditties with humorous lyrics that reflect on darker topics ranging from individual mortality to murder to the extinction of the human race. “They call me “the greatest”/’Cause I’m not very good/and they’re being sarcastic,” begins “The Greatest” with a gut punch.  “Last Wave” closes the album with the cheerful chorus “We die alone we die afraid/We live in terror we’re naked and alone.”

There are experiments in music styles and instrumentation, and several tracks have a crunchy guitar that makes it more straight-out rock music than typical TMBG.  But overall it sticks to the well-defined TMBG template the band has crafted over 30  years of doing their own damn thing and doing it well.

Rating: ***1/2

Related Posts:

Music Discoveries: Tom Waits


Tom Waits is a veteran singer-songwriter whose voice is a combination of sidewalk preacher, carnival barker, beat poet, and barstool philosopher. I first heard of Waits in the 80s when he was known as the guy with the crazy, gravely voice.  But then I heard the track “Innocent When You Dream” on a compilation album and fell in love with the heartfelt beauty underneath what sounded like a drunk guy crooning at a bar.  I got the album Franks Wild Years and it remains one of my all time favorites, and I’ve checked in and out on Waits’ career over the years.  This is the first time I’ve listened to all of Waits’ catalog from beginning to most current, and let me tell you it’s not easy to listen to all that Waits’ music back-to-back-to-back, although it is a worthwhile exercise.

Tom Waits’ career can be summed up into three basic eras:

  • 1970s – Waits was a little more eccentric than his contemporaries, but listening to his early recordings and he seems to fit in with the singer-songwriters of the era. You might even imagine an alternate universe where his career followed the paths of the likes of James Taylor, Elton John, or Randy Newman.  His trademark gravely voice didn’t even make its debut until the third album, and in the seventies it was more of an homage to Louis Armstrong or Doctor John as Waits recorded jazz and blues tinged tunes.
  • 1980s – This decade marked the emergence of the iconic Waits’ style, verging between lost recordings of American and avant guarde music with unusual instrumentation and tunings.  The decade is marked by the trilogy of albums he’s most remembered for: Swordfishtrombones (1983), Rain Dogs (1985), and Franks Wild Years (1987).
  • 1992 to present – While Waits’ music in this period remains experimental by the standards of contemporary popular music, and inspiration for “alternative music,”  it doesn’t vary much from the template he established in the 1980s.  Similarly, while 1990s and 2000s recordings include numerous gems and good albums overall, Waits is own worst enemy as a producer in that he allows the albums to be bloated with excess tracks that should be judiciously trimmed.  In short, don’t do what I did and listen to everything, but definitely seek out the good stuff.

Tom Waits hasn’t released anything new since 2011 or toured since 2008, but hopefully he has some songs left in him and there will be another Tom Waits era to look back on in the future.

Five Favorite Albums

  • Closing Time (1973) – definitely one of the great all-time debut albums, and the first three tracks are a strong start to any album.
  • Rain Dogs (1985) – Waits’ masterpiece and one of the great albums of the 1980s.
  • Franks Wild Years (1987) – the soundtrack to a play I’ve never seen, it remains a sentimental favorite
  • Bone Machine (1992) – Waits charges into the 1990s showing the alt-rockers how things are done with haunting lyrics and aural soundscape
  • Blood Money (2002) – these are songs from another play, but also reflect the misanthropy and pessimism of the post-Sept. 11th world under George W. Bush

Twenty-Five Favorite Songs

 

1. “Ol’ 55”

2. “I Hope I Don’t Fall in Love With You”

3. “Virginia Avenue”

4. “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me) (An Evening with Pete King)”

5. “Jersey Girl”

6. “16 Shells from A Thirty-Ought-Six”

7. “In the Neighbourhood”

8. “Jockey Full of Bourbon”

9. “Hang Down Your Head”

10. “Downtown Train”

11. “Hang on St. Christopher”

12. “Innocent When You Dream (Barroom)”

13. “Yesterday is Here”

14. “Way Down in the Hole”

15. “Cold Cold Ground”

16. “Jesus Gonna Be Here”

17. “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up”

18. “T’ Ain’t No Sin”

19. “Hold On”

20. “House Where Nobody Lives”

21. “Misery is the River of the World”

22. “God’s Away on Business”

23. “Flowers Grave”

24. “Hoist That Rag”

25. “Chicago”