Album Review: I’ll Be Your Girl by The Decemberists


AlbumI’ll Be Your Girl
Artist: The Decemberists
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Once In My Life
  • Severed
  • Everything is Awful

Thoughts:

Of the two albums by bands I really like released this week, I didn’t expect to like The Decemberists more than Yo La Tengo, but I do.  Sometimes a band goes for a new sound, and in this case The Decemberists go for several sounds from 80s synthpop to a Laurel Canyon, but overall there’s a much more electric sizzle compared with the acoustic folk sound of previous albums.  Like any album of 2018, the lyrics have more of a political bent as well.

Rating: ***1/2

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Album Review: All Nerve by The Breeders


AlbumAll Nerve
Artist:The Breeders
Release Date: March 2, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Nervous Mary
  • Spacewoman
  • Dawn: Making an Effort

Thoughts:

The Breeders’ Last Splash is a masterpiece of 1990s rock music.  All Nerve is the first album with the same personnel that made Last Splash, and sounds very much like a follow-up if you ignore the 25 years and 2 albums with different lineups in the interim.  I find the album hit or miss, but The Breeders definitely have an energy and talent on display that show they’re still a vital band, especially compared with the blah Pixies album released a few years back.

Rating: ***

Album Review: There’s a Riot Going On by Yo La Tengo


AlbumThere’s a Riot Going On
Artist: Yo La Tengo
Release Date: March 16, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Shades of Blue
  • Above the Sound
  • Forever

Thoughts:

Even as a diehard Yo La Tengo fan, I felt apprehensive that their new album is named identically to a classic Sly & The Family Stone album.  Having listened to it, I suspect this is the quietest riot ever.  I enjoy Georgia Hubley or Ira Kaplan singing quietly over a guitar or piano track, but previous Yo La Tengo albums always mixed in some rave-ups with the gentler stuff.  This is not a protest album so much as a retreat from the horrors of the present day.  I think this album will grow on me with more listens, but I don’t think it will ever live up to the statement made by its title and the history contained within it.

Rating: ***

Monthly Mixtape – March 2018


Hot songs spinning in my ears over the past month.

Courtney Barnett – “Nameless, Faceless”

Femi Kuti – “One People One World”

Jorge Elbrecht – “Here Lies (Feat. Tamaryn)”

Orquesta Akokan– “Mambo Rapidito”

Khruangbin – “Maria También”

Hollie Cook – “Stay Alive”

 

Previous Mixtapes:

Album Review: Cocoa Sugar by Young Fathers


Album: Cocoa Sugar
Artist: Young Fathers
Release Date: March 9, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Fee Fi
  • In My View
  • Turn
  • Tremelo
  • Wow
  • Wire

Thoughts:

Critics call the music of the Scottish trio Young Fathers genre-defying, or that Young Fathers are their own genre, and I’ve seen the music of Cocoa Sugar described as art-rap or rap deconstruction.  Whatever you call it, Cocoa Sugar is an excellent collection of dense, lo-fi, rock/rap/electronic folk music.  Take a listen and discover it for yourself.

Rating: ****

Album Review: Clean by Soccer Mommy


AlbumClean
Artist: Soccer Mommy
Release Date:  March 2, 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Your Dog
  • Last Girl

Thoughts:

Next to the album title Clean in my music streaming service is the letter “E” for explicit, the first sign that this album is not Clean at all.  The next thing that is not as it seems is that Soccer Mommy is the stage name of 20 year old singer/songwriter Sophie Allison, who almost certainly does not have children of soccer playing age.  Her music is largely introspective pop, a  gentle voice accompanied by guitar.  The lyrics are thoughtful and mature, but the music doesn’t do much for me as it sounds like something I’ve heard a thousand times before.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: What a Time to Be Alive by Superchunk


AlbumWhat a Time to Be Alive
Artist: Superchunk
Release Date: 2018 February 16
Favorite Tracks:

  • “What a Time to Be Alive”
  • “Reagan Youth”
  • “Break the Glass”

Thoughts:

Superchunk is a band I’ve been aware of since the 1990s, but never got around to listening to them.  When I heard positive reviews of their new album full of protest music, I decided I should check it out.  The sound is clearly very 90s, jangly indie-pop, which is good if you like that style and are feeling nostalgic, not so much if you like hearing musical styles grow and evolve.  The album is short, the band is tight and the lyrics are pointed, making it both breezy and angry.  Superchunk is at it’s best on a track like “Reagan Youth,” both a tribute to the 80s punk band and a recognition of what’s become of the youth who grew up under Reagan. Maybe not the great protest album of our time, but definitely worth a listen.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Little Dark Age by MGMT


Album: Little Dark Age
ArtistMGMT
Release Date: 2018 February 9
Favorite Tracks:

  • Little Dark Age
  • Me and Michael
  • One Thing Left to Try

Thoughts:

Little Dark Age sounds like it was recorded in 1985 and has been sitting in a vault all these years to finally be released.  You could find it on the shelf somewhere between Orchestral Maneuvers in the Dark and the Pet Shop Boys, and even the lyrics of songs like “She Works Out Too Much” sound like commentary on the 80s aerobic craze. The songs on this album are hit or miss, and it’s never going to live up to Oracular Spectacular, but it’s a fun pop confection.

Rating: ***

Album Review: Marble Skies by Django Django


AlbumMarble Skies
ArtistDjango Django
Release Date: 26 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • Marble Skies
  • Tic Tac Toe
  • Beam Me Up
  • In Your Beat

Thoughts:

England’s Django Django is reminiscent of late 60s pop and 80s New Wave synthpop and sometimes both at the same time. No matter what particular influence they’re working on they do a solid job interpreting it.  The enjoyable eclecticism makes it sound like a career-spanning compilation album, but remains surprisingly coherent musical journey.

Rating: ***1/2

Album Review: The Thread That Keeps Us by Calexico


Album: The Thread That Keeps Us 
Artist: Calexico
Release Date: 2018 January 26
Favorite Tracks: “Under the Wheels,” “Flores Y Tamales,” “Eyes Wide Awake,” and “Shortboard”
Thoughts:

Calexico is a band that’s been active for more than two decades, although I was not familiar with their work until I heard “Under the Wheels” and decided to check out the rest of the album.  As the name implies, this Arizona-based indie rock band takes inspiration from the borderlands between Mexico and the southwestern United States. Those aren’t their only influences though, as listening to this album I heard music similar to John Lennon’s solo work, the 1980s oeuvre of bands like U2 and Midnight Oil, and even surf rock.  The feel of the music is cinematic, painting pictures of the desert landscape and the people who inhabit.  Lyrically, the songs are topically relevant – perhaps gaining significance from our national political disorder – as border politics and wildfires color the stories of everyday people.

Rating: ***

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

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Album Review: SEMICIRCLE by The Go! Team


AlbumSEMICIRCLE
ArtistThe Go! Team
Release Date: 19 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:

  • The Semicircle Song
  • The Answer’s No — Now What’s the Question
  • She’s Got Guns

Thoughts:

The Go! Team is gimmick band that mixes together a late-60s pop/soul sound with samples of marching bands, cheerleader chants, and movie dialogue, among other things. But it’s a very good gimmick as they manage to once again produce a solid album of upbeat pop confection. Strange that this is released in January actually, as SEMICIRCLE is ripe to score the soundtrack of summer.

Rating: ***

Album Review: POST- by Jeff Rosenstock


Album: POST-
ArtistJeff Rosenstock
Release Date: 5 January 2018
Favorite Tracks:
Thoughts:

I’d never heard of Jeff Rosenstock but saw this new album getting excellent reviews, so I gave it a spin.  It’s technically proficient and the lyrics are thoughtful and depressing, but overall it just sounds to me like generic radio rock of the 70s & 80s.  I guess this is a case of your mileage may vary.

Rating: **1/2

Album Review: MASSEDUCTION by St. Vincent


AlbumMASSEDUCTION
ArtistSt. Vincent
Release Date: October 13, 2017
Favorite Tracks: none
Thoughts: I’m a longtime St. Vincent (aka Annie Clark) fan and have written about her on this blog many times, so I was eager to hear her fifth album.  Sadly, it’s a disappointment.  Supposedly this album is her attempt to move to a more pop-oriented sound, so naturally that would be alienating to a long-time fan.  But I don’t think it even succeeds as a pop album as there are no catchy hooks and the grim lyrics sound maudlin over the kitschy sound. St. Vincent’s music may be inaccessible to many, but this is the first time that I find it to be dull.  I can’t help but feel that there’s a message in the cover of the album where St. Vincent is mooning her audience.
Rating: **

Book Review: Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein


Author: Carrie Brownstein
Title:  Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
Narrator: Carrie Brownstein
Publication Info: Penguin Audio (2015)
Summary/Review:

I know Carrie Brownstein as a sometimes music critic on NPR’s All Songs Considered (as well as her work on Portlandia – a show I find only moderately funny) so I knew that her memoir of her life and work with the band Sleater-Kinney would be an interesting work.  Brownstein explores the effect of her childhood in which her mother suffered anorexia, her father repressed homosexuality, and Brownstein herself seeks to entertain as way of transforming the sadness around her.  A lot of this books is about identity and the Brownstein analyzes her own   search for identity in raw detail.  The music of Sleater-Kinney is similar in its naked emotion and self-expression and Brownstein details the autobiographical detail that went into that songs.  Sleater-Kinney also had to deal with the typecasting and prejudice of being an all-woman band, when Brownstein wants people to recognize them as simply a great rock band.  Brownstein also relates her own struggles touring with the band that resulted in anxiety and physical illness.  This a very honest and introspective addition to the rock memoir oeuvre.

Rating: ***1/2

Music Discoveries: The New Pornographers


The New Pornographers are described as a Canadian superband because all the members were assembled by A.C. Newman from various other bands and solo projects.  To be honest, I know nothing of the works of Newman and the other band members outside of The New Pornographers, with the exception of Neko Case who I’ve been a fan of for some time (I even saw her in concert!). Perhaps I should do a future Music Discovery to listen to their music in other bands. When they come together they create a somewhat folky power pop music with jangly sounds and powerful wall of instrumentation.  Reading reviews to prepare for this Music Discovery, I saw them compared with Roxy Music and Electric Light Orchestra (I don’t know these bands well, but what I do know doesn’t seem too similar to The New Pornographers).  The sound of the music reminds me of something I can’t quite place while also being very original.  Lyrically, the songs are very dense in wordcraft and can be open to many interpretations.

AlbumMass Romantic
Release date: November 21, 2000
Favorite tracks: “Mass Romantic,” “Letter from an Occupant,” and “To Wild Homes,”
Lyrics of Note:

Hope grows greener than grass stains – from “Centre for Holy Wars”

Thoughts: I had not previously listened to this album and it wast faster and more chaotic than I’m accustomed to from The New Pornographers. An exciting start to their career.
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumElectric Version
Release date:  May 6, 2003
Favorite tracks: “Chump Change,” “July Jones,” and “Miss Teen Wordpower”
Lyrics of Note:

Our words move aimlessly through
Empty city squares
Collecting into mobs and
Angry like their prayers
They breathe the air we
Fought to leave behind
This kind of blank adventure
Happens all the time
Because nobody knows the wreck of the soul
The way you do – from “Miss Teen Wordpower”

Thoughts: The band’s vocal harmonies and instrumentation are tightening.  Lyrically, many of the songs seem to be criticism of the music business and of the United States’ post-September 11th war policies.  Or maybe both at the same time?
Rating: ***1/2


AlbumTwin Cinema
Release date: August 23, 2005
Favorite tracks: “The Bleeding Heart Show.,” “Jackie, Dressed in Cobras,” and “Sing Me Spanish Techno,”
Lyrics of Note:
Thoughts:  These are very tuneful songs with tight harmonies. I love the ‘hey-la’ fadeout on “The Bleeding Heart Show” and the vocal effects/edits on “Falling Through Your Clothes” sound very cool. The band is  branching out into more musically adventurous territory than the previous two albums.
Rating: ****


Album: Challengers
Release date: August 21, 2007
Favorite tracks: “My Rights Versus Yours,” “Challengers,” “Myriad Harbor,” “Unguided,” “Go Places,”  and “Mutiny, I Promise You”
Lyrics of Note:

The new empire in rags
The truth in one free afternoon – from “My Rights Versus Yours”

In every story, every secret told
You are not the first to wake up
To learn your lines before you have the part
You woke up early and you woke up torn
You’re the temporary border
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

You spun chapter into rapture there
Yeah, you were as brave as traffic
You chased the spotlight into her arms
And you forgot that you could fight
But not that you were still the person sleeping
The heat wave humming in the house of cards

A play for the girl, a cross for a hook, sinking into the greasy wonder
Under the sea, walking the floor, over the waves that we lived under

Something’s unguided in the sky tonight
There is something unguided in the sky – from “Unguided”

Thoughts: This is the album I’m most familiar with. It features big bold sounds and provocative lyrics. “Challengers” is the most amazingly constructed song.
Rating: ****


AlbumTogether
Release date:  May 4, 2010
Favorite tracks: “The Crash Years, “My Shepherd,” and “Daughters of Sorrow”
Lyrics of Note:

The ruins were wild
The ruins were wild
Tonight will be an open mic – from “The Crash Years”

Glasswork shards decorate this house
We’re tossing lost arts out windows
The splash and jangle of a secret science defined
You claim some golden age is upon us – from “My Shepherd”

Thoughts: After a decade together, The New Pornographers sound more like a unified band than a collection of individual talents (apropos of the title Together). Ironically, there are a lot of guest musicians on this album, including the horn section from The Dap Kings who had a new sound.  Overall this album feels less energetic than its predecessors.
Rating: ***1/2


Album Brill Bruisers
Release date: August 26, 2014
Favorite tracks: “Brill Bruisers,” “Born With a Sound,” “Dancehall Domine,” and “Spidyr”
Lyrics of Note:

They say we can’t make this stuff up,
But what else could we make? – from “Marching Orders”

I had a sound in my head
But I couldn’t find the words
To get it out
Now I know love is the way
Get it out – from “Born With a Sound’

Thoughts:  I didn’t like that title track at first, but it grew on me and now I love it.  Hearing the song broken down on The Song Exploder helped change my mind. The album feels celebratory.  Singles like “Brill Bruisers” and “Dancehall Domine” feel like they could’ve been on a previous album, but much of the rest of this album sounds like it was recorded in the 1980s with swirling New Wave sounds and electronic tones.  I like that sound a lot.
Rating: ****


So there is my quick journey into the discography of The New Pornographers.  What do you think of this band?

If I keep things together, next Wednesday I will publish my thoughts on the work of Icelandic post-rock band Sigur Rós.

 

 


Song of the Week: “Yeah, I’m Okay With My Shit Life” by Bethlehem Steel


Don’t read too much into this, but I feel this song speaks to me right about now.

Bethlehem Steel is band All Songs Considered describes as “shrug rock.”  Despite the name, they’re not from Pennsylvania, but based in Brooklyn.  The song is “Yeah, I’m Okay With My Shit Life.”

Enjoy!