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Best New Albums

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The best new releases from Pitchfork, the most trusted voice in music.
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(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket

19 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

In a sense, singer/songwriter Alex Giannascoli is the modern ideal for an indie rock throwback. The frequent comparisons with Elliott Smith or Sparklehorse are legitimate, but mostly regarding his recording process: Every production decision—whether double-tracking vocals or close-mic’ing the guitars—creates the assumption of intimacy, recalling an earlier time when instrumental or monetary limitations necessitated ingenuity. But he records on a laptop rather than a 4-track, and he was an early example of a songwriter leveraging a strong Bandcamp presence into a deal with a high-profile imprint, in his case, Domino. Beach Music, his first album for his new label, was a gorgeous and puzzling release that gained esteem throughout 2015, but it seemed determined to offer continuity with his scruffy early work rather than to serve as any kind of break out. Rocket, a record that first feels oddly soldered together, is in a sense the album that Beach Music wanted to be, the most comprehensive and accessible document of a diffuse catalog.

Even the newfound stylistic hooks here are slippery things. Singles “Proud” and “Bobby” are rootsy in an unfamiliar way—there’s twang, fiddle, yearning harmonies, a duet with fellow Philadelphian singer/songwriter Emily Yacina, and the broad influence of Lucinda Williams. Otherwise, Rocket’s Americana is cobbled together from the junkyards scoured by experimentalists like Califone; “Poison Root” and “Alina” in particular imagine if “The Orchids” spawned an entire subgenre of backwoods psychedelia. There’s some eyebrow-raising Auto-Tune on the queasy piano ballad “Sportstar” and “Brick” is a welcome reminder of the evocative, hard-edged screams of his live show, though the overall experience is a little like hearing a Show Me the Body gig from outside the venue.

Though the sonic diversions on Rocket are the most ephemeral draws, they provide immediate access points and a means of providing distance from a simple archetype. Both Alex G’s falsetto and the cocktail jazz arrangement of “County” obscure how its title references a gnarly prison scene. The narrator, “locked up for nothing/stealing or something” sits next to bloody wall, courtesy of a seemingly quiet kid who swallowed two bags of heroin and a razor blade. “Hey, why don’t you write that into a song/Your fans will dig that,” an officer snarks after Alex sings, “See, I got stories.” It’s unclear whether “see” is meant as an interjection or a response to the prevailing image of him as someone who goes out of his way to deflect any sort of attention or self-disclosure. How would your opinion of Alex G change if “County” was about him? Entire album narratives have been framed on lesser stories.

It’s unclear how much of Rocket is autobiographical—the closer one leans into these songs, the more they confound the first assumption. “Proud” and “Sportstar” can be instantaneously read as rock ‘n’ jock archetypes if that’s what you want to use them for. When “I wanna be a star like you/Wanna make something that’s true” becomes, “I wanna be a fake like you” on “Proud,” it’s easy enough to take Alex G literally considering his touchy relationship with the press. But it’s just as likely that he’s being sarcastic, maybe about himself, maybe about the truthful nature of alt-country. That might initially seem the case when he sings, “Let me play on your team/I’m clean” on “Sportstar,” but every seemingly plainspoken lyric thereafter takes on a tone of anger, then self-hatred and emotions that are much more unsettling (“In the back of my car/Could you hit me too hard?/You’re scarred”) for their inability to be defined or described.

Rocket isn’t unknowable or obtuse, just indirect—more willing to get under the skin or tug on an ear than hit directly on the nose. This kind of purposeful restraint can feel damn near novel in the current day, as efforts to illuminate the artistic process becomes its own kind of oppression—so many of Alex G’s peers feel the need to issue statements outlining the meaning behind any given song and album releases feel like the endpoint of an exhausting cycle of content creation rather than a start of a meaningful relationship. “The reason you enjoy music is because of its unlimited potential, the inability to really understand it,” he offered in a recent interview, and that’s projection to a certain degree. Sometimes, there really is no substitute for the revelations that come when an artist unlocks the mysteries of their work. But it’s certainly the reason why Rocket feels like one of the year’s most endlessly generous records, as Alex G’s restraint is our gift that keeps on giving.

Categoria: Rock news

Jlin: Black Origami

18 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

Jlin’s relationship with genre has always been complicated. For as long as she has been recording, the Gary, Ind. producer has been associated with footwork, the hyperactive post-house music spawned alongside the equally chaotic competitive dance style popular in neighboring Chicago. Superficially, the affiliation makes sense. She counts both footwork godfather RP Boo and its most revered son, the late DJ Rashad, among her mentors and made her earliest appearance on the second installment of Planet Mu’s genre-survey Bangs & Works. But she built these ties at a distance; not from weekend road trips into Chicago but from hand-me-down juke tapes and, later, through Myspace messages and extended phone conversations with her influences.

This is, of course, a uniquely 21st-century phenomenon: an artist situating themselves at the center of a culture, particularly such a socially oriented one, from the comfort of their bedroom. And this outsider/insider contradiction has long been a source of power for Jlin, giving her the means to master the tools of this potent style while still operating without any obligation to its conventions. On Dark Energy, her 2015 debut, this meant stripping footwork’s stuttered-triplet-everything model down to its skeleton and draping it in frigid industrial textures; her day job at a steel mill provided critics with a too-perfect shorthand for the project’s brutalist impulses. The follow-up, Black Origami, is more difficult to define, moving further away from footwork’s literal sonic qualities while reclaiming and amplifying the genre’s already imposing physicality.

Black Origami is a gorgeous and overwhelming piece of musical architecture, an epic treatise on where rhythm comes from and where it can go. The lone ping-pong synth squiggle that opens the album on its title track is misdirection because the 40-some minutes that follow are nearly absent of melody. It’s all perpetually escalating polyrhythmic tension, a time-stopping barrage of drum rolls and disembodied angelic voices. The only moments of calm come in the milliseconds of silence between songs.

Like her juke and footwork predecessors, Jlin tends to favor the stock digital sounds of ’90s drum machines to the warmer analog kits of the ’80s or the mutated grandchildren thereof, which now dominate contemporary urban/electronic music. This only adds to the disorienting effect of the record’s intensity, as there is nothing quite like being pummeled by hyper-vivid clavs and shakers grown in the heart of the uncanny valley. This creates a certain grace to this chaos. It’s not dance music per se, at least not in the way footwork originally was—it’s also not not dance music the way the gulps of 808 move against the many polyrhythms of “Nyakinyua Rise.” The martial undercurrent to the record builds from cross-firing drum lines and drill whistles, battle cries and elephant roars. It's like Jlin is less interested in violence than she is the precise motion and strategy of warfare. (This, too, might be read as a nod back to the battle elements of footwork.)

As listeners of electronic music have become so closely attuned to its many shifting micro-genres, their natural inclination may be to decode and map out these many moving parts. Fans of contemporary club music might try to situate it in the context of not just footwork but the similarly charged movements currently happening in Lisbon or Durban. Those more closely attuned to avant-garde corners of the electronic music world could invoke the data-dense sputtered beat structures of Autechre or Ikue Mori’s experiments in teasing humanity out of canned drum machines. An ear more rooted in traditional music might catch the strands of drum corps and school bands (c.f. the marching snares “Hatshepsut”), tribal seances, and gamelan ensembles.

The wonderful thing about Black Origami is that it’s all of these things and none of them at once. It’s a rhythm-spanning collection of contradictions and colliding worlds—the intensity of social music refracted through an introverted mind, the physical converted into digital and back again, the past told through future music and vice versa—all making the case that rhythm is too infinite, too forceful to be reduced to mere utilitarian functions. It denies listeners the question of, “What do I do with this music?” and forces them to react directly to what it does to them. It’s a pure exercise in sound-as-power, music that has no specific agenda beyond simply making itself felt.

Categoria: Rock news

Girlpool: Powerplant

12 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

Outside of their native Los Angeles DIY scene, Girlpool first became known for eerie nursery rhymes about standing up to slutshaming and getting eaten out to American Beauty. Still teenagers, the best friend duo of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad spoke bluntly in dull-knife harmonies and punk primitivism. It was the power of small sounds taking hold. By the arrival of their debut 2015 full-length, Before the World Was Big, their songwriting had turned towards introspection—being young but feeling old, brimming over with equal parts hope and fear, and simply marveling at (to borrow a phrase) how strange it is to be anything at all. With just a guitar, a bass, and two voices, there wasn’t a single place to hide in their music.

Though the intensity of Tucker and Tividad’s bond has always seemed bigger than some percussion and feedback, Girlpool have properly beefed up their sound, recently adding drummer Miles Wintner. In turn, their sophomore LP Powerplant sounds a little more like everyone else, echoing second-wave emo sourness (“Your Heart”), Britpop jangle (“She Goes By”), and classic alt-rock loud-quiet-loudness throughout. But Tucker and Tividad are wise enough not to abandon what makes them distinct—that unsettling magic that exists between them when they sing, the harmonic equivalent of The Shining’s Grady twins. Breeders songs would highlight Kim and Kelley Deal’s telepathic harmonies but were rarely mixed to sound as though the compositions revolved around the voices. Girlpool have fleshed out the music but thankfully, the voice in all its vulnerable forms still sits center stage.

Under the cover of noise, Tucker and Tividad are more comfortable indulging their poetic inclinations. On Before the World Was Big, they would often pair an abstract scene or turn of phrase with tiny mantras (“Do you feel restless when you realize you're alive?” goes their best), before peppering the whole thing with their friends’ names or other lyrical tchotchkes. The proper names and loose imagery remain, but now Girlpool’s lyrics feel less tangible out the gate. The text feels more open to interpretation like, “I know I’m the weekend selling Sunday morning” (from “Kiss and Burn”). Clever one-liners still pop—from, “I’ve had crumbs in a bag in my pocket all week,” on “Corner Store” to, “I faked global warming just to get close to you,” on “It Gets More Blue”—but there’s fewer of them, devoid of Girlpool’s more dogmatic or revealing sensibilities early on.

Certainly there’s less pressure now to hang a song on their lyrics alone. Yet the emotion evoked by their spare words is like crystal behind the fingerpicking that shifts to sludgy feedback, piano lines that add cheery bursts, and drums that fill in around a feast of vocal dissonance. Lead single “123” takes hold about a minute in when Tucker and Tividad start shouting their lines, but it’s a slight drum roll that builds up the stunning, swirling tension just beforehand. “Soup” is the album’s best example of a song that wouldn’t have worked nearly as well on Before the World Was Big; it likely would have been little more than deadpan vocals rising slightly over the course of two minutes, before retreating back to a hopeless whisper about how it turns out life can be a lot. But here when they hit the climax, the guitar lines drop out as they shout, “Can you feel it?” Immediately afterward, a surge of distortion basically answers the question.

In obvious ways, Girlpool’s world has gotten bigger with Powerplant. But the thing about growing up is that the overflowing possibility of it all can make you burrow deeper into personal crevasses, forcing you to consider what you really care about. No longer teenagers, Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad seem no less overwhelmed by the world, but their methods for coping have changed. Noise can help. So can a little opacity. What Girlpool seem to crave is a moment just to be, together. “Tell me you are here/I hope I’ll find you/Static somewhere,” Cleo and Harmony sing as the album closes, their voices finally in clear harmony.

Categoria: Rock news

Slowdive: Slowdive

8 Mai 2017 - 8:00am

Nature metaphors come so readily to mind when listening to shoegaze—clouds, stars, skies, storms, oceans, whirlwinds, maelstroms—that it’s easy to believe that, like the weather it evokes, it just sort of happens. Invest in the right guitar pedals, put the right breathy spin on your vocals, and bam—instant Loveless, or close enough to fool a stoned and heartsick teenager. It’s as easy as walking out your front door and letting the spring air greet you.

For some bands that may well be all there is to it. But song by song, moment by moment, sometimes even note by note, Slowdive do it better. There’s nothing elaborate in the bassline for “Slomo,” the opening track of their first album in 22 years, given the thick bed of guitars it bounces on. Just seven notes, the sixth of which leaps unexpectedly up an octave instead of continuing the bassline’s descent. Or at the end of “Slomo,” when Rachel Goswell’s voice pulls off a similar trick, first when she takes over lead vocals from Neil Halstead, then when she starts singing them at the very top of her register. At the end of “Go Get It,” Halstead sings two different lyrics laid on top of one another simultaneously, like his conversation with Goswell is over and now he's talking to himself.

In a genre beloved for its comfortable reliability, all it takes are these small but striking detours to remind us that this glorious noise is the work of human hands and the skill that move them. If there’s a story to Slowdive—the band’s return to active recording together after decades of slowly mounting critical and audience acclaim—beyond the human-interest angle of the return itself, the swerves in the songcraft tell it: This is an album as thoughtful as it is beautiful.

You can hear the attention to detail even in the album’s most conventionally pop songs. Knockout single “Sugar for the Pill” and “No Longer Making Time” share a similar structure, matching a loping alt-rock bassline with high arpeggiated guitar. But the differences that emerge within that framework are fascinating. “Sugar” avoids the go-for-the-throat, quiet-loud-quiet format which “No Longer” embraces, opting instead for a subdued sophistipop chorus that matches the resignation of its central lyric: “You know it’s just the way things are.” The latter song may lack the former’s restraint, but it makes up for it with the tightest, loveliest vocal harmonies on the album from singer-guitarists Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell, plus a fake-out finale that reintroduces the opening riff so deftly you’ll wonder if you hit repeat by accident.

Drummer Simon Scott, returning to the fold for the first time on record since 1993’s shoegaze opus Souvlaki, emerges as a key element not just for the songs’ drive, but of their texture. On “Slomo,” “No Longer Making Time,” and “Go Get It,” he provides not so much a backbeat as a frontbeat, a sound to be reckoned with, not taken for granted. Scott also helped create the vocal and piano loops that comprise “Falling Ashes,” the album’s closer; the repetition transforms Halstead and Goswell’s refrain of “Thinkin’ about love” from soggy sentiment into something that actually forces you to think about love as you listen. Even when Scott plays a more traditional role, as with the martial tempo he provides for the opening minute of “Don’t Know Why,” he’s apt to shift the rhythm beneath the Halstead/Goswell/Christian Savill guitars in unpredictable ways.

Slowdive offers maximum-volume shoegaze too, better than the band ever has before. Lead single “Star Roving” lives up to its interstellar title with easily the largest, most high-velocity guitar attack in the group’s discography. “Go Get It” is even better: a wet hot summer groove with a savagely flashy riff to match Halstead and Goswell’s back-and-forth chorus of “I wanna see it/I wanna feel it.” The words evoke Iggy and the Stooges’ “Gimme Danger” in how they can be interpreted as a quest for spiritual, psychological, or sexual transcendence, depending on your mood. An album this consistently shifty and surprising will likely hit three buttons at some point or other.

About a quarter-century removed from the “The Scene That Celebrates Itself” and the music press that made it infamous, Slowdive reveals what a Slowdive free of that pressure can do. The result isn’t the youthful explosion of their first full-length Just for a Day, nor the polished shot at success of Souvlaki, nor the thrillingly reactionary minimalism of Pygmalion. It’s the work of a band that reformed and recorded by choice, at their own pace, bringing the accrued experience of their entire adult lives to bear on music made outside the crucible for the very first time; no wonder the album, like their debut EP, is self-titled. So forget the weather imagery. Slowdive doesn’t make it look easy. It makes it look hard. Creating music this great almost always is.

Categoria: Rock news