Here are my reviews and scores for July 2017 albums that I did not feature earlier.
Everything Now – Arcade Fire
Overall, as a simple work of music, it had respectable elements and a cohesion that made the listening experience not one done in vain. Regardless of their influence or sound, Arcade Fire is a very talented group of musicians that have a great grasp on the mechanisms of musical change and direction within a short song. Their harmonic progressions became the highlight, being the one element that consistently gave understandable and important motion. Other than that, while not necessarily sounding off or unpleasant, the musical layers, techniques, and purpose were noticeably weak. The melodic motives throughout the work were not very engaging or interesting, but they were used and delivered as if they were a momentous, gorgeous tour de force. They defined the work well, which is good in a sense but also unfortunately gave off lackluster character. Their final sound went a different route to achieve this same bleakness, being a neat experiment overall in acoustic and electric juxtaposition, but not sustaining any solid characterization or unique builds to give the “wow” factor they were trying for. The strong musical foundation was there, but no strong musical nuances sustained long enough to create anything of real substance. It’s got some cool moments, but lack of intent and strength was very disappointing, especially for perhaps the most musically ingenious rock band of our generation.
Final Score: 126/180
Hug of Thunder – Broken Social Scene
Sonically, this album showed great consistency of light but strong electric guitar and nice proportionate use of accentuating synthesizers. It came to be a simple modern rock sound that permeated the album and gave off a cool feel with a nice pinch of quirkiness. There weren’t any amazing standouts in the songwriting, with the breaking down of the verse-chorus form from time to time being the only truly exciting moments in the work. Still, there was some small growth in musical interest throughout with a couple of neat melodic shapes, although those could have been more consistently engaging than they were. This album just reaches the solidity rank with its consistent smooth rock feel and overall creativity in form and harmonic progressions. No home runs, but no wavering of quality.
Final Score: 131/180
Sacred Hearts Club – Foster the People
For a group of musicians that have leaned heavily on their melodic intrigue to give worth to their music throughout their career, they sure did swing and miss on a lot of these songs. With the boring pacing of lines and lack of real activity, the melodies became too basic and uninvolved, especially when attempting a more hip-hop style. For the first half of the album, the irony of the song “Doing It for the Money” was quite apparent; their dull and copycat approach to the music sounded just like money was all they were after. The second half started quite promisingly with three songs in a row – “Static Space Lover”, “Lotus Eater”, and “Time to Get Closer” – that each had creative sparks in the musical layers and individualistic melodic shapes. It was nice that Foster the People didn’t quite leave their talent all the way out of this album, since they do have strong songwriting ability, but it certainly didn’t shine through this work. They couldn’t keep up their sparks of ingenuity by the end. Their experimentation with trying to create accessible pop/hip-hop failed, especially since they were never able to get away from their seemingly trademark high male voice, octave doubling choruses that never really made sense. Still, the trio had enough musicianship and wit to not completely crash and burn. While not quite visionaries, their musical layers were expressive enough as a whole to keep the album chugging along, and those aforementioned three songs were rather delightful and saved the work from being outright dismissive.
Final Score: 113/180
Something to Tell You – HAIM
This was an underwhelming, lackluster work for what it tried to accomplish. HAIM have had good success in the past with creating a fun, pseudo-1980’s dance atmosphere, but that doesn’t matter when evaluating this album. Instead of emulating a fun past, they emulated the dull present, with empty and somewhat whiny textures along with short and all too obvious pacing. The beats, which were the cornerstone of the music, had no real strength or personality to them. The chord progressions, while sensible, were dominated by plainness and were never very interesting. Again, the sound was too empty and unsubstantial to render any exciting emotions. With the overall sensibility and smoothness, though, this may have all been fine and good had there been some strong melodic catchiness. Only two songs had that, though: “Little of Your Love” and “Night So Long”. The rest of the album fell pretty flat, and while not dangerously intrusive, it shouldn’t be getting as much attention as it is. Its popularity is it’s saving grace, but that only lasts so long.
Final Score: 102/180
Soft Sounds from Another Planet – Japanese Breakfast
As expected by the album title, timbre and overall sonic experience was indeed the main focus throughout. The sound was soft to a degree, but always carried enough build and energy to render a distinct, understandable 12 song LP. The timbre never reached a height of true amazement, and it did give way a bit to typical short song conventions. That would’ve been quite a mistake had the songwriting itself been sluggish, but luckily we got well-formed and melodically interesting music to go along with the delicate sound. Only the first song, “Diving Woman”, had a truly captivating and charismatic melodic hook, though. The work’s downfall is the overall flat and uneventful harmonic structure. A faster harmonic rhythm or more colorful progressions could have given the music more depth, but the harmonies played little role in that regard. That’s not a huge loss, though, since the music is still quite fluid and accomplishes its sonic goals.
Final Score: 126/180
Lust For Life – Lana Del Rey
I’m not going to get carried away by the album’s production quality that tries to hide all imperfections; from a musical standpoint, this work is a huge letdown. Lana Del Rey, while a passionate and thoughtful musician, shows that she does not have the songwriting talent for her edgy, abstract ideas. She could not write a strong 3-5 minute song in 16 attempts, which to me was a puzzling way to present her musical work in the first place. In the midst of an attempt to create gracious, flowing, and nourishing music, there was always a repulsive four-chord progression that strangled the listener and never seemed to apologize for its existence. Such crude chord patterns went so far as to be insulting, particularly in the first half of the work. A few borrowed chords here and there in the second half gave off attempts at consolidating with the listener’s longing (if there is any left by then), but a lack of anything other than quarter note rhythms really dampened the whole experience. Her melodic lines were not as much of a disaster, since most of them had good direction and purpose, but only a few were actually shaped well enough to garner emotion, and none of them were overwhelmingly compelling or interesting. Surrounding all of this was a lot of empty space and sound disguised as stylish but actually quite bleak. From uninteresting harmonic synthesizers to simple drum machine beats to string parts easy enough for a grade school, the sound was more of a hindrance than an appeal. She does have a soothing voice that carried through the music well, and the music always had important room to breathe and sound together. It’s a bit relaxing and had good moments of repose, but she has lots to work on in order to create something of real worth. She shouldn’t be getting the huge amount of attention she has right now. Don’t fool yourself by listening to this album just because you think it’s the cool thing to do. It’s not.
Final Score: 86/180
A Black Mile to the Surface – Manchester Orchestra
This is a nice example of careful, congenial, and sensible songwriting while stringing together a pleasant 50 minutes of music. Their overall tameness was met with strong musical decisions on melodic shape and harmonic motion. There was a lot of great chord patterns and progressions that came about from simple 3 or 4 chord structures, which heightened the drive and worked well with the musical intent. While mostly playing it safe in their small acoustic textures, those too worked very well in giving off singular musical intention. The melodies were a little goofy and cheap at times but always provided something a latch onto and left a nice impact. Their biggest improvement could be to give timbre a more dominant and driving role, as they did with the opening song “The Maze”, which many others today have found at least some sort of success in doing.
Final Score: 136/180
Mura Masa – Mura Masa
Although a self-titled work labeled as a singular artist, there were noticeably lots of hands involved in stirring this pot, and it resulted in more of a confusing wash of intentions rather than a cohesive album. The heavy usage of the steel drum, marimba, and hand held percussion, obviously evoking a relaxed Caribbean-like style, was a big letdown due to its lack of refine and overall sameness throughout the whole work. The timbre was only capable of giving off one character, which was not what the rest of the musical elements deserved or required. Everything seemed very small and petite for a work that seemed to want to find overwhelming groove. The melodic lines didn’t help by either being very plain or not used effectively enough within each song. They weren’t an abomination, though, and between the few melodic oddities and harmonic funkiness, there was a small dose of enjoyment.
Final Score: 92/180
Need To Feel Your Love – Sheer Mag
Sheer Mag certainly has cultivated their own version of simplistic, vintage rock n’ roll on all counts. This lends very well to writing these short, cool songs that are meant to ignite a substantial mood in a small amount of time. While using a lot of the same structural techniques in regards to form and harmonic palette from song to song, the clarity and playfulness of it was a real positive. There were lots of nice little nuances in the melodic shapes and harmonic rhythm that strengthened the music, but they were met with two broad negatives for this work. One is the rather shabby and unchanging timbre, which kept the constantly nice simple feel but sounded too cautious to re-create a sound rather than find something organic, especially in the vocal masking effects. The other is that nothing was done to make this aged kind of music feel special or significant in some way. It’s significance comes only from its solid use of already existing conventions, which is just enough for me.
Final Score: 130/180
Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator
Tyler, the Creator solidifies his moniker as being one of the more outspoken, fearless, and eccentric musicians today with this unique collection of songs. While his unabashed lyrical content and overall silliness in his creations may be his biggest pull, I’d like to bring up a more important point, which is his strong rapping ability. He’s got a great flow and is always looking to disrupt the beat in the smallest of ways to add importance and interest to his lines. Due to his great proficiency, this album lacked one critical component that would’ve made it much more worth the listen, which was the form of the songs. The songs kept Tyler off the mic too much by having the different sections ordered in nonsensical ways and adding lots of unneeded fluff from other rappers. It’s great that he has friends that want to collaborate with him, but the most interesting and successful part of the music did not get its deserving share. It’s what separated a good album from a solid one. There was still enough heavy creativity and interesting decisions around almost every corner to make this a fun listen. Always expect the unexpected with this guy.
Out in the Storm – Waxahatchee
This is the kind of sense within nuance that, when paired with a trained and resourceful musician, will create a solid listening experience every time. Katie Crutchfield, the one behind this project, is no doubt a talented songwriter that also has a keen ear for creating sonic space within playful instrumentation. Only a couple of songs failed to find the right amount of energy or melodic drive to sustain quality. Melody as a whole could have been given more prominence and more time to develop, because the few times it was really highlighted the work. This is a nice, realistic, and sonically pleasing album for anyone, even if nothing was ever pushed to the degree of being magical.
Final Score: 133/180