Here are my reviews and scores for September 2017 albums that I did not feature earlier.
Antisocialites – Alvvays
This is a complete delight in so many ways, starting with the fact that the band knocked it out of the park with nearly every melodic line. In modern times, experimenting with timbre to discover something new and fresh has become the main focus for most musicians due to its recent discoveries and the overall desire to be pioneers. Music as an art doesn’t necessarily confine to those humanistic wishes, though, and this album is a good example of that. The huge dependency and ultimate success on melodic shape and delivery proved vital, and also gave every other musical layer a boost due to its sharp prominence so that nothing ever needed to pick up any slack. While timbre is obviously important and has given a platform for strong artistry and musical direction in recent years, it’s nevertheless the melody that holds the most influence within a musical structure and the most power to make or break a song. When everything is this fun, tuneful, and memorable, then supposed cultural importance or timeliness should easily take a backseat. Beyond the melodic successes, the harmony certainly held its own and, more importantly, drove several songs to a full extent of fascination through slightly shifting patterns and strong landings on surprising yet functional chords. This was evident in the songs “Plimsoll Punks”, “Your Type” and “Hey”. This was simply some of the best songwriting I’ve heard all year. That left the timbre without anything huge to do expect to accent the important moments and carry a light energized sound, which it certainly did throughout. The timbre was what could’ve improved the most, though, as it never quite reached to provide hugely invigorating moments, especially when the voice cut out, and the synthesizers that provided the basis sometimes got a bit too bright and screechy. There wasn’t enough consistent brilliance to achieve greatness, with a couple of songs unable to match the melodic delight or overall intent of the work, but a few others were absolutely magnificent. This was very well done, and if Alvvays can put a little more meaning and care into their sound going forward, they could end up being one of this generation’s best.
Final Score: 143/180
Dedicated to Bobby Jameson – Ariel Pink
In its soft experimentation and subtle expressiveness, this album had just enough intriguing passages to be considered successful and a pleasing listen. With the timbre taking center stage and driving the main interest points of the music with neat, broad electronic sounds, it left little room for faltering or weakness in the melodic or harmonic layers, since on average they were given little room within each song and had to match this sort of dreamy, delicate atmosphere. For the most part, they certainly did so, along with being interesting and fun to listen to. The melodies were especially successful at finding good appropriate shape and pace throughout, doing a lot with a little. “Bubblegum Dreams” was the obvious melodic highlight, but other songs also found strong melodic shapes while maintaining a little more integrity in sound and delivery, such as in “I Wanna Be Young” and “Kitchen Witch”. An odd aspect about all this was, at times, the in your face and unique timbre was overshadowed by these small yet delightful musical shapes. The timbre was quite always the focal point, yet was never amazing enough to the point of dominance. It did certainly carry the most nuances and experimentation than the other elements, and in the end the sound was ultimately able to rebound after a few flat experiments and become just as beneficial to the music as everything else was. While there were no riveting or memorable moments, this was a smooth, consistent, and pleasing work created by a quality musician who knows what it takes to be successful.
Final Score: 135/180
Hiss Spun – Chelsea Wolfe
The stylistic organization of this album, from certain lyrical motives to ebbs and flows of textural density to the connective use of the guitar, was perhaps the only consistently strong aspect about this work. The album flowed quite well without any awkwardness or hiccups in presentation, but the execution of conveying worthwhile emotion through musical substance was not at a high level. The sound was captivating at times, especially in the louder head banging moments where passion and freedom were powerfully conveyed. It mostly lacked finesse, though, without any real surprise after a while as the texture changes became expected and no strong instrument to accentuate the more open, spatial moments. The sound building tactics came to be rather dull by the end. While there were a couple of nice melodic lines that provided a dosage of pleasantry and allure, as in the song “Particle Flux”, they never had any consistent form or strong development, being only small bright spots that came and went amidst a confusing wash. The melodies were never too trite or annoying, but most of them lacked any sense of direction or emotional pull, sometimes just aimlessly wavering between two or three notes, which was more self-serving in emotion than an actual captivating portrayal. The harmonic layers really sunk this album the most, from boring progressions that were too static and emphasized tonic to creating an odd void of direction where everything seemed to stop and lie down, which in this instance had no positive impact on the music. The whole composition was interesting to a degree, and despite the emotions being more self-serving than actually conveyed, the unity and general creativity of musical decisions accounted for some small delight. Still, the constant weak and light voice, the lack of strong harmonic movement, and the overall inability to stretch the imagination with their musical execution left this work to be rather boring.
Final Score: 98/180
Luciferian Towers – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
This album shows the real importance of having strong linear motion and musical organization, as loose and disguised as it may be, when sonic experimentation is the dominant priority. These musicians made it clear right off the bat that this music’s most prominent and unique aspect would be the way in which they experimented with different ways of treating familiar acoustic sounds, such as a string orchestra, and in turn creating a new, unheard of sonic atmosphere. The fact that they consistently succeed in creating a beautiful stretched ambience that also gave the music shape in its dynamics and layering made this some neat, worthwhile music. While timbre was the strongest element and gave the most meaning to the music, the real kicker as to how this stacks up within the entire music world is not in the sound alone. It becomes its own honorable charismatic work by the melodic organization and the overall enticing movement of the supporting layers. The album actually contains an outright melodic motive that first comes in at the end of the opening song and slowly pops up through the work. While it doesn’t have an overwhelmingly powerful line or development, the fact that this large, timbre based work could be tied together by a single, recognizable motive was quite enjoyable. Only in a couple of spots did linear motion become lost and overcome by a wash of less interesting color, which, along with a lack of approachableness, made this work fail to achieve greatness. Mostly, though, the melodic layer was the clinching factor to making this an awesome listen. Every song had one sustaining melodic loop, and its change signaled the change in song. That is very risky to do, but every line ended up with enough cool nuance and good shape to keep attention and allow the music to develop in other ways. It was almost like a double negative: to have no melodic development was actually crucial in the direction and purpose of the music. It was a wonderful job by this group to create a work so connected and well organized within a massive, experimental sound. Everyone with an open mind can surely find some joy in this.
Final Score: 142/180
Wonderful Wonderful – The Killers
Fresh, unique, radical, and forward thinking would not be adjectives to describe this album, but they are not used to describe musical quality or worth, either. Broad, dynamic, powerful, and stimulating are adjectives that much better describe it, and they also play a big part determining the quality of the music. The tactics of using funky sine wave synths as the harmonic conveyer, vocals that stretch the range, and textural builds within verse-chorus forms are nothing new. What matters is how they’re executed in order to give off intent and tap into real emotion. The Killers did amazingly well at this overall, as they always have. I was biting my nails a bit after the first song, the album’s title track, which wasn’t very compelling in its composition and included several odd, awkward ideas within the melodic layer despite an overall neat sound. Then, the switch came on and the songwriting became much more genuine and understandable, which for this band meant some outright fun and enjoyable music. Those aforementioned basic tactics carry no weight as ideas themselves; they only came across as successful decisions because of the wonderful songwriting structures, all held together by riveting melodies that grabbed attention, provided energy through each song, and made the music meaningful. With strong melodies like this, the lyrics could really be about anything, as evidenced by the seemingly weird yet ultimately great song about a boxing match, “Tyson vs. Douglas”. Sure, there’s a reason behind every lyric on this album and intent surely comes across strong, but the real worth of this work is in the constant melodic intrigue paired with the exceptional uses of simple but exciting harmonic language. Top that off with a groovy, timeless, cool, and engaging sound, and this is an album that deserves to be listened to by everyone. Now, this might actually be the worst album The Killers have written, since none of their other work has really had such duds like “Wonderful Wonderful” and “The Calling”. But surely no one is basing his or her opinion of the work off of comparing it to the band’s discography, right? (That was sarcasm; for some reason many absent minded fans and critics do that.) I’m comparing it, loosely, to every single piece of music ever created, and with that, I deem it great.
Final Score: 147/180
Gemini – Macklemore
Deeper meaning and overall importance of the work was hard to come by due to the complete jumble and disorganization of the songs. This became quite a rollercoaster of a listen; no real consistency with any musical tactics, no real connectable traits, and lots of hitting and missing on different ideas. As an album, this was a rather weak presentation, but in separating the parts from the whole, we find that it wasn’t all done in vain. Surprisingly, in looking back, the album did have a bit of a pattern to it, but that pattern was made based on nothing more than the quality of musical traits from song to song. The first two songs, the three middle songs, and the last two songs all had a generally successful composition, led mostly by interesting chord progressions and coupled with flashes of cool melodic lines or a strong beat. The songs in-between these three peaks were noticeably weak. Again driven mostly by harmonic creativity, this is where Macklemore reverted to unbearably dull four chords or lame static motion that danced around a single note and became quite annoying. Apart from some wacky and surprisingly fun choruses, melody was the least successful element overall. While Macklemore sometimes found a good energetic flow or did well to bring out important lines, he was not that rhythmically prolific and used similar pacing and metric accents over and over again, which made me lose interest. His guests rarely did any better, some even dragging the song’s allure down by themselves with their own unpolished styles (Lil Yatchy, Abir). At first, I wasn’t a big fan of the piano prominence, since all it was doing was outlining harmony through blocked chords with nothing else supporting the musical drive. However, I actually came to miss it when it disappeared, since no other instrument took on the role of being the grounded harmonic provider. The timbre could have really used more exciting beats or support for the featured layer. Only the song “Church”, the best song on the album, had enough support and engagement from the background instrumental layers to be truly effective. This is not really a work to experience all the way through, but some songs are worthy enough for some attention. I’d lightly recommend the songs “Glorious”, “Firecracker”, and “Church” while staying far away from songs like “Marmalade”, ”Zara”, and “Corner Store”.
Final Score: 96/180
Every Country’s Sun – Mogwai
This album was rather one dimensional in its musical approach and seemed a bit too heavy on trying to fit a specific purpose. However, that purpose, being something one can effortlessly groove on without any strings attached, is done very well and certainly has merit in its own right. There were no hidden tricks or a need to ask questions, putting the interest level very much on the surface that anyone can understand and appreciate if they like loud jams. One positive is that it is easily well received for those who don’t feel the need to think about what they’re listening to, which is a good chunk of the population. Another plus is, by putting so much emphasis on the enveloping sound, this band really does create unique experience to go along with the effortless reception, since timbre is the most easily manipulative element in music today. The negatives of this stem from there being an imaginary ceiling in songwriting experimentation that the music never seemed to break through. Timbrally, I enjoyed the absence of vocals as being the primary melodic instrument, since that kept each sonic layer less separate in order to find cohesion and achieve a unified direction in sound. Melodically, though, the linear motion hardly ever had interesting shape or any grasping qualities, which was disappointing and responsible for the lulls in energy during the middle of the work. There was also no real engaging or compelling rhythmic drive, as most everything was in duple time with obvious metric accents. This resulted in an overall lack of drama, and the music stayed in one corner of comfort unable to break out. It’s a nice appealing corner to stay in, though.
Final Score: 128/180
Love What Survives – Mount Kimbie
The soundscape was key here, being the one true element of the music that had a stamp of individuality and pull. It mostly succeeded in creating very unique atmospheres within otherwise straightforward musical tactics. Some songs, like “Marilyn” and “We Go Home Together” were almost frighteningly interesting with their very odd yet somehow tranquil soundscapes that were familiar in a surprising way. Some of this music, with its groove involving nice percussion and uninvolved surface layers really did well to transport the listener to somewhere unique yet recognizable. That was the only major triumph of this work, and although a really cool one, it didn’t happen consistently enough to make this album more than a nice passing fancy. Overall, there was some respectable melodic shape and linear motion, which certainly improved in intrigue after rather lame song “Blue Train Lines” at the start, but they were mostly too meager given their place in the texture. They had a little too much of a spotlight on them and rarely delivered with anything compelling. I mostly enjoyed the unconventional forms within each song’s organization, but without anything really succeeding in the overall audacity of the work aside from the amusing instrumental combinations, it came to nothing much. You’ll enjoy this if you like your imagination to be stretched by familiar sound, which is very neat, but it has little worth beyond that.
Final Score: 121/180
Relatives in Descent – Protomartyr
There were lots of strong decisions and clear delivery of simple emotion through dynamic builds and smart contrasting sections. The creative decisions, however, only paid off in the second half of the album when there were more obvious sparks of ingenuity and the harmonic structures really locked in to become the magnetic pull for each song. There wasn’t an obvious switch in intent or tactics from the two halves, but there was a stark separation between them made by the levels of interest generated from harmonic development and timbral execution. A song like “The Chuckler” certainly didn’t lack expressiveness or experimentation, but those experiments just fell rather flat and produced nothing too engaging or powerful. Compare that to the song “Male Plague”, with successful experiments that produced a wonderfully interesting bassline, great texture shifts, cool harmonies, and overall fun atmosphere. Each song in the second half carried their own weight with enough power in the barebones structures to make this a memorable work. However, that didn’t quite happen overall. The shortcomings on this album, although in only one area, were a little more consistent. The melodic layer ultimately let this work down too much, making it settle among the good instead of the great. There were several times where I felt the solo vocal layer did more harm than good to the texture, being so prevalent yet so mundane and not giving any strong direction. With the heavy thought and experimentation that went into the rest of the music, the rather untouched vocals that carried the melody stuck out in a bad way. Some melodies had interesting rhythm or an understandable motive, but none were very noteworthy. They didn’t carry anything substantial, but they were at least congenial and reflected the overall simplicity of organization. The vocals did some damage to the timbre as well with their rough tone and lack of precision that the rest of the music had. The one consistent strength of this album was the use of the electric guitar. No matter what, it was engaging, powerful, and always appropriate in its basicness, which did well to cancel out the weaker pockets of sound. As a whole, this band really did all they could to create a solid work. If they can tweak their approaches to vocals, all they really need is more recognition and they’ll get there next time.
Final Score: 129/180
Native Invader – Tori Amos
What began as simply a veteran gem going through her motions and relying on effortless songwriting habits to share more music turned out to be a rather strong, powerful, and delightful listen due to the more thoughtful and successful tactics used by the end. Many of her melodies were rather modest and had a nice direct feel to them but lacked any important hook to really sell the meanings of each song. Melodic organization certainly improved as the album went on when the harmonic patterns became more interesting and provided a great dosage of energy and personality. The beautiful song “Breakaway” was the obvious turning point in the work to something more adventurous and complex, and aside from “Chocolate Song” the rest of the tracks after that really succeeded in the more intricate piano playing style and smart harmonic variety. The only consistent thing missing from the song structures was rhythm playing a vital role. The delivery within the understandable meters were certainly strong and well done, but there were times where changing up metric accents could have enhanced the general conveyance. The timbre stayed mostly safe and intelligent, with timely guitar entrances used as good transition points and the piano that fully delivered the strong harmonic language, although it had more nuance and exciting moments from one song to the next. Some of the louder, less involved jams in the beginning lacked a bit of drive or purpose from the forefront guitar, but other than that the sound was pleasant and gave off a strong ordinary, everyday feel. Success wasn’t hugely consistent, but the successes were very enjoyable and well worth the whole listen, especially within the purposeful organization of the entire album.
Final Score: 136/180
Okovi – Zola Jesus
I enjoyed learning that Nicole Hummel is a fellow Wisconsinite, but I hold no biases here. The music on this album only has small doses of the sonic brilliance and groove that it attempted to produce. When the overall sound was indeed the focal point and given reign to dictate the song’s form and structure, as in “Doma”, “Veka” and “Half Life”, that was where beauty and genuineness came out the most. Too often, though, did the music give way to a rather dull melodic line that never carried enough weight or drive. Attempting to accentuate melody is certainly not a negative in itself, but Hummel could never quite write one compelling enough in the entirety of the album. Seeing how more successful the timbral experiments were as opposed to the vocal lines, this was an unfortunate misstep in priority. Most every song did have nice backing textures and an overall even keel sound, but there should have been more room on this album to develop and expand on them rather than trying to rely on songwriting tendencies from Hummel that frankly aren’t very strong here. It’s still a pretty chill and tasteful listen, though.
Final Score: 113/180