Album-art-for-The-Planet-by-Young-Ejecta Young Ejecta – The Planet

★★★☆☆

Young Ejecta creates a mini-album teeming with ethereal whirls and methodical thumping beats. The Planet is the follow-up to the band’s 2013 debut, Dominae. The duo doesn’t stray far from the enchanting sound and funky lyrics that spurred favorable reviews of its first album, but Young Ejecta’s success is stunted by a lack of vocal clarity.

Despite having to change its name due to copyright issues, Young Ejecta’s new album maintains the femininity and youthfulness present in Dominae, while creating an intergalactic sound brimming with refined beats, and interwoven with varying degrees of resonance. Electric keyboards run throughout much of The Planet, giving the album a futuristic vibe, supported with breathy vocals. Leanne Macomber, vocalist for both Young Ejecta and Neon Indian, uses the velvety tones of her voice to give her performance an airy, carefree vibe that oozes atop the precisely layered pulsing bass strums and electric keyboard pings, all without trying too hard.

While Macomber’s vocals take the 6-track album beyond the chant-like vocals that seem to litter the genre of electric pop, producer Joel Ford, of Oneohtrix Point Never and Ford & Lopatin, mixes The Planet to create a unity of sounds that ebb and weave, transfixing listeners. Macomber and Ford are both veterans of the music scene that have been given the opportunity to produce music for a number of different side projects. This combined experience offers the duo the chance to explore its sound and hone in on one vibe alone, which translates on The Planet with an icy feel as the angelic beats echo out over one another.

Album opener, “Into Your Heart” begins with Macomber’s silky singing alongside subdued keys, almost whispering under the lyrics. As the song progresses, the prominence of cool synth beats crescendos, enhancing the track’s message as the chorus is introduced. When Macomber sings, “Don’t push me away/I can dive into your heart/Tell me I can stay here in your heart/Don’t go away/Know that I am coming/Coming into your heart/Don’t dance away,” the light and airy beat brings an interesting paradox to a heartfelt song urging its listeners to accept Macomber’s love.

Much of The Planet is presented in the same manner; luscious beats and smooth vocals create a “chill” vibe, while the lyrics suggest a more heady meaning behind the album.

“All Day” makes use of a nightingale metaphor and includes actual sound clips of birds chirping and flapping their wings as one of the many layers of the song. The persistent beat, a subtle dun-dun, is subdued and mellow throughout the verses, giving weight and focus to the lyrics, “Don’t be silly old boy/That’s what I’m here for/I’m gonna follow you any place/I’m like a nightingale/I’m from deep space/I can just fly away/But I stay.” Cymbals whisper and begin oscillating as electric keys are introduced during the chorus and continue to crescendo and decrescendo as the lyrics are sung.

The Planet has all the elements needed to please dedicated fans and first-time listeners. The funk and spirit of electric pop isn’t lost; however, the brash lyrics spewed by Macomber are the real spunk needed for the album. The lyrics and tones in The Planet are evidence of Young Ejecta’s potential, but the moments when Macomber’s breathy tone becomes muffled and difficult to understand are when the album falls. It doesn’t make sense that the duo would put considerable effort into perfecting the essence of The Planet and not take the time to address a simple fix. A few additional sessions in the recording booth could have elevated Young Ejecta’s second album from all right to enchanting.

Young Ejecta is still a new and developing duo, but Macomber and Ford have the talent and potential to create meaningful music with a snappy twist. Amping up The Planet’s successful aspects and addressing what’s holding it back becomes the perfect opportunity for the band to flourish.

Young Ejecta – The Planet tracklist:

  1. “Into Your Heart”
  2. “Welcome To Love”
  3. “All Day”
  4. “Recluse”
  5. “Your Planet”
  6. “What You Done”
Album-art-for-SUCKER-by-Charli-XCX Charli XCX – SUCKER

★★★★☆

Breaking into the American Top 40 can be hard for international artists, but with hit “Boom Clap,” and a feature on Iggy Azaela’s “Fancy,” English pop artist Charli XCX has been consistently on familiar rotation. Her radio presence and performances at award shows like the AMAs and VMAs have helped sustain buzz about her third studio album, SUCKER. Packed with boisterous beats layered over catchy lyrics, the album seamlessly merges sounds of ’80s punk-rock and pop in 13 tracks. Though at times lyrically repetitive, SUCKER serves as a soundtrack for the stereotypical 2014 rebellious teenager, and generates a rowdy mash of pop-punk sounds, enhancing the passionate undertones of the album.

Pulsing electro-pop elements mesh with aggressive rock sounds to create a jarring, brash album that’s fitting for a rambunctious audience. “Break the Rules” opens with distorted guitar playing, creating a scratchy tone before Charli XCX begins singing, “Electric lights/Blow my mind/You’d feel all right/Never stop it’s how we ride coming up until we die.” The guitar amplifies as low, pounding drums are introduced and throbbing techno music ensues, drops, and is replaced by altered brass instruments ringing out over rumbling bass.

Much of the album makes use of taunting lyrics layered over gritty guitar and drums or energetic trills and bings for ’80s-inspired pop sounds.

With help from Weezer, John Hill, and Stargate, a cohesive sense of disarray spans all 13-tracks and makes SUCKER’s chaotic sound work.

Though the album had an earlier intended release date, Charli XCX took to twitter following the success of “Boom Clap” to explain to her fans that she wanted to give SUCKER proper attention before it was released. Some questioned the decision wondering whether it wouldn’t be best to release the album with the single’s success, but the decision might have been pretty smart. Just look at all the appearances Charli XCX has been making recently. She’s been spending the months prior to SUCKER’s release promoting the album by performing at an array of festivals and awards shows, dropped an additional four singles, and filmed their respective music videos. Pushing the release of SUCKER back might have annoyed a few fans, but Charli XCX was able to inspire prolonged anticipation.

“London Queen,” Charli XCX’s version of a “coming-to-America” track, opens with drum snares before bursting with crashing guitars and aggressive drums. Layered over chanting lyrics, “When I’m driving on the wrong side of the road/I feel like JFK you know/I never thought I’d be living in the USA/Doing things the American way,” the track explodes at a fast-pace with sporadic sounds of clapping hands and stomping feet, while maintaining a lively, pop tone.

The entirety of SUCKER is jarring and brash, but the lyrics and well-layered tone of the album make it catchy rather than distracting.

An “I don’t care” attitude blankets SUCKER. Whether the subject be break ups, experiencing America, or selfishly going about life, the album doesn’t skip over the messy or controversial bits. At one point, Charli XCX attempts an anthem encouraging youthful recklessness in “Die Alone,” a song that might blare from car windows during summer nights with lyrics, “Climb to the top/Jumping like we’re about to fly/No one’s living/’Bout to blow this ceiling/When we turn it up to 10/Wake up in the morning/Gonna do it all again.”

That adventurous outlook is mirrored in the gaudy and outrageous “Gold Coins,” where she sings about offshore bank accounts and escaping into the night in a private jet. When she sings, “Gold coins everywhere/Dollars up in the air/It’s a billionaire’s love affair/Gold coins out the window/Money pours like the rain fall/and I spend it like I don’t care,” it’s difficult not to laugh at the ridiculousness of the lyrics, yet you still might find yourself mumbling them hours later.

The irresponsible, and at-times messy, themes of SUCKER might alarm some, but Charli XCX’s third album functions as a real representation of young-adults frustrated with mediocrity and societal pressures. They drink until they black-out, they smoke to forget, and they make regrettable choices, and SUCKER embraces this irresponsibility with catchy hooks and lyrics. The album’s take on growing up is one inevitably appreciated.

Charli XCX – SUCKER tracklist:

  1. “Sucker”
  2. “Break the Rules”
  3. “London Queen”
  4. “Breaking Up”
  5. “Gold Coins”
  6. “Boom Clap”
  7. “Doing It”
  8. “Body Of My Own”
  9. “Famous”
  10. “Hanging Around”
  11. “Die Tonight”
  12. “Caught In the Middle”
  13. “Need Ur Love”
Moritat-album-art Moritat – High Plus Tight

★★★½☆

Ever heard the expression “swept under the rug”? Usually it refers to things to be forgotten—or that we want to forget. Confrontations and regrets, these are the things reserved for making neighbors with the hairballs and dust-bunnies. But Chicago-based band Moritat lifted up the rug to discover something that was never meant to be swept away: a time capsule of themselves, an early EP they thought was lost.

While moving out from an old apartment, the band found a CD long lost under the living room carpet. Written in neon marker were the words “HIGH PLUS TIGHT.” When they played the CD, they rediscovered songs that were once thought lost, then deftly transformed those early tracks into a lofty collection of edgy, avant garde indie pop in the new EP High Plus Tight.

A handful of years ago, roommates Venus Laurel, Konstantin Jace, and Corey McCaffertey formed Moritat, storing some early recordings on an ancient relic known as a “CD.” Shortly after the songs were recorded, their apartment was robbed. Everything, including their gear, laptops, instruments, and personal belongings, were cleared out by the marauders of musical exposition.

It was a sad chapter for Moritat, but the band was not deterred from its dream of creating together. Moritat moved on from the burglar episode and released its freshman effort Chill Blazin (produced by Brian Deck of Modest Mouse and Iron & Wine fame)  to critical acclaim. After the rediscovery of its early recordings in 2013, Moritat went to work refining the ideas from that once-lost CD.

Those ideas, literally pulled from under the rug, are eloquently and uniquely crafted on High Plus Tight.

The sparkling EP hosts sweeping guitars drenched in thick reverb and hauntingly pained vocals that even Justin Vernon would applaud. Sonically, it recalls something between Kylie K and Kimbra—though not as driving and rock-centric as the former, and certainly not as poppy as the latter—but Moritat manages to carefully construct a niche for its sound, what the band dubs “avant pop.”

The first single, “Visits,” is an excellent introduction to the EP and to Moritat itself. Reminiscent of a Bon Iver song with a pop beat, “Visits” finds a groove composed of synth dance beats and a mystical, thought-provoking lyrical melody. The lyrics call out, “Part of me, part of you, parts of you, out of touch out of tune, mysteriously someone said/The moon, visits the house of Jupiter.” The lyrics, like the music, find a great balance between  pop pandering and the unapproachable seriousness of indie.

Moritat mixes its own brand of creative minimalism, with just enough danceable pop, landing on a musical plane where haunting and happy co-exist.

“Glass Door” is another of the EP’s most solid tracks. Easily the edgiest of the collection, “Glass Door” features an almost uneasy and angry crunched guitar tone, adding to the intensity of a song that almost has to be about trust issues. “I’m in my mind, I’m running out of my head/I’m in my mind, I see you two making the heartache,” sings Laurel, only adding to the building tension of the song. Together, “Glass Door” and “Visits” are a good indication of what Moritat is capable of on this EP.

High Plus Tight is a solid follow-up (and simultaneous throwback) effort from Moritat, with an excellent backstory that only adds to the great mythology of this record. The EP is an enticing entry point to introduce listeners to a promising Chicago band. Some things may be best left under the rug, but High Plus Tight is not one of them.

Moritat – High Plus Tight tracklist:

  1. “Visits”
  2. “Starry B”
  3. “We’d”
  4. “Lond”
  5. “Glass Door”
  6. “The Lips, They Move”
Album-art-for-Descensus-by-Circa-Survive Circa Survive – Descensus

★★★½☆

Circa Survive has been entrancing and perplexing fans for a decade, and it does no different with it’s fifth studio album, Descensus. Aspects of former albums are interwoven into a 10-track album that experiments with its sound without ranging too far away from the familiar. Descensus teems with intricate instruments and revelatory lyrics all while tackling a much heavier tone creating an album showing Circa Survive’s growth as a band that will please long-time fans.

The Philadelphia based band, formed in 2004, creates a sound noticeably heavier than on previous albums. An array of frantic guitar and pounding drums thunder out over vocalist, Anthony Green’s, complex lyrics in album opener “Schema.” Easily the heaviest song on the album in terms of sound, “Schema” makes use of sporadic guitar playing, similar to that of Pink Floyd, as Green wails, “Pull out your teeth / There’s nothing left / At all / Immediately I feel relief from dragging this vessel around / Exit the stage you keep sleeping in a cold white room.”

As “Schema” rumbles, “Child of the Desert” creates an equally heavy song but by use of different instrumentation techniques. The album opener is immense via percussion’s role in the song, while “Child of the Desert” uses the guitar’s intricacy to create a very rushed and angsty tone.  Descensus takes a turn to a sound more fluid, but still invoking a heavy sense following the minute solely instrumental track, “Who Will Lie With Me Now.” The drums flow fluidly as they softly bounce over the crooning guitar, Green heard “oohing” in the background creating a melancholy, withdrawn quality to song that breaks the previously heavy tone of the album.

Though Descensus has elements fans aren’t accustom to hearing from Circus Survive, the band doesn’t stray far from rhythms and chords fans won’t have trouble identifying from previous albums.

The ambiguous, yet insightful, lyrics signature to the past four albums are also included in Descensus, an element both long-time and new fans will appreciate.

Green hauntingly wails during the 6-minute ballad, “Nesting Dolls,” a song that makes minimal use of percussions, relying on subdued guitar playing and Green’s vocals to get the message of the song across. The shift in sound, following shortly after “Who Will Lie With Me Now,” is one of a broken and exposed man as Green sings, “You shouldn’t stay / We’ll never change / And I can’t recognize you at all / Nothing’s the same / It’s all been arranged in a way / Keeping me out / I don’t want to feel like this ever ever ever ever again.”

That brokenness reflects the self-proclaimed dark time in Green’s life that can be attributed to the heavier tone of Descensus. A tone that’s easy to located on the album, but one that gives Circa Survive a variety in sound it hasn’t attempted before. Being around for as long as Circa Survive has could result in complacency and the band’s decision to stick with sounds that are sure to please listeners, but Descensus’ unexpected sound paired with moving lyrics echoing Green’s struggles and frustration create a captivating fifth studio album.

Circa Survive – Descensus tracklist:

  1. “Schema”
  2. “Child of the Desert”
  3. “Always Begin”
  4. “Who Will Lie With Me Now”
  5. “Only the Sun”
  6. “Nesting Dolls”
  7. “Quiet Down”
  8. “Phantom”
  9. “Sovereign Circle”
  10. “Descensus”
Album-art-for-Believer-by-Megafortress Megafortress – Believer

★★★★☆

Art that focuses on identity doesn’t usually lend itself to ambiguity, especially not when spirituality is directly explored. Ironically, the representation of spirituality—an extremely personal and quiet growth—usually relies on grand pronouncements and bold gestures, rather than prolonged intimacy or uncertainty. Megafortress’ Believer doesn’t feel the need to give answers to its insinuated questions, which are never actually directly posed. Rather, Believer feels like one winding meditation on the artist’s own insecurities about mortality, the state of his soul, and the unknown—or specifically, settling with what can only be unknown.

That confidence in exploring such daunting questions and the schizophrenia of sounds on display is sometimes the album’s greatest strength, even as it threatens to spiral into self-indulgence. The debut album of New York-based sound sculptor, Bill Gillam, who goes by the moniker, Megafortress, is an album that traffics in musical contradictions and unlikely sonic choices that lead to a more difficult, but ultimately more rewarding work.

There isn’t one musical through line in the album, but, paradoxically, it’s nearly always cohesive.

The sound veers from cool-to-the-touch electronica, to abstract orchestral suites, to operatic dirges that are best comparable to Talk Talk and Robert Wyatt’s unimpeachable stretch of ’70s albums.

“Beginner” announces the album with regal and contemplative bassoons, pointing to Sufjan Stevens’ dalliance with classical music, The BQE. Except that’s immediately thrown for a loop as the following “Live In Grace” languishes in monochromatic midi tones and Gillam’s dulcet vocals, which are weirdly reminiscent of Pedro the Lion here.

Elsewhere, the painfully beautiful “Believer” aims for transcendence with its trembling horns, “Bogota” flirts with avant-jazz noodling, and “Murderer” thaws alongside its narrator’s cosmic/personal musings.

If there’s one cohesive sonic theme here, it’s the presence of woodwinds, which snap the permeable atmosphere back into a place of lucidity as the album can become oppressively intimate and lonely. The variety of brass instruments and mechanical synths add to this palpable paranoia, but intriguingly, Gillam’s voice is his most expressive tool in defining the mood.

Echoing the personal uneasiness and uncertainty about his place in the world, Gillam gives the narrator of “Fear” an alternating reediness and an overwhelming swell.

Against the swirling woodwinds and upright bass, Gillam spaces out each word with weight to be purposefully ambiguous. “Believer” is more conventionally articulate as Gillam grapples with death in a smooth gliding voice singing, “I won’t be afraid, I will be okay with all these white faces.”

But with all of this variety, the pacing does sometimes seem too anxious, like Gillam was too restless to settle on one or even a dozen tones. “Leroy In Tongues,” for instance, is a nightmarish whirl of pitch-shifting vocals and haunting drones that can either be seen as a thematic rock bottom in context of the rest of the album, or a sluggish mood-ruining grind.

“Pilot,” as well, awkwardly shifts from naturalistic field recordings of pelicans to canned drums and sludgy Nine Inch Nails-styled atmospherics. Even then though, these transitions heighten the air of unpredictability that surrounds the album even if they test patience in a complete listen of the album.

These experiments would be outright failures in the hands of less accomplished artists, though. Where a more impulsive or less fastidious artist may have edged these songs into self-parody, Megafortress brings such patient gravitas and honesty to this material that it never sounds like reaching or strained performance.

Rather, it’s a challenging journey through the highs and lows of personal understanding. The album isn’t afraid to end in a place that feels unresolved, and is all the better for it. By the end, the narrator of the album is at peace even if it’s coming from a place of sheer submission to the frustration of the natural order of the universe. All Gillam can do is catatonically repeat, “She had no worry, and that amazed me.”

Megafortress has made one of the most conceptually and musically ambitious albums of the year. By refusing to stoop to easy answers or emotional didactics, Megafortress may polarize some listeners, but he’s created an album that never truly shows its core, but always reveals new mysteries.

Megafortress - Believer tracklist:

  1. “Beginning”
  2. “Live In Grace”
  3. “Fear”
  4. “Never Becomer”
  5. “Believer”
  6. “Murderer”
  7. “Bogota”
  8. “Leroy In Tongues”
  9. “Pilot”
  10. “Long Hair”
Album-art-for-pom-pom-by-Ariel-Pink Ariel Pink – pom pom

★★★★☆

As easy as it is to hate Ariel Pink—the most hated man in indie rock, according to MySpace (so that’s what they’ve been doing since 2007)—it’s hard not to love the tangled, yet often melodic madness of his latest album, pom pom. It’s the musical manifestation of a grown man going to town in a playroom, and the result is disturbing, endearing, and, at times, unexpectedly lovely.

Pink’s stamp is obvious on controversial tracks such as “Not Enough Violence,” where he sings in a consciously deep, Satanic voice, “Now it’s time for pain, that’s right/Penetration time tonight.” Pink told Pitchfork the track is a commentary on our unwillingness to confront the violence that plagues the world, but it could easily be confused for a dance hit as it escalates into a layered frenzy near the end.

Songs like “Not Enough Violence,” along with more calculated offensive remarks made outside the musical realm, are what make Pink indie rock’s most hated man, and he regularly switches from taking a perverse pride in the title to whining about how much hate he receives.

Pink is the type of guy who’ll title a song about a stripper “Black Ballerina,” then sulk in the corner when he gets called racist. While his public persona mostly thrives on obvious trollery, in brief flashes of sincerity we see Pink wallowing in confused victimhood. It’s as if he’s come to the conclusion that people will hate him no matter what, so he might as well make them hate him on his terms—hence his deliciously weird music, high heels and wigs, and outrageous comments—but in the end, he still doesn’t get why he can’t click with other humans.

No song better highlights the provocateur-turned-self-conscious dynamic than “Sexual Athletics.”

As the track starts off with a twangy riff that your dad would be totally into, in classic form, Pink declares himself the “sex king, on a velvet swing.” By the second half, he’s confessing, “All I wanted was a girlfriend all my life.”

That’s about as much as the average listener can decipher from pom pom, but there are plenty of inscrutable songs still worth a listen. The second track, “White Freckles,” is what would happen if any generic ’80s beat suffered a bit too much sun damage; “Nude Beach A G-Go” is a perverse twist on the Beach Boys’ aesthetic (Pink sings, “All the kids will be attraction/All the parents don’t like the action”); and “Jell-o” is as scatterbrained musically as it is lyrically, making the nonsensical track a fascinating listen.

Pom pom’s mellower songs are also some of its most memorable. Single “Put Your Number In My Phone” sways along with instrumentation that, if pulled apart layer by layer, would most likely sound hideous, but when combined, it’s dreamy and nostalgic. It’s funny, because the lyrics are actually over-the-top creepy (“Talk to me, I’ll be your lover sky,” and “Make believe, I last forever babe” are a few choice examples), but like that one asshole you can’t believe actually gets laid, Pink makes the pick-up lines sound appealing with the romantic swell of his instrumentation.

Immediately following the single, “One Summer Night” is a pop ballad drenched in syrup, and the simple, sweet melody will randomly resurface on an absent minded walk. Near the end of pom pom, “Picture Me Gone” trudges along through slow-rolling synth, while Pink’s affected vocals sing, “I dedicate this selfie to the little ones who will outlast me when I’m gone” in a pointed commentary on the digital era.

Pom pom is a difficult album to unpack, much like the persona of Pink himself, but his creative entwining of disjointed elements creates an addictive (almost hypnotizing) sound that makes you want to try, again and again.

Ariel Pink – pom pom tracklist:

  1. “Plasic Raincoats In The Pig Parade”
  2. “White Freckles”
  3. “Four Shadows”
  4. “Lipstick”
  5. “Not Enough Violence”
  6. “Put Your Number In My Phone”
  7. “Nude Beach A G-Go”
  8. “Goth Bomb”
  9. “Dinosaur Carebears”
  10. “Negative Ed”
  11. “Sexual Athletics”
  12. “Jell-o”
  13. “Black Ballerina”
  14. “Picture Me Gone”
  15. “Exile On Frog Street”
  16. “Dayzed Inn Daydreams”
Album-cover-for-Feathering-A-Nest-by-Chaddywhompus Caddywhompus – Feathering A Nest

★★½☆☆

Drawing inspiration from its lively and colorful hometown of New Orleans, Caddywhompus creates an album signature to NOLA’s musical niche with Feathering A Nest. The 6-track release is similar to the band’s previous creations; the lyrics are barely audible while guitar and drums angrily bellow out. The energized rock components of Feathering A Nest highlight the duo’s skills, but ambiguous lyrics and overpowering instrumentation depreciate an album teeming with potential.

Listening to Feathering A Nest feels like a roller-coaster ride. Each song transitions at least once or twice in a matter of minutes. Some songs vary in degrees of heavy guitar and drums thundering out, while others transition from subdued electric guitar playing to aggressive pounding and strumming. Feathering A Nest sounds as though it’s been crafted on the foundations of frustration and angst.

“Stuck” begins with energetic and cheerful guitar playing and minimal percussion elements, creating an indie-rock feel, before clashing instruments boom out over vocalist Chris Rehm. “Stuck” quickly shifts back to the merry playing before a pounding, yet rhythmic, guitar takes over, and the muffled lyrics move to wailing on beat with the guitar’s slamming. Then the guitar’s aggressive roar suddenly withdraws and is gently plucked for some time before, in a last burst of energy, the guitar slams out its final chord and brings the song to an end. The track is a complete chaotic whirl.

That rapid transition from one sound to the next isn’t specific to “Stuck”—the final track, “Layers,” personifies the entire album in nine minutes.

The range of sounds is wide, with light-hearted plucking, angry strumming, and meticulous rhythmic patterns, which all randomly speed up and slow down. At times, the music stops completely, leading one to believe the song has finally ended, but the aggressive thunder returns from seemingly nowhere.

The chaos and emphasis on heavy guitar and drums on Feathering A Nest is a sound characteristic of NOLA-based bands, and once expected, can become endearing and telling of the band’s talents. Take the music created by Donovan Wolfington and ALL PEOPLE, both bands that formed and have created music in the buoyant culture of New Orleans. While guitar and drums have a heavy presence in both band’s music and the lyrics articulated, there’s a more well-rounded quality to Feathering A Nest that shows Caddywhompus has the potential to produce compelling and engaging music.

It’s obvious Caddywhompus’ focus is more on the music than the lyrics. For much of the album, the guitar and drums overpower and make any accompanying lyrics indistinguishable to listeners. Select phrases and choruses can be understood, to an extent, but it sounds like Rehm placed focus on ensuring his “oo’s” and his “oh’s” enhanced the instrumentation, rather than making his lyrics understandable.

It’s commendable that Caddywhompus perfected variety on Feathering A Nest, but the duo, specifically Rehm, could have focused on clarifying the few lyrics included on the album. Rather than perfect instrumentation alone, Caddywhompus should look at its music as a whole. Identifying what parts need fixing would create a well-rounded final product with a deeper attraction for listeners.

Caddywhompus – Feathering A Nest tracklist:

  1. “For A Litte Bluebird”
  2. “Stuck”
  3. “Company”
  4. “Thirst”
  5. “Entitled”
  6. “Layers”
Album-art-for-Asleep-Versions-by-Jon-Hopkins Jon Hopkins – Asleep Versions

★★★½☆

There are few artists that could pull off a thematic companion to their last major album without it feeling regressive to their arc as an artist. Jon Hopkins’ Asleep Versions, the EP length reimagining of last year’s twitchy, expansive Immunity, isn’t the bold stylistic step that one would expect after an album that so expertly magnified and unfurled Hopkins’ sound. Pitching up the otherworldly qualities of the music and deemphasizing the computerized sounds, Asleep Versions is true to its name, the twilight counterpoint to Immunity’s sunny morning. But even if it’s destined to be a footnote in Hopkins’ prolific discography and growth as an artist, it’s a testament to Hopkins’ ability to create classically beautiful compositions.

Described in press releases as an attempt to create “decelerated, dreamlike re-imaginings” of Immunity tracks, the album certainly does feel contemplative and drawn-out, even at half the length of Immunity. Sonically though, the best way to describe Asleep Versions may be as the unplugged rendering of Hopkins’ Immunity-era sound. Eschewing the more futuristic, askew twinkles of that album for a lighter, more lucid analog sound, the music has unusually never felt less dreamy.

The EP opens with a re-imagined version of “Immunity.” Hopkins restructures the song, placating the glitching field recordings of the original, and realigning King Creosote’s aching vocal into a centerpiece position.

The track is pretty, but without the interplay of the wounded loop and the piano, the track feels like second-rate Sigur Ros, elevated by Hopkins’ understanding of production.

For most people, Hopkins was first heard in the new age sparkle of Insides’ “Light Through the Veins” that bookended Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. Plaintive but never conservative in his ambitions, Hopkins’ early recordings announced an artist who lived in the margins between classical and electronic music to create his own form of digital pastoral music.

When describing Hopkins’ music, he starts to sound like the lion’s share of electronic and classical musicians out there. There’s the classicist accents of Nils Frahm, the intimate warmth of Olafur Arnalds, the suspended compositions of Max Richter and so on, but Hopkins’ skills lie in his meticulous modulation. At any given time, his musical textures can communicate the lightness of a snowflake or the fury of a blizzard.

“Form By Firelight” is a prime example of this intimacy, transforming the lattices of squelching synths of the original into a siren song. Raphaelle Standell, who leads Braids and Blue Hawaii, is a phantom mewling against the menace of the flickering keyboards and aqueous strings.

“Breathe This Air” momentarily returns the EP to a place of sonic lucidity with ringing piano until it dissipates halfway into pixie dust synths and a haunting vocal loop.

It approaches that liminal feeling between sleeping and consciousness, but it feels more like an interlude than a track on an EP that barely reaches a half hour.

“Open Eye Signal” was kind of an outlier on Immunity; a juiced-up techno rumbler that was closer to Chemical Brothers’ pyrotechnic rave-ups than the intimate, anxiety-ridden suites that made up the rest of the album. Asleep Versions impressively channels some of the same mood even as it sounds completely different. Moored along by an inward rumble, the song sounds like one long yawn as the drone builds into an angelic peak before plateauing and dropping to an isolated whisper.

Asleep Versions is a fine entry in Hopkins’ musical career, but it feels like a period, whereas Immunity felt like an ellipsis. On Immunity, Hopkins wasn’t boxed in by his past sonic palettes, he was reinvigorated; he shaped them to create a sound that felt less like the house music at a stuffy concert hall and more like a living, breathing ecosystem. Asleep Versions is more accomplished and complete work than many of Hopkins’ contemporaries’ full albums, but he’s still trying to get back to the forest from the trees.

Jon Hopkins - Asleep Versions tracklist:

    1. “Immunity (with King Creosote)”
    2. “Form By Firelight (with Raphaelle Standell)”
    3. “Breathe This Air (Asleep Version)”
    4. “Open Eye Signal (Asleep Version)”
Album-art-for-Where-Does-This-Disco-by-YACHT YACHT – Where Does This Disco?

★★★☆☆

YACHT teases fans with its most recent four-track EP, Where Does the Disco? The EP is short and sweet, presenting listeners with the persistent pop beats expected from YACHT productions, with just strong enough of a political undertone to evoke some real thoughts. The duo attempts to explore our society’s dependence on technology and media, as well as the potential aftermath of these obsessions; but with only two new songs released, the message YACHT expects to convey with Where Does This Disco? isn’t clear enough to make a lasting impression.

As a band so far along in its career, YACHT risks losing touch with what listener’s want to hear. Luckily for its loyal fans of the past 12 years, the duo makes use of its modest EP by offering tastes of the old and the new. Where Does This Disco? whirls, pings, and trills. The digital sounds, layered together with electric keys and analog synthesizers, create robotic beats, especially prevalent during “Where Does This Disco” and “Works Like Magic.”

However, YACHT isn’t afraid to expand beyond the standard sounds and instruments associated with electric pop. On “Terminal Beach,” the most politically-charged song on Where Does This Disco?, a heavy guitar and drum pattern are immediately noticed. The angry presence of these instruments creates an ominous tone on an otherwise upbeat EP. Perhaps these surprising elements are included in an effort to prove YACHT doesn’t have to rely entirely on synthesizers or electric instruments. Producer Jerome LOL is enlisted for a remix of “Where Does This Disco,” and gives the song a much more scaled back sound than YACHT listeners might expect. The remix makes use of percussions reminiscent of a spoon tapping on a metal pot. It’s an interesting, minimalist approach to achieving the same sound, but with a powerful twist.

Besides its willingness to go beyond the standards of electric pop, YACHT continues to use its platform as musicians to write politically and socially themed tracks.

Breaking the album’s uptempo tone, “Terminal Beach” is much heavier, which is immediately obvious by the weighted instrumentals paired with vocalist, Claire Evans’, monotone tenor. Clashing drums and angry strumming stir up a steady, consistent beat during the verses of “Terminal Beach,” but the track becomes crazed and angry as the chorus approaches. The very beginning of the song leaves listeners believing they’ve been transported to a futuristic, post-apocalyptic world before any lyrics are sung out. But when Evans chants, “We washed up on a terminal beach/All the palm trees/Cell phone towers/Little metal coconuts/And in the ruins/Ancient desktops/Cables running to the sand/Pull the messages that nobody understands,” the feeling solidifies. Halfway through the track, a monstrous, computer-generated voice begins moaning and wailing as Evans continues to chant, “Too afraid to think that what we were taught to think could hurt.”

The bits of technology washing up on the desolate beach and Evans’ repetition of, “Too afraid to think what we were taught to think would hurt us,” spikes fear—fear of our dependence on technology and how we’ll function once these objects and conveniences dissipate.

“Terminal Beach” is a song with a powerful message, but that doesn’t transfer to the other three songs on Where Does This Disco? “Works Like Magic” and “Where Does This Disco” are standard post-bad-relationship songs found on nearly every love-centric album. It’s obvious from “Terminal Beach” that YACHT is fully capable of creating compelling music from a lyrical and auditory standpoint, so why wouldn’t the duo push for more?

Where Does This Disco? is a mini creative exploration that indicates YACHT isn’t losing any of the talent the duo has worked years to master. However, it’s odd that a duo that’s produced five full length albums would release an EP that includes only two new songs. It has been nearly three years since its fifth studio album, Shangri-La, dropped, and yet YACHT’s next musical release is a four-track album with only two “never-heard before” songs, a previous single, and it’s remix? If YACHT was intending to tease its listeners with forthcoming “goods,” the band’s succeeded. Where Does This Disco? gives listeners all the content they might want from a politically aware electric pop band, but not enough actual material to satisfy their needs.

YACHT – Where Does This Disco? tracklist:

  1. “Where Does This Disco”
  2. “Works Like Magic”
  3. “Terminal Beach”
  4. “Where Does This Disco (Jerome LOL Remix)”
Album-art-for-Xen-by-Arca Arca – Xen

★★★★½

Arca, or Alejandro Ghersi, has made it clear he is separate from everyone else with a veiled media presence and star-studded project list (Bjork, Kanye West, FKA Twigs). He is arguably the most-desired and skilled producer today, kicking off something that’s finally new. Devoted to Ghersi’s gender-neutral alter-ego, Xen is a maze of digital sound capabilities—an exploration of electronic music breaking down in the natural world and adapting to find its own beautiful place in nature.

Xen, Arca’s formal debut album, could soundtrack the coolest horror movie ever. From strings that painfully mimic nails on chalkboard, to ruptured and screeching patterns, and just a few melody-centric tracks, the album is built on an intentionally shaky foundation, darting and gliding frantically like a school of fish, without ever losing its elegance.

Arca doesn’t break the rules—he simply doesn’t see them.

The flow of Xen is very hurry-up-and-wait with its revolution of sporadic, racing industrial tracks followed by sensuous steel reggaeton, only to pick back up with somber strings and ambient vocal samples. Arca has crafted an album for thinkers to get lost in over and over.

Opening track “Now You Know” casts a haunting daze in its first few moments of launching and buoyant sounds. The track then builds up with soaring, engine-like noises and unexpected, yet sustained introductions of more experimental production.

The derailed intro to Xen subsides and collects with a crawling, echo-filled track as Arca moves to the piano for a short stint of a song, “Held Apart.” But an urgent ambulatory sound quickly moves in for “Xen,”  and the title track paces and falls with a primitive nature.

Xen serves as musical representation of the digital world at its best. Arca’s music evokes a feeling of flipping through a catalog of auditory and visual memories. His primal, tangled temperament offers the dimensionality to suggest his music as part of a new direction of digital music that’s more intellectual than ever before; it reaches out to other senses, particularly vision.

“Sisters” begins with the layered crashing of what sounds like tin pans floating in water. The track takes a sensuous turn, scooping up the cryptic eroticism that’s been peeking through the album all along. Themes of bold sexuality may explain the puzzle-like feel of the album, paralleling spontaneous sexual experiences. Dizzy glitches bounce through the steady melody at the pace of a bobble-head. It’s easy to picture the digitally-rendered depiction of Arca’s alter-ego Xen grinding along to the track. The Xen character is seen in the music video to “Thievery” by visual artist (and Ghersi’s roommate) Jesse Kanda, where Xen’s silky, metallic, almost reptilian body moves with elasticity and unnatural vibrations.

“Thievery,” the album’s sort-of-single, stands on a reggaeton beat and is the most melodious track of the album. The song may even work with a crowd, despite the unspoken producer rule of “no Arca at the club.” “Promise” then closes the album with robotic sounds similar to popping popcorn. Plucking noises ensue as harsh, shrill bass powerfully and abruptly ends Xen.

Despite the obvious mechanical, digital construction of this album, Arca blesses listeners with an elemental feel. Xen exploits digital music’s important relationship with nature, testing how the two break one another down and reconstruct in curious ways.

Arca – Xen tracklist:

  1. “Now You Know”
  2. “Held Apart”
  3. “Xen”
  4. “Sad Bitch”
  5. “Sisters”
  6. “Slit Thru”
  7. “Failed”
  8. “Family Violence”
  9. “Thievery”
  10. “Lonely Thugg”
  11. “Fish”
  12. “Wound”
  13. “Bullet Chained”
  14. “Tongue”
  15. “Promise”
Album-art-for-Springtime-Carnivore-by-Springtime-Carnivore Springtime Carnivore – Springtime Carnivore

★★★★☆

It takes a special artist to capture the uplifting spirit of an entire season in one collection of songs, and an even better one to send listeners from the unforgiving cold of winter to the pleasant warmth of summer in an instant. With her inaugural full length, Greta Morgan, aka Springtime Carnivore, manages to defy the elements and summon the carefree soul of summertime on her debut masterpiece with flashy synths, uplifting vocals, and danceable beats.

Springtime Carnivore takes an unconventional route with an electronic flair on the self-titled album, trading musical austerity for a heavy focus on Morgan’s ghostly voice. Much of the instrumentation is simple with only subtle embellishment, allowing the vocals to soar.

Even though instrumentation is not the obvious focus of Morgan’s music, it is equally responsible for creating the undeniably contagious feel of the record. The synths establish a shimmering tone, the guitars respond with beautiful, animated reverb, and the drums brighten up the mood with catchy, rhythmic beats to unite the music.

Springtime Carnivore has its share of everything. From melodious singles like “Sun Went Black,” to stunning, intricate instrumentals like “Karen Bird’s Theme,” the album covers a range of genres.

However, the pieces still fit wonderfully together to frame Morgan’s seamless tour de force.

While many of the songs differ in regards to tempo and type, one thing always stays the same: Morgan’s alluring vocals. At times stylistically distorted, at others clean and pure, Morgan’s voice consistently carries the music from track to track.

“Two Scars” throws distortion on Morgan’s haunting melody, adding to the dreamy tone of the song. The song relies heavily on her commanding vocals, placing the entire wall of instrumentals behind her echoed crooning. On the opposite side of the spectrum is “Other Side Of The Boundary,” the only song to feature solely guitar and vocals. This track is Morgan’s most powerful performance, featuring clean vocals and an exploration of her vast range; both show her immense talent and ability to adjust her style depending on the mood of the song.

Lyrically, Morgan is heartfelt, honest, and at times quirky in her approach. Her true power comes out in the melancholy ballads where she sheds her skin and opens up. It’s apparent from her words that she’s an emotional intellectual who’s got a lot to say. Lines in tracks like “Other Side Of The Boundary” offer insight to her sense of alienation as she sings, “I’m a raven, just a raven, waiting for the black night to fade in/I will finally blend in, disappear for a while,” while she counters with more uplifting lyrics in songs like “Collectors.”

She’s all over the place in a beautiful way, writing what she feels and holding nothing back, whether it’s sadness, joy, or somewhere in between.

Morgan’s vocal prominence on the record is paired perfectly with the instrumentals, which often take the backseat, but shape the tones of the songs. Summer anthem “Name On A Matchbook” would be nowhere without jovial synths, essential tambourine, and infectious whistling. Bouncy guitars and a wall of synths dance over a simple drum beat, shining as the musicians have one of their few solos on the record. The track carries the nostalgia of a sunny road trip back home, and immediately incites a contagious feeling of joy.

Another crucial element of Springtime Carnivore is the instrumental tracks at the beginning, middle, and end of the album. “Low Clouds” wins in capturing the spirit of the mellow ending to the record. The finale closes with a serene feeling of resolution and a slight sense of apprehension. It’s an unorthodox way to end such a positive album, but feels fitting when it’s grouped in with the rest of the tracks.

It’s hard to find any issues with Springtime Carnivore—a rarity; not only does the album display quality musicianship, fantastic singing, and original songwriting, but it’s also a diverse, genre-spanning magnum opus for the band and the entire scene.

Springtime Carnivore – Springtime Carnivore tracklist:

  1. “Western Pink”
  2. “Collectors”
  3. “Name On A Matchbook”
  4. “Sun Went Black”
  5. “Foxtrot Freak (Something In The Atmosphere)”
  6. “Other Side Of The Boundary”
  7. “Karen’s Bird Theme”
  8. “Keep Confessing”
  9. “Last One To Know”
  10. “Two Scars”
  11. “Talk To Me Slow”
  12. “Creature Feature”
  13. “Find A New Game”
  14. “Low Clouds”
Album-art-for-Variant-by-Ben-Frost Ben Frost – V A R I A N T

★★★☆☆

Australian noisenik Ben Frost isn’t the most obvious recipient for a remix EP. Frost’s brand of brutalizing noise isn’t allergic to snatches of melody, especially on this year’s full-bodied A U R O R A, but the album is more concerned with cumulative world-building than stand-alone suites. Frost’s musical building blocks similarly seem challenging for remixing with monochromatic, grayscale synth patterns and nightmarish strings.

On V A R I A N T, all five remixers acquit themselves well, merging their own strands of trap, R&B, ambient techno, and the unclassifiable jungle/ambient hybrid of Dutch E Germ, but, as is the problem with most remix EPs, V A R I A N T never examines why it should exist in the first place.

The EP rarely feels cohesive even if the sequencing makes a nice valley of tempos; recognized as separate entities from A U R O R A‘s incarnations, these remixes still stand in the shadow of the originals.

This is often a problem that exists with remixes, which almost exclusively—outside of rap—work better when they re-shape the context of the original song or dramatically change the architecture of the song (Four Tet, for example, has consistently been one of my favorite remixers because he brings the song into his world rather than the other way around). V A R I A N T unites a diverse, talented collection of artists who have built their own formidable discographies, but all either try to replicate, or worse, fail to understand what makes Frost such a unique artist—the relentless combination of tension and (delayed) release.

Beginning with a triptych of “Venter” remixes, all three demonstrate the versatility of Frost’s beaten-to-a-pulp percussion and nuclear winter atmospherics, but all three fail to either recreate the coiled violence of the original or more importantly, express their own mood. Instead, they all feel like bloodless re-imaginings of Frost’s “Venter”.

On A U R O R A, “Venter” felt like a sneak attack. Coming after the suffocating distortion of “Diphenyl Oxalate,” the track disguises itself as a respite before becoming a heaving colossus of church bells, John Carpenter-style squelches, and a cyclone of a climax that feels more apt for Godspeed You! Black Emperor than ambient noise music.

The three remixes here ignore the original’s creeping build, but attempt to retain the oppressive mood.

English wunderkind Evian Crist slows the track to a crawl, emphasizing the punch of the snare/clap/siren combo to make a trap remix. Without the destabilizing whirr of the original though, Crist’s remix is all thunder and no fury.

Dutch E Germ is more adventurous, but not enough to give the song its own character, isolating the gently drifting drone before dismantling and reassembling the pieces into what literally sounds like a combination of a typewriter’s punched keys and Mount Vesuvius’ eruption. Its machine gun burst drum fills and ugly/beautiful piano tones with the original’s oppressive haze are thrillingly disorienting at first, but on repeat listens, it feels more and more like an unwieldy Frankenstein than anything else.

HTRK, who released the beguiling Psychic 9-5 Club earlier this year, brings the biggest stylistic curveball to the track, staggering the central melody into mournful slow-motion R&B and modulating the drum beat to the point it sounds like an arhythmic heart beat, always lapping at the synth melody, which is pitched further back. It feels markedly different than the rest of the EP, but its metronomic spell lasts a little bit too long to fully hold.

The solo remix of “No Sorrowing” may be the strongest remix on the album. Frost’s original “No Sorrow” was an aural steam bath, luxuriating in synths and languorous strings. Despite his similar penchant for gelatinous gloom, Kangding Ray avoids the obvious choice and makes it an absolute banger, placing the drums in a zero-g space and grafting an insistent techno thump. Ray twists the original’s clacking distortion into its own percussive melody; it’s ferociously intense and almost danceable without losing the bombed-out zen of the original.

Unfortunately, after that peak, the final remix, the Regis Self Medicating Edit, is entirely forgettable. Neutering the African-inspired percussion and swallowing drone combination that made the original “Nolan” feel so alienating and impressive, the track grinds along in a perfunctory fashion with cushioned bass and industrial loops to a pretty, but uninspiring end.

What is the purpose of a remix? Is it supposed to remind the listener of the virtues of the original artist, or cast the music into an entirely different context? The answer seems to be both, but remixes can’t exist in a vacuum, they always come with the knowledge that they’re built from something else. V A R I A N T’s greatest accomplishment is that it reaffirms Frost’s mastery of his own material, but that doesn’t prove the album should exist. These remixers are barely able to get out from under Frost’s melodic thumb, let alone create their own sound.

Ben Frost – Variant tracklist:

  1. “Venter – Evian Christ TF 12′ Mix”
  2. “Venter – Dutch E Germ Remix”
  3. “Venter – HTRK Remix”
  4. “No Sorrowing – Kangding Ray Remix”
  5. “Nolan – Regis Self Medicating Edit”