Album-art-for-Projections-by-Romare Romare – Projections


Romare’s newest release Projections uses both remixes and samples to pay homage to African musical traditions. If each track is looked at as a kind of sound collage, Romare’s original work and his ear for sampling are celebrated both individually and collectively. His creation is mellow and engaging, yet complex. There are bluesy moments, swinging jazz samples, and plenty of funk, as well as a semi-political agenda. Politics aside, the resulting album flavors his engaging aesthetic as equally as it conflicts it.

Each of the album’s tracks can be best understood through the samples and structure of the track; however, occasionally the sound collage he’s stitched together becomes muddled. The purpose behind each sound and sample is not always clear. But Romare’s name comes from collage artist Romare Berden, which explains his intricate style of beat-making.

His 2012 EP release Meditations On Afrocentrism features similar sampling. Even though Romare sort of explains his intents through the final track “Footnotes,” it is contradicting and confusing. Having studied African and African American music, he’s allowed the benefit of the doubt to a degree, yet it feels unclear to the listener why he took Projections in this direction, which can become borderline appropriative at moments.

Album opener “Nina’s Charm” samples Nina Simone singing, “Whatever ever happens just/Keep your eyes on me,” and other similar phrases over a muted gospel chorus in the background and a simple yet groovy synth beat. The album progresses from there to include jazzy samples as heard on “Work Song,” and “Motherless Child.”

On “Lover Man,” Romare samples the repetition from James Brown’s “I Got the Feelin’,” adding a sexy slinkiness that suits the title well. The track’s warped synth beat is signature Romare.

The way he plays with the samples keeps them relatively recognizable, yet still distorted, shaped into an entirely new track.

A similar tactic is used on “Roots,” which has a deep, awkward “wub” paired with a house-like rhythm and what is assumed to be African drumming in the background. It works because it repurposes the sample in a nuaced way; however, it also is pretty formulaic, becoming predictable after long.

In contrast, tracks like “La Petit Mort” and “Jimmy’s Lament” have perhaps no samples, or if there are samples, they’re manipulated beyond recognition. These tracks sound simpler and more minimal as well. Romare has a history of sampling, but he blurs the distinction with this more experimental album.

Projections is wonderfully crafted, with absolutely engaging reimaginings of both old and new ideas. Romare is a skilled musician, and that shows throughout the album’s structure and quality. Perhaps we can dub Romare as a part of a new subgenre, collage-house. Projections proves Romare’s promise within electronic music, especially if he figures out his intentions as an artist.

Romare – Projections tracklist:

  1. Nina’s Charm
  2. Work Song
  3. Motherless Child
  4. Ray’s Foot
  5. Roots
  6. Jimmy’s Lament
  7. Lover Man
  8. Rainbow
  9. Prison Blues
  10. The Drifter
  11. La Petite Mort
Album-art-for-The-Door-Behind-The-Door-by-The-Black-Ryder The Black Ryder – The Door Behind The Door


After its critically-acclaimed debut Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride (2009), Australian shoegaze duo The Black Ryder has had its music featured on TV shows like House and Damages, as well as the Twilight: New Moon soundtrack. The duo has now resettled in Los Angeles for its second hazy LP, The Door Behind The Door.

Songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Aimee Nash and Scott Von Ryper aim to write sprawling ambient tracks by subverting the typical verse-chorus pop song structure, but take that idea too far, resulting in a multitude of lackluster choruses. The Black Ryder strives to create a blissful yet diverse soundscape with its sophomore album The Door Behind The Door, but delivers a non-cohesive collection of half-hearted vocals and mismatched textures.

While Nash’s soothing singing voice is consistently on pitch, her vocal delivery lacks conviction and purpose, making it unmoving. Nash’s unconvincing performances begin with “Seventh Moon,” the first full song after stagnant instrumental opener “Babylon.” “Seventh Moon” achieves the chilly but safe atmosphere of nighttime moon-gazing with a soft kick-drum-and-cymbal groove and Nash’s whispery vocals. The instruments of “Seventh Moon” succeed in painting a vivid picture together, but Nash’s sloppy diction makes many of the song’s lyrics indistinguishable, resulting in a beautiful but forgettable track.

Von Ryper’s vocals are also at fault, most evidently on “Santaria,” The Black Ryder’s single about a conflicted narrator whose beloved would rather get high than fall in love. The track combines his drifting, echoey voice with a crisp instrumental, opening the opportunity for a lively, colorful song to contrast The Door Behind The Door‘s passive haze. Unfortunately, Von Ryper’s apathetic sighs prevent that color from appearing.

Color blossoms in abundance on “Throwing Stones,” The Door Behind The Door’s hidden gem.

After an acoustic guitar’s bluesy, earthy opening, Nash’s voice emerges more clearly than anywhere else on the LP, creating an open, honest feel. The most planned-out song on the album, “Throwing Stones” deliberately builds from a threadbare acoustic track to an explosive gospel chorus with the uplifting lines, “Let your love shine on if you want to keep it together/Let your love shine on if you want to be free.” The humble instrumentation and sincere lyrics of “Throwing Stones” reveal a sincere Black Ryder and together create the most moving song on the LP.

Following the powerful track is “All That You Are,” a track featuring similar vocal melodies as well as almost-identical instrumentation. This redundancy feels like backpedaling and takes away from the preceding song’s effect.

Much of The Door Behind The Door’s blandness can be attributed to incongruous textures inhibiting cohesion. “Until the Calm of Dawn” illustrates this poor positioning, opening with a baby-toy sound effect and transitioning to a synthetic string quartet playing forlorn, drawn-out notes, followed by a “radio static” vocal line. The track attempts to access a Gorillaz-esque combination of distant, robotic vocals and gentle string accompaniment, but lacks the strong melodic and lyrical content that makes Gorillaz tunes compelling. “Until the Calm of Dawn” holds all the ingredients for an emotive track but fails to mix them properly; its instruments build in intensity but its lyrics and vocal melodies do not, leaving listeners wanting more.

The Door Behind The Door, as a whole, leaves listeners wanting more, concluding with the seemingly endless “Le Dernier Sommeil (The Final Sleep).” It fades in with the string ensemble from the previous track, which plays one continuous chord for the song’s entire 12-minute duration. Holding listeners hostage in rhythmless suspense while they wait for a conclusion, or at least a change, which never occurs, “Le Dernier Sommeil” doesn’t feel like a legitimate conclusion to the album.

Though The Black Ryder’s Door Behind The Door means to create a euphoric soundscape from a variety of textures, it presents a clashing bundle of apathetic vocal performances and sounds, resulting in a murky, forgettable album.

The Black Ryder – The Door Behind The Door tracklist:

  1. “Babylon”
  2. “Seventh Moon”
  3. “The Going Up was Worth The Coming Down”
  4. “Let Me Be Your Light”
  5. “Santaria”
  6. “Throwing Stones”
  7. “All That You Are”
  8. “Until The Calm of Dawn”
  9. “Le Dernier Sommeil (The Final Sleep)”
Album-art-for-O-Shudder-by-Dutch-Uncles Dutch Uncles – O Shudder


With three albums behind it, British art-pop quintet Dutch Uncles has established its upbeat, sun-washed sound and produced its most direct, relatable album to date. On its fourth LP O Shudder, the band accesses the lighthearted, catchy sounds of ’80s pop with super-compressed drums, falsetto vocal hooks, and a multitude of synth sounds. Singer/keyboardist Duncan Wallis both strengthens the ’80s effect and takes it in a new, futuristic direction by combining ear-worm melodies with the smooth quiver of classic R&B. With varied lyrical subjects and songs that possess true character, Dutch Uncles’ O Shudder illuminates and emphasizes the danceability and emotional breadth of ’80s pop with a unique, indie spark.

Dutch Uncles covers a variety of lyrical topics with a healthy balance of sexually-charged pop numbers and quarter-life contemplations of identity. Flashy opener “Babymaking” fades in with bubbly electronic bleeping and Wallis’ breathy, tenor croon before bursting into a cool, seductive pulse. The song’s lyrics gyrate around the line, “It’s alright if you don’t know/that you need my babymakin’.”

Contrastingly, the moody “Tidal Weight” lingers at the tail end of O Shudder with a grim piano foundation and palm-muted lead lines from guitarists Daniel Spedding and Pete Broadhead. The lyrics see a narrator mulling over maturity, opening the first verse with, “You won’t believe it/I’m getting wise to my livin’/and my memories feel a bit cheated/There’s no solids in the uncertain lies.” The variety of lyrical topics on O Shudder grasps listeners’ attention firmly, if only because of the stark contrast between them.

While its subjects are captivatingly colorful, O Shudder‘s greatest strength lies in songs that possess indelible character and make lasting impressions on listeners.

Wedged between giddy pop numbers, “Drips” drifts slowly but early into the tracklist, a bold move by Dutch Uncles that pays off well. The track stands out for its marriage of woodwind sounds and palm-muted lead guitar lines in the intro. The rare lightness of the combination creates a soft soil for the strong, drawn-out notes Wallis grows out of it. Drummer Andy Proudfoot’s compound rhythms gradually add intensity, making for a bold, unforgettable song.

On “I Should Have Read,” a clean piano takes the lead for the first time on O Shudder. Continuing the sunshiny mood, the song coasts in a good way, creating a sense of comfort for listeners by consistently repeating its carefree piano hook. Its melancholy lyrics chronicle the narrator’s search for knowledge and how it consumes his social life, as he sings, “Don’t want to die in search of why/I’ll get no telephone calls/It’s no discussion here at all.” By combining pleasant riffs and thoughtful lyrics, “I Should Have Read” slips through the same psychological trapdoor as the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ classic “Under the Bridge.” These tracks lull listeners into a relaxed vulnerability and then melt them with heartbreaking loneliness.

Unfortunately, unique song ideas alone cannot support a full-length LP. “Decided Knowledge” separates itself with jangly, loose guitar strums, but its half-hearted vocal melodies quickly run out of steam. Lackluster single “In n Out” also relies heavily on a subpar hook, losing what little flare it has after the first of four choruses. The songs coast on a summery atmosphere, but become over-confident and ultimately overstay their welcome.

Though a few screws appear loose, the quintet delivers memorable pop tunes marked with its own hybrid brand of indie art-pop and ’80s throwback worship. O Shudder closes with “Be Right Back,” a hasty number hurried by an upbeat drum pattern. Despite Dutch Uncles’ race to the finish, bassist Robin Richards steadies the pace with thick undertones, resulting in a chilled-but-poppy anthem that brings O Shudder to an aptly catchy, finger-snapping conclusion.

Dutch Uncles – O Shudder tracklist:

  1. “Babymaking”
  2. “Upsilon”
  3. “Drips”
  4. “Decided Knowledget”
  5. “I Should Have Read”
  6. “In n Out”
  7. “Given Thing”
  8. “Don’t Sit Back (Frankie Said)”
  9. “Accelerate”
  10. “Tidal Weight”
  11. “Be Right Back”
Album-art-for-Creatures-by-Rone Rone – Creatures


French producer Rone’s fourth studio album Creatures is easy to get lost in and entranced by with its minimalist techno beats. Each score is epic, cinematic, and captivating. There isn’t a clear concept for the album, but the tracks are connected through their similarities in composition. Rone has a high standard of craftsmanship for each track, resulting in a musicality and complexity similar to that of a baroque composer.

As a project from start to finish, Creatures has a slightly chaotic flow. Opening track “(00)” sets a dark and epic tone, but also feels somewhat useless in combination with the album’s other, more engaging tracks. There’s a different mood and emotion presented with each new song, but without a solid connection—no big picture idea. Regardless, the tracks are a gorgeous, though slightly miscellaneous, collection.

Most of the album is entirely keyboards, synths, and laptop-produced tracks, with the exception of “Sir Orfeo,” “CaliceTexas,” and “Quitter la ville.” Those three tracks have intriguing featured vocals by Sea Oleena, Bachar Mar Khalife, and Francois Marry, of Francois & The Atlas Mountain, respectively. “Sir Orfeo” and “Calice Texas” make use of intentionally unintelligible vocals as opposed to lyrics with meaning. “Quitter,” on the other hand, has actual lyrics in French. The foreign lyrics add a slightly cryptic edge to Creatures.

Still, the emotions Rone wishes to express are more accessible through the beats than any of the album’s vocals.

The beats are indeed mesmerizing and complex in nature, but are not loaded with over the top production. Some tracks, such as “Sing Song” and “Ouija,” are synth-heavy and sound very digital, but maintain more upbeat rhythms. They have a more epic sound because of how the digitized sounds fill the track. These songs are contrasted with the likes of  “Elle” and “Calice Texas,” which feature recognizable instruments such as trumpets and strings. They are not neccesarily less frich because of the different instrumentation, but they have a different vibe because of the more traditional sounds. Rone has a distinct style that falls into the category of minimal techno, but his intricate production feels more symphonic.

Rone’s work can be defined with Creatures; the album is engaging, complex, and a little bit funky. It seems as though Creatures is more experimental than Rone’s previous works, which were experiments nonetheless, but more conventionally poppy. This album’s addictive qualities will make the listener want to continuously come back for more.

Rone – Creatures tracklist:

  1. “(00)”
  2. “Acid Reflux (feat. Toshinori Kondo)”
  3. “Elle (ft. Bryce Dessner of The National)”
  4. “Sing Song”
  5. “Memory”
  6. “Sir Orfeo (feat. Sea Oleena)”
  7. “Ouija”
  8. “Roads”
  9. “Calice Texas (feat. Bachar Mar Khalife)”
  10. “Freaks (feat. Gaspar Claus)”
  11. “Quitter la ville (feat. Francois Marry of Francois & The Atlas Mountain)”
  12. “Vif”
Album-art-for-Country-Music-by-Vision-Fortune Vision Fortune – Country Music


Experimental band Vision Fortune shows a biting sense of humor with the title of its challenging sophomore LP Country Music, as the unusual album experience couldn’t be further from the country genre. The Belgium trio centers around brothers Austin and Alex Peru, both contributing vocals and guitar, with percussionist Andres Cuatroquesos adding drums, though none of these instruments are recognizable in an immediate sense.

Eagerly embracing minimalism with sparse rhythms and restrained instrumentation, Vision Fortune works in neither traditional nor modern song structures. Instead, the band breaks music down to its most basic elements, then effectively manipulates those elements. Immediate, often surprising changes in both rhythm and tempo pull listeners from any sense of normalcy, opening them to Vision Fortune’s unpredictability. Country Music successfully surrounds listeners in an uncomfortable, mechanical dystopia, but ends up doing more boring than terrifying due to textural repetition.

Many of the LP’s compositions center around Cuatroquesos’ uneasy, irregular compound rhythmic drumming, most notably in glitchy instrumental “Habitat.” Mechanical keyboards open the ramshackle track, but it quickly turns to a bare-bones drum solo, a space in which Cuatroquesos takes no stabs at explosive fills or pounding percussion, instead continuing the subdued time-keeping that grounds the unorthodox trio. After the solo section, keyboards return with the the kind of electronic grinding sound one might find in UK-style dubstep, creating a tense friction which is only half-heartedly relieved in a dreary coda.

The pinnacle of gloom, and of Vision Fortune’s effectiveness, comes in the middle of Country Music.

In a three song section featuring “Sandrino,” “Stalker,” and “Drunk Ghost,” the band pulls listeners into a dark, bottomless pit.

“Sandrino” is a foreboding piece made of droning block chords, volume swells, and rhythmless hovering. The track’s volume waxes and wanes throughout, hypnotizing listeners and making them vulnerable to whatever is lurking in the next shadow. “Stalker” gets listeners’ heart-rates racing with squealing guitar notes while drums mimic the sound of footsteps on the ground. Once listeners are sufficiently freaked out, “Drunk Ghost” enters with startling high-pitched “ooh” voices, and echoey electric guitars and backwards drums augment the phantom feeling.

Vision Fortune accesses the concept of program music, emulating the sensation of being followed, communicating a narrative with musical elements rather than words. The haunting affair of “Sandrino,” “Stalker,” and “Drunk Ghost” captures a creepy moment, and is the most effective passage of the LP.

In the last section of Country Music, Vision Fortune begins to bore. The band starts to repeat its experimental ideas many times over, and the entire LP would benefit from more conciseness. The majority of tracks use the soft, gooey texture of the Peru brothers’ vocals to smooth out the sharper punches of their instrumentals. Almost all of these instrumentals revolve around dissonant guitar harmonies, deep sub-bass, and relentless, driving percussion. While this texture-balancing technique works, it feels monotonous after multiple Country Music appearances (“Cleanliness,” “Broken Teeth,” “New Jack City”).

One of the most repetitious elements of the album is the lifeless groaning of the Peru brothers. With little lyrical information available, listeners take in the vocalists’ emotions purely through delivery and dynamics. However, the brothers consistently moan their harmonies apathetically, offering little more than a sludgy texture to contrast the sharp sounds of the band’s instrumentals.

By the time Vision Fortune reaches dark, blurry closer “Back Crawl II,” listeners’ eyes are glazed over as they wait for the chronic sub-bass rattling to end. Exhibiting the same elements as the entire preceding LP, “Back Crawl II” alternates between pulsing and hovering until ending Country Music on a malicious, fuzzy keyboard note.

With its repetitively eerie screeches and hollow mechanical sounds, Country Music would do better as a horror movie score than a standalone album. Though it achieves its intended effect, it does nothing with that effect, making it a senseless endeavor.

Vision Fortune – Country Music tracklist:

  1. “Blossom”
  2. “Habitat”
  3. “Dry Mouth”
  4. “Cleanliness”
  5. “Tita”
  6. “Tied and Bound”
  7. “Sandrino”
  8. “Stalker”
  9. “Drunk Ghost”
  10. “Broken Teeth”
  11. “New Jack City”
  12. “Back Crawl II”
Album-art-for-EP2-by-ALSO ALSO – EP2


EP2 is the second installation in the EP trilogy by ALSO, and is only two tracks long. The sparse tracklist is narrative-like; the beats progress with the ebbs and flows of a story, coming to climaxes at different points. The EP is a quirky nod to Detroit house, sharing similar sounds and melodies with the genre, but with a reimagined foundation. While the project is strong, it lacks the same luster as other house/ambient electronic artists. If the tracks were to play at a party, they’d be danceable and suit the environment, but if they were to come up on shuffle while commuting to work, they’d likely get skipped. Despite an initial draw, the EP struggles to hold attention.

ALSO is composed of the duo Appleblim (Laurie Osbourne) and Second Storey (Alec Storey), who are both electronic artists with similar sounds. The EP is not too far off from each artist’s usual creative endeavors. The first track “Formation” takes a more ambient approach. In contrast, the second “Rant Check: Pts. 1 & 2” throbs with a more uptempo rhythm.

“Formation” introduces itself with echoing dribbles that instantly entrance the listener. The track is mellow and smooth before shifting to a more percussive pulse.

Eventually the song finds a happy-medium between the two ideas within the track—the ambient and ephemeral versus the edgier counterpart.

“Rant Check: Pts 1 & 2” has a more pop-sensible feel than the previous track on the EP. There are moments where one might expect a drop in the beat a la big room house, but it never comes. Part of the appeal of the second track is that it builds in a way that parallels more mainstream electronic music, yet the duo keeps the beat controlled. Eventually the track does get to fuller glitchier sounds, but never with the harsh gearshift that we have learned to expect from house-like tracks. “Rant Check” also has a darker yet danceable quality like that of artists Jon Hopkins or Moderat.

The two songs on the EP complement each other, even as they veer in different directions. One can find the common threads between the two, particularly within the beat’s structures. Despite a distinct cohesion, the tracks stand strong on their own.

However, after spending eight minutes listening to “Formation,” or twelve for “Rant Check,” they are not memorable. Once the track is over it is difficult to fully recall what was just heard. The album doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Perhaps this is because it is the second in the series. Not having heard the final installment yet, maybe this opinion will change and the entire three-part project will leave a new mark of its own.

ALSO’s EP2 is an interesting listen, particularly for those who like beats that meander through darker melodies. But the album doesn’t feel fully formed, even in relation to the first EP in the series. Even though it felt this way, it is a unique project that provokes curiosity about what future collaborations between Appleblim and Second Storey may sound like once they figure out what exactly ALSO is a little better.

ALSO – EP2 tracklist:

  1. “Formation”
  2. “Rant Check Pts. 1 & 2”
Album-art-for-Own-Your-Own-Love-Again-by-Jessica-Pratt Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again


Jessica Pratt’s debut album On Your Own Love Again sounds like the result of teenage heartbreak. A lovesick Pratt even stands over a fire escape on the cover of the album. She mopes, befriends a guitar, and creates On Your Own Love Again. The album is teeming with strong guitar chords, stark vocals, and an unnerving lilt in both. Though her voice reaches a shrill point at certain times, the emotionally raw lyrics compensate.

The album was recorded on a four track recorder in Pratt’s own home, but the sound remains crisp and refreshing. It’s like Pratt could be a talented busker encountered on a commute home. The album itself surprisingly doesn’t have a lo-fi feel, but remains intimate through its confessional and anecdotal lyrics. It’s polished, but not to the point of obvious studio refinement. On Your Own Love Again is emotive and messy, lending a memorable charm.

This is no longer the hesitant songwriter heard in Pratt’s self-titled EP; this is the older, world-weary, adult version.

Pratt’s grating voice is initially difficult to take in, but once she begins to stroke her guitar, it all makes sense. Her unnerving, delicate drawls are reminiscent of Nico, but the pitch of her voice is the opposite. Pratt’s tone is unique and unadulterated, threatening to break at any moment.

The album’s first single, “Back, Baby,” demonstrates Pratt’s talent. The ambiguous tension in the song seeps through twangy, jilted guitar strums with accented lyrics. The track wouldn’t be out of place playing near a cliched sunset, with Pratt moping on a sandy beach. Her work mourns her lost relationships, but she does not feel guilty—it is the other person’s loss.

Pratt has no time for self-pity. Instead, she picks up a guitar and lets it tell the story.

The album carries an edge, with Pratt’s characteristic jeering and vocal hardness. She’s at her best in “The Game That I Play,” where she addresses romance, her siren voice condemning those of a lighter heart. For Pratt, it might be more appropriate to say that the voice is mightier than the sword: she addresses the subjects of her songs with rigor and power.

It would be easy to call Pratt’s album twee. At certain points, her voice grows irritating and unbearable. In the last few tracks of the album, Pratt’s woe becomes unbelievable the whinier she grows. However, these helpless pleas are the same caliber of folk lords’ Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith—a learnt effect. Pratt often takes cues from other folk artists a bit too far. Mitski and Angel Olsen serve the same appeal as Pratt: a heartbroken, sad woman strums a guitar. There is very little room for invention in this certain aesthetic, but Pratt has mastered it just the same.

The album’s most striking feature is its lyrics. This is where the sound’s derivative quality is forgiven. Pratt’s lyrics are intimate and personal, like she’s making musical diary entries. She is sharp, conniving, and most of all, powerful in her lyrical prose. It allows her to create better, more fulfilled songs that may have been lacking in original sound.

Pratt’s talent certainly matches the founding artists of folk, but it appears that it is easier to live in Joni Mitchell’s shadow than to step out of it. The album is derivative, but not in an unpleasing way. On Your Own Love Again is another folk buzz record, but Pratt’s honest lyrical anger stands out.

Jessica Pratt – On Your Own Love Again tracklist:

  1. “Wrong Hand”
  2. “Game That I Play”
  3. “Strange Melody”
  4. “Greycedes”
  5. “Moon Dude”
  6. “Jacquelyn in the Background”
  7. “I’ve Got A Feeling”
  8. “Back, Baby”
  9. “On Your Own Love Again”
Album-art-for-The-Deepest-Lake-by-Dengue-Fever Dengue Fever – The Deepest Lake


Dengue Fever is a Los Angeles-based psychedelic band full of the assumed white boys—with the exception of Cambodian lead singer Chhom Nimol, that is. The band’s gimmick is its lyrics sung in both Khmer and English. Her language switch-ups sneak and snake through each other, illustrating the album’s form with impeccable detail. Nimol is the star of The Deepest Lake, with trippy surfer tones molding to her vocals.

This new album calls back to Dengue Fever’s earliest albums in which Nimol sang exclusively in Khmer. Language is an important part of The Deepest Lake. The album’s messages are communicated concisely through sonic details—the lyrics would sound uncomfortable in any language other than Khmer, in fact. This allows emotional, earnest tracks like “Taxi Dancer” to mingle with the chanting, pounding sounds in songs like “Rom Say Sok.” The foreign dialect isn’t meant to alienate the listener, rather, it exists to draw them in.

Language is just another instrument for Dengue Fever—it’s played, and it’s played well.

The natural sexuality of Nimol’s vocals is played up on the album, but it grows dull and repetitive after a certain point. One can only chant Khmer so many times. Near the end of The Deepest Lake, the songs nearly blur together in their similarity. This isn’t to say that these songs aren’t good, but they aren’t nearly as distinguished and engaged as the first half of the album.

Still, The Deepest Lake has multiple notable tracks. The slow, grinding rhythm and hypnotic beat of “No Sudden Moves” is undeniably the most immersive of the album. Seductive and wily bits, snared in smooth chords and suggestive sounds make the track a standout. However, as venereal as this album remains, it isn’t a shameful kind of suggestive, but more of a wry, self-assured bent of confidence in the sensuality of the work. Nimol proves to be a musical femme fatale of sorts with this album, singing dramatically and whole-heartedly.

Dengue Fever consists of five men and a goddess. The Deepest Lake returns to the band’s Khmer roots, allowing Nimol a sense of divinity and otherworldliness. Regardless of the latter half’s lack of definition, The Deepest Lake is a solid project. The lush, sultry beats are exemplified by Nimol’s vocal range, and her talent is equally highlighted by the grinding, surfer-esque melodies. Dengue Fever achieves music depicting the feminine divine—it remains so dreamy and utterly female.

Dengue Fever – The Deepest Lake:

  1. “Tokay”
  2. “No Sudden Moves”
  3. “Rom Say Sok”
  4. “Ghost Voice”
  5. “Deepest Lake on the Planet”
  6. “Cardboard Castles”
  7. “Vacant Lot”
  8. “Still Waters Run Deep”
  9. “Taxi Dancer”
  10. “Golden Flute”
Album-art-for-What-a-Terrible-World-What-a-Beautiful-World-by-The-Decemberists The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World


Colin Meloy—lead singer and mastermind of the prolific Decemberists—used to be focused on the characters and the worlds constantly streaming through his head, like a modern, musical Tolkien.

Now, with the newly released What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World, he seems to be looking increasingly outward before chewing ideas over internally. Rambling tales of Chinese trapeze artists and vengeful, orphaned sailors have given way to more present reflections on fame, family, and tragedy.

This latest installment still sounds like the Decemberists (how could it not, with Meloy’s distinctive vocals and the old-timey-forest vibe that accompanies nearly every song?), and it contains more hits than misses, but it somehow fails to feel like a cohesive album. What’s worse, it lacks that fundamental, joyous spark that makes even the darkest Decemberists song an entertaining ride.

“Philomena” is perhaps the only track on What a Terrible World that feels like something from the band’s heyday.

Like an outtake from Rocky Horror Picture Show, the song begins with sickly sweet “ooh”s and “ahh”s before Meloy dives into the perspective of a horny (and sexually generous) teenager who just wants to go down on his girlfriend.

Other tracks are too vague to be considered proper stories, but nonetheless have the exuberant heft of a good Decemberists song: “The Wrong Year,” which could have replaced “Make You Better” as the lead single; “Easy Come, Easy Go,” with its ominous, gather-’round-the-fire melody; and the closing track, “A Beginning Song,” that feels at once painfully vulnerable and elated, like standing on the precipice of a life-changing moment.

And, in the spirit of vulnerability, What a Terrible World sees Meloy reflecting on the outside world more clearly than ever. In the opening track, “The Singer Addresses His Audience” (which Meloy says is not directly from his perspective), he contemplates the balance between making art for oneself and rewarding fans’ loyalty, singing, “We know you built your life around us/…/But we had to change some.”

He strips down even further on “12-17-12.” A response to the Sandy Hook shooting, the simple, strumming song is addressed to Meloy’s son, who was in first grade at the time of the tragedy. “What a gift, what a gift you can give me,” he sings, “Here with my heart so whole while others may be grieving/Think of their grieving.” In a final plea for understanding, the song ends on the line that inspired the album title: “Oh, god, what a world you have made here/What a terrible world, what a beautiful world.”

With such potent ideas springing from the album’s best moments, other tracks—such as “Lake Song,” “Carolina Low,” “Cavalry Captain,” and “Better Not Wake the Baby”—seem unnecessary or simply misplaced (the latter’s brash harmonica makes it sound like an outtake from the previous Decemberists album, The King is Dead). None of these tracks are bad, per se, but for an album so long in the making, What a Terrible World has a lot of fat left untrimmed.

Of course, The Decemberists at their worst still make music at its best. Creativity like theirs has to be held to a higher standard, and though What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World will likely be one of the best albums released in 2015, it’s a bit of a disappointment to fans who’ve waited four long years for their fix of nerdy, fantastical, fun Decemberists.

The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World tracklist:

  1. “The Singer Addresses His Audience”
  2. “Cavalry Captain”
  3. “Philomena”
  4. “Make You Better”
  5. “Lake Song”
  6. “Till the Water’s All Long Gone”
  7. “The Wrong Year”
  8. “Carolina Low”
  9. “Better Not Wake the Baby”
  10. “Anti-Summersong”
  11. “Easy Come, Easy Go”
  12. “Mistral”
  13. “12-17-12”
  14. “A Beginning Song”
Album-art-for-Viet-Cong-by-Viet-Cong Viet Cong – Viet Cong


It’s perplexing, at first, to classify the type of music played by Canadian rockers Viet Cong. The quartet combines the abrasive instrumentation of industrial rock, the extensive layouts of ambient music, and the minimalism of lo-fi recording. These elements, however, are mixed to varying degrees of success. Viet Cong’s self-titled debut presents an ambitious group of creative rockers intent on melding the unmeldable, but the LP becomes inaccessible with gratuitous repetition, poor vocal delivery, and unusual recording conditions.

Solemn opener “Newspaper Spoons” begins the album with drummer Mike Wallace’s abrasive, militant pounding. Viet Cong initiates listeners into its lo-fi rock cult, relentlessly chanting, “Writhing violence/Essentially without distortion/Quiet, silent/Vanishing into the boredom.” The song does its best to draw listeners into Viet Cong’s industrial production, but with no change in dynamics or tempo, falls short of the grandiose introduction it aspires to be.

Viet Cong aims to create spectacles  with the broad layout of ambient music, but that layout thrives on texture-layering, a method completely ignored on Viet Cong. Often, all four band members enter at once, leaving nothing to listeners’ imaginations.

The absence of careful texture construction leaves Viet Cong with an excess of time on its hands, resulting in a chronic overuse of repetition. Garage rock number “Bunker Buster” repeats a minimal, two-note guitar riff for its entire intro, wearing the song thin before vocals even arrive. With only about sixty seconds of actual musical material, the six-minute song spends most of its time rehashing already-simplified riffs.

Repetition hinders most on the hellishly tedious “March of Progress.” Mechanical keyboards cut through the track, droning the same note for nearly three minutes. Bright, celebratory keys arrive toward the end of the track but the party arrives too late; the excitement is long gone.

Like much of the arduous album, “March of Progress” marches towards its own end but finds no prize when it gets there.

When Viet Cong’s ramshackle riffs finally topple, the band falls on singer/bassist Matt Flegel’s apathetic vocals, most of which come slightly distorted. Vocal distortion is not inherently malicious, but when paired with sloppy diction it makes lyrics difficult to distinguish (“Pointless Experience,” “Bunker Buster”).

By the time Viet Cong reaches eleven-minute closer “Death,” vocals have become just another blurry tool for Viet Cong. After four minutes of Flegel’s uninspired mumbling and four more of aimless, instrumental wandering, the band launches into a hurried coda. As Flegel cries his lyrics with increasing frenzy, it becomes apparent that he’s channeling Jim Morrison’s apocalyptic conclusion of “The End.” While Flegel’s vocals are just as frantic as Morrison’s, his execution is much less precise and his ending is nowhere near as impactful.

Performance is paramount, but some of Viet Cong’s shortcomings may also be attributed to bizarre recording conditions. The band recorded its debut in a barn-turned-studio. The unusual space both helps and hinders the final product. Its closeness keeps all four band members tightly bundled and jamming together, but its lack of traditional recording processes makes for low sound quality.

Lo-fi recording isn’t necessarily problematic, but when sound quality decreases, emotional quality must increase. Viet Cong‘s emotional quality can’t increase though, because its stubborn “less is more” attitude inhibits not only sound quality, but also vocal melodies, lyrics, and instrumentation. Without these elements to hold listeners’ ears and minds, the LP limps lifelessly for much of its duration.

Still, the experience of recording an entire album in a barn will strengthen any band’s ability to play as a unit. Viet Cong frequently makes sudden rhythmic changes and though the changes are jarring, they’re also impressive. All four members pivot flawlessly in unison, a tough feat for such awkward, immediate transitions.

Viet Cong’s first full-length may not have made the mark it meant to, but it did introduce the world to a batch of zealous young musicians. Their wayward attitude, the absolute refusal to play by the rules or follow norms, should be encouraged as it is exactly what makes rock music liberating. Think of this LP as a happy mistake, a shaky first step towards the auditory dystopia Viet Cong aims to create. A failed experiment is the most important tool in a rock band’s toolbox because it exposes that band’s strengths and weaknesses, providing a platform from which to start.

Viet Cong – Viet Cong tracklist:

  1. “Newspaper Spoons”
  2. “Pointless Experience”
  3. “March of Progress”
  4. “Bunker Buster”
  5. “Continental Shelf”
  6. “Silhouettes”
  7. “Death”
Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper


Noah Lennox, otherwise known as Panda Bear, is most often recognized as 1/4th of the experimental pop outfit Animal Collective. The sweeping harmonies and cryptic lyrics of the band’s eclectic discography are ever-present on his new release, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper (stylized as PBVSGR). The album celebrates change more colorfully than his first release in 2004, Young Prayer. Garbled electronic dance jams, stunning piano and harp loops, and dissonant electronic noise (as well as a dog howl here and there), make for an album of light industrial noise and twinkles of ascending frequencies.

The first track, “Sequential Circuits,” introduces the album with sparse instrumentation, a quality maintained through the album’s entirety. Immediately, Sonic Boom’s production is evident and comparable to 2011’s release Tomboy, except the soaring reverb is now wet and percussive. Lennox creates his own “call and response” harmonies on this track, which gives the listener the impression there are a few more people behind the recording, almost reminiscent of The Beach Boys, which Panda Bear is often compared to, gathering around a single microphone.

The first single off of the album, “Mr. Noah,” is somewhat reminiscent of late ’90s hip-hop meshed with an overblown Black Moth Super Rainbow-esque synth. With lines like, “This dog got bit on the leg,” and, “Don’t want to get out of bed/Unless he feels like it’s justified,” listeners can feel his malaise resonating. At the end of each vocal line of the verse Lennox sings in ascending and descending half steps. This small addition to the melody opens up the entire track to the rising and falling expressed in the lyrics.

Following the instrumental interlude “Davy Jones’ Locker,” the track “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker” has a nice Caribbean beat, but the song doesn’t really go anywhere. At a little over 3 minutes, the track seems a bit drawn out with its woozy repetition and schoolyard play song. Although there are transitions, it just doesn’t feel like it moves. Lackluster, but not a bad song.

“Boy’s Latin” is a just a driving celebration of life.

Despite extreme repetition, the use of bouncing octave vocals fills the song out and makes quick work of the 4:14 minutes. A testament to what can be done with simplicity and redundancy, the “call-and-response” effect fills out any empty space. The departure from Lennox’s quintessential reverb-soaked vocals to a chanting and organic delay on this song dispels the claim some have about “vocal effects masking ability”—Lennox has one of the most impressive vocal ranges in alternative music today.

On “Tropic of Cancer” he channels Scott Walker, crooning lines like, “When they say he’s ill/Laughed it off as if it’s no big deal,” alluding to the mourning of his father. The track seems to be the most direct and honest attack at living up to the latter half of the album title.

After an instrumental, a beautiful electronic-infused sampled piano ballad, and the only true “dance jam” on the album, “Principle Real,” twists through a phaser with a pulsing synth, characteristic of the late 80’s. Although it never really builds and drops, the song swoons, with the addition and reduction of sparse percussion and layered doppler-like synths. The track ends with the repetition of, “You’ll trip again/You’ll trip up again/You’ll get up again,” almost as a positive-self reinforcement that good times come and go.

“Acid Wash” could play over the rolling credits of a historically accurate musical circa 1850, disregarding the experimental warped electronics. With an opening that sounds like a Top-40 station blurb, it somehow seemingly transitions to a triumphant march—an appropriate way to conclude an album with sounds ranging from the sharp and ugly to the horrifyingly beautiful.

Even with it’s slow moments, Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper manages to capture everything listeners want from an album: recognizing the melancholy we all feel and celebrating everything that comes with living through it.

Panda Bear – Panda Bear Meets The Grim Reaper tracklist:

  1. “Sequential Circuits”
  2. “Mr Noah”
  3. “Davy Jones’ Locker”
  4. “Crosswords”
  5. “Butcher Baker Candlestick Maker”
  6. “Boys Latin”
  7. “Come to Your Senses”
  8. “Tropic of Cancer”
  9. “Shadow of the Colossus”
  10. “Lonely Wanderer”
  11. “Principe Real”
  12. “Selfish Gene”
  13. “Acid Wash”
Album-art-for-The-Pale-Emperor-by-Marilyn-Manson Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor


Marilyn Manson has been challenging audiences with his abrasive hybrid of shock rock and industrial metal since the mid-90s, but until recently his gothic aesthetic and Satanic-esque lyrics were filtered through major record label Interscope. In 2009 however, Interscope dropped Manson due to low sales of his seventh album, The High End of Low. Free from major label confines and allowed to run wild on his vanity label Hell, etc., Manson’s next release was 2012’s Born Villain, an album laced with so many Biblical allegories and Shakespearean references that even his own fan-base had trouble keeping up.

Three years later, Manson has regained the quality that made him an icon: the balance between envelope-pushing lyrical concepts and the simple boldness of heavy metal. By delivering some of his most unique songs to date with lyrics that are both poetic and accessible, The Pale Emperor epitomizes the best of the band’s post-2000 sound.

Lead single “Third Day of A Seven Day Binge” delivers straightforward, no bullshit Manson with a deliberate pace set by drummer Gil Sharone and grounded by Twiggy Ramirez’s signature sludgy bass, recreating the confidently dirty strut of Manson classics like “Dope Show.” “Third Day” reminds listeners of the intellect behind the mess with insightful lines like, “I can’t decide if you wear me out or wear me well/I just feel like I’m condemned to wear someone else’s hell.”

Lyrics are the crux of any Manson album. No record of his would feel complete without an outward rejection of organized religion, and “The Devil Beneath My Feet” fills that flawlessly with bold lyrics, “I don’t need a motherfucker looking down on me/Motherfucker looking down on me.” Although it doesn’t appear until more than halfway through The Pale Emperor, “The Devil Beneath My Feet” is the first track to feature prominent profanity.

While the lack of swearing in the first half of the LP is an anomaly for the self-proclaimed God of Fuck, it proves that Manson’s poeticism can stand on its own, without the crutch of excessive cursing.

The recently rediscovered balance in Manson’s lyrics have lead to some of his most unique songs, including “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” The Pale Emperor‘s most memorable track. The impact of repeated line, “Are we fated, faithful, or fatal?” grows as Manson’s voice gradually progresses from a scratchy quiver to a hard-hitting scream.

The acoustic version of “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles,” titled “Fated, Faithful, Fatal,” unearths the self-pitying line, “I’m feeling stoned and alone like a heretic/and I’m ready to meet my maker,” exposing the humanly vulnerable side of Manson that make his scratchy screams so damn relatable. Meanwhile, the main version bellows this admission of weakness over head-banging distortion, turning a moment of emotional frailty to an opportunity for catharsis. The liberating chorus is followed immediately by Manson’s restrained, disdained delivery of the repeated lyric, “Lazarus got no dirt on me.” This bold transition makes the track a standout, even among Manson’s two-decades-long catalog.

The Pale Emperor concludes its goth rock regime with “Odds of Even,” a heart-wrenchingly honest song of self-reflection centering around the line, “My dagger and swagger are useless in the face of the mirror when the mirror is made of my face.” Besides demonstrating Manson’s deft wordplay, these soul-bearing lyrics make “Odds of Even” a satisfactory closer, and are even more powerful in the acoustic version, titled “Day 3.”

With powerful tracks both acoustic and electric, The Pale Emperor solidifies the band’s ability to produce high quality Manson albums without the filter of a major label. By demonstrating the best of Manson’s sound with distinctive tracks and balanced lyrics, the album is destined to become a fan favorite.

Marilyn Manson – The Pale Emperor tracklist:

  1. “Killing Strangers”
  2. “Deep Six”
  3. “Third Day of A Seven Day Binge”
  4. “The Mephistopheles of Los Angeles”
  5. “Warship My Wreck”
  6. “Slave Only Dreams To Be King”
  7. “The Devil Beneath My Feet”
  8. “Birds of Hell Awaiting”
  9. “Cupid Carries A Gun”
  10. “Odds of Even
  11. “Day 3”
  12. ” Fated, Faithful, Fatal”
  13. “Fall of The House of Death”