Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Crystal Castles announce new album, release new single, give you nightmares with "Plague" video

Big news from Toronto's least friendly, most danceable goth duo, Crystal Castles (sorry, Trust -- nice try!). Crystal Castles producer Ethan Kath and vocalist Alice Glass have been dropping hints about their third album for a few months now, but at last, they've provided the world with details. Out November 5 via Casablanca/Fiction/Universal Republic, the new record will, like its two predecessors, be self-titled (Crystal Castles' #1 favorite thing is to be difficult), and henceforth will be known in practice as Crystal Castles (III). That's the cover art above, featuring what Pitchfork tells me is "an award-winning image by Spanish photographer Samuel Aranda...taken after a street demonstration in Yemen on October 15, 2011." It "pictures a woman...holding her son...who suffered from tear gas." Seem bleak? Well, of course: Crystal Castles' #2 favorite thing is to be depressing, and the following statement from Alice Glass suggests that III will find her and Kath at their most gloomy and antagonistic:

"Oppression is a theme, in general.... A lot of bad things have happened to people close to me...and it's profoundly influenced my writing as I've realized there will never be justice for them.... I didn't think I could lose faith in humanity any more than I already had, but after witnessing some things, it feels like the world is a dystopia where victims don't get justice and corruption prevails. I'm one step away from being a vigilante to protect people and bring justice to the people I love. I've thought about it."

Okay, so what I get from that is: yikes, Alice Glass is terrifying. If you encounter a tiny, very angry 20-something woman dressed sorta like a bat in a Toronto alleyway, run the f away before she destroys you! If you need more convincing, click here to DOWNLOAD (for free!) the new single from the album, entitled "Wrath of God" (, help!). Kath's production on the track, as with the earlier single "Plague," continues to blend 8-bit, shoegaze, and nu-rave textures with danceable yet melancholy results, rendered psychologically disturbing by Glass's hysterical vocal work. The richer, dreamier sound is probably the result of the acoustic recording processes and all new keyboards Kath employed during the recording sessions for III. He said in a statement that he "wanted the album to have a completely different sound," which we can safely assume is code for "Alice Glass threatened to eat me alive if my tracks grew repetitive and stale."

A new album, a new album cover, a new single, and a new reason to be afraid of Ms. Glass is already a lot of new information from this famously cryptic pair, but WAIT, THERE'S MORE! Have you been sleeping soundly at night? Are your dreams pleasant and relaxing? Remedy these conditions by watching the reeeeeeally, really upsetting new music video for the first single from III, "Plague," which came out on 7" this summer. Depicting a possessed woman's final throes, a ballet lesson gone demonically awry, and an unexpected, decidedly unpleasant use of milk (ew), this is seriously freaky stuff, freakier even than the song that soundtracks it. The video is embedded below; do not let a child see it.

UPDATE: The video was directed by a fan, and the band liked it so much they made it the official video for the track, which tells you all you need to know about their taste. The footage is actually from a 1981 horror film called Possession. (Information courtesy of Pitchfork.)

Baby Face Killa marks Freddie Gibbs’ third major mixtape in the last four years, following up well received joints The Miseducation of Freddie Gibbs and Cold Day In Hell.  The Gary, Indiana native has impressed with his relentless, meticulously efficient flow and a distinctive voice steeped in the desolation of his hometown.  BFK, presented by the omnipresent DJ Drama, features guest spots from vets such as Young Jeezy, Krayzie Bone, and Jadakiss, as well as up and comers, SpaceGhostPurrp, Kirko Bangz, and YG.  But no matter who’s on the track with him, Gibbs’ verses dominate BFK’s 18 cuts, thanks to his gravelly delivery and ability to overcome at-times mediocre beat-making.
With the tape’s first track, “BFK”, first time Gibbs’ listeners will likely find his style familiar, for his voice and flow recall the deep, syrupy deliveries of Southern greats Bun B and Trick Daddy.  It’s this flow which carries the album’s opening tracks, making up for some pretty played-out hooks and mediocre production.  Several of the tracks feel as though they’re one or two simple flaws away from being exceedingly enjoyable.  “Money, Clothes, Hoes” features one of the album’s best beats, a synthy, oscillating nightmare from Feb.9, and Gibbs matches it by slowing down from his usual rapid-fire delivery with a well-executed mix of thuggery and creepiness.  Unfortunately, the hook features Gibbs chanting the song’s title for almost a full minute, and we’re left wishing that the attention Gangsta Gibbs pays to executing technically flawless verses could be applied to creating a more innovative chorus.  The next number, “The Hard” has more great production from Feb.9, a spacey beat laced with haunting operatics, which lends perfectly executed Gibbs lines (“this glock ain’t got no safety, the owner got no patience, so please don’t make my finger and this trigger make relations”) a surreal feeling.  But unfortunately, the hook is basic and repetitive, and the featured Dana Williams sounds like a dispirited Rihanna impersonator.
The album’s all around strongest track is undoubtedly “Kush Cloud”.  SMKA’s smoked out beat alone is enough to keep me coming back to this song, and it’s haziness makes another routine hook from Gibbs sound appropriate in a hypnotic way.  When Freddie drops in out of nowhere, “Mo murda, mo murda, in the Tahoe with my burner”, his voice cuts into the ambience of the beat like a face looming through a cloud of smoke.  He shouts out Bone Thugs ‘n’ Harmony near the end of his verse, and Krayzie Bone, the Cleveland group’s most successful soloist, responds with a very strong showing of his own.  Old school fans will be satisfied to hear that he hasn’t lost a step, and he leaves us wondering how he manages to seemingly never take a breath (especially given the habit he’s discussing).  Finally, Florida’s SpaceGhostPurrp ends things by slowing the song down to a codeine-tinted, psychedelic crawl, a very effective finish after the non-stop efforts from Gibbs and Krayzie Bone.
As the second half of the tape progresses, Gibbs’ strengths become increasingly clear.  Although his rapid-fire flow is very impressive in its consistency, he’s at his best when he slows it down a measure and allows us to hear the gravelly street in his voice.  On the Outkast inspired “On Me”, Gibbs deftly mixes up the pace of his delivery, as well as the length of the rhyme scheme.  Same goes for “Tell a Friend”, featuring Curren$y, on which Gibbs routinely changes speed within one rhyme, making “Put my brother through college on this ski mask shit, told him while he was in class I was with smokers lightin’ up glass dicks” into a cohesive bar.   Young Jeezy provides a solid spot on “Seventeen”, with a clever hook and a verse that recounts his days of drug dealing with an insomnia-addled sound, asking “14 grams in my attic, the dilla or the user, who’s really the addict?”.  Finally, DJ Mustard ends the tape with a minimal, eerie beat for "Every City", with lonely piano strokes which makes Gibbs’ play-boy lyrics seem more severe and threatening.
Baby Face Killa is definitely an enjoyable mixtape, but it’s not one that I would necessarily listen to from beginning to end.  That said, I do look forward to throwing it on when I’m in the mood for a solid, hard-core street sound.  Freddie Gibbs’ vocal abilities obscure BFK’s obvious deficiencies in most instances, but even his captivating flow isn’t enough to make me want to hear snoozers like “Krazy” and “Middle of the Night” ever again.  It’s important to remind oneself that it’s mixtape, not an album, and there is far less thought given to what is included and what isn’t.  But at it’s highest points it does a great job of showcasing an exceptionally talented rapper, and that is well worth the lows.
Best line: ““Grind til you put your moms in a new spot, on the block with the bomb it was too hot, on the block with the bomb it was so cold, sellin’ dope in the snow til’ my toes froze”, Freddie Gibbs, “Bout it Bout it”
Also worth checking out: Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album, Lupe Fiasco

Monday, September 24, 2012

Don't Give a Brit about the Sixties

Welcome to the first ever blog edition of the ‘Don’t Give a Brit’ show that airs on WRMC 91.1 FM at 1-2pm on a Thursday afternoon. I, DJ Phil the Rush, will be constructing a weekly blog post on a particular aspect of the show that we’ve touched on that week. For those of you that are unaware of the miniscule method in the monstrous madness of the ‘Don’t Give a Brit’ show; myself and my fellow British comrade are taking Middlebury College (and the surrounding area) through the briefest, most crass history of British music ever experienced. For instance, we began this week in possibly Britain’s finest musical decade – the Sixties – and in doing so completely disregarded the existence of musical acts preceding this era. Consequently, to anyone who is a big fan of Cliff Richard and the like, I hold my hands up and apologise. Quick tip though, if you walk into your local greeting card store and open up the nearest card, I can almost guarantee “Congratulations” will be blaring out of it. His famous song containing the lyrics “congratulations and celebrations/congratulations and jubilations” is a massive hit with Hallmark as inserting Cliff’s voice into the card effectively does their job for them. 
The obvious place to begin these series of British themed blogs is with what is now regarded as the British Invasion of the 1960s. British musical artists completely dominated global airwaves during the decade and Beatlemania spread internationally and most famously in the US. On 4th April 1964 for example, The Beatle’s occupied each top five position in the US Billboard Hot 100 singles chart in a feat that has not been matched since. Their easy-listening popular sound was a breath of fresh-air for US listeners who longed for a change in the nation’s musical direction.
It did not end there for the British music industry; The Beatles were soon to be followed by the successes of The Rolling Stones, The Dave Clarke Five, Donovan, The Animals, the timeless, never-ageing Tom Jones and many many more. This arguably cumulated on 8th May 1965. On this date, the US Billboard top 10 was made up of entirely British acts in all but one position. The contemporary British music industry, through such auto-tuned, anti-poetic, mainstream pop acts as The Wanted, Jessie J and One Direction would be lucky to even reach the periphery of this famous top 10. I’m not even going to subject my fingers to typing about Cher Lloyd’s musical ‘contribution’… Alas, I digress. 
This onslaught of British music was mainly caused by British youth’s real feel for the rock-and-roll idiom and anyone-can-play aspect of the Skittle craze from across the Atlantic in the decade before them. These charming invaders tinkered with American rock-and-roll music and returned it to within its borders – redressed and restyled – to a generation largely ignorant of its historical and racial origins. For example, “The House of The Rising Sun” shot to top spot in the US in September, 1964 and was the first British Invasion number one not to be connected to The Beatles. However, what is fascinating is that it was a re-jigged traditional American folk song from the 18th Century. The smoke screen that was placed over this evident American influence is part of the reason why the British Invasion was so creative and intricate.
However, it would be wrong to assume that these British acts were carbon-copies of each other and/or shared distinctive and similar sounds. Take The Rolling Stones for example; Jagger, Richards and co. did not follow the same popular music sound as their other successful British compatriots. The Rolling Stones were a more dark, unusual and less parentally accepted band that explicitly made their blues and African-American influence known – an American musical style that had largely been ignored by the mass US population. The name of the band, the shorthand of their character, was taken from “Rollin’ Stone,” a song by the African-American blues musician Muddy Walters. Likewise, Mick Jagger evidently modelled his trademark dance moves on minstrelsy shows of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century.
Regardless of which musical direction these British bands went in, they undoubtedly helped cement the now conventional formation of the rock band – with guitars and drums at the forefront. These acts revolutionised music during the most culturally changing era of recent history. Their presence today is as real as ever, with The Rolling Stones arguably the most sought after live band after inspiring generation after generation.
Songs to check out: Literally anything by The Beatles and The Stones; Dave Clark Five “Because”; Donovan “Sunshine Superman”; The Animals “The House of The Rising Sun” and if you must, Tom Jones “It’s Not Unusual.” Plus, any of the tracks from the ‘Don’t Give a Brit’ playlist this week located at
In Thursday’s show we will be covering one half of the British 1970s, as there is just simply too much material to cover in a one-hour sitting. You’ll get another blog post from me within the next fortnight about an aspect of this fascinating decade, which, believe it or not, contains way more famous material than the Sixties and touches on many more musical bases. These include: Progressive Rock, Glam Rock, Heavy Metal, Glam Rock, Synth Rock; plus many more!      

Math in Words

'Math in Words’ is a fortnightly series tracing the development of math rock through the 90s. In the first installment the focus is on Slint’s 1991 record, Spiderland.

Math rock as a genre largely eludes a definitive exposition; critics generally apply the term when left scratching their heads and finding themselves unable to make comparisons to more familiar styles and structures. Fans are equally ambivalent; any entry on YouTube titled ‘math song’ is more often than not burdened by users commenting on what makes the song distinctively ‘not math’ without offering any elucidation on the subject.  Paradoxically, many of the musicians frequently associated with the genre are as reluctant to accept the term; instead turning it into something of esoteric joke. Writing about individuals who are suspicious of such journalism is just another irony I have to accept as part of this project.
Such frustrations ultimately deny a conventional study of the genre and insist on a more abstract approach. I figure the most logical way to do so would be to have a broad view of the principle characteristics of the bands I will be documenting. These include the use of, but are not limited to: asymmetrical time signatures, idiosyncratic structures, and a privileging of instruments over voice.
In fortnightly installments I hope to assess as chronologically as possible the more accessible records which contributed to the movement whilst still alluding to those which however formative may be considered difficult, or, in some instances, ‘unlistenable’. As tracing the genre through its many antecedents would require a vast, labyrinthine casebook, I’m instead going to focus more specifically on the bands which emerged in the early 90s as I consider this loose collective to be of particular importance when attempting to reach some kind of answer to the question of what math rock is.
To begin unraveling the subject I’ve decided to take a look at Slint’s second and final record, Spiderland. Released in 1991, the record possesses all the hallmarks of what is often considered a truly math rock record: The guitars oscillate between angular rhythms and scratchy riffs, the time signatures are often irregular, and the dynamics shift in a totally unpredictable way. The complexity of each song’s architecture demands total engagement; I tried to listen to it whilst writing this piece and just found myself unable to divide my attention.
Produced by Brian Paulson, the record reflects his raw, live approach to recording which makes for a far more natural sound than the mechanical rigidity of many new rock bands. The production led Steve Albini, the producer of their first effort, Tweeze, to suggest that “The crystalline guitar of Brian McMahan and the glassy, fluid guitar of David Pajo seem to hover in space directly past the listener's nose. The incredibly precise-yet-instinctive drumming has the same range and wallop it would in your living room.”
Released under Chicago’s Touch and Go Records (a self-published zine turned label only ten years prior to Spiderland’s production), Slint joined the indie roster responsible for the likes of Big Black, The Jesus Lizard, and Don Caballero; three bands whose involvement in the progression of math rock is indisputable, not matter who says otherwise.  
Spanning less than forty minutes and totaling only six tracks, the record serves as a veritable model for the genre. Each track is replete with dichotomies: mumbling spoken word narratives to rasping yells, melodic chiming guitars to discordant and distorted stabs, ambient instrumental sections to crowded vocal arrangements. Piero Scaruffi describes them asmasterpieces in rock history… Leveraging from experiments of preceding years, Slint is now completing a more sophisticated search on rhythm and resonance, culminating in an almost transcendental quality”, an accurate statement.
The album artwork is equally unsettling; the members all treading water in black and white, offering what many music journalists may describe as a “brooding extension of the album’s existential angst”. Really it is just a reflection of the band’s autonomy and their investment in every faucet of the record’s production. It may not be your traditional ‘concept album’, but it certainly offers some continuity in everything from artwork, linear notes, and the songs themselves. The band’s self-awareness is evident in the, “this recording is meant to be listened to on vinyl” stickers they included as part of the CD release; it is this kind of engagement with the listener which heightens the intensity and personal feeling of the record.
Whilst truly innovative in more ways than one, the record it is not without its debts. The narratives McMahan delivers in Good Morning, Captain and Breadcrumb Trail are entirely reminiscent of Sonic Youth’s Goo, released only the year before. The guitar arrangements sound at their cleanest to borrow from early Gang of Four records, and at their heaviest, Black Sabbath in drop-tuning.
Spiderland has in more recent years acquired the critical reception it rightly deserves. Whilst largely ignored upon its initial release (which great records aren’t?) it now ranks highly in respected music publications when charting records which actually changed the musical landscape. The band’s limited output of only two records is unfortunate, but no less defining as a consequence. Evidence of Slint’s influence can be seen in the works of JUNE OF 44, Polvo, and Drive like Jehu; three bands credited in equal measure for their involvement on the math rock scene of the 90s. More recent traces can be heard in Mogwai, This Will Destroy You, and 65daysofstatic. As I can think of no conclusion more fitting than that of Steve Albini, I will quote him again here, which is to say, “Play this record and kick yourself if you never got to see them live."
-Oliver Pearson

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Cruel Summer, Kanye West and G.O.O.D Music, 9/18

Welcome to the premiere of This Far, a column which I'll be writing every two weeks here on the WRMC blog and moving over to the new website once it airs on the web.  In this column,  I will be reviewing a recently released hip-hop album, with the occasional mixtape thrown in, in an attempt to help you wade through the flood of beats and bars that hit the internet everyday, so that you only listen to the dopest of the dope.  I will be reviewing a range of albums, from the obscure to the mainstream, from the socially-conscious to the Ciroc-and-kush-induced unconsciousness.  If you have any requests, suggestions, complaints or props for This Far, please give me a shout over email, or on Twitter, @LukeAdirondack.
To kick things off, I'm going to be taking a look at Cruel Summer, the long anticipated collabo album coming out of Kanye West's G.O.O.D. (Getting Our Our Dreams) Music label, a subsidiary of Island Def Jam.  Kanye founded the label in 2004 and has been accumulating an increasingly impressive roster of signees ever since.  Cruel Summer, which dropped on Tuesday after several delays, features many of these artists, both producers and rappers, in a posse album whose members seem to have little in common other than thick ol' stacks.
Previously unreleased “To The World” kicks things off (two of the listed producers have the $ symbol as part of their professional names), and, bizarre R. Kelly hook and all, it sets a pretty representative tone for Cruel Summer.  The heavy beat with dramatic swaths of piano and pounding percussion give the track sort of brave new world sound; granted, a world in which the self-proclaimed "God of rap"(Kanye) can compare himself to Francis Ford Coppola and criticize Mitt Romney in the same breath.  This leads into the four big singles, with which most hip-hop followers will already be familiar, "Clique", "Mercy", "New God Flow", and "Cold", with new release "The Morning" thrown in.  As might have been guessed, these four tracks hold as the highlights of the album.  "Clique" overcomes a bit of an obnoxious Big Sean hook with solid verses from Sean, Jay-Z, and 'Ye, as well as a banging, varied beat from the red hot Hit-Boy(of "Niggas in Paris" fame).  "Mercy" reminds why it was unequivocally the official summer jam of 2012. "New God Flow" features great verses from Pusha T, formerly of Clipse, and Ghostface Killah, while Kanye takes self-worship to astronomical new levels.  This trend continues on "Cold", on which Kanye professes his love for Kim Kardashian (the song first leaked in the Spring), and the fact that the two are now together seems to confirm "Cold"'s message: if 'Ye can say it, 'Ye can get it.  Unfortunately, from there the album seriously falls off.  Another great Hit-Boy beat is wasted by The-Dream's horrible hook on "Higher", and mundane, "promised Kanye I would appear on this one" spots by Common and John Legend provide only disappointment.  Low-level G.O.O.D memebers, such as CyHi the Prynce, Teyana Taylor and D'banj bring very little to the table. "The One" provides a bright spot; in fact, it is probably the track on the album that most recalls College Dropout and Late Registration Kanye, both in production, flow, and lyrical content.  Big Sean and 2 Chainz provide good support, especially Chainz, who impresses with a surprisingly reflective verse.  Finally, the posse remix of Chief Keef's "Don't Like" is tacked on, sounding ridiculous after John Legend's, wind-chime laced "Bliss".  Still a banger, but absurdly placed.
However, it feels almost appropriate that Cruel Summer should end with such an ill-fitting song that was clearly included because Kanye and crew like it.  The album is chiefly about self-indulgence, both in its musical choices and in the lifestyle that the music celebrates.  Part of that indulgence is not catering to the expectations of old-school Kanye fans.  The album's heavier beats don't resonate with his early work, nor does the intensely ostentatious boasting.  This is no longer a man lamenting his basket-weaving course.  That, in the end, is the value of Cruel Summer; it represents one of the musical geniuses of our time celebrating the ability to make whatever music he wants, and to put on whomever he wants.  That being said, I wouldn't blame you for standing pat if you've already downloaded the major tracks.  I don't think 'Yeezy will mind.
Best line: “My girl a superstar all from a home movie!”-Kanye, "Clique".
Also worth checking out: Shoot Me or Salute Me 4, Waka Flocka Flame (Mixtape)

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

35 Albums We Can't Wait To Hear This Fall

Dear WRMC community,

Well, summer's drawing to a close. You know what that means: freshmen are wandering all over Middlebury's campus with a lost look in their eyes, unaware that they'll be sick of paninis by next week and confused as to why there are no books in Starr Library and why their rooming assignment says "Hadley" but everyone keeps calling it "Ross"; the presidential campaigns are becoming too tense to think about, but think about them we must; I'm freaking out that my visa's not going to arrive in time and instead of studying abroad in Europe I will be not studying, not abroad, on a couch in that weird room in the Mill that seemingly exists solely because of foosball; assholes are playing Beach House's first album and waxing poetic about how much more "autumnal" it sounds than their other records (ugh shut up); and, best of all, record labels are kicking into high gear! So many albums are on the way from high-profile acts and up-and-comers alike, the idea of writing a blog post to point out which ones to get really excited about is actually stressful. It's like asking me to walk into a room full of puppies and pick just a few to take home, without getting the chance to interact with them first. But I digress. It's been an amazing year for music thus far -- Frank Ocean, Fiona Apple, Japandroids, and Jessie Ware, to name a few, put out wonderful records -- but it's not over yet! Keep reading for the scoop on some albums due out in September, October, and November that you won't want to miss!

Alt-J, An Awesome Wave (September 18, Canvasback)
You may not have heard of this British singer-songwriter yet, but he's building a lot of buzz on the strength of An Awesome Wave, his first album, which blends standard, chilled-out acoustic-isms (ugh) with British dubstep flourishes. Maybe think James Blake, but lots of fun instead of lots of tears. Misguided or brilliant? I'm curious to see what America makes of Alt-J. RIYL: WHY?, Dent May, James Blake.

Animal Collective, Centipede Hz (September 4, Domino)
Okay, yes, it already came out, I dropped the ball. Sorry. But in case you somehow missed it, psych-pop/freak-folk/what-have-yous Animal Collective just released the follow-up to their commercial breakthrough and career-best Merriweather Post Pavilion. Recorded with all four original members of the group following solo albums by Avey Tare and Panda Bear, as well as Deakin's post-Strawberry Jam  hiatus, Centipede Hz is weirder and sonically busier than its widely adored predecessors. Only time will tell whether this will whittle AC's fan base down to its pre-MPP cult size or whether those drawn into the fold by MPP's stunning pop charms will follow these spaced-out Baltimoreans to stranger places. RIYL: Intergalactic odysseys, musique concrete, Avey Tare's solo album.

A$AP Rocky, LongLiveA$AP (October 31, RCA)
A crucial figure in the so-hip-it-might-be-over-already cloud-rap scene, A$AP Rocky is the subgenre's most crossover-poised figure, less eccentric than Lil B and less esoteric than Main Attraktionz. Plus, he played JFK in a Lana Del Rey video. RIYL: Clams Casino, Lil B, Watch the Throne.

Band of Horses, Mirage Rock (September 18, Columbia)
Indie crossover favorites Band of Horses are back with a new album, following the unfortunate misstep Infinite Arms. Will they bounce back? Here's hoping. RIYL: Fleet Foxes, My Morning Jacket, Okkervil River, the Shins.

Bat for Lashes, The Haunted Man (October 23, EMI)
London-via-Pakistan singer-songwriter Natasha Khan, aka Bat for Lashes, returns this October with the follow-up to her breakthrough Two Suns, and if the Ryan McGinley-shot cover art and heart-wrenching first single "Laura" are anything to go by, it promises to be a more restrained, mature, and effective affair than previous Bat for Lashes records. RIYL: Antony and the Johnsons, Bjork, Florence + the Machine, Kate Bush, Patrick Wolf, St. Vincent.

Big Boi, Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (November 13, Def Jam)
Why should you be excited about this? Um, because it's Big Boi, for one. Second, his first solo album outside of OutKast, 2010's Sir Luscious Leftfoot: The Son of Chico Dusty was totally the best rap album of that year (move over, Kanye!) -- it had it all: hilarious wordplay, insane flow, a weird narrative concept, lots of kooky sci-fi sound effects, hooks galore, and beats beamed in from the hottest rave on Mars ("Shutterbugg" especially takes the cake in this category). And the new album has a guest spot from Phantogram. What a combo! RIYL: Deltron 3030, Lil Wayne, OutKast, Watch the Throne.

Black Marble, A Different Arrangement (October 9, Hardly Art)
Black Marble make gloomy lo-fi pop -- i.e., they're the trendiest thing around right now. But they've got more going for them than a hip combination of influences: their tunes are grand without the bombast and somber without the camp. RIYL: DIIV, Minks, John Maus, the Soft Moon.

Bob Dylan, Tempest (September 11, Columbia)
I mean. Obviously. RIYL: Bob Dylan, seeing how the mighty have fallen.

Cat Power, Sun (September 4, Matador)
This is also already out. Sorry about that. But it's also really good, so if you're late to the party catch up quick! On her first album of original material in six years (the last being her commercial breakthrough The Greatest), Cat Power -- aka Chan Marshall -- revamps her sound and her image. This is the first Cat Power record ever that might not plunge its listener into a black pit of despair, perhaps because it's the first one where the artist herself isn't stuck in such a pit. Largely abandoning the strands of lo-fi rock, blues, country, and Memphis soul that have informed her impenetrably bleak sound in the past, Marshall gives us a radiant album of simmering synthesizers, unexpected instrumentation, anthemic lyrics, and an Iggy Pop cameo. Yes, please! RIYL: Bill Callahan, Fiona Apple, PJ Harvey.

Dark Dark Dark, Who Needs Who (October 2, Supply and Demand)
Minneapolis-based group Dark Dark Dark blend American folk music, New Orleans jazz, Eastern European folk, and indie rock to immensely pleasing results, in no small part due to the haunting vocals of frontwoman Nona Marie Invie. The group boasts a small but devoted cult of fans, and they're poised for a critical and commercial breakthrough with Who Needs Who. RIYL: Arcade Fire, Beirut, Bowerbirds, Hurray for the Riff Raff.

Daphni, JIAOLONG (October 16, Merge)
Most listeners know Daphni's Dan Snaith under one or both of his other monikers, Caribou and Manitoba. It's definitely the same Snaith, but this is decidedly not a Caribou/Manitoba record. JIAOLONG follows the path hinted at with Caribou's last album, the career-high Swim, and dives headfirst into the world of techno and instrumental electronic music. RIYL: Caribou, Flying Lotus, Four Tet.

David Byrne & St. Vincent, Love This Giant (September 11, 4AD)
OMG dream collaboration! Two super-weird, super-cool NYC art-rock icons, one old and one new, get kooky in the studio with each other and a brass band. Too many cooks in the kitchen? Hardly -- this album is strange, wonderful fun from start to finish. RIYL: David Byrne, St. Vincent, Talking Heads, Dirty Projectors.

Deerhoof, Breakup Song (September 4, Polyvinyl)
Deerhoof have proven themselves dependable sources for the following things: crazy, convoluted prog-rock compositions; incongruously cutesy vocals from Satomi Matsuzaki; and intimidatingly vicious guitar lines. I haven't heard this album yet but from the title and artwork, I'd guess that Breakup Song is probably as good an occasion as any to take cover and listen rapt with awe and not a little terror. RIYL: Blonde Redhead, Gang Gang Dance, Marnie Stern, Ponytail.

Diamond Rings, Free Dimensional (October 23, Astralwerks)
Toronto's John Regan paints his face, wears armor, performs choreographed dances on stage and in videos, ignores the gender binary, sells merch with the slogan "Stay Fierce," and just generally doesn't give a fuck. Which makes for great '80s-indebted synthpop, of course! Can't wait for the latest from Lady Gaga or Robyn? Try this sassy electro diva on for size. Free Dimensional does away with most of the post-punk influence from his debut Special Affections but not Regan's love of album titles with puns in them, and willfully embraces the hedonistic Euro-house vibe that's all over Top 40 these days. RIYL: Charli XCX, David Guetta, Eurythmics, Gary Numan, Lady Gaga, New Order, Robyn.

Dum Dum Girls, End of Daze EP (September 25, Sub Pop)
Few bands possess the kind of charisma that makes even a four-track EP worthy of album-intensity buzz, but Dum Dum Girls have proven to be one of those bands. Each of their releases, EP or LP, showcases an enormous leap of confidence and ability in frontwoman Dee Dee and her rotating cast of  badass female bandmates; since their first EP Bliss Out, the group has transformed from lo-fi also-rans into a full-fledged rock group, and Dee Dee's gone from timid librarian to mesmerizing indie rockstar. "Lord Knows," an advance track from this EP, catches the band in the act of shedding the vestiges of their derivative noise-pop past and embracing the timeless trappings of the best pop-rock. RIYL: Feist, Fleetwood Mac, the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Flying Lotus, Until the Quiet Comes (October 2, Warp)
Since the world last heard from Flying Lotus, the electronic scene that he help kickstart has shifted shape multiple times, and fans of his innovative, off-kilter beats are undoubtedly looking forward to hearing how the L.A.-based artist adapts to the current landscape. RIYL: Four Tet, ThunderCat, TNGHT.

The Fresh & Onlys, Long Slow Dance (September 4, Mexican Summer)
The Bay Area retro fetishists are back, and hopefully this new LP brings more of their past charms: close harmonies, clever lyrics, Nuggets-style garage rock, and sweet, catchy melodies. RIYL: Dum Dum Girls, Girls, the Shins, 1950s rock/1960s pop in general.

Grizzly Bear, Shields (September 18, Warp)
Grizzly Bear are on one of the hottest winning streaks in recent memory. Each of their three albums -- Horn of Plenty, Yellow House, and Veckatimest -- is rich, gorgeous, distinctive, and together they sound like the work of a single, insanely talented band without sounding anything at all like each other (or the work of anyone else). Advance cuts from LP #4, Shields, suggests that we can expect that to continue, with the band embracing a darker, more abstract tone. RIYL: Department of Eagles/Daniel Rossen, Animal Collective, the Antlers, Beach House, Dirty Projectors, Van Dyke Parks, Radiohead, St. Vincent.

How to Dress Well, Total Loss (September 18, Acephale)
Brooklyn-via-Cologne lo-fi R&B auteur How to Dress Well wowed just about everyone with his 2010 debut Love Remains, which came out before R&B was every hipster's favorite thing and therefore deserves a ton of credit. Although the production budget is bigger, Total Loss is sure to continue the ghostly, melancholy vibe of its gorgeous predecessor. RIYL: Active Child, Bon Iver, James Blake, Junior Boys, Justin Timberlake, M83, Sigur Ros, Tim Hecker, Usher.

Jason Lytle, Dept. of Disappearance (October 16, Anti-)
The frontman of the defunct but much-beloved turn-of-the-millennium alt-rockers Grandaddy, Jason Lytle, is back, and although we can't expect his solo effort to sound like the new Grandaddy album we never got, at least two of the notoriously reclusive Colorado singer-songwriter's trademarks (an adorable Wayne Coyne-meets-Stephen Malkmus vocals and awkwardly bad collage cover art) are definitely not out of the picture. RIYL: The Flaming Lips, Pavement, Radiohead.

Jens Lekman, I Know What Love Isn't (September 4, Secretly Canadian)
This totally adorable Swedish baritone must be faking it on his records. Either he's not really this adorable or he's not really heartbroken, because no one with that face, that voice, and that personality could possibly have trouble finding a loving girlfriend. Yet heartbroken he continues to claim to be on his latest full-length, and besides melancholy the listener can be assured of hearing the following things on I Know What Love Isn't: saccharine melodies, dryly witty lyrics, lots of samples (Jens loves samples), and all the trappings of vintage indie pop and '70s AM radio. RIYL: Avalanches, Beirut, Belle & Sebastian, The Magnetic Fields, smoove schmaltz.

Jonny Greenwood, The Master (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) (September 11, Nonesuch)
Radiohead's experimentalist-in-residence Jonny Greenwood has scored films before -- notably There Will Be Blood and Norwegian Wood -- always to great effect, and here he's re-teaming with There Will Be Blood director Paul Thomas Anderson (also responsible for Boogie Nights, Punch-drunk Love, Magnolia) for the soundtrack to The Master, which is a dark drama about the founder of Scientology, starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Joaquin Phoenix (who I guess isn't crazy anymore?). Sounds like perfect territory for Greenwood's trademark blend of discordant strings and electronic drones. RIYL: Max Richter, Philip Glass, Steve Reich.

Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor 2: The Great American Rap Album, Part 1 (September 25, Atlantic)
That cover art? That title? The stakes were already high for the mostly-forgotten Lupe Fiasco's fourth album (following a disastrous third effort), but now? This had better be one glorious album, or the backlash will show no mercy. RIYL: Drake, Kanye West, Spank Rock.

Main Attraktionz, Bossalinis and Fooliyones (October 23, Young One)
Every hip sub-genre gets its backlash, and the blogospheric negativity has hit "cloud-rap" hard of late. Will Main Attraktionz's (not sure of the grammar there to be honest) new album validate their sound apart from the zeitgeist that spawned it, or will cloud-rap take its practitioners down with it? RIYL: A$AP Rocky, Clams Casino, Lil B, the Weeknd.

The Mountain Goats, Transcendental Youth (October 2, 4AD)
The Mountain Goats' John Darnielle is probably the best lyricist working today, since Dave Berman stopped producing new work. His new album is called Transcendental Youth, which is funny because that's what every Mountain Goats song is about, more or less. So it seems fans can expect more of the same from this release -- amazing, short-story-like lyrics loaded with Biblical references, Darnielle's pinched nasal vocals, and shambling Americana courtesy of the ol' Goats. RIYL: Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston, Neutral Milk Hotel, Silver Jews.

No Doubt, Push and Shove (September 25, Interscope)
'90s ska-crossover icons No Doubt are back, after Gwen Stefani's mildly successful solo career fizzled out. Will their first album since 2001's hit Rock Steady be a godsend or cringe-inducing? Well, they've brought iconic dancehall producers Major Lazer (aka Diplo and Switch) on board, so at the very least it should be a good bit of fun. RIYL: M.I.A., Santigold.

The Raveonettes, Observator (September 11, Vice)
Danish duo the Raveonettes have never been very original, but they're always a ton of fun. Each of their releases has started with a derivative core -- "Jesus and Mary Chain-style shoegaze revisions of '50s rock and '60s pop + Everly Brothers close harmonies" is their basic recipe -- and adds in derivative elements reflecting the style of the times (in 2009: '80s pop; in 2011: goth rock), but does it with more swagger, attitude, pop smarts, guitar distortion, and, above all, commitment than your average, everyday uninspired revivalist. They clearly love what they rip off of and, at their best, they make the listener forget how well-traveled this particular road is. RIYL: Crystal Stilts, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Phil Spector.

The Soft Moon, Zeros (October 30, Captured Tracks)
The Soft Moon toe the line between noise and melody, between violence and seduction, and between gothy camp and genuine darkness. It's a tough act to pull off, and it's a tough one to get noticed in a time when the influence of goth rock and industrial dance can be seen in most young urban American rock and electronic acts. But the Soft Moon's track record is spotless and though they've flown under the radar thus far, they deserve to make it big with this, their second album. It's a blend of black noise and danceable grooves that's perfectly suited to its Halloween release date. RIYL: Bauhaus, Ministry, My Bloody Valentine, Suicide, VNV Nation.

Tamaryn, Tender New Signs (October 16, Mexican Summer)
YES! New Zealand-born, San Francisco-based vocalist Tamaryn -- whose witch-y huskiness not even Victoria Legrand can rival -- is back with a new album following the 2010 standout The Waves, a white-hot slice of arid, monumental shoegaze laced with Tamaryn's inimitable alto moaning. Even if Tender New Signs were to sound just like its predecessor, I wouldn't complain, because its predecessor is amazing. Oh, and never fear -- Tamaryn's second guitarist, Rex Shelverton (of now-defunct Bay Area hardcore legends Portraits of Past) is back for round two. Fierce. RIYL: Cocteau Twins, My Bloody Valentine, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Warpaint.

Tame Impala, Lonerism (October 9, Modular)
Tame Impala made their mark with 2010's speaker-blowing psych-rock epic Innerspeaker, and the early singles from their sophomore effort suggest that these spacey Southerners are at it again -- "it" being massive, intricately produced, mind-expanding rock music, of course. RIYL: Bear in Heaven, MGMT.

Titus Andronicus, Local Business (October 23, XL)
The New Jersey rockers' third album is hotly anticipated following their triumphant 2010 masterpiece, The Monitor. RIYL: The Hold Steady, Japandroids.

WHY?, Mumps, etc. (October 9, Anticon)
Oh, Yoni Wolf. Mumps, etc.? Really? Is this guy ever going to stop writing hip-hop/indie pop hybrid songs about how he's afraid of death (and how that fear is sabotaging his romantic life)? I guess it doesn't matter, so long as those songs continue to be as smart, striking, hilarious, honest, and beautiful as the Anticon founder's best material -- let's hope this album follows the lead of the Sod in the Seed EP  out earlier this year and improves upon WHY?'s lackluster fourth album, Eskimo Snow. RIYL: Modest Mouse, Drake (hmm weird combo...).

Woods, Bend Beyond (September 18, Woodsist)
Few bands nail that end-of-summer feeling like the modest psych-rockers Woods, whose discography is consistently excellent and perennially overlooked. Hopefully that will change with their latest batch of tunes. RIYL: The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Real Estate.

The xx, Coexist (September 11, Young Turks)
Easily one of the most anticipated albums on this list here at WRMC, Coexist finds the black-clad Brits in top form as always, continuing to make heartbreak and grief sound deeply, impossibly sexy while seeming to barely touch their instruments. Coexist folds in a bit more of the UK bass influence from producer/percussionist Jamie xx, but otherwise sounds like a logical extension of the band's 2009 debut. Which means it's hot. Like, really hot. RIYL: Burial, Interpol, Phantogram, Portishead, Young Marble Giants.

Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon, and Thurston Moore, YOKOKIMTHURSTON (September 25, Chimera)
If you need me to tell you why you should be excited about this, get thee to Wikipedia (and a record shop) immediately. I mean, just look at that lineup. Holy shit. RIYL: Yoko Ono, Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore.

And these are only some of the albums due out in the fall! Keep your ears tuned for new work by many other artists, including but not limited to: Alicia Keys, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Andrew Bird, the Bad Plus, Calexico, Chelsea Wolfe, Clinic, Converge, Django Django, Dragonette, El Perro Del Mar, Ellie Goulding, Frightened Rabbit, the Hood Internet, Isis, Jason Collett, Jim O'Rourke, Kendrick Lamar, the Killers, Lindstrom, Major Lazer, MellowHype, Mouse on Mars, Mumford & Sons, of Montreal, Oneohtrix Point Never, Ozomatli, the Polyphonic Spree, Prince Rama, Ringo Deathstarr, Sam Flax, Sic Alps, Sky Feirrara, Teen Daze, Thee Oh Sees, Van Morrison, The Wallflowers, and oh so many more!

UPDATE: NPR's "All Songs Considered" thinks Ben Gibbard's solo album is "highly anticipated." LOLZ

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Interview with Conduits

I recently had a conversation with Jenna Morrison, lead singer of the Omaha-based band Conduits. We talked about the formation of the hazy, shoegazy quintet, and their debut, self-titled LP, released this past March. We also touched on bringing the raw energy of live performance to the recording studio, and an epic Godspeed You Black Emperor! show.

WRMC: I’ve never been to Omaha, or even Nebraska, but I'm wondering if your hometown had some influence on your sound?

Jenna Morrison of Conduits: Not on the surface. I'm sure there is some influence because we've been around it so much, but our sound is definitely not really like anything else around here. There are a lot of really great bands coming out of Omaha and Lincoln. We definitely strive to be good and seeing musicians playing well and making great music pushes us to do the same.

WRMC: How has your music experience in the past and songwriting in the past influenced what you're doing with Conduits?

JM: I got together with Nate and JJ and… in our general vibe we just instantly meshed. It just came kind of natural to us. That probably sounds kind of cheesy, but really the general vibe of the stuff that I used to write and the stuff we're doing now is kind of the same.

WRMC: It makes total sense that if you found some guys you jived with, that would come into something. Since Omaha's influences didn't necessarily do so much for you, what did you listen to growing up and when you started your musical career? If that's not particularly relevant, who has been relevant as an influence for conduits?

JM: Each band member has different influences, so it’s kind of a hard question to answer. As far as the band goes I would say Spiritualized, My Bloody Valentine, Radiohead. There's quite a few.

WRMC: Have you guys felt like you've learned anything in the process of being on tour and being exposed to other musicians? I’m wondering what you guys have picked up in that process, and if during that process you've realized things that you would like to change from the first album, and how you might like to move forward in the future?

JM: I would say that it definitely helped shape a little bit how we perform live. I think that playing every day has made us all more comfortable with who are and what we do on stage without having to put thought into it. That I feel has been really beneficial. I wish we could play shows every day, all the time, honestly. As far as our sound goes…The way I sing things live and the way I sing on the album sometimes differs a little bit. And that might come out a little bit more in the next album.

WRMC: What exactly is the difference between your voice when you're singing live and on the album? How might that style you have live come out on the next album?  

JM: You probably noticed on the album that there’s a lot of instrumentation on the songs. The band has a tendency to get pretty loud, and sometimes, live, I have to sing louder than I do on the album, just to come across. I think, on the next album, I'd like to have more songs where I'm a little bit less demure, slightly more rock n’ roll.  

WRMC: Interesting to hear how the live shows opened up new avenues for you by virtue of you being forced to sing over your bandmates.

JM: Yeah, out of necessity. I'd like that to come across more in the recordings the next time around.

WRMC: Can you tell me a little bit about your personal background and how that's fed into this music and the part you played in creating this first album. What your role was in the creative process.

JM: I mean for the last, I don't know, I guess probably nine years, I've been playing in bands or singing in bands, mostly backup vocals. Eventually I became a backup vocalist for Son, Ambulance, which I feel opened up a lot of avenues for me. I did that on and off for years, but in-between there were other projects that I worked on and recorded for and wrote for. I don't know, I would either drop the ball, or lose or interest, or something wouldn't vibe well with me and you’d kinda, you know, move on. Nothing really ever stuck for me previous to this band. And then of course I met Nate and JJ and instantly jelled super well with their style and what they wanted to do. It made perfect sense. 

WRMC: What are some landmark bands that helped shape what you wanted your sound to be like.

JM: I remember I went to a Godspeed You Black Emperor! show when I must have been seventeen or something like that. That show really hit me in a certain way. The vibe of the music, the feeling I guess, definitely geared me more towards the type of music that we are making now: stuff that's moody, almost emotional without being like outright lyrically emotional– just kind of powerful music.

Their music is almost droning without actually being droning. I just remember being at this show and kind of feeling completely overtaken by the music.

WRMC: So what are you guys thinking about the future? What's your timeline looking like for this next album, if you have one at this point?

JM: People would like to have a new album out by next summer. I know we'll be recording stuff as soon as possible.

WRMC: It was cool to hear that you had played for so long and it took you finding a couple of guys who were doing the same kind of thing you wanted to do in order to come together and make a full-length album that you're happy with.

JM: It feels really good. I feel really fortunate that I've been able to make music with these guys.