gjs29 / pitchfork_review_data

Pitchfork Review Data


Extracts the URL, artist, album, label, release year, reviewer, score and review publication date for each review available on Pitchfork’s website.

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album accolade score publish_date release_year artist url reviewer review_text label
Days of Abandon
7.5
2014-05-16
2014
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Paul Thompson
On their third album, Days of Abandon, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart frontman Kip Berman is a young romantic in a state of flux. The Pains' still-stellar self-titled debut and 2011's Flood-helmed, fully Corgan-ized Belong put precious little distance between Berman's heart and his sleeve: these were head-spinning, chest-swelling records, drunk on romance, dizzy with possibility. Abandon doesn't completely ditch the heart-bursting intensity that powered the Pains' previous work, but it's no longer its driving force. Once a starry-eyed daydreamer pitching woo at anybody in earshot, Berman now sounds like a guy who's seen his share of heartbreak, and is looking to reconcile his youthful idealism with the complexities and complications of post-adolescent coupling. For some, Belong's buzzsawing guitars and brazenly romantic lyrics were all just a bit much. Still, given the leap between the debut's mid-fi melodrama and Belong's amplified alt-rock ambitions, it seemed only natural that Berman might take the Pains into bigger, more bombastic places on his new record—and that notion dissolves just a few seconds into "Art Smock", Abandon's delicate, Felt-referencing opener. From the very first notes, Abandon is subtler, more graceful and, sure, more "mature" than any Pains record before it. The spindly, hushed "Smock" might just be the single most delicate song in the Pains catalog, but more tellingly, it's easily the most nostalgic as well, a sweet-and-sour remembrance of a relationship-that-wasn't. So many of Berman's songs seem to take place in the immediate present: whatever's being felt, it's being felt right then and now, and the vibe of "all we have is this moment" gives his best songs their crackling urgency. Up against those early records, "Smock" feels more reflective, more wistful. It's a look at the present through the lens of the past, in which Berman allows lived-in experience step in and take over for all that untempered passion.This fine-tuning of Berman's emotional outpouring—more pragmatic, less excitable—carries throughout much of Abandon. "Tell me that we're still so young," Berman sighs atop the high-test twee of "Beautiful You", before adding, "But you’re wrong, so wrong." On "Until the Sun Explodes", Berman's in a hospital room, at the bedside of his betrothed, making big promises. This is hardly Berman's first song about unwavering devotion, but with its implication of mutual addiction and somewhat startling reference to "funeral clothes", it's probably his most complicated. As he sings on bouncy lead single "Simple and Sure," Berman wants something that just feels "absolutely right." But that's the ideal, not necessarily the reality; sometimes, things get messy, and you wind up gurney-side, looking on helplessly as the object of your affection breathes through a tube. These wrinkles—anxious memories, telling recollections, none-too-idyllic scenes from the past—are all over Abandon. Berman's certainly turned in sweeter, more rousing sets, but he's never written anything that feels quite so true to life.In the wake of Belong, Pains underwent a fairly seismic personnel shift: several original members—singer/keyboardist Peggy Wang, guitarist Chris Hochheim and bassist Alex Naidus —have either left the band or taken diminished roles, leaving just the core lineup of Berman and drummer Kurt Feldman. On Abandon, the pair are joined by Beirut's Kelly Pratt and A Sunny Day in Glasgow singer Jen Goma; when she's not matching Berman harmony-for-harmony, Goma—like Wang before her—takes the lead on several of these tracks. Goma's sweet yet knowing tone makes a good foil for Berman's delicate heart-to-hearts, as her spry turn on the buoyant "Kelly" is maybe Abandon's finest moment, its sputtering drumbeat at one point all but backing up just to make sure it doesn't miss anything she's saying. Musically, Abandon's the fizziest Pains record yet. Gone are the plumes of distortion, and in their place there's a crisp, effervescent gallop, splitting its time between dreamy balladry and spotless indie-pop. Granted, it's not all perfect: the sun-dappled insurance-commercial chug of the too-rousing-by-half "Coral and Gold" gets smothered by its own bombast, while elsewhere, Pratt's lighter touches fade gently into the background. But there's a newfound patience to just about everything else here, a deliberate, well-heeled sound that sits well with Berman's more ruminative lyrical turns.On first contact, Abandon can come across as muted and brittle, lacking the laid-bare emotional charge that carried its predecessors. Berman's in fine voice (faux-British accent and all) throughout Abandon, and—the overblown "Coral and Gold" aside—these melodies are sturdy, even regal. But it's certainly a less thrilling record than what came before it, more refinement than reinvention, more likely to gather its thoughts than spill them out to anyone within earshot. the fact that Berman didn't try to outdo the grandiose Belong is a good thing, but Abandon can't help but come across as a transitional record, the first entrant in the Pains' "mature" period, with the promise of more to come. Berman's called Abandon the most personal Pains record to date, and there's no reason to doubt him: he's applying the lessons of his own life to this music, all the tiny triumphs and harrowing heartbreaks that come from being young and in love. So as good as Abandon is, one can't help but think the more he goes through, the richer and more resonant his music will become. "He’d come to my garret, and we’d make something like love," Goma recalls halfway through the bustling "Life After Life". Still, she says, "The flowers he gave me have wilted/ But I keep them, like I keep him." Some love lasts forever; most dries up like tulips in a vase—but with every heartbreak comes a well-earned lesson, a souvenir to keep until the next one comes along. On Abandon, an increasingly wizened Berman seems to've picked up plenty.
Yebo
The Serpent & the Sphere
8.3
2014-05-16
2014
Agalloch
Grayson Currin
For a band that’s spent the last 15 years gracefully and aggressively testing the limits of the sound that heavy metal makes, Portland’s Agalloch have committed very few errors. From 1999’s primitively produced but ambitiously built Pale Folklore to 2010’s arching and magnetic Marrow of the Spirit, Agalloch have twisted black metal into a fabric of folk reverie, classical grandeur and atmospheric washes. There have been exultant harmonies and disembodied howls, chamber music interludes and industrial noise ruptures, gilded acoustic fantasies and barbaric electric marches. From the start, Agalloch created new ways to work these disparate elements into complicated prog-rock forms—song suites, lengthy tracks, uninterrupted albums—while maintaining momentum. More than the metaphysical gaze of their lyrics or the relative mystery of their music, Agalloch has thrived on that rarified mutualism of immediacy and intricacy. After four largely flawless albums, that combination has made them a guiding creative light of American metal. But Agalloch offered the infrequent human blunder with 2012's Faustian Echoes, a one-track, 22-minute EP. The band spliced samples of the Goethe play into a stepwise, rote rise-and-fall into loudness. The result was spirited, sure, but for Agalloch, it felt basic and empty, a studio-experiment stopgap that didn’t meet the enormous expectations set by the popular breakthrough Marrow of the Spirit. It upheld only one end of the Agalloch bargain. In retrospect, it’s best to consider Faustian Echoes a test run for legendary metal producer Billy Anderson, who’d been mixing the band’s onstage sets since 2010 but had never before recorded them in the studio. Anderson returns for The Serpent & the Sphere, the fifth Agalloch album. It proves that proves the folly of Faustian Echoes was worthwhile: The Serpent & the Sphere not only delivers the depth and development that have become synonymous with Agalloch but, across nine wonderfully imagined and vividly realized tracks, amplifies those qualities by often turning the amplifiers themselves down. The Serpent & the Sphere includes some charged crescendos, laser-sharp leads and two of Agalloch’s most direct rock ’n’ roll tracks ever. But its tone is relatively muted, as though leader John Haughm’s grand lyrical reflections on death and cosmic rebirth cast a temperate shade across the music itself. Three of these pieces are pensive, classical guitar miniatures, written and performed by Ontario musician Nathanaël Larochette and supported only by faint whispers of drones and noise. “Plateau of the Ages”, the 13-minute monster that precedes the fingerpicked closer, is an instrumental beauty, as radiant as the best work of Mono and triumphant as the heavy metal royalty its piercing twin guitars suggest. But it's the album's opener, “Birth and Death of the Pillars of Creation”, that immediately and brilliantly casts the record’s somber, reflective mood. For 10 minutes, Agalloch dances at the edge of eruption, using the promise of a climax as only a temptation. The quartet moves from meditative electric guitar murmur to earth-quaking drums, pounding against a pillow of keyboards and harmonies. In the past, Agalloch has launched from such lurking moments into black metal sprees. Rather than cash in, they use that move as a feint three times here, arriving always in a sort of readymade post-rock aurora. “By way of light across a vast millennia, I can behold this grandeur at its infancy,” Haughm whispers at one point, his words and careful voice perfectly capturing the nebulousness of both the introduction and album that follow. These quiet retreats reappear throughout The Serpent & the Sphere—not only during the classical guitar comedowns but during the proper rock numbers, too. “Vales Beyond Dimension”, for instance, dips into quick, placid valleys between peaks of volume, with drums receding into a trot and guitars drifting into a slow gaze; the quiet, deliberate moments add power to the louder sections and songs through sheer relativity. Agalloch’s expert momentum have always depended on an aptitude with dynamics, and on The Serpent & the Sphere, they've made it a science of patience and timing. After that slow-motion opener and a subsequent instrumental, “The Astral Dialogue” springs ahead with a mid-tempo, bass-heavy wallop, emptying without warning into one of the album’s few belligerent blast-beat blitzes. Agalloch maintain that seesaw effect, baiting difficult transitions with the eager feeling one gets while peering around a bend, trying to anticipate what’s coming next. “Celestial Effigy”, meanwhile, ripples through a litany of ideas and influences, built into one uninterrupted, seven-minute flow. Haughm's guitars, along with and the versatile, brilliant playing of Don Anderson, dance in ornate rituals, flickering notes stabbing at distended riffs and pristine tones countering sheets of distortion. At once, there’s metal and prog, along with blues-rock and a little pop, too. You can practically envision drummer Aesop Dekker and bassist Jason William Walton nodding at each other through the song’s counterintuitive rhythmic shifts; at one point, the bass sits still, embodying a cold doom stare, while the drums sprint ahead, agile and unapologetic. That conflict epitomizes the separate sources of tension—quiet and loud, slow and fast, acoustic and The Serpent & the Sphere, black and folk metal, hard rock and soft comedowns—that allows Agalloch to be at once immediate and intricate. Even in these songs’ most placid passages, the band behind them never sits still. The Serpent & the Sphere might disappoint fans of Agalloch’s more seething output. This is the band’s gentlest and most lucid album to date, and the musical knots that characterized Marrow of the Spirit’s long tracks have been pulled apart like strands of yarn. But Agalloch have never aimed for simply being brutal or destructive. Instead, their sense of shock has stemmed from their ability to surprise with unexpected wormholes and complementary contrasts, to build rather than break. In that respect, The Serpent & The Sphere is their most refined and generous album to date, an elegant trip to unexpected ends, as Agalloch continue to find new ways to reassemble and reorder their long-standing tricks. They're as singular and instantly identifiable as they were on Pale Folklore, but The Serpent & the Sphere reveals a familiar Agalloch that you’ve never quite heard—evermore patient, risky and, mostly, free of fault.
Profound Lore
FreeBase EP
7.2
2014-05-16
2014
2 Chainz
David Turner
2 Chainz is rap’s court jester of the moment, and he's requested by rappers far and wide to deliver on that talent: precise bars, quotable lyrics (“Money tall like Jordan”), and his trademark adlibs wrapped in his crude but charming persona. In his solo work, nearly every line is a result of his desire to get a laugh, and FreeBase, his recently released free EP, allows 2 Chainz to stay in character without overstretching his shtick.  FreeBase remains as sonically adventurous as 2 Chainz’s previous two albums. Mike Will Made It’s lumbering stomp on “Wuda Cuda Shuda” and Young Chop’s eerie speedboat-chase music on “They Know” demonstrate why they have been go to producers of the last few years. The tape's padded out with samples from Richard Pryor and the absurdist comedy Step Brothers, providing a framework that makes the EP more than a pack of leftover tracks from an old recording session.  On repeated listens, 2 Chainz’s punchline-focused style turns initial smirks into outright laughter. His sense of humor is most potent when riffing on familiar rap tropes, but it can be hard to stomach when he turns to pure misogyny on tracks like “Flexin on My Baby Mama”.  Regardless, FreeBase has its genuinely funny moments, such as when 2 Chainz, who has worked with everyone from Kanye West to Lil Boosie, states “I’ve done a song with everybody from Jermaine Dupri down to Papoose,” which is at the least an interesting selection of artists to namedrop. 2 Chainz can appear on a song with any rapper or pop star, but he also wants to throw his weight around in the area of modern rap that A$AP Rocky namechecks on “Crib in My Closet”: fashion. "Crib in My Closet" sounds like a 2000-era Big Tymers boastful track where 2 Chainz, A$AP Rocky, and Rick Ross fight for the “Best Dressed” crown, with Rocky delivering the knockout punch by name-dropping the Met Ball and Anna Wintour. It should be said, though, that 2 Chainz's obsession with fashion also provides the best intentionally ironic line, as he yells “I don’t respect my elders,” willfully ignoring that, in terms of age, he's the oldest rapper to appear on the EP. 2 Chainz been rapping for over a decade, but now his music sounds like he’s just entertaining himself during late night recording sessions and (correctly) assuming his audience is along for the ride.
self-released
Metamodern Sounds in Country Music
7.7
2014-05-16
2014
Sturgill Simpson
Stephen M. Deusner
Sturgill Simpson saw Jesus juggle flames and met the devil in Seattle, or so he sings on “Turtles All the Way Down”, the opening track on his second solo album. Just when you think he’s slinging the same Biblical imagery Johnny Cash foretold on “The Man Comes Around”, Simpson adds that he “Met Buddha yet another time/ And he showed me a glowing light within.” Rather than parrot the same Christian ideology that most country musicians consider integral to the genre, this Kentucky-born singer-songwriter is a quester, intrigued by the metaphysics of spiritual experience and wondering aloud if the Bible and a handful of 'shrooms will lead you to the same religious epiphany. This isn’t country music to put on when you want to stare at your hand for three hours—well, it is, but it’s more than that. Simpson’s true subject isn’t the “reptile aliens made of light” who “cut you open and pull out all your pain,” although that’s a great line for a country song. Instead, he’s much more preoccupied on “Turtles” and throughout the nine songs that follow, with a much more earthly and everyday emotion: “Love’s the only thing that ever saved my life.” Perhaps it’s because his steely voice turns surprisingly tender when he sings that line, or perhaps because his Mellotron player provides a bed of strings as nebulous as the Milky Way—but somehow Simpson pulls it off without sounding pretentious, schmaltzy, or dangerous. With a sharp mind to match that Hag burr of a voice, Simpson not only owns the best name in current country music but comprehends the genre as a vehicle for big, unwieldy ideas about human consciousness and the nature of life. He got Pope portraitist Jason Seiler to do the cover art, and Carl Sagan and Stephen Hawking are thanked in the liner notes. Nashville rarely sounds so trippy as it does on Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, whose title alludes to Ray Charles by way of Seth Abramson. It’s heady stuff, and potentially insufferable, too, if Simpson wasn’t able to keep everything down to earth. He favors clear melodies, careful structures, and riffs that draw on Nashville and Bakersfield traditions without sounding revivalist. Nothing else on Metamodern is quite so bold or quite so dense as “Turtles All the Way Down”, but Simpson comes across as a man deeply dissatisfied with the easy answers country music typically passes along as wisdom. As “Long White Line” dissipates into a blast of spacey distortion, Laur Joamets’ slide guitar sounds like a spacecraft taking off, but the song itself is tightly structured and moored to some dusty honkytonk on Planet Earth. Only on the penultimate track does he really blast into the cosmos: “It Ain’t All Flowers” begins as a stark self-reckoning at the bathroom mirror, then dissolves into a bizarre sci-fi jam full of backwards guitars, parallel-universe synths, and fragmented drum beats. Immediately after that song fades, Simpson launches into the hidden bonus track, “Pan Bowl”, which drops us back in some remote Kentucky holler. It’s the most traditionally nostalgic moment on Metamodern Sounds, full of soft-focus memories of four generations of Simpsons, and the acoustic austerity only underscores sharpness of the songcraft and the vividness of the details. He may be a big thinker, but when it comes to the primacy of the song in country music, Simpson is a traditionalist. There are no extraneous sounds or ideas here, nothing that’s not battened down to a carefully structured set of lyrics and melodies. As a result, the best moment here may be the most unlikely: a cover of the 1988 post-New Wave hit “The Promise” by When in Rome. Simpson slows it down to a crawl, yet this isn’t one of those reinterpretations that purports to find deeper meaning through a more tasteful “Mad World” reimagining. The melody is tricky, especially divorced from that familiar piano line, but Simpson delivers it with gentle stalwartness, testifying powerfully to the magnitude of love. The Mellotron string section swoops in to add some earthly drama to an emotion that might just explain the entire universe. 
High Top Mountain
II
6.9
2014-05-16
2014
Moon B
Andy Beta
It’s fitting that Sussegad, the first 12” offering from Moon B, was pressed onto wax whose swirl of black and gray resembled smoke. The Atlanta-based producer (also known as Wes Gray) makes music that has qualities similar to that peculiar element: the music obfuscates its origins, has an untenable aspect to its sound and, well, it sounds better when you’re smoking something on a basement couch, at once digging the beat while similarly forgetting just what it is you’re listening to. Gray’s debut album was released on the Washington, D.C. imprint Peoples Potential Unlimited in 2012 without much in the way of cover art, or even song titles. Much like the other releases on that imprint, Moon B’s music favors miasma over certainty, avoiding easy genre characterization while also drawing on distinct musical tropes of the early 1980s. Much like his fellow labelmate Benedek, the music that Moon B releases is made from a mix of hardware, drum machines and samples of cheap 12”s that might never get ID’d by anyone beyond the most obscure of DJs. In some ways, Moon B’s new album, II, is a step up: the production is a little crisper, the tracks have titles, and there’s actually sleeve art, in this case a peculiar painting of an African-American man standing in the middle of the road at night, a chicken in one hand, his other raised in a fist. Not much is expanded upon beyond that, though, and while the music itself has grown trickier, it hasn’t ranged far from what he laid down on his first singles. Opener “Gulls” begins with the sound of eerie analog keyboards from Music has the Right to Children-era Boards of Canada before canned handclaps take over, the track meandering into such disparate zones as synth-funk, '80s B-boy soundtracks, and smooth jazz without ever quite landing in one: pop and lock to it, or else just chill until the track dissolves back into white noise. The album standout is also the track with the best title: “Stank Tartare.” The synth bass is queasy and deep and slightly warped, as if originating from an obscure funk tape left on the dashboardone summer afternoon. “Green Sky” has the kind of stiff yet rubberbanding rhythm to it that connects the dots between Kraftwerk and Whodini. Funk, soul, boogie, jazz, R&B, electro, New Age, even touches of house music: all sorts of familiar yet unmoored sounds emerge from Moon B’s haze, and nothing remains in focus for long. When some tracks begin, it already seems like they have the potential to take divergent paths, from a thumping house track or else a woozy early garage house instrumental—or, if it's Moon B's wish, a narrow path between the two. Yet, in touching on all these genres and running them through all sorts of samplers and drum machines (among the listed equipment used: Kawai K1, ESQ-1, Roland Alpha Juno 1, Yamaha DX21, Korg Microsampler, Tascam 424), there’s one thing curiously absent from the above list of genres: hip-hop. His working methods are not dissimilar from any post-Dilla hip-hop producers, but Moon B presents a parallel world in which hip-hop never happened, where the beats are dope but not dope enough where someone would drop rhymes atop them. I wonder how these tracks might change with someone else on them, but for now, the music produces an uncanny feeling, like the presence of smoke but no real fire. 
Peoples Potential Unlimited
Xscape
4.1
2014-05-15
2014
Michael Jackson
Douglas Wolk
Michael Jackson has released more new music in the five years since his death than in the 12 years before it. Jackson was a perfectionist about his music, and he recorded many more songs than he ever released. That means that there's a lot of unreleased material in his archives; Michael appeared in 2010, and now we've got this strange, underfed, vaguely horrid eight-song record, inexplicably named after the group that had a hit with "Just Kickin' It". It's a set of outtakes and misfires that Jackson recorded in the 20th century, freshly "re-produced" by L.A. Reid, Timbaland, and others to sound as if he'd just shown up to make a new record in a contemporary style. That, it should be noted, is a trick that's been tried before with Jackson's music. When Motown overdubbed and remixed some of his decade-old factory seconds in 1984, it yielded the Farewell My Summer Love album, whose packaging briefly fooled a few people into thinking it was the follow-up to Thriller. It's true that the new versions sound more modern and souped-up than the originals (which you also get if you buy the "deluxe edition" of Xscape), but their producers don't have enough distance from Jackson's presence to reframe his voice the way that, say, Junkie XL's remix of "A Little Less Conversation" reframed Elvis Presley's. It doesn't help that the outtakes they're dealing with are several tiers below the stuff that ended up on Jackson's later albums—maybe the estate is trying to parcel out the best material over time, maybe it doesn't get any better than this. "A Place with No Name" is Jackson's rewrite of America's two-chord wonder "A Horse with No Name", which is a bad enough idea on its own; Stargate, who produced the new version, replace the signature guitar riff with a sugary electroswing arrangement, but it doesn't help. Most of these tracks are Jackson hiccuping and eee-hee-ing on autopilot through underdeveloped semi-tunes; both Grace Jones and MC Lyte beat him to the title "Slave to the Rhythm" with much better songs. (The version here is not the one with Justin Bieber that leaked a while back.) Jackson liked to present himself as pop's eternally youthful Peter Pan. In truth, he was more its Rabbit Angstrom, forever re-enacting his moment of moonwalking glory from a position of ever-increasing bitterness. Defensive, brittle songs like Xscape's title track ("don't you try to tell me what is right for me!") don't look good on anyone. The most embarrassing song here, though, is "Do You Know Where Your Children Are", a Dangerous outtake that apparently never got finished. (If Jackson knew what the bridge's lyrics were going to be, he wasn't letting on in the recording studio.) It's a finger-jabbing harangue about a 12-year-old runaway who's "tired of stepdaddy using her/ Saying that he'll buy her things while sexually abusing her" and ends up hooking on Sunset Boulevard. As courageously stand-taking as it was for Jackson to indicate that he opposed child abuse, it might not have been wise for his estate to release a song in which he's getting all sanctimonious about that particular topic. (The shred-by-numbers guitar solo that ends the new version doesn't do the song any favors either.) The one keeper on Xscape is its opener, "Love Never Felt So Good", which is also its oldest song—it dates from 1983 or so—and the one that's been in circulation the longest: written by Jackson and Paul Anka, it initially surfaced on a 1984 Johnny Mathis album. It's got the best Jackson vocal here, too. The original take, which is mostly just his voice, fingersnaps and a piano, showcases the kind of  gravity-defying singing-for-pleasure that we barely heard from him in the post-Thriller era. The deluxe version of Xscape appends a Timbaland-produced remix of "Love Never Felt So Good" on which Justin Timberlake sings along with the old tape, featuring disco flourishes borrowed from Jackson's "Working Day and Night". It sounds pleasantly like an echo of good Michael Jackson, but the fact that sampling an even earlier Jackson song makes it sound more contemporary says something about how wrongheaded this entire project is. 
Epic
Easy Pain
7.9
2014-05-15
2014
Young Widows
Grayson Haver Currin
Young Widows were born into a web of foregone antecedents and genre tags. When the Kentucky trio emerged in 2006, they were, as their name suggested, survivors of a dead act, the twisting-and-scraping, post-hardcore band Breather Resist. That previous group’s musical skeleton stuck with Young Widows, especially for their hurdling tantrum of a debut, Settle Down City. That album presented a coiled mix of hardcore acrobatics and Jesus Lizard menace, a Breather Resist continuation with less screaming and more variety. Young Widows didn’t discard that framework so much as build on top of it: Increasingly, with 2008’s Old Wounds and 2011’s In and Out of Youth and Lightness, they used the heaviness of their past as a foundation for a flexible stylistic composite—noise-rock against shoegaze against hardcore, math-rock against post-rock against a little industrial. With polar dynamics, lower tempos and a generally softer approach, Lightness took the variety to surprising extremes, issuing an apology of sorts for the mutilating abrasion of the trio’s past. But Easy Pain, Young Widows’ fourth album, swings the balance back toward belligerence and volume, and the wallop doesn’t arrive in the manner you might expect. Of Young Widows’ four albums, Easy Pain is the hardest to track and trace and the best overall. These eight tracks push quickly past pleasant and perfunctory intros (vestiges of the last record’s rather moody approach) to arrive at relentless, loaded, loud rock songs. The rhythm section lands mostly like fists on a shaky table, and the guitars aim to fill every corner of the room with distortion and echo, as plangent riffs are given a wide berth. “Gift of Failure” opens with a soft bit of kaleidoscopic electric guitar, refracted and repeated through effects. But when the drums arrive, the only direction the trio aims for the next four minutes is forwards. Tense and tired, Evan Patterson struggles against an almost barbaric rumble to deliver the tale of a blind man blessed and cursed with his condition: “Nothing to see that hasn’t been seen for days," he manages, his voice slipping between a scream and a sigh that barely worms through the distortion. For a band initially known for snap-back song structures and zipping tempos, Easy Pain presents a lumbering, unleashed beast—not at all stupid or simplified, just deliberate. But the reason these songs work so well isn't just because of their volume and muscle. More than their predecessors, these Young Widows tunes refute the validity of the reductive descriptors that have always trailed the trio, from post-hardcore to noise rock to misanthropic Midwestern indie. Easy Pain denies that these things are distinguishable at all, that one strain can function without another. The slurred speak-sing of Patterson during “Bird Feeder” suggests Nick Cave backed by a power trio out to overwhelm him, but there’s a roaring slide guitar solo at the song’s center and delirious stop-time lunges near the end. Those pieces make unlikely counterparts, but they make “Bird Feeder” a seamless and compelling brute. “Godman” recalls one of those old hardcore nods, drugged on Coil and sent shrieking into the busy streets. There’s no better illustration of this mix—and maybe no better song in Young Widows’ catalogue—than the diabolical “Kerosene Girl.” The guitar and bass are down-tuned and dense, their march as thick as a bit of primo sludge metal. Through the din, though, Patterson webs a slender, agile melody, his little riff suggesting the lurid garage rock of the Swami stable. But the real esprit comes in the unexpected drum part—a daunting, four-on-the-floor stomp that fights across the song’s length to not collapse on itself. It’s, of all things, danceable. Patterson admitted recently that he lifted the beat from Hamilton Bohannon’s “Dance Your Ass Off,” a swivel-and-clap 1976 disco cut about a party that refuses to let go of the night. “Kerosene Girl” even takes a sly, sinister turn on that idea, detailing the evening of a misanthrope so awkward he follows a woman home and burns down her house, rather than simply speak to her on the dance floor. Such depravity winds through much of Easy Pain, a record where people burn alive, vultures pluck at the not-quite-dead and original sin brands already-leathered skin. There’s anxiety in Patterson’s voice, sure, an unease that suggests this music is always being made at the lip of an abyss. But these lyrics read like death metal, where victims are mocked and a tension between distinct wills powers an often-mortal conflict.  As members of Breather Resist and Young Widows, bassist Nick Thieneman and singer and guitarist Patterson have played together for a dozen years. It’s surprising and inspiring that, even now, they’re still moving not just ahead but into their own space, too, a singular approach that feels definitively like Young Widows. Easy Pain is the closest they’ve ever come—so much so, in fact, that the record sags briefly toward the end from its own weighted consistency. But on the whole, Easy Pain is athletic and aggressive like the old material, dramatic and adventurous like the new goods. At last, Young Widows sound less like a string of hyphenates and histories and more like their own demented, delightful selves.
Temporary Residence
Sincerely Yours
6.0
2014-05-15
2014
Iamsu!
David Turner
DJ Mustard has the hits to rightfully claim ratchet music's crown, but Richmond rapper/producer Iamsu! has equally pushed the minimalist Cali sound to the masses. A founding member of Bay Area collective Heartbreak Gang, he produced Loverance's “Up!” and contributed to Sage the Gemini’s viral-turned-Top 40 hit “Gas Pedal”. His nasal smooth-talking has factored in West Coast rap’s return to the mainstream, and his debut LP, Sincerely Yours, is Su’s opportunity to move forward through the doors he's already opened.Sincerely Yours picks up where Su’s Kilt mixtape series left off, with the young Bay Area rapper looking for a deeper niche beyond weekend party-soundtracking tracks. The album opens wistfully, with Su quoting Pimp C's verse on Jay Z’s “Big Pimpin’”, but his interpolation of “Everybody wanna ball, holla at broads at the mall” is bashful, a deviation from Pimp C's snarl. Later, on “Girls”, he waxes on taking his dream girl on dates that involve smoking weed and hanging out with his parents. Su’s everyman persona situates afield of Los Angeles’ gangster revivalist YG, as his music possesses an insular quality that places him outside of rap's larger-than-life personas.Iamsu!'s numerous guest verses typically find him ready to turn up at any function, but Sincerely Yours finds him turning down at every opportunity. “Only That Real”, produced by HBK member P-Lo, could fit on any ratchet mix from the last few years with its moody synths and vicious stomp, but appearances by a bored-sounding 2 Chainz and Sage the Gemini dull this potential hit. Though Su has appeared and produced some big crossover singles, Sincerely Yours is a bit too blunted, as a majority of the album floats in its own haze. “What You ‘Bout" offers a nice slap to the record's drowsy consciousness, momentum that the album could use more of. As a whole, Sincerely Yours maintains a tepid pace; the record's more thrilling moments are undercut by perfunctory rapping and weak track sequencing. After an unnecessary interlude, there's a string of energetic posse cuts that feature HBK members Kool John and Skipper (“Back on Your Mind”) and Bay Area legends Too $hort and E-40 (“T.W.D.Y.”), but on an album that often gets too comfortable in its own relaxed mood, Sincerely Yours could use more rappers with outspoken personas to act as a foil for Su. Iamsu! remains a distant figure on Sincerely Yours, but there's a charm in the constant amazement he expresses regarding his success thus far. Furthermore, his ruminations on unrequited love lack expected bitterness, as he instead seeks to understand his complicated feelings. “Ascension” starts with Su pumping himself up by running down all of the things that he’s accomplished over the last few years, but then comes “Runaway”, a distorted back-and-forth with a former lover that ends with him singing, “I thought you loved me.” These are not insurmountable struggles, but other rappers have found universal appeal with far less relatable issues. “Problems” finds Su putting on the backpack of a conscious rapper, trying to weave his own issues with the problems of black people in America. The sentiment is nice, but he doesn't the passion in his voice to sell a track of such a weight. Su might not have the highest aspirations, but minor dreams can still compel a listener; Sincerely Yours just needed to find better modes of expression.
HBK Gang
Hour of the Dawn
7.1
2014-05-15
2014
La Sera
Jeremy Gordon
Where Vivian Girls’ rough edges and droning harmonies suggested mystery, Katy Goodman’s La Sera has to this point made no such attempt at obfuscation: Here was the Vivian Girls bassist, here’s what was on her mind when she wasn’t with her bandmates. But Vivian Girls are no more, meaning Goodman’s instincts have run in a less solitary direction for Hour of the Dawn, La Sera’s third album. "I wanted the new La Sera record to sound like Lesley Gore fronting Black Flag," Goodman says in the album’s press material. "I didn't want it to be another record of me sad, alone in my room. I wanted to have fun playing music and writing songs with a band." How fun it is when album opener “Losing to the Dark” strikes that aggressive pose, the guitars pinballing off the walls as Goodman snarls about a boy who doesn’t seem to need her until he’s too drunk to take care of himself. “What a shame it must be to have to be in love with me,” she sings, both heartbroken and spiteful. Not that she’s suddenly gone mean. Hour of the Dawn is largely made up of romantic songs carried to their open-hearted potential by Goodman’s high, floating voice. She’s in love with people and with memories, from summer’s promise to the town that used to be filled with her friends. An album that could be sad based on the lyric sheet is stuffed with delirious fret runs, muscular drum fills, sunny guitars soaked with reverb. Vivian Girls’ girl group harmonies were usually cloaked behind a curtain of feedback. Here, Goodman stands in front of the band, her voice shining like a lighthouse on the shore. The Lesley Gore-fronting-Black Flag comparison is apt, since you could imagine the tougher directions the music would lean toward were Goodman’s instincts for melancholy and tenderness not there to soften the impact. The resulting sound is closer to Best Coast with more focus on the jamming. “Kiss This Town Away” leans into surf rock and a country singer’s sense of lament; the nimble picking of the title track builds to a triumphant outro even as she expresses unease about whether a new day will really bring something better. “10 Headed Goat Wizard” is straight-up Beatlesesque pop, like something you’d hear at the end of an episode of “Mad Men” and not even realize it was anachronistic. The moments where she lets the band get heavier are interesting: “Control” chants like the flip side of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2” while “Storm’s End” groans like its title, which is possibly a “Game of Thrones” reference (which Goodman has talked about in interviews) but probably doesn’t need to be read into beyond that. (Or does it? Okay, it doesn’t.) That’s when Goodman takes steps toward establishing herself beyond what she’s known for, which is personable if not always easy to distinguish from itself. Hour of the Dawn sounds like a summer record, meant to be played when emotions are high and the sun is out. Most importantly, it shows what she’s capable of when the shine has worn off.
Hardly Art
Membrane Pop
6.9
2014-05-15
2014
Sculpture
Mike Powell
Over the past few years, the Brooklyn label Software has become a reliable home for a certain kind of electronic music: Brainy but with a dumb sense of humor, influenced by dance and ambient music without actually functioning like either, searching and pretty without ever feeling grandiose—the kind of soundscape you can take on a walk to the bodega. The label's cofounder and figurehead, Oneohtrix Point Never, has the aspect of a regular dude and peddles his music as such: High art for daily use.   Enter Dan Hayhurst and Reuben Sutherland, whose Software debut as Sculpture, Membrane Pop, plays like theme music for a cartoon parents might catch out of the corner of their eye and momentarily worry about what their children are being exposed to. Its beats are blocky and intricate, its textures rubbery and its melodic lines rendered as simply as ringtones. It's music in a tradition that reaches back to Jean-Jacques Perrey and Gershon Kingsley, whose compositions were painstaking efforts of tape-splicing and synthesizer manipulation that ended up with names like "Barnyard in Orbit". More recently, it's a course followed by people like Aphex Twin and Black Dice's Eric Copeland: artists for whom silliness is an earnest endeavor. Pop is an aspirational title, sometimes accurate and sometimes a little misleading. The concept, presumably, is music where immediacy and catchiness will transcend whatever weirdness gets in its way. Tracks like "Hackle Scam Populator" and "Symbolic Molecule" do this; tracks like "5 Seconds in the Future is a You Made of Pure Thought" are still playful but much more abstract. Generally, it's the friendlier side of the record that feels more interesting because it has higher stakes: How, it wonders, can you make music that will register to most listeners as avant-garde while still retaining the approachability and charm of something less precious? Pop's harsher moments have their own ingenious little logic but ironically, the more difficult the album gets the more familiar it feels. Sculpture bill themselves as an "opto-musical agglomeration," which is to say that the visual aspect of their performance is as important to them as their music. Live, Reuben Sutherland screens wild, hectic patterns using simple devices like the kaleidoscope and zoetrope, which tricks the eye into seeing rapidly cycled static images as motion. Sutherland, who works in part as a director of commercials for companies like Adidas and IKEA, probably has higher-tech tricks in his arsenal, but that's not the point. Instead, the image, like the music, has a certain kidlike purity, aiming for complex ideas as simply as possible. 
Mexican Summer / Software

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