April may not have been a stellar month for music, but at least it was interesting. A few disappointments, a few left fielders, and a few headscratchers made for a noteworthy thirty days.
The Good Stuff
- George Ezra seems like a really pleasant fellow who makes pleasant music. While nothing on new album Staying at Tamara’s hits the stratosphere like single “Budapest” did, there are some eminently listenable gems on here. “Paradise” is reminiscent of the four-to-the-floor indie rock of the mid-2000s, while the smoky “Saviour” cribs Western folk for a good old-fashioned travelin’ tune.
- Remember when The Vaccines were supposed to be the NEXT BIG THING?? That didn’t really happen, but they’ve put out a few solid songs here and there over the course of their existence. The latest is “Out on the Street”, which would be a fairly mediocre song if it weren’t for that inescapable falsetto hook. It is so catchy it even makes up for the fact that the song’s foundation is the painfully overused “Modern Love”/”Close to Me” drum pattern.
- Full disclosure: I don’t know anything about rapper Cardi B other than she had a huge hit called “Bodak Yellow” last year and she guests on a Bruno Mars tune. I can’t even tell you what those songs sound like. But I know that she is very popular, and that is an extremely good thing. It’s been nearly FIVE years since any new artist broke through to the A-list, regardless of genre. Whether or not she has staying power is yet to be determined, but for now it’s nice to see that the music industry is still capable of producing culturally relevant performers.
- I once knew a girl who loved Father John Misty, and in an attempt to woo her I delved into his discography. But as much as I respected Josh Tillman‘s acerbic wit, I could not really get into the guy’s music prior to last year. He just used too many chords for my liking. It was only after I saw him perform live that I fully understood his appeal. This is not meant to be immediately gratifying music. It’s a sort of psychological project that would take a series of essays to unravel, and it just happens to have some nice instrumentation behind it. New album God’s Favorite Customer is off to a good start, with two songs (“Disappointing Diamonds are the Rarest of Them All” and “Mr. Tillman”) continuing the streak of hearty material that takes about four to five listens to fully digest. Once they get into your system, however, they’re there for good.
- Making their way from the oversaturated folk scene to the oversaturated psychedelic throwback scene, Lord Huron sound like Tame Impala and War on Drugs had a blissed out child on their new record Vide Noir. As an album it’s decent, but if you’re looking for standout tracks you’ll find only the excellent title track and its shuffling beat make a lasting impression.
The OK Stuff
- I don’t have too much to say about Alice Merton‘s new song “Lash Out” other than the fact it is solid radio fare and sounds like what the new Florence + The Machine single should sound like. Also it’s funny that iTunes put these two releases side-by-side because the people look the same:
- You really can’t go back. The Weeknd released a surprise EP this past month with the claim that he’s “gone back to his roots”, but this is decidedly not the shadowy, mysterious Abel Tesfaye from 2011. It is in the vein of the three original EPs, but it’s much too clean and glossy to be mistaken for anything from that era. “I Was Never There” hews closest to that material, even if the detuned, sickly synth hook is a little overbearing.
- Whoa, Snow Patrol are back?? Wildness will be their first new album in seven years, and it’s being introduced with a pair of underwhelming but barely passable singles. “Don’t Give In” is only worthy of mentioning because it barely sounds like the band- what the heck is going on with Gary Lightbody‘s voice? It’s so weathered and hoarse, seemingly on purpose considering follow-up song “Life On Earth” finds him using his normal baleful croon. That latter song is more in line with the band’s style overall, but it’s such an obvious album opener and doesn’t really hold up as a song to be taken on its own terms.
- Family of the Year totally blew their 2015 sophomore release, and instead of capitalizing on the massive success off their Boyhood soundtrack contribution “Hero” they put out an incredible average collection of tracks. They’re back again with Goodbye Sunshine, Hello Nighttime, which is the most obviously telegraphed change of direction since Snoop Dogg became Snoop Lion. Ok, so you want to make nighttime pop-dance music now? Try to make it a little more memorable than first single “Hold Me Down”.
The Not-So-Good Stuff
- I’d formally like to retract my high praise of Justin Timberlake‘s catalogue. After hearing the tepid banality of new album Man of the Woods I’ve come to realize that the best moments of Timberlake’s oeuvre can be attributed not to his songwriting but partner Timbaland‘s penchant for skittering rhythms and glacial synthesizers. The magnificent six-plus minute symphonies the duo used to build are nowhere to be found on the record, with Timbaland relegated to a handful of tracks. “Supplies” is still a jam, but JT’s new production team The Neptunes were decidedly a bad choice.
- There aren’t too many concerts I’ve attended that are memorably awful, but Black Rebel Motorcycle Club‘s recent stint at REBEL is one of the unfortunate few. Touring in support of a new album full of molasses songs is bad enough, but worse when played back to back live and extended with instrumental jamming. They didn’t play any hits either, just deep cuts and dirges. A shame, because BRMC used to be the American Kasabian– an early 2000s rock act that quietly continued to deliver solid material after leaving the spotlight. Now they are just very boring.
- Man oh man the Arkells. I’m not sure how their utterly flat meat-and-potatoes music ended up becoming the most popular modern rock in Canada but it’s undeniable that they’ve cemented themselves as an arena act. Which means their tunes end up on the radio by default, not by merit. So now we’re stuck with the Phil Collins homage “People’s Champ” and its very very exciting one-note chorus:
- Twin Shadow‘s 2015 album Eclipse was trounced by critics, even though there were a couple of excellent tracks on it. It seems like the pile-on really got to George Lewis Jr., because on his new album caer he’s capitulated and gone full analog hipster with the dry production and 70s funk indicators.
- Speaking of reductive music, indie band Lake Street Drive are basically dipping in the same Motown well that Meghan Trainor has been for the past four (!) years. Cringe to the max.
- Florence + the Machine have indeed released a new single, and let us hope with all our hearts that this is just a promo single because it is the most boring thing ever. Where’s the percussion??
- Sometimes bands are around for a long time and make it. Sometimes they don’t. Minus the Bear haven’t. They were a boring math-rock band, now they’re a boring alt-rock band.
- I keep forgetting to write about “The Rumble and the Tremor”, the extremely dorky song from Warm Digits. It’s so dorky and I cannot stand dorky things, especially dorky music. But the thing I can’t stand most about this song is that it has a bait-and-switch chord progression. It teases one progression at the outset of the song, then switches it up once the actual chorus comes up. How mean!!! Also, they totally mess up the “multiple hooks playing simultaneously at the end of the song” trick, which usually works out great but somehow they screw it up and it just sounds like a jumbled mess.
- We’re less than a month away from a new Arctic Monkeys album and no lead single yet- should we be worried? It’s been almost five years since AM, so if this new record doesn’t deliver I think we should all just give up.
- Another long overdue follow-up is something new from Grimes– which apparently is finished but can’t be released due to managerial red tape? In the meantime, Ariana Grande‘s released a song that sounds like Grimes but without any sense of melody.
- Within a few seconds of listening to Stars‘ new song your brain understands that this is supposed to be a big pop song. The clean production is obviously front and centre, but the melody, as per usual, is lackluster. I’m feeling intense deja vu writing this, but the simple fact about Stars is that they value quantity over quality. They may be prolific with the sheer mass of songs they output, but they’re averaging about one good song every four years.
The Weird Stuff
- It’s bizarre enough that a meme became a full-fledged music act without even initially being rooted in music, but now Danielle Bregoli (aka Bhad Bhabie) is being used as a sample?
- I like how this guy labels it as “feat. Bhad Bhabie” when he literally just raps over it without any consideration for the song itself. All his songs in fact, are just him with a $10 microphone haphazardly trying to wedge himself into popular rap tracks. His album artwork, as seen below, consists of…his graduation photo? Pics off his phone? It’s the most cringe-worthy thing I’ve seen in years. My personal opinion aside, the legal implications are baffling as well. How does Brickyard Pro use copyrighted material for his own tracks on iTunes? It’s hard enough to upload big name music to Soundcloud, and somehow this dude is (theoretically) making a profit off mixtape tracks? Strange all around.
- Ok, what is going on with A Perfect Circle? Their new album Eat the Elephant is one of the most erratic releases I’ve ever heard. Not only does it almost entirely discard the sound they built themselves on, but it sometimes does the exact opposite of what their mission statement used to be. Gone are Maynard James Keenan‘s serpentine lyrics and ethereal, mysterious soundscapes. The closest thing to their 2000s days is “By and Down the River”….written 5 years ago. The rest is experimentation with modern sounds like trip-hop crossed with straightforward hard rock. There’s also quite a few WTF moments. “Hourglass” sounds like Marilyn Manson feat. a Transformer, with a robotic voice accompanying Keenan on THE WHOLE THING. But that is nothing compared to “So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish”, which is…………………a happy song. What.
Ok, I’m not begrudging anyone joy, but this is not A Perfect Circle. This sounds like The Fray or oneRepublic. Keenan has mellowed out a lot (good for him!) and it’s very very weird for listeners. This is the guy who’s most popular song with this band featured the line “F*** YOUR GOD!”- a song, incidentally, that they don’t ever perform live anymore. While we’re talking about his live shows- his anti-phone policy continues into his songs as he rails against technology in “Disillusioned” with the clunky line “put down your silicon obsession”. Yeesh. As expected there’s a lot of anti-Republican stuff content, and it’s handled just as delicately. Gun control is a noble cause to push, but geez Maynard, you can do better than:
All that said, “TalkTalk” is still a fairly accessible hard rock song. “Hourglass”, even with its Megatron vocals, has a really neat organ riff and a great beat. “By and Down the River” is fantastic, though it’s kind of a cheat inclusion having been previously released in 2013. “Get the Lead Out” is interesting, even if it doesn’t blossom into anything bigger over its six minutes. Overall Eat the Elephant isn’t a bad record, it’s just a wildly oscillating one.