May 2018: Album Review Roundup

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June is almost upon us, and that can only mean one thing… it’s time for another roundup of the month’s best new music! May was a stellar month with some big names dropping long-awaited records, and as usual, there were some surprises along the way. Let’s waste no time and jump straight into it.


Parquet Courts - Wide Awake! 

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The lead-up to Parquet Courts’ sixth album appeared to be a series of increasingly-questionable decisions, each of which seemed more worrisome than the last. The first strike came when the band announced that production on their new record was to be helmed entirely by Danger Mouse, a known-homogenizer of rock music. By the time the band made a daytime appearance on Ellen, most fans cautiously waded into Wide Awake! with tempered expectations. While I’ll admit I’m a relatively new fan of Parquet Courts, Wide Awake! seems to be the most thoughtful, polished, and complete offering the band has put out to date. Perhaps thanks to that unified sound brought to the table by Danger Mouse, it feels like the band was finally unencumbered enough to get as freaky, groovy, and political as they have always wanted to, all while sounding as clear and raw as they ever have. Still oscillating between thrashy punk and long-winded indie, after hearing the record it now feels silly that we ever doubted them in the first place. 

 

Rae Sremmurd - SR3MM

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By now everyone knows the story of Rae Sremmurd. Two brothers from Mississippi who broke their way onto the scene with “No Flex Zone” in 2014 and continued to solidify their place in hip-hop with a stream of undeniable singles, killer features, and inescapable cultural moments. For their third record, the duo decided to embrace the theme of threes and release a triple album; one traditional Rae Sremmurd release, plus one solo record from each of the two brothers. I ended up enjoying SR3MM far more than I ever expected (in fact, I wrote a full review for it here) but aside from exceeding my expectations, I think the Brothers Sremm handled every facet impeccably. Triple albums are rare, but when we do get them they’re notoriously bloated, overly-long, and just plain bad, but here the two approached it with a unique perspective and were able to deliver the exact level of fun that fans have come to expect from them. Plus watching Swae Lee and Slimm Jximmi flourish in their respective styles is wonderful to see. From bangers to ballads, SR3MM has it all and excels on every front. 

 

Beach House - 7

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I’ve always been a pretty passive fan of Beach House. I like what they do, but rarely ever seek it out on my own. When the group released Depression Cherry in 2015 something finally clicked for me, and I fell in love. Wonderfully-dark, beautifully-pensive, and just the right amount of distorted, Depression Cherry was the record I’d always wanted the band to make. Despite turning me into a fan with that record, the duo squandered that goodwill almost immediately when they released Thank Your Lucky Stars the very same year and gave us a second album that sounded exactly like everything else they’ve ever done. Now in 2018, the group seems to have stared down these two divergent paths and leaned even harder into that darker side that I enjoyed so much on Depression Cherry. Forecasted by a plethora of increasingly-dark singles and a detailed public announcement/explanation of their sonic change-up, 7 represents the fulfillment and embrace of the band’s darker side. The full evolution of this distorted, borderline-shoegazey sound, which (from the outside) sounds like quite the pivot for a dream pop act, yet Beach House manage to make it look effortless. 7 finds the band plunging headfirst into midnight and emerging with some of their best work to date. 

 

Arctic Monkeys - Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino 

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For their sixth album as a band, the Arctic Monkeys decided to curve every sonic, historical, and fan expectation in favor of something completely left field. A far pivot from the dark deserty sounds of their last album, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino sees Alex Turner taking center stage (quite literally) as a sort of smoky lounge-singer in search of the soul. On some level, this record is just as “dark” as AM, but ends up being much more laid-back, conversational, and perhaps most importantly: funny. Tranquility Base a Hotel & Casino takes a similar approach to all of its songs, embracing a dynamic of hyper-verbose lyricism sung over subdued instrumentals. It’s a far cry from any of their previous work, but it’s a combination that works for me. There are still enough musical moments for the other band members to show their chops, but as a whole Tranquility Base reads like a late-night exploration of Turner’s brain over the course of one dark night of the soul. A lounge album recorded in the void of space. A stream-of-consciousness outpouring in the aftermath of a post-Bowie world. A near-future disaster recorded directly to music. A wonder. 

 

Pusha T - Daytona

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Ever since releasing one of the best records of his career in 2015, the hip-hop public has long-anticipated Pusha T’s next move, waiting with bated breath to see how he could possibly follow it up. On his first full-length in three years, he reveals the answer was to make things shorter, tighter, and even more cohesive. The first of four Kanye-produced albums we’re receiving over the next 30 days, Daytona is the best non-poop-related indicator of what to expect from these upcoming projects. Bearing Ye’s classic chopped-up soul-sampled beats, an intentionally-short tracklist, and songs that bleed into one other flawlessly, Pusha’s latest output is a sharp, soulful, and compact update on the rapper’s mindstate. “Santeria” is a slowly-mounting guitar-based track that climaxes in an explosion of organ and a moody Spanish refrain. Oppositely, “Infrared” is a barebones track that finds Pusha T spitting realness on everything from politics to race relation and ends on a few subliminal shots at Drake… Speaking of which, the benefit of writing these at the end of the month is that we now seem to find ourselves in the midst of a beef between the two. On the 25th Drake dropped “Duppy Freestyle” to which Push responded with “The Story of Adidon.” While Drake’s freestyle centers around Pusha’s credibility in the drug game, Pusha T went straight for the jugular attacking Drake, his family, and his best friend, all within three minutes. The story is still developing, but as a fan of each artist, it’s exciting to hear new, sharp, and mean music from each as they go back and forth in what may be the defining hip-hop beef of the decade. 

 

Courtney Barnett - Tell Me How You Really Feel

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For someone whose music typically gets placed under the “Slacker” sub-genre of indie, Courtney Barnett seems to work really fucking hard. I know that name is just a silly label meant to describe her music, but I can’t help but feel like that title is a disservice to her art. There are certainly still moments of slack-fueled hopelessness throughout Barnett’s sophomore effort (most notably “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence”), but there are moments of strength too. Perhaps spiritually-bolstered by last year’s collaboration with Kurt Vile, Barnett seems more pointed, bombastic, and personable than ever before. Opting for less-narrative songs than her breakthrough record, Tell Me How You Really Feel finds Barnett shredding, grooving, and narrating her way through ten stories of personal growth. Sometimes psychological, sometimes agonizingly-real, this album feels like Courtney Barnett engraved a piece of herself onto each record and passed them out to people on the street. A wondrous (and sometimes rambling) journey of the self. 

 

Ministry of Interior Spaces - Life, Death and the Perpetual Wound

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I’m not a sad person. I don’t have many regrets in life, nor a wealth of personal tragedies to draw from. Earlier this year I attended a This Will Destroy You concert, and it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in recent memory. I knew their songs like the back of my hand and midway through the instrumental set, my mind began to wander into long-forgotten thoughts. It was meditative. I began thinking about people, places, and events I hadn’t considered in years, as if the music was helping my brain re-establish these broken connections in order to feel these things I hadn’t in decades. At its best, I feel music offers listeners a canvas on which to project their own feelings and anxieties. An avenue to interact with deep-seated traumas and unheard thoughts, and that’s exactly what Ministry of Interior Spaces offers on Life, Death and the Perpetual Wound. Half concept album, half whatever you want it to be, Perpetual Wound is an ambient release that recounts the tale of a “mystical road trip through a magic-realist American West.” It’s a document of its creator’s struggle with drugs, depression and, friendship in the face of natural beauty. The record tells a timeless tale that simultaneously acts as a canvas for the listener to venture through and draw upon. A beautiful self-exploration. 

We interviewed Ministry of Interior Spaces here.

 

Illuminati Hotties - Kiss Your Frenemies

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When I first discovered The Wonder Years the band felt like a revelation to me. The group’s hyper-realist approach to lyricism was something I’d never heard before in my life, and something I desperately needed at that time. When I first discovered Illuminati Hotties, their single “(You’re Better) Than Ever” immediately evoked the same feeling I first got when I discovered The Wonder Years so long ago. Punchy, powerful, and disarmingly self-aware, Illuminati Hotties is a “tenderpunk” group fronted by Sarah Tudzin that finds the band grasping at the straws of adulthood. It’s both heartbreaking and reassuring to hear music from someone in such a similar situation as myself. It’s an album about fucking up, growing up, and moving on. Tudzin takes a similar approach to The Wonder Years using specific vignettes and imagery from her own life to let the listener into her existence on a level that’s almost too close for comfort. From working three jobs to pay off college debt to doughnut dates and ceilings covered in glow in the dark stars, everything connects in a way that’s just eerily real. Filled with cute lines, catchy choruses, and poetic barbs, Kiss Your Frenemies fumbles its way through adulthood in an intimate, anthemic, and beautiful way.

 

Quick Hits

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  • BlocBoy JB - Simi: After making waves with the Drake-assisted “Look Alive” in February, Memphis rapper BlocBoy JB funneled his newfound-attention into a well-polished and banger-filled mixtape. Additional fun fact: I crunched the numbers and Mr. JB ad libs “that’s on my mama” a total of 32 times throughout. 
  • Royce 5'9" - Book of Ryan: Hyper-lyrical, incredibly-dense, and heartbreakingly-personal hip-hop that demystifies the history of Ryan Daniel Montgomery. Told from a first-person perspective, Royce remains as technical as ever while also taking an incredibly-compelling storytelling approach. 
  • Desiigner - L.O.D.: A perfectly-punctual and wonderfully-ad libbed EP from the goofy dude that brought us “Panda.”
  • Iceage - Beyondless: Moody and anxiety-riddled post-rock from Copenhagen.
  • Parkway Drive - Reverence: Well-crafted metalcore that bubbles up from the diaphragm and explodes into a perfectly-honed point. Chuggy, angry, and filled with growls, Parkway Drive continues to kill it. 
  • DJ Koze - Knock Knock: Natural electronic music that’s been warped, shifted, and delivered it to us from another universe. Simply Transportive. 
  • Shakey Graves - Can’t Wake Up: Slow-moving psychedelic Americana that twists and writhes in the evening light.
  • Cut Worms - Hollow Ground: Jangly throwback rock with just enough personality and weirdness to be a pleasant oddity. 
  • The Word Alive - Violent Noise: Sinewy and mostly-generic metalcore with an electronic tinge. 
  • Jon Hopkins - Singularity: (Mostly-)electronic music that crests with emotion and pulsates with mood until eventually frittering out into slowly-unwinding heartbreak.
  • Mark Kozelek - Mark Kozelek: Long-winded as ever, Mark Kozelek gets personable and folksy for 90 minutes as he expels every verbose thought in his head. 
  • Ty Dolla $ign - Beach House 3 Deluxe Edition: Noted crooner/rapper hybrid Ty Dolla $ign tops off last year’s installment of the acclaimed Beach House Series with an additional six summery songs.
  • Lady Legs - Holy Heatwave: Celebratory indie rock with a ceaseless groove and unkillable joy.
  • Playboi Carti - Die Lit: 19 smoky bangers filled with incredulous ad-libs and not a lot else. 
  • La Luz - Floating Features: Dreamy, sun-kissed surf rock that reverberates with passion and strength.
  • Wajatta - Casual High Technology: Reggie Watts and John Tejada combine forces to form a delightful portmanteau and equally-delightful electro-pop.
  • NAV - Reckless: I don’t understand Nav.
  • James Bay - Electric Light: Pop music that’s simultaneously soulful and sterile. 
  • KYLE - Light of Mine: 2017 XXL Freshman, joyous rapper, and possible industry plant KYLE returns with a 15-track tape of feel-good hip-hop.
  • Now, Now - Saved: Polished and simplistic indie pop that mixes heartfelt emo with electronic sensibilities.
  • Remember Sports - Slow Buzz: After changing their name, the vivacious pop-punk band is back proving (once again) that Philly is the eternal hotbed of upcoming emo rock.  
  • Lil Baby - Harder Than Ever: Street rap assisted by a high-profile Drake feature.
  • Clairo - diary 001: Since half the tracklist consists of revisiting the viral hits that have brought her thus far, diary 001 ends up being a scattershot history of Clairo’s rapidly-ascending career and musical phases up to this point.
  • A$AP Rocky - Testing: Immaculate flows, booming bass, and dark production. A million drugged-out lines spit in zero gravity while coming down from acid.
  • Hatchie - Sugar & Spice: Lovelorn dream pop that captures relationship dynamics with as much color as a middle school trapper keeper. 
  • Chvrches - Love is Dead: Glossy and bright indie pop that practices what its title preaches.
  • Shawn Mendes - Shawn Mendes: Pretty-boy pop music that I wouldn’t know about if it weren’t for Kevin Abstract.
  • American Pleasure Club - Tour Tape: Following-up their fantastic a whole fucking lifetime of this, Sam Ray offers up a free download of twelve tracks that were previously exclusive to the band’s merch booth.
  • Lil Aaron - ROCK$TAR FAMOU$: After discovering his jaw-dropping emo remixes last summer, Aaron is back with a sophomore album that continues to blend his unique combination of hip-hop, rock, and humor.

We also saw singles from Travis Scott, Snail Mail, Childish Gambino, Sufjan Stevens, Dance Gavin Dance, Andre 3000, Future Islands, Jimmy Eat World, Dirty Projectors, Protomartyr, The Flaming Lips, Sia, Attila, White Denim, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Lil Uzi Vert, Shortly, Denzel Curry, Weezer, Tyler, The Creator, The Devil Wears Prada, Melody’s Echo Chamber, Get Up Kids, Jorja Smith, Drake, Anderson .Paak, Weezer (again), Jay Rock, James Blake, Lil Peep, Fleet Foxes, Idles, Mac Miller, Charli XCX, and Mitski.

 

Rewind

In other news, we’re now far enough into the year that I’m beginning to make discoveries that I wish I had included in previous month’s write-ups. To amend this, I’m adding a new section to these monthly roundups: A “Rewind” section that goes back in time to highlight albums I missed but wish I hadn’t.

  • Bambara - Shadow on Everything: Dark, hard-drinking post-punk with a southern narration-like drawl. Music for a midnight drive through the desert.
  • Nanaki - Decline & Dislocation: Brooding spiritual post-rock that drips with distortion and head-bobbing riffs.
  • The World Extinct - Theodicy: A powerful bite-sized metalcore offering from a (mostly) new lineup of band members. 
  • Bewilder - Everything Up To Now: Heart-rending and soul-binding emo-flavored math rock. An incredibly-apt band name.