Waxahatchee-Out In The Storm

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John Darnielle made a name for himself recording simple songs into a boombox, mostly by himself, some people say that the Mountain Goats lost their touch once Darnielle brought in the rest of the band and began recording more polished albums.  Any good Mountain Goats fan knows that the band has only improved as they’ve gotten older, then why did I apply the former philosophy to Waxahatchee?  Katie Crutchfield’s debut album American Weekend was such a masterpiece that I ignored the following two albums, until Out In The Storm, which captures the lyrical essence of Waxahatchee, with wider, warmer production. Continue reading

Slaughter Beach, Dog-Welcome

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In a similar vein as The Mountain Goats’ All Hail West Texas, Slaughter Beach, Dog’s Welcome tells different perspectives of people all in the same place.  Whether the songs are full band romps or stripped back acoustic numbers, Jake Ewald brings a textured town to life in his first solo effort.

About midway through Welcome, Ewald sings:

                        My friends don’t need jobs

                        Cause they all sell drugs

                        Spending Fridays setting fires

                        With their college degrees

                        And I think to some degree

                        They are more practical than me

Just like on All Hail West Texas, Jake Ewald does what John Darnielle does on a song like “The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out of Denton;” he shows that these characters are real.  Just like every Mountain Goats fan knows a Jeff and a Cyrus, Ewald and the audience all have friends selling drugs, pissing away college degrees.  While at times the album seems dystopic, Ewald shows a love in dysfunction through chugging anthems like “Monsters” or “Mallrat Semi-Annual.”  “Monsters” sees an older brother sticking up for a defenseless younger sister at the end, in a fond memory in a now deteriorating home.  “Mallrat” shows the perspectives of people on a first date, both anxious out of spite and nerves.

These guitar heavy, up-tempo songs are definitely some of the most lyrically intricate and visually interesting songs where Ewald sings about fonts on gravestones, New Year’s Eve and “Halloween in Hell.”  Some of the more tender moments come from the softer songs.  “The Politics of Grooming” is reminiscent of Garth Stein’s novel The Art of Racing in the Rain.  The song is seemingly told from a dog’s perspective as his owner watches the world she’s come to know fall apart and die around her.  “Toronto Mug” and “Toronto Mug II” are both about what it’s like to be stuck in the sort of decrepit town that Slaughter Beach is.  Whether you’re searching for a DVD or “counting cracks on Essex Street,” you only have a souvenir mug from a foreign city to provide you with a real sense of escapism.

Musically, Ewald is able to go many different places naturally on this album.  Whether it’s palm-muted power chords on “Mallrat Semi-Annual,” classic rock melody on “Drinks,” sweet finger-picking on “Bed Fest” or the funky, math rock of “Forever” nothing is out of place.  There are moments that bare some resemblance to songs like “Hiding” or “Note to Self” from Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost, Jake Ewald’s main outfit.  Still, this sort of concept album has more to do with The Weakerthans or the Mountain Goats than it does with Brand New or The Front Bottoms.

While Welcome doesn’t have the confessional lyrics we’ve come to know from Ewald and Modern Baseball, it does have the honest quality that storyteller-songwriters always need.  In creating a fictional work in its own universe, he’s created characters that reflect real people as well as his more personal work does.  It seems as if the biggest running theme in Slaughter Beach, Dog’s songs is paralysis in small town life.  It’s an extremely pop-punk sentiment on an album that owes very little to pop-punk.  It’s a vastly personal exploration that can be both hilarious and heartbreaking within its 28 minutes.

Bon Iver-22, A Million

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The way I see it, Justin Vernon was walking down a Wisconsin road and reach a place where two roads diverged.  He could have created a standard, mostly acoustic follow up to Bon Iver, Bon Iver or he could make a batshit insane electronica album with titles that include symbols for sigma and infinity.  Justin Vernon opted for the latter.

Upon first hearing some of the earliest tracks released, it would be easy to concede that Justin Vernon had lost the essence of what Bon Iver is.  He has simply reimagined what it means to be Bon Iver.  He’s still given us a concept record as solid as For Emma, Forever Ago, just with much less acoustic guitar.  This album sees him exploring mortality, religion and aging, which makes all the distortion, samples and autotune seem all the more fitting.  Bon Iver still has all the warm production, virtuosity and songwriting that make those first two albums such great albums, but he does it with more of a focus on electronics.  Vernon hasn’t abandoned live instruments entirely though.  The saxophone work on “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” and “____45_____” steals the show, creating distorted, glitchy jazz.  “____45_____” also has some sweet banjo at the end.  Original instrumentation and interesting songwriting is definitely not an issue for Justin Vernon.

Bon Iver’s hip hop and R&B collaborations have shown some influence, as this is probably his most soulful record.  Justin Vernon’s signature falsetto still shows on songs like “33 “GOD.””  Unlike his previous work, he sings as if he’s a rapper spitting a sick verse here.  A songs like “8 (circle)” and “00000 Million” have him singing autotuned soul anthems.  It’s very similar to what Kanye West and Chance the Rapper have done with their recent releases.

While there are moments that seem cold and emotionless on this album such as “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” 22, A Million sees Justin Vernon revealing some of his most heart wrenching emotions.  This is most evident during the outro to “715 – CRΣΣKS” where Vernon is practically screaming, “God damn, turn around now.  You were my A-Team.”  “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” also sees Vernon vocalizing frustrating during a heavy track.  Most of the album seems to see Vernon trying angrily to make numerical values out of life, but the closing track’s calm piano and refrain of “the days have no numbers” seems to show that he came to grips with an existential dread.  He notes that sometimes you have to let harm in.

22, A Million is definitely controversial for Bon Iver fans.  It’s much more ethereal than what it seems, because it merges all the different worlds that Bon Iver has been involved in.  Had Bon Iver done this as an acoustic guitar folk album, it would have been good, but since he traveled down a new path, it’s incredible.  Two roads diverged in a Wisconsin wood, and Justin Vernon took the path less traveled by, and that has made 22 millions differences.

Kevin Devine releases “No History”

Kevin Devine is streaming the first single from Instigator, “No History.”  The single revisits the pivotal morning of 9/11/2001, and it views the tragedy from a much more personal point-of-view.  Devine writes of the track:

I wrote “No History” last summer, after driving Manhattan’s West Side Highway home to Brooklyn from an early morning doctor’s appointment. It was 8am, and a lot had already happened that day, and the immediate sky was uninterrupted blue, and my mind was lazy, and I happened to look up at my left at the Freedom Tower, and I realized That Day in 2001 was a lot like this one. Memories and images tumbled and fought for space until the song had its shape. I’m 36 and a lifelong New Yorker and in many ways my life is pre/post That Day. That’s also true on a larger scale; a lot of present-day ugliness & scariness (not to mention the poisonous fruit we’re being served in place of sane civic discourse) has its roots in how Power reacted to what happened. This is a song tying moments together to shrink back to the personal, to reconnect to that meaning & narrative, to the kernel of humanity buried in the fog.

Instigator is out 10/21.

AJJ-The Bible 2

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Following Christmas Island, arguably the band’s least exciting album, Andrew Jackson Jihad dropped all but their initials.  The Bible 2 lacks some of the laugh out loud humor of classics like People Who Can Eat People are the Luckiest People in the World, but AJJ hold onto their lyrical grace, while continuing to shake up the worlds of folk and punk.

AJJ have never been virtuosos with their instruments.  This album sees some more experimentation: “American Garbage” is very synth heavy, and “Small Red Boy” is an incredibly produced, textured track.  Most of the experimentation is nothing to write home about, and the album even closes on a lo-fi track reminiscent of the band’s early recordings.  Most of the fuzzy tones and weird vocal effects tend to be mediocre at best and annoying at worst.  Still some of the riffs are catchy enough to compliment the songs like in “Golden Eagle.”

What AJJ lacks in virtuosity, they make up for in lyricism.  When discussing AJJ, it’s important to note that they’ve been growing more and more serious as a band in recent years.  While the band always did address serious issues, there was always some tongue-in-cheek humor of interpolating Simon & Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson” or singing the joys of being a straight, white, cisgendered male in America.  Of course, the band couldn’t completely ditch the laughs.  Watch the video for “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye” or catch the Cannibal Corpse reference in “No More Shame, No More Fear, No More Dread.”  Much of The Bible 2 seems to reflect on the past as a means to make sense of one’s self currently.  Lead vocalist Sean Bonnette battles his childhood demons on tracks like “Cody’s Theme” or “Goodbye, Oh Goodbye.”  He references sleeping through church or his teacher speaking to his mom.  The album’s penultimate track is a larger number than AJJ has tackled before with an outro that sees Bonnette practically bursting at the seams.  “My hatred turned to pity/my resentment blossomed flowers/my bitter tasted candy/my misery was power,” he sings in a moment of triumphant self-loathing.

AJJ still brings some of the most infectious vocal melodies to their simplistic lyrics.  “Junkie Church’s “Oh, I love you cause I love you cause I can” is one of the most soothing melodies to ever leave Bonnette’s lips.  While the band may no longer be telling dirty jokes.  They’ve brought a new offbeat sense of emotionality to their band, and The Bible 2 is a nice change of pace following a new name.

Listen to The Bible 2 here.

James is on Twitter.

New Music from Bon Iver


For the first new music from Bon Iver in 5 years, this should not be terribly surprising.  Justin Vernon has collaborated with the likes of Kanye and James Blake.  The instrumentals on his new tracks don’t sound like the folk darling we’ve come to know and love.  The warm electronics do compliment Vernon’s voice though.  “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” finds a happy medium for fans of For Emma, Forever Ago, but “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” is much more distorted.  The instrumental of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄” though features some sweet, welcoming saxophone work, which contrasts Vernon’s distorted vocal takes.  Bon Iver’s 22, A Million is sure to be interesting, probably excellent.

 

James will be patient, and James will be fine on Twitter.