LCD’s nuts: James Murphy and Co. deliver another stunning album

American Dream‘s album-opening song is not “Dance Yrslf Clean”.

Because the awesome, impossibly huge synths kick in about three minutes earlier on “Oh Baby” which seems destined to rank among the upper echelon of LCD Soundsystem songs despite the impossibly tough standard set by its predecessor.

The notes are deeper and less frenetic than on LCD’s last side-one, track-one, but the crunchy tone is the same.

Then James Murphy is cooing comforting phrases and shimmering keys enter the fray. Quickly, whatever concerns you have that  8 years away from the improbably cool post-rock-dance-punk indie icons may have dulled their penchant for cranking out classics melt away.

You’ll even forget about the terrible album cover, which I’ve lovingly recreated in MS paint below.

AmericanDream.jpg

And rightfully so, because this is a damn good album.

But quality concerns are replace by other anxieties in the more paranoid second track, andfor most of the rest of the album, there’s a whole new slate of anxieties to contend with.

Any album titled American Dream was bound to have a dark undercurrent given the current climate , and by the time a group vocals shout, “resisting other voices” over a cowbell-infused dance groove it’s clear that the mellow opener was a bit of a fake out.

Aging, dying, reconciling a shared human condition with wildly disparate points of view and a general malaise creep in from around the edges.

Of course, Murphy first broke through with “Losing My Edge”, so if anyone can make those themes sound like a party, it’s him.

And he does just that by employing tricks honed over the past three albums,

“Tonite” is a robotic Daft Punkian jam that bluntly and positively addresses mortality in its first minute. It’s “Losing my Edge” taken to its logical conclusion and crossed with a hefty dose of “Daft Punk is Playing at My House” and a dash of “You Wanted a Hit” sneer.

“Change Yr Mind” is a depressive “Us V Them” that doesn’t sacrifice much in regards to beats per minute. It adds some interesting screeches to the classic LCD click-track thing with lyrics about being a shut-in, and has a familiar misspelling in the title.

“How Do You Sleep” is a 9-minute epic that starts slow and adds layers a la “All of My Friends” but those layers end up including a synth line that works its way into your bones like “Dance Yrslf Clean”.

“Emotional Haircut” is the best possible version of the “Drunk Girls” model of LCD Soundsystem song. It’s a guitar spazz built around a dumb phrase, but I actually like it a lot more this time around.

Really, if I had to say a bad thing about American Dream, it’s that I think fans of the band will find it a bit self-referential.

“Oh, look, it’s LCD Soundsystem and they’re doing an LCD Soundsystem thing.”

But the synthesis of past ideas and tackling weighty topics is so deft and so good, it didn’t bother me.

It’s sort of the platonic ideal of LCD Soundsystem, and an hour-plus listen goes by really, really smoothly.

I’m not positive because I’ve only given the album two spins, but I don’t think there’s a track I would put in my personal top 3 LCD songs, but I think it is the LCD Soundsystem I could listen to the most in its entirety.

American Dream is superb. It’s everything I love about one of my favorite bands, but it’s a little darker, the commentary is more pointed and the portions are positively epic.

 

 

My favorite albums of 2017 so far

I’m not 100-percent sure, but I’m fairly certain that I’ve listened to more new music in 2017 than I have in any other year.

My New Year’s resolution was to listen to at least one album I had not heard before per week. I’m cruising along and already past 40 albums, so barring a monumental collapse I should hit my target.

About 90 percent of my first-time listens this year have been new music.

In no particular order, these are the releases from this year that I’ve enjoyed the most.

White Reaper – The World’s Best American Band

Truly, this is good, uh, rock’n’roll music. The second album from Louisville-based power-poppers, White Reaper, is one of the year’s most fun releases so far. It’s unabashed, straight-forward rock influenced by The Ramones, Cheap Trick, Big Star, The Replacements and The Exploding Hearts. There’s genuine guitar heroics, and the hooks are plentiful.

Vince Staples – Big Fish Theory

Vince Staples released his second consecutive instant classic LP this year. He continues to rap about depressing realities over severe-sounding beats in a way that’s fun, mostly thanks to gallows humor punchlines and a rapid pace. Not a single song surpasses the five-minute mark and most are shorter than three minutes.

Jay-Z – 4:44

I expected this corporate partnership release to be as uninspired as Magna Carter Holy Grail or Kingdom Come or The Blueprint 3, and was floored to hear an album that can comfortable mingle in the upper echelon of Shawn Carter’s discography. Certainly not better than Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint , but it compares favorably to The Black Album and American Gangster. The No I.D. production sounds amazing. It is warm, slightly opulent and gives the album a cohesion lacking from some of Jay’s lesser works. The tabloid-fodder infidelity confessions are what’s drawn the most coverage, which makes sense because I can’t recall Jay-Z ever sharing this much of his personal life, but equally interesting are Jay-Z’s thoughts on race and black unity, which I don’t recall ever before being quite so explicitly dissected on an album by HOV. Strictly speaking, these aren’t Jay’s best bars. His flow sounds off, and the rhymes aren’t always particularly clever. But, it is some of his most interesting and personal work ever.

Kendrick Lamar – Damn. 

Kendrick Lamar continues his streak of dominating the rap game. His flow continues to be a dense labyrinth of internal rhyme and references, but in a way that’s more approachable than To Pimp a Butterfly. The album is a little less focused than some of Kdot’s other releases (I can’t picture a U2 feature on any of his other albums), but not every album needs to be a Statement.

Ty Segall – Ty Segall

Ty isn’t reinventing the wheel here in any sense. He’s even done a self-titled release before. But this might strike the best balance among the prolific garage-rockers prodigious-but-disparate strengths. There’s straight-ahead rockers, Sid Barrett-esque psyche-pop and a really sweet love song. Unlike some past releases (looking at you Manipulator) this album is a tight collection. This really is a virtuosic display of everything one of rock music’s best working songwriters does right.

(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

This album is equal parts hummable alt-country and industrial freakout. I prefer the warmer, mellow first half of the album. “Bobby”, “Poison Root” and “Proud” are fine, extremely pleasant and slightly weird pop songs with warm twang. That may sound like faint praise, but it’s meant as a rousing endorsement. That basically describes most of my favorite Wilco songs, after all. The string-filled melodies are made all the more remarkable because they share an album with “Brick”, which has more in common with Death Grips than a lot of songs on Rocket.

Charly Bliss – Guppy

Guppy is an entirely transparent attempt to replicate the soaring buzz of ’90s alternative-rock, and it accomplishes that modest goal with aplomb. Lead singer Eva Hendricks sounds downright effervescent, but her high, perky voice fits in with songs that are all forward momentum and chugging guitar. “DQ” is on my shortlist for songs of the year, and one that I’m sure will be in my rotation for years to come.

Los Campesinos! – Sick Scenes

The hyper-literate twee punks I’ve loved for a full decade now have grown into a wonderfully dependable, mature indie rock band. As always, these songs are lyrically captivating. Gareth never stops being Gareth whether that means setting an almost literary scene, capturing a particular brand of malaise, whip-smart punchlines or super-specific sports references. Musically, this album includes some of the most energetic songs LC! has put out since the absolutely transcendent Romance is Boring. There’s also “The Fall of Home” which is just heart-achingly gorgeous. All snark is set aside to explore the sensation of seeing the places we come from crumble after moving on to some place ostensibly better.

Smidley – Smidley

 

 

I’m not a huge fan of Foxing, but Conor Murphy’s side project was unexpectedly winning. Lightly psychedelic indie rock will always be in my wheelhouse. “Hell” is one of the year’s better side one track ones. It sounds both dark and jaunty in a way that recalls The National, has group vocals that make me think of Local Natives (which isn’t something I’ve done often since 2012} and there’s some trumpet that somehow sounds perfectly in place. “No One Likes You” and “Pink Gallo” make good use of Murphy’s unique voice and are very good and just slightly odd. “Milk Shake” is an interesting, bare bones acoustic take that surprises with its vulnerability, but really shouldn’t considering singing in an emo band is Murphy’s main hustle. For me, the standout track is “Fuck This”, and it’s really what pushes Smidley’s eponymous debut onto this list. It’s essentially a perfect instant classic. A springy, midtempo number with a seesaw melody and shouted chorus that features multiple lengthy crescendoing chants of “Fuck this, fuck this” will always, and I mean always, have a spot in my heart.

The Sadies – Northern Passages

The Sadies are absolutely crackerjack musicians, and that shines through on every track on Northern Passages. They sound equally comfortably on the rave up “Another Season Again” and the sleepy, Kurt Vile-assisted “It’s Easy (Like Walking)” and both songs are positively delightful. Not since The Band have Canadians so effectively mined American to thoroughly winning effect. I think this album has largely gone overlooked, and it might be because The Sadies have served as a backing band for the likes of John Doe and Neko Case in the past. If you’ve got a soft spot for countrified rock, you owe it to yourself to listen to this album.

 

Boomiversal appeal: The new Big Boi is pretty darn dope if you ask me.

Big Boi was the dependably solid half of Outkast, while his musical partner was the mad scientist that gave their impeccable discography a delightfully odd bent.

Antwan Andrè Patton was the street smart ATLien with an elastic flow that kept the seminal duo grounded in the world of rap while Andre 3000 got progressively weirder, sang more and started play guitar.

Then, Three Stacks went to do a little acting, and Sir Lucious Left Foot started pumping out solo albums, and should’ve always been clear became obvious — Big Boi is a profoundly weird dude in the tradition of George Clinton’s funk mythology.

This worked out to brilliant effect in Big Boi’s long-gestating solo debut, but yielded uneven results on Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors , which was in part hampered  by being a super bloated album.

Go back and listen, there were definitely some good ideas scattered around that album.

Big Boi’s newest offering, Boomiverse, has a hit ratio much more in line with Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty, and is frequently a bizarre delight, even if its not quite that album’s equal.

Big Boi is as nimble on the mic as ever, his guest list features Southern rap royalty like Killer Mike, Scar, Pimp C, Curren$y and an expertly deployed Gucci Mane, and there are some truly awesome tracks.

“In the South” is an absolute essential if you’re a fan of a certain type of  Dirty South rap. Gucci Mane raps the way a cat stretches over an icy beat with a hook scoffed by Pimp C. It’s perfect and highlights everything a Big Boi track could possibly do well.

But once again Big Boi is slightly undercut by his dedication to experimentation and willingness to throw things at the wall, which while admirable can sort of derail things.

It means some clunker ideas (Adam Levine feature) co-mingling with awesome ideas  (A Big Rube narration over dramatically swelling strings) on Boomiverse.

It also means more dabbling in electronic sounds, which is sometimes fun, but just doesn’t sound as exciting as the warm, analogue-sounding noise on a track like “All Night”, which mines the same dixieland vein as the criminally underrated Speakerboxxx deepcut, “Bowtie”.

Big Boi managing to drawl and double-time over the same piano beat is one of  this world’s purest joys. “All Night” grabs you by the ear and demands to be on every cookout playlist you make this summer.

But the next six tracks never really hit that high again. There’s some interesting textures, a good bit of introspection and quality rapping, but “All Night” and “In the South” are the two best songs, and they’re on the same half of Boomiverse, which also happens to be the half of the album with “Kill Jill” which is the elevated to the position of best weird song by some inspired huffing and puffing by the big bad Killer Mike.

One Side 2, “Overthought” is a worthwhile if unspectacular meditation on how anxiety is habit-forming and Snoop see whose verse can sound the most like auditory butter, which is pretty damn fun.

This is a good album with flashes of greatness, and songs as good  or odd as “Kill Jill” and “In the South” are worth enduring a thousand less-than-wonderful crossover attempts like “Mic Jack”.

 

 

I’ll be doggoned: Songs about dogs

Lately, I’ve been playing with puppies for hours then leaving the pet store empty-handed because there hasn’t been enough heartbreak or emotional blue balling in my life.

Well, that, and I’m a big believer in rescuing, and I’m just trying to get a good feel for what sort of dogs would make sense for me.

So, given that canines are on my mind, I thought I’d put together a quick list of dog-related songs that get the Bloggenstatt stamp of approval.

  • Sun Kil Moon – “Dogs”

OK, so technically, this song is more about dealing with burgeoning sexuality coupled with the toxic role masculinity plays in the lives of young men, but it’s called dogs. And it’s on an album called Benji. Which is also the name of a movie starring a dog … in addition to being the name of Mark Kozelek’s dead friend.

  • The Beatles “Martha My Dear”

Once again really stretching my premise and spurning low-hanging fruit. Martha was the name of Paul McCartney’s sheep dog. He’s stated the song’s relation to the dog ends there, but I’m counting it.

  • Frankie Cosmos – “Sad 2”

Finally, a song that is unabashedly about a dog. A dead dog. OK, this is a song about the utter languish of putting a pet down. I thought this would be a happier list. The seesaw melody of this song is delightful to warble along too even if it’s a big, ole downer. Try it. “I’m juuuust a normal girl, but my name is FraaaAAAAaaaAaank” is a wonderful thing to say in a Muppet voice.

  • The Stooges – “I Wanna Be Your Dog”

Because there are bells on this proto-punk classic, it counts as a Christmas carol. Because Iggy Pop mostly sings about being, “So messed up,” and wanting to be someone’s dog it’s the best Christmas carol.

  • The Sonics – “Walking the Dog”

Pacific Northwest garage-rock legends included a super scuzzy take on Rufus Thomas’ song on their classic album Here are The Sonics. This one even includes dog whistles. One of my least tenuous picks.

  • Wanda Jackson – “Rockabilly Hound Dog”

This tweaks Elvis’ much more famous Hound Dog sound and mostly just extols the virtues of Rockabilly music. It’s extraordinarily silly, but Wanda Jackson doing a full-throated growl backed by a saxophone is always worth a listen. It definitely alludes to an extremely literal dog.

  • David Bowie – “Diamond Dogs”

This is really a song about  feral mutants from the future, but it has one of the coolest intros ever, “This ain’t rock’n’roll, it’s genocide!” and it’s Bowie grooving to some serious cowbell.

  • Florence + the Machine – “The Dog Days Are Over”

This is a super pleasant song I had the privilege of hearing a lot when I worked retail. Like a lot. For years this song was part of the corporate mixed CD we had to play while folding polos and selling cargo shorts to suburban dads. Years later, I don’t hate it, so I have to assume it’s a rock-solid song.

I’ll probably never have a reason to write about Florence Welch on this website again, so I’m going to air this unpopular opinion: Between her and Adele, Flo is the better British song-belter. It’s always bugged me. I feel like in a world in which Adele didn’t exist, people who say things like, “She’s really got pipes” before looking around for nodded approval while listening to Top 40 radio would have glommed on to Flo.

I feel bad for her, and now her song is on my dog playlist, so I’m really doing my best.

  • Surfer Blood – “Demon Dance”

These guys were one of my favorite guitar-heroic indie rock bands of the late ’00s. I even stuck around to hear their second album despite some disturbing allegations. This is track-one side-one for that album. Like pretty much all of Pythons it’s slick, enjoyable guitar-pop. It references the, “the hounds of hell” so I included it.

In the ensuing years since their sophomore album, Surfer Blood have put out a lot of pretty OK music. Their first album, Astro Coast is deservedly the most lauded release in their catalog, but I really think Pythons is overlooked despite containing some of the hookiest, crunchiest pop-rock of the past decade.

For more information on Surfer Blood, check your local library.

  • Weezer – Undone (The Sweater Song)

Not at all about dogs. Not even one bit about them. But the music video features so many dogs. Worth noting: The video was directed by Spike Jonze, who would go on to make some tremendous movies and has a dog’s name.

I feel good about this pick.

Get down to this Sick Scene

LC! sound pretty darn well on album No. 6

I adore each and every Los Campesinos! album nearly equally.

The bratty snarl and twee chime of  Hold On Now, Youngster, the guy-girl duets counterbalanced by Xiu Xiu-esque noise on Romance is Boring, the Goldilocks zone of We are Beautiful, We are Doomed and the rock-solid literary pop-rock of their later releases all have a special place in my heart and hard drives.

But for all their consistent, excellence, I’m not sure that LC! have ever had a better side one, track one than the opener for their sixth  album, Sick Scenes. “Renato Dall’Ara (2008)” is a jam.

It’s a sub-3-minute blast of guitar and Gareth Campesinos! signature  multi-syllabic, lilting bleat. It’s light, catchy and features some of the strongest group vocals since singer and keyboardist Aleks Campesinos! left the group. Imagine  if Romance is Boring started off with “Romance is Boring”. It’s like that.

And it’s wholly appropriate, because aside from a couple of tracks toward the album’s back half, the energy level hardly flags. This is the most buoyant and boisterous  record sincetheir 2008 debut, and I’d have to say it’s among their best.

 

 

It’s fairly clear from the music, and at one point even explicitly stated, that Gareth’s songwriting focus has moved past the sometimes plodding malaise that marked long stretches of No Blues and Hello Sadness. Not that LC! staples have gone anywhere. Soccer, relationship woes, self-loathing, death obsession, class-ism, anxiety and heart swells are still all over the album, but they’re presented with acceptance and urgency. A sort of declaration : I feel crummy, but I really feel it.

While the album has a uniform urgency, there’s a wide variety of sounds on the back half of the album.

“The Fall of Home” is a delicate, acoustic number about a changing, declining hometowm that musically recalls the prettiest moments of the All’s Well that Ends EP.

The shiny, electronic “Here’s To The Fourth Time” has some legitimate pop chops, and the synthesizer pops up to add a little extra crunch to “For Whom the Belly Tells”. There’s legitimate guitar heroics on the bridge for “Got Stendhal’s”. None of it is exactly earth-shattering experimentation, but it adds to the lively feeling.

And, LC! absolutely stick the landing with closer “Hung Empty”, which is a thoroughly excellent song. It finishes things off with fist-pumping ennui that you’d only expect to find on a Los Campesinos! record.

I cannot wait to sit down with liner notes and lyrics and give this another serious listen or five.

 

Magellan goes wonderfully off course

I remember sitting on a stolen park bench in my college apartment playing NBA 2K13. A pink triangle of tongue was probing outward from the corner of my mouth, and hangover sweats dampened my clammy forehead while I tried to make Eric Gordon’s easily packed jumper work.

But even more vividly, I recall my concentration was broken when I heard a familiar World Music-tinged bursts of strings and drums that all but demand body rolls. “Dirty Projectors are on this game?” a delighted exclamation.

That was the moment, I had to explain to my friend and roommate who The Dirty Projectors were, but more importantly it should’ve been the first inkling the new, self-titled album from Dave Longstreth would sound the way it sounds.

Longstreth writing for Solange and Rihanna as well as collaborating with Kanye West should’ve been giveaways too  because Dirty Projectors shares about as much musical DNA with “Runaway” as it does with “About to Die”.

There is plenty of woozy vocoder, confessional themes, rapping and Mr. West even gets a shout out on the absolutely fantastic and introspective “Up in Hudson”.

 

 

That standout track also addresses one of the album’s other overwhelming influences–Longstreth’s breakup with longtime girlfriend and stellar guitarist Amber Coffman.

Every song on the album either reminisces about their time together, laments their separation, dwells on loneliness or in the case of “Keep Your Name” fires off some parting shots.

Aside from the thematic fuel, Coffman’s absence could explain the hard turn for the electronic since 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan.

Staccato guitar bursts have decidedly been removed from the album’s vocabulary.  Instead warbles, static and all manner of electric bleeps and bloops have joined the piano, eventful percussion and gift for marrying experimentation with undeniable melody that has always been The Dirty Projectors’ calling card.

And the album sounds absolutely fantastic. It’s almost always a sonic lasagna of  disparate parts. On any given song you might hear electronic effects, autotune, piano, drum loops, horns, violins or even organ, but it’s never muddled, and aside from a few indulgent moments of faux static, it never seems busy for the sake of being busy.

It is a wonderful headpones album.

However it was that Longstreth arrived at the new album’s sound, the result is the same: a deeply engaging album that manages to double-down on both pop influence and weirdness.

I sincerely hope “Cool Your Heart”, which includes a fantastic feature from D∆WN, a frantic drum bridge and layer after layer of brass instruments, soundtracks a future basketball video game.

Name a more iconic duo…

 Brian King and David Prowse’s cicada-like reemergence is an excellent new album slightly out of their comfort zone.

Japandroids already have a couple of near-perfect album’s in their oeuvre. Post-Nothing, their 2009 break through, is an adored cult classic and Celebration Rock , as its name suggests, is a triumphant, rock masterpiece. At this point, their playing with house money when it comes to critical good will, and it allowed them to adventure toward some new sounds on their brilliant new album Near the Wild Heart of Life.

There are new sounds on Near the Wild Heart of Life. There’s Americana influence and electronic textures and female backing vocals, and it’s not quite the barbaric yop of raw-nerve feeling of Celebration Rock or the distorted, lo-fi “newgaze” revelation of Post-Nothing, but it is obviously a Japandroids album.

On Near the Wild Heart…Japandroids finally sound as big as they’ve always been to me. They have always produced irrepressible, energetic anthems that have conjured irresponsible levels of energy in me, and on the new album they sound ready to conquer stadiums.

The tug-of-war between roots and a chosen home, the reconciliation between ambition and humble beginnings and the bracing affirmation that to live is to feel are still omnipresent as are the wonderful guitar  sounds that strike the perfect balance between Hüsker Dü and My Bloody Valentine and the “Oh, woah-ohh” vocal fills.

The opening title track of the album makes that abundantly clear.

It sounds as much like a Japandroids song as any song that ever was and serves as sort of an origin story of a band that started in rural Canada before calling Vancouver home and later splitting time in Vancouver and New Orleans.

It’s also a carpe diem mission statement about acknowledging your dreams and being bold enough to attempt to realize them
The next song, “North South East West” manages to sound like “Ain’t that America” and “When You Were Young” but still be completely awesome despite some serious mawkishness and corny lyrics. They actually  shout N-O-L-A, USA at one point, and I don’t hate it. This is definitely the Japandroids’ road album, and it’s fun to hear a couple of Canucks grapple with the immensity of the North American continent.

“True Love and a Life of Free Will” is a pretty wonderful, understated song about two wild people finding a love that works for them and the adorably titled”I’m Sorry (For Not Finding You Sooner)” sounds like a throwback to 2009.

“Arc of Bar” is a slow-burning, seven-minute epic that features electronic textures and crescendos to a gospel conclusion. It’s very different, but it’s still very easy to pick out the shimmering, chugging guitar in the background and feel like you’re in familiar territory.

The album is very heavy on  King, but “Midnight to Morning” gives Prowse a chance to handle lead vocals, and he does a great job. It’s got a fantastic, roaring guitar texture that makes its four-minute-plus running time seem completely justified.

“No Known Drink or Drug” has a real “Evil’s Sway” vibe, but with “sha-la-la” backing vocals that I don’t think I’ve heard before. It also further drives home what a love letter the whole album is to the American South, specifically New Orleans. The lyrics, “We ward off the weather with a witch’s brew of dominoes and prose and Delta Blues,” really make their past Gun Club cover make a lot more sense.

The album closes with “In a Body Like a Grave”, which brings Japandroids to a perfect 3-3 on album closers. It boasts an uncharacteristic jangly guitar that contrasts nicely with what is otherwise a meditation on the way life beats a series of imperfections into our being until we die and the way every pleasure can also hurt.

Religion, school, your hometown, love, simply living and even the life-giving sun are all painted as omnipresent, utterly necessary evils that rob us of our innate mint condition. 

 I really and truly cannot imagine any other band describing life as basically a slow demise in a flesh prison with such conviction and feeling as to actually  make the universal sentiment an affirmation. “It’s all in a lifetime and all in a body like a grave” should be the most fatalist, yet wonderful chorus of the year as long as Titus Andronicus don’t have a new album in the works.

This is super accessible, slightly weird Japandroids, but thoroughly excellent. If I had to rank each of their eight-track-long releases, I’d slide it right between Post-Nothing and Celebration Rock with it trailing the latter by just a hair.