The Avalanches: Wildflower

The wait is finally over for fans that have eagerly anticipated the sophomore release of The Avalanches, but has time and hype spoiled the sound that we have craved for so long?  The answer to that question is a reluctant yes, but that in no way implies that Wildflower is a terrible album; it simply missed its due date by about thirteen-ish years.

One of my biggest issues with this LP is the extreme lack of cohesion throughout the twenty two tracks that are presented to us.  I understand that the band may have intentions with this direction, but many tracks that I loved are ruined by an abrupt change in sound that does not compliment the other parts.  For example, the buildup to The Wozard of Iz is incredible and has my head bobbing every time, but when Danny Brown comes in around the 1:37 mark, the music loses its direction and the lyrics don’t help to make the sound any less confusing.  From my perspective, it looks like the group was trying to move away from the continuous flow that Since I Left You had from cover to cover, which is great because I would not want an album that sounded just like their previous efforts.  The problem that arises from this change is the hesitation to allow each track to stand out on its own.  I feel like there is still a rather large attempt to get these songs to flow together from track to track and that style should either be kept or abandoned; not somewhere in the middle.

On a positive note, some of the best songs on this album exist within the first half of the record.  The opening track (technically second track) kicks off everything with a catchy Jackson 5-esque groove accompanied by Camp Lo with an acceptable set of verses that carry the song to the ending.  The following track is Frankie Sinatra and it represents the bouncy and vivid sound that Frontier Psychiatrist held on the previous release.  However, the features on this track are an incredible letdown, but I will mention that later.  Following that, the next six or so songs are arranged beautifully and feel completely independent and capable on their own.  Unfortunately, the rest of the album does not have a great arrangement at all and suffers because of it.  Part of this is due to the fact that three of the best songs that were released as singles prior are all a part of this first half.  From a metaphorical standpoint, The Avalanches decided to shoot all of their artillery fireworks off in the first five minutes of the show and lit sparklers for the finale.

Lastly, I would like to touch on the features that come up every now on then on this album.  When I first heard of the insane lineup of artists to work on this project, I was elated.  Danny Brown, MF Doom, Ariel Pink, Father John Misty, Toro y Moi, the list goes on.  That being said, I could not have been more disappointed once I finally sunk my teeth into the songs that these individuals are on.  Three phrases that immediately come into my mind are dispassionate, out of place, and forced.  The biggest offender of this is Danny Brown, which pains me to say.  All of his lyrics are utter nonsense and his drug rhetoric simply does not fit with the “faceless” music that The Avalanches are known to create.  To elaborate, every vocal section from Since I Left You could not be pinpointed to a specific person or artist, at least without using an online source to find the sample.  That was part of the magic that sparked the feeling of an unknown presence.  Like a series of voices speaking to you by cycling through different radio stations in order to form a melody and story from numerous different sources.  Some might say that it is unfair to judge the band like that, but a perfect example of features used effectively is on the song If I Was a Folkstar, which blends the traditional methods of plunderphonics along with a nice vocal melody from Toro y Moi, which sounds like it could have been taken from a completely different song.  The talent and capability are present, but the execution unfortunately falls flat on many of these feature tracks.

I honestly wish I could like this record more than I do, but there are far too many problems surrounding these tracks for me to be completely on board, which is truly a shame because I firmly believe that the group has the potential within them.  If this album had released three years after Since I left You, it would have been a complete success.  Unfortunately (for the band), music did not stop when The Avalanches did and their sound has not evolved deeply enough to match the standard that we have in the year 2016.  My honest opinion of this album is a 6.5/10.

Weekly Highlights: 6/26-7/2

The first highlight of the week goes to Aesop Rock for his music video for “Kirby”.

The video is everything I could have imagined and really compliments the song that is already so great on its own.  I mean, who doesn’t love puppets and kittens?

One big announcement that was made this week is the lineup for Sound On Sound Festival that will be having its first event in Austin, TX this fall.

For a first year festival, the lineup is very solid and offers an array of various genres but is mostly directed towards a more underground audience.  The price is also a fantastic incentive, with 3 day passes starting at only a little over $180 after service fees and taxes.  In my opinion, it appears that Sound On Sound is attempting to emulate a Pitchfork Music Festival vibe in an Austin setting.

In the realm of album releases, we saw two major artists drop their music out of nowhere despite prior release dates already being in place.  First, we have Blood Orange unveiling Freetown Sound, which is a follow-up to his 2013 release of Cupid Deluxe.  I haven’t given this album a full listen, but I’m enjoying what I’ve heard so far.  Perhaps I’ll write a review if I find time in the midst of all these summer LPs.

Featured Image for It happened! How to listen to The Avalanches new album, ‘Wildflower’

The second and definitely more surprising release comes from The Avalanches, with their highly anticipated album Wildflower dropping an entire week before the day that everyone was expecting.  I have given this album a few listens cover to cover, but I will hold my tongue for a review that will hopefully be out relatively soon.

Lastly, we have news as of today that Frank Ocean’s long awaited follow up to Channel Orange might be here as soon as sometime this month.  This rumor comes from an image uploaded onto his website with an assortment of dates that have been updated/ crossed off, with July (date obscured) 2016 being the last date on the list.

It would be in all of our best interests if we just passed this off as nothing in order to avoid getting our hopes shut down, but my sixth sense tells me that this could finally be the moment that we’ve all been waiting for.

That about covers it for this week.  Stay tuned for more reviews and news in the near future.  Have a great 4th of July weekend!

Car Seat Headrest: Teens of Denial

What can be said of a six year old band with more than ten studio albums under their belt?  In the case of Car Seat Headrest, the outcome has been pure growth and development, and an insane buildup to their best release yet.

Throughout this twelve track experience, Will Toledo covers many themes that plague the minds of anyone that may be struggling to find their place after leaving the nest.  These include indecisiveness, apathy, denial (as is stated in the album title) and depression.  That being said, the real overarching theme is hidden between the surface level lyrics that are not technically the core of Will’s problems in life.  The real issue is the level of self-awareness that Toledo possesses within himself that creates a negative perception of his peers and any activity that he participates in.  In the song, (Joe Gets Kicked out of School for Using) Drugs with Friends [But Says This Isn’t a Problem] Will sings, “Last Friday I took acid and mushrooms I did not transcend, I felt like a walking piece of shit”.  This verse reflects the theme perfectly in an effort to explain how the “smoke and mirrors” of the mind altering drugs are as plain as day.  Other incredible lines include the nihilistic remark of “you share the same fate as the people you hate” and great imagery like “feeling empty as a car coasting downhill”, which are both featured on Drunk Driver/ Killer Whales.  This is only few examples of some of the genius writing that plays into this album, and I would highly recommend reading the lyrics while listening in order to understand the message that is being conveyed.

From a production standpoint, Car Seat Headrest are notorious for keeping it grimy and lo-fi.  On this release, it is apparent that efforts were made to keep that sound present but on a more minuscule scale, and it truly does work for the better.  Instead of a constant low quality sound throughout each track like on previous records, the benefit of having a studio has allowed the band to pick and choose which parts should sound clear or distorted in order to provide better contrast throughout the tracks and softer moments during crucial lyrical parts.

Instrumentally and vocally, the band is all over the place.  Will cycles through different styles of delivery whether it be belting, screaming, talking, or simply sounding nice for the chorus.  Whatever the case may be, his intentions are direct and work with the instrumentation to create anything from a somber tone, all the way to the “fuck all” attitude that is displayed in some of band’s more intense finishers such as the ones on 1937 State Park and Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An).  One of the “secret weapons” that enhances the atmosphere on this album is the use of the organ synthesizer that harkens back to the sounds of late sixties and seventies rock.  It gives a nice sense of originality to the emo-indie sound that the band has been known for in previous releases, and I would even go as far as to say genre defining.

Car Seat Headrest have come a long way in their short career as a band, and have already proven their capability in creating an ambitious piece both sonically and lyrically.  Teens of Denial is an incredible coming-of-age album that centers around a heavy topic that not many could even begin to put into words.  Luckily for us, we can just listen to Will Toledo and passively nod in agreement. My honest opinion of this album is a 9.5/10.

The Avalanches: Colours

The legendary plunderphonics group have just released the second single from their upcoming album Wildflower, and it serves as a reassurance more than anything else.

When “Frankie Sinatra” released just a few weeks ago, many reactions to the song were positive, but there were those (including myself to an extent) that felt underwhelmed by the “should be incredible” features that are on the track that included Danny Brown and MF Doom.  With a duo like that, it would seem almost impossible for it to not be excellent.  Unfortunately, many of Danny’s lines are lackluster, and MF Doom’s presence is surprisingly forgettable.  On top of that, the overall sound is reminiscent to “electro swing”, which would be detrimental to the originality of this project, especially considering the impossible standard that Since I left You set back in 2000.

That being said, “Colours” is a song that will cause any skeptic to once again have faith in the band to create a worthy successor to their first product.  The track opens up with a quick yet atmospheric sample of various sounds mixed with a pitched up vocal part that repeats the word “colours” a few times.  The beat immediately picks up following this intro with a dreamy melody that sounds like a record playing backwards along with a band attempting to make music with it, and it truly works.  Lyrics are present but are either unintelligible or too vague to really hold any meaning, but by no means is that a drawback.  However, there is not much contrast throughout the song once the initial chorus is delivered.  There is a rhythm solo around the midway point, but other than that the chorus simply loops until it progressively becomes stripped down for a nicely executed outro.  I can see this track being placed between two energetic songs on the album in order to create a more diverse listening experience.

The main reason why I appreciate this release is that it proves that The Avalanches are not settling to letting their sampled parts drive the music that they produce.  I think that was the primary issue with “Frankie Sinatra”, and how it felt like a simple calypso song with a hip-hop beat placed over it.  As long as the other tracks follow the same creative direction as “Colours”, I’m anticipating a fantastic release come July 8th.

Radiohead: A Moon Shaped Pool

Radiohead have been on their musical journey for over three decades, and have continued to be known as one of the most influential alternative rock bands of our time.  They have had their ups and downs throughout their career, but have managed to maintain a loyal fanbase that eagerly anticipates each album prior to their release.  With A Moon Shaped Pool having just come out last week, it is hard to rank it amongst the other eight albums in the band’s library, though I can tell you that it is better than The King of Limbs, which is rated as one of the most lackluster albums in the band’s discography.

One of the first characteristics that came clear to me about this album is how atmospheric it is compared to some of the band’s previous releases.  Every track has its own unique sound but still manages to fit in with the anxiety driven themes that have been mentioned to be the main focus of the record.  The use of orchestral strings and dissonant chords aid this effect in songs like Burn the Witch, Glass Eyes, and The Numbers.  The high point for me comes from the track Ful Stop, which begins with a fade-in to a gritty-droney bass line that carries the song through complex layers of instrumentation mixed with lo-fi filters for a wonderfully beautiful mess.

Another fantastic feature of this project lies simply within the composition.  There were times throughout my listening that I had to remind myself that I was listening to an “alternative rock band”, instead of an entire symphony (which might as well have been with all of the instrumentation included).  The real beauty of it all comes from the contrast between a simple guitar and the rest of the orchestra in tracks like The Numbers.  That being said, some ideas feel like they have too much build-up with little climax, which may and probably are intentional.  An example of this can be found towards the end of Identikit, a song which features an awesome guitar solo but simply falls flat with little warning.

Having mentioned the above categories, it wouldn’t be a Radiohead album without Thom Yorke’s soft and nasally falsetto.  Even at 47 years of age, Yorke’s voice still contains the soulful youth it had back during the years of Pablo Honey and The Bends.  Having said that, the vocals feel more distressed and hopeless throughout the entire tracklist, which benefits the theme of anxiety and stress that was mentioned earlier.  The lyrics throughout the album switch back and forth from being straightforward but also completely cryptic.  Song meanings range from biting political messages all the way to possible environmental momentos.  There is nothing inherently (from a critical standpoint) negative about said lyrics, but as long as someone has a clear understanding of the underlying theme of the music, there isn’t a need or rush to learn them unless an individual is simply curious or wants to sing along.  However, there is a very big exception to this advice that comes from the song True Love Waits.  In order to understand, one must know that Thom Yorke and his wife divorced just last year.  The song in question has been written since around the mid ‘90s, yet it did not have a studio recording until this year.  Not only that, but the song’s main chorus repeats “Don’t leave” throughout the track.  In my opinion, this is too great to be considered a coincidence and could be the source of the overall theme of the album.

In conclusion, A Moon Shaped Pool is one of Radiohead’s oddest projects to this date.  It exists throughout different parts of time, for most of its songs were written in different stages of the band’s eventful history.  It is definitely a “grower”, even for people that may consider themselves hardcore fans of the group, but don’t let that deter you from giving it a fair chance because I guarantee you will have a different perspective of it by at least the third listening session.  My honest opinion of this album is an 8.5/10.