It would appear that trying to balance the daunting workload of a second year university student with music society rehearsals, the running of a weekly radio show, maintaining some semblance of a social life, and writing regular, long-form album reviews has proven somewhat difficult. I want to keep putting everything I have into all of these things, but in an attempt to preserve as much of my own sanity as possible after an exhausting first semester and a stressful exam period, I have condense the number of full-length reviews I plan (and then neglect to finish because of time and stress constraints) into a monthly roundup of my favourite album releases.
We’re coming up to the end of January now, which means it’s about time I put out an update on the new releases I’ve been filling my time with over the last four weeks. Enjoy!
Jeff Rosenstock – POST- (Polyvinyl Records)
Jeff Rosenstock’s brand of self-aware, pessimistic yet energising power pop/punk rock has become an unlikely source of positivity and inspiration over the last few years. Rosenstock’s last two records, We Cool? and WORRY. are both uplifting, despite the morose, self-deprecating lyrics. This is all thanks to Rosenstock’s talent for writing catchy, bright, poppy melodies and hooks, and the use of rough around the edges, almost low-fi production.
Rosenstock’s new record, POST- is a little more outward facing than previous projects, and with the widened scope of his lyrics, which now take shots at wider aspects of American society, comes a more ambitious approach to song writing and song structure. The band have shaken up their formula on this new record, with longer tracks taking their time to build towards adrenaline fuelled, anthemic moments, which makes instances like the electrifying repeated shouts of “We’re tired! We’re bored!” at the end of ‘USA’ all the more awe inspiring. Rosenstock’s broader, satirical lyrics make some of the more low-key tracks, like the celebrity culture bashing ‘TV Stars’, feel more substantial than on previous records. On the whole, POST- accomplishes something in feeling a little more grown up in response to the dire state of society, without ever losing the brash youthfulness that made Rosenstock’s music so likeable in the first place.
Scallops Hotel – Sovereign Nose of Your Arrogant Face (Ruby Yacht)
Milwaukee rapper, Rory Ferreira (AKA milo/Scallops Hotel), has been on a roll as of late. Sovereign Nose… is his third full length release in the last seven months, and the second in a planned trilogy under the Scallops Hotel pseudonym. If you’ve heard the last Scallops Hotel tape, over the carnage rose a voice prophetic, then this new tape won’t sound all that different to you. Ferreira’s loosened up a little on the harsh, echoing voice effects, to the point where they’re still present and compelling, but they aren’t as jarring as they have been previously, and overall, this new tape is considerably more mellow than over the carnage…, taking inspiration from the laid back, jazz tinged beats of the last milo album, but the lyrics are in keeping with Ferreira’s angry streak that he’s been keeping up since 2015’s When the Flies Don’t Come.
In all honesty, Sovereign Nose… is more of the same for Ferreira, but thankfully, all of the rapper/producer/poet’s recent output has been great, so that’s no bad thing. What made this tape stand out to me was one guest verse on the track, ‘private temple hours’. Art rap newcomer, YOUNGMAN, didn’t make much of an impression on milo’s last album, but his guest verse about his fear, as a Jewish American, of the resurgence of white supremacy, hit me quite hard. There’s a worrying amount of oversight, when it comes to white supremacy, in some parts of the Jewish community that YOUNGMAN makes painfully clear in his verse.
“White supremacy is the light Jew’s frenemy
They’ll hire you more often and still kill you eventually”
This one line pushed this entire album up from something that I was passively enjoying, to an experience that will stay with me for quite some time.
The Bad Plus – Never Stop II (Legbreaker Records)
I was worried when I heard that Ethan Iverson would no longer be a member of The Bad Plus as of late 2017. Having followed the band for a number of years now, I had associated their sound as a trio, quite heavily with Iverson’s stark, heavy handed playing style. It was a major contributor to the band’s aesthetic, and in giving that up, I was concerned that the trio might lose one of the elements that made them stand out in the first place. Now, along with the new year, comes a new pianist, in the form of jazz veteran, Orrin Evans, and a brand new album, Never Stop II.
This album title was a smart choice for the band’s new project. They’ve made it very clear that whilst the lineup has changed, their mission statement hasn’t. Evans slots in perfectly with drummer, Dave King, and bassist, Reid Anderson. His playing style is similar enough to Iverson’s that it doesn’t take away the band’s ‘all or nothing’ textural aesthetic, but his dynamic control is considerably more fine tuned than Iverson’s, giving the music a varied, expressive quality that it couldn’t quite manage previously. The phenomenal writing on Never Stop II has resulted in the strongest collection of original music The Bad Plus has released in quite some time, with the band stretching their melodies and grooves to places they’ve not thought to explore before. The record carries a sense of drive and determination for the trio – one which leaves me incredibly optimistic for whatever they decide to do next.
Tune-Yards – I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life (4AD)
The socio-political conversation surrounding the new album from, electro-pop duo, Tune-Yards, is an awkward, complicated one, and I was hoping to avoid having that conversation here. Unfortunately, this album’s contextual background is so integral to the end musical result, that it’s kind of impossible not to acknowledge.
The band’s frontwoman, Meryl Garbus, was accused of cultural appropriation after the release of the last Tune-Yards record, Nikki Nack, and the aesthetic of I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, seems to be wholly dictated by a fear of another round of that kind of backlash. The difficult thing about that, is that the frenetic west African rhythms that dominated the last album, were what made it such an interesting project, and in trying to rectify the supposed wrongs of which she was accused, the writing and production style on the new record has become a little heavy handed and sterile in places.
That’s not to say that this is a bad record. In fact, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life would not be featured on this blog if I didn’t think it was worth listening to. The bulk of the material on the record is just as energetic and idiosyncratic as much of Garbus’ previous work, but the African musical aesthetic has been replaced by 80s pop-esque synths, which clash in quite a striking way with Garbus’ off-the-wall vocal performances. Highlights include the song ‘Hammer’ which I’ve had stuck in my head for the last week, thanks to its staggeringly cutting vocal harmonies, penetrating bass line and its wonderfully effective use of incessant clapping. Heavy handed lyrics and stylistic retreat aside, I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life is a lot of fun and full of life.
Kit Downes – Obsidian (ECM)
Put simply, I’ve never heard anything quite like this before. Kit Downes is a wonderful pianist, composer and improviser, but his affinity for the ethereal and the ambient is what makes his voice as an artist truly special. Obsidian is a little daunting, conceptually. The record is entirely comprised of solo organ pieces (with the exception of the track ‘Modern Gods’, where Downes is joined by saxophonist, Tom Challenger). Some are entirely improvised, some are based around little fragments of melodic ideas, and some are haunting renditions of pre-existing melodies, such as the traditional folk song, ‘Black Is The Colour’. Whatever the origins of the pieces, the performances recorded here are spine-tinglingly beautiful.
The setting of this album is a significant contributor to the record’s celestial atmosphere. The ten pieces were recorded on church organs in three historical churches in the UK, and the natural reverberation of the buildings give the sparse, other-worldy melodies an air of the mystical. Downes explores the full capabilities of the organ’s upper register with skeletal melodies over subtle, whispered chords and drones, that build to devastating waves of sound.
Listening to Obsidian requires an open mind and a willingness to be subsumed by the music, but under the right circumstances, this album has the potential to be an extraordinarily moving experience, and for many, an entirely new one.
Danny Fox Trio – The Great Nostalgist (Hot Cup Records)
New York pianist, Danny Fox, and his trio are a new discovery for me. Their latest album, The Great Nostalgist, was released on Hot Cup Records, the label of oddball jazz ensemble, Mostly Other People Do The Killing. The aesthetic of the band, and of the label itself is one of applying contempory musical twists to more traditional styles of jazz, and the Danny Fox Trio’s latest creative endeavour in that vein is, simply put, the most fun I’ve had with a standard piano trio record in quite some time.
Whilst the record has the aesthetic of a well trodden jazz stomping ground, it’s filled with enough structural oddities, rhythmic diversions and harmonic left turns to keep things exciting and unpredictable across its ten tracks. Highlights include the unorthodox marriage of Copland-esque melodies and harmonies, with the rhythmic energy of simcha music on the track ‘Jewish Cowboy (The Real Josh Geller)’, and the linear narrative structure of the eerie ‘Theme for Gloomy Bear’.
What makes this album so endearing is its dedication to its nostalgic aesthetic (as alluded to in the album title), whilst still making innovative strides. Nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake is kind of pointless (I’m looking at you La La Land), but this album uses a sense of nostalgia to do something new and exciting, and that’s absolutely worth talking about.
Elliot Galvin – The Influencing Machine (Edition Records)
Elliot Galvin is one of the great eccentrics of the current British jazz scene, and his second full length release for Edition Records doesn’t skimp on the insanity. In fact, the concept of the new album, The Influencing Machine, is perfectly suited to Galvin’s style of musical entropy.
The album is named for a book by Mike Jay about an 18th century schizophrenia patient named James Tilly Matthews, and Galvin represents the idea of that kind of disorganised mind through a series of frenetic, constantly changing compositions that combine satisfying, easy to follow chord progressions, earthy, visceral basslines from Tom McCreedie and crunchy, technical drumming from Corrie Dick , with his signature atonal improvisational style.
The album is meant to use Tilly Matthews as an allegory for our post-modern, technology and media obsessed society, and Galvin weaves those ideas together through the use of modified, electronic childrens toys and snippets of tape recorded conversations, that give the album a chaotic undertone, even when the music itself is starting to feel a little more organised. The record makes drastic shifts in tone from track to track; moments of tranquility, like on the beautiful, swirling ‘Society of Universal Harmony’, transition directly to moments of energetic madness, such as the quietly insane ‘Planet Ping Pong’.
The Influencing Machine‘s unpredictability and unflinching dedication to character, are what make it such an entertaining and thought-provoking record. It’s Galvin’s most creative endeavour to date, and a wonderful start to 2018 for Edition.