BRELAND – BRELAND EP (Bad Realm Records)
Oh boy, where do we start.
So what Breland – I apologize, I mean BRELAND – and his team have produced here can definitely be considered “music”. I will give him that. But that’s where the compliments end, because the BRELAND EP is doodoo.
The tracks on BRELAND EP are mostly bad hip-hop songs with bad country aspects shoehorned in. The best tracks are the ones that don’t feature any of those country leanings – for example, “WiFi” is pretty solid. But there are plenty of tracks in the other category, including “Hot Sauce”, “Horseride”, and the absolute abomination known as “My Truck”. I’ve heard plenty of samples and beats in my day, but never one that sounded like forest animals in various levels of distress. It’s easily the worst song I’ve heard this year; I would gladly put it up against several other years too, and feel good about my chances.
I’ll also say that none of this is a knock to BRELAND’s vocals, as he sings pretty well! But his voice is ridiculously overshadowed by the overproduction inherent in most of the track, and that’s a shame. I’d definitely give him another chance if he stepped out of the contrived country-rap space and made a more traditional R&B album.
FFO: Lil Nas X, Sam Hunt (who unsurprisingly features on a “My Truck” remix)
The 1975 – Notes On A Conditional Form (Dirty Hit)
The 1975’s Notes On A Conditional Form is a juggernaut consisting of 22 tracks, but very few seem to be from the same genre, much less from the same band. This album is stylistically so all over the map that I don’t think a singular review could ever do it justice. Instead, I will take a smattering of tracks, and write a mini-review and mini-FFO section for each one.
“The 1975”: A spoken-word track from Greta Thunberg, discussing issues of climate change and what can be done to reverse those changes. Regardless of beliefs on the subject, this is a pretty cool opening track.
FFO: Mary Schmich/Baz Lurhmann
“The End (Music For Cars)”: “The end” is accurate, as this could play during the closing credits of many dramatic and/or Marvel/DC movies.
FFO: Future World Music
“Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America”: Folky jam with great lyrics, discussing love in its many beautiful forms. Features Phoebe Bridgers, which frankly is enough.
FFO: Sufjan Stevens
“Nothing Revealed / Everything Denied”: Nice, piano-driven hip-hop beat, with a pretty slick flow in the rap portion of the track.
FFO: Frank Ocean
“If You’re Too Shy (Let Me Know)”: Straight-up 80s guitar-and-synth pop, with some horn thrown in for good measure. Picture it playing during your favorite montage from the era. Also very likely about a camgirl, as you do.
FFO: Phil Collins
“Bagsy Not In Net”: EDM-pop jam about wanting to go out at the same time as the one that you love. Sampling Christopher Cross helps to lessen the blow of the heavy subject matter.
FFO: The Chainsmokers
“Guys”: Mid-to-late-90s soft rock. About the fun times that everyone has with their close-knit group of friends, which of course is the best group of friends in the whole world in every single case.
Indigo Girls – Look Long (Vanguard)
A 30+ year career is nothing to sneeze at. In the early days, the Georgian duo drew significant inspiration from Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, and college radio darlings like R.E.M. and Husker Du. As the years passed, the Americana elements of their songwriting won out and they left the punk rock attitude outside the studio.
Their 15th studio album, Look Long, has all the earmarks that make them folk-rock icons and one of the more exciting acts to watch at any given Lilith Fair.
Aside from the questionably Hawaiian-sounding “Howl At The Moon”, the record is the best thing they’ve released since 1994’s Swamp Ophelia. The songs are light-hearted and hope-filled, and they kept the activism to a minimum. When they do push that button, it’s in the form of a saccharin-sweet barroom love song about a “gay kid in a small town who loves country radio”, easy to digest and subtle.
Ok, now that I think about it, singing LGBTQ activism in a genre notoriously phobic of everything “other” is punk rock as hell. Kudos.
FFO: Shawn Colvin, Joan Osbourne, Lori McKenna
Nation of Language – Introduction, Presence
Debuts are tough. Debuts are especially tough when your release encompasses a style that hasn’t enjoyed the limelight in over 30 years. And yet, Introduction, Presence rewards unexpecting listeners with a synth-pop masterpiece.
Unlike other recent bands like MGMT or CHVRCHES, Brooklyn-based Nation of Language doesn’t try to put a fresh coat of paint on the genre, instead opting to preserve it in its original form on Introduction, Presence. Slow, lazy vocals from frontman Ian Devaney sit heavy atop layer upon layer of synth. There are no modern accents to be heard; the album stays true to form throughout. Even the lyrics seem very 80s: from “Friend Machine” (“Before you know my name/I can’t defend myself/I was an open book/All the weight of the spine”) to “On Division St” (“You buried me/Right where I belonged/You buried me/Right where I belonged”), everything fits the era and genre perfectly. The three-in-a-row sequence of “Automobile”, the aforementioned “Friend Machine”, and “Sacred Tongue” make up the best on offer here, but the gap between best and worst is razor-thin. If you enjoy the genre, you won’t be disappointed with any of the 10 tracks.
For some, Introduction, Presence will represent a walk down memory lane. For others, it will mark a fun introduction (no pun intended) to the genre at-large. Neither group will walk away from this one unhappy. On “Friend Machine”, Devaney asks: “Are you listening, friend?” I hope that you are.
FFO: Depeche Mode, A Flock of Seagulls, Joy Division, Peter Schilling, the list goes on
Mountaineer – Bloodletting (Lifeforce)
Mountaineer began as a 2-member stoner/doom experiment in San Francisco about 5 years ago. Add 3 members and, not only can they now play live, but they are a force and sound that are an undeniable presence in atmospheric doom.
Sludgy, droning bass tones plod forward like a rampaging bulldozer. Clean guitars bleed into aggressive riffage, while monstrous drums punctuate every expression. The vocals are what keep this from falling into some stereotypical doom tropes. The melodies are the character of the songs, leading the climb, but never begging for attention.
The dynamic personality of the record is intriguing as hell. One minute, you’re swooning to a droning, Dead Meadow-like, esoteric jam and the next, you’re being slammed backward and beaten into a sludgy pulp. Each track has its own variation on that dynamic, but they all take you on a journey. To make that trip even stranger, this is not a dark-tinged, blood-flavored record. While it may sound brooding, there is a lightness to Bloodletting that asks us to look skyward; a rare, but welcome quality.
For their 3rd attempt, it seems that Mountaineer has gained the summit. This is a wholly impressive collection of experimental, atmospheric, cosmic, and blistering tunes. I see great things coming in their future.
FFO: Sea of Green, Neurosis, Mastodon
Badly Drawn Boy – Banana Skin Shoes (Damon Gough/AWAL Recordings)
Damon Gough has been writing, performing and winning obscure awards under the name Badly Drawn Boy since the mid-90s. His typical brand of off-kilter approachable folk-pop is a formula that has garnered him acclaim in the U.K. pretty quickly, then across the pond by contributing to the soundtrack for About A Boy. It’s been 8 years since his last release, a delightfully bizarre soundtrack to Being Nick Flynn (“Another Bullshit Night in Suck City”).
Banana Skin Shoes follows a slightly different formula from his usual tricks. Instead of starting with a theme and molding the songs to fit, he wrote 30ish songs and pared it down to the best 14. And damn it if it isn’t compelling.
14 tracks extolling the virtues of being true to yourself, staying connected to others, and trying to avoid wearing fruit-peel footwear. Because it would be slippery. Like a cartoon. You get it.
The style of the record is also slightly different, albeit familiar. The beats are tight and soulful and the melodies are catchy, paying homage to early-mid-career Beck and the indefatigable Beta Band. The lyrics are fun, filled with humor, and attention grabbing, but also poignant and heart-felt. The album may not follow a particular theme, but it still feels cohesive and perfectly organized. Sit on the porch and jam this.
FFO: The Eels, Beck, The Beta Band
Carly Rae Jepsen – Dedicated Side B (604 Records)
As you might have guessed, Dedicated Side B is the follow-up to last year’s Dedicated, released about a year to the day after. We’re squarely in the pop realm, and it’s difficult to venture too far out of that, considering the sheer volume of Carly Rae Jepsen’s releases (25 tracks between both Dedicated albums, marking her 4th album since 2015). But why change now? This is modern pop perfected.
One thing that will always be a trademark for Carly Rae is her voice, which is (perhaps surprisingly to some) pretty strong. We are far from the “Call Me Maybe” days, and it’s quite evident pretty quickly. It almost sounds purposefully engineered for a pop songstress to belt out track after track with it, and she does just that.
While not quite the deep-end dive into synth-pop that Nation of Language’s debut Introduction, Presence was (which you should definitely check out!), Dedicated Side B still manages to write a love letter to the genre. The influence can be heard most markedly on “Let’s Sort The Whole Thing Out” and “Comeback”, contrasting a bit with the more modern feel on “This Love Isn’t Crazy” and “Stay Away”.
“Comeback” is especially great, featuring Jack Antonoff of Bleachers and fun. fame to enhance an already great track. The closing track, “Solo”, brings with it an encouraging message (“So what you’re not in love?/Don’t go wasting your nights getting so low/So what you’re not in love?/You shine bright by yourself dancing solo”). Some of the tracks can feel a bit samey, but that’s more grasping to find complaints than anything else.
For me, it takes a very specific mood in order to want to listen to something like this – but when I do, it hits the spot perfectly. Dedicated Side B will be added to the list for when just such a need arises in the future.
FFO: Tove Lo, Kim Petras (besides the creepy and rad TURN OFF THE LIGHT release)
TALsounds – Acquiesce (NNA Tapes)
Acquiesce, besides being an incredibly difficult word to type, is the latest release from Natalie Chami’s solo ambient project, TALsounds. Chami stays busy, as a part of the groups l’éternèbre and Good Willsmith, and co-founder of the Screaming Claws collective… and yet she still found the time to put out an outstanding album.
One of my chief complaints with several genres is how hard variance is within said genre. The modern country genre is a perfect example of what I mean. There are so many similar-sounding albums that even the great ones get watered down and mixed with the mediocre and bad, producing a sort of Southern slurry. The ambient and lo-fi genres may be even more susceptible to that lack of variance. Acquiesce, however, does not fall victim to that in the slightest.
Each track is distinct, with different elements presented in unique ways throughout. Natalie’s space-y, ethereal vocals are used more as another sound, another complementary part of each track. It’s difficult to understand exactly what she’s saying – if in fact she is saying anything – and that’s perfectly okay! Having any clue of her actual words wouldn’t add anything in my opinion, and in fact may take away from the mystique.
The sound borders on chiptune in some tracks (“Conveyor”, “Instance”), and adds in those same ethereal vocals with a much greater presence in others (“Soar”, “Hermit”). For all the nerds (such as myself), these tracks would be at home in a really good platformer – think something like Celeste or Shovel Knight, or a little-known favorite of mine in Anodyne.
Acquiesce isn’t the type of album you seek out to listen to, but it functions perfectly for what it is: very chill, very relaxing, and just very, very good.
FFO: Sarah Davachi, Kara-Lis Coverdale, Jefre Cantu-Ledesma