Dive Index – Waving At Airplanes (Neutral Music)
In the past, I have been accused of comparing too many artists to Radiohead, to the point where that comparison loses some meaning. As such, I hesitate to use that as a jumping off point, even when the record is screaming for it.
Dive Index is an L.A. based collaborative electronic project led by producer and composer, Will Thomas. Waving At Airplanes is the fifth full-length album under this name, and collaborators for this effort are vocalists Natalie Walker and Merz. In a convenient arrangement of songs, the tracks alternate back and forth between the two of them.
Stylistically, this is shoegaze electronica at the top of the class. Most of the music is static pulses, electric blips and ethereal, atmospheric chord progressions. Every sound on the album is made using a modular synthesizer, with the exception of the construction sounds that happened to breach the studio soundproofing.
Natalie’s vocals are beautiful and intoxicating, singing about deeply emotional moments of self-discovery, ignorance in relationships, and being absorbed by the things around us. “She’s Exploding”, “Wish I Had A Pulse” and the eponymous track stand out as jewels in this particular display case. Merz’s tracks, on the other hand, are a pretentious word salad that only occasionally stumble across a message. The most egregious example is “Pristine Wilderness”, which makes as much sense as a stroke victim with Tourette’s. His tracks SOUND good, though, and ultimately, that’s what is most important.
This record is definitely not for everyone, but it certainly struck a chord with me.
FFO: Amnesiac-era Radiohead (Sorry. Had to.), Roger Eno, Ian Masters
Destiny Rogers – Great Escape EP (Beach Wave Sound)
Destiny Rogers had an ascent that is becoming all too familiar: post videos on YouTube of acoustic song covers, get discovered by the right people (in Destiny’s case, songwriting and producing team The Stereotypes), and take off. There is plenty of bad that can be said about both the internet and social media, but one of the big positives is that talented, hard-working artists receive an audience and an opportunity that they may never have gotten otherwise. It’s a beautiful thing.
Great Escape marks Destiny’s second release, on the heels of last year’s Tomboy EP, and feels like a continuation of her previous work. As far as the album goes, it’s a pleasant, if unimpressive, R&B release. More than that, however, it’s a great showcase for an artist who is already plenty talented, yet still raw.
Destiny Rogers is a natural; that much is evident more from her YouTube cover videos than her original work. Her voice doesn’t have the power yet (that will certainly come with time), but she’s already developed a great deal of nuance. One complaint is that it can be hard to peel those vocals away from the level of production on Great Escape, but that production at least feels very fresh. “On 11” and “Wave” are two examples of mighty-fine beats on the album, and there are several others too.
It’s great to find an artist at the very top of their game, a master of their craft, cranking out instant classic after instant classic. But it can be just as exciting, if not more so, to find one who still has so much room to grow. I’m looking forward to an even greater vocal presence in Destiny Rogers’s next release, but I’m still plenty happy with Great Escape.
FFO: Halsey, Colette Lush
Christian Lee Hutson – Beginners (ANTI- Records)
Some artists have a way with words, using them as paintbrushes to illustrate the most grandiose concepts succinctly, or to make the mundane sound interesting. Christian Lee Hutson opts for the latter on Beginners, his third album. If you read the lyrics without listening to the music, you may fall asleep. A sampling:
“Reading the menu in an accent/Trying to get you laughing/She said some kids from the Christian school/Came to sing her a song”
From “Seven Lakes”:
“The birds here sound just like an old arcade game/You ask what I’m up to/More of the same”
And finally, from “Lose This Number”:
“Bobby helped me track you down ’cause/I just saw your name in the paper/You said, ‘Of course that reminded you of me/Don’t you know that’s how a name works?'”
And yet, somehow, the actual songs are engaging, drawing you in, making you want to hear more of the story. It’s a very difficult thing to pull off in music, I feel, but Hutson does it well. A bit snoozy, sure, but still solid. The aforementioned “Atheist” is the best of the bunch, but you won’t go wrong with any choice from Beginnings.
FFO: Andrew Bird, Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurado
Lady Gaga – Chromatica (Interscope Records)
I think that Lady Gaga is one of the best pure vocalists today… and that’s why Chromatica disappointed me so much.
I get it: she’s a pop star, and she needs to sing pop songs. But Adele belted out pop songs, and still got to showcase her vocal range in the meantime. Same with Christina Aguilera, and Carrie Underwood (some of that “country” music was pretty poppy, you gotta admit).
However, Lady Gaga’s voice doesn’t get a chance to shine here, as it sits behind some ultimately plain and not-great dance tracks. Sure, it’s fun, and it will get your toes tapping… but this is Lady Freaking Gaga we’re talking about. The regular pizzazz, the weirdness, the whole “not of this planet” feel – it’s simply not there. There are some good tracks, namely “Fun Tonight” and the BLACKPINK collab, “Sour Candy”, but the latter was far more about enjoying BLACKPINK’s efforts on the track.
I know that expectation and past track record is feeding a lot into this one, but it’s hard to help. Lady Gaga has released some great tracks in the past, and she’s more than capable. She still remains a legend in the game, despite Chromatica.
FFO: Lady Gaga. Even though this isn’t her best work, she’s still one-of-a-kind.
Vistas – Everything Changes in the End (Retrospect Records)
Edinburgh’s Vistas have come out swinging.
Active since 2016, and finally releasing their first full-length in May, Vistas sounds every bit like a veteran in the game. The indie outfit has seemingly found their sound already, and is branching out from that sound at an alarming pace. Everything Changes in the End strikes a perfect balance: from the clean, crisp feel of the title track, to the distorted-guitar-laden “Tigerblood”. From the upbeat and dance-y “Shout”, to the lofty and melodic “15 Years”. There’s a great amount of variance, all tying back to the same signature sound.
Did I mention that this is a debut album? They’re not supposed to even have a “signature sound” yet!! But here we are. Great stuff.
FFO: The Night Cafe, Neon Trees
Happy Dagger – Nowhere (Happy Dagger)
It seems somehow morbidly appropriate that an act called Happy Dagger bears more than a passing resemblance to Elliott Smith. True, I could have gone with any of several Beatles-derived indie-pop/rock, but that comparison just felt right.
Happy Dagger hails from the nation’s hub for non-country singer/songwriters, Portland Oregon. This might tell you how he dresses, but doesn’t really give an indication of how he sounds. For example, you might expect his voice to be soft and airy, with a hint of a whisper. Well, you’d be right about that. You’d probably think there would be an acoustic guitar that dominates the sound, but backed up prodigiously by synth and keys…and you would be spot on there as well. Did the programmed drums surprise you? No? How about the fact that he did this wearing a striped t-shirt under a leather jacket?
Okay, fine. Everything about this album screams Pac-Northwest. The only thing missing is the folk-roots origins.
You know what, though? It’s all gravy. The songs are mellow, pleasant, and infinitely listenable. It’s not going to light the world on fire, but for 35 minutes, I was satisfied to be awash in his sound. 10 songs about girls, love, life, death, and girls.
Ain’t nothing wrong with that.
FFO: Elliott Smith, The Shins
Centinex – Death In Pieces (Agonia)
This band has the best Spotify bio I’ve ever seen:
“Death Metal from Sweden. Born 1990 – Died 2006 – Reborn 2014”
Does anything else need to be said? It’s a four-piece of gray-bearded headbangers. They’ve been doing this for 30 years, off and on, and are quite good at it. They are veterans of a scene that has never been irrelevant.
No negativity on my part. I’m a fan. I also know that no amount of flowery language here is going to matter. If you are a connoisseur of Swedish death metal, then you probably already know Centinex. If you don’t know them, the phrase “Swedish death metal” was either an absolute turn-off, or it was all I had to say to get you on board. Either way, this is now on regular rotation for me.
FFO: Demonical, Death, Carnal Forge