All Them Witches – Nothing As The Ideal (New West Records)
Wow. Musically this is a treat.
This Nashville quartet is steeped in blues, psychedelia, prog, and stoner metal. While they are a hard rock outfit, they employ classical guitar, gothic tones, and their own blend of everything that came out of the Delta Swamp (Dr. John, Soylent Green, Junior Kimbrough, etc).
This is their 6th album, if you don’t count live releases, which I don’t. That’s in just 8 years, making them almost as prolific as King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard or Steve Buscemi. Much like the aforementioned genre-bending geniuses, you never quite know what to expect from these cats. Even just on this record, there are significant differences among the tracks.
The album opens with a slow build into a Tool-esque jam in 6/8 (“Saturnine & Iron Jaw”), “Everest” is a Led Zeppelin-meets-Donovan guitar instrumental, which bleeds into a Soundgarden-style downbeat banger (“See You Next Fall”). That gets followed up by a folk/country/blues track (“The Children of Coyote Woman”). The latter of these brings me to my next point, because it is the first song on the album that truly works with this dude’s voice. Up to this point, his voice is sort of like a blemish on an otherwise pristine surface. It’s not bad enough to make you stop listening, may even make it interesting, but causes you to hold back.
The next 2 songs show a different characteristic to his voice without actually changing what he’s doing. The music just finally suits the nearly monotonous style of the singing. “The Children of Coyote Woman”, “41”, and the album closer, “Rats in Ruin”, almost seem like they came from a different band.
The album returns you to regularly scheduled programming: brilliant music and subpar-if-interesting vocals. I, personally, still found that the record was a great listen, but I would understand if you don’t agree.
FFO: Deaf Radio, Agents of Oblivion, King Gizzard
Sprain – As Lost Through Collision (The Flenser)
As happens very rarely, words are failing me somewhat with this album. It isn’t that I don’t have things to say, it’s just that nothing seems adequate. This is a once-in-a-decade act that shows up to confuse the populace, inspire creativity in garage-ready groups, then disappear and become a thing of legend.
The artistry of Sprain is something that (most likely) only a snob of the highest caliber can ascertain. The rest will hate it as much as BWG’s love them some Punkin’ Spice. The guitar work is all angles and sharp edges. The drums are erratic and the bass drones and pops at strange moments. The vocals are at once subdued and over the top.
5 songs make up the 45 minute runtime of the album. “Slant” opens up as a good lead in to the rest of the songs, as it contains elements of slowcore and the violence of cathartic post-indie artcore, which I think I just made up. It is also one of 2 tracks that comes in under 6 minutes.
The second song, “My Way Out”, takes a different tack, slowing and mellowing to the point of near-nonexistence (around the 3:00 mark). But don’t let it lull you to sleep! At around the 6:00 mark, the lightning hammer of an angry god crashes upon your unsuspecting soul (or ears, as the case may be). Seriously, I wasn’t ready for it and spilled my beverage.
Track 4, aptly titled “Everything”, is a 15-minute slog through a war torn mindscape, haunted by squealing electric nightmares, devastating thunderquakes, and the endless torment of Limbo.
If you value artistic integrity, grit, skill, and pure emotion over aesthetics, this will be your favorite record of 2020.
FFO: Slint, Unwound, The Jesus Lizard
Big Sean – Detroit 2 (G.O.O.D. Music)
Detroit 2 was released nearly 8 years to the day of the release of Big Sean’s fourth mixtape, Detroit. Back then, Sean was doing it: his first studio album, Finally Famous, had dropped the year prior. A week after Detroit would be the release of Cruel Summer, a compilation album showcasing several G.O.O.D. Music artist, including Sean on two smashers: Clique and Mercy. He was still with his high-school sweetheart too.
Fast-forward to today: Detroit 2 is Big Sean’s sixth studio album, and he hasn’t slowed down a lick. He’s quietly made a name for himself as one of the best rappers in the game. And, like all the greats do, he spans a variety of topics on Detroit 2, without holding anything back. Whether it’s the diagnosis of his heart condition on “Lucky Me”, the squashing of the apparent non-beef with Kendrick Lamar on “Deep Reverence”, or the vulnerable matters-of-the-heart jam “Guard Your Heart”, Sean puts it all out on the table.
As far as the music itself, Big Sean has one of those unique talents in the rap game. He has ridiculously-nuanced flows, can change said flows up on a dime, and yet still maintains a sort of conversational tone. The beats are amazing (the aforementioned “Lucky Me” and “Full Circle” being tops in that arena), and the featureds are out of this world too. Nipsey (RIP), Post Malone (who does a great job on “Wolves”), and super-dope spoken-word tracks from both Dave Chappelle and noted queen Erykah Badu.
You might be thinking to yourself, “wow, that sounds like a lot. This joint must be 20 tracks long!” 21, actually. But Detroit 2 never slogs, it never slows, and it never fails to impress. Outstanding work from one of the faces on Detroit’s hip-hop Mt. Rushmore (Em, the late J. Dilla and the late Proof, if you were wondering).
FFO: Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak
Hannah Georgas – All That Emotion (Arts & Crafts Productions Inc)
On the second track, “Easy”, Hannah sings, “I swear I had a million things to say / I woke up and I can’t think of anything.”
It’s such a simple line that struck me in a way I can’t quite elucidate. Maybe it’s the plunking of indeterminate stringed instruments and keys, or maybe it’s her haunting, semi-ethereal voice burrowing into my psyche, but I felt this on a very real level.
And that can be said of the whole album. Most of the songs are about heartbreak and loss, pretty typical pop-music fare. But she delivers it with such conviction and lack of irony that it feels more pure, more visceral than other products in the pop milieu. Her lilting deadpan is something that other artists aspire to, but wind up sounding disaffected or bored. Hannah is aching, and you can feel it with her.
The music is slow, as the content would necessitate. It’s sparse and deliberate, but not exactly minimal, drawing from folk-rock, 90s alternative, Taylor Swift, and Sheryl Crow.
I could see this being the soundtrack to an indie film. So, that should happen.
FFO: Lana del Rey, Florence & The Machine
6ix9ine – TattleTales (Create Music Group)
Oh, where to start, where to start.
How about we get this out of the way first: I actually like 6ix9ine, or Tekashi 69, or Wallah Dan, or whatever the hell you want to call him. It’s like how, when it gets to a certain point of coldness outside, it can actually start to feel warm again. 6ix9ine’s music is so bad, it somehow loops back around and becomes enjoyable again.
And that brings us to 6ix9ine‘s first album since being released from prison. To make a long story short, 6ix9ine faded jail time, his entourage shot a dude during his meal celebrating fading jail time (you can’t make this shit up), and to avoid jail time yet again, he ratted out his Nine Trey Gangsters crew. After sending up the team and becoming a marked man, he decided to stay out of the public eyJ/K HE LITERALLY CALLED HIS ALBUM TattleTales. So much for trying to not, like, get shot and such.
As far as the album… I mean, it’s trash. Let’s not mince words here. 6ix9ine has this rapping style where he’s either yelling at you (the vast majority of tracks), or he’s crooning like early Drake. And neither style is good. At all. The beats are forgettable-to-regrettable, and the lyrics… let’s get a quick sampling, shall we?
“Drop it down and wobble, wobble up, mami booted up/She get down and gobble, gobble up ’cause my money up/Slide, slide in the Bentley truck-a, the Wraith truck-a/Your bestie is a dick sucker, I big dub her”
From “PUNANI” (yes, “PUNANI”):
“Fat punani-nani, fat punani-nani/That tsunami-nami, that tsunami-nami/Fat punani-nani, fat punani-nani/That tsunami-nami, that tsunami-nami”
From… no, I can’t do this to you anymore, Dear Readers. You deserve better. You ALL deserve better.
FFO: Angry lawnmowers, overaggressive garbage disposals, wood chippers with chips on their shoulders
Hurts – Faith (Lento)
This “pop” duo has been incredibly popular in Europe for about a decade. Their debut album went 13 times platinum throughout the EU, and 4 times over in the rest of the world, earning them numerous awards and accolades. It’s pretty easy to see why. Europeans love American music from the 80s, especially Germany and the Balkans, for whatever reason.
Hurts sounds like many different acts from that era, from Depeche Mode to Duran2 to Tears For Fears to The Cure. Every track sounds a little bit different, but with a common thread of lively, danceable dark-pop.
The album opener, “Voices”, is the lead single from the album. It is an insanely catchy hook with a modern ideal of how music breaks and swells work. Faith gets darker quick with the next track, “Suffer”, but in a red velvet vampire lounge kind of way, making it my favorite track of the bunch. That is followed up by a Nicki Minaj-style hip hop beat with a spoken/yelled, atonal chorus of “Fractured”, the song’s title.
The rest of the record is just as diverse, with multiple influences and reference points. Here’s a quick rundown:
“Slave To The Chorus” – Jonas Brothers
“All I Have To Give” – Nate Reuss
“Liar” – Phil Collins
“Somebody” – Imagine Dragons
“Numb” – Britney Spears
“Redemption” – Josh Groban
“White Horses” – Tears For Fears/Don Henley
“Darkest Hour” – Kelly Clarkson/Jimmy Eat World
For sheer listenability, I rate this album pretty high. It’s a little hard to grasp though, because it doesn’t sound cohesive. If any track from Faith popped up in my feed, I wouldn’t turn it off, but I would probably have to ask, “Who is this?”
Prizm – All Night (FiXT Neon)
This is the answer to the question no one asked: What would the next Spice Girls record sound like?
With wardrobe and album art that fell straight out of a 1986 workout montage, Prizm is poised to take over roller-skating rinks and Dance Dance Revolution arcade games any moment now.
I don’t mean this to sound disparaging…okay, that’s not entirely true. I’m clearly not a fan. But let’s be clear, if this came on during a couples skate, you and me would be all over that ridiculous, badly lit oval.
FFO: Spice Girls, Paula Abdul, T.A.T.U.
Start with: “Mine”, “All Night”
Diesel Machine – Evolve (Metalville)
Despite the fact that these guys have been around since the mid-90s, their work is a little hard to find. Okay, I’ll be honest: this is the only one of their albums on Spotify, and I searched in exactly ZERO other venues for their previous efforts. I’m told this is their 3rd. I don’t care.
It’s heavy, nearly toneless, aggressive to the point of monotony, and angry to point of being ridiculous. I would have been absolutely in love with this when I was 14-20…maybe 25.
The drummer is amazing.
FFO: Coal Chamber, Pissrazor, Skinlab, Sepultura
Start with: “Exit Wound”, “Shut It”
Declan McKenna – Zeros (Tomplicated Records)
It’s hard to nail Zeros down, since Englishman Declan McKenna is a bit all over the place. It’s kinda Elton John (“Be An Astronaut”), kinda The Killers (“You Better Believe!!!”), kinda The Shins (“Emily”), kinda… kinda everything, really. That shotgun approach does work in some cases – The 1975’s Notes On a Conditional Form comes to mind – but it’s a bit too scattered here.
The music sounds good, don’t get me wrong… and vocally, Declan does outstanding work for a 21-year-old. But it’s really tough to get into a rhythm here. “Emily” and the closing track, “Eventually, Darling”, were my favorites, and worth spinning by themselves for sure.
FFO: All the weird, dissimilar artists I named above
Car Astor – you say you love me… but i don’t believe you (Blue Elan Records)
Jeremy suggested that I spin you say you love me… but i don’t believe you, and as always, his suggestion was spot-on. I won’t be writing much about it, which isn’t an indictment – it’s just pretty explainable. Car Astor’s put together a very solid, very minimalist acoustic album. Her voice is light and airy, as you would expect, almost sleepy – but in a good way. Nothing tends to stand out, but every track is very pleasing to the ear. I’d say that “i’m scared for the day that i meet her” was the best of the bunch, but if you like one, you’ll like them all.
FFO: Phoebe Bridgers, Japanese Breakfast
Godcaster – Long Haired Locusts (Ramp Local)
I like experimentation. I like weird. I enjoy music that many would consider unlistenable. This is beyond me.
Imagine if Frank Zappa, Les Claypool, Mike Patton, and Jello Biafra dropped enough acid to trip a rhino, then threw their instruments against the wall, went for a swim in Lake Erie, got back out and stumbled to a recording studio.
If you can wade through the bad production, incomprehensible (and mostly inaudible) vocals, and lyrics undergoing an existential crisis, the musicianship is actually pretty amazing. But that’s a task. I listened to the whole thing and my brain had melted by track 6, “Serpentine Carcass Crux Birth”.
FFO: Victim’s Family, Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Ruins
Start with: “Don’t Make Stevie Wonder”, “The Skull!!!”
Lang Lang and Johann Sebastian Bach – Bach: Goldberg Variations (Deutsche Grammaphon)
Do you like Bach? We got Bach!
Acclaimed pianist Lang Lang performs several variatos from noted aria BWV 988. (Variatos and arias are actual things; the Internet told me so.) It definitely doesn’t slap, but it does it’s own thing. It would be perfect to crank whilst reading your absolute thickest book.
If orchestral tunes aren’t your bag, at least give “J.S. Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 – Variato 8 a 2 Clav.” a listen. I lied above – this one track really does slap.
FFO: Uhhh, Mozart I guess? Beethoven? The other ones that you know? Probably all the ones that you know.