Jonsi – Shiver (KRUNK)
A crystalline disc is placed on the spinning dais, diamond dagger poised to strike. Heedless of its fragility, awaiting death beneath the fangs of an insatiable predator, Shiver prepares for the torture of an endless cycle of surface cuts.
Sorry, I think I blacked out for a moment.
Simultaneously understated and heavily acclaimed, Icelandic experimentalist Jonsi is best known for his ambient walls of sonic beauty with Sigur Ros, as well as his soundtrack work.
For Shiver, he doesn’t stray too far from the relaxed tightrope of heartstrings that make up the Sigur Ros catalogue. The songs are fragile, held together only by the sheer strength of will engrained in every fiber. “Sumario sem aldrei kom” is a middle-of-the-album track that clearly expresses the ambient power that we’re used to from him.
Not everything is in quite as familiar territory, however. “Korall” combines the techniques with a newfound love of static-based life forms and chaos demons, while “Wildeye” and “Salt Licorice (w/ Robyn)” give in to the recesses of an unhinged state of mind.
As much as I love Sigur Ros, this is much more my speed. With no expectation of sticking to a particular aesthetic, Jonsi is letting his personal idioms do whatever the hell they want.
FFO: AWOLNATION, Thom Yorke, Sigur Ros
Bon Jovi – 2020 (Island/Captain Kidd Corp.)
Is this the JBJ that we remember from 30 years ago or the guy who couldn’t decide if he was a rock or country artist, an actor, or a sports franchise owner?
It’s all of the above. He is showing the signs of age and writing what is probably his most honest, personal, and meaningful record of his career, singing what’s on his mind during this shit show of a year. You can see his years in the cover photo, but you can really hear it in his voice. Gone are the glam rock wails that liberally graced his work through the 2000’s, replaced by a tired, throaty rasp that you would be hard-pressed to distinguish between Tom Petty and Marianne Faithful.
Musically and melodically, this is OG JBJ. Easy to listen to, anthemic, and filled with his own dramatic flourish and big moments that call attention to the theme of the album. Boiled down to its essence, that theme is: What the actual hell are we doing?
This year, more than most, has demonstrated that for all the progress we make as people, as a nation, as a global community, we are as backward as we have ever been. Every track on 2020 makes a plea to listeners to talk more, fight less, and in general let go of fear and hate. This is our home. We live in it together. Why are we fighting?
FFO: Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams
Corey Taylor – CMFT (Roadrunner)
Is there nothing this man can’t do? I’m starting to think his talent and charisma are infinite, from Slipknot to Stone Sour and extending into acting and writing (as in books, not just music).
I don’t think I need to continue listing his credentials, I’ll just add that, to this ear, he stands near the top of the pyramid of versatile rock vocalists.
This most recent solo effort presents him in yet a new dynamic: connoisseur of iconic rock cuisine. Basically, he’s the quintessential rock ‘n roll renaissance. All by himself. With just slight modulation of his voice, he flies effortlessly into the musical stylings of a rockin’ list of influencers and trendsetters. Primarily, that would be Guns n Roses, as there are Slash-like landmarks on a number of tracks (“HWY 666”, “Samantha’s Gone”, “Culture Head”). Other noteworthy styles include Gin Blossoms (“Kansas”), Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden (“Silverfish”), Lemmy and the Misfits (“Meine Lux”, “European Tour Bus Bathroom Song”), and Brian Setzer (“The Maria Fire”).
The beautiful thing here though is that you never lose Corey. His throaty bawl is one-size-fits-all. He’s a pair of black flats, a Carhart jacket, or a Fender strat: suitable for nearly any occasion.
I won’t say this falls at the top of his catalog, however. One of the things that always made him so important was his honesty and vulnerability, whether baring his soul in a ballad or spitting vitriol in a brutal banger. Aside from “Home” and “Silverfish”, there is very little introspection on CMFT, making those my favorite tracks on the record. Everybody deserves to let it all hang out and have some fun though, and the whole thing is undeniably a jam.
The only song I would probably skip is the almost surreal “CMFT Must Be Stopped”. It features Tech N9ne and Kid Bookie and is clearly bound for a WWE Superstar entrance track. It still rocks, but is a little awkward in its forcible overtness. But if that works for you, who am I to judge?
FFO: 90s/00s rock music
Isengard – Vårjevndøgn (Peaceville Records)
A wormhole opened, somewhere in the universe, and through it was an alternate reality, complete with an alternate Earth. Kinda like our Earth, but different. In this alter-Earth, Godsmack’s Sully Erna and the late (on our Earth, at least) Ronnie James Dio are actually the same person, complete with the vocal qualities of each. Sullie James Erno? Rolly James Dina? We have options here.
Anyway, I’m getting off track: so this half-Sully, half-Dio guy exists, right? He decides, because he has both a melodic growl AND a ridiculous falsetto, that he should be a singer. Ronny, or Sullie, whatever, he – wait. Did I mention that, in this alter-Earth, the Kingdom of Norway had taken over the United States? It’s weird, I know, but level with me for a minute. There was a big battle, very futuristic, lots of drones and fårikål casserole flying around. It was a whole thing.
Also this was like 500 years ago, so the last dozen or so generations of “Americans” all speak with a Norwegian accent… as does Sullie (I’m sticking with Sullie, I’ve decided).
So Sullie, fresh from the “I Should Be A Singer!” epiphany, decides to record a few albums. He calls up Ozzy Osbourne’s band, mainly because Zakk Wylde is dope, even in a different reality. But the other three (Blasko, Adam Wakeman, and Tommy Clufetos) are solid too.
Problem is, Sullie has got a lot on his plate, and it takes him a while to get through the recording process! Høstmørke is finished in 1995, then a pair in 2001 and 2002 (Crownless Majesty and Sintervkugge). That was followed by Vårjevndøgn this year. Sullie decided that he really enjoys the way the music sounds when it’s sung into a rotary phone from within a messy garage, and then recorded on the other side of the call. So that’s what he does.
Luckily for us, the wormhole is still open, and Sullie happens upon it one day. It sucks him into our universe, with albums in tow. (Sintervkugge becomes Vinterskugge, but the other releases survive intact.) He quickly meets the real Sully, and, not wanting to cause a rift (wormhole puns!!), he changes his name to something more unique. Sullie really loved Tolkien, and decided to choose a name that would properly honor him.
And that is the completely-true, amazingly-accurate story about how the album Vårjevndøgn, and the artist Isengard, came to exist in the world as we know it. Make sure to tell your friends about this factual story!
P.S.: I greatly enjoyed “Floating with the Ancient Tide”, which I suppose is a thing you would want to know.
FFO: nothing on this planet, that’s for sure
Yung Gravy – Gasanova (Republic Records)
Yung Gravy’s rap-type-thing Gasanova is an unfettered mess. The flow is decent, and the beats are even above average in most tracks (“Steve Austin” comes to mind). There are even some features that should be great: Ski Mask the Slump God on “Always Saucy”, and Chief Keef on “Drip On My Dresser”, both carrying high expectations.
The main problem is that the lyrics were written by a group of 10-year-old boys at a sleepover birthday party, after consulting with a group of 7-year-old boys at a different birthday party. Overall, the tracks suffer greatly as a result, oscillating between okay-ish (“Drip On My Dresser”, “jack money bean”), to bad (“Party At My Momma’s House”, “yup!”), to seriously-how-did-people-who-care-about-you-allow-you-to-do-this (“oops!”).
But there is at least a track worth talking about here: the utterly ridiculous and disgusting “Bag of Chips”. “Bag of Chips” is about someone who performs certain favors, and receives snack foods in return. Yes, this review is about to become extremely NSFW.
A brief sampling:
“That’s your ho, she suckin’ dick for a bag of chips/She ain’t even want a tip, shawty, get a grip”
“I got Doritos and Cheetos, my dick ain’t free, ho/I’m into finer things, trappin’ caviar kilos”
“Why your bitch tryna fuck for some Ruffles?/Gravy got the cheddar, sour cream, Louis duffel, I chuckle”
“She been givin’ head for a slice of bread, jaw for a White Claw/Dome for some chicharrón, top for an ice pop”
“Yeah, she suckin’ dick at Dave & Buster’s/For extra lives at Buck Hunter/And she sucks at Buck Hunter”
Dumb? SO fucking dumb, I can’t even. Offensive? Without question. Funny? To quote Gravy himself, “I chuckle”. It’s the only semi-fun thing on an album that belongs in a lake. And based on the rest of the releases this week, I had to take what I could get. It’s slim pickings out there… we can only hope that next week brings us better than Yung Gravy and Gasanova. Please, I’m begging some cosmic karmic being to make that happen for us.
FFO: Dbangz, Lil Dicky
Elvis Perkins – Creation Myths (MIR)
There are rules to names. If your name is Wayne and you play hockey, you better be great. If you’re studying math and your parents named you Euclid, then you’ve got a long road ahead of you – for several reasons. And if you’re a musician named Elvis, then… well, you get the idea by now.
Luckily, Elvis nails it.
Creation Myths is a slow, meandering brand of folk, like taking the 30 mph road instead of the highway, so you can see more along the way. With so little going on, the vocals and the lyrics will take center stage. Let’s talk about the last one first: Elvis’s songwriting is pretty good here. Not too clever for its own good, with plenty of detailed imagery. My favorite selection, from “Iris”: “The suns in your eyes/See the earth in you/The suns in the sky/Are my diamonds too” I’m not 100% sure what that means, but I’m sure that I like it. The closing track, “Anonymous”, is pretty great too.
As far as the vocals, they’re quite unique. There’s a smoothness and a softness and a straining, all at the same time. You can tell that the words are packed with emotion too; Elvis never has to try too hard to get his points across. Is he a great singer? Nah. Doesn’t need to be, frankly.
Overall, Creation Myths is a phenomenal album – compared to the rest of the week’s releases. Elvis Perkins’ latest is heads and shoulders above most everything else I listened to this week. In a vacuum though? It’s still pretty good! And pretty good is pretty good to me.
FFO: M. Ward, A.A. Bondy
mxmtoon – dusk (AWAL Recordings)
I got a thing for instruments and/or playing techniques that you don’t hear all too often. Harmonica, slide guitar, flute – even the weird shit, like the Uilleann pipes. mxmtoon’s (pronounced “em-ex-em-tune”) ukulele definitely qualifies for that list, and it’s far from a gimmick – it fits perfectly with her soft, cloudlike voice. Her latest EP, dusk, is the follow up to April’s dawn, and continues with a similar sound: pleasant plucks of the uke, the aforementioned lofty voice, and some minimalist lo-fi beats.
Where dawn was a bit more upbeat, dusk tends to the more melancholy end of the spectrum. From “bon iver” (“Every passing minute is a thought of you not in it”) to “wallflower” (“Why should I go out and change what I’m supposed to be?/I know this song is sad, but you can sing along with me”), these tracks aren’t heart-wrenching, but still no less emotive.
dusk clocks in at 7 songs, 22 minutes, which makes it a nice bite-sized appetizer – or palate cleanser. mxmtoon gets my recommendation for sure.
FFO: beabadoobee, Cavetown
The Next Great American Novelist – Careless Moon (Sean Charles Cahill)
I kinda feel bad here. By all accounts — every technical description, lyrical storytelling, pitch-perfect harmonies, and Beatles-esque melodic tendencies — this is a PERFECT record. There is an Elliott Smith character to the shirt-sleeve emotional content (though not as manic-depressive), which is something that I normally latch onto like a life raft in choppy waters.
I want to love this album. Badly. I know it’s perfect and it hurts me that I’m not connecting with it. There might be a lesson here about finding the love in the flaws…
But it’s also possible that I’m a broken, jaded shell of a human and my soul will be found in a landfill, half-eaten, but quit in favor of a moldy tuna sandwich.
FFO: Deerhoof, Fastball, Paul Simon
Start with: “Bad Animation”, “Blackberry”, “It’s Been You”, “Wicked”
William Shatner – The Blues (Cleopatra)
Why do people keep letting Cap’n Kirk into recording studios? It was moderately amusing when he did it in 1968, but has lost a great deal of the novelty with every subsequent release. If you’re paying attention, that means I’m saying this is his worst release yet.
Increasingly, Bill sounds like your grandfather-in-law doing karaoke in his underpants. His astonishingly rape-y rendition of “Sunshine of Your Love” stands out as a highlight of the record, with Sonny Landreth wailing on a slide guitar. And I actually scoffed out loud at the first line of “The Thrill Is Gone”.
I suppose if you can still find amusement from Mr. Shatner’s stilted baritone attempting to man-handled the classics, The Blues could float your fancy. I’m just grinding my teeth, wishing it was over. Especially “Mannish Boy”, which is easily the cringiest thing I’ve heard this decade.
FFO: root canals, broken barstools, James Lipton, dramatic readings of lyrics
Frankie and the Witch Fingers – Monsters Eating People Eating Monsters… (Reverberation Appreciation Society/Greenway)
Killer psychedelia about…killers and psychedelics. In a nutshell.
The music is the softer side of stoner-rock, owing a lot to the psych-pop of the 60s and 70s (Santana, The Guess Who)
But the lyrics are where that connection ends. Tracks about head-cutting and fighting with the lights out, reapers and blue mushrooms, and of course, monsters. Oh, I guess it really is a lot like the psych-pop of the 60s and 70s.
Some of the songs get a little redundant, but that really doesn’t make the jam any less.
FFO: King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, The Guess Who
Start with: “Michaeldose”, “Simulator”, “Cavehead”, “MEPEM…”