Five Albums From March 2017 you may Have Missed
Each month for the last several months we’ve put forth a monthly article highlighting some of the albums released in the previous month that you may not have heard of. And when we say you may not have heard of them, we’re not talking about a slightly obscure or regional artist that is in the bottom part of the Billboard top 50, we mean albums that aren’t on the covers of magazines, laying down tracks that you probably won’t hear on the radio.
More power to the musicians that are able to lay down tracks on the air. Our goal is to shine a little light on some of the best albums that may not receive the same spotlight. And that includes a lot of incredible music from around the world.
This month we got lost in a Vaporwave K-hole, found some great Australian indie rock, stopped by Philly for a little dissonance, and found comfort at the end with atmospheric meditation jams from Japan. Somewhere in there, we shook our asses to a little Canadian techno as well. It’s all below in our monthly wrap-up.
French-Canadian DJ and Producer Jacques Green is further proof that The Great White North punches well above its weight in the dance and electronic category. Between the textural electro of Junior Boys and the freewheeling sample stylings of Kaytranada, Jacque Green fills a space in between where he combines both of those to get people on the dance floor in greater numbers than most of his peers.
Until now, Green, an accomplished DJ with a successful career already under his belt, had focused primarily on drip-feeding singles out for club purposes. Feel Infinite is his first official album, and it’s an enjoyable affair regardless of whether you prefer dancing in a club or in your living room. There’s a lot of variety here.
Title track “Feel Infinite” sets a good tempo early in the game, while “Real Time” – with its funky bass line and four on the floor beat – feels right at home in any Saturday night party set list. Then there’s the R&B-adjacent track “True,” which would probably be on Top 40 radio if The Weeknd sang on it over How to Dress Well. The greatest feat that Feel Infinite pulls off is its ability to sound both classic and modern within the framework of the electronic and dance genres. Just press the play button and let the album do its work.
Mindspring Memories & Intl. Debris
Vaporwave always takes me down rabbit holes and into odd corners of the internet. More than any other active genre today, it’s as if the mostly anonymous artists behind this music have found ways to make auditory opiates. And judging from cassette sales, the format of choice for many of these artists, business is booming. International Memories isn’t so much an album as it is a collaboration (and yes, it’s available on cassette as well).
Mindspring Memories is one of the many musical projects from Chicago artist Angel Marcloid and UK-based International Debris (frequently stylized as Intl. Debris). They’ve contributed a song each to take you down a foggy ride into an abandoned mall of memories that are not yours, yet still familiar enough to invoke a sense of nostalgia. The first song, “Sad Horizons” by Mindspring Memories, is a chopped and screwed smooth jazz sample that stretches itself out over the span of nearly twenty minutes. To listen to this for its intended run time makes you feel like you’re suspended in a viscous pool of rediscovered sounds and visuals from Windows 95 help manuals.
“The Last Song I’ll Ever Hear” by International Debris sounds like something that could play during a self-reflective montage in an 80s action flick, and I’d be willing to bet that’s an intentional gesture even if the details may differ by culture. Saxophone wails ring out over a synth melody drone, and before you know it, you’re riding on the Hong Kong MTR with Jean Claude Van Damme as he contemplates his next round in the Kumite.
Is this to be taken seriously or is it all in the name of playful nostalgia? Probably a little bit of both, but who cares? It’s interesting enough to check out at least once. If this should start a further exploration/addiction to Vaporware, well, there are worse addictions.
The Spirit of the Beehive
In his latest novel Universal Harvester, John Darnielle writes about a kid in Iowa working in a video rental store. It’s the late 90s and he begins to find strange and unsettling footage spliced into the VHS tapes that are being rented out and returned. I can’t help but think of that when I listen to Pleasure Suck by The Spirit of the Beehive. Granted, the overall vibe of this album isn’t as sinister as Darnielle’s book, but there’s a definite feeling of deliberate narrative dysfunction and misdirection being undertaken by the Philly band.
Each song on Pleasure Suck feels deliberately spliced together, forcing the listener to turn corners and hit oddly timed speed bumps until they reach the finish line. But there’s a definite method to the madness. This is an album to really sink your teeth into. The music recalls some memorable and divergent 90s bands like Shudder to Think, The Breeders, Toadies and even The Flaming Lips (check the explosive snare drums).
The band treats beauty and dissonance as two colors from the same palette and they have a knack for jolting and soothing the listener within the same songs. With each listen more details are picked up, making this a rich experience akin to reading a Thomas Pynchon novel while seated inside a bumper car. It’s refreshing to see a band live up to their name.
Rolling Blackouts C.F.
The French Press
Rolling Blackouts C.F. (or Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever if you’re not into the whole brevity thing) released their first EP, Talk Tight, in 2015. It did exactly what an EP from a little-known band should do – it made people want more. The Melbourne quintet is back with The French Press, another EP that shows the band has been steadily honing their revisionist sound to an even more blissful degree.
They’re indie darlings right now and why not? They sound like something that would be played on a college rock station in 1990 right between some Sonic Youth and Green-era REM. The French Press conjures up memories of bands like The Go-Betweens and Teenage Fanclub to name a few, but for fans of a younger ilk, these guys will most likely just sound like some good, unpretentious indie rock that the world has been somewhat in need of. And that’s totally fine.
There’s a directness to the shimmering indie pop that fill the songs contained herein. If this album were a person, it would be the friend who has a drink ready for you at the bar on a Friday afternoon after you flee work. At six songs, it’s over all too soon leaving us once again wanting more.
Judging from one of the few publicity photos available, Japanese quartet UNKNOWN ME has a pretty cool aesthetic going on: four guys each with their own specialty, side by side, making soundscapes that could go on a Buddha Machine. It’s kind of like the Kraftwerk of chill.
Each song on subtropics is titled with a parenthetical companion city. There’s “Floating People (San Francisco)” which is a nice little synth yarn, “AWA (Buenos Aires)” – probably the “single” off this album if albums like this had singles, and “AGERTA (Sydney),” a warm drone and pre-set beat that conjures up the feeling of a balmy night somewhere near the equator. Granted, not all soundscapes are created equal. “Virgin Forest (Cape Town)” is two minutes of wind chimes and doesn’t really achieve the same effect as the other numbers, but taken all in at once it’s easy to see what their meaning is in the grand scheme of the relaxation and reflection on offer here.
The album subtropics isn’t here to rattle any cages. If, after listening to it you feel a little more at peace with your place in the world or invite your neighbor over for dinner just because, then it’s probably done its job.