Five albums from November 2016 you may have missed
I’ve just crawled out from under a pile of empty beer cans and bourbon bottles to the harsh reality that an orange charlatan will be the leader of the free world and that we’re now officially living in the darkest timeline. I emerged to engage with that thing that reminds me that life is worth living – music.
I found some stuff. Is it good? I think so. I’m pretty sure actually. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m just going to crawl back into my cave and put that new Metallica jam on repeat until Christmas when I’ll be back to check if the eggnog is adequately spiked.
Animals as Leaders
The Madness of Many
When Animals as Leaders released their third album, The Joy of Motion, it was as clear of a declaration a band of their ilk could make that they were just as comfortable playing fusion jazz as they were being a “metal’ band. AaL play the more metal-oriented gigs, but how many metal bands openly embrace Pat Metheney?
I have friends who’ve told me they just don’t get it and I understand. Instrumental progressive metal isn’t for everyone. But for fans of the ever-expanding genre (which has as many meh bands as it does good), The Madness of Many is brimming with musical complexities that could only be made by virtuosos who play 8-string beast guitars.
If you’ve never heard Animals as Leaders before, this isn’t the best place to start. Overall, this album seems to have an affinity for stunted polyrhythms and low-end down strokes that prevent a few songs from getting airborne. Lead off song “Arithmophobia” might be a lesson in frustration for anyone who doesn’t have a Masters in music theory (or the ability to spell check). But the rewards are there and they come in songs like “The Glass Bridge,” where the band shows they can be as funky as they can be heavy. The solos are blistering, the melodies soar, and the drummer plays like he has four arms and legs. If you want to come along for the genre-bending ride, cool. If not, there’s always Green Day’s latest album.
A Tribe Called Quest
We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Bowie left us with Blackstar. Prince left behind a vault of unheard material. Leonard Cohen gave us You Want it Darker. In March, when Phife Dawg died from diabetes-related complications (in what has been positively the shittiest year for music), I don’t know how many of us thought we’d hear one last album from A Tribe Called Quest. After all, when the group closed the curtains in 1998 with The Love Movement it was as solid of a finale as you could ask for.
And yet, here we are, with a new album. And by the first minute of “The Space Program” on We got it from Here…, there you are, locked into an impeccable flow, nodding your head, and firmly in the good place that you didn’t know you missed until you heard these guys again. There are so many reasons why it’s great to hear A Tribe Called Quest in 2016 – go ahead and pick one – but I can’t help but think of how lukewarm it makes the bloated promotions – and ultimately offerings – of Drake and Kanye in 2016 look by comparison; A quietly released and outward-looking album that has some pretty important shit to say about the world we’re living in at the moment. Something for all of us, not just for those with millionaire dilemmas and Instagram followers who wish they could relate.
This isn’t a cash in. It’s not old repurposed material. This is something A Tribe Called Quest had been working to get out, and thankfully they finished it. We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service is one last mic grab from a group who always sought to not just elevate hip hop but all of us.
Thank you for your service, Tribe.
In 1980, Elvis Costello released Get Happy, a double album filled with songs from every genre he held dear. Thirty-six years later we get an album from punk troubadour Jeff Rosenstock called WORRY. I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t a bit of a nod back to Mr. Costello in there somewhere. Like Costello, Rosenstock is also teaching us how to rock and roll in new ways.
Rosenstock has fronted ska, punk, and indie bands with awesome names like The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry!. The guy’s been active in music since he was thirteen. WORRY. is the big payoff.
The album starts with a song about getting older, getting married, becoming more irrelevant and ends with a number on how living that life is still much better than being a ghost. In between are songs about how we’re all just data mines to be exploited and a great pop ode to making out called “I Did Something Weird Last Night.” When Rosenstock finally decides to drop a ska number in the middle of the bombast it sounds like it first did in the 90s – fun.
At 17 songs, WORRY. is in full control of the dips and bends. Rosenstock taps into all the anxieties and broken dreams of a generation and turns them into something to scream along to while you spill beer on your shirt. After the first listen the most satisfying thing is knowing that you get to experience all of those dips and bends all over again. In fact, here – watch this. Did you enjoy that? If so, then please proceed.
Mall Walk are a three-piece band from Oakland that specialize in tightly-wound songs that sometimes sound like The Head on the Door-era Cure had an impromptu jam session with Gang of Four. They sit somewhere between post-punk and new wave, and definitely know their source material. There are reminiscent tones of Siouxie and the Banshees, early 90’s shoegaze, and jangle pop all underpinned by deceptive bass lines and a drummer who seems well acquainted with Wire’s discography. Singer and guitarist Rob I. Miller’s voice sounds like a soft howl. You get the feeling that these guys are the smartest band in the room.
“Street Drugs and Cartoons” is a good reference point for how these guys can spiral their instruments into a zoned-out haze. Other songs like “Death in Small Increments” showcase a more immediate punk edge. The contrast between the albums’ austere production and the band’s technical capabilities is also an interesting dichotomy.
If Mall Walk seem like a garage band then they sound like one that practices eleven hours a day. For those still prone to listening to Daydream Nation – or if you just enjoy a more introspective side of rock – then these guys might be a nice new addition.
Check out their video for “Call Again” to put their band name into a kind of tongue in cheek/kind of disturbing perspective as well.
Tkay Maidza is from Adelaide, Australia via Zimbabwe, and her rise has been well chronicled on popular radio and by the press Down Under. For those elsewhere who may not be aware of her, I’m hedging my bets that you may hear her soon.
By gaining Maidza as a musical talent Australia actually had to sacrifice her as a potential young tennis star (I guess we’re stuck with the charming Nick Kyrgios). Up until five years ago, she was on a daily training regimen that would make David Foster Wallace proud. That work ethic has seemed to carry over to her music, given that her debut is a pretty remarkable melting pot of the post-everything era we’re living in: hip hop, soul, R&B, grime, dancehall, synth-pop and pretty much anything else she touches has a touch of confidence and cavalier attitude. Tkay is a thousand times more likable than Azalea Banks, and a thousand times more genuine than the other Azalea Australia tried to export.
This is a fun album. It busts in with the bullet proof swagger of early M.I.A. and Killer Mike drops in for a verse pretty soon after. The softer moments on song ‘Castle in the Sky’ are genuinely engaging and not just fluff. There’s even an ode to her beloved tennis shoes (’Tennies’) as a metaphor for confidence. If the day does come when Maidza is dominating pop radio – and nearly every song on her debut is worthy of it – I’d happily welcome it.