Five albums from September 2016 you may have missed
Autumn is a time when everything gets serious. Hollywood studios start releasing their Oscar bait, and the number of potential “Album of the Year” candidates seem to increase as the days get a little shorter. Appropriately, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds released one of their most harrowing albums to date, and Detroit rapper Danny Brown just released a bananas album named after a J.G. Ballard novel. In my neck of the woods (Editors’ Note: Nate lives in the Commonwealth of Australia, constantly avoiding all the things that want to kill humans), Bon Iver convinced a bunch of hipsters to listen to his new album (on cassette no less) in a laneway.
Actually, that was pretty funny.
Oh, and there’s also an election in the US in five weeks that may or may not usher in the apocalypse, so right now we’re in a perfect storm of uncertainty and stone-faced introspection. But it’s not all doom and gloom. The albums we’ve been rocking out to at DBP this month mostly made us want to drink like every night was Saturday night and debate which Walkmen album reigns supreme. There were unlikely duos and Earth-shattering punk with a little chill out tent music for the comedown.
It’s all below in our recap.
Banks & Steelz
Anything But Words
Banks & Steelz is a hypothetical discussion after one too many beers come to life: What would happen if the lead singer of Interpol made an album with RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan? As it turns out, the results are mixed. But for fans of either artist, it’s still worth checking out.
There’s a lot to explore here. In most cases, the production is tight with the rawest element being RZAs deft rhyme delivery. Followers of Interpol will know that Paul Banks’ low baritone has given way to a more cutting alto (which at times is still strange), and that’s the voice we hear on this album.
The album tends to be at its weakest when it plays it safe – like the opening track “Giant” – but “Sword in the Stone,” the third track (featuring a great guest appearance by Kool Keith) shows a more nuanced experimentation. It seems just plain strange at times, which is nice. This album does best when one of the two is willing to merge into the background to allow the other to shine. “Wild Season” is another standout that features Florence Welch, whose vocals come in subtly and end up being fundamental to the song’s success. Further down in the album the song “Conceal” sounds like an updated take on “No Ordinary Love” by Sade, and manages to be great even though it could just get by on its swagger alone.
A few Wu-Tang alumni also make appearances, with Ghostface Killah dropping an awesome verse to the track “Love + War,” and Method Man dropping by for “Point of View.”
Sometimes the mix of RZAs cutting approach to production and Banks’ cosmopolitan sensibilities make for something that’s neither hip hop or nor rock. It falls into an interesting gray area, and hopefully these two unlikely collaborators explore more of if this project continues.
A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings
Early in the decade, a general fatigue was introduced by the influx of bands with the word Beach in their names: Beach House, Beach Fossils, Beaches, Dirty Beaches, etc., etc. – so naturally, when Philadelphia’s Beach Slang started… er, making waves, I mistakenly filed them into the “Band Cliches I’m Tired of” file. Then I heard their song “Noisy Heaven,” and suddenly found myself driving over the speed limit with one fist out the window while resisting the urge to do doughnuts in the nearest parking lot. That’s the key difference between Beach Slang and their Beach monikered peers: they kick ass.
A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings is also the band’s second album in two years. With this kind of frequency there won’t be any whiskey left to keep up with the urge they give you to drink.
The band has already garnered comparisons to a modern-day version of The Replacements, who are an easy comparison. There are also moments that could make one recall Social Distortion and late 80s/early 90s Goo Goo Dolls. Opening track “Future Mixtape For the Art Kids” declares, Play it loud, play it fast. Play me something that will always last and that pretty much sets the tone thematically for where this album is about to go.
Second track “Atom Bomb” comes in with ferocity and rocks as hard as a song named “Atom Bomb” should.
The old-looking footage of kids walking around, smoking, and drinking from a hip flask in the video for “Punks In A Disco Bar” is emblematic of the people this music is trying to reach – aimless kids with little prospects beyond what dive bar they’re going to on a given night. Listening to A Loud Bash, you might just want to throw your keys back on a carabiner and call up your now domesticated friends to go out to smash some PBRs.
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam
I Had a Dream That You Were Mine
Fan’s of The Walkmen or Vampire Weekend have been no stranger to bad news as of late. The Walkmen went on an indefinite hiatus a few years ago, and earlier this year Rostam Batmanglij announced his departure from Vampire Weekend.
Walkmen frontman Hamilton Leithauser quickly followed his band’s hiatus with a great solo album called Black Hours that served as a bit of reassurance for fans of the singer’s amazingly scratchy howl. Rostam has stated that he’s going to focus on producing, having already worked on songs for Charli XCX and Carly Rae Jepson to name a few, but this detour to collaborate with Leithouser is a welcome one.
I Had a Dream is a welcome surprise that feels like it came out of nowhere. Leithauser and Rostam clearly sound like they’re having a good time and making music at their own relaxed pace. Leithauser’s voice makes the project seem more reminiscent of a Walkmen album but Rostam’s production and multi-instrumentation add all the right touches.
The whole album sounds like it was recorded in an empty warehouse – instruments are allowed to breathe and ring out with a healthy dose of reverb. “Rough Going (I Don’t Let Up)” is a cool little doo-wop number that would fall apart in the hands of lesser artists. “In a Black Out” is little more than a fingerpicked guitar with some light vocals hovering over it. Leithauser croons while Batmanglij works in subtle tones, making for a moody song that sounds like something from You and Me-era Walkmen. There’s enough variety here to showcase Leithauser’s old soul and Rostam’s multi-instrumental talents. From parlor stomping tunes like “The Bride’s Dad” to the opening track “A 1000 Times,” this album should keep old fans happy while possibly pulling in some new ones.
It’s hard not to talk about L.A. band Touché Amore without always putting the spotlight on frontman Jeremy Bolm. The singer has become a cult hero for being deeply confessional, and just being an all-around cool guy. But if we look at the rest of Touché Amore and the four amazing musicians that back Bolm up, what becomes quickly obvious is that this is a band that’s capable of deftly expanding beyond their post-hardcore origins. The heights reached on Stage Four are places that other bands who appear on the same gig flyers as these guys would probably ever venture to. Some fans of this genre might not expect to get goosebumps from it.
Stage Four is more than just a reference to this being the band’s fourth album. It also chronicles the loss of Jeremy Bolm’s mother to cancer, which he learned about one night after a gig. Nearly every song on this album grapples with the pain of that loss. If it weren’t for the pure energy of the band’s delivery, the lyrical catharsis alone could almost to be too much to bear.
“New Halloween” is a driving confession about how – in spite of a year passing – Bolm still can’t listen to the last message his mother left for him. “Palm Dreams” has the singer contemplating what brought his mother to Southern California in the first place, and resolves that it will just be one of many unasked questions he has for her. But where they really break new ground is on the track “Skyscraper,” a duet with singer Julien Baker that sounds like nothing they’ve ever attempted before. It’s a phenomenal song for any band to be able to lay claim to.
Regardless of where Touché Amore goes from here, Stage Four will most likely be known as that album. The one that turned a devastating tragedy into something devastatingly beautiful.
Scott Hansen is a modern-day renaissance man. For nearly two decades, the Bay Area artist has been deftly juggling his career as a graphic designer (known as ISO50) and his side gig making sublime ambient music. He also does all of the artwork for his albums, which means a Tycho album is always a fully realized product from the music to its presentation.
Before the advent of music blogs and before “Chillwave” was a thing, Hansen was among the earliest artists in the genre, cranking out great music on a little-known label. Now that the blogosphere has turned into static and Chillwave has become a derided term from the past, it’s great to see the Tycho project continuing as it grows even stronger, unfazed by trends (not to mention being picked up by a pretty strong label in that time as well).
Epoch is a refreshing change, because as Tycho has gained in popularity, Hansen has picked up some full-time band members along the way, taking this beyond a bedroom project into a fully realized band. And it shows. The group effort on Epoch gives this album a distinct sound and collaborative feel that previous albums haven’t had – mostly due to Hansen handling most of the duties himself.
These songs come out of the gate with an assured pace, almost demanding more upfront attention. It’s by far the most angular album yet, and a step forward from some of the more subdued moments from previous releases. A good example is the title track “Epoch,” where delayed guitars ring out behind Hansen’s sepia-toned synths with perfectly blended percussion that’s both electronic and the work of someone sitting behind the kit. In fact, this is probably some of the most easy-to-enjoy music you can find. It’s hard to imagine someone actively not liking a Tycho song. This is cinematic music that could soundtrack anything and give it a heightened dose of meaning. For longtime fans it will be a treat. If you’re new to Tycho, then I’m jealous of the experience you’re about to have uncovering these diverse and beautiful worlds.