Five July 2017 Albums You May Have Missed
From a long overdue return to a brief trip to Spain to the possible birth of a superstar producer, we have five July 2017 albums you may have missed.
Ah, July, the month where we gather to celebrate the independence of our nation. And, apparently, the independence of Anthony Scaramucci from the White House. We kid The Mooch, and we’re interested to see if he’s able to pick up the pieces of his shattered life just as quickly as he squandered it. But to hell with The Mooch.
In music, we had a few noteworthy releases: Broken Social Scene came back after seven years away with a new album, Nine Inch Nails released the second EP in a trilogy they’ve been teasing, and The Arcade Fire came back with an album full of grand gestures and shitty marketing ideas. But as much as we love our favorite Toronto supergroup and Trent Reznor trolling Trump supporters via song, around the DBP office we were celebrating the return of a Japanese genius, figuring out what the young kids in the UK were listening to, recalling our days as aggro post punks, and thinking about booking some flights to Barcelona due to the music that’s coming out of there (OK, and the tapas).
It’s all below in our monthly wrap up.
Like a lot of great artists, Keigo Oyamada, aka Cornelius, has undergone several style transitions over his tenure in music: reluctant figurehead of the Shibuya-kei scene in the 90s turned avant-garde sound shaper in the early-to-mid aughts, to collaborator for the likes of Yoko Ono and soundtrack maker for an arc in the Ghost in the Shell anime franchise are just a few notable things (to say nothing of his history with legendary streetwear label BAPE) on his way to reaching ultimate tastemaker status in Japan and abroad. But Oyamada is ultimately a music nerd, someone who still intently shops for obscure records every chance he gets, a guy who has worn his love for Brian Wilson and rare garage rock on his sleeve his entire career while possessing an uncanny knack for mixing those influences with bleeding edge technology from every era he’s worked in. Some critics in the 90s had him pegged as the Japanese Beck, but that was never going to stick. Truth be told, there’s no one else like him.
Mellow Waves, the first Cornelius album in eleven years, is indeed mellow. But its title is a bit of a misdirect; “mellow” shouldn’t read as “boring.” Instead, Oyamada weaves a detailed tapestry of intoxicating synths, off-kilter guitar, and knotty drums to make for the most cerebral of mellow experiences possible.
Opener “If You’re Here” is a good indication of this both in song and video, where synths wobble around a rim shot strong enough to shake the dust from your rug before the song softly explodes into something wonderful and alien. Follow up track “Sometime/Someplace” sounds like futuristic bossa nova, for the most part, before Oyamada’s electric guitar comes alive in a sputtering mess to remind the listener he isn’t afraid to splatter paint all over the beautiful portrait he’s just created. The video for that song is also extremely cool, merging his talent for audio and visual into an amazing cohesion.
His ear for melody is striking on songs like “In a Dream,” when he boils the bridge of the song down into a deep mix of keyboards that all have the same goal of vying for the listener’s full attention. Mellow Waves provides enough subtle details and enjoyable compositions to absorb until whenever Oyamada feels compelled to make music under the Cornelius project once again. Hopefully, it won’t be as long as the last stretch.
Soft Sounds From Another Planet
Japanese Breakfast is the work of Michelle Zauner, the lead singer of Philly emo band Little Big League, but she may be at a point where her side project eclipses her main act. Last year, she released her first album, Psychopomp, under the Japanese Breakfast moniker and she’s already back with a follow up in Soft Sounds from Another Planet.
Psychopomp was a leaner album, but it hit in all the right places – nine great indie pop songs that didn’t overstay their welcome and left people wanting more. Soft Sounds is much wider in scope by contrast, showing that it didn’t take Zauner long to realize the project’s larger possibilities. It’s a testament to Zauner’s versatility. Filled to the brim with effortless indie rock that recalls both past decades and more contemporary sounds, it’s as easy to enjoy as the title suggests, but touches on some edgy and complex themes.
“Diving Woman” is a six-plus minute night drive down an empty highway with guitar work and spacey synths that recall 90s greats like Lush and Beth Orton. Title track “Soft Sounds from Another Planet” sounds like a modern take on slow rockabilly inspired desert rock, and then there’s “Road Head,” the prettiest song about an indecent and desperate relationship-saving act you’ll hear this year. The rest of Soft Sounds spans across time and genres effortlessly with Zauner’s voice pulling the whole album together into something wide-ranging, but completely whole.
It’s an enjoyable ride with some deep themes and amazing musicianship – something with the makings of a modern-day classic.
The first song on Less Art’s album is called “Optimism as Survival.” It’s a relevant topic. Though the song deals with the tragedies that can befall one’s existence – suicide, sickness, atrophy – it also speaks to some more obvious ways where people are using optimism as a form of survival in this current state of affairs. But… what if he isn’t impeached? What if Congress doesn’t flip in 2018? What if, in spite of trying to keep a positive attitude about everything, we’re just pissed off and want scream? Less Art might just be the band for you.
I won’t define them as a “super group” but it’s worth mentioning that the members come to us from Thrice, Kowloon Walled City, and Curl Up and Die, three bands who all know how to pummel and shred. So it’s a welcome surprise to hear an album like Strangled Light bubble up from the cracks of our retweeting-as-validation culture.
Strangled Light is light on production frills and fuelled with serpentine riffs and bone-dry snares. The vocals are screams and howls to an audience with short attention spans. It’s a post hardcore wakeup call in a time when some might need it most. There’s “Diana the Huntress,” a relentless barrage that falls somewhere in between Norma Jean and Fugazi. “Pessimism as Denial,” the flip side to “Optimism as Survival,” is a deep dive into the current psyche of half the country made more satisfying with dry chord scratches, tom drums that sound like a battle march and lyrics like, “this system doesn’t work!” And “Crushed Out” is basically just trying to see how much of an assault you can take.
If you find yourself wondering why the current state of music doesn’t really reflect the culture, then Strangled Light would like to scream a few words at you.
Every song on the self-titled debut from London producer Mura Masa sounds familiar, yet on the verge of melting. Pop structures common to modern radio frame his music, but inside that frame lies an outsider’s approach, almost like he’s dissecting his songs just before he OKs them. Some of that is due to Mura Masa himself, a talented young English producer, and some of it relies on the impressive list of artists he’s co-opted, some UK and Europe-based, some from across the pond.
The brilliance lies in the gray area he’s able to concoct between producer and artist – where the two work together as opposed to overstepping one another – and his debut is chock-full with artists anyone would be happy to work with.
“Love$ick (feat. A$AP Rocky)” is an easy summer jam that puts Rocky’s flow at a pace as relaxed as the steel panned drums that underpin the song’s melody (a common sound on Mura Masa’s palette). “Second 2 None” (feat. Christine And The Queens) plays with a Drum ‘N Bass lead-in before it disintegrates into a steady bass-heavy rhythm that’s more interested in being seductive than it is hyper. Then there’s “Blu,” a track featuring Damon Albarn is a slow and gentle serenade with the Blur frontman’s vocals pitched up and down through an Auto-Tuned haze before it quietly fades out into a kind of quiet glory. Side note: how a 21-year old producer is able to get Damon Albarn on his record is beyond me.
Oh, and if those don’t suit you, then check out the other tracks with Bonzai, NAO, Jamie Lidell, Desiigner, and Charlie XCX, all of which are enjoyable slices of where smarter than average pop music is at the moment. Who knows, by this time next year Mura Masa might be behind your favorite hit (if he isn’t already).
Three songs. That’s all you get on Barcelona producer Sau Poler’s latest EP, but they’re three damn good songs. This is pretty standard for dance producers, making music for the clubs, dropping songs when most relevant instead of taking extended time off to make a full-length album, and miss out on a year’s worth of gigs and travel in the process. Can’t say I blame them.
Sau Poler’s back catalog is also a testament to brief-yet-great releases – a quality over quantity approach to warm house music that’s both infectious and effective. The first track, “Etrusco” sets things up well with a house beat that builds layers of rhythm and warm synth tones up over the songs six minutes until your head is bobbing at max BPM. After that, “Questra” keeps the mission statement alive with a similar framework but with a more loungey approach. Final track “Mitre” sounds like the perfect thing to hear coming out of a club in the early hours when the sun is just on the horizon.
This would probably work best if were a club somewhere in Sau Poler’s part of the world, but in any case, he’s given us a little taste of house music from the sun-baked Catalan coast and we should be grateful for that alone.
Looking For More Suggestions?
Check out Nate’s Five June 2017 Albums You May Have Missed!