Five May 2017 Albums You Might Have Missed
Before we get into this month’s list we wanted to take a moment to mention the untimely death of Chris Cornell. If you grew up in the 90s, chances are you didn’t make it out of the decade without Soundgarden’s music making a mark, big or small, in some way or another. You might have memories of buying Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, or Down on the Upside, spending your hard-earned money on the band’s CDs or delightfully freaking out to the video for “Black Hole Sun” on MTV.
Soundgarden was different from its Seattle peers for many reasons, but one, in particular, was because of Chris Cornell and his distinct voice and presence. He was a modern-rock god, even when it wasn’t cool to be a rock god. He could scream, he could croon, his songs could whip crowds into frenzies. The joy we had as young music nerds discovering his band’s music is the same joy we carry with us today when something new or different comes along that we can’t stop listening to. It’s sad when our heroes pass, and we’ve already seen too many important ones go. But in times like these, it’s best to gather around one another and make a loud noise.
And on that note, we continue our quest for all things noisy, joyous and capable of rattling the neighbor’s windows. Here’s five May 2017 albums we’ve been rocking out to.
Shake the Shudder
When !!! first hit the scene in the early 2000s critics were skeptical of them, assuming that they were just one more band riding in on the wake of the dance-punk craze. At the time, The Rapture was getting most of the attention in that space, and LCD Soundsystem was emerging as a fully formed unit. Nearly twenty years later and The Rapture are no more, having never really had as big of an influence as anticipated, while LCD went on a permanent hiatus before reuniting this year to the joy of white people everywhere.
Regardless of what other bands of their ilk were doing or not doing, !!! kept powering through, staying true to its own brand of groove. If dance-punk were a marathon, then !!! maintained the pace ahead of its peers. It was more varied and a hell of a lot more prolific, and its bass player even pulled double duty for LCD. The band members have always been believers, picking up a dedicated horde of followers along the way even when the rest of the world became interested in whatever the next big thing was.
Shake the Shudder is the band’s seventh album and one of their most consistent since 2007s Myth Takes. The second track, “Dancing is the Best Revenge,” acts as the album’s rallying cry with its drums and bass working together to get heads moving, while frontman Nic Offer sing-speaks until the chorus blasts in with gleeful abandon. Other standout tracks like ‘Things Get Hard’ and “Throw Yourself in the River” are like the burly doorman at the club telling you there’s no cover and drinks are half off tonight. !!! have never wavered in their dedication to get people onto the dance floor and Shake the Shudder is another strong chapter in that manifesto.
Somewhere in Berlin right now there are clubs filled with DJs and people dancing until they don’t know what day it is. Chances are they’ve heard some Ellen Allien through the course of their night. Chances are Allien may have even done a set herself. Not only is she a stalwart of the Berlin techno scene, she also heads up the BPitch Control label out of her native city, putting out music of other like-minded artists while running a small fashion label on the side. Hell, she is the scene in so many ways, and sitting at the core of it is her pulsing music.
The skill behind Allien’s music is how effective she is with very little. With all the tools available, she chooses hers wisely to an effective degree. No song on Nost is under seven minutes. Each one is a journey, one that normally starts out on a minimal path and ends up weaving a dark and driving tapestry of sound by the end. “Call Me” is an ode to the Tinder and hook-up culture in Berlin, while “Innocence” is a musical k-hole.
Should you stay hooked in then songs toward the end of the album like “Physical” and “Erdmond” sweeten the deal by dealing out a warm cocoon of sound. This isn’t Allien’s first techno rodeo and it hopefully it won’t be her last. She’s been doing this for a while now, and having an album like Nost in 2017 is a good reminder that the heart of electronic music is still beating with the steady cadence of a Roland 808.
The most captivating moments of Hundred Waters’ music are tiny and complex, like marveling at the intricate gears of a Swiss watch. To be a fan is to feel like you’re part of a small but switched-on community. All that may or may not change following the release of this EP. On its last album (the still-amazing The Moon Rang Like a Bell) the group signed to OWSLA, a label run by Skrillex, proving that in spite of thrusting brostep upon the world, the guy does exhibit good taste from time to time.
So, this begs a question: is Hundred Waters positioning itself for the mainstream? Well, listening to this EP the answer is yes, maybe.
Currency may not give us enough clues to know where the band is headed, but it does have one of its most accessible songs in the standout track “Particle.” The bass rumbles low underneath the clickety drum beat, threatening to shake the whole foundation apart. But it never does because this is a Hundred Waters song and its MO as always been more towards uplifting the listener rather than causing unease. Singer Nicole Miglis’s whisper-thin voice is comforting and mysterious. It’s the kind of song you’re probably bound to hear soon and repeatedly if you haven’t already.
The EP tapers off a bit during the last two tracks. The Song “Everywhere” is a quiet serenade with little other than Miglis’s vocals singing over a looped voice (most likely her own), and the closing title track “Currency” brings the deep bass back but at a slower and more ethereal pace. It’s hard to say if this EP is nothing more than a vessel to get a song like “Particle” out into the world, but regardless, it acts as an interesting snapshot of where the band is right now. Whether you start hearing them on the same radio stations as The Chainsmokers in the future, only time can tell.
Judging from the music coming out of Western Australia I’m convinced that there’s something in the, um, water. Bands like Pond and Tame Impala are proof of this. Maybe it’s something about the geography in one of the world’s most remote metropolises, but out by Perth highly enjoyable modern-day psychedelia is being written at a record pace. For proof look no further than Pond’s latest album The Weather.
Pond share members with that other Perth band Tame Impala, and their mastermind, Kevin Parker, has played drums for Pond previously – he also pulled production duties for them on this album. The two bands cross pollinate regularly so it’s very easy to enjoy one if you enjoy the other.
Lurking under the surface of The Weather‘s enjoyable sheen are dark themes, and opening track “30,000 Megatons” sets the scene nicely with a prayer for nuclear war; the band decided to release the song the day Donald Trump was elected. It sounds like something that could’ve been written by Roger Waters during his darker days in the late 70s. But it’s not all doom and gloom.
The second track “Sweep Me Off My Feet” rolls in with a warm swagger while containing the brutally sincere line “Between my penis and my chin is Camembert and shame.” The song is about looking for love past one’s expiration date, but it’s so enjoyable to listen to that the lyrics might come as an afterthought (but don’t let that happen because the lyrics on this album are insanely interesting). The album continues to expand and contract. “Edge of the World Part.1” is Syd Barrett meets Phil Spector meets Styx instrumental breakdown. “All I Want for Xmas (Is a Tascam 388)” is not only a great song title, but probably a legitimate request that one of the members of Pond made years ago to their dumbfounded parents. If you can’t make it to the edge of the world where Pond resides, you at least have the mind-bending soundtrack to what it’s like out there through the eyes of some of its most inventive musicians.
For all its virtues and ability to influence younger bands, shoegaze music, in the end, has been proven to work best in the hands of its originators. The problem is that most, if not all, of those bands lived short lifespans and then faded away before the turn of the millennium. Slowdive hasn’t released an album since 1993, so it’s a welcome surprise that they decided to dust off their phaser pedals and come out of hibernation. The amazing thing is that the band sound as good today as they did over twenty years ago which speaks to the timelessness of the music they make.
Slowdive was never one of the louder shoegaze bands in the canon. They didn’t have the volume or crunch of My Bloody Valentine or the rhythmic machinations of Ride, but they were certainly among the more elegant acts of that scene and their self-titled album is a beautiful return to that sound. Opening track “Slomo” feels like a lost relic from pre-Britpop UK with reverbed drums and airy guitars. “Star Roving” uses a chord progression only a band like Slowdive could lay claim to while it gradually builds into more layers of sound by the end. It recalls bands like Joy Division, New Order, Interpol and how Slowdive were the silent members in that circle of influence.
Song “Go Get It” makes more use of its negative space than the sonics the band can wield, and ends up being one of the most powerful tracks on the album through its restraint. Who knows if this is a one-off and if we don’t hear from Slowdive for many years after this, but considering we didn’t expect to ever hear from them again in the first place, it’s pretty great that they gave us another great album to treasure for several more years to come.
Looking for more album suggestions? We have plenty.