Five October 2017 Albums You May Have Missed
When it comes to the October 2017 albums you may have missed, this month’s choices have a wholly unintentional electronic theme to them.
Apologies for posting these a bit late this month, DBP readers, but Stranger Things 2 and Mindhunter weren’t going to binge themselves. There was also a week there where I had to advise my friend George Papadopoulos, an Australian by birth, that he wasn’t being pursued by the Feds and that he should probably dark his Twitter account for a bit. It’s been hectic.
In music, October was an electronic-inspired affair, although it wasn’t intentional. It’s just what was coming out. We heard some great music ranging from Montreal to Leeds to New Zealand, not to mention Detroit and Spain along the way. It’s all below in our monthly wrap-up.
Raphaelle Standel has mostly made her name with Montreal indie act Braids, but in the off-season she makes music with longtime collaborator Alexander Kirby under the “Blue Hawaii” moniker. Whereas Braids explore electronic music to further their sound, Blue Hawaii seems like the vessel in which Standel can go all in on it. Tenderness delivers not only a wide-ranging catalog of songs in various genres, but also offers a giant question on how connected we are as humans in an age where everything is connected.
Let’s say you’re in a long-distance relationship separated from your partner with little but modern technology to keep you connected to that person. What baggage does that bring? Sure, there’s the convenience of being ever-connected to your loved one via the tools available to us, but there’s also the nagging subtexts – like wondering about that “like” on someone else’s post on Instagram, or no response to video chats when you know that person has that device on them at all times. That joy and horror combines together on Tenderness, an album in which Standel and Kirby are able to effortlessly span different genres of electronic music without making it sound pastiche in an effort to explore love in the modern era.
Standel’s voice has a range in a Björk-like spectrum and she’s able to adjust it to the needs of the sixteen tracks on Tenderness. Songs like “Versus Game” is an airy club anthem in the same vein as Everything but the Girl, while “Younger Heart” sounds like the product of an early 90s Massive Attack. But there’s more: Reggeaton (“Make Love Stay”), House (“Free at Last”), and even experimental (“Blossoming from Your Shy”) are present, along with other touch points that are explored throughout the album. Standel and Kirby aren’t dipping their toes into the water on this one. Tenderness feels like a commitment for them, both musically and thematically.
It’s hard to find a good cache of info on Pablo Queu outside of his Bandcamp bio in which he describes himself as, a musician and producer with a guitar as my main instrument. But all you really need to know about Queu is that he makes sexy-ass R&B and soul music.
Habitats is his third EP (his first two are also worth checking out) and he’s upped his game and production skills since then. Leadoff track “Deja Vu” features a promising UK singer named Jerome Thomas and it busts out with the same authority as a track from D’Angelo’s Voodoo. It may just be one of the best R&Bsongsg you haven’t heard yet. “Black Sand” has a Bonobo-like feel, which is interesting since Bonobo had an album called “Black Sands.” But hey, let’s not split hairs here – it’s a great song.
It feels as if Pablo is working his way up toward something more ambitious with each and every EP. He could get called up to the LA music machine and start doing work for artists I’d rather not write about, or he could keep hanging back with his own diverse squad of talent and show the rest of the world how various countries in Europe have processed the R&B that has been fed to them into something slightly different and much more interesting.
The three other songs that round out this EP form a nice, tight package that goes down all too easy. It leaves an inclination to press the play button again for another round. Let’s hope Pablo’s talents lead him to either another great EP or an eventual full-length album. Either way, judging from his track record, it’s going to be good.
The New Monday
In his own way, Shigeto has always tried to pay homage to his native city of Detroit – be it through soul, jazz, or electronic music. He has songs that could serve as hip-hop instrumentals, while others could be played as deep cuts in a club set. His keen ability at layering sound sometimes underplays his deftness at doing so, but on The New Monday Shigeto strengthens his technique as a producer and introduces listeners to infinite layers through nine tracks that are effectively forward-moving sound collages.
With his 2013 album No Better Time Than Now, he gave us the downtempo track “Detroit Part 1.” The track was titled as if the intent was always to follow it up, and on his latest album he leads off with “Detroit Pt II.” From there he continues with the inspired outlook, except this time it’s a more upbeat number seeming to declare that there’s still more to say about this city – more beats, more directions to meander, more moods to explore.
The New Monday isn’t for every mood; it’s minimal and so stripped down at times that there is little more than a drum loop and vocal sample, but just like the house music that sprung up from Detroit, Shigeto’s music aims for that same charm through subtlety, knowing that the listener is unlikely to unlock more with each listen. Even now as the album plays in the background I’m hearing things I hadn’t noticed on my previous half-dozen listens, like how the song “Ice Breaker” is probably one of the best House tracks to come out this year, or how cohesive the whole album begins to sound after extended plays in the darkroom that is my office.
Shigeto may very well undercut his own rise to fame by making music that demands patience in an era where we just stream and move on, but if one gives The New Monday some time, you may just find yourself coming back to it more than whatever playlist the algorithms have crafted for you this week.
The Great Distraction
The post-rock Vessels are gone. Truth be told, they’ve been gone for a while now.
Somewhere along the way the Leeds band ditched their drums and guitars and embraced the machines. This shift was most noticeable on their still-great 2014 album Dilate, which played like an hour-long electronic voyage. There was most likely an exodus of some old fans and a migration of entirely new ones during this shift. Now they’re back with The Great Distraction and it very much feels like a companion album to their last, only they’ve found a few collaborators to round things out, and seem to have decided that six minutes is the minimum time frame in which they’re able to tell their stories.
Standout track “Deflect the Light” features Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips singing about capturing insects as a child with his brothers (because, hey, this is Wayne Coyne after all so why not). The song moves at a smooth pace in the beginning until the second half where it breaks open like a pollen explosion, melting Coyne’s voice and glitchy keyboards into something that sounds like it’s trying to leave Earth’s orbit. Even without the star power, however, Vessels are operating on all cylinders here: Track “Gløwer” is an eight-minute face-melter that contains some of the best beats and musical twists the band have crafted thus far and track “Trust Me,” featuring Vincent Neff of Django Django, compliments the singer’s style much in the same way The Chemical Brothers allowed Noel Gallagher to do. Toward the end of the album, track “Radio Decay” is a glorious homage to what feels like an oncoming oblivion.
The Great Distraction plays out as a direct, intense and fully realized album. It’s as if Vessels have absorbed the past thirty years of UK electronic music and have found a way to homogenize it into their own distinct sound. Not too bad for a “post-rock” band.
Last year I wrote a fairly glowing review of indie synth-pop band Yumi Zouma’s Yoncalla. Not only am I happy to have been around long enough to review more than one album by an artist, I’m also extremely happy Yumi Zouma were able to follow up so quickly with a sophomore release in the form of their new album, Willowbank.
When we last left off, Yumi Zouma were a band with roots in Christchurch, New Zealand that managed to assemble a great album while its members dispersed across both hemispheres and three countries. This time around, they’ve assembled on home turf, in a Christchurch studio amidst a city still being reconstructed from two devastating earthquakes. The result is something that sounds full and more forthcoming, like an actual band playing together in the same room.
Whereas Yoncalla came in gently, Willowbank makes a declarative statement in its first song: it starts with Christie Simpson’s vocals which sound fuller and more direct. She barely sounds like the same person, which makes you think how much more this band might have in their arsenal that they haven’t shared yet. Gone are the whispery declarations, replaced as a deeper voice emerges to sing about longing and heartache in a way that only Yumi Zouma knows how to do.
The field has been relatively full these days with synth-pop acts, but what’s so great about this group is how they’re able to get under your skin with great hooks and melodies. They’ve found a way to undercut their peers with an honest approach by simply being who they are. Willowbank ends up being a more fluid album than their previous offering with similar, steady tempos driving most of the songs, but it ends up being just as catchy and charming.
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