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U.S. Girls – In A Poem Unlimited

4 Oct

There’s no shortage of bands that mix together pop and rock and jazz and funk, but there are few that manage alchemy as unique as that of U.S. Girls. They’re aggressive to the point of cacophony in parts, and they make that work, and they’re tender in other parts and they make that work too. It’s that kind of album. Everything just works.

I stand by what I said about their sound being unique, but it does still remind me strongly of The Long Blondes, especially on tracks like “M.A.H.” and “Time.”  Like The Long Blondes, U.S. Girls are sharp enough for anyone , both in narrative and in music. “Pearly Gates,” in particular, is a fascinating song with plenty of surprise and some excellent, thought-provoking blasphemy.

The album’s sound, like its message, is layered, complex and full of surprise, right from “Velvet 4 Sale” straight to the end. It’s angry, it’s smart and it’s something you should be listening to.

@murthynikhil
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Noname – Room 25

28 Sep

Room 25 is not just innovative, but singular. I cannot think of another album that sounds anything like it. It mixes an extraordinary amount of jazz and soul into some beautifully laid-back rap and does it all with considerable flair. It takes confidence to try a couplet like “My pussy teachin’ ninth-grade English/My pussy wrote a thesis on colonialism.” and skill to pull it off as effortlessly as Noname does.

Her flow is deeply relaxed and yet technical and often of a surprising pace as she drops flow-of-consciousness bars on similarly peaceful beats. There are parts here where she takes a couple of moments and the backing track could have been part of a quite solid soft jazz album. It’s all the kind of effortless that speaks of extreme competence.

Room 25 has none of the obvious ostentation of so many of its peers. Instead it has skill, imagination and surfeit of what is just great music. This is one of the best albums of the year thus far.

@murthynikhil

Saba – CARE FOR ME

10 Sep

CARE FOR ME is heartbreakingly honest. Its genesis was in the fatal stabbing of Saba’s cousin and the centerpiece of the album, the fantastic “PROM / KING” goes over the whole story in seven and a half minutes of powerful storytelling. The snippets of basketball and the breakdown of an ending are the kind of personal that can only come from real history. It’s an album about loss and trauma and is exceptional at communicating that in all of its complexity.

This album requires the skill that Saba brings to it. He alternates between rapping and crooning and it gives songs like “GREY” both mellowness and texture. It’s also what drives “BROKEN GIRLS”, a song as lovely and as poisonous as its subject.

There’s unfortunately a little here that could have been cut and it’s doubly unfortunate that the Chance track “LOGOUT” is one of them, but even those songs are solid enough and every song has at least some stellar moments. This is a unique and compelling album by a very talented young rapper and well worth listening to.

@murthynikhil

Top Five Lo-Fi Indie Albums of 2018 With Female Singers That We’re Listening To Right Now

26 Aug

This title may seem overly specific, but it’s a subgenre that I cannot get enough of and one that 2018 has been anomalously fruitful for. These albums are lo-fi not only in music but in topic, but it’s that lowering of stakes that’s what allows them to shine. I love this space for smaller stories

Courtney Barnett – Tell Me How You Really Feel

Courtney Barnett continues the long tradition of lo-fi indie rock set down by people like Pavement in the 90s. She’s more clever and more understated than her predecessors though. Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit had a strong voice of its own and was a fantastic debut. Tell Me How You Really Feel is not quite up to the same standard. The understatement goes a little too far here and the album just feels muted.

She’s still an excellent musician and there are some real moments of cleverness, such as the put down to an anonymous troll in “Nameless, Faceless” or the happy roll of “Sunday Roast”. It’s a very solid album. It’s just also one that’s a little too quiet about what it has to say.

Clairo – diary 001

Bands get younger every year. It takes someone like Clairo to really bring that home to you though and to bring home just how talented these young stars are. Her hit song “Pretty Girl” is well worth the attention, but there’s a lot in here worth your attention.

She has a wonderful voice that blends mellowness and disaffection to the point that they’re indistinguishable. It’s manages to be deeply compelling though, standoffish or no, and gives you the space you need to submerge yourself in it.

Her music is young and whip-smart and earnest all at once. There’s a lot of craft underlying the album’s pose and every song was clearly assembled with care. For all of the softness and all of the understatement, there’s still quite a bit of muted fun in the effects around “B.O.M.D.” and “4EVER” is highly danceable pop.

Even with the short runtime of 14 minutes, there is a bit here that could have been removed safely, but there’s also as much actually worth listening to as most full releases.

Speedy Ortiz – Twerp Verse

Speedy Ortiz have always been the cleverest kids around. Sadie Dupuis is sharp and incisive enough to make a scalpel look like a foam bat and combines that with an unbelievable skill with poetry. With Twerp Verse, Speedy Ortiz has moved further into their own voice than even before. More opaque, more stripped-down and more rewarding than before, this album continues the evolution of this band into something that is more confidently their own.

Firstly, “Villain” is an exceptional song. The plainness of the lyrics highlights just how disturbing they are and the off-kilter timings of the song are disorienting and beautiful. “Lucky 88” is catchy and surprisingly Silversun Pickups-like for a band that once toured with Stephen Malkmus. “You Hate The Title” is really playful music as well.

As always, Speedy Ortiz are the smartest indie rockers around. They’re just much too good for you not to listen to.

Snail Mail – Lush

This is the most lo-fi of the albums here. It has deeply textured, hazy sounds that are very reminiscent of the recent fantastic Vagabon album. Her voice is wonderfully teenage though and so deeply sincere. This is the kind of debut that forces people to pay attention. For all that it is clearly part of a long tradition of ‘90s indie rock, it’s stunningly modern and derives from a wide variety of influences. It’s the rare album to live up to the promises of the title.

You can really see this in pieces like “Speaking Terms”, where the drawn out segments epitomize the lo-fi that I adore. The composition of the song perfectly introduces and then frames her voice. “Pristine” moves faster and the lyrics are personal and honest and then challenging of itself and so of you.

Strong, honest, layered and skillful, this is a startling debut and a strong statement of arrival.

Mitski – Be The Cowboy

We’ve saved the best for last with this list. Mitski’s previous album Puberty 2 was one of the best albums of 2016 and Be The Cowboy is, if anything, better. It’s exceedingly clever and complex and uses that to keep you off-balance the entire way through.

While it lacks anything on the level of the breakout single “Your Best American Girl” and steps into a more remote realm, the quality of the songs here are stunningly consistent. Whether it’s the threads of “Old Friend” or “Me And My Husband” that braid through each other to make a deeply layered narrative or the cleverness of the rise and then abrupt walk back of “Two Slow Dancers” or the knife-edge and thump of “Washing Machine Heart”, every one of these songs is just really good music.

Mitski just goes from strength to strength. She’s sharp, incisive and very human and Be The Cowboy is everything you could want from a lo-fi indie album in 2018.

@murthynikhil

John Coltrane – Both Directions At Once

22 Jul

A little historical context is probably worthwhile for this album. In 1963, John Coltrane was still fresh off the breakout success of My Favorite Things, which was the rare jazz album to have major crossover appeal, but had yet to create A Love Supreme, the magnificent distillation of self that is possibly his magnum opus and is unquestionably flawless. Somewhere in that year, Trane and his classic quartet recorded this session only to have it be lost for decades when Impulse! Records recorded over the master tape. A copy of that tape that had been held by Juanita Naima Coltrane was recently discovered and assembled by his son into Both Directions At Once

History aside, it is an absolutely excellent album. It’s much rougher than the full albums released around this time and a large part is multiple takes on the same theme, but it has so many ideas in there that it would be ridiculous to complain. However, between the roughness and the pace, this album can be exhausting to listen to. It may not be as challenging as his later work, but it’s still no walk in the park.

The effort is deeply rewarding though. The alternate takes of “Impressions” are fascinating and the solos there are sublime. Coltrane’s are naturally excellent, but the rhythm section of “Impressions Take 4” is also worth noting for the intriguing textures that they lay down. The different takes on “Untitled Original 11386” are similarly compelling. The themes of “Take 2” are felt throughout the album, but are more than good enough to sustain the space given to them. The playfulness of “Take 5” is wonderful. It goes to places that are completely unexpected and finds neater ways to return than should be possible.

Additionally, the more approachable “Slow Blues”, “Nature Boy” and “Villa” are all excellent. This was a period in which Trane was looking for a follow-up to the success of “My Favorite Things” and his reimaginings of the latter two are solid attempts. “Nature Boy” does much in the same space, taking the Nat King Cole classic to sounds as unexpected as they are apt, but doesn’t quite manage the accessibility or the ingenuity of “My Favorite Things”. Nevertheless, they are both well worth the time. “Slow Blues” in particular fills its eleven and a half minutes with ideas while maintaining a surprising amount of cleanliness and friendliness.

This is not Coltrane’s strongest work by any stretch and it would have benefited from the polish that an actual release would have had, but these complaints only hold water due to the brilliance of Coltrane’s best work. By any reasonable standard though, this album is a work of astounding quality and invention. This was very simply a genius in his prime and to get another album like this is a gift you would have to be foolish to ignore.

@murthynikhil

Drake – Scorpion

17 Jul

The thing about Drake is that he is extremely talented. There are a lot of critiques that people make of him in terms of style, substance and originality and they are largely justified, but he is extremely talented. So even when you get something with as little motivation as Scorpion, there’s still enough there to make it worth listening to.

The singles were all quite strong and things like “Mob Ties” and “Finesse” are earworms, and far from the only ones. Given the length of this album though, it would be a travesty if there were not. Nothing is outright terrible, but there some amount of what feels like filler, like “Sandra’s Rose”. Additionally, the album as a whole just feels a little samey. It just lacks fire and it lacks imagination.

I think that this is exacerbated by the idea of splitting it into a rap half and an R&B half instead of the normal merger that he built his career on. The rest of cliches are all still here though, the beats and the complaints are the same as they always were. It’s a pity that of all of his hallmarks, he chose to lose the most interesting of the lot.

This lack of change feels much worse due to the circumstances around the album. You would expect a son to make some kind of a change to Drake, but the child gets barely a mention throughout the album. The shocking entry of that child into public consciousness is even less addressed. Pusha-T dropped him in the hardest diss tracks in recent history and Drake’s failure to use his album to respond cements that feud as a crushing defeat for him.

Despite all of this though, the album is of a remarkably consistent quality. Drake rose to the top due to his immense talent and it looks like despite all of the failings of Scorpion, he will remain there. This is an album deserving of a few listens and is still one of the music events of the year. It’s just also a little unnecessary.

@murthynikhil

The Carters – EVERYTHING IS LOVE

2 Jul

For an album like this, the music is always going to be overshadowed by the event and the story behind it. There’s a lot going for the music though. Beyoncé indulging in triplet raps is worth the price of admission alone and Jay manages to sustain this second wind of his career. This really comes together in things like the fantastic “APESHIT”. It’s a high energy song with a stunning video and Migos ad-libbing beautifully in the background.

While that song is the clear standout, but there’s quite a lot of solid work besides it. “NICE”, for instance, also sees Beyoncé with some interesting bars. She’s spent a lot of time in this area before and after they finish mining their relationship, I hope Beyoncé takes an album to give her rapping the space it deserves.

Jay-Z does some work of his own, if seemingly the smaller share. The strong “713” is all him and is all about her. His verses on “FRIENDS” make the song, but Beyonce’s singing is excellent here and her bout of vocalization is extremely good. This interplay is reversed a little on “BOSS”, which is completely run by her singing but Jay still gets an interesting verse in there with an intriguingly skewed flow.

It’s an unquestionably solid album and it’s good to see the Carters both acknowledge their flaws and their recent history as well as stunt all over everyone. An album like this was guaranteed to be a hit no matter what, it’s good to see it back that up with something of the excellence you would expect.

@murthynikhil

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