Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Favorite Records Of The First Half of 2021

I have thought for the past few years that doing more regular music posts would be far more manageable, and potentially more useful, than doing a single year-end list. Of course, I don't really have the motivation to actually try to track down a position writing about music anywhere. I'm bad at it usually, and I'm not sure how much I value the current expectations of the form. (My ideal is the Forced Exposure style paragraph-long review, very much the opposite of the five-paragraph essay form that the internet's lust for content has made standard.) However, this time I've written up a baker's dozen of my favorite albums of the year so far, Bandcamp links when available.

Rosali - No Medium. The LP pressing of this sold out immediately and I truly regret not grabbing one. I had this idea I'd be able to find a physical copy in Philadelphia, as Rosali Middleman lives here, but so far no luck. Anyway, this is so listenable. Backed up by the David Nance Group, who rock in this sort of Neil Young/Crazy Horse style of the chaotic choogle, with killer female vocals that are very pure and unaccented/unaffected. I've been playing last year's David Nance LP, Staunch Honey, a lot too, the swamp-rot vibe feels very weather-appropriate in our era where even the Pacific Northwest will be made sweltering climate change. I loved Trouble Anyway, the last Rosali record, a lot too, but this is real Summer BBQ jams. Feels like the reoccurring lyrical theme here is the plainspoken sexual desire of a woman pushing forty, real put-the-beer-bottle-to-your-forehead sorta stuff.

Palberta - Palberta5000. These ladies have a Philly connection too! Everyone knows that Palberta is a sick band these days. Except the Pitchfork review for this record was a real "Huh, I object to a lot of stuff being written here." Like, describing songs as acapella despite the presence of instruments. And crediting certain instrumentation as being particularly strong from certain members even though they switch instruments constantly and I have no idea how you'd be able to distinguish one person's playing from another. Anyway, rocking in the Minutemen/Deerhoof mode, tightening up their pop side to get that much closer to the Exile In Guyville sweetspot, but with killer vocal harmonies. The sort of record that you start playing and don't turn off because once a song starts and you recognize it you know it's a banger.

Azita - Glen Echo. Not sure I've ever super-dug into Azita Youssefi's body of work though the fact that she fronted Bride Of No-No backed up by the two radicals that later went on to do Metalux means a lot. I also think I maybe saw an Azita set opening for Shellac fifteen years ago but can't remember. Anyway. Lots of people will describe her solo music as sounding like Steely Dan, and while I increasingly am around people who will tell you that's a good thing it doesn't mean much to me but I am vaguely picking up a vibe from this where it's like... Are people responding to this vibe? But also there's this first Velvet Underground LP guitar tone, the vocals aren't godawful, there's nothing corny here. There's just this detached groove. Find this very easy to get into.

Fievel Is Glauque - God's Trashmen Sent To Right The Mess. Another one where I'm like "Is this what people like about Steely Dan" as they do something that feels like jazz or bossa nova but with very concise songs up in front of the weird chords/improvised actions. Led by Zach Phillips on keyboards, and while I also really liked the Perfect Angels tape (particularly the Chiffons cover, and that there's a song dedicated to Morgan Vogel, a friend of friends) and am super-psyched for Blanche Blanche Blanche's return, I gotta concede this is more "accessible" than the latter. All these projects are fronted by these vocalist/personalities that are radically appealing in their je ne sais quoi/fearlessness at presenting a charismatic personality but in a way that's unafraid to get dadaist/avant-garde in its lyrical strategies in an era where "lyrical persona" is so closely connected to "press release narrative" that there's no mystery left, what Marie Clément does here is so mature in comparison - the accent will have people pigeonholing it as yé-yé, but while that's inaccurate to what's happening musically, it suggests how being mildly aloof is totally baffling in an age of literalism.

Blanche Blanche Blanche - Seashells. Damn OK, thought I was just going to let the Fievel Is Glauque thing serve as my coverage of Zach's oeuvre but I'm so psyched for the return of Blanche Blanche Blanche, a longstanding favorite band, and I gotta get into what Sarah Smith is doing here, fronting a more pared-down musical backdrop with an even more casual set of provocations. Despicable Me, "can I fingerblast you," jeepers creepers y'all, you are truly free. The ad-libs alone feel like crashing a car into a Reddit server. "Blue" Gene Tyranny liked this band? Damn dog.

"Blue" Gene Tyranny - Degrees Of Freedom Found. This is a 6-CD box set that I'm only starting to dig into, I can tell you that discs two, five, and six are maybe the most accessible ones to start with. I loved Out Of The Blue and Trust In Rock, didn't really fuck with the solo piano Detours record I'd heard, the stuff I like here isn't really similar to either extreme, often juxtaposing synthesizer with other instruments. Some of the most immediately grabbing stuff feels like it's using SNES midi flute sound palettes with real piano accompaniment. I've barely dug in but I've found some rewards already, and if all of disc four, with its extended narrative, ends up clicking for me the way that side B of Out Of The Blue, "A Letter From Home," does than that'll be a hell of a thing.

Armand Hammer & The Alchemist - Haram. Texted friends like "Armand Hammer really out here eating people," this shit sounds so good. "Indian Summer" is the track where it all starts to really click, incredible verses, incredible production, by the time you get to the sorta singing on the last track I am pumping my fist like damn music is incredible.

L'Rain - Anguish. This just came out and I was unfamiliar with the artist beforehand. Often, music by black women is written about in a way that really centers a narrative of the artist's identity over what the music itself is doing - music writing does this because no one understands music theory, but people do understand a personal story. Stuff like this, that's totally fucking wild musically just has no context for it besides the same hyperbolic "this is important" language used to discuss artists that are far more popular and widely-known. So when I first heard of L'Rain, through a Tone Glow interview, I just read the interview being like "I have no idea what this person's music sounds like." Partly that's because Tone Glow usually covers "experimental" music that I don't particularly care for or find too minimal, and that's what I assume is the deal with most of the artists they interview whose music I haven't spent much time with, but I could tell that wouldn't be the case with this. Now that I've heard it, I'd describe this as R&B with a collage aesthetic, like Erykah Badu being produced by The Oliva Tremor Control, but I don't love that description and I'm just trying to get you to check it out, shit is wild.

Charles Lloyd & The Marvels - Tone Poem. I am trying to be on the lookout for Charles Lloyd records for cheap, feel like he's pretty undervalued due to how he was popular at the time, and didn't make free jazz records, but his classic bands are all sick as hell. Gabor Szabo's Dreams LP got a bump from the Youtube algorithm and Szabo played on some classic Lloyd LPs. This isn't on Bandcamp because it's released on Blue Note but you could check out this 2-CD set of live shows from 1965 with a killer band. The guitar connection sorta connects it to this band The Marvels, which features Bill Frisell. I loved the record they did a few years ago that had Lucinda Williams singing on half the songs. I almost compared Rosali to Lucinda Williams but it's not so much that their voices have things in common that I am like... I think the people who like this artist are getting a vibe that I am getting from this wholly other thing. That's a tangent, this one has a covers of Ornette Coleman tunes and no vocals.

Paulina Anna Strom - Angel Tears In Sunlight. RIP. Not sure how to talk about these electronic soundscapes,"fourth world," maybe? Gorgeous ambiences being evoked while always being too musical and full of life to be characterized as ambient. I loved the reissue RVNG did a few years ago too.

Humanbeast - Divine Redeemer. I really like these two and have seen them rip killer sets a bunch of times, haven't seem them perform in ages, this is a double LP, wildly ambitious, so sick. I was a little bit let down with the record they did for Load because all those songs would be more fucked up, noisy and aggressive live, so circumstances having prevented me from experiencing this material beforehand means just getting into these tunes now, which I believe are all like the edited-down versions of longer excursions.

Editrix - Tell Me I'm Bad. The avant-garde guitarist Wendy Eisenberg fronts what they call an indie rock band and goddamn you know I love it. More than the no wave band Birthing Hips, more than their solo folk project, I didn't hear the Tzadik LP with Trevor Dunn and Ches Smith but while it's quite possible I would've liked that a good amount but come on, I am always describing myself as "the biggest indie rocker at the noise show," I think that vibe comes through with this list, and this album, which is kinda like a heavier Deerhoof but again with lyrics that seem like they are mostly jokes (like "what's your sun what's your moon what's your rising" on a song called "Chillwave") feels like it's designed to snap the necks of anyone not all the way on its level, which might include me most days, but also is perfectly in line with how I'm feeling most days. Like I would snap my own neck for not being on the right level.

DIDA - Ingenuous Scenes. I've never played Katamari Damacy and am assuming this is what the music is like. Real video game world kinda thing. Brightly colored, very melodic, but also with such an emphasis on a sort of artificial environment and moving through it. I find it really engaging.