Album Picks: Low, Cold Beat, Beirut, Shannon & the Clams

Posted by Billy Gil, September 11, 2015 11:38am | Post a Comment

Low Ones & Sixes

low ones sixesSlowcore greats Low add some electronic touches to their spare sound and come out with their best album in years. Mimi Parker’s tender vocals float through space and malfunctioning electronics on haunting opener “Gentle.” Alan Sparhawk leads the band through the Western-tinged “No Comprende,” which ambles along unhurriedly but with a gritty beat and tense, muted guitars. Despite slight changes in the band’s sound, exemplified on the “What Part of Me,” in which Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals waltz over a light synth-pop pulse, Low are still at their best when crafting intensely intimate music that seems to fill huge, empty spaces with overwhelming emotion, such as on the simply stunning “Spanish Translation.” Whether you’re new to Low or just needed a reminder of their greatness, Ones & Sixes does the trick.



Cold Beat Into the Air

cold beat into the air lpI missed this one last week, but it’s worth mentioning anyway because of how rad it is. Hanna Lew (Grass Widow) releases a second album with her new band, pairing jagged post-punk riffs with coldwave synths and Lew’s floating, layered vocals. The results range from the melodic Blondie-style pop of “Broken Lines” to the pulsating, thrilling “Cracks.” Into the Air works because Lew and co. seem to know what to put into every song, pulling from influences as needed — a little Kraftwerkian rigidity here, a little punk fury there — rather than stuffing it all into every song. As such, Into the Air’s songs stand alone, the towering synth-popper “Spirals” a perfect apotheosis of their various tendencies, and hang together masterfully at the same time.

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Album Picks: Widowspeak, Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, FIDLAR, Lou Barlow, Dam-Funk, Diane Coffee

Posted by Billy Gil, September 4, 2015 12:19pm | Post a Comment

Widowspeak - All Yours

widowspeak all yours lpWidowspeak’s All Yours is just what we need to cool off during this hot, hot summer. The duo’s tunes are cool and meditative, evoking the feeling of watching a fading sunset over the forested hills of New York’s Hudson Valley, where the band resides. Molly Hamilton’s sweet vocals whisper over Robert Early Thomas’ dusky licks and a touch of organ on the sultry title track. The band mostly keeps things spare and dreamy, but they plug in to give tracks like “Dead Love (So Still)” a little raunch, coming off like the Velvet Underground’s third album reimagined as stoner country music. Elsewhere, Hamilton plays Nancy Sinatra to Thomas’ Lee Hazlewood on the sumptuous “Girls,” generating plenty of heat from a spacious, two-chord jam and Hamilton’s narcotic drawl, while “Borrowed World” sees Thomas take the mic for a spry duet (something the band should consider doing more often). Somehow, All Yours is both Widowspeak’s mellowest album and its most exciting. With a sharp focus on songwriting over ambiance and more room for Hamilton’s vocals to shine, they end up with their best, most distinctive album yet.

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Album Picks: Beach House, The Weeknd, Tamaryn, Destroyer, Yo La Tengo, Tijuana Panthers

Posted by Billy Gil, August 28, 2015 11:30am | Post a Comment

Beach House - Depression Cherry

beach house depression cherry lpBeach House’s latest album strips back some of the pop shimmer of their last two albums while maintaining the more confident songcraft they started debuting on 2010’s Teen Dream. It’s a bold move, and one that proves to be the right one for Beach House, as they’ve kept the reins on their trajectory and integrity while furthering the quality of their songwriting. First single “Sparks” is a powerhouse shoegazer that showcases the duo’s strengths, pairing Alex Scally’s emotive guitarwork with Victoria LeGrand’s lush, layered vocals. “Space Song” is a luscious, swaying love song built on a bubbling synthesizer and sighing guitar slides. “10:37’s” deliberately chintzy drum machine keeps time like a cheap alarm clock while Legrand’s vocals and synths float by hazily like nighttime clouds. Album highlight “PPP” reimagines girl group devotion in a serpentine, whispery ballad that ranks among the band’s finest songs. You might miss some of Bloom’s bombast, but you also can’t argue with the quality here. Beach House remain the most consistently great band of their ilk on another album of uncommon, unflinching beauty.

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Album Picks: Dr. Dre, Wilco, Gardens & Villa, Deradoorian, DRINKS

Posted by Billy Gil, August 21, 2015 11:27am | Post a Comment

Dr. DreCompton

dr. dre compton cdWith the release of the biopic Straight Outta Compton about pioneering hip hop group N.W.A., Dr. Dre has found himself rejuvenated as an artist. The rapper and onetime N.W.A. member has long been largely behind the scenes as a producer and businessman, but there’s still been hope he’d release something of his own, with a long-promised Detox album now shelved. That’s for the better; with an artist of Dre’s caliber, we’d rather have something polished to compare with his first two solo albums, and Compton, a companion piece to the film, doesn’t disappoint. Among A-list guest spots (Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Eminem) and lush jazz-funk production by Dre and a score of others, the album finds Dre looking back at his legacy. “Goddammit, I'm too old, I forgot I got it all/But Andre young enough to still get involved” he says on “Talk About It,” embodying his younger self to hang with the next generation he’s helped mentor. Dre tells the story of Compton’s troubled history (along with fellow Compton native Lamar) on standout “Genocide,” with dizzying production by Dem Jointz and a sick hook by Marsha Ambrosius. It should go without saying that the rapping across Compton is jaw droppingly great, not least of all by Dre himself, who raps circles around the young’uns on tracks like “It’s All On Me.” I would have liked to hear more of Dre and fewer guest spots (two tracks don’t have him at all), but taken together it’s an incredibly solid amalgam of compilation and solo album. It’s too soon to call Compton a new hip hop classic, but with countless memorable moments across the album’s 16 tracks, it’s looking that way. Certainly it’s an appropriately great finale to Dr. Dre’s rap career, though with as great as Compton is and as much acclaim as its received, hopefully it’s just the start of his next chapter as an artist.

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Album Picks: Chelsea Wolfe, Mac DeMarco, HEALTH, La Luz, Ultimate Painting

Posted by Billy Gil, August 7, 2015 09:15am | Post a Comment

Chelsea WolfeAbyss

chelsea wolfe abyss lpOn Abyss, Chelsea Wolfe embraces the industrial music and doom metal that have always lurked as influences and adds them as blackened flourishes to her gothy experimental electro-folk. “Carrion Flowers” writhes slowly on a corroded beat that hits like a door slamming beneath her curling and cooing voice. Groaning guitar noise introduces “Iron Moon” as Wolfe’s entrée into the metal world (save for her celebrated cover of black metal band Burzum’s “Black Spell of Destruction”). The eerie, wiry strings and sludgy power chords of “Dragged Out” become a pummeling wash at the chorus, which is reminiscent of Sunn O))), for whom she’s opened in the past. The album’s opening is bold, but echoes of her past work radiate through Abyss, on its strings, which can be achingly beautiful on tracks like “Maw” but wail like banshees on “Crazy Love,” or on the wavering synths of “After the Fall” (seemingly the only thing left over from some of the synth-driven exercises of her last album, Pain is Beauty). The biggest holdover here, besides an overall grim aesthetic, is Wolfe’s voice, which can sometimes get buried but breaks through the din to emote beautifully on “After the Fall” and “Crazy Love.” Some fans might bristle at the changes she’s made, but most will likely find the heavier sound suits Wolfe’s compositions and voice quite well. Besides being great on its own as an album, Abyss hopefully will add another chink in the armor of the seemingly closed-off and overwhelmingly male world of critically respected, heavy guitar-based music.

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