Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt can be forgiven for his claustrophobic album title. At only 16, he was plucked from his budding rap career by his mother, responding to his drug use and poor grades, and sent to a reform school in Samoa. Since returning, he’s talked about having a tumultuous time partying on tour and struggling to get his life and health back. The result of all that back and forth is I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside, and album that doubles down on the grim paranoia set forth by his last album, the excellent Doris. Earl has a way of expressing his pain honestly while keeping his rhymes engaging instead of seeming like a diary pour—“ Picked the road that got twists/I'm holding my dick and playing cautious,” he says on “Mantra.” On the grim “Faucet,” he raps about not knowing where to call home and who to call a friend (“I feel like I'm the only one pressin' to grow upwards”). The stunning “Grief” offers imagery of Earl facing panic attacks, grabbing for the Xanax bottle and reminiscing about drugs and girls on tour over a murky beat but ultimately coming out of the haze, finishing off with the lines, “I just want my time and my mind intact/When they both gone, you can't buy ’em back.” I Don’t Go Outside is focused nearly to a fault, but in keeping the album as variations on a theme, it helps further establish Earl as a compelling character—the tortured wayward son, reveling in and revolted by his own hedonism—crafting a potent statement in the process. The distilled paranoia of I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside easily makes for one of the most memorable hip-hop albums of the year.
Here’s a list of records to check out that are currently scheduled for release in 2015 (dates/releases subject to change).
This touted Australian singer/songwriter writes anxiety-ridden screeds over catchy garage-rock on her breakthrough record.
S.F. psych-rockers Thee Oh Sees’ cult seemed to overflow with two great albums released last year, the scuzzy lo-fi pop of Castlemania and its more acid-tinged follow-up, Carrion Crawler/The Dream. Putrifiers II works off that momentum and delivers on its promise, scaling back the noise of their more rambunctious moments to offer hypnotic, low-key psych-pop. “Wax Face” features some of Thee Oh Sees main man John Dwyer’s idiosyncrasies, with wacked out harmonic guitarwork and echoing, screechy vocals, but with that familiarity out of the way, the album’s next two songs feel new for Dwyer, as “Hang a Picture” is nostalgic, even sweet jangly pop, and “So Nice” takes a Velvets-inspired trip through stately drone. “Flood’s New Light” sounds like a cleaned-up version of the off-kilter Turtles-style garage rock the band previously produced, and with its cleaner production, Dwyer’s pop songwriting smarts come through more clearly, as does his way of subverting his pop arrangements with slightly atonal melodies. As the album’s noise-and-space epic title track flows into the ethereal, strange ’60s pop of “We Will Be Scared,” it becomes clear this is Dwyer’s strongest material to date. For all his prolificacy, Putrifiers II is remarkably consistent and a fine statement of purpose moving forward for Dwyer.
The XX – Coexist
The XX dig further into their shrouded corner of the universe with Coexist, an album that finds the trio even more assured in producing their minimalist, romantic sound. “Angels” opens the album breathtakingly as Romy Madley Croft’s vocal coaxes intensity with just a few simple refrains. Co-vocalist Oliver Sim pulls a similar trick on the yearning “Missing,” while “Chained” is one of the best examples yet of how Jamie Smith’s production meshes perfectly with Madley Croft and Sim’s simple yet divine vocal interplay and subtle guitarwork, its beats coming in offtime to break the spell at just the right time. Coexist works when its trio supports each other with the just the right amount effort, such as on “Reunion” and “Sunset,” in which Smith’s lush keyboards and muffled beatwork provides a perfect backdrop in which the vocalists can swim, or when Smith largely removes himself for the first half of the haunting “Tides” before coming in with his most pronounced beat of the album. At times it threatens to blow away in the wind, given its lightness of touch. But taking the view that there’s a time and place for most music, Coexist plants The XX firmly in nighttime music territory, and for such times — for sleep, romance, introspection — there’s nearly nothing better to suit the mood.
The Raveonettes – Observator
After spending the better part of a decade producing huge, wall-of-sound, Jesus & Mary Chain-style guitar noise, The Raveonettes continue the scaling back of their sound begun on the darker, unfairly maligned Raven in the Grave on Observator. Though it still eschews the campiness that marked much of The Raveonettes earlier work, Observator is a sunnier affair than Raven, full of sparkling guitarwork and Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo’s twinlike harmonies. The beginning songs on Observator sound like a back-to-basics approach to their sound, Buddy Holly melodies over tinny beats, but the Ride-like rush of “Sinking With the Sun” and lovelorn single “She Owns the Street” display an interest in jangle pop, without as much of the shoegaze sheen the band used to coat their songs with. This is a more melody-focused rendition of The Raveonettes’ sound, and thus its emotional quality comes through more clearly. Observator’s noise-flecked pop in songs like the glorious closer “Till the End” relay a lonely sense of wonderment, like staring at the stars alone.
Also released today:
David Byrne & St. Vincent – Love This Giant
An old art school meets new art school dream collaboration comes to us from David Byrne and St. Vincent’s Love This Giant, which plays to the strengths of both artists with a dynamic, eclectic sound, immaculate production and deft arrangement. The Byrne-led “Who” calls to mind classic Byrne/Talking Heads with its quizzical delivery, while “Weekend in the Dust” makes St. Vincent’s Annie Clark into a worldbeat dance diva. “Dinner for Two” is a sublime duet, nicely interrupted by horn-work that dots the album and holds it together, especially coming into play on the funky pop of “The One Who Broke Your Heart,” featuring Antibalas and The Dap-Kings. “I Am an Ape” and “I Should Watch TV” find Byrne at his most satirical, while Clark shines on “Optimist,” one of her sweetest vocal performances to date. Some of the album’s middle tracks mesh Byrne’s and Clark’s styles so well, such as the clockwork sound of “Lazarus,” that a future collaboration to see how these two could get into even more interesting territory seems like a sure thing — at least we can hope, because Love This Giant already is a slyly rewarding gift from two artists, one over many years and one in just a short time, who have given us plenty already.
Calexico – Algiers
Calexico’s noir folk sound grows even more majestic on Algiers. The band’s eighth album finds them as confident in their sound as they’ve ever been, becoming more soulful, more embracing on tracks like opener “Epic,” which balances warm verses with a darker chorus. In particular, Joey Burns’ and Jacob Valenzuela’s vocals mesh beautifully on the propulsive “Splitter,” and Burns carries “Sinner in the Sea” through its spooky, spiritual setting of sparkling piano and minor-key guitar, suggesting the New Orleans setting the band has said helped inspire the record. Calexico have often evoked various times and places, namely the desert setting of their namesake, and Algiers can’t help but feel like the work of a band at some mysterious port-town dive, whether that be in New Orleans, Algiers or any number of Spanish-speaking cities, calling out Santo Domingo and strumming Spanish guitar in “Puerto” and going back to their mariachi-inspired roots on the Spanish-sung “No Te Vayas.” Surprisingly, Calexico’s globe-trotting, more pronounced than ever, holds together and doesn’t feel like dilettantism; rather, it helps not define Algiers by one specific time or place, instead conjuring unspeakable feelings of nostalgia and becoming lost in another culture. Wherever Algiers puts you, you know the feeling.
Bob Dylan - Tempest
Over the opening sounds of steel guitars and a bouncing bass, Bob Dylan’s ever-growlier voice comes in like a train conductor from another time and we’re whisked away to an Amierca of yore in Tempest opener “Duquesne Whistle.” Tempest is classic Dylan, full of his trademark detail and skillful incorporation of various threads of classic American styles. Dylan and his band tunnel through the country blues of “Narrow Way,” as Dylan delivers irresistible lines in his rambling fashion like “It’s a long and narrow road/If I can’t work up to you/You’ll surely have to work down to me some day.” Tempest isn’t all dusky blues, though, as its ballad “Long and Wasted Years” is one of its best, Dylan offering romantic lament (“I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes/there’re secrets in them that I can’t disguise”). Tempest’s strongest moments come in its closing tracks, the immaculately detailed murder ballad “Tin Angel,” hopeful album closer “Roll on John,” and sandwiched between them the title tracks, an already much-discussed near-14 minute tale of the Titanic “sinking into the underworld” (and also, “Leo and his sketchbook”), over a stately mix of country blues and sea shanty, buoyed by transcendent violins that give pause to Dylan’s depiction of tragedy and what it brings out of ordinary people, good and bad. Tempest ends leaving listeners with renewed interest in the complexity of humanity, as the best of Dylan’s work often stokes our desire to know ourselves and others more deeply.
Guano Padano – 2
Along with Calexico’s Algiers, this week has seen a wealth of Western-inspired rock released. Guano Padano are an instrumental three-piece who move from nourish country (“One Man Bank”) to Middle Eastern-inspired surf rock (“Gran Bazaar”) to glitchy jazz (“Lynch”) and just about anywhere else their instruments can take them, incorporating your basic guitar, piano, bass and drums, plus banjo, eerie steel guitar, Chinese instrumentation (“Miss Chan”) and anything else that might seem appropriate while retaining their Spaghetti Western sound. Mike Patton shows up to lend his howling vocals to the dark “Prairie Fire,” and the band turns in a dreamy cover of Santo & Johnny’s “Sleep Walk,” but these moments aren’t even necessary diversions — Guano Padano’s cool, kitschy sound stands on its own, soundtracking imagined, unmade films and allowing the listener to explore their own interpretation or simply bask in the sound.
Amanda Palmer – Theatre is Evil
Amanda Palmer drops some of the theatricality of Dresden Dolls for this synthier, poppier album with backing band The Grand Theft Orchestra.
Saturday was the opening of Victor’s new show, Xacto Mundo, at Overtones Gallery in Venice. I went to the opening party and it was really fun and nostalgic. I saw many old friends from back in the early 90’s from Long Beach & San Pedro, most that I hadn’t seen in a quite some time. After reminiscing about old times with that crew, I looked at that same piece, now framed and on the wall of the gallery. Then it hit me. It made me love the new artwork for Carried To Dust even more.
I took some shots of Victor’s pieces. Unfortunately, my crappy photography skills do not do the artwork justice, so go check it out yourself.
Tracker - Ames (Film Guerrero)
Tracker is, basically, a guy from Portland, OR named John Askew (not to be confused with the DJ of the same name) and whoever he collects around him when he’s ready to record and tour. This was the first album from 1999 and is almost completely played by Askew with some help from friends Adam Selzer (Norfolk & Western) and Erik Herzog (Buellton). I bought it solely on the strength of the album art and the weakness of the price tag. Thus, I was doubly rewarded.
In a number of ways there are similarities to the dynamics of Jason Molina’s Songs:Ohia/Magnolia Electric Company projects. Both are the aggregates of a single man’s songwriting and organizational vision. Both have an undeniably roots Americana base, but with a lot of layering, whether it’s voices, samples of classical music or electronic textures hazing around simple plucked banjo lines. Like Molina, Askew writes extremely strong melodies, and couples them with thoughtful and often mystifying lyrics.
The charm of Ames is due largely to its lack of self-seriousness. Askew lets a breath of ease into his writing and production. “Evan’s Getting It Together” is driven with some lazy and seemingly living-room recorded handclaps that work perfectly to prove that, as beautiful and lush as the songs here sometimes get, they are being played by some guys who are just trying to make some cool songs that get into your head. In fact, some of the song transitions (and there is a lot of ambient connective tissue) remind me of the great also-overlooked Purple Blue by Eric’s Trip, another group of dudes (and a dudette) who were just trying to make some cool songs.