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St. Vincent Announces 'MASSEDUCTION' LP, Drops Second Single "Los Ageless"

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment
st vincent masseduction press image.jpg

"Before we go further, a brief tutorial on the title: It's 'Mass Seduction,' not 'Mass Education,' St. Vincent informed at the start of the mock press conference that announced her forthcoming album on Facebook Live this morning. "You're probably wondering, and the answer is yes, I did toy with calling the record 'Ass Education,' but it seemed to me that was much better suited to be the title of the sequel."

Teased through a series of clever bits co-produced with Carrie Brownstein, Annie Clark's 5th solo record under her holy moniker is due out October 13th via Loma Vista Recordings. (There are more than a few gems in that announcement video if you watch all the way through, including an penalty saving anecdote from her soccer days and something about a giantism fetish.)

With the news comes new song "Los Ageless." Debuted live in Tokyo a few weeks ago, this companion track and bicoastal foil to stunning lead single "New York" dispels any concerns fans may have had with the previous lack of guitar. Wildly distorted, St. Vincent's signature Ernie Ball axe slinks devilishly over an electronic beat more unabashedly dancey that anything she's done before. Lyrically, a liquid chorus of "How can anybody have you and lose you / And not lose their minds?" shows a rare glimpse of vulnerability as the hushed outro "I try to write you a love song but it comes out a lament" explains its origins.

Clark finished her Facebook Live speech with about as straight forward of a conclusion as one could expect: "The record's about love. At its best and at its core, it's about love. That's it. That's all. That is literally the only point. And I do mean literally to mean literally." In the press release she elaborates, “Every record I make has an archetype. Strange Mercy was Housewives on Pills. St. Vincent was Near-Future Cult Leader. MASSEDUCTION is different, it’s pretty first person. You can’t fact-check it, but if you want to know about my life, listen to this record.”

St. Vincent seemingly aims for pop power with the loudly neon rollout backed by production from Jack Antonoff (Bleachers, fun.), who's recently worked with Lorde and Taylor Swift. Notable features include saxophonist Kamasi Washington (John Legend, Kendrick Lamar), singer Jenny Lewis, pianist Thomas Bartlett (The National, Sufjan Stevens), and even vocals from ex and likely lyrical subject Cara Delevingne (credited as Kid Monkey).

Listen to "Los Ageless" below and scroll down to see MASSEDUCTION's cover art, tracklist, and tour dates (which will be "dominatrix at the mental institution kind of bonkers").

MASSEDUCTION

  1. Hang On Me
  2. Pills
  3. Masseduction
  4. Sugarboy
  5. Los Ageless
  6. Happy Birthday, Johnny
  7. Savior
  8. New York
  9. Fear The Future
  10. Young Lover
  11. Dancing with a Ghost
  12. Slow Disco
  13. Smoking Section

Grizzly Bear Detail New LP 'Painted Ruins,' Release "Mourning Sound" Single, Tour Dates

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

"I made a mistake / I should have never tried," opens Ed Droste on Grizzly Bear's "Mourning Sound." Accompanied by the announcement of an extensive tour and their fifth full-length album, Painted Ruins, for which this new track is the second single after "Three Rings," that lamentation is oddly juxtaposed with long-awaited excitement.

"Mourning Sound" is a rollicking exploration of each member's contribution to the whole; Christopher Bear and Chris Taylor's drum and bass steadily guide Droste's croons before Daniel Rossen brings it home with the chorus and some trumpeted electric guitar, all over a steady buzz of synth for a very on-brand level of cohesive complexity.

Their major label debut, Grizzly Bear's Painted Ruins is due out August 18 via RCA Records. Their forthcoming tour kicks off this October, for what will be the band's first shows since performing in support of Bernie Sanders last year. The lack of a Chicago date suggests a future festival appearance.

"Mourning Sound," the album art, tracklist, and tour dates are all below. Enjoy it all while you can, because if the new press photo is any indication, poor Dan seems to be fading off into space at an alarming rate. Either that or the printer started running out of ink.

Painted Ruins

  1. Wasted Acres
  2. Mourning Sound
  3. Four Cypresses
  4. Three Rings
  5. Losing All Sense
  6. Aquarian
  7. Cut-Out
  8. Glass Hillside
  9. Neighbors
  10. Systole
  11. Sky Took Hold

Mac DeMarco Announces New Album 'This Old Dog,' Tour, and Releases First Two Singles

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

Mac is back! Adding to the staggering list of beloved artists returning in 2017, DeMarco and his band will be releasing a new LP titled This Old Dog, due out May 5 via Captured Tracks, and embarking on an international tour lasting at least from March through November.

The gap-tooth goon has always been a gracious giver, and DeMarco has blessed us with not one but TWO singles from his forthcoming record including the title track and "My Old Man." They may be short and sweet, but it seems ol' Mac is already feeling the weight of time; The lovely and lazy tunes delve into staying true to a lover forever and the coming-of-age realization that one has begun to increasingly resemble their own father, respectively.

So click play, revel in the digital ripples on the curious videos below, and check out the This Old Dog's cover art and tour dates underneath that.

Spoon Announces New Album 'Hot Thoughts,' Drops Title Track

Music News, New MusicWeston PaganoComment

The idea of a new Spoon record is a hot thought indeed, and following their top quality 2014 release They Want My Soul, Spoon has returned to "old friends" Matador Records to give us just that.

Due out March 17, the watercolor covered LP Hot Thoughts has a tracklist and title track available now, and, while there are no full tour details yet, they have announced a residency at their hometown SXSW festival in the days leading up to the release as well.

"Hot Thoughts" sees Spoon continue co-production with Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT, Tame Impala) for a jangly yet tight single unafraid to embrace danceability at no expense to rock sensibility. Listen below.

Hot Thoughts:

  1. Hot Thoughts
  2. WhisperI’lllistentohearit
  3. Do I Have to Talk You Into It
  4. First Caress
  5. Pink Up
  6. Can I Sit Next to You
  7. I Ain’t the One
  8. Tear It Down
  9. Shotgun
  10. Us

'22, A Million' and the Dissociation of Bon Iver

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

In observance of Bon Iver’s career catalogue to date, each third can be easily identified through a distinct phase or impression: There was the apocrypha of For Emma, Forever Ago, the prophecy of Bon Iver, Bon Iver, and now the martyrdom that is 22, A Million. While the martyrdom is certainly sensationalistic in some regards, there’s a reason for such nomenclature – following Bon Iver’s 2012 Grammy win for “Best New Artist” and “Best Alternative Album,” Justin Vernon desperately needed (for his own well-being, not for the sake of the masses) to shed the label of “indie god.” In a way, Bon Iver had become exactly what Vernon had feared – a proverbial gateway drug to the world of independent alternative folk rock. So Vernon simply “ended” Bon Iver.

The instantaneous termination of Bon Iver devastated many a self-indulgent millennial hipster, of whom had yearned for an Elliot Smith or Kurt Kobain of their own, and to most, that was Vernon. But being placed on a pedestal of overblown apocrypha and adulation was never a desire of Vernon’s, who sought not to appease the fervent masses that had deified him without his consent. So he disappeared, hiding in plain sight the entire time - five years of runs with the likes of Volcano Choir, The Shouting Matches, (the highly publicized) Kanye West collaborations – but never producing new Bon Iver, outside of a commissioned track for a Zach Braff film (“Heavenly Father”), which Vernon aired his criticism of the process on a handful of occasions.

All the while, self-ascribed Vernon-nites pined for more Bon Iver, but Vernon would assert with great confidence Bon Iver was on hiatus, stating that intense writer’s block and creative stunting had impeded the process of envisioning Bon Iver’s next iteration. Then Eaux Claires came along, rekindling Vernon’s Bon Iver creative kick, presenting two new tracks (“666 ʇ” and “29# Strafford APTS”), and the following year, running through 22, A Million in its entirety.

Thus, indie en masse was aroused by the ensuing prospect of a Bon Iver album release, but at what price? The new tracks and eventual single releases – “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” and “10 d E A T h b R E a s T” – were utterly divisive and dissociative amongst fair-weather Bon Iver listeners, sighting the warbled vocoder effects and reverse percussive sounds alongside emoji-laden song titles as uninspired flourishes. But for the initiated and more familiar of Bon Iver faithful, the meaning of the peculiar track titles and hellish sound sequences were apparent – 22, A Million is the martyrous dissociation of Bon Iver as we know, all the while maintaining every tenant of classic “Bon Iver-dom." There are a myriad of reasons why a devout (with blind faith) Bon Iver disciple would assert that every single song serves as an ahead-of-its-time template that the next wave of industrial folk aficionados will undoubtedly imitate in vain.

22, A Million marks Bon Iver’s most impressionistic work to date, operating almost entirely upon an emotional plane. Songs like “715 – CR∑∑KS” delve into a single location that carries such depth and weight for Vernon that it seems as though there’s an attempt to masque the visceral emotion brought about by Vernon through the intricate (and magnificent) musical composition. Other tracks resemble the attempts at obfuscating emotion through synthetic flourishes, warping a distorted Vernon vocal to almost totally dissociate Eau Claire’s prodigal son, as he only provides the most intense and brief glimpses into Vernon’s past five years with little to no context, tracks like “33 “GOD”” being prime examples – “Staying at the Ace Hotel;” corporate branding, I think not.

Less observant listeners have gone as far as opining the newest iteration of Bon Iver is nothing more than bombast and old hat tricks of the indie trade, but one can only hope that such close-minded dismissal of anything other than For Emma or Bon Iver, Bon Iver will become withered and eventually dismissed within its own right upon a simple careful listen to 22, A Million. Where Vernon’s first two projects dealt primarily with the most outright of narratives in service of emotion and verve, 22, A Million focuses on the atmospheric feeling and synthetic grit to best service the project. While the primary focus of 22, A Million will likely never be revealed, as Vernon has become increasingly reclusive (or at least expressed his desire to do so) throughout the promotional cycle for the record, and tracks like “22 (OVER S∞∞N)” hint at a possible end to Bon Iver – “It might be over soon…” – 22, A Million will serve as the finest dissociation of Justin Vernon from Bon Iver, making it the project’s best work to date, and if things truly will be over soon, Bon Iver’s greatest album ever. 

Frank Ocean Achieves an Opus in 'Endless' and a Triumph in 'Blonde'

Music ReviewEzra CarpenterComment

Regardless of how deftly Frank Ocean has eluded categorizations of his genre and sexuality, he could not escape his context. We all can be considered “products of our time,” but no artist in music has embodied such representation as artfully as Frank Ocean. From an industry perspective, Ocean has fully employed the practices of modern music business through mixtapes, surprise releases, and streaming exclusives; his professional choices are a Sign o’ the Times, as his hero Prince once sang.

But in an age of immediacy and artificiality, where modernity has rid us of the most organic components of creating art, Ocean chose to release the visual album Endless – a forty-five minute music video of three Frank Oceans constructing a staircase – to remind us of the protracted toils of creating… anything. Moreover, a five day stream of the carpentry featured in Endless preceded the album’s release. Was Ocean objecting to the contemporary culture of immediate music exchange with such a drawn out exhibition on long-winded process of creativity? Could he even protest such a thing when he himself owes nearly all of his fame and fortune to the internet? Was Ocean positing himself as an anti-generational spokesperson? No matter how long four years may have seemed, the album which broke Ocean’s hiatus forced fans to check themselves and question their impatient anticipation, and did so in a stroke of genius.

Endless is a unique multi-media presentation posing daunting, yet romantic, realist dilemmas. Time seems to be the obvious overarching subject of Endless. Its songs also explore love and hubris, but the visual platform of the album forces one to consider the focal points of Ocean’s lyrical matter in relation to the meaning behind his staircase construction. The best and most eloquent example of this is in the song “Wither,” in the line: “Pray [our children] get to see me wither.” The song’s minimalist instrumental brings the vocals to the forefront along with an earnest contemplation of the finite nature of life. The double entendre “see me wither [with her]” offers both a hope for long life and a desperate desire to share it with loved ones. While love forms the song’s thematic preoccupation, it ultimately becomes secondary to the protagonist’s worry of losing those he loves.

The production on Endless is highly experimental and quintessentially contemporary. Ocean incorporates rap vocal deliveries in the mode of Young Thug with highly electronic instrumentals and rapid-fire trap-style percussions. Ocean’s rap verses show a significant improvement from the verses previously released on his Tumblr. He demonstrates a greater command of cadence with bars that are less dense than previous and are more carefully spaced. A majority of the album is electronic, harkening to the style change made by Radiohead between 1997’s OK Computer and 2000’s Kid A. Ocean himself is undoubtedly influenced by the band, having incorporated Radiohead’s “Optimistic” (Kid A) as an interlude on his mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA and covering “Fake Plastic Trees” from Radiohead’s The Bends (1997) during his 2012 live campaign. Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood even contributes string orchestration to the album’s opener. The stylistic transition towards the experimental alternative-electronic is a sign of maturation for Ocean who previously deferred to samples to obtain such an aesthetic.

But while Endless ventures into experimental territory, it retains the accessibility of Ocean’s singer-songwriting appeal. The album opens with a cover of the Isley Brothers’ “Let Me Know” (made famous by Aaliyah) accented with the dreaminess of Greenwood’s string orchestration. “Comme Des Garcons” and “Slide on Me” are enticingly catchy with their ascending melody and call-and-response chorus, respectively. Between the album’s most experimental tracks are minimalist R&B songs that highlight Ocean’s potent songwriting ability. Standout consecutive tracks “Rushes” and “Rushes To” evoke Bon Iver-esque composition with sparse guitar backing and alternatingly spaced and overlapping vocals. “Rushes To” offers Ocean signing at his most passionate, straining himself with exhaustive effort as he belts the closing lines of the song.

The lasting impression made by Endless is the balance between Ocean’s minimalist composition and the abstract free verse communicated through an ethereal electronic palate. He forces us to accept the new with the old, which creates a conundrum for fans who may not be able to access the album’s experimentalism. Creatively, Endless is an opus which refocuses our awareness of our humanity through an ode to love, loneliness, and desire. It is in one sense, however, a detriment to the artist.

A day after the release of Endless, Ocean released a proper LP entitled Blonde, a more accessible album which absolves Ocean of the predicament of profitability. The album opens with the luscious “Nikes,” a dizzyingly atmospheric track featuring pitch-altered rap verses which carry over the abstract content of Endless. The song transitions into a more nimble instrumental of acoustic guitar plucking layered with soaring synths. Aesthetic seems to be song’s focus. The “Nikes” music video features Frank surrounded by cars sipping the contents of a Styrofoam cup, suggestive of some codeine-infused drink. It is the perfect visual for a song that perfects the disorienting and droning hip-hop production made popular by A$AP Rocky.

The ensuing song is one that Ocean performed during his 2013 California Live, You’re Not Dead Tour. On “Ivy,” Ocean sings about a love fallen apart, the nostalgia of a blooming friendship, and the disconnect between estranged lovers. The song’s pitch-altered vocals detract from the sincerity of its beautiful lyrics, effectively conveyed through Ocean’s live performances of it. Over the high reverb of dream-pop guitars, “Ivy’s” lyrical substance seems cheapened by the artificiality of the song’s production. Ocean appears to compensate for this creatively at the song’s outro with sounds of instruments thrown around a room in the distance, accentuating the frustration expressed in the lyrics. But the mere seconds in which this frustration manifests doesn’t recompense the botching of what would have been a beautiful and endearing song.

Blonde is consistently minimalist in its instrumental arrangement. Simplistic, yet catchy, piano and Rhodes melodies on “Pink + White” and “Solo,” respectively, yield some of Ocean’s most sing-along moments. Harmonies contributed by Beyoncé featured on “Pink + White” hilariously distract listeners from the song’s message of futility.

Several songs overtly borrow lyrical elements from Ocean’s influences, the most obvious being “Close to You,” which draws both its title and chorus melody from the Carpenters’ single of the same name. “White Ferrari” borrows from The Beatles’ Revolver (1966) hit “Here, There, and Everywhere;” Ocean singing the line “Spending each day of the year” in the melody originated by Paul McCartney. In these two songs, Ocean draws from two of the most iconic and commercialized pop acts in music history. It is no wonder then that Blonde’s appeal reaches a much broader audience than Endless.

But Blonde’s accessibility doesn’t diminish Ocean’s potency as a songwriter. The album’s most heart-rending single “Seigfried” tells of a man struggling to find his fit in the world. Also performed on the California Live Tour, “Seigfried” retains the minimalist arrangement featured in its live performance, again bringing Ocean’s vocals and lyrics to the forefront. Lyrical gems “I’m living in an idea / An idea from another man’s mind” effectively invokes feelings of displacement while the closing lines of “I’d do anything for you / (In the dark)” deliver a potent sense of desperation.

Ocean makes references to several real-life friends of his across the album, giving Blonde a deeply personal and seemingly autobiographical feel. The album closes with recordings of his friends interviewed in low fidelity while a dancing synth melody creates a sense of nostalgia. Questions asked in this recording, such as “How far is a light year?” remind listeners of the simple joy of sharing the company of childhood friends. This substance found in these interview tapes is not found in the exchange of dialogue, but rather, the realization of time passed between good friends, understood in the youthfulness of their voices.

Though the dual-release of Endless and Blonde consequentially forces the two to be compared against each other – a comparison in which Blonde loses creatively but wins with fans – Ocean’s choice to release two separate albums simultaneously is remarkably brave. As we began when he first revealed his queer sexuality, we may continue to know Ocean for his courage. We have all the reason to believe in his creative direction; so far, he has yet to miss a step doing things his way.

Peter Bjorn and John Reach Peak Pop Polish on 'Breakin' Point'

Music ReviewWeston PaganoComment

The wait for this one was so long we're not young folks anymore. Everyone’s favorite Swedish indie pop trio, Peter Bjorn and John, had been taunting fans with #PBJ7 social posts for much of the five years since Gimme Some gave us 300% of a normal thumbs-up in 2011, before finally releasing their 7th LP, Breakin’ Point, today. Delayed by growing families and a label shift as the band left Sony imprint Startime for their own Stockholm startup, INGRID, the wait has turned out, of course, to be worth it.

Breakin’ Point launches straight into things; you can already picture audiences clapping along as disco-tinged lament of working for The Man, ”Dominos,” sets off the "chain reaction" that launches into 12 tightly-packed tracks, all clocking in at 3:something or less (even “A Long Goodbye" doesn't reach four minutes) as if the triple-headed hammer on the cover itself cranked them out.

“It says, ‘We’re back! We’re smashing it!’” bassist Björn Yttling explains of the album art, which consists of, per tradition, three parts - one for each member. It's the affable Swedes’ most cartoonish and playful offering yet, which says a lot for the trio that gave us the undeniable whistler “Young Folks" among others, but their pop sensitivities, as radio-ready as they increasingly are for better or worse, lose little in the ways of heart. It needs to be “like ABBA,” Yttling says, and it’s clear they take the inspiration of their compatriots seriously; PB&J recorded Breakin’ Point in studios formerly used by ABBA, and have even jokingly claimed to be the classic group’s illegitimate sons.

PB&J first explored using outside producers on Gimme Some, but they’ve enlisted an entire star-studded roster of them this time around, including Paul Epworth (Paul McCartney, U2, Florence And The Machine), Patrick Berger (Robyn, Icona Pop), Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia), Emile Haynie (Kanye West, FKA Twigs), Pontus Winnberg (Miike Snow) and Thom Monahan (Wild Nothing, Devendra Banhart). The band explored several evolutions following their well-deserved Writer’s Block breakthrough from Seaside Rock’s instrumentals, Living Thing’s minimalist electro-funk, and Gimme Some’s amped up guitar-driven power dynamics, and the newfound influence of big pop producers doesn’t go unfelt here as Breakin’ Point instead reaches for peak accessibility and polish.

Long-term fans will attest it was PB&J’s endearing quirks that kept them around after some fantastic sync licensing first propelled their 2006 ubiquitous flagship tune to the world stage, however - the beautifully poignant epic of “Up Against The Wall,” the captivatingly juxtaposed aggression of “Lay It Down," the viciously enthralling hook of ”Amsterdam” (which has been this author’s ringtone for as long as he can remember) - and Breakin’ Point lacks any adventurous, next-level standout in that way, resulting in their most consistently medium tempo, homogenous effort in years.

That being said, PB&J do however succeed at what they (safely) do attempt; the frantic skitter and plink of “What You Talking About?” proves they still know exactly what they’re saying, and they're slick while they do it. Their iconic, cheerful whistling notably returns in the title track and “Nostalgic Intellect,” (which “may seem like bigger news than it is, hey its only whistling,” the press release notes), with the former bolstering Peter Morén’s soaring vocals as they present a vulnerably honest attempt at finding courage for newfound fatherhood: “I saw it in Jesus / Saw it in Superman / Got it from whiskey / Like any loser can.”

Do Si Do” drops a Beatles reference on its way to the dancefloor, while “Between The Lines” aptly concludes “It's hard to sing if your hearts not there.” The punchy cowbell in album highlight and closer “Pretty Dumb Pretty Lame” is far from either of those things as PB&J address the triviality and tension found in their own profession: “Well you complain in the press / You’ve been under a stress / Well every nine-to-fiver is stressed out for less / If you enjoy what you do / Don’t let it ruin you.” These glimpses of true self-awareness are a precious commodity in today’s pop, and it’s exactly that and their genuinely disarming disposition that has always set them apart from their pop rock peers, even at their most formulaic.

“There are very few songs in our collection that are positive. I can’t think of one,” Yttling admits, which may surprise casual listeners. “It's always been about the blues. Life is shit, but tonight is nice – that’s what pop is, especially the songs that we love. You wanna have some darkness to be able to see the light. That’s how we do it up here in Sweden! It’s like a black and white movie if you look out: snow and a black mass of darkness.” It’s may not always reach the depth of past works, but Breaking’ Point does its part to make that darkness abate, even if for only 41 minutes.


Read our full-length interview with Peter Bjorn and John here.

Robert Ellis Gets Surreal on Self-Titled Third LP, 'Robert Ellis'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

June 3, 2016 is one of the year’s most saturated release dates so far; a conflicting conundrum for those who look to listen to any of the exceptional (and not so - sorry Train) releases: Paul Simon, The Strokes, Whitney, Michael Kiwanuka, Tegan and Sara, The Kills, William Tyler all on the same day. One such artist whose newest release deserves the attention and praise his excellent album would garner on any less release-heavy date is none other than Brooklyn-by-Nashville-by-Austin songwriter Robert Ellis.

Much like his revolving door of homesteads, Ellis is not confined by a singular genre – though it could be argued all roads lead back to country music in one way or another – as he mixes strains of jazz, pop, and western music into dulcet guitar sounds layered over his wavering country timbre that resembles a surrealist Willie Nelson. Despite the country tonalities in his music, Ellis’ third full-length record, Robert Ellis, explores musical avenues that past efforts Photographs (2011) and The Light From the Chemical Plant (2014) chose not to venture upon.

His newest, eponymous effort opens with “Perfect Strangers,” a song exploring the inter-relational dynamics (or lack there of) of busy New York City sidewalks and subways, inevitably influence by Ellis’ fairly recent move to Gotham. The song features playful pop piano (a far cry from the saloon style player pianos of The Light From the Chemical Plant), which coincides wonderfully with Ellis’ cheeky lyrical observations – “On a crowded city sidewalk buying hotdogs / Standing awkwardly together” and “Because everything looks better in low lighting” – with the occasional country slide guitar creeping into the song.   

Not to undermine the emotional depth of Ellis’ previous two full length releases, but there’s an intelligible sense of remorse and yearning on Robert Ellis that feels considerably more connective than on The Lights from the Chemical Plant (let’s take a moment to appreciate just how excellent that album title is). “How I Love You” and “California” explore two opposite ends of the relational spectrum – “How I Love You” acting as the vibrant ode to a lover, and “California” chronicling an underappreciated lover tempted to trek to the west coast. The composition on “California” is an interesting combination of Ellis’ excellent jazz guitar work melded with sentimental lounge keyboards with intermittent hyper-produced tones and 808s – a new territory for Ellis that ultimately makes “California” one of his largest and most evocative tracks to date.

There’s a dichotomy between “California” and it succeeding track, “Amanda Jane,” a story of commitment built over a country-tango, and all of a sudden, we’re in “classic” Robert Ellis territory. The narrative of multiple men trying to “fix” the mysterious Amanda Jane combined with the nylon string meandering and lush slide guitar licks make “Amanda Jane” an early favorite on Robert Ellis. The next few tracks on the album return to Ellis’ Nashville-by-Austin roots with the classic country honky-tonk beat of the apathetic anthem “Drivin,’” into the western ballad that is “The High Road” – a falsetto laden lament of indifference and morality (and my personal favorite), featuring heavy orchestral composition that packs a fun wallop of self-loathing - before jumping into “Elephant,” an allegorical parallel to isolationism that revolves around the popular (and tired) Pachyderm turn of phrase. Despite the initially cliché lyrical basis, Ellis manages to present the idea in a tone that is wholly more intelligent than most. Then there’s the fact that Ellis’ finger picking is second to none on all three tracks – Ellis is often left out of most modern guitarist debates, which is more than a crying shame – which is Ellis’ strongest security blanket while exploring different lyrical approaches and unfamiliar tonalities.

In Ellis’ quest to find different sounds on Robert Ellis, “You’re Not the One” serves as his rock orchestra, with abounding strings integrated with the country-fantasm keys and guitar. In certain portions, the emotional emphasis gets a little muddled – is Ellis letting go of a current lover or opining on a former lover whose memory persists – either way, the robust composition makes “You’re Not the One” Ellis’ most inspired effort on his eponymous record. All that to be said, “You’re Not the One’s” intrepid approach is almost subverted by the totally departure from anything expected from Ellis’ catalog, as “Screw” sees Ellis go sans-vocals in order to create a Sufjan-meets-Reznor soundscape of pensive and conflicting guitar tones that warp and entangle an emotionally vibrant record.

Following the equally confusing and exciting “Screw,” Ellis returns to the same playful nature that he began to establish in the early third of the album on “Couples Skate” – a silly setting for an endearing narrative of love and relational engagement – it’s a little cheesy, but clever enough to be the perfect “first date” montage song for any rom-com or three camera sitcom you can think of.

Robert Ellis closes with “It’s Not Ok,” the album’s longest and most speculative and demure track, as Ellis reiterates and extends the ideals presented in “The High Road” and “You’re Not the One” but are entirely more visceral when you realize Ellis is putting none other than himself on blast – “It's not ok that I hide in the words of a song.” It’s the final stoic anthem of a mysterious and alluring personality in music, as Robert Ellis manages to take an artist many had pegged as a “new school of old school country” a la Sturgill Simpson, Margo Price, or Nikki Lane and fully turn such a notion upon its head. While Ellis doesn’t necessarily establish a fully realized narrative or sonic heading on Robert Ellis, he does manage to extend his staying power as a musically mercurial artist with a definitive approach and sensibility. Where many would likely prefer for Ellis to try and solidify his standing as a stalwart of “new” country, you can’t help but admire the strong work Ellis puts forward on Robert Ellis to maintain his own surreal path, away from whatever is considered “en vogue.” 

Whitney Shuns Buzz Band Banality on 'Light Upon the Lake'

Music ReviewSean McHughComment

No band in the history of everything has managed to avoid “death” in the sense that all bands – from The Beatles to your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group – break up for one reason or another, with varying degrees of adversity and dramaticism. Obviously, The Beatles disbanded in 1970, but weren’t “definitively” broken up until Mark David Chapman read Catcher in the Rye in December of 1980, and as far your favorite local proto-punk-neo-folk-soul group is concerned, their drummer Keith was promoted to the late shift manager at Starbucks, so he won’t be able to practice most evenings, and proto-punk-neo-folk-soul drummers are at a premium in Des Moines. But silly comparisons aside, band breakups are rarely ever a joyous occurrence – tensions run high, bridges are burned, and once-hopeful fans are left with a finite discography.

So, when a particularly “buzzy” band such as Smith Westerns calls it a quits, the resulting career uncertainty for the former members can become increasingly unsettling to the devout follower. Fortunately, the legacy that follows Smith Westerns’ end looks to be far more promising than whatever outlook the original group may have had. Former front-man Cullen Omori made his way over to Sub Pop and released his solid solo debut with New Misery in March, and now, former Smith Westerns drummer Julien Ehrlich (who also had a stint in Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and guitarist Max Kackacek have banded together to form Whitney, and release a wonderfully jangly 70s-revival debut record, Light Upon the Lake.

Light Upon the Lake begins with a stellar album opener in “No Woman,” a seemingly mawkish entrance that meanders aimlessly as Ehrlich’s soft-cooing vocals opine about waking up in Los Angeles and experiencing an indefinite and tiresome change. Kackacek’s deceptively smooth '70s Martin-esque riffs eventually lead the track in a decidedly more confident direction, with a cacophony of horns closing out the introductory track. The succeeding tracks on Light Upon the Lake see an uptick in tone and vibrancy as “The Falls” feels like a mix of Vulfpeck percussive piano playful nudging Ehrlich’s lyrical musings on losing control, leading into “Golden Days,” the wax poetic (and indie rock right of passage) chronicling of some relationship passed (can’t help but think there might be some Smith Westerns undertones) – “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now.”

Where many might try and incorporate aspects of past projects into their current one, Whitney does a fantastic of presenting a definite tone and substantive grip of who Whitney is, namely in the band’s consistent use of horns, bouncing piano, and clean Martin riffs deftly maneuvered by Kackacek – especially on the album’s eponymous standout, “Light Upon the Lake.” The overall feel of Light Upon the Lake could be likened to The Band meets UMO with flecks of Vulfpeck and Blake Mills – in short, its wholly unique. The album features a number of punk sensibilities when it comes to lyrical verisimilitude and general brevity – the three song stretch of “No Matter Where I Go,” “On My Own,” and “Red Moon” runs a whopping 5:38 – with “On My Own” into “Red Moon” being the most impressive track pairing of the bunch, primarily for the excellent showcasing of horns mixed with Kackacek’s ever-tasteful licks. All in all, the two strongest aspects of Light Upon the Lake are Kackacek’s guitar expertise and the incorporation of harmonious brass work – making the record distinctly modern but also managing to hearken back to a softer time in rock music.

Light On the Lake closes out as sweetly and satisfyingly as it opened, with the uber-funk fuzz of “Polly” marking it as best track on the album, a soft cooing-ballad that has features undertones of disenchanted realism under the guise of happy rhythms and horns. The album closes with “Follow” - the sonic sibling of “Polly” – setting Light On the Lake’s with as positive an outlook as any debut featuring lyrics like “I know I’ll hear the call any time…” that lend credence to the visionary nature of Light On the Lake as a whole. “Follow” allows the record to help establish Whitney as more than just another buzz band, but rather a supremely melancholic (but not miserable) introduction steeped with perspective that maintains an ultimately warm purview of the band’s future. Expect to see Light Upon the Lake on many a "year end" list, including Transverso's, as the record exemplifies the ideal dulcet tones of an indie band debut.  

The Avalanches Announce New Album, Release First Track in 16 Years, "Frankie Sinatra"

Music News, New MusicAndy TabelingComment

As we approach the 16th anniversary of The Avalanches’ classic debut Since I Left You, the Australian group has finally announced the release date of their impending second album, Wildflower, on Zane Lowe’s Beats 1 show. The record will be released on July 8 via XL Recordings and features a slew of collaborators including Father John Misty, Toro y Moi and Biz Markie. Along with the announcement and the group’s first major interview since falling off the map after Since I Left You’s release, the group also dropped the first single, the delightful “Frankie Sinatra,” complete with a hallucinogenic music video.  

The track, built around a sample from Wilmoth Houdini's “Bobby Sox Idol,” is a bit less dense and layered than some of the debut records’ more famous jams. Instead, the focus is put on the two featured MCs: Danny Brown and MF Doom. Brown especially delivers two spirited, humorous verses that flows effortlessly over the quirky, strange beat. If this first sample is an indication of the group’s direction on Wildflower, we’re in for a treat.