Animal Collective – “Meeting of the Waters”
Animal Collective is that ideal college band; they’re the perfect group through which one can whet their appetite for experimental music. Their range goes from choppy, horrifying live recordings of screams, screeches and cymbal crashes to chilled out, slowed down layers of synthesizers sequenced around each other, soaked in reverb and punctuated with spiraling voices.
Of course, though, Animal Collective isn’t for everyone; what band is? Their most recent release, however, merits a listen from the skeptics and the haters. It breaks the rules of this list slightly by being an EP instead of an album, but “Meeting of the Waters,” in its short, half-hour four track span, is one of the most arresting releases of the last year.
Perhaps the most striking detail of the EP, what one might consider its “gimmick,” is the fact that it was recorded entirely in the Amazon rainforest. A companion Viceland documentary depicts two of the band’s members, Avey Tare (aka David Portner) and Geologist (aka Brian Weitz), lugging field recorders, guitars and sequencers through the forest, arriving at various scenic locations and recording each song.
The EP isn’t as catchy or poppy as some of their more recent releases have tended to be; this definitely feels like a return to form of sorts, an ambient trek down memory lane. The field recordings captured from the rainforest are both haunting and entrancing, creating a perfect, sleepy backdrop to “Blue Noses,” the EP’s dragged out opener. The rainforest’s influence is less present in “Man of Oil,” the best cut from the EP, where Portner’s songwriting and surprisingly vulnerable voice form the basis of the track. “Amazonawana / Anaconda Opportunity” forms a nice sort of ambient border before the closing track, “Selection of a Place (Rio Negro Version),” which appears to be an alternate version of a track that would appear on Avey Tare’s sophomore solo release, “Eucalyptus,” later in the summer. My closing thought is that it’s not Animal Collective’s best release, but it’s a breath of fresh air and is worth a listen if not to just say that you’ve heard “that one EP recorded in the Amazon.”
Gorillas – “Humanz”
Is it cheating to refer to other reviews when giving my own? It almost certainly is, but I need the reader to trust me when I say I have formed my own opinion: I didn’t like it. The reviews are rather positive for the most part, but there’s an unrest under the “good but not great” reviews.
What is it? It, well, it sort of sounds like a scorned fanbase. Damn where have I heard this noise in relation to Gorillaz? Well, now that I think about it, I remember hearing it at the release of 2010’s “Plastic Beach” and 2011’s “The Fall.” When a Gorillaz albums drops — moreso than other “bands” I feel — a cloud of dust is kicked up around it and, in this swirling, chaotic mess of opinions and YouTube comments left in all caps, negativity tends to rise to the top. It’s an odd phenomenon but it stays mostly true that if one directs their attention to the release just a little while later (after the dust has “settled”) the negativity is buried by a layer of dedicated fanboys who’ve persisted and made their voices heard.
Nevertheless, there seems to be a little less of a buzz around “Humanz.” There are plenty of “upon more listens, I actually really like [song],” which is great, but not what I listen to Gorillaz for. I understand that that’s an ignorant thing to say, but hear me out. I think back to the times I first listened to any Gorillaz album. There are plenty of songs on all of these albums that had to grow on me, that I had to listen to a few times before I enjoyed it, but there were also plenty of songs that stuck out instantly. With the exception of the self-titled album and definitely “The Fall,” their albums have been full of songs that catch you immediately, and songs that tend to grow on you. Lots of people like to cite Gorillaz as that band without a “style,” but that’s definitely a motif of theirs: they make catchy songs. “Humanz” lacks these songs that stick out on the first listen; the whole thing dragged by like a bad mixtape for me. It felt more like I was listening to a subpar hip hop album than a Gorillaz album. Songs like “Busted and Blue” and “Charger” carry a bit more weight in my memory than the other tracks for sure, but the rest of them will have to grow on me before I can more definitely decide their worth, and that fact alone sets it below the other Gorillaz albums. Perhaps I was too quick to say I didn’t like it, but I know I’ll never love it.
Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – “30 Seconds to the Decline of Planet Earth”
Mark Kozelek’s newest side project with Jesu is more of the same damn thing, so if you want more of the same damn thing then I highly recommend checking this album out.
I’ll keep it short because there’s too much here to digest all at once, and there’s so much here that I don’t even want to digest. Every Jesu & Sun Kil Moon song follows the same general formula. For the duration of the six to eight minute track, a looping, electronic piece of music plays. These pieces are usually, admitedly, rather good in quality; Jesu is a great producer, though these can begin to get old after hearing them for eight minutes. On top of these “soundscapes,” as they were, Mark Kozelek recites what sounds like drunk poetry. He speaks quickly and almost incohrently, as if he’s afraid he’s being judged on time and won’t be able to get it all out. The spoken word performance he gives is anything but musical or melodic, but he occasionally self-harmonizes for a faux-chorus type thing before jumping right back into the odd prose.
I don’t actively listen to Sun Kil Moon by itself, but listening to Mark Kozelek bitch across this album and the last one may have preemptively turned me off from that music completely.
Okay, okay that’s a little rude; it’s clear at least that where Sun Kil Moon is carefully constructed that Jesu & Sun Kil Moon is far more stream of consciousness.
It shows a lot about Kozelek’s usual thoughts though, his angry, pretentious and unrelenting thoughts. I was at first entranced by the previous release, but his cling to form in this release, another hour of bitching, disappoints me.
It’s clear now that he’s just a bitter asshole, someone who doesn’t care about anything to such a drastic extent that he feels he’s become superior to everyone else. I know if he ever stumbled across this he’d laugh, tear it up and go on his way. Part of me resents that, and another part envies that unbelievable apathy. Is that all it takes?
Great production by Jesu, though.
alt-J – “Relaxer”
I wanted to like this album, and part of me does, really, but a larger part of me doesn’t. “3WW” and “In Cold Blood” gave me a lot of hope for this record, but those two tracks sound so obscenely unlike the rest of the album that it’s unfair, almost. In the tracklist they’re even the first two tracks, in that order, so the unprepared listener (me) thinks he’s in for more tracks like that. Then, “Hit Me Like That Snare” comes on, and the listener is left uncomfortable, as if someone just shined a flashlight directly into their face in the midst of a deep, heavenly sleep. It’s a disgusting track, honestly. I can’t find a single good thing about it, it sounds like alt-J trying as hard as they can to sound nothing like alt-J. They unfortunately bring back the poor sex metaphors too, like I’m reading the carvings in a middle schooler’s desk. It’s an attempt at some stripped down, slow-punk type song, but is truly just an abhorrent assault on the ears. It genuinely ruined the album for me, though some of the following tracks added fuel to the fire.
“Deadcrush” doesn’t help things slow back down to the chill, relaxing album that we were promised with the first two tracks (and the album’s title!), but “Adeline” wipes the bad taste out of the listener’s mouth, at least a little. The damage is done though: the album is uneven and aimless. It varies in tone too little to be called experimental or brave and too much to be considered a succinct album with a clear vision. It’s stuck somewhere in the middle. They clearly wanted to slow things down even more since their last album, but we got something half-baked, half-realized. We got an album stuck in limbo and that’s unfortunate.
I will admit, though, that “3WW” and “Adeline” are amazing tracks in their own rights, and should be enjoyed outside the context of the album when possible.
Lorde – “Melodrama”
I’ll admit I didn’t rabidly listen to this release, nor was I a huge fan of Lorde to begin with, but I liked “Pure Heroine” well enough and I like “Melodrama” a bit better, to be honest. “Green Light” and “Melodrama” had me a little worried for the album; I just wasn’t impressed, and I was afraid the creative undertones that were clearly present in “Pure Heroine” were gone. Looking back, I don’t know why I thought that: they’re solid tracks. I’d implore the reader to not call hypocrisy on me, given the statement I gave on “grow on me” music earlier with Gorillaz; I just expected more from Gorillaz, that’s all. Like I said, I wasn’t a huge fan of Lorde so I may not have even been giving it a full conscious listen.
The return was pleasant, and showed me some tracks that flowered within an album that felt more confident, more self-empowered than anything I’ve heard from her yet. They’re ballads, as are most of the tracks on this album, but “Green Light” is rife with emotion and power, it’s an electrifying track that I couldn’t find myself enjoying upon hearing it a few months back due to some unspoken prejudice. “Liability” seemed even worse to me, being that it dials down the poppy, dancey aesthetic. At the time I thought that this worked against Lorde’s strengths, but now I can hear that she has a knack for the slower, more stripped down sound as well. “Liability” can be a little melodramatic (ha) at times with its lyrics, but it is, for the most part, another solid song.
One need only compare production credits of her two albums to get the idea that her influence was far more felt on her own music in “Melodrama” than in “Pure Heroine.” Perhaps that’s a disingenuous assertion to make, that there were contributions left unmade by her in “Pure Heroine,” an album released under her moniker, but “Melodrama” simply feels more like a solo album. I don’t find myself thinking to the producers of the track, I find myself thinking about Lorde and what she was thinking while writing the song. The album is more focused, more meaningful and — though the production is far more stripped down on this record, an unbalanced emphasis is left on the lyrics that can at times feel slightly hokey — it’s certainly depicting a heading in the right direction for Lorde. I hope to hear more of this individuality from her in the future.
Fleet Foxes – “Crack-Up”
Let’s just get it right out there in the open. “Crack-Up” is a sonic, emotional triumph and is the best release from Fleet Foxes yet. Frontman Robin Pecknold’s hiatus, during which he attended university, obviously didn’t dampen his poetic potential or his musical style. If anything, they were both emboldened.
He comes out of the woodwork in “Crack-Up,” triumphantly singing above every other instrument. That aspect alone is perhaps my favorite part of “Crack-Up,” Pecknold’s self-harmonizing is so much more self-assured up front. “Fleet Foxes” and “Helplessness Blues” showed us he had pipes, but “Crack-Up” reminds us and solidifies that fact, particularly in tracks like “I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar” and “Third of May / Ōdaigahara.”
Back in March, when “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” was released, it clearly set the bar high for a new record. I maintain that it’s the best track on the album, though the other pieces carry their own weight. “Third of May / Ōdaigahara” is special, though, with its distinctive refrain and its blistering