It has almost become common knowledge that if you’re a music fan these days, there’s just a lot of fucking music out there to keep track of. So even for someone like me, who tries to keep a handle on every notable new album coming out, you can’t always spend that much time listening to every little thing that comes out. Furthermore, you can’t always get around to writing about every little thing that comes out.
Since we’re at about the halfway point of 2019, I’ll be offering some shortened reviews of albums that I listened to during the first half of this year, but still haven’t written about. Some of them will be albums I gave a few listens and gave up on, while some will be ones I got pretty into for a while. I’ll be breaking up this mid-year catch-up into two parts, while the first half will mostly comprise of music releases from late winter and into early Spring.
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared
(released January 18)
Deerhunter has always been a band I’ve liked, but have never quite loved. After all, they are very likeable, especially if you’re an indie rock fan, since they seem to consistently embody both the artsier and more accessible aspects of the genre. Much like their last release Fading Frontier, this latest release sees the band leaning into their more accessible side. This is lean, catchy rock with a tinge of more adventurous sonic textures, that I think will satisfy anyone clamoring for a similar sound to the band’s Halcyon Digest days.
Favorite Track: “What Happens To People?”
J-Pop is not a genre I’ve ever really delved into, but I don’t think it’s hard to see the appeal in its sugary sweetness. This album has plenty of that, but delivered with a kind of eclectic, guitar-driven scrappiness that even appeals to a noob like myself. My most distinct memory of listening to this album was going for an early morning jog, and I think any setting in which you want to get your body moving would be the appropriate backdrop for Chai’s Punk. It’s just a peppy little album, ripe for getting you pumped up while also putting a goofy smile on your face if you’re willing to let your cynical guard down.
Favorite Tracks: “Wintime”
Speaking of sub-genres I’m not terribly familiar with, my knowledge of UK hip-hop is basically non-existent (I’m aware that Dizzee Rascal is a thing?). Regardless, Grey Area distills the pleasures of hip-hop into a sleek, boisterous, groovy package, while Little Simz’s dexterity as an MC is more than apparent. Some of the songs are minimalist and badass, while others are a little more soulful. But overall, it’s quick on its feet and much like that Chai album, is a half-hour-ish album that’s pretty accessible, even if it’s not quite something you expected yourself to be listening to.
Favorite Tracks: “Offence”
It’s starting to become apparent that the reason I didn’t get around to reviewing these albums is that they’re a bit out of my musical comfort zone. Americana is a genre that I’ve always been somewhat interested in, it’s just a little hard to know where to start considering it’s not a genre that gets a ton of attention on the internet. Which explains why I had pretty much no prior knowledge of Patty Griffin, despite the fact that she’s been a prominent singer-songwriter since the ’90s (she’s even won a Grammy). You have to imagine that a self-titled album this late into an artist’s career must have some special personal significance, and considering the album came after a cancer-induced hiatus, this album feels just like that. The songs range from dark and brooding to bittersweet, with a simple acoustic-guitar driven production that perfectly compliments Griffin’s powerful voice.
Favorite Tracks: “River”
I’m not even sure why I checked this album out, considering I’ve never been the hugest Danger Mouse fan. He’s certainly collaborated with plenty of talented artists in the past, but his production style has always struck me as a little bland. I suppose I was just interested to hear what Karen O is up to these days, considering she’s been relatively quiet since the last Yeah Yeah Yeah’s album was released in… 2013? Huh. For some reason it felt like it’d been even longer than that since the band had released an album. Anyways, this collaboration between Karen O and Danger Mouse is perfectly enjoyable, it’s just that there are a lot of artists out there exploring the kinds of spacey, synth-pop sounds that are heard here. So I’m not sure that the efforts of these veteran musicians adds much to the genre.
Favorite Tracks: “Woman”
With the emergence of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” as one of the biggest songs of the year, it seems that 2019 was the year outsiders aimed to crash country music’s narrow-minded party. The gay masked cowboy that is Orville Peck not only has an air of intrigue surrounding him due to his fringed headwear, but the songs also contain an echo-laden mystery to them. These are classic road songs in the classic country vein, while Peck’s crooning also has a kind of mid-20th-century charm to it. And yet for all these classic touches, Pony overall manages to sound more “out-of-time” than stuck in the past.
Favorite Tracks: “Winds Change”
Recorded in 1972 and eventually scrapped at the insistence of Motown head Berry Gordy, You’re The Man finally saw a proper release earlier this year. The album was supposed to be the follow up to the groundbreaking What’s Going On, and the songs have a similar politically and socially-driven sound. Which is kind of fascinating to hear, considering Gaye would more or less abandon these themes after he moved into love-makin’ territory with 1973’s Let’s Get It On. On top of that, it’s just a joy to hear some of the best session musicians of the era laying down some funky grooves while one of the greatest singers of the era does his thing. Really the only thing that keeps this from being a long-lost classic are the filler songs tacked on at the end, such as a pair of Christmas songs and alternative versions of songs already featured on the album.
Favorite Tracks: “Where Are We Going?”
There was a time in my life when albums like Morbid Stuff were all I wanted to listen to. Thankfully, I’m pretty sure that time hasn’t completely passed. Loud, catchy, crass, and altogether rockin’, this is just a hell of an anxiety-ridden good time. I mean, where else are you going to find a lyric like “I’ve been navigating my way through the mind-numbing reality of a godless existence. / Which at this point in my hollow and vapid life, has erased what little ambition I’ve got left”? The closest comparison I can think of in regards to PUP is Jeff Rosenstock, as they both seem to embody a kind of off-the-rails pop-punk, informed by the disorientingly bleak times we’re living in. Also, it’s just fun to bob your head and rock out to.
Favorite Tracks: “Kids”
See you in part 2! Probably in a week or so?