The February Fix

#1 Meat Wave — The Incessant

In line with the no-nonsense approach of this album, I’ll get straight into talking about it. It starts with the singer’s monotonic ‘to be swayed’ followed by a standard post-punk dum-dum-dish-dum-|-dum-dum-dish-dum beat. From that point on, the album pauses for zero breaths, dishing out dose after dose of bracing post-punk. This no-holds-barred intensity makes this album an exemplar of the genre.

Now for some context. The Incessant is a Steve Albini-engineered album by a band clamouring about a very adult angst — the sort that is builds up within until it gushes out, only to start building up again. I won’t dwell much on the lead singer’s recent breakup of a long-term relationship forming a reference point for the album, because his focus is more on the Incessant itself than its source. A lot of the universality of the album comes from this focus on what it feels like when ‘[the] payment’s due, the feeling’s moved, [and] anxious doom [is] coming for you.

While this is a feeling most of us have (some more often than others), an entire album about it has the potential to be a double-shot of depresso. The Incessant, though, is quite the opposite. It is as relentlessly cathartic as it is furious. It is the sound of someone fighting the darkness to some day see the light. While most of the album seems to talk about a terrible time, there is an inherent acknowledgment that terrible times end, and that this cessation is worthy of celebration. As the final track, Killing the Incessant, says, ‘here’s to killing The Incessant / I don’t need it / here’s to killing The Incessant / it’s defeated.’

#2 The Other People Place — Lifestyles of the Laptop Café

Maybe this is cheating, since this album originally came out in 2001, not 2017, but I had never heard it before, and it was re-issued in 2017, and most importantly, it’s a great album, so I’m going to excuse myself. Getting to the point, Lifestyles of the Laptop Café is 52-minutes of some of the most sublime minimal electronic music I’ve heard.

My bare-minimum research for this piece indicates this is no surprise, and I’m sort of the last bison at the lake. All sorts of techno and electronic acts have found the same sublimity in this record that I have, and much has already been made about its influence on techno, ambient, and all of electronic music. Plus there’s The fact that this was originally released, and has now been repressed, by Warp, the kings of minimal electronic music. Point is, even the last bison gets to drink the sweet sweet water of this lake, and if there are more of you bisons out there, I would fervently recommend you give this album a spin.

iTunes link

#3 Blanck Mass — World Eater

Sacred Bones Records has put out some fascinating records. There’s a couple of albums by Föllakzoid in there, Pharmakon, David Lynch, and just this year, Uniform’s Wake in Fright. Their latest release, Blanck Mass’s World Eater, is more than fascinating. Over the 48-minute runtime of the album, Benjamin John Power — who is also 1/2 of F*** Buttons — manages to put together a highly engaging electronic assault. 

It’s an assault that is hard to describe. World Eater is equal parts dissonant and melodic, abrasive and transcendental, fast-paced and still. That the album switches so effortlessly between extremes in emotion and style of musical expression makes it so difficult to relay the experience of listening to it without resorting to hyperbole. The closest I can come to describing the experience, and the setting in which I believe it will be best enjoyed, is the feeling of running through city streets late at night, while pausing occasionally to survey the surroundings of skyscrapers, cars, trees, bars, clubs, and total strangers. This is not to say that the music is inaccessible in any way. Most of it is head-bopping brilliance that will reward most types of electronic music listeners.

#4 Thundercat — Drunk

Thundercat is a soul/funk bassist who has worked with a tonne of artists and bands apart from putting out a bunch of albums as a solo artist. To give you an idea of what ‘a tonne’ means, he, on the one hand, has worked with rap superhero Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, and on the other, was, for a few years, the bassist of crossover legends Suicidal Tendencies. Basically, it’s fair to say this was a ‘hype’ release for many.

And it’s a pretty solid album too. One I would definitely recommend listening to. I love that the songs are short and crisp. The production is interesting: a lot of reverb, a lot of bass, a lot of groove. The vocals, mostly in falsetto, complement the instrumental tracks brilliantly. And there’s a Kendrick feat in there, so there’s also that, although I wasn’t a big fan of that particular track (gasp!). If you want a soulful night-loungey sort of album, this is a safe bet. But it isn’t the earth-shatterer I thought it could have been.

iTunes link

#5 Ed Dowie — The Uncle Sold

Like most experimental pop, Ed Dowie’s Uncle Sold seems like the sort of album that takes its time to grow on you. I’ve spent over a month with it, and it has kinda-sorta grown on me. Most of the tracks are slow, soft and often a mix of drones and piano, with Ed Dowie singing, sometimes chanting over them. This combination makes the album sound like a collection of sombre lullabies.

I liked this album, but it can tend to seem monotonous to some. While the experience of listening to the whole album from start to finish is good, I struggle to think of a single moment that really stuck out. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen, one that I will whole-heartedly recommend, especially as a pre-naptime listen. If you still do naps, that is.

Other stuff

Every single thing Leonard Cohen (RIP) touched.

The January Fix

#1 Throwing Snow — Embers

I am automatically sceptical of concept albums. To me, they often come across as ham-fisted and gimmicky. Embers, my favourite January album, is a kinda-sorta concept album that avoids this trap. Its central concept — the abundance of cycles in nature — is a constant but subtle presence, right from the cover of the album to its structure. This concept transforms what is already a bunch of solid electronic tracks into a solid album.

The album starts with the sound of a rural fire, placing us in front of a source of heat and light in the dark wilderness. Throughout the album, chirps and clicks reinforce this setting. It’s an odd setting for dance music, but on Embers, it works to create a uniquely organic backdrop.

What unravels against this backdrop is a uniquely organic brand of electronic music that oscillates between warm and cold, dark and light, upbeat and downbeat. A few songs into the album, a pattern forms. A motif is introduced, and subsequently broken down until it collapses into a dull hum. From this, another motif rises, crescendoes, and collapses into a dull hum of its own. And on and on it goes.

Right from the outset, it is clear that Embers is an album-lover’s album. The buildups are slow, the transitions are seamless, and the sound covers a lot of ground — from nocturnal house music, to drone-y ambient music, to wibble-wobble IDM. Most importantly, the music is consistently catchy, meaning the album always feels significantly shorter than its hour-long runtime. In keeping with its theme of cyclicality, the album ends like it starts: with the sound of a crackling rural fire. It’s the perfect way to end an album that’s intended to be looped, and is good enough to warrant it.

#2 Cloud Nothings — Life Without Sound

My first Cloud Nothings album was Attack on Memory, whose singles — Stay Useless, and No Future/No Past — I loved. The album? Not as much. The album itself was a massive hipster hit, with a whole bunch of online superstar reviewers praising the band’s shift from poppy punk to edgy post-hardcore. I, of course, never knew a poppy Cloud Nothings. To me, Attack on Memory, and its followup Here and Nowhere Else, sounded a lot more wallow-y than edgy.

Life Without Sound, the third Cloud Nothings record I have heard, is my favourite by them. Firstly, the depresso is dialled down quite a few notches, a decision that gets my thumbs-up. Secondly, I think the music is just flat-out more interesting. ‘Catchy’ is a word I find myself using a lot these days, and this album not only has a whole bunch of catchy songs, but also is just catchy overall.

I have never been a huge fan of the lyrics of Cloud Nothings’ songs, which often come off as drenched in self-pity. While that isn’t as much of a problem in this record, I continue to tune out most of the lyrics. That said, I would recommend this album to fans of pop-punk and post-hardcore. It’s a good, straightforward, and mostly enjoyable experience.

#3 Neil Cicierega — Mouth Moods

The only fair way to describe Mouth Moods, and the two previous Niel Cicierega albums — Mouth Silence and Mouth Sounds — is post-pop mashup comedy. For context, the reference to mouths in all three albums comes from Neil Cicierega’s obsession with Smash Mouth’s All Star, which features prominently in all three albums.

For fans of western pop culture of the nineties and early aughties, this album is a goldmine of oh-I-remember-that. In just the first song, there’s Smash Mouth, of course, there’s Cake, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, MC Hammer, that this-iiis-the-story-of-a-girl song, that Everybody Dance Now song, and that Kung Fu Fighting song. In just in the first song.

This isn’t ground-breaking stuff. And there are several moments when you won’t be able to shake off the image of some dude at his laptop layering song after song on some free music-maker type software. But there are certainly more moments when you’ll find yourself bopping and laughing.

#4 William Basinski — A Shadow in Time

Someone online referred to William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time as an audio sculpture. That sounds about right. More than any other ambient music I’ve heard, William Basinski’s music has a stillness to it. It doesn’t seem to move forward in time so much as it seems to reveal itself upon careful inspection.

This is an album that won’t reveal itself over five listens, but one that will continue to throw surprises on the 100th listen. I sense this is one of those albums that will continue to grow on me.

My 50 Favourite Albums of the Year (Alphabetically Arranged)

A Giant Dog — Pile one of the best versions of slightly angry pop-punk fronted by a woman.
A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service if an album could exceed the unreasonable expectations I had on this one…
Alcest — Kodama i’ve always been curious enough to check each of their releases — this is their best.
Anderson .Paak — Malibu incredible soul/funk/rap/hiphop/r&b/every-genre-ever album.
Aphex Twin — Cheetah this is great electronic music. it’s not just on the list because it’s aphex twin.
Blood Orange — Freetown Sound one of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on this list.
Bob Mould — Patch the Sky a simple rock record by the husker du dude, it’s always over before you know it.
Bon Iver — 22, A Million whatever anyone expected this record to sound like, it sounded different and better.
Cobalt — Slow Forever i didn’t think i could still enjoy simple american metal as a fully grown adult, i can.
D.D.Dumbo — Utopia Defeated pop album of the year probably, extra props for teetering on the edge of world music.
Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition first album on this list on it primarily because of sampling, great stuff.
David Bowie — Blackstar when i first heard blackstar (the song) i didn’t know he was going to die, still sad.
De La Soul — and the Anonymous Nobody… everybody should get one nostalgia pick, this is mine.
Deathspell Omega — The Synarchy of Molten Bones my favourite metal (maybe even overall) album of the year, still peeling layers off.
Deftones — Gore probably my 2nd favourite deftones album after white pony, less metal, more rock.
DJ Shadow — The Mountain Will Fall almost gets a spot only because of the number of times i looped nobody speak.
Driftmachine — Colliding Contours if you prefer getting out of clubs to being inside, this is the album for you.
Equiknoxx — Bird Sound Power my favourite electronic album of the year, this dubby dancehally album is just great.
Factory Floor — 25 25 Some of the most interesting electronic around. tickles my lcd soundsystem bone.
Frank Ocean — Endless and Blonde this is yet another case of an artist exceeding almost hilarious amounts of hype.
Future of the Left — The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left not my favourite album from one of my favourite bands, that said, still gnarly, angry.
Inter Arma — Paradise Gallows great year for metal and relapse, this is sludgy, groovy, psychy on another level.
Israel Vines — Gatekeepers dark electronic people for a dark electronic sort of year.
James Blake — The Colour in Anything the 2nd half is admittedly stronger than the first, but still one of my for-sure top-tens.
Kanye West — The Life of Pablo one of my favourite records of the year, again, primarily because of the sampling.
Kaytranada — 99.9% the best soundtrack to a 3 am spent alone i have heard in a very long time.
Kemper Norton — Toll meditative’ is the new ‘transcendental’, this is the sort of album where the word fits.
Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered. if kendrick lamar puts an album out, it makes it to your year-end list, that’s just math.
Matmos — Ultimate Care II an electronic album made using a washing machine as an instrument, eye-roll, wow.
Motorpsycho — Here Be Monsters swedish prog-rock stalwarts who make the best drift-away prog-rock i have heard.
Nails — You Will Neve Be One Of Us punch-the-walls metal that is guaranteed to make you snap your neck.
NAO — For All We Know the second of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on the list.
Neurosis — Fires Within Fires i don’t know how neurosis keep coming up with relevant diy post-metal.
New Keepers of the Water Towers — Infernal Machine everything you need to know about this album i have already written.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree a glacial record about grappling with grief, my favourite nick cave record.
Nicolas Jaar — Sirens electronic album of the year, i have no idea how music this good is made.
Pantha du Prince — The Triad this is what i think minimal/ambient electronic music is supposed to sound like.
Schammasch — Triangle downside: longer than it needs to be, upside: some of the best bm this year.
ScHoolboy Q — Blank Face immersive, got me rethinking my relationship with gangsta rap, we’re on a break.
Swet Shop Boys — Cashmere this album grows and grows and grows on you. gets in because of sheer catchiness.
Tackle — Benzedrine incredibly dark electronic music done right, word-less stories are told like this.
The Avalanches — Wildflower a lot of chatter about how influential they are, not enough about how good they are.
The Body — No One Deserves Happiness we all feel like shit once in a while, this is that moment in rock album form.
The Dillinger Escape Plan — Dissociation limerent death has to be the best side one track one of the year. also, heaviest.
Tim Hecker — Love Streams close your eyes and follow the patterns on the back of your eyelids to this album.
Trap Them — Crown Feral best metal act in the world releases a pretty solid album, sold.
Ulcerate — Shrines of Paralysis almost liked this album as much as the DSO album. one of the few i’ve looped.
Vektor — Terminal Redux i’m told this is a concept album about spaceships, etc. it’s just good metal to me.
Xiu Xiu — Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin Peaks i have never watched twin peaks, so keep that in mind. one of my favourites, though.
Zao — Zenophobe/Fear Itself i’m cheating, this is a single. but i liked it so much, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it out.