#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.
#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.
#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.
Every single thing Leonard Cohen (RIP) touched.