Colin Stetson: New History of Warefare Vol. 3: To See More Light — Well, this is either the end or the beginning for Stetson. Can he take his Philip Glassy cascading solo saxophone arpeggios anywhere beyond what he’s done with these three volumes? Probably—he’s clearly an amazing fellow—but this set feels pretty refined and perfected. Epic, deep, expansive, apocalyptic, emotive… perfection. Time to move on. Perhaps the clue is in the surprisingly fruitful collaborations with Justin Vernon (save perhaps “What Are They Doing In Heaven Today?“). With the right small ensemble, Stetson could wreak some pretty awesome havoc. In the mean time, this is a gorgeous and harrowing post-every-genre release.
4.875 Saxophones of the Apocalypse out of 5 Epic trilogies
Valleys: Are You Gonna Stand There And Talk Weird All Night? — Well, Valleys win the “Best Album Title of the Year” award in my books. Otherwise this is your (above/below/perfectly) average vaguely retro moody, breathy, dreamy, synth-gaze/indie-rock album. Very pleasant, if not a tad gloomy. Sort of like a really bummed-out M83. Nothing is ever quite bold enough to be terrible which means there’s nothing particularly memorable on here either—though it is growing on me pretty hard. The strength of the album is in the mood and atmosphere (David Lynch meets 90210?) which they do quite well. Think of this as soundtrack music for an imaginary Ryan Gosling movie.
4 Teenage dreams out of 5 Neon-lit ’80s nightmares
Hanni El Khatib: Head In The Dirt — Overall a less rough’n'tumble affair than the promising Will The Guns Come Out. A plus is that all the songs boast a full band where a few tracks on the previous album (that should have been balls-out rockers) El Khatib frustratingly performed solo. Unfortunately this full band is headed by Dan Auerbach (of The Black Keys) who’s sort of become the punk blues version of Pat Boone. Every thing is a little too polished and too in-the-pocket without any real danger and ramshackle excitement. The addition of The Beat-esque ska and reggae textures is a refreshing surprise though does make things sound a little bit like new wave revival pop-punk at times (or let’s say Elvis Costello if we want to be more generous). If, like me, you wished Souljacker by The Eels was full of fuzzy three-chord ravers like the title track, Head In The Dirt might be your perfect album. If, like me, you wished Pussy Galore had been El Khatib’s backing band on Will The Guns Come Out, this might not be your album.
3.375 TV soundtrack-ready pop-rock safety nets out of 5 Potentially devastating Blues Explosions
Fear of Men: Early Fragments — Another decent dream-pop/post-punk release in what’s been a half-decade long string of decent dream-pop/post-punk releases. Good stuff. Some pretty strong hooks delivered with some pretty believable passion/disenchantment. Maybe the hooks aren’t quite as big and the passion (and disenchantment) isn’t as deep as you’ll find on records by first-generation UK bands doing this kind of thing (The Sundays, The Smiths, Pale Saints, etc) that have stood the test of time but… well, at this point I’m just a broken record on the subject .
(Derivative = awesome) – (derivative ≠ authentic) + (authentic ≠ awesome) x Everything was better when I was 20 = ???
Simply put, I like this kind of thing a lot (on a not very objective level) and feel pretty comfortable saying if you like this kind of thing just for the sake of it continuing to exist, you probably will like it too. Sigh… I just don’t know anymore.
4.375 (-/+ .25) Young joyless idols out of 5 Rainbow prisms bleeding wax
Life Coach: Alphawaves — I was never able to quite enjoy Phil Manley‘s supposedly “post-rock” ’90s band Trans Am. I put post-rock in quotes because they were not post rock or post anything else. They either sounded like Kraftwerk or Gang of Four or a Frankenstein of the two plus a kitchen sink. Always very “pre” and still very “rock”. I liked their more Krautrock moments but those were never as prevalent as I hoped and the band was just… kind of shitty in my opinion. Like they only got some attention because no one else was doing the retro electronic/new-wave and punk-funk thing quite yet (the indie sound of 2002-04). Anyway, Life Coach is kind of like a good version Trans Am. More properly Krautrock and, ergo, in an ironic twist, more post-rock too. There’s still something a little too tongue-in-cheek about the whole thing in the same way the Logan’s Sanctuary fake OST album was—that oh so ’90s meticulous but ironically-retro instead of reverently-retro approach. So Life Coach falls between a not-as-good Neu and a not-as-good Follakzoid. Not really bad, just maybe not as good as I’d like.
3.25 Hey look it’s retro, that’s funny rights? out of 5 Real deals
No Joy: Wait To Pleasure — In my 2012 list I said about their Negaverse EP: One of the better so-called “nu-gaze” bands returns with another one of the better dream-pop/shoegaze EPs of last the decade or so. Other than the fact it rivals the best work of Slowdive and Black Tambourine, there’s absolutely zero to say about Negaverse.
I could pretty much repeat those words for their second full-length. Perhaps replace Black Tambourine with Cocteau Twins as a reference point as things are bit more shimmery and breezy in spots this time—though enough harsh distortion still shines through as well. Also, despite a knee-jerk desire to do so, I can’t criticize them for aping the sounds of shoegazers past since if they weren’t doing it so well I wouldn’t like them nearly as much as I do.
I will say, however, that the high-pitched vocal hook in “Lunar Phobia” feels like it crosses the line from aping to outright plagiarism. Though I can’t place from what song or who it’s by (it’s an effin’ great song, regardless!). Ultimately, as with even the best shoegaze revival albums, such as this one, it’s only great in the sense that you haven’t played it to death like you have your Slowdive, Ride and MBV records and it adds a little variety to your shoegaze day. But if I lost my copy tomorrow I wouldn’t exactly feel the loss.
4 Shoes out of 5 Gazers