July’s shopping bag: a screaming punk, a soulful hunk, and three chillwavers trying not to flunk.
FUCKED UP – David Comes To Life
Shatteringly loud-but-brilliantly mixed avant-punk that’s stuffed with so many brightly melodic possibilities it’s hard to figure why this record’s filed under hardcore…until the singer woofs all over the proceedings. Fucked Up is Damian Abraham’s band, so no one’s gonna tell him off. But the disconnect between the music and the voice is ridiculous. The omnipresent, bellicose screaming – a technical achievement, to be sure – obscures the high-minded lyrics. The 78-minute run-time borders on masochistic. Some get off on a wall of roar. Not me.
RAPHAEL SAADIQ – Stone Rollin’
In his enthusiasm nay drive to emulate some of soul’s great multitaskers – men who wrote, sang, played and produced their own records (Stevie, Marvin, Smoke, Sly), he’s playing in awfully deep water. Pleasant but not especially inspired pastiche, the sound is better than the songs, which too often try getting by on predictable melodic phrases and a crippling disregard for middle eights. He’s painted his vocals into a corner, too: gasping out short, punchy phrases like an elementary schooler slapping at a tether ball. It takes moxie to take on a decades-old genre stuffed with songs that survived the cull of time to become cultural standards. Sharon Jones faces the same challenge, and gets across more authentically. I love soul, and Saadiq’s got it, but maybe he should enquire into whether Holland-Dozier-Holland is still writing for hire.
TORO Y MOI – Underneath The Pine
Three kinds of music on offer from Toro Y Moi’s second LP: cruise ship lounge funk (“New Beat,” “Still Sound”), hazy summertime froth (“Got Blinded,” “How I Know”) and more of the debut album’s hushed, elaborate chillwave. The first type is excellent, with subtle, jazzy organ interplay softening the funk edge like Billy Paul might’ve done without the Philly strings. The second is pretty good, with whispering, high harmonies adding an appealing sheen to the breezy, ’60s sunshine pop. The third is a minor developmental uptick from 2010’s so-so Causers Of This – the music sounds great (“Divina” could be a mid-period Air track with that fab drum-bass guitar sound) although it rarely grabs you. I get the impression Chaz Bundick is outgrowing his early musical trappings: the aforementioned first two styles suggest routes that could pay off handsomely once he commits.
JOHN MAUS – We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves
“Pussy is not a matter of fact,” and I suppose one could say the same of Maus’ credentials as a songwriter. Empirical statements aside, Maus would never have worked the Brill Building with one-line song texts like that, nor would his looped-passage-extended-to-song-length approach have landed gigs with Ellie Greenwich, either. But he is a madcap audio alchemist, whose murky, gothic, analog synthpop holds no small charm for those so disposed. The viscid, vampiric sensuality is rather alluring. As a singer he is ridiculous. Chest-voice bellowing swathed in long-decay reverb, the kind of sound you might create in an empty underground parkade. Censors is a gauzy, oddball, Halloween romp with the structural backbone of an Ariel Pink record, but it succeeds on those wiles, whether evincing a Miami Vice death scene vibe (“Cop Killer”) or a heroic, you-‘n’-me-‘gainst-the-world-babe stance (“Believer”). The grainy, mid-‘80s, station ID song intros often recall the first Neon Indian record. The most normal-sounding song, a hauntingly dark piano ballad called “Hey Moon,” is an obscure modern cover that wouldn’t be out of place on a Peter Murphy record. Grimly fiendish.
WASHED OUT – Within And Without
Contrary to the John Maus record, Washed Out’s Ernest Greene ditched the lo-fi for perfumed silk sheets (and check out the cover pic, poached from a Cosmopolitan ish), and until fatigue sets in around minute 25, I figure the abdication’s been a good idea. Chillwave adherents and Bryan Ferry acolytes alike should dig Within And Without: unhurried tempi, supremely euphonic synth washes and a murmured vocal buried deeper than a secret. I really like the first batch of songs, especially the sporty pair of “Eyes Be Closed” and “Amor Fati.” I have no idea what they’re about. I’ll have to hit a lyric search engine; they’re usually about 70 per cent right. What’s missing from Within is the giddy gaucheness of “Belong,” or the dead-cool funk base of “Feel It All Around.” It’s a little too smoov (for you Roxy fans: really, is “Avalon” as great as “Virginia Plain”? No, it’s not). But Greene’s fattened up his setlist considerably, successfully stepping around the received wisdom about chillwave auteur lifespans. He can surely roll, if not exactly rock.