Wavves – You’re Welcome

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I think a lot of us are still getting over the hangover King of the Beach left us back in 2010. Nothing from the group has been quite as fun, even with the bittersweet “Dog” off 2012’s Afraid of Heights and the solid effort of V in 2015. There just hasn’t been anything to top “Post-Acid” or “Green Eyes” or most of the tracks really. So with every release I think it’s only been natural that we’ve compared each album to these tracks. But it’s been a minute since then and I think it’s fair that we start judging Wavves’ Nathan Williams himself as a man of 2017. You’re Welcome is the album that defines that man. It’s industrious in his attempt to appeal to the new year, summoning new tones and turns, but also, adheres to all the years and releases that have come to make what is Wavves.

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“Hollowed Out” is the perfect schism of the past & future. Recycling the Beach Boys induces “ooohhhhs” Williams has worn so well over the years and incorporating the new challenging structures of this new record, it establishes where the band currently is in the evolution: not forgetting what makes their sound great but knowing the needed risks to make their sound great. The title track “You’re Welcome” leans more into these risks as it relies less the common and beloved harmonies produced by the band and more on nasally riffs and a thick bass melody. “Million Enemies” might be the most newfangled track as it embraces thick distortion pedals and a transition of verse that sounds almost like they are switching the key of the song entirely. It, definitely at first, is the most challenging track on the record, but after a handful of listens, I start finding it to be one of my favorites. It’s something completely new and its obscurity is easily overcome once you realize the almost abrupt change in verse sounds great. The much less obscure “Animal” is probably the poppiest track out of Wavves since “Dog.” The lyrics “The whole world covered in gasoline/And burning alive/I feel taken advantage of/And empty inside” bring the “man against the word” stature we’ve come to expect from Williams, but it’s the chorus that follows that we can actually see his guard going down, not only letting in these new tones, but also, a new hope within the world: “… A million stars light up my face/When you look at it.” It’s definitely of the more optimistic words we’ve heard come out of the singer, and tied in with a guitar riff of a tenacity not created by the group before, it manifests itself, not only into the best track off of the album, but also, from the group in a long time. “Animal” brings me those good vibes I found in King of the Beach years ago while still unleashing a new cadence that seems to me to agree with the new year.

You’re Welcome is one of the better albums I’ve heard so far this year too. With a lot of psychedelic bands coming from the ether lately it’s nice to know that punk still works and can still sound new. Wavves fans might not be in love with every track on the record because of the challenge, but if you’re open to the new sound and give it a few rotations, I’m sure you can find a few of your own gems and appreciate what Williams is doing. And if not, “Animal” should hopefully keep satiated until you can complain about how the next Wavves album doesn’t sound like Wavves.

The Orwells – Terrible Human Beings

The Orwells are at it again with their third release almost three years after the well-received Disgraceland. However, with this new record comes a new set of challenges for the group: not only are they in competition with their earlier releases, but also, the question of how long rock and roll records are going to keep getting attention. In some views, The Orwells are our today’s Strokes: five dudes making rock and roll; claimed to be saviors of the genre; youthful, spirited, sexy; etc. But it’s the contrast between the two bands and their respective eras that bring up the obstacles of reality this new record faces: the Strokes got to be in a world where MTV still gave a shit about music; the Orwells get to hope that a portion of one of their songs play while VH1 transitions between episodes of “America’s Next Top Model;” the Strokes got to release records when people were still buying them; the Orwells get to have their pennies snubbed by Apple Music and Spotify; the Strokes were able to inspire a generation of kids to pick up a guitar; the Orwells might be some of the last of those kids. However, their situation isn’t all dismal. They are still able to tour as a group and they do have an unprecedented ability to make old rock and roll tropes seem alive and well.

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“They Put a Body In the Bayou” came out late last year and made promise the band was going to make another good delivery. Batting off the record it sets a high standard that are quickly followed up by “Fry” and “Creature,” two tracks that demonstrate the sassy yet relatable demeanor that has become loved of the band. “Buddy,” also an early single, probably comes out of the record as the best looking track. It’s quick, under a minute-thirty and is about one-night-stands, which has always been a favorite of rock and roll. “Hippie Soldier” and “Heavy Head” keep the record moving at solid rates with tormented guitars laments of “the easy way out” until it arrives at “Body Reprise,” a minute-fifteen ambient track full of hollow “ooooohs” with a vacant drum beat that I’m sure Brian Eno could at least nod at.

Wrapping up the record, “Ring Pop” and “Last Call” bring on a noise level that calls across to pond and time to those 1970s pub rock bands like Duck Deluxe and Dr. Feelgood who were as indifferent to the last call as the Orwells are to diminishing record sales. “Double Feature,” clocking at a surprising 7:18 for the band, brings on a perspective of questioning life choices and what chance a man has “from the wrong side of the tracks.” After few verses and choruses, the band dive into an instrumental break with guitar technical that surfaces images of what Television was doing years ago and introduces more howling vocals similar to what was going on in “Body Reprise.”

By the end, though, this record turns out to be a solid release, but, however, nothing more significant than that. It’s an album defined by the rock and roll tropes it lives up to. Nothing is out of place, wrong or a short step from the Orwells, it’s just very familiar. Without a newer cause or figurative idea of what rock and roll could be, it comes out as another record. Thirty years ago if this had been released it would have gotten a fair amount of attention and deserved it. Though, if it were released a hundred years from now no one would probably know it. Terrible Human Beings is a good record, but, however, because of the times and with all of the other noise out there, it’s just not that exciting.

Moon Duo – Occult Architecture Vol. 1

This first release of the two volumes, which will be catalogued together as the band’s fourth record, takes on the Yin of Chinese philosophy – the Yang to be taken care of in vol. 2. Roughly translating to “the shady side of the hill,” the Yin in vol. 1 is used as a vessel to take on a more grim subject matter, moving through night and dark, bumping into ideas like how vague and black the world can be. This is all according to the duo themselves, Ripley Johnson and Sanae Yamada. They found themselves in the darkness of a Portland winter at the start of making this record, and having ended in the season of infectious scents that is a northwestern spring, they thought it would only make sense to evolve this record as winter to spring, night to day, dark to light – Yin to Yang.

Pigeonholing themselves in the genre of what they call “repeat-o rock” (their incessant repetition and uncompromising loop of riffs provides a cadence that probably first attributes to punk legends, Suicide) they surface their dark contemplations, batting off with “The Death Set.” Setting the stage for rest of the record’s ambience, the track contains relentless fuzzed out guitar, a beat you can coolly nod your head back and forth to, synths attacking from all directions and soft, yet demented, gospel-like vocals that keep you in tune with the evolution taking place. “Cold Fear” and “Will of the Devil” bring on more of the same allowing the band to flex their commitment and show that if something gets stuck in their heads it won’t be over for at least another five minutes. But it’s when we get to “Creepin” that perspective shifts a bit and listening to it you feel like you could be on some coastal highway zipping along the beach in a convertible. Ironically, given the dark tones and discrepancy of light within the rest of the album, this will probably be the composition that sticks with you come the end of the album. However, I might only think that because we are in the dead of winter and I could really use a beach. “Cross-Town Fade” and “Cult of Moloch” are great tracks that alleviate the bite from a cold breeze; the former surfaces the likely influence of Suicide bringing out old-school drum machines that compliment the playful synthesizers that might sound familiar if you’re into the Brooklyn art project Japanther, and the latter elevates the band to their most tenacious mode demonstrating a duel of two soloing guitars above the atmosphere of drum machines and fuzzed-out-guitars-on-repeat.

Vol. 1 comes to its conclusion, and where it will pivot to the Yang and sunny skies in Vol. 2, in “White Rose.” The track channels in with sound of ambient winds, almost like air moving through an indefinite valley, void of time and consequence, until the beat kicks in and you remember that you’re listening to a song. The song itself moves in and out of its gospel, clashing synths and guitar solos, but never let’s that beat stop. Not for a second. Not until the ambient winds return after 10 minutes and it fades away under the stiff breeze, and you’re once again lost. The winds push through the valley, revealing to your mind that they will come again, like all seasons – winter, spring, summer, fall, winter again – and that life is just a repetition of rotation of earth. Like the beat, the winds fade away and you’re back from void, but with all of this still realized, and it’s the moment this record ends that you understand that a good life isn’t a lack of repetition, but rather, an excess of variation that you can fade in and out of.

Cloud Nothings – Life Without Sound

 

This latest release is something Cloud Nothings’ front man Dylan Baldi describes as “slowed down.” Coming from the angst of the highly acclaimed Attack on Memory and that of the group’s latest release Here and Nowhere Else, Life Without Sound does slow down their usual tempo and reveals new existential concern rather than just their past worries about being young and insecure. In an interview published by Stereogum, Baldi said the album “is about bigger things than me complaining – in my mind, at least.” Though Baldi might still be a little insecure about one thing or another, he’s not scared to take on the world providing his band’s most polished and thought out work yet. Moving through the sequence of tracks like “Internal World” and to “Realize My Fate,” it’s clear on which precipice he stands: one with a perspective reaching for knowledge and enlightenment while realizing nothing is for certain. It’s a record that, while it is dark and challenging – what else would a Cloud Nothings record be? – it’s also supposed to be something that gets your head out of the existential dirt; “It’s supposed to be inspiring.”

“Modern Act,” the single off the record, and the most lighthearted track seen from the group since their 2011 self-titled debut, relates to making a huge issue out of the small stuff of everyday life “when you feel like an ocean coming out of a creek.” It’s an existence that takes a step back to realize your problems maybe aren’t that big of a deal. “Internal World” gets off on a similar foot trying to refrain from a usual narcissistic solipsism, or just trying not to be the asshole that thinks they’re always right. It’s also here that it comes to mind how instrumentally talented the band has become. The drums really come alive in an equally poppy and tenacious manner through the intricate chords and riffs that have come to illustrate the complex, dark yet playful nature of the group. “Darkened Rings” also touches on this throwing their sound back to the earlier and angrier punchy tracks like “No Sentiment.”

But, again, these new songs aren’t as focused on expressing how angry you are but why you’re angry. Contemplating and trying to separate emotion from fact, “Enter Entirely” reflects on actions on the past and what ultimately motivated them. It calls for an existence that makes you truly examine your choices and try to understand your fears a bit more. How are you affecting your world and what effects do your concerns actually create? An album as caught in the middle as this is naturally is wrapped up by knowing that there is purpose but with the frustration of not knowing what it is. In “Realize My Fate” Baldi screeches out “I believe in something bigger/But what I can’t articulate” closing with a perspective that is as optimistic as it is bleak. Sure, there is truth in the universe, but where the hell is it? For Cloud Nothings, it’s up in the air. With this fourth release and US/European tour ahead, the band probably won’t come to any conclusions soon. They’ll be too busy promoting their current concern for existence and making sure others share in their bleak search for truth

Operator – Telegram

 

After a few catchy singles and a long delay of gratification, Telegram has finally debuted their record. Operator is charged with phasers in a Brian Eno inspired fashion. With such a long delay on this release, anticipation has built up and there has been a lot to be expected. The two singles, “Rule Number One” and “Follow”, also the two opening tracks, were released in 2013 and immediately got blogs talking about them. However, upon the album’s release, it now is a bit underwhelming. Telegram was praised for taking their time with the record – not quickly releasing material, but rather, taking their time to work it out – but now it might be the case that they waited too long. Going through the tracks they appear to be a little too thought out and maybe the sound engineers put too big of a spin on them. This is most recognized when you compare the single to the studio release of “Aeons.” As a single in 2015, it was a blare of sound that had a captivating, fast and exciting energy, but on the album it takes a step back and becomes more stylistic. Pauses on the track become more methodical and the added reverb on the vocals is considerably noticeable.

However, that stands as a single aspect on the record. “Rule Number One” flares with distortion and moves with the threatening notion of a mosh pit. It’s a great opening track that invites you into the record to sit down and experience punk music like never before. “Follow” follows with just as much excitement pushing the record with a chorus that is as catchy as it is powerful; “Today, today. There’s no time to delay.” From there the record unfortunately doesn’t get much more inviting. Again, it’s unique and interesting, but the following tracks have a hard time keeping up with the two openers. “Aeons” as we know has been slowed and dumbed down, and tracks like “Under The Night Time” can’t overcome the singles’ high peak. It isn’t until “Taffy Come Home” that your ears start to perk up again. It blasts high-energy choruses but with a more melodramatic mood. It’s fun and exciting but there is something in this song that is a little less ferocious than the others. Maybe it has something to do with the embodiment of the avant-garde style of rock brought to us by Roxy Music. It doesn’t attack as much as other tracks on the record and mainly relies on its uniquely spread song structure to do its work.

The last particularly noticeable track is “Regatta.” Having also been an early single, it’s a quick energy song that helped to build the records hype. It’s in this song where Telegram blends their early avant-garde influences and punk swagger so well. It’s quirky yet memorable and revives your faith in the record where other less inviting tracks had let it down. The record comes to an end with “Folly,” which encompasses the Eno/punk fusion, however, feels a bit empty. It’s not an abrupt end – the record is 50 minutes long – but rather, again, a bit underwhelming. It has a lot of vigor but you can’t help the feeling that there was another edge the band could have jumped over. There is a lot of genre fusion on the record and it seems like the band could have discovered something more; they could have dived deeper into their exploration and come back up with something more fulfilling. With that, Operator is everything you could have expected, but possibly, not everything you could have hoped for.

Get What You Want – Red Dog Revival

The first thing to notice about this album is that it sounds like it was recorded during a performance rather than a studio. Through the endless progression of different guitar riffs and instrumental breakdowns, there is a consistent energy that keeps your attention. It has a minimalistic vigor that isn’t dumbed down by over equalizing the treble but then has a high enough production quality that makes it as easy to listen to as any record. The two opening tracks, “Call up the Devil” and “Get What you Want” provide an open welcome that immediately introduces intricate jams and a high level of instrument technicality that can only rightly be called progressive rock.

The same two tracks also introduce the records theme of songs blending into each other. It’s a gimmick that I frankly think bands could use a lot more and it’s pleasing to see Red Dog Revival do it so well here. They don’t implement it in every track transition but they do it enough to remain aesthetically fulfilling. “So Hard” and “Crazy” keep up the psychedelic blues with more guitar licks and loud snare pops. They keep the album driving with same upward velocity that made everyone fall in love with those early 70s concept albums. However, “Crazy” has such a drive and backbeat that it starts to prematurely edge into hardcore music before it digresses and returns to blues the pattern it began from. The album knows what its initial progressive goal is but that doesn’t stop it from laying a few surprises in the tracklist.

The most surprising track by far is “Burn On.” Coming out of a Deep Purple blues orientation, the track slips a ska influence that, though is a bit out of place, feels right at home. It doesn’t let down on the same consistent energy the record has been pushing and it gives it a curve that pulls the other tracks from the initial goal and into something that feels fresh as well as nostalgic. “When Love Becomes War” becomes the best song on the release when this final track arrives. You realize that the entire record is vitalized here and that it is where everything comes together. Not only are the melodies executed so well, but also, the four-minute outro for the track allows the band to flex their muscles and really show off. The riffs here are as nasty as they are complicated. Although it is the final track, it doesn’t let up quite yet and wants to finish strong. By the end of this record you realize a solid effort has been made and that progressive rock isn’t dead. Psychedelia and concept albums still have a lot more to say and still have room to say it.

New Misery – Cullen Omori

Coming off a Smith Westerns breakup, Cullen Omori has finally recuperated and has debuted his solo career. New Misery, in Omori’s own perspective, is a derivative of his former band’s track, “Varsity” that came off of their final album, Soft Will. He wanted to take a step back in his song writing processes, further away from a “prog rock” mentality, and into something of more casual chord progressions. Although the record does have a few psychedelic aspects – the opening track “No Big Deal” has similarities to acts like Tame Impala – it does take on a more minimalistic quality than the work he was formerly putting out. With lots of reverb and simple acoustic guitar strums, “Hey Girl” provides a contemporary outfit with easy going melodies and a chorus that isn’t anywhere the risk of going over the top. And that’s one of the great perks of this album: it sounds full with a lot of energy, but the more you listen the more you realize how little is going on in each track and the more you appreciate the efficient use of reverb.

One thing to remember about the Smith Westerns is that they started out as a lo-fi/diy act. However, as their career went on, they were able to eclipse both garage and psychedelic music it such a perfect and modern way. They reached an essence that was of a cheap garage band but at the same time fulfilling the presence of flourishing prog rock group of the early 70s. Omori pretty much does this exact thing in this new record. “And Yet the World Still Turns” sounds like it is composed of a stage full of musicians but really only has like, at most, four instruments on the track. It’s full, minimal and satisfying. And really, surprising. “Cinnamon,” the single of the record, gets a bit more complicated, but really only with its percussion. There are a few digital effects that coincide with the snare drum that give it a nice atmosphere comparable to current bands like Foals and The National. Omori chases the theme of this song with tribal rhythms and pre-choral chants.

Eventually the album arrives at a kind if ballad, “Synthetic Romance” that realizes that relationships are hard. “All of my life/I’m just trying to make it all turn out right” states how difficult to it is to make things last. Romances, love, bands, etc. Life gets complicated and sometimes you need to move on. Omori chooses to move on with this track with confused lyrics and his bold organ. Finishing up the record, as well as sharing its title, “New Misery” is a song about coming to terms with a current situation. It opens with a melancholy guitar and the words, “Is it enough to be happy.” Omori is obviously struggling with a problem that isn’t cut and dry. Is it ok to just be? Before even writing this record he wasn’t sure he wanted to be a musician. There was a lot from the Smith Westerns that put a bad taste in his mouth, like deadlines from labels and a band that was indifferent to their own music. With this concluding track Omori sums up his feelings and his career with his former band. It’s bitter but for the best. It took hard hits and put a lot of negative thoughts in his head but thankfully it didn’t ruin his love for music. With this debut solo release, Cullen Omori proves to that he’s still good at writing music, and to himself, proves that he still loves writing it.

 

Cullen Omori

Golden Daze – Golden Daze

Enveloping their selves in L.A.’s neo/pop-psychedelic scene, Golden Daze’s debut is an aroma of waves hitting the beach and a nostalgia of old back beats. The strengths of this album are its oceanic themes and its call back to old bands like the Byrds of the 60s. This early rock and roll influence is most prevalent in their track, “Sleepin’ in the Sun.” Acoustic guitar and synthesizers glaze over a great drumbeat that refuses you to let you get down on yourself – especially while lying in the sun. Songs like this on the record keep a smile on your face with their upbeat rhythms and southern California dreams. Not only are they nostalgic, but pretty damn catchy too. Another appeal this record has is that it can make a sour situation feel comfortable. “Never Comin’ Back” deals with change and moving on in your life with such great vibes and an attitude that accepts the world’s malleability. “My mind is open wide/taking back her time” speaks to a transition we’ve all been through, regardless of what pronoun we need to use. We can forget what is in the past because ahead of us is miles and miles of a beautiful sandy beach.

The first single from the release, “Salt” is a steady jam with intricate bass lines and an atmosphere filled with lots of reverb. And “Low” has a synthed out drive that blends together rippling guitar effects and bouncy acoustic strums. Though this album has a lot of similarities with other pop-psych acts, it also has traits that a lot of more recent acts don’t. “Lean In” slips us a sex appeal that we can only ever find in places like the Little River Band and Mac DeMarco. It’s catchy synth-wah is as calm as it is cool. It really makes you want to go back to that sandy beach we were on earlier, light a cigarette and decadently lie in the sun for years to come. It’s the kind of music that says don’t worry, “lay down with me my brother.” Following on the record, “Foreigner” upholds the sexy grooves and adds to them bits of an arena rock focus. The song’s bouncy wahs center on its strong choruses of loud cymbal crashes and harmonized “Aaahhhh’s.” You might be crazy enough to say that it sounds a little like Arcade Fire. But thankfully, the track mostly resides with its own erotic affair. The record concludes with “Still Life” which, unlike most other tracks, evokes a kind of deranged and distant atmosphere. Its tempo is a lot slower and provides more time to notice the individual and unique tones coming through the track. The record in general does so well in recreating old vibrations of the 60s but at the same time provoking feelings not found in other modern pop-psych albums. Its sex appeal and mystery leaves you wanting more while its nostalgia and catchy beats keep you turned on.

 

Golden Daze