words.

  • top 3 albums of 2018.

    top 3 albums of 2018 (no words)

    3. The 1975 "A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships"

    2. Low "Double Negative"

    1. BROCKHAMPTON "iridescence" 

  • 4. Plan B "Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose"

    4. Plan B "Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose"

    In brief: Plan B is Ben Drew. He’s a rapper, but also a R&B/soul singer. He’s also an actor, and a director, and a screenwriter. His first album, “Who Needs Actions When You Got Words” (2006) is an insanely lyrically violent rap album with a lot of acoustic guitar. His second album, “The Defamation of Strickland Banks” (2010), is primarily a neo-soul album with a couple bangers and a series of cinematic music videos starring Kaya Scodelario (so obviously, they rule) and was supposed to be the thematic soundtrack for a movie that has never come to fruition. His third LP, “Ill Manors” (2012), found Drew returning to the streets and his grimier hip-hop roots, and was the soundtrack to a film that actually was created (written and directed by Drew himself). And then -- six years of silence.

    “Heaven” feels like an amalgamation of so many distinctive UK musical stylings, but Drew has the chops to pull them off, creating something of a dancehall compilation that shrewdly contains a protest album in its midst. Within that sonic template, we’re introduced lyrically to someone approaching the second half of their 30s with trepidation, terrified of the implications of Brexit, struggling to keep relationships together, learning what being a father means. I don’t think it’s an easy album for those reasons, even if musically it sounds like a good time. Most of the UK music press didn’t really seem to know what to do with it, but I hope they continue to champion Drew as he continues his artistic career--he might be distracted, but he’s still a vital mouthpiece, and continues to be a “chronicler of modern Britain,” tribulations and all.

     

    1. “It’s not surprising Drew wanted to take time over his first album since 2012. After all, his career has been marked by distinctly different and perfectly executed phases: sink-estate horror rapper, sharp-suited soul man, chronicler of modern Britain. The good news is that Heaven Before All Hell Breaks Loose doesn’t stand still. Drew is singing again, not rapping, and he dips into dancehall, R&B, drum’n’bass, gospel testifying and as many more styles as you can shake a stick at. The bad news is that the amount of time he’s spent seems to have made him unsure of his identity. There’s neither the comforting familiarity of The Defamation of Strickland Banks, nor the confrontational abrasiveness of Ill Manors. It feels as though he’s trying to split the difference between them.”
      https://www.theguardian.com/music/2018/may/04/plan-b-before-all-hell-breaks-loose-album-review-ben-drew

    2. “The big takeaway here is that Plan B isn’t as seething as he once was – something that’s definitely good for his blood pressure, less so for those wanting urgency and vitriol. You only need to compare the lyrics on 2006’s ‘Kids’ (“Pick up an AK and spray / That’s the mentality of kids today / F*ck a girl and get her pregnant underage”) to this album’s closing track and positivity anthem ‘Sepia’ (“Dark in a corner as you bathe me in light / You’re a rainbow in a grey and cloudy sky”) to illustrate how this is a different guy. They may not have been perfect, but Plan B’s prior albums have never been disjointed. ‘Heaven…’ is. But, by his own admission, this is a songwriter in transition. In that respect, this album is as true to life as anything else he’s done before.”
      https://www.nme.com/reviews/album/plan-b-heaven-hell-breaks-loose-review
  • 5. Now, Now "Saved"

    5. Now, Now "Saved"

    I’ve tried writing this essay multiple times now. 

    The first time, I attempted to discuss the state of female-fronted pop in 2018, and how it felt mostly like a wasteland, save a few singles and that moment right before the beat kicks in on ‘breathin’ like ~2min in that I legitimately have had stuck in my head for a few weeks now, but never hit me when i first listened to the album (footnote 1).

    The second time I started this essay I was going to talk about the Devinyl split with Kevin Devine and David Bazan, and how they both covered Now, Now songs, and how Bazan’s take on ‘Thread’ was, unsurprisingly, one of the most incredible singular listening experiences of this year.

    But neither of these takes are fair to Now, Now, not like any of these essays have especially been about the bands or the works. I’m just talking about myself. I’m shouting into a mirror. I’m searching for a take because I don’t know how to write anymore and it scares me.

    “I can only write if I'm emotionally inspired to. Since I was hiding from a lot from myself, I was having a hard time writing. So, I didn't do anything other than try and write that whole time for the album. My entire existence was trying to finish it and Brad was working on music in various ways” (footnote 2). This, KC Dalager’s struggle to find her place in this work, is simultaneously terrifying and yet, ultimately, encouraging--I think this struggle is real for anyone who tries to create, no matter the method. Finding your way to a conclusion brings a joy in accomplishment that has no comparison, even if (and perhaps especially when) the end result is wholly unexpected.

    “Saved” is the best pop album of 2018, full stop. That feeling of elation I have for that brief split-second while listening to ‘breathin’ is what i feel washing over me with every track on this LP. It’s exploratory nature never feels so raw that it’s amateurish; the Now, Now family has existed over a decade and a half now, born within MySpace music, and the heavily-rhythmic guitar-centric early work has coalesced into something more modern, more immediate, even. There was always something trance-like about the ~3 minutes slow-burn build-up into the last third of ‘Friends With My Sister,’ the guitars creating a blanket of sound that warmed you, but it also kept you at bay. With “Saved,” that distance is no longer there, and you are invited in. It’s an intimate dance party, and the emotions are intense, but there’s redemption on this dance floor, and an absolution from our fears.

     

    1. https://youtu.be/1m3T5zAQpgU

    1. https://www.billboard.com/articles/columns/rock/8459858/now-now-saved-tour-interview

  • 6. Ryley Walker "The Lillywhite Sessions"

    6. Ryley Walker "The Lillywhite Sessions"

    I played trombone in school bands from sixth grade thru high school, strictly playing in a jazz ensemble during my high school years. As is common in smaller ensembles, several times throughout the week the different instrument sections would split up to rehearse separately, dividing ourselves between the small rooms and closets in the band room. As my high school jazz band’s trombone section only ever has three chairs, we would be sent off to a small, cramped supply closet, with barely enough room for us to maneuver our slides in awkward configurations to avoid hitting each other, or our respective music stands. I was third chair my freshman and sophomore years, and the first chair trombonist was a guy named Mike, who liked to utilize this time to regale myself and second-chair Mark with his various takes on whatever the hell was on his mind. On one of these occasions, he suggested I listen to Dave Matthews Band, for reasons that escape me fifteen+ years later.

    I can’t be sure, but I think I bought both Dave Matthew Band’s “Busted Stuff” (2002) and Underoath’s “They’re Only Chasing Safety” (2004) at the same time, on a shopping trip with my parents, probably at a Best Buy. My mom immediately asked me what I bought, and I countered with: “umm, this Christian hard rock band you probably would find too loud--they scream a lot--and also this CD Mike suggested I check out.” She asked to see the packaging and started reading the lyrics, immediately disappointed by the consistent drinking references splayed throughout the liner notes. That didn’t deter me, however; I listened to that album for a long time, and started checking out earlier DMB albums from the library after that. I was intrigued by Matthews’ laborious, cigarette-addled drawl, and especially intrigued by “Bartender,” the barn-burner final track on “Busted Stuff,” it quite possibly being the first secular song I’d ever heard with extensive biblical references. I didn’t connect with it, but I understood the allegory: the bartender was this man’s God, the countless drinks the manifestation of his sinful, human nature. It wasn’t until college I came to understand that I was supposed to think DMB was a joke, a jam-band for people my parent’s age but who drank far more than my own parents ever did, a Grateful Dead proxy, or something of that ilk.

    The history of the Lillywhite sessions is available to anyone with a simple Google search, but I wasn’t aware of it at all until Walker’s homage. I have to consider his discovery of those lost tracks at whatever young(er) age was akin to how I felt the first time I downloaded and listened to what I will forever consider “Fight Off Your Demons” (2006), the leaked Brand New demos that found their way into digital spaces prior to the release of “The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me” (2006). Hearing a band I adored in the process of making songs was revelatory, something to be analyzed and discussed with my peers, or something to share with casual fans--something secret, underground, for ‘true’ fans only.

    I can’t help but find a parallel with Ryan Adam’s full-album take on Taylor Swift’s “1989” (2015), something crafted out of a genuine love for the source material. (Another example I would be remiss in not mentioning would be Japancakes overwhelmingly tepid take on My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” (2007).) However, Adam’s rework of Swift’s album is not one based on years of adoration and fandom, but a knee-jerk reaction to a popular work that he had the appropriate tools to reimagine. In Walker’s take on the Sessions, you can hear years of listening and genuine love for the source material. Walker has even co-opted Matthews’ delightfully lazy lyrical stylings, not mocking in any way, but overwhelmingly respectful, as if understanding that these songs only work when sung with a true heavy-heart weariness. Walker flits between differing stylistic approaches while reinterpreting these cult tracks, always distilling their true natures, crafting these tributes with genuine care and fondness.

    This last month, upon discovering Walker’s recording, I’ve reintroduced myself to DMB (and, tangentially, been listening to an obscene amount of John Mayer--the millennial Dave Matthews, if you will) -- and have found his catalogue full of incredible depth and brilliance, perhaps not unlike how I felt in high school, blissfully unaware of what is cool and what is not. Perhaps (and very likely) this is a side-effect of reaching the late stages of early adulthood, coming to terms with the fact that I can absentmindedly listen to a modern jam-band and enjoy the fuck out of it, that sometimes, I don’t need to be challenged, I just want to be entertained. Walker provides those sharpened edges of experimental musicianship, encouraging the hardened listener to take another look, to peek behind the veil of commercial success, to see the craft at play in Dave Matthews’ work. I’m grateful. Bartender, please.

  • 7. As It Is "The Great Depression"

    7. As It Is "The Great Depression"

    Patty Walters has had a hell of a year. Just this week, his collaborative effort with former YouTube pop-punk/hardcore comedian Jarrod Alonge and Red Handed Denial’s Lauren Babic -- the serious yet cinema-centric CrazyEightyEight -- dropped their full-length debut, “Burning Alive” (2018). “The Great Depression” (2018) dropped in August, As It Is’ third long player, coming just 18 months after their sophomore effort “okay.” (2017). Back in March, he had to play a tentpole show in Cardiff with his right arm in a sling and a host of doctors suggesting he do otherwise, hours before going under the knife to remove a malicious blood clot.

    But I’m here to tell you that As It Is, with “The Great Depression,” are the rightful heirs to the excessive-eyeliner-and-black-fingernails-emo throne in 2018, or whatever is left of that tattered kingdom. You can pass around comparisons to early Taking Back Sunday or “Black Parade”-era (2006) My Chemical Romance. They wouldn’t be without merit. “The Great Depression” is the most audacious effort by the band to date, moreso than anything ever attempted by TBS -- it might stand as Walter’s “Black Parade,” and while there’s no seismic shift here (there can’t be, we’ll keep talking about this, the environment is too oversaturated, an album cycle lifespan less than a week more often than not, too much noise, too much convenience, it’s too easy to just smash replay on ‘God’s Plan’ for the umpteenth time on your favorite Spotify playlist [I’m probably not talking about ‘you’ you, specifically, if you’re reading this, this is a universal ‘you,’ this is how we {again, universal ‘we’} consume music now, as an expectation, as an afterthought, fodder for reality television beefs]), no other band is making this kind of music with this much conceptual intention.

    It’s genuinely insane to me that bands such as The Story So Far, Real Friends, or even Senses Fail are still given shakes for pumping out the same old drivel album after album, exhausting and uninteresting third-wave emo where the lead singers keep getting friendzoned (much to their chagrin). Walters isn’t against tears -- he continues to see the disconnects in toxic masculinity and conversations around mental and emotional health, and sings about them often without elaborate metaphor -- but he’s not crying over bad dates or unfulfilled sexual desires. He’s serious enough about his subject matter that his co-opting of this mid-2000s aesthetic feels imperative to his cause, even going so far as to recruit Aaron Gillespie for ‘The Reaper,’ an anthem against suicide.

    All of this would feel like a laborious retread (of concepts, context, etc) if it wasn’t for the fact that As It Is actually *is* one of the freshest sounding pop-punk bands working the scene right now. On top of that, the production by Machine is immaculate, harkening back to some of his most imperative works of the mid-2000s, most specifically: Armor For Sleep’s “What To Do When You Are Dead,”, Every Time I Die’s “Gutter Phenomenon,” and Boys Night Out’s “Trainwreck” (all 2005). If there’s any justice in the canon, “The Great Depression” should live amongst these emo classics for years to come.

     

  • 8. Fire-Toolz "Skinless X-1"

    8. Fire-Toolz "Skinless X-1"

    It’s weird being an aging millennial. We used to be the cool kids, growing up watching technology age in parallel with our peers, our parents overwhelmed or bewildered, hovering over our shoulders, asking just who exactly are we chatting with on AIM (or MSN Messenger if you wore church handmedowns like myself), struggling to understand just what exactly a ‘Chex Quest’ entails. Now, in 2018, there are YouTube videos of pre-teens confused by cassette tapes. Now, in 2018, the bewilderment of our elders is now our own, albeit more than likely manifesting itself in fury. We remember dial-up tones, Trapper Keepers, Mac Tonight -- of all the vestiges of my childhood, the two constants that I can claim in full confidence still stand today are as follows: The Price Is Right is on at 10 am, and Jeopardy! is on at 7 pm.

    Angel Marcloid is not just another vaporwave anthropologist, however. Her work may involve a certain amount of digital data-mining, but the research is extensive, and the resulting product is not just a reframing of sonic ephemera from a generation prior. The production here is immaculate, precise; these aren’t happy accidents because Marcloid is too meticulous in her approach, guiding the sounds where they’re meant to take the listener, instead of just being swept away in the nostalgia of it all.

    In conclusion, a selection of .gifs I'm offering as a tribute to  “Skinless X-1.” Take your time, scroll leisurely, surf the web -- or (better yet), let the web surf you.

     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     
     

      

  • 9. Restorations "LP5000"

    9. Restorations "LP5000"

    “LP5000” is the sound of a band thriving under the repressive restraints of western capitalism, learning to do more with less.

    Maybe.

    I’m probably biting off more than I can chew, here. (Killer opening salvo, tho.)

    I have about a half-dozen vaguely disparate thoughts about Restorations as a band and about their new album and its content, and maybe we can parse through how I’m feeling about them by listing them out:

    1. Especially in the overarching pop-punk umbrella (but I’m sure also true in most other music genres), bands become godfathers in a sonic style, then either dissolve or fall to the wayside, at which point others come up behind to pick up the mantle. A good example of this would be Weatherbox’s “American Art” (2007), which came out around five months before Say Anything’s follow-up to their masterpiece “...is a Real Boy” (2004), the clunky and waaaay overambitious “In Defense of the Genre” (2007) (also, that title, woof). “American Art” sounded like Say Anything, but actually more so, and better, and more visceral, more volatile. While Bemis was Caden Cotard-ing himself into a corner, Weatherbox’s Brian Warren was just beginning to spread open his sonic pallet. All of this to say that, reductively speaking, Restorations sounds like a revamped, debugged, 2.0 version of The Gaslight Anthem, or has for a while. That’s a slight and unfair comparison, but hopefully you’re tracking my logic.

    2. The only time I’ve ever seen Restorations, they were touring with Weatherbox. Apropos to my example in (1), in case you skipped ahead, in which case, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

    3. (unrelated but the point I’m making in (1) is gonna come up again in a few days, sorry in advance if you hate it)

    4. I don’t know that much about the rust belt, but I’ve been to Akron a few times.

    5. "LP5000" follows the G.O.O.D. Music album model here in 2018, albeit I’m guessing unintentionally -- seven tracks, under a half-hour in running time. Which is also to say you kinda have no excuse if you haven’t listened to this yet. If you’d started at (1) you’d probably be done by the time we finish here (if you read slow enough). There is an essential economy to this. This body of work is distilled down to an essence; only the required moments are included. Only one track on “LP5000” runs longer than 4 minutes; in contrast, only 3 of the 9 tracks on their previous full length, “LP3” (2014) clock under 4 minutes. Bonus points if you caught that disparity.

    6. Maybe “LP5000” is a protest album. Maybe it’s literally about the 2016 election. Maybe Ian Cohen really wants you to believe that. Maybe the band has said as much. Maybe who cares. Where Restorations was fairly literal in their lyrical approach in the past, this latest offering finds narration switching from third- to first-person within two lines of a chorus, characters talking in disjointed scenes like snippets from a trailer for a movie that is probably gonna do pretty good at Sundance. Scenes blur in surreal, jagged descriptions, abstracted phrases and metaphoric landscapes presented like the gutted remains of a town that was once an industrial powerhouse, now ravaged by poverty and cheap overseas labor. And we’re in our 30s now, and we long for those days in our twenties when we could go with all our friends (oh my god, we had so many friends, we knew so many people) to the abandoned factory/processing warehouse/mill (?) that some of our other friends had converted into an art gallery to display the work they created about their town that is dying, that has been dying forever (or as long as we can remember, our lives still young), which is every town at some point in your twenties, even if it’s thriving in urban renewal sprawl we really know, at its heart, the pulse is waning --

    7. -- and when Jon Loudon growls: “I love your protest lines / Oh, but who has the time? / We all saw the same thing at the same time, okay? / Got a partner for starters / And a kid on the way / Can’t be doing all this dumb shit no more,” well, you’re either gutted or unfazed, or maybe it hits too close to home; this short, brilliant album of Philly strength and strife an allegorical reflection of exhaustion experienced in pockets all across this country. But what to do but wake up, look at our phones, sigh, and go on with our day.
  • 10. Cursive "Vitriola"

    10. Cursive "Vitriola" 

    [Editors note: please don’t come into this expecting to read a comprehensive album review. You can find that on three dozen other websites. This isn’t that. Thank you.]

     

    At some point this last summer I sat down and opened a note on my phone, and wrote out a list of five albums that reflected my disorientation as I was removing myself from the Christian church and subsequent evangelical communities late in my college career. I wrote an offhand joke about it on Twitter, mentioned it to my fiance, and kept it shelved. The fifth album on that list was “Happy Hollow” (2006), the first album by the band after cellist Gretta Cohn’s exit, signaling the end of what most of my peers probably consider the best part of their career. Or whatever.

    It’s hard to argue with the strength of the work that had come before. “Domestica” (2000) is striking in its lyrical and sonic violence, while “Burst and Bloom” (2001) and “The Ugly Organ” (2003) found the band cementing their place as a foundational group for the Alternative Press consuming listener. But all these works were intensely personal, Kasher turning his pen towards marriage, art, and the band itself. “Happy Hollow” felt removed from this sort of navel-gazing, a truly political album about small-town America and Christian hypocrisy, vicious and snarling, sharp brass parts replacing the sinister orchestral vibe the cello has previously provided. It was a difficult album for me to commune with, confirming some of my deepest fears while challenging life-long preconceptions I’d held as universal truths. (Hold your laughter.) I bought it and listened to it a lot and didn’t know how I felt about it for a long time. Not until this year, really.

    I’ve seen Cursive twice. The first time was 2004, at Big Game Studios (RIP) in Fresno, CA, with Facing New York opening. This was the first concert I went to after moving there to go to the university. I remember standing in a line of people I didn’t know (but many I would meet, eventually), and I think Joshua Tehee handed me a flier and a button for a Greytank Records show. I remember Tim making a dig at Jerry’s Pizza (the infamous basement venue in Bakersfield) from the stage, and oh, Pinkeye opened that show, as well. I saw them again in 2008 at Howies and Sons, and The New Trust opened that show, and was more incredible to me than anything else. I saw Tim play with The Good Life some time after that (I think), super drunk at the Cellar Door, and I realized I’d always love this man and his work, even if whatever he created after 2009 was going to mean little to me, if nothing at all.

    All of this comes together in “Vitriola,” an album that Kasher probably never had to make, but should be considered his greatest work in a decade. After the self-flagellation of “Domestica” and “Album of the Year” (2004) and “The Ugly Organ,” the politicization of “Happy Hollow” seemed like a new direction, but he quickly fell back into diatribes on the ugliness of adult life: “Mama,” even the screenplay inspired “Help Wanted Nights” (2007), into solo efforts “Adult Film” (2013) and “No Resolution” (2017) -- all of these albums confirmed my fears that Kasher would forever be playing the adult rebelling against a society telling him to grow up, be good (whatever that means), and have healthy relationships, no matter how fucked up you are on the inside. But “Vitriola” embraces that madness of self, and finds it reflected in a social and political arena as messed up as he feels, if not more so. Kasher is drawing the lines for us but not leading us to any conclusions. Decades of despondent fury have lead us to a precipice and that canvas is this album, and Kasher returns with the sonic elements that have made Cursive so successful at describing this fissure in the past.

    Megan Seibe does everything she could be expected to in these songs behind the cello, and they shine with a grimy elegance because of her string work. Make no mistake: this isn’t an “Ugly Organ” reboot; 15 years on, Kasher’s scratchy vocal delivery still betrays his frustrations, but it feels more refined, less unhinged. It’s less masturbatory, more despondent. It’s the sound of a man so frustrated with the nature of his surroundings he’s throwing his hands up in disgust, only then to discover he’s drowning in the middle of an ocean of corporate control and political scandal.