Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition
[Year: 2016 / Country: USA / Label: Warp]
Have we reached the creative apex of hip hop, or have we just hit the tip of the iceberg? In recent years, from the mainstream to the underground, there has been a plethora of hip hop masterpieces swelling in artistic adventure and stylistic eclecticism. It’s no surprise that with a title indebted to Joy Division, Danny Brown’s latest is uniquely odd and a singular expression. Danny Brown is to acid, what ODB was to crack, an unhinged rhymeslayer that is as incomparably fun to listen to as is disorienting. Already making his mark this year on the incredible Open Mike Eagle record Hella Personal Film Festival, producer Paul White outdoes himself on Atrocity Exhibition. White provided Brown with fittingly surreal playground for the rapper to be himself. The result is an album that ranges from wild to depressing, but most importantly creates a relentless state of intoxicating fun for its entirety.
Favorite tracks: Ain’t It Funny, Golddust, Dance in the Water
Flock of Dimes – If You See Me, Say Yes
[Year: 2016 / Country: USA / Label: Partisan]
It’s not all that unexpected, and certainly not a problem, that Flock of Dimes sounds quite similar to Wye Oak. The debut album from the electronic-leaning side project of Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner, If You See me, Say Yes will most heavily appeal to those who love the dreamier side of her primary band moreso than those who are drawn in by her fantastic guitar playing. On If You See me, Say Yes, Wasner’s vocals are a central focus, with her voice floating through a dreamy haze similar to that of Victoria Legrand of Beach House. Melodic yet meditative, her songs contain a friendly warmth even in the context of electronics.
Favorite tracks: The Joke, Semaphore, Given/Electric Life
Hamilton Leitheuser + Rotsam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine
[Year: 2016 / Country: USA / Label: Glassnote]
The Walkmen are one of the special bands of the 21st century. They were inevitably lumped into a scene of NYC indie rock bands at the start of the century, but always stood out as more substantive than the others. When they announced their hiatus in 2014, it was undoubtedly a bummer, but also opened the door to solo projects. While Walter Martin and Peter Bauer have both released quality records, it’s the man with the pipes who has proven to be the bearer of the finest fruits so far. Released in 2014, Hamilton Leitheuser’s debut LP Black Hours was exactly the kind of crooning record you’d expect from the Nilsson-loving frontman of The Walkmen. Teaming up with Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij for I Had A Dream That You Were Mine, Leitheuser raises the bar another notch. He still sounds like a powerhouse crooner who’s magnificent voice will carry you home after last call. There’s hints of Cohen, Nilsson, Campbell as his voice pushes to the greatest of heights over saloon style pianos, twangy guitars, and big crashing drums. It’s hard to tell where Leitheuser’s input ends and Rotsam’s begins, but he undoubtedly deserves credit for a stunning record that channels the grandeur of 60s pop and captures Leitheuser at his best.
Favorite tracks: A 1000 Times, When The Truth Is…, 1959
Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan – Take It, It’s Yours
[Year: 2016 / Country: USA / Label: Polyvinyl]
Covering old hardcore and punk songs is nothing new. Neither is making them slow and pretty. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done. On Take It, It’s Yours, the singers of La Sera and Springtime Carnivore take classics from the likes of the Buzzcocks, Gun Club and The Misfits, and reenvision the songs as lush dream pop songs. The result is a really pleasurable and amazingly cohesive listen. At a fraction of its originally tempo, their version of Bad Brains’ Pay To Cum may be the song taken furthest beyond recognition.
Favorite tracks: Pay To Cum, Ever Fallen In Love, Rebel Yell
[Year: 2016 / Country: USA / Label: Killer Wail]
On Cotard’s, Philosophical Zombie sheds some of the grit and heavy riffs of last year’s excellent debut LP Loneliness Is Blue And Not Blue in favor of clearer melodies and ballads. That is not to say that Philosophical Zombie has gone all sleek. That couldn’t be further from the truth. This change is more in line with The Replacements moving from Sorry Ma… to Hootenanny than Let It Be to Tim. And much like The Replacements, the balance of gritty rock & roll and heartfelt ballads works because they share similar DNA. For example, the sentimental “Love” features the opening line “Love is vomiting into a sink.”
Favorite tracks: Tom Says God, Love, Coming Back To Me
The Veils – Total Depravity
[Year: 2016 / Country: New Zealand/UK / Label: Nettwerk]
A preacher from the future screaming hellfire and brimstone
There’s no denying that Finn Andrews has one of the most emotionally charged voices in rock and roll. Hailing from the same part of the world that gave us Nick Cave and Gareth Liddiard (The Drones), you have to wonder what’s making all of these guys so unhinged. While Cave’s booming voice often sounds like it could be the voice of God, Andrews evokes imagery of the dapper wire-framed street preacher. One second he’ll be shouting about the salvation of others, and the next he’ll be on his knees repenting for his own sins under a bucket of tears. If the band had grown a little stagnant stylistically, the introduction of El-P as co-producer has reenergized the band tremendously. The new electronic elements take the rapturous religious themes into a catastrophic future full of despair. That despair hits hardest during the devastating ballad “In The Nightfall”.
Favorite tracks: King of Chrome, Do Your Bones Glow At Night, In The Nightfall