Grading The CG Summer Music Preview
At the beginning of April, I threw together a quick “summer music preview,” because that’s what you do when you don’t feel like writing something important or meaningful. It’s not like I’m going to stretch another article out of that same premise by revisiting those albums and actually reviewing them.
Ha! See what I did there? Anyway, all of these albums are great (except the one that didn’t come out), but I picked albums that I knew wouldn’t suck, so I suppose I cheated. Oh well. Here are those albums reviewed, along with another that I’ve been playing quite a bit this summer (and I’m leaving out Sigur Rós’ Valtari because I’m a chump and haven’t picked it up yet).
Best Coast - The Only Place
I’m probably a way bigger Best Coast fan than I should be, but who gives a shit. I love them. Best Coast’s debut, Crazy For You, is still one of my all-time favorites. I had really, really, really high expectations for The Only Place, and they were mostly met. Mostly. When people talk about Best Coast, they’re usually talking about Beth Consentino, the singer. She’s indisputably the most important member, but Bobb Bruno matters more on The Only Place. It feels less personal than Crazy For You, probably because Consentino occasionally shuts up about her boyfriend. The biggest gripe with Best Coast is that lyrically, the songs aren’t far removed from a sixth-grade girl’s diary (with more weed), and while that’s true, I don’t consider the lyrics all that important. The Only Place isn’t much better in that regard, but Consentino at least sings about something other than boys. There’s a strange paranoia and anxiety running through songs like “How They Want Me To Be” and “Do You Love Me Like You Used To.” Consentino worries about her spending, about how her friends judge her, about what her mother thinks, and other subtle frustrations of everyday life. She’ll never be a great lyricist, but at least she’s trying. The biggest difference between The Only Place and Crazy For You is the production. Crazy For You was absolutely soaked with reverb and vintage cabinet emulation, and The Only Place has almost none of that. I wasn’t sure how that would work at first, but as it turns out, Consentino’s voice is much stronger, and she sounds a lot more confident. It’s not just her voice than benefits from the added clarity. The guitars and drums on The Only Place are well-defined and not stuffed behind crappy reverb and fuzzy amplifiers. In all, it’s a welcome evolution for Best Coast. If they can keep improving, they’ll soon be unstoppable.
Listen – ”Do You Love Me Like You Used To”
Beach House - Bloom
Bloom was hyped up like crazy by everybody out there, so I wasn’t expecting it to turn out as well as it did. Beach House is one of those indie bands that used to annoy the hell out of me for no particular reason. It didn’t help that I never bothered to listen to them. Teen Dream totally blew me away, and I dropped my hate immediately. Bloom is every bit as good as Teen Dream, and better in a lot of ways. Like Best Coast (and a million other bands), Beach House relied pretty heavily on faux-vintage studio processing and reverb. It’s not that I don’t enjoy this style of production, because I do, but I think a lot of bands (and singers especially) are afraid to strip down a bit and give us a “raw” sound. Beach House really cut back on the studio trickery on Bloom, and the results are fantastic. Album opener and lead single “Myth” is one of the strongest, and shows just how complex a sound they’re capable of. It’s equal parts Candy Claws and My Bloody Valentine. The shoegaze comparison is especially apt, now that singer/organist Victoria Legrand’s vocals are stronger in the mix. At times, Bloom sounds like a lost Cocteau Twins album, which is just about the nicest thing I can say about it.
Listen – “Irene”
The Walkmen - Heaven
Heaven, at least when compared to their first three albums, sounds different from anything The Walkmen have ever made. This is a good thing, because Heaven is without a doubt their most sophisticated and well-produced album to date. It’s also a bad thing, because there’s little of that on-edge uneasiness that I loved so much on Bows + Arrows. Of course, The Walkmen are one of the few bands that are legitimately different every time they release something, so I’m not surprised. I was sort of hoping they’d go back to the older, grittier days, but true to form, Heaven is more like Lisbon, in the same way that Lisbon was more like You & Me (okay, I’m stretching a bit, but bear with me). I shouldn’t be complaining, because Heaven is a very good record, and you’ll especially like it if you’ve been with The Walkmen since the early days. There are plenty of upbeat tunes on this album (“We Can’t Be Beat”), but there are also quite a few stripped-down, experimental numbers. For the most part, a beautiful and ambitious album, with no real weak tracks. Except “Song For Leigh.” That song sucks.
Listen – “We Can’t Be Beat”
El-P - Cancer 4 Cure
Oh man, is this a beast. We waited five years for El-P to follow up 2007′s scattered and ultimately disappointing I’ll Sleep When You’re Dead, and he couldn’t have done a better job. Cancer 4 Cure is everything we liked about Fantastic Damage and ISWYD (bizarre conceptual songs, off-kilter lyrics, and El-P’s trademark “The Bomb Squad in space” production) and nothing we didn’t (I’m looking at you, “Tasmanian Pain Coaster”). El-P has pretty much owned hip-hop in 2012, what with this and Killer Mike’s equally amazing R.A.P. Music. This album is as complex and dense as any El-P album, but with one key difference: the majority of the tracks are actually fun to listen to. I love El-P, but I think much of his solo work has been held back by his own ambition. On Cancer 4 Cure, he seems to be having more fun. He even references the Catalina Wine Mixer. Add in some great guest appearances from Danny Brown, Despot, and Mr. Motherfuckin’ Exquire, and you’ve got the most unhinged and entertaining El-P release since the Funcrusher Plus days.
Listen – “Tougher Colder Killer”