Here are my quick reviews and scores for April 2017 albums that I did not get to feature.
Arca – Arca
In this realm of music where experimentation is not only welcomed but also required, Arca delivers above and beyond. Although timbre was the obvious highlight and the most successful element, I did wish there was more coherence and connection within the denser passages, which would have allowed the sound to become more enveloping and alluring. Still, there was no absence of charisma within the sound, and it did very well to set an energized chill tone to the album. The unsuspected beauty of this work are the melodies that rose from the depths time after time to surprise the listener with even more engagement and force than the bare structure could give. These prominent lines also allowed the music to become more concrete and easier to follow, which was a delight within these vast open spaces. The loose forms were excellent, and it was a worthwhile listen. This isn’t for everybody, and you really have to be in a certain mood to fully enjoy it, but within that mood it is very cool and works wonders.
Final Score: 134/180
Memories…Do Not Open – The Chainsmokers
This was terrible. Not one melody that got away from being lifeless and dreary, not one harmonic structure that gave hope for meaningful artistry, and only a couple of songs that sounded cohesive and attentive enough to reach the first rung on the ladder to their goal of being danceable. The slow tempos paired with uninviting electronic beats and shapeless melodies were very cringe-worthy and awkward. There were a few moments of harmonic surprise that could have been made the foundation of the music, but they passed by like they were accidents and clearly showed the ineptitude of this musical duo. Nothing else really needs to be said, and I’d rather not give this work any more of my attention. Even with their immense popularity and influence, this album belongs in the trash. Let’s kill this thing before it breeds, and hopefully The Chainsmokers will mean nothing in a few years.
Final Score: 58/180
Pleasure – Feist
Leslie Feist is a rare modern musician that thrives with carefulness and hollowness. It’s a rather lost art to be able to express yourself musically in such a meticulous way. This album channels her inner Morton Feldman and creates a very quiet and rather desolate atmosphere. The songs followed no conventional form but rather had a continuous build in them that made it worth listening to until the end. This is an album for very patient and proactive listeners, since Feist takes a long time to really grow into each of her songs and the quality does require some seeking out. Timbrally, the many vocal effects couldn’t escape the void that the base sound had. Nothing really wowed sonically, but they were nice compositions. Melodies took a while to bloom but, surprisingly, always came out rather strong. It’s probably a difficult one to enjoy if you’re not used to digging deep with your ear. I would listen to it again in the right intimate situation.
Final Score: 129/180
The Far Field – Future Islands
This synthpop adventure was rather wayward and watered down, but it still had pleasurable moments and a couple of standout songs to make the experience worthwhile. While Future Islands understand their audience well and know that emphasis of timbre is paramount today, their resources couldn’t quite provide the sonic nourishment they were hoping for. The overwhelming synthetic textures sounded quite hectic when together and never gave much direction or purpose outside of sounding the opposite of acoustic. Luckily, repeated harmonic patterns were mostly strong and emphasized the important features of each song. There weren’t great vocals or astounding lyrics, which were always in the forefront, but the music had a steady flow and rather constant energy to make this a pleasant listen. “Time On Your Side” and “Day Glow Fire” are the only two songs I’d willingly listen to again, but there’s something here for any casual electronic pop fan.
Final Score: 119/180
Narkopop – GAS
It sets a very pleasant ambience even though its purpose is very specific and almost restricting. This album can only be enjoyed when the mind is clear and actions are at a minimum, but in the right atmosphere it can be a golden experience. It does what it set out to do, and it’s a well-crafted hour and a half of musical centricity and steadiness. Although the heavy existence of a 4/4 beat seemed to go against the free flow of the rest of the music, I actually liked the dichotomy it presented and it allowed for interesting experimentation of combining differing layers. However, it did take over the texture a bit too much, which made the sound lose a bit of ethereal magic and overall power. It’s surprising to me that the melodic and harmonic structures were very apparent and in-your-face for the most part, which in itself is neither good nor bad but perhaps it muddled the goal of the music a bit. There was consistently large and detectable movement that seemed odd for a pure ambient album but never ceased to accentuate a common mood and direction. The songs that I enjoyed more were actually the weakest melodically, because the other layers completely thrived. Maybe that’s a sign of what GAS, and ambient music in general, really does at its best.
Final Score: 135/180
ALL-AMERIKKKAN BADA$$ – Joey Bada$$
This guy is really on to something. This is only his second studio album, and he’s already reached a level of maturity and bravery in his music that hardly anyone his age has. This album was a signal that Joey Bada$$ will be a force in the rap genre for a while, and that he’s not interested in resting on his laurels. His ear served him well here, which this album having a pleasing, potent sound from start to finish while staying appropriate for the mood. A lot of the choruses were less spirited and meaningful compared to the verses, but that wasn’t too much of a detriment due to the overall organization of important musical points. He really turned it on the second half of the album with intense rhythmic delivery that hit home well. The underlying harmonic structures were a little disappointing with how they distanced themselves so much from the more important layers and couldn’t create cohesiveness with anything. Even though they didn’t quite help convey a message they did enhance the chill mood. There’s no catching Kendrick, but as long as Joey Bada$$ keeps trusting his ear during his career, he should be considered one of the best rappers of his generation.
Final Score: 136/180
The Search for Everything – John Mayer
As boring as a new John Mayer album may sound to many listeners, this actually wasn’t as obnoxious as it could have been. Yes, it is catered to a small, targeted audience of fan-girls and the subject matter is nothing but sappy love. In trying to sound pleasant, and basing every timbral decision off of that, the result actually wasn’t very pleasant. However, there were some surprising and unique musical-driven aspects here, mainly in the neat harmonic structures that weren’t exactly enthralling but still gave polish and shine to each song. Mayer’s true downfall has always been his inability to craft melodies that truly embody his emotion or his musical goals. It was mostly overly plain and unoriginal. Still, there were some moments of melodic interest, more than I expected, which actually helped produce a couple of good songs. While the amount of musical creativity within this atmosphere may be a welcomed surprise to a lot of people, it stayed very much within a defined run-down circle, which doesn’t result in music that can really make an emotional impact. There’s not a whole lot of worth here for anyone beyond those who already worship Mayer.
Final Score: 105/180
Hopeless Romantic – Michelle Branch
Well, you can’t win them all, but this is still a pretty decent pop rock album. I am a big Michelle Branch fan, perhaps bigger than I should be, but I have no problem defending the quality of Branch as a songwriter. She has one of the best melodic intuitions of any pop rock artist since the turn of the century, and even after a huge break between output she can give spark to the texture with her sung lines. Now, the oddest thing about these songs was that the verses were way more melodically interesting and better developed than the choruses. Within this song form, normally the true melody is born within the chorus having the space and the textural dominance. Hardly any of Branch’s choruses on this album gave way to anything greater than the quicker and denser shapes that her verses had. That was disappointing, but melody was still the most worthwhile aspect, as it should be in this context. The lack of power and drive in the sound couldn’t quite keep up with the goals of each song. Trying to be laid back and calm didn’t really work well with these melodic and harmonic structures. If Branch is trying to revitalize her career, in which she started off as a very bright star, she needs to find the power and carefree quality of her youthful sound. At least we know she can still hear some neat melodies and make us smile.
Final Score: 126/180
Whiteout Conditions – The New Pornographers
Time after time after time did these melodies infuse the music with brilliance, identity, and personality. Every song has the ability and worthiness to be played over and over in one’s head. If there’s any negative to this album, it’s that the songs ended too soon after giving the listener such a wonderful taste of melodic ingenuity. As I’ve said before on The Music Observer, The New Pornographers are genius melody writers within a sophisticated rock setting, and their talent puts them in the top 10 best bands of the millennium. This album is nothing different, and provides a medley of pure modern rock delight. Their sound was sensational and driven despite the rather tame usage of synthetic textures. The songs shared many similarities in terms of form, instrumentation, and objective, but it matters not when they all reach a wonderfully high level. In listening with background knowledge and context in mind, this is not their best album. In listening solely based on its musical offering, this is an undeniably awesome work that I will certainly be considering for best album of the year.
Final Score: 157/180
What Now – Sylvan Esso
This had solid album written all over it after the first two songs, but the middle of the album lost a lot of shine and was unable to keep up the inventiveness throughout. While the Sylvan Esso duo have made it clear that their unique sounds and timbral experiments were what make them musicians worthy of attention, I actually didn’t find their sound to be particularly entrancing here. It was a nice combination of synthetic textures that are still well beyond lots of musicians today in that same electropop realm, and some of the spaces that they created were quite cool and ethereal. I never really enjoyed the sound quality of the actual synthetic instruments, though, as they were very bell-tone and fuzzy which never quite brought out the best in each song. I think the real worth here is in the well-formed melodic shapes that were present for most of the album. Without them, it would be hard to remember any of these songs or differentiate them from one another. They were inconsistent in getting everything to click on a high level, but there were a few neat songs that rose above the otherwise ordinary structures. They showed signs of strength, and although it may not be the great career progression album that it could have been, none of their shortcomings are too difficult to deal with moving forward.
Final Score: 124/180