Here are my reviews and scores for October 2017 albums that I did not feature earlier.
Lotta Sea Lice – Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile
Genuineness is a wonderful result that music can have, and this charismatic duo took it further to write an album on the foundation of being genuine. No musical decision was forced, their soft-spoken entity seemed to come off as originally intended, and they didn’t try to satisfy anyone but themselves. Those are great traits that made this work personable and engaging to a degree. However, there’s a big risk taken when the foundation of the music is not set by anything strictly musical. In order for outright authenticity to be the music’s framework, a musician needs to have one of two things: an incredibly powerful story to tell (e.g. Bob Dylan), or an incredibly unique personal style (e.g. John Coltrane). Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile had neither of these here. There were bits and pieces of strong stylistic decisions within harmonic progressions, especially in the songs “Let It Go” and “Peepin’ Tom”. These moments of unique arpeggiations, countermelodies, or strong loops featuring IV and V gave the music its most personality and worth, ultimately making this an enjoyable listen over something that could have been more forgettable. The harmony was the only aspect that consistently had successful musical decisions, but its importance and reliance within each song paid off. Melody and timbre were the two more genuine elements, coming across with lots of ease and casualness. Barnett and Vile were smart and talented enough to create something at least interesting and sensible in everything they do here, but their organic approach to this music hindered their ability to make everything click within a song and deliver anything substantial or noteworthy. Perhaps aside from “Peepin’ Tom”, it was tough to pick out a truly engaging musical moment that I wanted to stick with me. The melodies had too much monotone given what expansive harmonies there were, and more often than not the heavily featured guitar gave only a plain background to go with an already bare setting. Again, if there’s a profound or emotional story being told, this may have been a more effective setting, but there was nothing on that level that reached me. If down-to–earth and deadpan is what matters most to you in music, than this may be the best album all year for you, but I’d certainly question your priorities. While not very compelling to me within these circumstances, I did enjoy several songs and believe the album has some important worth solely based on the duo’s musicality.
Final Score: 126/180
Ken – Destroyer
There was an obvious effort to sound neat and distinctive while presenting rather straightforward musical ideas. I applaud this group for doing so, since it’s important to always start with a clean slate and never be tied down by exterior expectations. They did indeed achieve some important uniqueness in their sound, with most of the risks in sharp texture changes and prominent guitar effects being rather rewarding in the end. The timbral experiments were ultimately the one aspect that drove the music and made the album a decent listen. However, it wasn’t so overwhelmingly successful that it warranted the band to put all of their eggs into one basket like that. The timbre achieved a personal goal of being quirky if nothing else, but aside from a couple guitar and saxophone solos there wasn’t much in the way of pleasantry. The sound had an odd blend of cool yet colorless instrumental features. While that can certainly be justified in some circumstances, it didn’t work so well here since the overall timbre was very exposed and meant to be the crux of the entire work. Perhaps the worst aspect about the sound was the abrasive yet plain vocals. Since the overall focus was on the sonic presentation of musical ideas, there’s little to discuss about the ideas themselves, which I view as a negative no matter what the band was attempting to make the listener feel. The songwriting was incredibly ordinary, emphasizing form through texture changes above all else, leaving the melody and harmony as untouched, raw layers that hardly did any heavy lifting. The melodies were especially tame and uninteresting. While they had purpose within the form and gave good enough repetition to be memorable to a degree, the lines themselves were just rather awkward in their insignificant and patchy pitch collections. The harmony had a couple more triumphant passages, especially in beginning, with sensible movement paired with some interesting uses of minor ii and vi. Those small moments were never consistent, though, and came to just be happy accidents in the building of this generic structure. It’s some decent music, especially considering the nice “clean slate” approach, but this is rather forgettable in the entire scope of the music world.
Final Score: 118/180
Glasshouse – Jessie Ware
With its uses of overly done trite conventions in all musical layers around almost every turn, I found it difficult to like this work. To my surprise, it turns out I did like it to a small degree, and its saving grace has to do with the overall attitude and presentation of the music. The musical ideas themselves were rather unoriginal and dull; the melody consistently used the same few notes and patterns within one unchanging scale, and the harmonies kept tame quarter note rhythms and being rather uneventful. I hate making comparisons, but there was a Katy Perry-like vibe to the songwriting here, which was not good. The obvious attempt to connect with a younger, more susceptible audience did no help to create a truly grasping, worthy song, but Jessie Ware showed she had more motivation than that. She relied on softness, purity, and slow tempos in the sound to get her intentions across rather than sticking to a single upbeat dimension. In that way, the normally unbearable short pentatonic scale repetitions came across as nonchalant and chill, ultimately being congenial with the rest of the music and not acting as though it’s the melody of a lifetime. Still, due to the lame melodic chorus repetitions from a quality standpoint, there was only so far this appropriate role for them could go. The melodic layer did also help to separate this work from more boring attempts at conventionality with some unique shapes in the verses, which was always the more free, expressive section within each song’s form. The harmony could never quite get out of the rut, providing stability at best and never being rhythmically interesting, which perhaps is what this music lacked the most. The soothing and active sound was the real difference maker, succeeding overall in creating a basic calm atmosphere that has its place in the music world. Everything worked together and the presentation is quite clear; it merely lacks the skeletal substance, which is a trouble for many modern musicians.
Final Score: 120/180
Turn Out the Lights – Julien Baker
Julien Baker is without a doubt a strong songwriter, and she was on the right track with most every musical decision that was made. At its most modest reception, this album is a fine collection of pleasant, well thought out songs with a personal touch of emphasizing the solo artist that makes for a nice experience. At best, this is a gorgeous work with wonderful emotional consistency and the ability to make the listener feel the warmth and depth that they are searching for. My perception didn’t quite reach that latter level overall, mainly because I have heard other musicians be more successful in personal style within this soft, songwriter atmosphere, but this work certainly holds its own and has some important highlights that really make it worthwhile. The harmonic motion in the songs “Televangelist” and “Everything That Helps You Sleep” was truly eye-opening and strong cornerstones of the music. Baker’s songwriting talent and beautiful soft piano playing reached a height in the song “Hurt Less”, giving a stamp of true worth on the album. While emotion and intent stayed nicely consistent, not every musical layer came off as smooth and solid as the aforementioned songs. The two obvious lows in musical direction on the album were “Sour Breath” and “Happy to Be Here”, being a little too relaxed and undeveloped in each facet. There was only one consistent negative to each of the three musical elements I rate the music on: the melodies were typically a bit too flat and unhinged, the harmonic language wasn’t terribly strong and only succeeded when there were important timely arrivals on the IV or V chord, and the timbre could have used more arpeggiation from the guitar since it was much more effective than the chord strumming. While Baker has room to make the elements tighter and more daring, she still produced quite a beautiful work that, like I said, has standouts worth listening to over again.
Final Score: 133/180
The Kid – Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
For a work that was set to achieve its goals solely through ambience, it did well to keep interest and have a steady flow with its presentation of 13 individual songs. The presentation as an album did feel a little forced in places, with musical ideas that called for more lengthy development ending without much reason except to begin a new song. Thankfully, though, the songs each had their own peaks of interest, dominated by the wonderfully experimental timbre that was mostly gorgeous. The blends between modern orchestral instruments, especially the woodwind section, and other worldly synthetic sounds proved to be the highlight of the work. The only downfall to the sound, other than when it was cut off too soon, was that the sounds from scratch sometimes gave off too much of an obvious sci-fi background, a bit reminiscent of a Twilight Zone soundtrack. That lost a touch of its uniqueness and awe, but other than that it was quite brilliant. While the melody and harmony were obviously subservient and ultimately less of a factor, they held their own pockets of strength throughout to maintain enough interest. All in all, I actually didn’t think the solo voice was as needed as it came off to be, since it gave the melodic layer an obvious separation from the texture that wasn’t always a fit with the direction as a whole. Luckily, or simply with just good musicality on Smith’s part, the melodies were quite appealing and gave timely spurts of emotion despite lacking some shape. A listener really has to be a fan of letting go and actively engaged in finding deeper meaning to really enjoy this work. It tells a nice chronological story of life beneath its musical layers, but it takes some digging on the listener’s part to really find the true weight. Again, it might have better on both the musician’s and listener’s end if it wasn’t constructed as a 13-song album, but it’s a neat success for what it is.
Final Score: 132/180
Take Me Apart – Kelela
There’s no question that Kelela has talent. She’s got a wonderfully controlled and soothing voice that highlights the album. In this work, she demonstrates her ability to successfully deliver her intentions through her voice, her grasping lyrics, and tamed atmosphere. Uniqueness has been quite overrated in modern times, since although her overall approaches and tactics to create a chill, relaxing sound have become industry tropes, she achieves the sonic result well enough overall to warrant respect and attention. However, the sound was balanced out by dullness in linear motion and uninviting chord clusters that had no strong purpose. As with much of the modern endeavors on music meant for specific chill circumstances that have been labeled “R&B”, musicians seem content with creating flat melodic lines, basically being given a license to do so. This is a big problem, because this lack of broad shape and energy has been equated to having a positive effect on the ambience, when it really only causes a lack of interest. It is wrong to simply take out elements of melody when trying to achieve something of this nature; the music can be small, intimate, and chill while still having engagement in the melodic layer. Kelela briefly shows this in the songs “Enough”, “Better”, and “Altadena”, where the passages of bigger, more memorable lines were very important for this work to separate itself and have a degree of general success. Most other songs kept a status quo with their melodies that were nothing more than shrugs and passing smoke, although staying appropriate and out of the way. The harmonic layers were quite similar in that they maintained a misplaced goal of relaxation, only to generally come off as unnecessary or formulaic that wasn’t driven by beauty. The harmony was at its worst when it was both too repetitive in an annoying figure and not in cohesion with the melodic direction, as in the songs “Better” and “LMK”. At its best, it was either well supportive of the melody or had an interested repeated figure. It never had both at the same time. The most annoying thing about the harmony was the incessant parallel 4ths used by the secondary vocal layers. That had no purpose but to sound like what other musicians in similar realms have done, which is one of those industry tropes that needs to go away since it’s actually rather ugly in sound. The album started as a slow and rich timbral triumph, but overtime all it really became was slow with the occasional discernable melodic motion. With its cool sound alone I deem it barely good, but it’s only for those who have a real stamina and taste for this specific unsubstantial style.
Final Score: 115/180
Meaning of Life – Kelly Clarkson
If the meaning of life is to be lethargic and aimless, then this album is wonderfully purposeful. Unfortunately I don’t believe that’s the case, and Clarkson’s deterioration as a worthwhile musician has continued. There’s no need to compare it to any existing music, but I can’t help but wonder how a musician who once gave the world such great, invigorating songs like “Behind These Hazel Eyes” and “Since U Been Gone” fails to provide any vigor or strength in a subsequent work. It’s a boring, sellout sound that the world doesn’t need and further taints a stellar career. There’s nothing overly ridiculous about the music; it’s relaxed, it has space to provide development, and it uses congenial melodic tactics with regard to today’s popular music trends. The melody was indeed the most successful element overall in giving personality and direction to the songs while not always falling in the traps that the rest of the music was doing. They were well present and most had a memorable chorus, but there was also a ton of unneeded repetition of lousy monotony and an overall laziness in structure and presentation. Perhaps the greatest positive to this album was Clarkson’s voice. She is a talented singer whose improvisatory riffs in the coda of most songs provided a boost of energy and interest that the music sorely needed. As a whole, while the music was rather harmless and sustainable, there were no standout musical decisions in the songwriting or the instrumentation, and everything came to be a predictably slow drudge by the end. Even the songs with more involved percussion, seemingly there to provide contrast, never changed the tempo or delivery in any drastic way to be discernable. I felt as though almost every song could have been called” Slow Dance” instead of just one of them. Sure, there was soul and passion involved, which came across easily in the direct lyrics and emphasis on the vocals, but no musical layer carried its weight in order to create a truly enjoyable work. I tolerated it, but it wasn’t delightful or emotional to sit through. It was very close to being more respectable, with perhaps the several annoying modern melodic tropes weighing it down too much. It’s not an abomination, but I can’t bring myself to recommend this to anyone.
Final Score: 99/180
The OOZ – King Krule
This is quite tasty; it’s food for the brain as much as the ear, overstuffing the listener who wants to be challenged by the absence of rules with gobs of nourishment. While it may seem like risky business, it’s easier to detect true emotion and realism in massive experimentation than you may expect. When there’s hardly a detectable method to the madness except to destroy the perception of “normal”, then on the surface I consider that as successful experimentation. This album is not about being different or unique; in fact, it shows it’s not supposed to be “about” anything. It’s so effortless and carefree in its presentation of avant-garde ideas that, at its core, it’s just a musician toying with our minds. As a listener, that’s pretty fun. King Krule achieved this perception of musical freedom by doing one thing: nailing the sonic atmosphere. The instrumental organization was delightful in terms of the shocking and abstract delivery of the music. Everything from the subtle background electronic drones to the awesome chill guitar with a salivating out-of-tune presence hit hard with great surprise while creating an expansive, spacious atmosphere that creativity could thrive in. Listeners should want to be hit hard when listening to music, and it doesn’t just happen by being loud and over-the-top. This was a well-executed knockout of experimental features that are impossible to take down. The timbre stayed wonderfully consistent in its mood and feel while many other small musical moments danced around and livened the scene. The one big downfall of the timbre was the solo voice. The low, unenthusiastic vocals did not pair well with anything else going on sonically, and although maintaining the sense of freedom it hardly matched the direction or emotion level of the music aside from a few points of intense yelling. Related to that, this album misses out on greatness because of the ineptitude of the melodic layer. While it thankfully didn’t play a huge role in the texture and gave some small meaning to whatever was being said lyrically, melody failed to captivate in any manner, especially in the manner of the insanity that surrounded it. The melodies were normally too fast, keeping eighth note pulses while attempting to add another interest level instead of connecting and flowing with the sound. They had hardly a care for pitch, which would have been an easy fix to add the next interest point that was needed. Overall, plain rhythm was a big hindrance of the music, often times settling on straight 4/4 beats with obvious accents while the actual sound was very diverse and unique. The melodic shape and rhythmic variety that was missed here doesn’t seem to be much of a stretch to add for someone like King Krule, based on the wildly imaginative successes in other aspects. This work was not as far from greatness as the score seems, and this was indeed a worthwhile and fun experience.
Final Score: 135/180
As You Were – Liam Gallagher
This album had one of the most important turnarounds I’ve heard all year that saved it from the pit of deficiency it was marching towards. The first three songs were very lame and uninviting. They had slow, ugly guitar riffs that dragged the listener through long and boring phrases with choruses that lost interest right away. Those songs had a very similar makeup to them and accentuated the same unsuccessful melodic and harmonic tactics, leading me to believe that this was the sad extent to Gallagher’s talent and I was in for a long, disappointing listen. Then the next song, “Paper Crown”, was akin to the engine finally turning on. There was suddenly a grasping harmonic progression and a more delicate, interesting sound that provided more flexibility and engagement in the song’s direction. Moving forward, it was obvious that this song wasn’t just made from luck; most every song for the rest of the album had some sort of smart, strong engagement within its composition to be uniquely pleasant. Nothing ever topped “Paper Crown”, nor did anything reach a level of greatness or true astonishment, but the amount of creativity and bravery that was present compared to the album’s beginning made this is a surprisingly pleasant listen. Harmony was Gallagher’s strength throughout, as there were lots of nice secondary dominants and interesting chromatic transitions within the basic, non-concealing structures. However, rhythm was a big downfall; the music lost a lot of potential worth with all of the similar slow tempos and hardly any surprising accents or engaging meter changes. Melody went through the most important transformation and ended up being quite a deal breaker in each song. The melodic lines dragged down the entire song when vocal range played no part or repetitions were too flat and gaudy. They also made a song truly stand out and become enjoyable when it broke free of rhythmic or harmonic restraints and provided a memorable motive, like in the songs “I Get By” and “Doesn’t Have To Be That Way”. This is certainly a more interesting album than what it gives off on the surface, but in the end it still doesn’t amount to anything too exciting. Just have some patience to not turn it off after the first three songs and you may find some quality enjoyment. In fact, I’d just advise you to start on song #4.
Final Score: 123/180
Pacific Daydream – Weezer
I apologize for my frankness, but are there people out there who still listen to Weezer? I’m shocked that a new work from Weezer is getting attention, meaning that at least someone finds this music gratifying on an important level. Forget who they are and where they’re coming from; let’s focus on the music itself. There is an abundance of tasteless melodies that have really confusing shapes and unappealing form. The lack of strong harmonic tendencies or basic sequential movement within the melodies was simply ugly and made me a little angry. The small motives in the choruses were either incredibly static and annoying, like in “Happy Hour”, or disgustingly diatonic, plain and unoriginal, like in “La Mancha Screwjob”. Only a few songs made me want to rip my hair out due to asinine melodic lines, while the rest of them were just dreary and unsettling. The harmonies were a little more consistent in their basic applications, which although not fun or enjoyable did provide a little stability to the mess. It’s not a good sign when a plainly presented chord pattern of I IV V and vi is actually a songs most restful quality. The timbre didn’t sink to the level of idiocy that industry controlled pop music has, since the guitar did have small important features and some textural builds were meaningful. However, it’s like they became free from industrialism but did nothing with their freedom, instead recreating the same disastrous synthetic sounds over and over and keeping the instrumentation very bleak and prescribed. Aside from the chorus in the opening song, “Mexican Fender”, there was no worthwhile musicality present in this work. If you actually enjoy this, don’t worry; you’re just musically immature, which is only a problem for yourself until you make it a problem for others by sharing this album. Just keep it to yourself or, better yet, forget about it.
Final Score: 79/180
Cry Cry Cry – Wolf Parade
Despite giving off a rather innocent, energetic feel, this is definitely a piece of music that requires a determined and thoughtful listen in order to gain its full effect. This album has 11 songs that are very similar in form and compositional tactics, seemingly being a work that won’t gain an attentive listener if they aren’t captivated by the first couple of songs. That is unfortunately how many modern listeners decide to receive their music, but the attentiveness of those who sit through the whole work is eventually rewarded. On a micro level, it’s quite important to be engaged with each song from beginning to end. That may sound like a given, but it’s actually rare for modern listeners to experience music like that, especially within this type of “rock” presentation. After a verse and chorus, experienced listeners can usually pick out patterns and see the rest of the ways the music could potentially go. Not so with this album, though. These songs contain quite a shock factor, which is their long form composition. It was certainly unexpected, and ended up being quite brilliant by giving identity to the sound through slowly evolving improvisatory jams. However, there was a big negative to this. The listener has to get through long stretches of a false verse-chorus form that rarely had anything engaging in the songwriting structure. Typically, the first half of the song was written quite conventionally with melody taking a forefront role and everything else tamely supporting it through the song’s phases. This band did not show any strength in conventional melodic writing, though, and while the sound was pleasant there was nothing overly interesting about the chorus builds or overall presentation. It was only when the song slowly opened up to include more textural layers and less structure did the music finally reach a nice interest point. Patience is great for listeners, but not when they have to wade through lots of moments that really don’t matter in order to get to the punch line. The punches were eventually thrown, though, especially by the riveting saxophone solos that did well to see some of the songs out. The one aspect that I consistently enjoyed overall was the use of the keyboard instruments, be it the piano or the electric organ, that gave extra funkiness and drive to the harmonic deliverance. I just barely call this album a success, although it would be tough for me to listen to all the way through again. If Wolf Parade were to make the ongoing codas to each of these songs the groundwork for a musical piece, then we’re talking something special.
Final Score: 130/180