Review Roundup for March/April

Author: Riley Urbano

Autechre – AE_LIVE 2016/2018

Another year, another eight hour’s worth of mind bending computer noises from Rob Brown and Sean Booth. 2016/2018 is another installment in Autechre’s open-ended AE_LIVE series, in which they release soundboard recordings of their famously trippy live sets – I wonder, are they also counting it as one of the two studio records they plan to release this year? Like other AE_LIVE releases, these sets are variations on the same basic ideas (more interesting than it sounds, I promise). Unlike other AE_LIVE releases, which tend to be an outlet for the group’s most conventionally danceable stuff, these live shows are as abstract as anything off of their NTS Sessions or elseq releases. In fact, these sets are more than similar to the studio material: we hear drums over “shimripl casual,” a cavernous highlight from 2018’s NTS Session 4, and I think I heard a bit of “elyc6 0nset” somewhere in there as well.. Still, there are some ragers nestled in these releases, for those intrepid enough to take their Ae in hour-long chunks at a time. A welcome time-sink, if not a little self indulgent (even for a devoted admirer like me). ★★★

Bob Dylan – “Murder Most Foul”/“I Contain Multitudes”

An earlier draft of this review belaboured an opinion I had, specifically that Bob Dylan intended “Murder Most Foul” to land as a mean-spirited joke on people who take art and politics seriously. I still feel that way – it’s an overlong encyclopedia of boomer cultural references sung over a post-rock instrumental, and it’s a little absurd that it exists courtesy of Bob-freakin-Dylan. But my estimation of “Murder” changed a bit when Dylan followed that single up with another single, similar in tone and composition, that lands completely differently. “I Contain Multitudes” puts the shoe on the other foot, turning a cruelly humorous eye on Dylan himself – self-pity so consuming that he likens himself to Anne Frank, genius so expansive that he contains “landscapes” and “nudes” in addition to, of course, “multitudes.” We get two sides of the same coin here: whether they’re part of an upcoming release, they’re intended as a swan song, or Dylan is just clearing house, these singles comprise an honest and playful bookend to one of the most legendary careers in the history of recorded music. ★★★

Dirty Projectors – Windows Open

There are few simpler pleasures than a strong EP of music. Four or five tracks, low stakes – it’s a great way to make a quick, self-contained artistic statement. Artists like Burial, FKA Twigs, and My Bloody Valentine have demonstrated the potential of the EP format in their own ways, but it’s an especially welcome surprise coming from a band as partial to grand statements as Dirty Projectors. There are very few of Dirty Projectors’ trademarks here: nothing too intricate or pretentious, no abstract lyrics about Don Henley or finches, no annoying (to some!) vocals from mastermind Dave Longstreth – and yet, as an acoustic EP fronted by a new vocalist, it still has that unmistakable Dirty Projectors feeling. There’s elegance in the arranged strings of “Search for Life,” playfulness in the harmonies of “Overlord,” stunning tenderness in the lyrics of “Guard the Baby.” Seriously – this EP is almost perfect. Can’t recommend it enough. ★★★★

Fiona Apple – Fetch the Bolt Cutters

Fiona Apple has finally gone and released the Bone Machine of jazz-inflected piano pop – that’s no joke; she actually used her deceased dog’s bones as percussion on this record. That said, the bones on Fetch the Bold Cutters are far from the only things to get excited about; Fiona Apple is taking all kinds of risks here, and a whole lot of them pay off. Her vocals are loose and playful, an incredibly far cry from the torch-singer energy of her old stuff, and a good deal more unhinged than even the crazier moments on The Idler Wheel. The jazzy chord changes of that previous record have been switched out for something distinctly more R&B, and I swear to god, I think Fiona Apple is rapping on “Relay.” But the real difference between Bolt Cutters and the rest of Apple’s incredibly strong discography isn’t technical, it’s emotional: this is her most unguarded and personal artistic statement yet. Don’t take it from me, just look at the album cover. ★★★★

Frank Ocean – “Dear April”/”Cayendo”

I’m starting to check out on Frank Ocean. He’s losing his knack for constructing a great narrative around himself. Since the release of Blonde, and the virtuoso run of singles that followed, his public persona and music output have gotten kind of – confusing? There were his PrEP+ events, mired in strange controversy, then a couple of fluffy magazine interviews, and then the DHL and In My Room singles, which saw an artist I once thought of as visionary engaging in some pretty stale trap cliches. And now, these two new tracks, “Dear April” and “Cayendo,” which don’t do much for me either. They don’t flesh out the Frank Ocean myth that we’ve all fallen so hard for. Does he owe us more of that? Not necessarily. But that doesn’t mean I have to like these two charmless retreads of Moon River, or their Eurotrash remixes. ★

Knxwledge – 1988

I’m finding Knxwledge’s “second” “album” to be surprisingly welcome in this period of crisis; after all, there are few things more comforting to zoomer ears than lofi beats to, um, chill/study to. Lofi hip hop is such a world unto itself these days that it feels weird to even judge it by the same standards with which you’d judge a release in any other sort of genre, besides maybe ambient music. Does 1988 offer up a creative approach to the genre? Good songwriting? Emotional complexity? Sonic variation? The answer to all of these questions is no, and yet this stuff is still just too cozy and pleasant to offend me. When I think about it, I’m insulted by the formulaic approach, by how Knxwlegde revels in what I’m not afraid to call laziness, and so on and so on. Then I listen, and I immediately forget about all that as soon as the vocal samples on track one start up. And, I mean, come on: the .Paak feature really hits. ★★

The Strokes – The New Abnormal

I’ll be honest – I’m familiar with the Strokes’ first two records and the Voidz’ stuff, but pretty much nothing else; never heard Angles, never heard the Comedown Machine, and so on for the rest of the Strokes’ ephemera that’s accumulated since the band hit the scene twenty years ago. So I’m not judging this in the context of the Strokes’ discography, but more as an isolated thing to be judged on its own merits. As that – yeah, it’s pretty good, even if it’s bizarre to have a band that started out worshipping Lou Reed get this ‘80s. Julian Casablancas has, inexplicably, never sounded better, the band is tight but not afraid to get kinda weird with it, and Rick Rubin’s production is distinct from that Strokes sound I know so well, but not in a bad way. The chord progressions and melodies feel familiar, tried and true, sometimes even classic. Still, this record isn’t exactly Virtue – it’s pretty samey from track to track, in terms of track length and tempo. When it comes to pop records – who wants to listen to nine five minute songs in a row? ★★

Ratings for the Rest

Aphex Twin – Soundcloud releases ★★★★

Arca – @@@@@ ★★

The Avalanches – We Will Always Love You/Running Red Lights ★★

Bad Bunny – YHLQMDLG

Caribou – Suddenly ★★

Drake – Life Is Good/Toosie Slide ★

Dua Lipa – Future Nostalgia

Jay Electronica – A Written Testimony

Four Tet – Sixteen Oceans ★

Gupi – None ★★

Nicolas Jaar – Cenizas ★★

King Krule – Man Alive! ★★

Machine Girl – U-Void Synthesizer ★★★

Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown ★★★

Playboi Carti – @ MEH ★★

R.A.P. Ferreira & the Jefferson Park Boys – Purple Moonlight Pages ★★★

Soccer Mommy – Color Theory ★

Thundercat – It Is What It Is ★★

Waxahatchee – Saint Cloud ★★

The Weeknd – After Hours ★

Yves Tumour – Heaven for a Tortured Mind ★★

Yaeji – What We Drew

Riley Urbano |  _/4 stars (★) is the superior rating system | KXSU Music Reporter

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