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IN 2021 I WILL LISTEN TO YOUR ALBUM OF THE YEAR


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And hopefully in Actual 2021! This year has seen a LOT of records that I've adored so I'm interested to see what else came out that didn't land on my radar.

Rules:

  1. First Come, First Serve.
  2. If you nominate two, I'll listen to zero.
  3. No guarantees that my review will be positive.
  4. If someone suggests your album I'll ask the both of you if you have another album you'd rather I review. First Come First Serve still applies.

My personal album of the year was "The Apple Drop" by Liars, which came out on the same day as my runner up, Lingua Ignota's "Sinner Get Ready." I've been a huge Liars fan for years and years and this very well may be their best record. The thing I love about Liars is how different they sound and how much they challenge their outer boundaries of what they can do as musicians, always learning and expanding. This time, now that Liars is just Angus Andrew, the way that he chose to expand is using professional musicians and a writing partner. The result is an enormous, eerie, fun, great rock record. I'll also post my full top 10 at the end of this process for anyone who's curious.

And yes I realize there's three months left in the year, so if you want to wait that's totally fine. Submissions close on New Year's Eve.

Now, please to be share yon records!

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I don't really want to throw out one similar in musical style to last year's, and I feel slightly guilty because the drummer is a friend (and an excellent writer and multi-instrumentalist) but after looking at my list of records from the last year this one slaps me right in the face. 

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  • 4 weeks later...

Well, uh, I guess I'll get started and maybe that'll lead people to start submitting things?

I know nothing about Pharoah. You, you are surprised. A cursory google leads me to a wikipedia page that says this is rooted in European Power Metal. I'm hoping that's just a copywriter from a long time ago doing a reductive job. also it says this is the first album from this band in like 9 years, so that's cool! Here we go!

Spoiler

Alright just get started hell yeah. Fuck an intro sometimes. Once the verse started I kind of lost track of the rhythm which is a hallmark of a brute forced tempo change, which informs me a lot about where this is going. As the rhythm smooths back out I've gotten more into it. I dont have a deep well of metal references to pull from here so I'll avoid comparisons. Lyricwise it's rock lyrics but I appreciate that the album called The Powers That Be is starting with the track The Powers That Be about the concept of The Powers That be. Intro as thesis statement. A lot of highminded concept/metal stuff waits until way later into the record to address why this is happening. I love the chords in the "Who would think it" bridge, and could see myself just listening to that part on loop for like 10 minutes and having a great time. Pretty good intro!

OK WAY INTO THIS ONE. The intro is really good and once the song starts jogging I feel it like sweeping me into the speed of it. I guess it's worth pointing out here that of the "classic" metal bands I've always been way more partial to Judas Priest than Black Sabbath because it feels like they're pushing their limits all the time as far as speed vs. coherence. Not as much about heavy atmosphere as it is heavy sound. So with that in mind, I'm having a great time with this song.

Ok it's power ballad time but they get credit for pushing it tempo wise as well. I got exposed to some band that did exclusively powerballads just recently, and I forgot their name (lol) and I think the tempo is a thing that sinks power ballads for me a lot of the time. This has the opposite of that problem. I know it's probably going to speed up into a full song soon but honestly they could run a full ballad at this speed and I'd love that shit. There's also some good chords in here too, so that's fun. Yeah cool that was the full ballad! That is probably the best ballad I've listened to for any of these records over the years I've done this! I'm not gonna go listen to the others to find out how true that is!

I love that this picked up from a similar tempo and just started barreling forwards. Currently I'm in one of those zones where I don't have a bunch to say because I'm just genuinely enjoying my time with it and all that I have to write is like "aw yeah" in so many ways.

Ok this intro is veering Yes-wardly and the sooner we start jogging the better. I'm not loving this one. The drum fills break up the pace too much, and it's hard to get anything to hold on before the chorus. I think we've talked about this, but in my mind the ideal form of a rock song is to sound like the open road. This is a bumpy goddamn road. It's like theoretically impressive and takes a high level of musicianship but the design keeps me from enjoying it.

I was about to talk about power ballad 2 and how it's cool that it has the same pace and then the song I kept waiting to explode out of the first power ballad pops out here. Having the restraint to do that on that song makes it feel that much better on this song. That's a great move. The chorus has some chords I really like in here too, as does the bed under the bridge. Always appreciate letting the bassist have a lick, even if it's right before the solo. Good tune!

I've said this a lot of times so far but I really appreciate how often the songs just fuckin Get Going and start as fast as they can. This chorus is SUPER cheesy, but in a heart-on-sleeve kind of way, and as someone who has listened to and recommended multiple records from A Silver Mt. Zion, I'm not allowed to complain about music being especially heart-on-sleeve. This is the first song on here that's felt particularly rote to me, and is the first time I've been able to predict chord progressions at all on the record (usually a bad sign). It's OK. It means well.

Power Ballad #3, and it's the longest song on the record, and it's starting at a slower tempo than the others OH OK NEVERMIND LOL. The way they keep faking me out about the power ballads is like surgical towards my own misgivings about the form and I'm enjoying that. I keep waiting for 4 minutes of slow acoustic guitar playing with lots of "soulfulness" and every time they pose like that's what's coming the rest of the band is like "HEY IS THIS A SONG I KNOW A SONG" like excitable dogs. The bridge is good, especially with the vocal harmonies. I haven't said a lot about the vocals, so I'll do that now that we're in the breakdown. I think they're probably the part of the playing that's the most beholden to genre standards, but the rest of the band keeps pushing the tempo and the vocals are completely capable of keeping up and fitting in. So, not my favorite sound or style, but I can tell it's done very well. This is a good tune. I bet this is how the live sets end.

YAY NO ENDING BALLAD! Okay the way the drums kick in on the verse without the bass or the other guitars sounds really cool and it's wild to me that I dont hear that more often. This song feels like it's about to be a shredding explosion, judging by how in depth the bridges are. The actual chorus is really good, and yep sure enough the solo is cranking harder than the rest of the solos on the record, going back into that extremely complicated bridge section.

= = =

Wow! I gotta say, all the trepidation I felt when "european power metal" came up was completely unwarranted. A few misgivings aside, this is record is a great time. I can see how this would be a personal inspiration to someone, and even without that layer I can see how they're using their musicianship to make something Good instead of making something for Musicians. Full credit, good time, thanks for suggesting this to me.

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I have a very exclusive taste in European power metal in that I really can't stand the typical Helloween sound (after Walls and Keeper Part 1) and this is nothing close to that (Chris is a big Blind Guardian fan though I think, haha). To me this is more an American power metal sound which is a lot wider ranging and not as cheesy as European. You mentioned Judas Priest and hear A LOT of Halford in their singer. The interesting thing is that it isn't the highs that people usually imitate, it's his midrange that is so similar. But really what struck me so hard about the album was Chris' drums. I'm familiar with him as a singer and bass player in Dawnbringer, Superchrist, and High Spirits, but his drumming is fucking siiiiiiick on this record. Also since you liked this you should definitely check out those other bands, particularly High Spirits. Superchrist is a Motorhead style band and Dawnbringer are totally different than a lot of stuff -- even changing with each record -- but High Spirits are really excellent NWOBHM style stuff. 

They haven't released a bad record so I might as well present the last one.

EDIT: And this is my favorite Dawnbringer. Again, all are different, and I can't really think of a band to compare them to. 

https://dawnbringer.bandcamp.com/album/in-sickness-and-in-dreams

EDIT II: Fuck I forgot how good Catharsis Instinct is! Listen to that on the Bandcamp too. 

Edited by Curt McGirt
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  • 4 weeks later...

All my anticipated albums for the year are out, so ready to settle on a favourite. Every Time I Die ran it close, but my album of the year is Ultrapop by The Armed. Not often a new album comes out with one song I'd immediately put in an all time top ten and two that'd go in a top 100. Anyway, I'll leave the reviewing to you. This reminds me that The Apple Drop is very good and I need to listen to it again.

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2 hours ago, SturmCRF said:

All my anticipated albums for the year are out, so ready to settle on a favourite. Every Time I Die ran it close, but my album of the year is Ultrapop by The Armed. Not often a new album comes out with one song I'd immediately put in an all time top ten and two that'd go in a top 100. Anyway, I'll leave the reviewing to you. This reminds me that The Apple Drop is very good and I need to listen to it again.

Oooh which song?  Gut says "An Iteration" but there's so many bangers on that album. 

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37 minutes ago, Lawful Metal said:

Oooh which song?  Gut says "An Iteration" but there's so many bangers on that album. 

Average Death. The drum pattern alone is better than most songs. An Iteration is great too, but Big Shell and Real Folk Blues are my joint second favourites.

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I'm tempted to pick Year of the Horse by Fucked Up, but it's an hour and a half suite of music released in sections, so... I'm not going to subject you to that. But it's really good, everyone should still check it out if they have time.

The other thing I've been listening to a lot is Japanese Breakfast's Jubilee, so I think we'll go with that. I've had "Be Sweet" stuck in my head for fucking months. I predict you'll hate it. Spoiler: It ends with a ballad of sorts. 😉

Quite the polar opposites in terms of genres and stuff, but here we are.

EDIT: Oh, and there's also DONDA by Ye, but much like Fucked Up's album, it's a lot of music and could do with some massive trimming down. This might be the first year in quite awhile where I could actually do a Top 5-10 of the year! That's exciting, I haven't really listened to a lot of music in recent years so I'm glad 2021 was a return to form for myself. 

Edited by Casey
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I need a distraction! 4AM reviews!

  1. "Ultrapop" by The Armed
  2. "The Powers That Be" by Pharoah

So! The Armed! This'll be my fifth time listening to this this year I think? After the first time I listened to it I was kind of bothered by the cover for reasons that aren't worth getting into, and then I went and talked to some friends of mine and heard theories and evidence of things that this band might actually be- namely the idea that this is all the brainchild of Kurt Ballou, Converge guitarist and probably the best rock producer alive. However we got there, I like a bunch of songs on here already, but this'll be the first time I sit down and do nothing but listen to it. That'll be fun! Oh uh it's good workout music btw, that is what I mean by that.

Spoiler

I do adore how the record starts by doing two hits of Inception noise and then just pours into choral, and once that's settled in there's just more harsh noise. The tone profile and engineering of this record are pretty incredible. I think the other part I like about the positioning of Ultrapop as the theme is that it allows transfiguration of Rock Lyricism here that has to be beholden to modern genre trends (i.e. pop, hyperpop, etc), of a different vocabulary of opaque feeling paint.

The chorus chords here fuckin incredible, and this song also brings up the other thing I know I can say for sure about this record from my other times listening to it: everyone playing drums on this record is a fuckin Nut. This song also makes good use of the feeling paint lyricism, even acknowledging it with "it's meaningful if nothing's meant / may be a race to nowhere but I still hope that I win"

Hardcore screams of "I get smitten" rule lol. This song handles the transition well, just driving up the anxiety and energy from the two songs before. Don't have a lot else to say! Fun tune with sad words!

I love how the song after that feels like mallpunk with everything gained up way too far. It helps with the pacing without letting the steam off too much. Lots of rock records, even records I love, make that mistake, downshifting too far too fast.

yeah uh an iteration fucking rips especially the way it axe kicks like ten thousand different bands. It's also a killer showcase for basically all the playing on the record at the same time.

This is again great for the pacing, as An Iteration was fast but less tense than other songs on the record. Here we've slowed down but doubled up on the anxiety and feeling. All these fuckin chords are food for me.

This is one of the times on here where I most feel the whole "this is a Kurt Ballou secret side project" the most, because this is a rhythm that would mainly come from doing metalcore for like twenty years. Btw I don't know if I mentioned this but I like Converge a fuckin lot, so please don't take the invocations of them as a reference as some like "FINALLY HE'S SURPASSED CONVERGE" or whatever. I listened the shit out of You Fail Me and All We Love We Leave Behind. I'm not sure I get the thing the lyrics are going for at the moment, but maybe one day! This interview quote on the genius page suggests it's about the abuse of actresses in Hollywood.

While this one starts up I want to say this album is exhausting in the best way. It feels like it's been going for 40 minutes right now because it's all so dense and stimulating, also playing into the ultrapop thing. I love the outro more than the rest of the song here, which is not to say the song is bad, just that I got occupied thinking about how I was feeling while the rest of the song was happening and I forgot to write. I think I've figured out the thing this record actually reminds me of which is about to be some kind of hot take: this band is like if Future Of The Left had a budget and swapped the bitterness with romanticism.

And this starts happening as if to be like "you figured me out, this is just Interscope's Future Of The Left record!" Also not a diss, love Future of the Left, and sincerely wish they got the kind of support these people did to be able to afford the production here. This is also a good pace reduction tool! I keep bringing up the pacing cuz I'm working on music of my own and that tension and release element of pacing songs is really tricky.

Ok the anime lyrics here made me roll my eyes super hard but the song itself is good and I'm finding myself having increasingly less to say about the album's extremely good playing and sound. It's just aces all throughout.

I snatched a fruitfly out of the air as soon as this song started and that felt pretty cool. This is another one of the more approachable songs on here. I almost qualified that with like "but it's good!" but really there's nothing wrong with approachable and I'm wondering if that's something that's become inherent with the word approachable these days. This is also the big stress release after the rest of the record, though it can't even last the whole song without ratcheting back up, setting the stage for the last track.

I appreciate the tone of the ending here, using the same chords from Ultrapop and using harsher noise in the chorus. It feels like a real reiteration of a theme, of this content machine that churns out feeling paint and leaves ruined people out the other end.

= = =

yeh its still real good

This is actually a really hard choice to make. I had a better time listening to Pharoah but this is a record that never dips. I have to put it higher despite that joy gap. Just seems wrong to do it the other way, no matter how much I may want to.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...
  • 2 weeks later...

I've been thinking about making this submission for like a month and have been resisting the urge, but I was still bopping to this earlier and I've reached the point where I know people with who I sing the lyrics to a lot of these out loud so it's probably time to accept the cruel reality that my album of the year is... sigh

Inside (The Songs) - Bo Burnham 

If you haven't seen the Netflix special, I'll find it especially fun to see how these play just as an album for someone who hasn't caught like a dozen earworms off this thing. 

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A reminder that submissions close on New Year's day!

  1. "Ultrapop" by The Armed
  2. "The Powers That Be" by Pharoah
  3. "Jubilee" by Japanese Breakfast

I have heard of Japanese Breakfast but couldn't name a song. A cursory google search reveals that they're not Japanese, but instead Korean. I also think they did the soundtrack for the video game Sable? What a great sentence for anyone from the 90s. "The Sable game has a soundtrack by Japanese Breakfast." The wikipedia genre pile lists "indie rock" and what are basically five synonyms. I think that's about as much as I can get out of this part of the review.
 

Spoiler

The instrumentation and sound is modern but the structure definitely shows a draw from 90s alt rock, which makes sense why that was included on the synonym pile. The lyrics seem to be about making music, which is a personal hangup, but it's not as classless as that can get. Talking about the emotional content of creation is always better than discussing the elements of the song you're listening to.

The rhythm immediately reminds me of The Weeknd's "I Can't Feel My Face" which is a positive comparison. I think it's the high hat and dusting of funk instrumentation. I do have to say that the return of funk tone to pop music over the last few years is something I feel kind of mixed about, because it co-incided with me doing a deep dive of actual funk and a lot of the time I find that the modern stuff is lacking something. I think it's in the nature of the software production, the lack of human error in the playing reduces the sound from a living thing to a pastiche. Also the American Bandstand ending blows, but I understand it's purpose in the industry.

This is more of the thing I expected Japanese Breakfast to sound like. This is perfectly functional balladry with instrumental depth. It's nice. I don't have a lot to say.

This is also functional pop writing. It's weird to see the little splashes of Tame Impala around the outside of the sound. It gets hard to see when a sound is a response or a natural conclusion, and I don't know the catalog enough to say for sure but it feels just detached enough that I suspect it's the former. This song's lyrics are good but the chorus is kind of odd?

I like this song's lyrics a lot. It's a good topic, about the positions of companionship among hardship and how much bigger those pitfalls and mismatches can feel when things are bad elsewhere. The music is kind of simplistic with some clattering instrument over the second verse that is exceptionally Passion Pit and kind of invasive. I really dislike how all these songs are ending so far. Some Pause for Applause shit.

These are some good chords at the start, and I like the lyrics. She's very good at writing about weird tensions of love, putting kind of uncomfortable topics into words. This is my favorite song on the record by far.

I love the intro here, it's this awful coccoon ripping apart. Cool sound. The lyrics in the first verse are great, but the chorus is... I'm gonna get off on a tangent here. I feel like because political art has lessened in importance in America through the 2000s and 2010s, snuffed out by people afraid of rocking the boat in the middle of the Iraq War & Obama administration, a lot of recent political stuff is still in this weird 90s "THESE CLOWNS IN CONGRESS" tenor, where things are just awful obvious and oh the song ended fuck lol

This is a return to the awful nuances of love as a subject and it's clear which topic is more of a strength. This is a really good song that also ends too soon and kind of abruptly, which actually considering the topic and content of verse two works pretty well.

Even when this album moves to ballads they get it absolutely right by keeping the instrumental complexity up. The band is playing tenderly, not boringly. It's a difficult balance and none of this album's ballads have worn on me in the way that ballads usually do.

OOPS SPOKE TOO SOON. Well I was warned. The band kicking back in with the same weird symphony patches from the beginning of the record is a nice touch. This is a nice jam, and I appreciate the intention here to try to end on something tonally meaningful instead of lyrically, but I dont know that it works here, especially since it ends with tonal resolution and still somehow feels like it ends too soon.

= = =

This is a fine record that occasionally brushes against greatness. I can see how it would be someone's album of the year, but I can't say it did a whole lot for me personally. It will end low but it is by absolutely no means bad.

 

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So transparency time: I realized I had listened to so little new music this year that I couldn't even come up with a halfway decent option to nominate here so for the past few weeks I've just been checking out random albums off the RYM top albums of 2021 list that seemed like they might be interesting so that I could still participate. I did not stumble upon any stone cold classics or obvious "this is clearly the best thing I've heard all year" picks but I did find some interesting new bands to listen to.

 

Anyways I got it down to a final few and am gonna go with Cavalcade by Black Midi as that album is a trip and I like cacophony (that and the runner up was a 4 song EP). I could easily see someone despising this record though so... fingers crossed.

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I really liked Schlagenheim, and when "John L" hit I was excited for what was to come, but I remember being pretty disappointed by the rest of Cavalcade.  It really doesn't do much for me when it slows down. 

I found Black Country, New Roads scratched that itch a little bit better. 

That said, black midi's cover of Jingle Bell Rock was aces. 

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John L was definitely the best track on the record.

 

FWIW Black Country, New Roads's "For the First Time" made my final cutdown list and would make my personal top 5 so we are at least in the same ballpark on this.

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Alright, time to stop running.

  1. "Ultrapop" by The Armed
  2. "The Powers That Be" by Pharoah
  3. "Jubilee" by Japanese Breakfast
  4. "Inside (The Songs)" by Bo Burnham

I am not known as a great appreciator of stand-up comedy, or musical comedy, or musical theater, or pianos. I know who Bo Burnham is. I had no intention of watching Inside. So, my approach here is going to be kind of academic: can I get the same thing out of just engaging with the soundtrack? Whether I want to do this or not, I'm a man of my word, so it's time to find out.

Spoiler

This is extremely basic new wave, which I suspect is going to be a major theme of this record, which is that the musical complexity is going to move aside for the delivery of punchlines. Oh it's done lol

The laugh track on the piano reminds me of Father John Misty, which is usually bad news, but the song it reminds me is Bored In The USA which I find to be one of his better songs. I do like the pitch shift on the bridge. I am attempting to offer no commentary on the lyrics for the duration of the record. Thumper's rule. I will say that the vocal template being used for the singing is really clearly Weird Al, which is not a diss. Weird Al is a kind of underappreciated singer, by design. Worse things to emulate.

I like the synths at the start here, first with really pronounced then subdued attack. I prediced that'd come up later in this song but I was wrong, so that's a nice surprise. This is a nice interstitial bit.

yep, this is piano-led musical theater. I have one thing I want to say about the lyrics, which is that "liminal" is one of those words which makes it really hard to take the rest of anyone's argument seriously.

This is all musically sound. Sonically tasteful and restrained to emphasize paying attention to the lyrics, which is the point. As for the lyrics, I am really hanging onto how serious it is to me to be a man of my word.

ok.

The transition between these last four is non-existent going by the record alone, which makes me think there's a lot of things that happen between them. It did briefly make me think about of a friend of mine that works for Amazon now. They've been so busy I literally thought they died. Next song!

I like the chords here too, though I maybe would have dropped the drums down a little here. The drive of the rhythm section here implies night-driving to me, or something with similar momentum.

Ok I have a thing I want to say about the lyrics, which is not about like prose or anything of the sort, just that I suspect I'm way better at being alone with my thoughts than a large number of people.

I wonder if the excessive drive of the music is meant as a direct counterpoint to the emotional experience of isolation? Like some kind of farcical exaggeration. The other songs imply the range that would imply he's capable of writing other things, but I suppose the question comes to the intentionality of it.

I don't have a lot to say about this one. I found it exceptionally fatiguing.

Ok this got an actual laugh out of me based on how much I disliked the last song, to follow that immediately with "are you bored" is really great timing. So that last song was worth it because it made this one work, even if it's a song that's mostly joking about how not great this is.

I do like the choir in the "oh shit" part and the tiny chords in that part.

I feel like this whole record could be this song.

Somehow this song is the first time I sighed. It reminds me that the last time I heard someone speak glowingly about this, it was Dan Le Batard, and while I love the Dan Le Batard Show I generally avoid film recommendations from anyone on that show, and that's probably how I resolved to avoid this. This all feels extremely obvious and surface level to me, and like we've been rehashing large numbers of these points all my life, and nothing has changed. Did this work? I'm not sure.

Youtube linked a 1 hour loop of the bezos song as the next video I should listen to.

My brother often asks unpleasant "would you rather" questions for some kind of sick entertainment, like it's fun to imagine unpleasant scenarios. My mind built one of these around the idea of Father John Misty or this record. If someone suggested this was a longform spoof of Father John Misty, I would absolutely believe it.

I just want to take a moment to make it clear that I appreciate being forced out of my comfort zone, because it helps me understand what I think and what I like and want from art and life better. That part usually doesn't come through negative reviews like this. This song is sonically the best of them, and from a brief google I did about the show just now it's apparently the narrative ending of the show. I can see that working.

This reads like credit music to me so that works out too. I want to talk about another experience that scarred me that's very musical theater related because I've gotten the same vibes from this, several times. One time when I went to hang out with my friends, after the release of Fallout 76, when I entered the house they were listening to some big musical theater parody song about the situation called It Just Works. I think the video had flash animated puppets? I just remember feeling like an invader in their house. Oh, uh, continued.

So far the majority of the points brought up on the record have given me, instead of comfort, a worse feeling of alienation and helplessness, like being in a church or a backseat and having no way out.

= = =

So, the experiment didn't work. From the songs I got no actual sense of what this show is about other than vague themes of confronting reality or mental illness from isolation. Alternatively, the show is entirely surface level like this listen has been, and I totally got it. I have no value judgment over which one is better. This is going to be at the bottom of the list now, but only because it's my list, and not because of an indictment of the thing it is. I'm sure the people who would love it would have engaged it way before I said anything.

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Quote

From the songs I got no actual sense of what this show is about other than vague themes of confronting reality or mental illness from isolation. Alternatively, the show is entirely surface level like this listen has been, and I totally got it.

You would almost assuredly find the latter is closer to the mark. 

Great review. Thank you for your observations. And I'm sorry you had to go through that. 😄

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  • 1 month later...

Hello. I'm finishing this. January and February were hellish months and that's why this took so long.

First, I'm going to take a moment to post my own top 5 in case that would help people find new music. I am going to do it in spoilers as well.

Spoiler
  1. "The Apple Drop" by Liars
    Favorite songs: Acid Crop & Sekwar

    ok this wont help a lot because I'm a huge liars fan and if you're not this is still a record from the band liars, but yeah I adore this it's the best liars record and it's not the only record on this list I'm incapable of impartial praise over.
  2. "Sinner Get Ready" by Lingua Ignota
    Favorite songs: I Who Bend The Tall Grasses & Many Hands
    Earthshattering abuse revenge hymnals. As someone who spent the winter grappling directly and necessarily with my long history of relationship and sexual abuse, this record shook my head clean more than a few times.
  3. "Promises" by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
    Favorite Parts: Movements 2 & 7

    Four times in the last two years, my head has been kicked open in some fashion by long form compositions- The Gerogerigegege's self-titled song, The Microphones In 2020, Ground Zero's "Consume Red", and now this. I aspire to such careful phrasing, such craft and execution.
  4. "Pluperfect Mind" by Dear Laika
    Favorite songs: Black Moon, Lillith & Inward Life (We Exist)

    My friend made this! It knocked me on my fucking ass! I feel so far away from my own goals but so motivated to chase mine because lord look what they're doing!
  5. "Bright Green Field" by Squid
    Favorite songs: Paddling & Peel St.

    This is going to come up a few times in the next review, but this record softened my impression on the current British post-punk thing. I find this record to be delightful and it's become my #1 workout soundtrack.

Now.

  1. "Ultrapop" by The Armed
  2. "The Powers That Be" by Pharoah
  3. "Jubilee" by Japanese Breakfast
  4. "Cavalcade" by black midi
  5. "Inside (The Songs)" by Bo Burnham

I know black midi. I detested Schlagenheim because it made me think of all the great post-punk bands from the 2010s that informed so much of how I write my own music, yet didn't make it at all. And then the literal british art school kids came out and have a bit crusher and it's the new thing. Ok! Sure! Let's all make shit up! My opinion on this new form of British Post-punk both harshened (Black Country New Road is fucking terrible) and softened (Squid's "Bright Green Field" is fantastic) over the year 2021, and then everyone I knew yelled about this record. I didn't listen to it then, but I guess it's time to do it now.

Spoiler

Sure is a lot of notes at the start! Ok btw the vocalist, I didn't touch the vocalist in that first bit. Not A Fan. I do not have whatever tastebud that lets me think that The Fall is good, so I hated that first record. This time it seems like we're going straight up for Protomartyr delivery so whatever. I like the beat drops early, when there was that bass frequency emitting from between them. Like... I understand that there's a lot of theoretical work that goes into making a thing like this, but there's this spirit drought in what they're doing that recalls the worst instincts of prog rock, and that is not a thing that needs a new standard bearer.

Ok I like the start of this a lot, it's really clever to follow That with precision and restraint. I'm expecting it to try to This Heat around in a few but this is really well crafted so far. Oh no they actually kept it going all the way through! See, again, there's no doubt that they're talented players, I just find their instincts for pace spurious. Too schooled.

oh boy we're going back into the progiverse. I escaped this part of my teenage years and it's literally bringing me down that we're going to try to recussitate this. The groove that starts around the 1 minute mark is very nice but I have no faith in its longevity or resolution. Sure enough, the groove passes gas to get back to the danceproof thing. I briefly consider teaching myself how to cross my eyes, right now.

Oh buddy I'm having a time. So I'm attemping to follow the lyrics on genius, which is always a kind of mistake, because it leads to them summarizing this song as a "jazz punk rock mix". It's Mr. Bungle without dickjokes. It is ok to call it that. It's maybe not ok to be that, but it's ok to call it that. I do like it when it quiets down here- nice chords and all that. GOSH the way this record is mixed is stunts. I think one of the things giving this record its color is that the chords all tangle in between five different instruments, I'll explain the next time it comes up

I'm fascinated by the dichotomy here of my usual disdain of ballads and yet it's the parts of this record I'm enjoying most. Maybe because in their case them playing without restraint isn't working for me at all, and these parts are more grounded. The quiet arrival of the snare here is extremely tasty, especially followed by the thunderclap as the song swells. I got nervous as it built in pace that it was going to prog around but it settled back down. Definitely my favorite song on the record so far.

This is better than the other prog stuff has been but I still find it kind of exhausting as a listen. I think the reason I fell off prog is that it spends a lot of energy to become danceproofed and in that effort lets the spirit of truth bleed out of it, as it becomes more angular as to just avoid being held. I for sure get the impulse, believe me.

I see how long the next track is so I'm going to take a second to explain the chord thing: Usually in songs you want to avoid instruments being voiced in the same way, where the notes on one instrument extends into what's being played on another. The playing on this record doesn't completely ignore that, but it plays so tightly together that the instruments overlap by half in each direction, so these chaotic chord sounds result from all the dissonacne being voiced from the same intervals being played in different places. The waves hit each other in the air of the speakers, instead of over the pickups. JESUS CHRIST THIS SONG SUCKS. Anyways this use of chords is an easy way to get a noise element inside your tight academic construction.

christ I want to shut this record off right now. I dislike songwriters putting songwriting in the actual lyrics. Doesn't matter who does it. I can't stand Hallelujah for the same reason. This song is bringing the prog into the ballad construction by just car crashing the chord layout over and over, riding the rails to get to the next section. Hey let's briefly adress the lyricism of this record: it's been mostly fine if occasionally overwrought, and this song is just like... ok imagine being in black midi and writing a song about how the industry wants you to write the same song over and over, while you make a living skronking at thyself. Especially the use of "the common man" in here as some kind of hell for songwriters. Some day this man will be in his 40s and he will write a pop record and someone in his fanbase will have two hernias in fractional polyrhythmic pulsation timings. Shut the fuck up.

= = =

I would strongly recommend listening to Squid's "Bright Green Field." This finishes above Bo Burnham but only because that one went the way that did.

Thanks again for participating in this! I do, despite the tone of some of these reviews, really enjoy doing this because it puts me out of my comfort zone and gives me an opportunity to investigate why I feel and think and that makes a big difference in my own travels towards creative satisfaction. I can only hope y'all get an equivalent amount of entertainment from watching me writhe around sometimes. Hope to see you again!

Edited by Lamp, broken circa 1988
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Yay, my pick didn't finish dead last! I had a feeling Cavalcade was gonna either be "feast or famine" and... I guess famine won this go around.

FWIW when I narrowed my potential picks down to a top five Squid's "Bright Green Field" was in there so I agree that was a pretty swell record. Based on the past two years I think my move here is to just go with my #2 pick as we seem to agree on those much more than my #1s 🙂

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