Listening Notes, Ultra-Brief (Pt. 47)


Beach House, Bloom     (Sub Pop)

On their fourth album, Victoria Legrand and Alex Scally embrace the slightness that has always defined them, insisting that their fragile dream pop confections are worthy of cavernous echo and rumbling bass rather than (or, more accurately, along with) the rinky-dink programmed drum beats and keyboard hums of yore. And as a result, they assume a grandeur that might surprise dispassionate observers. Melodically, of course, this duo has always exuded confidence, and while they supposedly ride a retro-looking wave beholden to a specific place and time, Legrand and Scally leave their fellow 80s archivists behind as mere hobbyists, never more so than on a “Lazuli” deftly sidestepping kitsch. And while it remains difficult as always to discern what, if anything, all this lush, swooning beauty is in support of, there’s enough in the way of alcoholic fathers and the mildly dystopian (“it’s a strange paradise”) to balance out the lesser woes of “other people” and growing pains. Why waste time wondering if they’ll ever change their sound? They won’t. Nor need they.

Disappears, Pre Language     (Kranky)

What others apparently hear in The Men I hear in this Chicago outfit - a concise summation of specific strains of guitar-based indie rock, surprisingly muscular for a band calling the proudly wimpish Kranky label home. Bringing Sonic Youth’s drummer on board seems to have aided in the redirecting of their energies, as does jettisoning 15-minute krautrock tendencies that yielded fun experiments I haven’t been tempted to revisit (Guiders album-closing and -dominating “Revisiting”). So while most numbers chug longer than the 2.13 of the title cut, the closest these sensible Joy Division fans come to stretching out is during the 6-minute chime-with-metronome that is “Joa”. Because they’re good formalists, they have the entirety of left-of-center white rock at their disposal.  But that formalism comes with a price, here manifesting itself by predictably favoring presentation over substance or even meaning.  And while Brian Case remains a Mark E. Smith acolyte of the highest order, there’s little in the way of northern-trash-that-talks-back brilliance in his rhymes. Still, poetry abounds, from a hectoring “you are in a state of grace” to the inspired cinquain “it’s / le / gi / ti / mate.”


Jeff Parker Trio, Bright Light In Winter     (Delmark)

Chicago-based guitarist with heavy involvement in that city’s peaked post-rock scene, including stints as Tortoise’s go-to six-stringer. But a quick look through his modest discography reveals as much attention given over to AACM-style jazz and uncompromising noise as noodling grooves. As befits a collection of originals on legendary label Delmark, this is admirably straight-ahead jazz, with periodic and extremely mild electronic effects complimenting a Bundy K. Brown-helmed dry production that at times resembles 1960s Blue Note. Dry guitar tone, too - “Freakadelic” certainly isn’t freaky or psychedelic, although it is in-the-pocket. Elsewhere, “Occidental Tourist” scans like funky Grant Green, “Istvan” suggests bossa nova atmospherica, and opener “Mainz” explores the possibilities of rock 4/4. And while the whole album moves along with contented slowness, only the sappy flute number grinds to a halt. Oh well. Like most avant-gardists, Parker’s got a soft side, and it’s a squishy one.

Cornershop, Urban Turban: The Singhles Club     (Ample Play)

Exactly as cohesive as one might expect from an online year-long collaborative singles collection plus other stuff, the most unpretentious experimentalists of global pop casually add another handful of anthems, instrumentals, extended jokes, shout outs, and solid bass lines to an upticking oeuvre the humorless are too quick to label scattershot. Tjinder Singh’s conviction that dance music is fun before it is anything else sets him apart not just from whatever dance-leaning rock contemporaries he might still claim, but from dance music purveyors more generally. Which doesn’t keep him from driving the modest points of “Solid Gold” and “Dedicated” into the ground. And despite Singh’s love for cut-out-bin funk and Punjabi workouts, my two favorite moments here are (relatively) straight-up rock. "Something Makes You Feel Like" features French vocalist Soko winningly turning “Wild Thing” into VU drone, while the simultaneously nostalgic and teasing “What Did The Hippie Have In His Bag?” (such touchstones of the past as “Doubleday books / and Kurt Vonnegut”) suggests Singh and crew got tired of waiting for somebody to cover their own “Staging The Plaguing Of The Raised Platform” and decided to do it themselves.


Paul Weller, Sonik Kicks     (Yep Rock)

Whether you revere Weller as uncompromising visionary effortlessly riding successive pop waves in pursuit of chronicling the adventures of UK Everyman or merely admire him as an aging entertainer whose best moments were realized in 3-minute singles during the pre-Thatcherite era, this is a big old mess, with no production trick or flourish left untouched in pursuit of a contemporaneity that was never his stock in trade to begin with. “I’ll take my chances in the grave,” he claims, before adding, “There’s only one moment / that is now”. Not sure how specific “now” is meant to be, not when Weller’s conception of “electronica” would seem to consist of goofy noises. Don’t forget the string interludes, white cats lurking around gardens, and a seven-minute “dub-jazz” duet with his wife entitled “Study In Blue”.

Katy Perry, Teenage Dream: The Complete Confection     (Capitol)

When you announce in April that “My music is about to get real fucking dark,” fans and non-fans alike expect something more out of June than a “re-release” of a two-year-old record-breaking pop juggernaut still saturating the airwaves with six consecutive singles. Or perhaps she’s cleansing her palette before taking the plunge. At any rate, seven "new" songs made up mostly of remixes, acoustic versions, and a Missy Elliott cameo do not a director’s cut make. Worth noting the new album cover redirects attention towards Perry’s face rather than the nude figure lying prone on the original. Also worth noting that despite the cultural ubiquity of these dance pop million sellers, her easy hooks, belted choruses, and Generation Twitter cliches (ie, “that was such an epic fail”) have already aged poorly. Forget an ode to California so simplistic it makes Best Coast’s “The Only Place” scan like a Mike Davis essay.  I’m more interested in why a refreshingly gay-friendly lapsed gospel singer working overtime to cultivate an image of Friday nights overflowing with group sex, ejaculatory fireworks, and peacock-cock-cocks takes Lady Gaga to task for supposed blasphemy. Always remember - it’s only blasphemy if you believe.