Deafheaven: Sunbather [Deathwish]
Fuck genre. If you're thinking of music in terms of that then you're a total puke, and it will endanger your enjoyment of music in the longterm. Many will approach Deafheaven as a black metal band, but Sunbather isn't a black metal album, it's not loved by a lot of black metal devouts. Maybe it's because of the melodicism of its openers "Dream House" and "Irresistable", or the slide guitar of "Please Remember" and "The Pecan Tree". Or maybe it's the post-rock influences coming through on the GYBE!-ism of "Windows," but either way Sunbather doesn't exactly scream kvlt. Deafheaven are just too good and would be going totally out of their way to be willingly obscure, and the fact that they're on Converge-run label Deathwish shows that. And like Converge, they shred on their own terms— the epic scope of standouts like "Sunbather" and "Vertigo" probe those terms. It's unfortunate that a lot of these conservatives end up floating in pools of their own recycled piss, condemning and discounting those who use some elements of black metal, not entirely unlike an asshole boyfriend who freaks out at their girlfriend for flirting with a different, but probably better looking, more considerate guy. But the fact is that she left for a reason, man, and it's because of you. She's way happier without you. --Ric Leichtung
Dean Blunt: The Redeemer [Hippos In Tanks]
A few months back, Dummy reported on an art show by Dean Blunt in which he lay face-down on the floor and showed a copy of All Dogs Go To Heaven on VHS. The post concluded with the line, “As ever, any attempts to decode Blunt’s art will prove fruitless.” This is certainly one way of reading Blunt's work-- especially The Redeemer-- considering his constant juggling of the respective psycho, idiot, and troll personas. But denying meaning in his work seems to play exactly into Blunt's game. Cheesy crooning, narcissistic lyrics, bloated orchestral arrangements: these are all the hallmarks of music that should theoretically be dismissed wholesale as either schmaltz or bullshit. Yet, the bizarre car crash sounds, train wreck voicemails, and lounge lizard hooks have demanded attention for the artist either despite or because of his apparent self-indulgence. Dean Blunt invites us into the mind of this performance character and we can't help but check it out several times over.
Of course, a large part of the fascination has to do with Blunt's past as part of Hyperdub's Hype Williams. This collaboration with Inga Copeland saw-- perhaps will still see-- him making lo-fi dance music with an ubiquitously sinister undertone. The Redeemer manages to commute the menacing vacuousness of One Nation and Black Is Beautiful into an album which ostensibly resembles neither of these efforts. Yet herein lies the key that unlocks the mystery, and if it doesn't lend The Redeemer meaning, it at least provides a context. The entire concept behind this album is that it sounds as hi-fi as the Hype Williams work was lo-fi; it's as schmaltzy and confessional as the Hype Williams work was cool and distant. In the words of a wise religious figure, “the second they like you, make them unlike you.” The question Blunt makes his mission statement is, “how much sociopathic balladry does it take before they start pelting me with rotten fruit?” --Mike Sugarman
Knx.: Anthology [Leaving]
Knxwledge, aka Glen Boothe, or just Knx, has been around for so long that Leaving Records’ Anthology feels like a 53-track reminder of why it’s worth keeping up with the Los Angelino producer's work. His admittedly ludicrous output shows no signs of slowing-- hell, just yesterday he rolled out the fifth part of karma.loops. Boothe was the first of the pioneers of what is commonly referred to as the “beat scene,” a clique of post-Dilla and Fly Lo-inspired heads passing beats back and forth on MySpace before outposts like Bandcamp and SoundCloud launched. Knx also was part of the brief Klipm0de collective in Philadelphia-- alongside Mndsgn, Sir Froderick, and Suzi Analogue-- all but one of whom have since moved West and launched ear-catching solo careers.
All that history aside, there’s a reason why eyes haven’t ceased to wane on Knxwledge. At the core of each of his productions is the right blend of playfulness, gritty drums, and hiss-filled, bargain bin soul. Here’s a perfect example: “LakFaith,” taken from 2010’s K∆NN∆LOUPE.EP but crammed into the middle of Anthology, juggles Scott Pilgrim, Blaxploitation, and Zelda samples with an addictive, stoned groove, anchored by a crispy snare and a Quiet Storm keyboard.
Even considering its hefty tracklisting, it’s easier to discuss what’s missing on the comp than what isn’t: cuts from his WrapTaypes and HexualSealings projects, as well as his debut, 3P, and his stunning collab with Sir Froderick, are all sorely missed, but that’s not the point of Anthology. The whole feels less like a retrospective and more like a proper album, even if several of the cuts here are skirting past four years old. Anthology avoids several of the pitfalls of a “greatest hits” comp, for better or worse: tracks aren't arranged in chronological order, complete tapes aren't just slapped on lazily, and even their origins are left in the dark, waiting for the brave soul to dive into his Bandcamp to see where all these damn orphans came from. The true distinguishing mark, ultimately, is how cohesive and consistently listenable the whole thing is: at 78 minutes and 92 BPM, Anthology, like Boothe’s discography as whole, asks a lot of the first-timer. Those who brave it will discover not only one of the best producers in hip-hop, but in all of current electronic music, period. --Brad Stabler
Koreless: Yugen [Young Turks]
Over the course of a humble, 4-year career, Glasgow-via-London producer Koreless, aka Lewis Roberts, has been slowly letting go of the gas pedal, stripping back his percussion in favor of a weightless, gorgeous bed of synth exercises. Last year’s “Lost in Japan” single foreshadowed the growth that Roberts displays wonderfully on this year’s 5-track Yugen EP, a concise, polyrhythmic conversation between warm textures and melancholy.
The skittering, sloppily shuffled drums of a few years ago may be gone, but Roberts has found something even more surprising. Arrangement-wise, Yugen leans far more on Pygmalion-era Slowdive and the keyboard washes of A Sunny Day in Glasgow than a UK-bred electronic record. But his melodies still reflect the haunted after-hours of London’s best clubs. Yugen operates on time-release: the childish, hiccupping vocal sample that glides over the descending chords of “Ivana” leaps over into the beautiful, patient lead single “Sun,” forming a counterpoint against its glitchy, anthemic melody. Elsewhere, “Last Remnants” and “Never” see Koreless using toy box sounds and hollow synths. On the former, the lead is slowly swallowed by keyboard feedback and on the latter, Koreless clashes two melodies together until they gel beautifully at the tune’s end. It’s hard to tell where Yugen will ultimately lie on Koreless’ career path-- either this is the apex of Koreless’ drumless production or the beginning of something more abstract-- but either way, the EP is best uncovered over time, revealing a trippy, ponderous headspace that gradually turns into something resembling home. --Brad Stabler
KMFH: The Boat Party [Wild Oats]
The Boat Party is not an album of dance floor edits. Kyle Hall is a man of ideas, and those ideas rarely have similar conclusions. The most fun one-- the self-evident “Grungy Gloops”-- lasts one minute and 33 seconds, while his most beautiful idea-- the deep house cut , “Measure 2 Measure”-- closes the album and barely sniffs at around seven minutes long. You see, The Boat Party comes from an artist who clearly understands the binary of dance floor and headphones. This doesn't mean that Hall thinks the two should result in mutually exclusive musical forms, but he certainly comprehends that it's a lot more desirable to sit down and listen to a succinct electronic piece than an endless burner. The approach conflicts somewhat with the yarns spun about Hall's status as a boy-prince in the Detroit royal lineage. This tale will mention a mentorship under Rick Wilhite, a 12” on Hyperdub, and, inevitably, his young age. This is of course all a recipe for hype, and as is always the case with hype, it's nothing if there aren't good ideas to back it up.
The Boat Party suggests that true innovation is brewed from a mash of influences. Such a brew has blinded those who have gotten too intoxicated, who have a lesser temperance than Hall. Consider the ever-growing influence of Chicago footwork. “Finna Pop” is Hall's answer to this trend. On it, the producer apes the aesthetic's vocal chops while leaving the rest of the juke game to the guys who started playing it long before him. You'll also hear flecks of Flying Lotus. The two producers share a knack for complex, novel grooves-- I could write a separate review lauding Hall's refreshingly discerning use of the 4/4 kick pattern-- but also for an energizing combination of cosmic oneness and belligerent joy. --Mike Sugarman
Mount Kimbie: Cold Spring Fault Less Youth [Warp]
"Post-dubstep," however obnoxious it can sound in conversation, is actually one of the more useful made-up subgenres. There was a strange evolution at the turn of the last decade after dubstep finished its reign as an unexpectedly international influence, this fork in the road where the deep bass, brooding atmosphere, and trippy sound sourcing all began interacting in different ways, be it in the electronic singer-songwriter persona of James Blake's self-titled LP or in the bombastic future trax style of Night Slugs' entire roster. Mount Kimbie were major players in this development, and will probably be remembered as key artists in something of an electronic music renaissance-- a slew of brilliant "dance" records that proved that these tactics were never meant to be purely be for singles, or dancing, or any limits really.
Considering the possibly easy route of just cashing in on proven success, the fact that the duo toss away their history on Cold Spring Fault Less Youth is testament to their creative integrity-- outside of "Made To Stray" and "Sullen Ground," there's not much in the way of fan service here, and I mean that as a high compliment. It's their best record by a large margin. The heavy presence of Kai Campo's vocals (and King Krule's two heavy contributions), the acoustic warmth of the drum kit sounds, the endless stock of hypnotic basslines-- it just seems nuts that these are the same people that made Lovers & Crooks, when I feel like I'm listening to Ta Det Lugnt.
It totally makes a mockery of any artistic identity as childish lane-choosing, in a weirdly similar way that Toro Y Moi did with Underneath the Pine. In both cases-- Toro's transition from Causers to Pine and Kimbie's from Lovers to Cold Spring-- each had been pigeonholed into made up subgenres (chillwave / post-dubstep) by the predominant textures and processes they used on ONE set of songs (synths, samples, drum machines) only to make an extension of that work using the completely opposite palette (keys, vocals, and kits, from blue/green/grey to pink/orange/tan, digital ice into magnetic-stripped humidity). I also doubt that they care about any of that. With Cold Spring, the duo seems more concerned with delivering eleven distinct examples of melodic, inventive production that tears down walls rather than reinforce them. --Matt Sullivan
My Bloody Valentine: m b v [self-released]
How did this album end up arriving at the perfect time? It seems to defy all logic and precedent: a comeback record so heavily delayed that the legacy of its predecessor, Loveless, had debatably grown more powerful than that of the band itself. The uncertainty that MBV even existed was rivalled by a greater uncertainty that anything like it could exist-- how could they follow up their own magnum opus? What's most important is the music, but in exceptional circumstances such as these, where listeners have an unusually deep investment in a band, it's hard not to recall experiencing this album without getting too personal.
Needless to say, my faith was close to depleted by the time mbv suddenly appeared. Things were freezing, lonely, and it felt like I hadn't heard an amazing rock album in aeons. It's a complaint that I gave and heard throughout 2012, but that was inherently subjective and tough to prove outside of a glance at the top ten lists and, perhaps, the prevalence of EDM-related thinkpieces in mainstream media outlets. But for whatever reason, it felt very real-- people started saying things like "guitar music," as though it were some arcane, elusive breed. It felt like losing your roots; so when My Bloody Valentine just strolled through the door, I couldn't help but lash out and ask, "Where the fuck were you?!"
It didn't matter. In fact, most of the pretenses that were constructed around this album ended up being totally irrelevant. It didn't matter how long it took, it didn't matter what happened last year, it didn't matter that Loveless had a seemingly insurmountable legacy, it didn't matter what the songs were called, it didn't matter if they timed a press release a certain way, and it didn't matter when or how it was actually recorded. Somehow, a record that had already gone through a full lifespan as pure context effortlessly transcended that baggage by giving us exactly what we wanted in a completely unexpected way.
Many of the MBV trademarks were there-- the snapping snare roll that opens "who sees you," the Manchester psych breakbeat of "new you," the heartbeats-meets-glidey-guitars gauze of "she found now," all echoing things that we loved about "Come In Alone," "Soon," and "Sometimes," respectively-- but it hardly felt like a rehashing, particularly since it was interspersed with foreign, bizarro-even-for-them moments like the waw'ing organ progressions in "if i am," the dry-as-dust lone guitar melody that closes out "only tomorrow," and, of course, the pupil-shakingly loud wall-of-drum echo that makes listening to "wonder 2" feel like being torn apart in a turbine just as you lay first glance on the pearly gates. When all was said and done, and people concluded their initial group IRL listening parties (P.S. when was the last time we did that??), any pretense or hype was rightfully eroded, leaving behind an independently created masterpiece from old friends we thought we'd lost that I'm sure we'll still be listening to for as long as it takes to make the next one. --Matt Sullivan
Pure X: Crawling Up The Stairs [Acéphale]
A few months before it came out, we made the mistake of blasting an advance copy of Crawling Up the Stairs over the 285 Kent stereo system during one of our weekly editorial meetings. We had a lot on the agenda for the evening, so it was more of a treat to ourselves for staying late at the office than a focused listening session, but that didn’t stop Pure X’s second LP from slowly gnawing away at our conversation, like an itch. When Nate Grace turns out a line like “Come on, make me/Into someone else/You know I need it/Don’t keep it to yourself,” as he does on the skeletal love song “Someone Else,” his voice trembling as though the words aren’t a big enough container for the emotions they are meant to contain, it’s pretty hard to focus on anything else that’s going on in the room. I’m pretty sure that I was in the middle of saying something when I first heard it, but the bluntness and pain of Grace’s insight into the inner mechanics of romantic relationships made me trail off mid-sentence, just as the remainder of the album, with its clouds of textural ambience and pillowy, suspended rhythms, had us all continually spacing out mid-thought.
Beyond the facts surrounding Crawling Up the Stairs that have already been repeated to death-- that it splits songwriting duties between Grace and bass player Jesse Jenkins, that it’s the first Pure X release to prominently feature synths and the vocoder, that it was produced in a studio with the aim of recreating the fidelity of old country records-- I think it’s that balance between arresting detail and floaty diffuseness that makes this record so affecting and addicting. It’s slow and tuneful enough to be something you’d consider putting on while you’re doing something else, but like the most memorable dreams, it’s the kind of thing that feels vague and evanescent until the moment it gets so acutely painful that it wakes you up. --Emilie Friedlander
Steve Gunn: Time Off [Paradise of Bachelors]
The decade-long rise of music blog culture and the social web has drastically shortened the timeline of rock’s evolution. Instant nostalgia has stripped the romanticism out of music, so the opportunity to watch a musician evolve over time-- exploring different configurations and collaborators, revisiting and revising material-- is a rare and welcome one. When that process results in a "make good" release that embodies all of the efforts up to that moment, even better. Such is the case with Steve Gunn's Time Off, a sly title for an album that represents anything but.
The most striking thing about Time Off is Gunn's open and confident use of his voice. Although it featured prominently on previous releases for Three Lobed, there is a boldness and understated beauty to his vocal performance here, made all the more impactful because just a few years ago, Gunn's solo shows were almost exclusively instrumental. Relentless gigging has crystallized the chemistry between Gunn and his collaborators, John Truscinski on drums and Justin Tripp on bass. On record, the group is a veritable low-key power trio, each player locked in and playing with conviction in the service of the song. Time Off is one of the key records of the current traditional rock revival, a lasting testament to Gunn's tireless efforts and extraordinarily rapid growth as a performer and songwriter. --Max Burke
Various Artists: Ground Zero [Always Restrictions/Toxic State]
Inserting itself alongside a legacy of city-centric comps like New York Thrash, Washington D.C.'s Flex Your Head, and This Is Boston, Not L.A., Ground Zero is a stellar showcase of NYC's burgeoning punk scene right now, pegged around punk fest New York's Alright last April. There's certainly enough talent on the bill and around New York to make a solid comp with a few tracks from the big boys of the fest. But the aim wasn't to do another Blasting Concept comp, which had blocks of tracks from Black Flag, Minutemen, and the Meat Puppets mixed in with a few up-and-comers peppered in for good measure. That kind of thing could have been done with a collection of anthemic screeches from Crazy Spirit, d-beat heaviness from Perdition, and primal chaos from Dawn of Humans, but it wasn't.
Toxic State's foresight to give even the newest, uninitiated bands the spotlight is what makes this comp really special, and just how good these young'uns are is the cherry on top. A few bands, like the delay-laden Putrida and the baby-faced Murderer, are so new that their first material is premiered on this release. The comp so accurately captures Brooklyn's punk climate in the few months leading up to the festival that it already leads to nostalgia. Bortgang broke up before the comp was even released in May. And despite being around for more than six years, Perdition's entry ended up being their last as the band has since played their final show. The comp closes with a rarity from the also defunct Hank Wood and the Hammerheads, whose album, Go Home, was one of the best records of 2012. A harrowing testament to the appalling transience of music scenes looms over this record. And though not much time will have to pass until even more bands end are mourned, I'm reminded of the importance of now and never forgetting it. --Ric Leichtung
Wolf Eyes: No Answer: Lower Floors [De Stijl]
Everyone needs a cause, I guess, and mine has been weaseling No Answer: Lower Floors into conversation at all possible junctures. Sue me. Wolf Eyes manages to reiterate its mission with each major release, somehow getting better every time an integral member has left: first Aaron Dilloway, then Mike Connelly. Nate Young and John Olson talk about new member “Crazy Jim” Baljo as a bluesguitarist, and describe his union with the group as an opportunity to focus on executing plans as opposed to just freaking out and fucking around. This is to say that No Answer: Lower Floors has witnessed Wolf Eyes finish evolving from weirdos who dress like a biker gang to weirdos who dress like a biker gang and make rock-and-fucking-roll.
No Answer: Lower Floors inspires awe through its dedication to regiment. Wolf Eyes made an album of utmost brutality by making one of utmost precision. Just listen to those bass drums, which bust your lip wide open then resonate off the warehouse walls as you squirm on the ground. The album's most debilitating moments are culled from restraint, as evidenced by a genius track sequencing that sees “No Answer” chill you out before “Chattering Lead” transforms your head into Swiss cheese. And more than anything-- more significant than the sounds themselves-- is the fact that Wolf Eyes are bringing noise back to rock and roll at a time when the noise scene is atrophying in hermitage. Wolf Eyes went on a nearly-two decade journey to the edge and came back to show the world how to use this noise thing to keep rock and roll alive. It's as if Nate Young and company were trying show us what happens when you peel all of Neil Young's distortion away. --Mike Sugarman