The long awaited return of Damon Albarn’s cartoon gang falls in line with some of the years best albums, indirectly commenting on political tensions through engaging music. while there are many moments on this 26-track epic that are reminiscent of Gorillaz past sound that we know and love. However, a good deal of the album takes Gorillaz electronic proclivity and pushes into overdrive, with most of the album dominated by thumping techno beats, with samples and a range vocals coming in and out. Albarn set out to paint a dystopian image of Trump’s presidency (which he really does need any help doing) and the result is an album that feels like scenes from a nightclub at the end of the world. Albarn himself makes minimal appearances and instead lends most of the album to an insane list of features, some household names like Pusha T, Vince Staples, and Mavis Staples, and some newcomers like Benjamin Clementine deliver awesome debut performances. This makes the album feel intentionally disjointed, which I appreciate, but I can’t help missing the Damon Albarn dominated Gorillaz albums of the past. Alongside Plastic Beach and Demon Days, as a whole this one is not one of my favorites. But on it’s own it’s an amazing return and there are standout tracks that will go down in history as Gorillaz classics.
Sylvan Esso What Now
When vocalist Amelia Meath and producer Nick Sanborn joined forces in 2014 to become Sylvan Esso, they found a cozy spot somewhere in between synth pop and indie-rock. Their first album was ground-breaking and topped many year end lists. Their sophomore effort takes their style even further, reaching new heights of glimmering electronic pop. Amelia reflects on her youth, love, death, the music industry, and society as whole and finds some truth in all of it. Whether the songs are driving bangers like “Radio” and “The Glow” or bare, vulnerable coos like “Sound” and “Slackjaw” these songs hit even harder and sound even sweeter than the groups already astounding debut. Hear Brian and I talk about Sylvan Esso and listen to “Kick Jump Twist” on Best Song Ever.
Morning Teleportation Salivating for Symbiosis
On their sophomore album the Kentucky-based rock band pushes the boundaries of genre, balancing flowing melodies with innovation and experimentation. Songs on this album are solid folk rock tunes at the structural level, but the band pushes it further, whether with big horn arrangements, mid-song style shifts, and interesting effects and production tricks. Every track brings a new vibe and element to the table, “Rise and Fall” begins with Cat Stevens-esque acoustic picking, “The Code” follows it up with dark and bouncy horn-rock. The driving rock of “Calm Is Intention Devouring It’s Frailty” is permeated by a funky experimental groove, ending in a gorgeous twinkling piano composition. Next, the odd and comical “Rocks Gears Desert Trucking” is followed by the more socially relevant tracks like “Escalate” with the chorus, “Things are starting to escalate and I don’t want you to evaporate.” the explosive “Riot In Time” and the titular “Salivating for Symbiosis” a heartfelt plea for unity and connection. Following the catchy guitar driven, “Turning The Time” they referencing “The Code’ lyrics with instrumental “A Cell Divides” This is an incredibly ambitious and eclectic album, not only will songs and melodies plant themselves firmly into your brain, but the songs have instrumental and intellectual levels that are not always present in indie-rock. This album’s phenomenal instrumentation features contributions from Mimicking Birds’ Aaron Hanson, Cage The Elephant’s Daniel Tichenor, and Death Cab For Cutie’s Dave Depper. This band delivered a spirit of inventiveness into a genre that is desperately in need. Check out the new episode of Best Song Ever where I play "Calm Is Intention Devouring It's Frailty" and we ask frontman Tiger Merritt fro his birth certificate.
Shugo Tokumaru Toss
Japanese multi-instrumentalist Shugo Tokumaru has been making On his new album he enlisted musicians from all over the world to record parts and he assembled them into one of the most earth-shattering combination of sounds. Shugo outfits bouncy folk tunes and tender ballads with all manner of effects and experimentation. This “cut-and-paste” style never makes the songs feel disjointed, it is all well balanced and thoughtfully placed to add to the experience. Deerhoof drummer Greg Sunier delivers incredible drum parts, following all the twists and turns the songs take. Though I don’t know what the lyrics say Shugo’s vocals are lovely and heartfelt. Songs with vocals are broken up by instrumental compositions, whether it’s the cartoonish symphony of “Cheese Eye” or the bare guitar work of “Dody” these add nice intermissions and preludes for the exciting tracks that follow. Though Shugo has been making music for a while this album is really his greatest accomplishment yet, really putting him on the map as one of modern music’s great inventors. This album is full of beautiful and catchy songs that constantly surprise the listener in the most delightful way possible. Hear Brian and I discuss and play “Hikageno” on Best Song Ever.
Leslie Feist returns with her first album in 6 years, and it’s a surprisingly bare yet beautiful departure from the polished folky pop-rock that made her a household name. She said that she kept the takes raw because that was her emotional state at the times. This album has a similar sonic environment to Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest with the space feeling large, dark, and echoey while it’s filled with thumping drums, bassy guitar strums. While the production is minimal songs do grow to be very grand and structurally Feist experiments with different rhythm’s and time signatures, so the songs don’t feel rushed or lazily assembled. Feist’s vocals are as always powerful and beautiful, and she’s occasionally backed by a leveling chorus of backup vocalists. This is a beautiful return for a beloved artist.
Willie Nelson God's Problem Child
Willie Nelson has been a staple of the country music for like 2 of my lifetimes combined. The cover of Willie’s new album show’s Nelson cast in red light, looking down with an ocean of pain on his face. He expressed this pain over the course of the album in beautiful and sometimes fun ways. Whether he’s lamenting lost friends and fearing that the end of his life is near, or commenting on the political climate, Nelson deliver clever and heartfelt lyrics that cut deep. The title track feature Leon Russel, recorded shortly before his death, making the weight of Willie’s words even heavier. This album is a lovely expression from a music legend.
Beloved French indie-rock band Phoenix have been teasing new music for the past few months, with cryptic Instagram posts, and music for a Calvin Klein commercial starring Rashida Jones among others and directed by the great Sofia Coppola (who is married to Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars). Now they’ve delivered the first single of their upcoming album Ti Amo due June 9 on Glassnote Records. Once again Phoenix deliver bouncy, infectious synth pop with J-Boy which stands for Just Because of You. This is quite simply a love song, though he does look at some societal anecdotes and examines where the blame falls. The band said this album was inspired by a romanticized version of Italy and it’s themes are “simple, pure emotions: love, desire, lust, and innocence.” From the sound of it, they will be examining this idea of paradise and the harsh realities that often mar the picture of perfection. This first single is very promising that the follow up to 2013’s Bankrupt will be solid, though this band has never made a bad album so I’m not worried.