Tag Archives: Album of the Day

Album of the Day: So Stressed, “Please Let Me Know”

One of the larger tensions that exists between artists and critics is the latter’s insistence on taking the work of the former to be strict autobiography, but the pain that courses through the third album from Sacramento’s So Stressed feels too immediate and too visceral to be a work of fiction. Its 10 songs seem to document a grueling breakup, but what makes the record so rattling is that all of the resulting agony is focused inward. Where 2015’s The Unlawful Trade of Greco-Roman Art was stacked with bruising hardcore, Please Let Me Know is both paradoxically more measured and more tortured. Opener “Fur Sale” sails out on a sleek sheet of melodic guitars, and frontman Morgan Fox isn’t screaming but singing. But about two minutes in, the turbulence hits: “Nothing compares to you,” Fox sings, “But I still compare everything to you.” From there it’s a quick dive into dissonance; the guitars turn pitch black and Morgan doubles over howling.

The rest of the record volleys between those two poles, post-hardcore melodicism trading off with proper-hardcore panic attacks. “Majestic Face” manages both at once, eerie vocal harmonies gliding across heart-attack double-bass drumming. In “Old Hiss,” Fox runs into his old flame in public, which sends him into a spiral of despair: “We’ll grow old together,” he wails as the band pitches and rolls behind him, “Right up until I wake up.” Even when the band stretches out musically, the results are shot through with unease. The sparse “Peach,” is built on a skeletal strum and lit up with squiggles of synthesizer that sound like an MRI machine melting down. And while the band’s ventures into melodicism demonstrate impressive breadth, it’s the full-throated ragers that land the hardest. The panicked “Subsequent Rips” opens with Fox declaring “I write myself a heartfelt love letter/ and read it into the mirror,” against chaotic corkscrews of guitar; both elements are operating in their own time signature: Fox plows forward regardless of meter; the band hammers away chaotically, like they’re falling down a flight of stairs. Please Let Me Know trepans down into the center of heartbreak and records all of the mayhem it finds there. It may not be autobiography, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.

J. Edward Keyes

Album of the Day: Snowball ii, “Flashes of Quincy”

First things first: “Snowball” is a strange name for a band that writes music this warm (their moniker is, of course, a Simpsons reference). Throughout their third album, Flashes of Quincy, the Los Angeles outfit—primarily the vehicle of Jackson Wargo—serves up one sparkling power-pop gem after another, all of them powered by immaculate, high-stacked vocal harmonies and sterling silver guitars. Think of it as a long-delayed sequel to Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque: big, ringing songs that mask wry, observational lyrics.

Album opener “Anais & Me” is the ideal exhibit A: in each verse, Wargo speculates about the life of an invisible protagonist, filling each line with tiny, specific details (“I’ll bet you’re blowing off your curfew/puffing smokes in mists of perfume/ I’ll bet your daddy’s a fascist/ and that you piss him off in Spanish”) before gliding into the song’s gleaming-gold chorus. In “Sear ‘Em!” Wargo’s heartsick tenor floats over crashing drums and slashing guitars, a push-pull dynamic that defines much of Quincy. The guitars stay serrated and cutting, but Wargo gingerly stacks vocal harmonies 10-stories high on top of them, like a man engaged in some perilous game of musical Jenga. The chords that drive “Resident of the United States” claw and punch, but Wargo’s voice struts up the center, spit-shined and unscathed. Mostly, Quincy feels like a field guide to writing perfect pop songs—which is, in itself, an accomplishment. Other artists who attempt such straightforward hitmaking end up with music that’s either cloying or boring. Snowball ii prove that there’s still life in familiar formats—you just have to be driven enough to look for it.

J. Edward Keyes

Album of the Day: ANOHNI, “Paradise”

Plenty of artists take the notion of fighting the patriarchy as a lyrical theme, but few have zeroed in on gender in the way that ANOHNI has of late. On last year’s Hopelessness, she cast the relationship between the individual and the state as that of an abusive father/child dynamic. On her new EP, the titular paradise she envisages is one where masculine authority, the unequivocal source of ecocide and injustice, has been overthrown and destroyed.

On the vaporous “In My Dreams,” the realization that an unnamed figure neither loves nor wants the best for her dawns on ANOHNI while she sleeps. The song fades from earshot, but the seeds have been planted. “My father’s hand rests on my throat,” she croons on the title track, while “Enemy” picks up where Hopelessness‘s “Violent Men” left off, lamenting the condition of birthing one’s own subjugator. In other words, if the ideological force and authority invested in fatherhood is the generator of oppression then, as the popular left-wing Twitter meme of five years ago might have it, “no dads” is a political necessity.

Paradise’s six songs were recorded in the same sessions as Hopelessness; it’s a companion piece, rather than a sequel. But there’s an optimism here that was lacking on its unremittingly bleak predecessor. “Paradise” is frenetic and turbulent—Hudson Mohawke’s maximalist production, such a superb fit for the drama of ANOHNIi’s voice, zigs and zags like lasers here. But it also explicitly seeks to bury despair, and ANOHNI’s performance reflects it: her “ooh-ooh-ooh!” as she gears up for the song’s final climax is one of the most spontaneous, joyful ad libs of her career. Elsewhere, she derives power from naming the opposition: “You’re a mean old man,” she sneers on the distorted, vengeful “Jesus Will Kill You.” Even “Enemy” blossoms from mourning into tense but glorious chorales.

The political agenda ANOHNI began on Hopelessness took explicit aim at the neoliberal, drone-bombing Obama administration, but her themes feel more relevant than ever now. The urgency of her resistance is encapsulated in “Ricochet,” ostensibly a weary, pleading cry against possible reincarnation. But beneath the fist she shakes at God is an acceptance of the here and now, the need to be fully present in order to fight. Utopia doesn’t come easily for ANOHNI on Paradise, but simply imagining the possibility is the first step towards it.

Alex Macpherson

Album of the Day: Fire-Toolz, “Drip Mental”

As the human experience grows increasingly entangled with technology, the idea of “sensory saturation” has gone from a minor annoyance to an everyday fact of life. Music—particularly sample-based music—reflects this; with the advent of mashups and memes, all media has become fair game for recycling and re-use, a process that, at its worst, flattens all of its source sounds, images, and ideas into an endless barrage of kitsch.

On the surface, it would be easy to mistake Chicago-based electronic producer/multi-instrumentalist Angel Marcloid for just another mashup artist. On Drip Mental, her second album under the pseudonym Fire-Toolz, Marcloid combines blood-curdling black metal howls with the kind of bubblegum synth-pop that used to soundtrack VHS workout videos in the ’80s. Yes, Marcloid plays up the contrast between those two elements for maximum absurdity, but Drip Mental is more than just an orgy of stimulation.

Campy and disturbing at the same time, the album illuminates, challenges, and ultimately makes art out of our relationship with media. The samples on Drip Mental bob and weave in the music like loose space junk—a reverb-drenched smooth-jazz saxophone figure, courtesy of Richard Elliott, pings against an iconic riff by math metal outfit The Dillinger Escape Plan; a punchline delivered by cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants brushes shoulders with a spooky voice whispering “Look behind you,” a sample from a Halloween item she saw at a big box store.

Drip Mental creates an almost dementia-like effect by wrenching its various samples free from any context. Marcloid has been releasing music for years under a host of monikers, including ambient titles like last year’s Blatherskite Empath Analysis of Omen Puzzle ’92. And while she draws from a harsher, denser palette on Drip Mental, her affinity for wide-open soundscapes shines through all the abrasiveness, binding together the music’s disparate sounds. On opening track “Subconscious Pilsen Relics Pt 2 [CODENAME_AIRPLANE MODE],” Elliott’s saxophone decays into a vaporous swirl that, for a few seconds at least, aspires to the majesty of, say, Vangelis’ Blade Runner score.

The album is just as effective when it gets ugly. Marcloid’s muffled screams of the words “I dreamt that every man who didn’t fight for me was shot” at the end of “All Deth is U [CODENAME_FINAL TOUCH LOCATION]” cut through the darkness, evoking a violent kind of anguish. It is in moments like these, or when Marcloid sings that “Guns don’t kill people unless the guns are me/ In a sea of semen a slug can still be free,” that Drip Mental is at its most disturbingly provocative and, paradoxically, its most human.

Throughout, Marcloid references early-’90s artifacts of internet and computer culture—a sound evoking the familiar ping that once announced a new e-mail message, the fonts and the tower-style PC that grace the album cover—but she operates in a universe wholly separate from smiley-faced chiptune artists who romanticize dated media formats.

As well she should. In the age of Gamergate and cyberbullying, we are too well-acquainted with the internet’s menacing underbelly to focus solely on tickling ourselves with its surface joys. Though Drip Mental‘s lens is aimed at the past, it’s hardly nostalgic. Instead, it offers stark insights into contemporary online existence. For years, sci-fi and cyberpunk have warned of soon-coming future dystopias. On Drip Mental, that dystopia is now, and it’s an internal condition. Angel Marcloid explores that treacherous terrain with sharp insight and skill.

—Saby Reyes-Kulkarni

Album of the Day: Blanck Mass, “World Eater”

Benjamin John Power never intended his third record as Blanck Mass to be political. During its creation, he cut himself off from the news and from external distractions, in order to focus solely on writing recording. And yet the resulting album, World Eater, is a furious, snarling beast, a record that scans as an explicit reaction to recent political developments. And while Power has always had a knack for visceral, explosive music—either with Blanck Mass, or as one half of Fuck Buttons— World Eater’s tracks are longer, more brooding and far more menacing than anything that’s come before.

The frenzied, violent electronics of “Rhesus Negative,” which features a hard techno beat and mangled vocaloid effects, is countered by the comparative quietness of “Silent Treatment.” But even that song is shot through with shadow: taking its name from a form of manipulative punishment, there are clear hints of anger boiling just below its surface, threatening to erupt at any moment.

Powers’ voice is one of the record’s crucial components. Though sometimes manipulated until they’re unrecognizable, they give the record emotional weight, providing the audience with a human element at the center of the chaos. Other times, it’s layered, for an effect that’s sometimes warm and communal and other times sharp and violent.

“Hive Mind,” which closes the album, is perhaps the clearest example of the latter. Powers’ lead vocal is slow and mournful, and is eventually drowned out by a crowd of yelling voices. It’s a combination open to a variety of interpretations: Powers’ lone voice could represent the isolation that comes when a nation seems to push in a direction you don’t agree with. Or, the group vocals could represent protest—determined fights to fix a broken system. It’s an ambiguous conclusion to be sure, but a fitting end to a record that rewards and punishes in equal measure.

Robert Whitfield