Good lord we have some awesome shows coming to the DC area this weekend. My picks:
Thursday: Reptar comes back to U Hall in what is probably the most underrated show of the long weekend.
Friday: I’ll be checking out Bill Maher’s new special at Warner Theater because I’m a nerd, but music-wise nothing is beating Typhoon, Grouplove, and Portugal the Man at Merriweather.
Saturday: Sylvan Esso at Howard Theater is sold the fuck out (though I’ll be interviewing them that day so expect some fun gossip next week), which means if you’re not spending Saturday watching !!! and Brett at Snallygaster and then Bear Hands and Tove Lo and Panama Wedding and Future Islands whilst at All Things Go’s Fall Classic Festival, you’re a silly person.
Sunday: Jack White.
Also, here’s a Spotify playlist of all the best songs from 2014. Follow it.
Julian Casablancas – “Human Sadness”
I know we had a nice little streak going in terms of well-anticipated albums getting streamed right before this column goes up, but unless NPR or Pitchfork pulls out something in the next 3 minutes, we’ll have to settle for “Human Sadness,” the 11-minute track from Julian Casablancas (the guy from The Strokes, for those with real lives).
It’s been labeled “experimental,” which is probably fair considering it’s a bit out there in what you might expect from a standard Casablancas offering, but honestly, if I told you ahead of time that Julian Casablancas had come out with a slightly trippy 11-minute long song, this probably isn’t too far from what you might expect.
It’s not bad, but it’s not great (having said that, it’s still growing on me with each listen). It’s not actually that out there that it detracts from the song (in fact, it does a really good job letting its weirdness work for it). But most importantly, it’s not so bad that we hate reckoning with the fact that this is a branch of The Strokes family tree.
Because The Strokes are in an interesting place…
As a band, their more iconic material is catching on with a younger generation just getting into “older music” (I know…), which is only going to force us into having to look critically at The Strokes and their music more than we might want to normally (my guess is we end up sympathetically reasoning away their more and more obvious flaws). At the same time though, the individual members are also, as “Human Sadness” proves yet again, actively exploring new sounds, effectively causing two parallel universes.
And now Julian Casablancas has (on top of his other side work) “Human Sadness,” out in advance of Tyranny, his upcoming album with backing band The Voidz (comprised of some people from his last solo album and some other people you don’t care about). He also, apparently, has a lot to say too…
“Tyranny has come in many forms throughout history,” Casablancas said in a statement released with the album. “Now, the good of business is put above anything else, as corporations have become the new ruling body. Most decisions seem to be made like ones of a medieval king: whatever makes profit while ignoring and repressing the truth about whatever suffering it may cause (like pop music, for that matter).”
So they beat on, The Strokes against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
Elephant Stone – Three Poisons
The rest of the album is streaming on Soundcloud here.
On one hand, it seems unfair to put Elephant Stone right after Julian Casablancas’ 11-minute experimental psychedelic extravaganza since Elephant Stone could conceivably be labeled with the same generic Spotify genre #hashtags, but it’s also a fun adventure in juxtaposition.
While Casablancas on “Human Sadness” is all about wandering the ethereal experimental psychedelic landscapes, Montreal’s Elephant Stone uses it as the setting to make a style of music that is not just direct but forceful.
Their last album, 2013’s Elephant Stone, did its best to capture that, but with the exception of a few songs, its low-fi-ish production left everything feeling a bit washed out, emphasizing the fact that Elephant Stone occasionally ends up sounding like a Beatles B-side rip-off (which can’t be too bad an insult considering Tame Impala made an entire album like that and everyone went crazy over it).
Fortunately, all that’s changed with Three Poisons.
Yes the Beatles and Stone Roses influences are there, as is man-behind-the-band Rishi Dhir’s signature sitar sound, but there is nothing at all washed out about this album. The rhythms are punctuated, the production is spacious but crisp, and the layers of sonic blending seem masterfully sewn together. On top of that, Dhir sounds like he’s having the most fun in his career, making this trippy trip down a sonic rabbit hole feel like a fun adventure as opposed to something more disorienting or sinister. Even “The Poisons,” the albums ‘darkest’ moment with its skittering sitar riffs and driving bass line, feels like a welcome bit of chaos in the latter half of the album.
And better yet, you yourself can tumble down this rabbit hole LIVE TONIGHT when Elephant Stone somehow fits all that sound into the backstage of Black Cat. Get tickets here.
Plus I will most likely be there and it’s a pretty small space, so you better come say hi.
Cookies – “Go Back”
After listening to Mr. Casablancas’ human sadness for the better part of an hour and then going straight into Elephant Stone, I feel like I could use a palate cleanser and I think you could do.
The PR email that came along with a stream of their debut album Music For Touching (released yesterday!) tells me that Cookies is a project by someone named Ben Sterling, who was the co-founder of a group called Mobius Band that said PR email also tells me were electro-rock vanguards who toured with Cut Copy and The National, so that’s something.
That PR email also said the following though, which is some of the worst ‘dumb PR writing’ I’ve ever seen:
“These ten buoyant songs reflect the odyssey. They’re about sex and death, empathy and evolution. They’re built from unusual colors but exude the addictive essence of pop. This is Music For Touching. Music for falling in love, or tumbling out of it. 1,000 endless nights and 1,000 breakfasts with you. To the window, to the wall, to Fulton Mall (where Cookies’ name derives). Sex and death. Love and fear. Welcome. Music For Touching.”
I don’t know about all that (especially the “Get Low” reference), but I will say that while “Go Back” is serviceable as a palate cleanser and a decent enough introduction to Cookies, I will definitely be revisiting this album in depth once it gets put up Spotify or something more public so I can gossip with you about things like how ballsy a lead-off track “1,000’s Breakfasts With You” is or how “Human Problems” effectively bridges the gap between Sylvan Esso and St. Vincent.
But until then, now that we’re feeling sonically refreshed thanks the crooning, head-bobbing of Ben Sterling’s Cookies, let’s move on to the next course because it’s time for a very special edition of..
AURAL PLEASURE WITH FRIENDS: Nate Scott Edition
Editor’s Note: Nate Scott is an editor of USA Today’s FTW section and hates these kids today with their complicated shoes. I could have sworn he had guest-written before, but I can’t find any such record, so it looks like this is our first time…
Cymbals Eat Guitars – LOSE
“Child Bride / You were my best friend / ‘Til your dad slapped the living shit out of you.”
Those are the opening words to “Child Bride,” the fifth song off Cymbals Eat Guitars’ new LP, LOSE, out now on Barsuk Records.
It’s a stunning opening to a song, made all the more so by the gentle plucking guitar that accompanies singer Joseph D’Agostino. LOSE explores moments of tension like this throughout the album. “XR” is a barroom singalong, complete with charging harmonica, which is undercut by the fact that the lyrics reflect on drug use and a friend’s death. “Chambers” has a funky back beat and “woo ooh oohs” on the chorus, but a closer listen reveals the song is about going through a painful drug withdrawal after “the Feds closed Silk Road.”
All of LOSE is a stunning record, to be totally honest. It is Cymbals Eat Guitars’ third album, following up their fantastic debut Why There Are Mountains and their stoned out, not-so-fantastic follow-up, Lenses Alien.
LOSE doesn’t have any songs as catchy as Why There Are Mountains, but D’Agostino is so much more accomplished a songwriter now that the album sticks with you in a way the debut never did.
As I wrote elsewhere, LOSE is an album about New Jersey and nostalgia and drug use, in some order or another. D’Agostino isn’t preachy in his memories of drugs– he doesn’t make it that easy on the listener. There are no morals here, just memories. Recalling a friend’s accident which led to eventual pill use, D’Agostino remembers on “2 Hip Soul”: “The campground in the park / Swastikas carved into the bark / Sesta fell face first into the fire pit / We had to find a new place to drink.”
That last line — “We had to find a new place to drink” — is what makes D’Agostino so great as a songwriter. He gives a detail, he moves on. He trusts his listeners to get there for themselves.
“Our parents got us a dog so we could learn about loss” he sings on “Chambers,” but he doesn’t extrapolate any further. He doesn’t need to. We know what happens to the dog. We know what happens to him.