Bryce Rudow is a contributing writer for All Things Go
Overloaded by all the “new music” options you keep hearing about? We’re here to help. Here’s three songs an album(!), and in this week’s case, a mixtape, we think you should fucking know (this week). Feel free to leave your suggestions in the comments too.
- My Bloody Valentine – m b v
NPR cult-hero Bob Boilen recently wrote an article about the Fleetwood Mac album Rumours in which he tries to understand why so many 20-somethings have gravitated toward an album that he outright despised when it originally came out in 1977. The complexities of the article are worth the read, but long story short, he realizes that, compared to today’s heavily-produced pop, Rumours feels like an organic, honest rock album as opposed to the commercial “ultimate easy listening album” he always saw it as. And that’s because timing and context are everything when it comes to music.
The most popular non-Beyonce news in music this week was that seminal shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine casually released their first album in 22 years. With little introduction, they made the announcement on their Facebook page and then subsequently saw their website crash due to the overwhelming influx of traffic.
Now, from a young age, I understood that My Bloody Valentine was an important band and that their 1991 album Loveless was a very important album. I remember hearing their name come up often as my music-elitist friends in high school were showing me Pavement and early Modest Mouse. But where “Summer Babe” became a frequent entry on mix CD’s and This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About became enshrined as one of my favorite albums ever, My Bloody Valentine didn’t catch up with me until much later in life. Because of that, I always found myself comparing them to other, more modern bands that they, ironically, most likely directly influenced.
So, in order to feel at least conversational in MBV when discussing m b v, I cranked through their entire discography a few times over while at my company’s retreat in fabulous Virginia Beach. As I sat on a snow-dusted porch overlooking the ocean, I couldn’t help but think it was the perfect setting to absorb the pioneering shoegaze of the Irish rockers. While I was familiar with the songs already, this was the first chance I had to really, with full attention, absorb the transcendence of songs like “To Here Knows When”, “Sometimes”, and perfect-album-closer “Soon”.
Still warm from the fuzzy feelings that was Loveless, I dove into m b v, ready for anything. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the beginning of the album feels like a sequel of sorts to Loveless, with that same familiar atmosphere built around and into each of the songs; while I may have originally heard shades of other, more modern songs when listening to MBV, I finally was able to understand and revel in the distinct “My Bloody Valentine” sound that I had grown so comfortable familiar with.
Then, around “Is This And Yes”, the fourth song on the album, there is a marked shift in the tone of the songs and the first hint that the band may have expanded their repertoire.
If I had more time and better research skills, I would love to know when some of these songs were actually written, as they almost sound like a journey in indie rock through the years the band took off; “If I Am” and “For You” could have been written by a late 90’s Radiohead, for sure. “In Another Way” takes their normally soaring guitars and instead makes them roar over a more-modern version of their classic percussion style. Then there are the drums and driving, tense guitar on “Nothing Is” that show an almost-alarming energy from the band; they seem to be taunting the listener with a very-extended and never-capitulating buildup. Album-closer “Wonder 2”, with its Age of Adz-esque rambling precision, is the perfect counter to Loveless’ “Soon”, as it really displays what these guys have been up to all these years.
My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is cherished as timeless, but with this album and its modernized version of their vintage sound, the group proves that timing is still everything. It’s impossible to top basically inventing a genre like they did with Loveless, but I really think this is one hell of a follow-up.
- Wolf Alice – White Leather
Present Day Wolf Alice is a four-person group out of London that congealed around the co-songwriters of lead singer Ellie Rowsell and guitarist Joff Odie. While they originally dabbled in more folk-oriented genres, they have gone through a lot of trouble to make sure none of those songs are available anymore (lame). Last year, though, they released a self-titled EP (also a pain in the ass to find) that showed an expansion of that folk sound into grunge, synth-folk, and other more complex musical territory; “Destory Me” is a dark Yeah Yeah Yeah’s song sung by Fleetwood Mac fans and “Wednesday” is an Ani DeFranco song with more attitude. Then, a few months ago, they released the single “Leaving You,“, which is a folk-jam through and through with a fairly psychedelic guitar solo in there too.
But then, last month, they dropped “Fluffy,” a much harder-hitting song than anything they’d previously released (though that may be due to guitarist-turned-drummer Joel Amey getting more comfortable behind the kit). It somehow manages to sound like Heart, Life Without Buildings (an embarrassingly unknown band I stumbled upon that I WILL write about one day), and The XX at different points, and, while it’s a solid song in its own right, it’s even more significant because of its ability to showcase the band’s musical maturity and new, diverse reach in terms of sound.
However, “White Leather”, the recently-released B-side to “Fluffy” is the exact opposite of its A-side, but it’s just as appealing. It’s unassumingly raw, while still sounding incredibly polished, and it flirts with a defiant naïveté that’s as instantly endearing as anything the old T-Swift put out. As the song rolls along, that whispery polish attains the impressive ability to be charmingly sweet yet still not pull any punches in terms of aggressive emotionality.
It sounds like the realization of the massive potential that sparked up in their earlier releases, and if they ever get to making another EP, or fingers crossed an LP, I’m going to be very interested in seeing if their material lands more towards “Fluffy” or “White Leather”, but I’m hoping it’s anywhere and everywhere in-between.
- Chance the Rapper – Juice
A quick aside before I get started…
This is one of those “Soundcloud for a higher quality version of the song v. YouTube for the music video that lets one fully appreciate the artist” situations. The choice is yours in terms of what you click first; I personally would say go for Soundcloud to hear the song in its higher kbps glory then enjoy Chance’s own tangible enjoyment in the eloquently simple music video.
It must be hard for Chicago-born Chance not to smile with “Juice” though, his first single since his impressive #10Day mixtape. While I downloaded #10Day originally just to get some background on “Juice”, it quickly became my favorite part of discovering Chance the Rapper. It is one of the best debut mixtapes I’ve heard in a long time, and considering I’m pretty sure he still can’t legally buy alcohol, I’m chomping at the bit to see just how much excellence this kid might have in him.
#10Day is a concept album around Chance being suspended from high school for drugs and is proof that he knows how to craft not just a song, but an album. It flows throughout, and I caught myself occasionally not knowing when one song ended and the next began. His talents are equal parts technical skill and uninhibited creativity, and #10Days is a testament to that. The wordplay on “U Got Me Fucked Up,” the hardness of “Fuck You Tahm Bout”, the Danny Brown-esque witty goofiness present in “Brain Cells” (), and the dumbfounding flow of “Missing You” coupled with Chance’s musical selection in terms of samples, which range from Kanye to Dead Prez to Beirut, leads to a mixtape that captures the angst of College Dropout but releases it through an even more varied musical landscape and, for yours truly, is just as shockingly impressive.
On “Juice”, Chance has become even more confident in not only his technical abilities but his range as well. It oozes a battlecrying self-assurance that is as slick as Chance’s dance moves in the video. That natural talent for flow is being raised up by a burgeoning maturity that has me very, very excited to see what Chance has in store with this next release.
- Autre Ne Veut – Play By Play
In November, I wrote about the song “Counting” by Autre Ne Veut, whose name I didn’t spell right (Madame Walker, my middle school French teacher, would be so ashamed) but whose brilliant avant-pop track had me “looking for the next single to be released.” Well, it’s here, and it’s a doozy.
With “Counting”, the Brooklynite Arthur Ashin melded elements of George Michael (compliment), Prince (huge compliment), James Blake (huger compliment?), and How To Dress Well (sizable compliment) into an intimate but explosive R&B anthem. Now, with “Play By Play”, he ratchets up the Prince swagger and harnesses a desperate insistence that emboldens every word he sings during the heartbreaking five and half minutes of the song. The instrumentation flips along underneath Ashin’s soaring vocals, with the occasional bends and warps emphasizing the chaotic exigency of the song.