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Needless to say, this year’s batch of New Years Eve television programming was as unremarkable as ever. Therefore, this month I have decided to do something a bit unusual for this blog. I’m going to revisit some artists I’ve recommended in the past that have released an album in the past year, and find out if they’ve gotten better or worse in time.

Autre Ne VeutAge of Transparency

RnB/Electronic

I first listened to Autre Ne Veut on his 2013 album, Anxiety. Although I have since gone back and listened to his self-titled 2010 album, I think Anxiety was the first one where he really mastered the balance between experimentalism and infectiousness of his RnB sound. Play by Play continues to be one of the best demonstrations of this blended sound.

That said, he has really stepped it up in Age of Transparency — and in a good way. On and On (Reprise) is one of the most stunning RnB openers I have ever heard. I like songs that end somewhere completely different than where they started, or that have a sense of journey about them: I call it “being dynamic”. Without a doubt, this song is absolute madness. It is a progression past the kind of sound Autre Ne Veut had on his previous albums — even more experimental and yet it still has those RnB elements that keep it grounded.

In cases where an album has a tremendous opening track, I’m always afraid that the rest of the album fails to keep up the momentum. In this case, I’m happy to say that while I’m not sure any individual track is BETTER than the opener, they all are roughly as good, and the album is therefore quite solid. Moreover, the amount of variety on the album is truly impressive. Every song tries out different sounds and different techniques, and no two songs sound alike. We’ve got Age of Transparency with a kind of jazzy feel to it, World War Pt. 2 with a bassy, more electric sound, and whatever the heck you want to call Get Out.

You just never know what you’re going to get next with this guy, and I like the trajectory he is on.

FKA TwigsM3LL155X

Pop/Electronic

It’s scarcely been more than a year since LP1, and in fact M3LL155X is not a full-length album at all. However, I’m so excited that FKA Twigs has released new music that I’m going to review it anyway.

Her music has such a powerful sense of “groove” to it that it just cannot be picked up in the middle of a song. Note that I’m not recommending listening to any song by coming in halfway through, but that there are a lot of songs in popular music where you can easily do so. That deep, dirty, slow groove she builds on on each track makes every song and every release of hers have a sense of overwhelming power.

My favorite song off M3LL155X is In Time. It’s the song on the album that has the most traditional elements in it (relative to the wild stuff she pulls on other tracks), but it’s got this enchanting exotic feel to it on account of the east asian-ish electronic sounds. Of course, we have her usual strong vocals, and that captivating flow (or groove) that makes it so that it feels like the song could go on forever.

The whole release is only 18 minutes, so I’d recommend just listening to the whole thing if you’re interested. However, Figure 8 and Glass & Patron are both standout tracks highlighting the filthy dark electronic sound she has been developing over the years. I think we’ll be hearing this type of thing from a lot of artists soon enough.

FoxingDealer

Emo/Post-Rock

There is no question that The Albatross was one of the greatest emo albums of recent memory. Inuit represents their best contribution to the emo sound, while Bit By A Dead Bee Pt 2 was more representative of the tone of the album. If The Albatross had mildly post-rock sounds on it, Dealer is the crossover into an album that I would describe as primarily post-rock from a supposedly emo band. There’s nothing wrong with a change in sound, but I have some issues that I will outline. At any rate, for people hunting specific moods, tones, and sounds in music, I just wanted to clarify what to expect off this album.

Artists like FKA Twigs have a sense of groove about them: her music has a “negative”, heavy, bassy mood to it. On the other hand, albums like Dealer “float”. They may be downtempo (or not), but their overall tone is light, airy, and indeed even positive. This is, as always, regardless of lyrical content. It’s simply the aesthetic of the sound. Redwoods is a good example of what I’m getting at, here. It’s making copious use of reverb, we’ve got some ethereal synth sounds in the background. And I’ll be honest: I didn’t care for this song very much, nor did I particularly go for any of the songs on this album that had this sound, because quite frankly, bands doing this are a dime a dozen these days. It’s not that interesting, and it certainly isn’t groundbreaking (being groundbreaking apparently counts as an excuse to do things that are not musically interesting, in the minds of some music aficionados).

Then we have tracks like Indica or the movie-soundtrack-tier Winding Cloth. Is Winding Cloth a compelling song? Yes. But why is it compelling? Well, it’s because they use the piano and string section to add gravitas to ordinary chord progressions which gives an impression of emotion that comes not from the composition of the track but simply the instruments used to record it. Judging by the consistently negative reaction to my article about neoclassical (I called it contemporary classical at the time) music, I think my explanation bears repeating. It is important to recognize the difference between let’s just say classical music and pop music with classical trappings. There’s something about songs that use string sections, the piano, or even just the acoustic guitar that causes people to throw around words like “good,” and I question that temptation. Taking a song that is extremely basic on paper and redoing it with classical instruments does not add any value to the song. It just makes it sound cool. Sufficient to say, this is an issue on Dealer that I believe has caused it to be overrated by some. On my part, I felt most of the tracks were transparent and uninteresting.

When Foxing was an emo band that borrowed certain aesthetics from post-rock, they had some genuinely interesting tracks as a result. Now that they’ve moved into an album that is primarily post-rock in nature, they have entered into competition with opponents far beyond the level of Dealer.

Were there any songs on the album that I liked? The Magdalene. While I won’t go as far as to call it the Inuit of Dealer, it is the closest track on the album to what The Albatross sounded like. It has a strong sense of movement, and uses the post-rock sounds in a (relatively) limited manner for good effect. An album with more songs like this would have been pretty impressive, wouldn’t it? Reminds me of an album Foxing released in 2014.

Loma PrietaSelf Portrait

Screamo/Hardcore

Alright, now we’re talking. I love the way that Loma Prieta’s albums sound. They’ve got all these senselessly violent tracks like Black Square that make you think “oh yeah, these guys are hardcore,” but then they put on a relatively melodic song like Roadside Cross to remind you where they came from. No band from the emo tradition can release an album without keeping that melodic quality SOMEWHERE.

In fact, they’ve even kept around some relatively calm tracks (which I recall them doing on earlier releases as well), such as More Perfect. The variety on Loma Prieta’s albums makes them concurrently a gateway band into screamo and also one of the best screamo bands of all time. It’s not often you see something like that.

Incidentally, Satellite as a closing track is kind of like what “On and On (Reprise)” was as an opener on Autre Ne Veut’s album earlier in this post. It’s that “wow” moment that really brings an album together. And, because it was the closing track, it didn’t set an unreachable bar that the rest of the album needed to catch up to. Rather, it allowed the album to build up (and I will say that it built from good into great, not from bad into good). Screamo may not be the most popular genre on this blog, but Loma Prieta does a lot of smart things on their albums that other artists could learn from.


 

There’s a couple more albums I’d like to talk about from 2015, but I ended up rambling on about Foxing so much that I’m just going to cut it here. This is the price of disappointment. But I think we had a nice talk, and I might do it again sometime.

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