Never mind, there was plenty to talk about this week! Owl City is joined by ye himself, in a self-titled personal memoir inscribed with the statement “I hate being bi-polar, it’s awesome”. There’s also new stuff from Gorillaz, Neko Case and a surprisingly deft cover of Toto’s “Africa” by everyone’s favorite California neverbloomers:
Kanye West – ye
A musician’s career is a strange beast. None have been scrutinized in the past decade, I believe, as America’s beloved Kanye West. With his latest album releasing this past Friday, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that he’s either aging out of his own genre or losing grip on reality itself. I know he’s capable of something artistically majestic; he gave us My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. By now, he’s reveling in his broken-ness. It’s somewhat a shame to watch Kanye go down this rabbit hole, as I think there’s still something left in the tank before he’s cast off to the elder statesman role. Maybe he’s just trolling us with the first few tracks, because the real meat of ye is in the second half, where Kid Cudi and Charlie Wilson drop in for “No Mistakes” and there are other uncredited guest spots from Cudi and a phenomenal find in 070 Shake, rescuing the lost cause in “Ghost Town”. I’m actually sort of disappointed that the last track, “Violent Crimes” ends so abruptly, as the album was starting to heat up right at the wrong moment.
Key Tracks: Ghost Town / No Mistakes / Violent Crimes
Father John Misty – God’s Favorite Customer
Soft spoken, yet articulately sumptuous, God’s Favorite Customer is the loveliest rendition of the part-time Fleet Foxes singer’s solo career. Last year’s Pure Comedy felt a bit forced, but this feels like all of his emotions laid out on the table. Right off the bat, “Hangout at the Gallows” lets his tremulous tenor loose and lets us in on his intentions to croon us through the tough times. He continues with the one-two punch of “Just Dumb Enough to Try” and “Date Night” – a warning to stay wary in every relationship in which you become entangled, and a sweet acceptance of the inevitable ignorance of that warning. A calm storm brewing in the early summer, this is a treat for fans of the methodical musings of a master musician.
Key Tracks: Just Dumb Enough to Try / God’s Favorite Customer / Please Don’t Die
Gorillaz “Humility” (featuring George Benson) and “Lake Zurich”
I feel like the odd one out here, but I wasn’t much of a fan of last year’s Humanz. Lucky for me, then, that ‘Humility’ sounds like a change of pace, a return to form with notes of that new album sprinkled on top. Damon Albarn is going to experiment all he wants, as long as people let him, but it’s refreshing to know that he’ll return to the well and dig up a banger for us to enjoy. This could have easily been a b-side from Plastic Beach or even a lesser single on Demon Days. Personally, it could end up as my song of the summer.
Owl City – Cinematic
Owl City was a bit of a joke in my circle of friends when he dropped “Firefly” and launched to instant stardom in 2009. The electro-pop explosion hadn’t dropped yet, but he was a good harbinger of the feel-good side of it, a flip of the coin that Skrillex resided upon. That hasn’t changed, but our tastes have changed, and accepted the stuff Adam Young is selling under his pseudonym. Despite some ridiculously photoshopped album artwork, the hallmarks of his sound are all there – flighty digitally toned popcorn, sympathetically relatable lyrics and effortless imagination. I admire him for sticking around this long, and this album is probably some of his best work. He’s still a bit too on the nose for me, though.
Key Tracks: Montana / The 5th of July / All My Friends
Weezer – “Africa”
Our chosen California crooners unexpectedly dropped a classic cover on us back on May 29th, and took the internet by storm. ‘Best song in at least a decade’ was the sentiment brought down from the critics on high. I have to say it certainly is a slick sample, but those of us that stuck by Weezer this whole time might have something to say about that. I’m more interested in bringing this to those of you that somehow missed it, as it’s a great way to usher in the summer. Stick it on your barbecue playlists, everybody!
Neko Case – Hell-On
Oozing with feminist sensibilities, Neko Case’s latest has vibrations of Alanis and Melissa in its ancestral DNA. If she’s the heir apparent to that genre, then she’s been killing it for years. This is a stable entry in her oeuvre, though it may end up overshadowed by the other major releases this week. In her legacy it may not even end up as her best release (that honor goes to 2009’s Middle Cyclone). There are plenty of gems hidden within, with lyrics that expound on pressing issues that simultaneously feel timely. Case’s voice rises above your typical vocalists, standing out with a sonically pleasing soprano. A perfectly mellifluent way to spend your Sunday afternoon drive.
Key Tracks: Last Lion of Albion / Curse of the I-5 Corridor / Gumball Blue
Ruen Brothers – All My Shades of Blue
The 1950s sensibilities that lie deep within this debut record from the amalgamated brothers Rupert and Henry Stansall are immediately captivating, if not a bit too obvious a hook. There’s been a void of classic rock bands slipping back into the mainstream, with musical acts like King Tuff and The Like being cast aside after their novelty wears off. Will the Ruen Brothers buck that trend like their singular counterpart Shakey Graves? If their career continues like this, I’m not sure they’ll capture a much bigger audience than their 30,000 Spotify listeners of the moment. I, for one, am a big fan of this album, as it reminds of Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams combined. The Mad Men aesthetic on the cover belies their intentions, and I wouldn’t be surprised if any of these songs end up in an AMC or FX show at some point. Don’t get me wrong, because I feel this was a tad negative, but I really immediately connected with their stylings. I’m just worried it won’t connect with a wider audience.
Key Tracks: Motor City / Finer Things / All My Shades of Blue
The 1975 – “Give Yourself a Try”
Already earworming its way into my head since dropping on May 31st, I may well end up having this in my top ten of the year. It’s certainly popping up in a month on the best of the Spring. One of my favorite things in a song is the way silence can evoke emotions in the listener. Right off the bat, there’s a drop in the rising guitar, grabbing your attention. Usually that’s a downbeat towards the end of a track, one to put a period on the point, the message of the song. Instead singer Matthew Healy draws you in immediately, like a millennial that baby-boomers like. The lyrics are so immediately relatable, at least to this broken soul, that it’s a treat to see the 1975 come back with an even bigger hit than their first breakout, ‘Sex’. In fact,
Natalie Prass – The Future and the Past
A new songstress, another to add to the collection of ever quirky ladies that captivate indie rock, Prass is fun right away. Liken her to a St. Vincent uncut by experience, with effervescent pop to present still. I actually hope she stays cheerful, because this is a bubbly concoction that cuts up the typical dour dealings. Check her out if you’re looking for something to dance to as you’re working your 9-5.
Key Tracks: Short Court Style / Never Too Late / Sisters
Coheed and Cambria – The Dark Sentencer
This is really just a preview to their full-length coming out at some point this year, but it’s a splendid sneak for us. The space jams have increased for Coheed, and this may be their most interstellar yet. I love the direction they’ve gone in – and remind me of another, calmer band I’ve loved over the years, Explosions in the Sky. The mellifluence crafted within the symphony relates to both bands only in that both can totally just be on in the background while you’re doing work, cleaning, chilling or a long drive with nothing to think about. The best place for Coheed would likely be while reading a good sci-fi novella, as immersing yourself on all sides could only improve the material.
Phew, that was quite a bit. Next week we’ll be looking at several new releases – Lykke Li and Lily Allen duel over best European songstress release in June, while a band who popped up in my best of 2015 list finally has their follow-up album (Sheppard). The biggest release of the week, surprising even me, is the vaunted return of Dave Matthews and his band. Tune in next week for more music to your ears!