You may have noticed a drop in articles for the Music to Your Ears column. There’s a typical lull at some point in the year, as either interest in content itself drops for this writer, or work ramps up outside the Interjections blog and podcast. It’s never truly intentional, but sometimes becomes borne of necessity. Alas, July was one of those lulls, and while there was some good stuff – mostly singles from upcoming albums, it wasn’t worth taking time out of our busy schedules to write up what you might need to know. Honestly, I’m sort of disappointed in the recent trend of releasing five singles before an album debuts – it’s practically half the album, so I’d rather listen to it all when the whole record drops. That’s the case with our first review today:
Death Cab for Cutie – Thank You For Today
For the group’s ninth album, it’s all about retrospection. Frontman Ben Gibbard has gone on record as saying that he believes this is the perfect album for mid-life: he’s at the point at which he’s looking backwards as much as he’s looking toward his future, and that spills out through his music here. If you know anything about the guy, and he’s certainly the most integral part of the band, his love life has been first and foremost at the forefront of his art. His side projects and solo albums represent a side-ego, while his main through line has always been about attaining that which most of humanity strives for: happiness with a soul mate. For him to have gone through that and come back again alongside the literal manic pixie dream girl that starred in 500 Days of Summer, it’s a bit tough to separate his real-life experiences and the music he’s created. Certainly, it’s not like he’s attempting to hide that fact. When they were blissfully married, we had the sunniest output this one-time “emo” band produced: Codes and Keys. Once they’d divorced, fairly soon after the release of that album, we had the most dour sound: Kintsugi. Now that the dust has settled for several years, we have the phoenix that has risen since. It’s a thoughtful yet pained address to that hopeful child Gibbard once was: “It won’t end up like you predicted, but it certainly will have been worth it. Don’t regret it, you’ll love again.” He even manages to produce a meditative reflection on 2003’s track “Passenger Seat” in the sequel stunner “When We Drive”.
Chris Walla, longtime guitarist for DCFC, is gone for the first time since the group’s first album You Can Play These Songs with Chords. While his personal contribution may be sorely missing, it’s filled ably by Dave Depper and Zac Rae, who throw in their own style on first single “Gold Rush” and closer “60 & Punk”. The most poignant part of the album fills the middle of the album, where Chvrches frontwoman Lauren Mayberry pops up for backing vocals on “Northern Lights”. It’s still a little obvious that Gibbard misses his ex-wife, as he’s placed blantant references to her 2009 film by naming tracks “Summer Years” and “Autumn Love” It’s okay to have some subtlety, but it never really was Gibbard’s forte. Longtime fans will be thrilled to be lovelorn alongside Death Cab once again.
Key Tracks: When We Drive / Northern Lights / Your Hurricane
Now that we’ve pushed the main review, here’s some highlights from July and August!
Santigold – I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions
To be completely honest, sometimes you have to tear down the abstract style layered over a more conventional sound. That’s certainly what Santigold has done here, on her fourth album. A smoother R&B feeling shudders under the weight of her dysphonic chanting, and with the opener “Coo Coo Coo” you get the sense that this is something a bit detached from what’s come previously. “I Don’t Want” reminds of Santogold tracks like “Lights Out” and “I’m a Lady”, which had been expanded on in later albums but never truly connected. “Valley of the Dolls” tells an LA story that can only be seen through the askew prism of Santigold. I’m thrilled, for one thing, that it’s only been two years since the last work, as it’s typically four years between releases for the singer. Lucky for us that it’s one of her best.
Key Tracks: I Don’t Want / Don’t Blame Me / Valley of the Dolls
Dirty Projectors – Lamp Lit Prose
Sometimes there’s experimental for the sake of being experimental. Then there’s dirty projectors – whose creative expectations borderline on the profound, symphonically. Singer David Longstreth layers his soulful vocals angelically over dysphonic instrumentals, synth-heavy to the point of being obnoxious the first go around. The medieval postmodern “Right Now” blows expectations out of the water with a handful of trumpet bursts and you know you’re in for something as unique as it can get this year. Follow that up with one of the most deliriously delightful renditions this year, “Break-Thru” and you’ll hopefully be in for a treat. Getting past the weird is a bit of a chore at first, albeit worth it once you get to the candy center. Longstreth has done his best to separate himself from past efforts with a fuller band, and despite some rough edges, this is a sight to behold.
Key Tracks: Break-Thru / I Found It In U / That’s a Lifestyle
Ariana Grande – Sweetener
I won’t mention him, I swear. It’s almost impossible to avoid these days, but Ariana Grande’s beau is all over this album, even as a late influence in its sound. Clearly smitten with the SNL comedian, she even capped off a late track with his name. Let’s forgo the formalities with the oversaturated romance, though, Grande’s at least done her best to produce a worthy follow-up to 2014’s ? She doesn’t quite match that one’s vim and vigor, but she saunters her way through a few over-produced-by-Pharrell bouncers. Her attempt at solemnity comes later, in the aforementioned name-dropping song. If nothing else, this is some love letter.
Key Tracks: God Is A Woman / Sweetener / Pete Davidson
Mitski – Be That Cowboy
More mature – a step forward into adulthood – whatever you want to call it, Mitski is shedding her childish ways on her newest album. Be That Cowboy eschews a narrative the music industry would love to grasp hold of, that of a young ingenue blossoming into a pop starlet. Mitski was never going to be the next Halsey. Dream pop aurals settle in around your headphones as she soothes you into her sonic diary. “Lonesome Love” promises us that we can get past heart break, some of them quite easily. Some of her songs are a little on the nose, such as the acerbic “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” Either way, it’s a dizzying display of one of our current greatest talents, in my opinion. She also clearly has a bit of a David Lynch inspiration this go-around. I think, like Lynch’s recent masterpiece third season of Twin Peaks, I’ll digest this some more before I stick it into an assured top 10 spot late this year.
Key Tracks: A Pearl / Why Didn’t You Stop Me? / Pink in the Night
Interpol – Marauder
I was just thinking about one of my favorite ever bands, Franz Ferdinand, earlier this week – and how they sort of faded into the background because they never really grew and discovered themselves, despite branching out with some new styles. They were sort of a flash in a pan if that pan was the second British invasion of the early 2000’s. On the other hand, a band like Muse has continued to develop and enrapture audiences worldwide while slipping their older sound into new instrumentals and concept albums. Why does it work for one band and not another? Interpol has always felt like it’s riding that middle line between the two, and Marauder is a perfect example of why. Crooner Paul Banks’ vocals fade into the background while listening, and it makes Interpol more of a mood. The New York alternate to bands like I’ve earlier mentioned here, Banks and company often accompanied my friends and I down lowlight back roads during our college years. Songs like “Surveillance” and “Mountain Child” will place you back in those halcyon days, brooding over the future that might not work out – the buzzy guitar of Dan Kessler soothing those romantic wounds. This may not be a truly mind-blowing effort, but sometimes you’re just happy to see old friends back at the bar after a few years, lucky enough to get a chance to catch up and reminisce.
Key Tracks: Flight of Fancy / The Rover / Mountain Child
Well, I know this happens once a year, so I hope this is it. If I get a little more organized, I should be set to do this weekly again, but who the hell knows? Life is too short to get upset about deadlines, I must repeat to myself daily….gotta add that to my calendar, I guess…