AudioHammock Podcast #73 - Recapping the Albums of June

AudioHammock releases podcasts to keep you up to date on the latest music, albums, and festivals concerning music you like. We also feature a ton of new music, primarily from the Pacific Northwest. Android users can can subscribe via Stitcher, BeyondPod, or any other RSS feed podcast device. You can also find us on iTunes.Take AudioHammock on the go!

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Alt-J - Relaxer

Genre: Indie rock, Art-rock
Released: June 2nd, 2017 on Atlantic

There are a host of albums that the indie community seems to have feverish anticipation for this year and Alt-J is arguably at that top of that list. The United Kingdom art rockers are known for their unique sound that includes crescendoing tempests of digital tones, acoustic and electric guitar offerings, vibrant drum beats, and piano and key tracks that seem to swirl from left and right channels before arriving post-haste at the cerebal cortex. Now on their third full length release, Relaxer sees the band at an exploratory phase that might can bemuse the casual listener and the most studious of music fans; yet there is gold to be found here.

On initial glance, Relaxer is not impressive at the slightest. At eight tracks, you'll be scrathing your head wondering why such you're seeing such a slim offering from a band we haven't seen an album from in three years. The album cover, a screenshot of an old 1998 Sony Playstation game titled LSD (there's a separate conversation for later if there ever was one) also isn't as inviting as 2014's This is For You (AH Review), or 2012's This Awesome Wave.

Moving on from looking at the album and to actually listening to it and you're greeted with "3WW", effectively acronymed for "three worn words". Alt-J have always been clever and it's in no shortage here on the wordplay for a title of a song effectively poking fun at mankinds most endearing off to work goodbye "ILY" or "I love you". The song itself is a beautiful arrangement of backbeat and folk, just indie enough to make you wonder if it's something your grandfather would enjoy before veraciously laughing off the thought. Lyrically the song is a beautiful narrative of a wayward lad and his adventure to the coastline of England which finds him in a tryst with two English girls at an evening campfire. The song, cute in summary, offers a surpising deep introspection into the things humans seek on opposite lanes of love. With references to the statue of Verona (a statue of Juliet in Italy that has been worn down through generations of tourists with honest intentions), "3WW" sets the tone for an Alt-J album that will have you thinking about vocalist Joe Newman's songwriting just as much as the music itself.

If lyrical introspection isn't your thing then track 2 "In Cold Blood" is for you. The song, effectively about a summer pool party, was stated by keyboardist Gus Unger-Hamilton as being "not massively deep" in an interview with BBC Radio 6. The ambiguousness of the lyrics can attest or discredit that as one sees fit but musically the song is an absolute circus dancer led by Unger-Hamilton's Transylvania like organ lead before giving away to percussive woodblocks, Joe Newman's la la las, and the band's particularly strong horn inclusion. The song races in and out of open and narrow spaces before lavishly ending in what can only be described as a cacophony of noise that works for a band known for credible crescendos.

The contrastings tones on Relaxer can be noted by the differences in musical styles in the first two songs but if you haven't picked up on that it becomes very apparent on track 3, "House of the Rising Sun". We'll be frank, this cover of an folk tune is a disservice to the album and should have been omitted entirely. With only 8 songs and already being such a short album, the inclusion of a cover, and a poor one at that, leaves you questioning the band's creative disposition. A strange thought considering that "3WW" is perhaps the most creative gem they've came up with to date.

The albums fourth song, "Hit Me Like That Snare" is perhaps the most divisive in the band's catalog. It's either the "Left Hand Free" of Relaxer, or a crowning achievement on the album. Even on the podcast opinions are strong and extreme. Lyrically the song takes the listener from singing praise to Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool to counting in Japanese. The music is just as disjointed, with multiple tempo changes before fading out with the repetitive line "fuck you, I'll do what I want to do". It's an absolute love or hate track. Most of the rest of the album follows suit, "Deadcrush" is a downtempo song about who the band would like to date from past historical eras and "Last Year" features a split song with the first half a somber narrator counts down the remaining months of his life and the second half is a female vocal delivery of his eulogy. Knowing this helps give the listener a firm grip on the song but without that knowledge the song can seem a bit disjointed.

At eight tracks, Relaxer will undoubtedly leave you wanting more Alt-J or something else entirely. Joe, Thom, and Gus have expiremented here moreso than on any other Alt-J offering and you're either on the side of the fence that sees the effort paying off dividends that will hold up as their discography evolves or that this is just a band who, now on their third album, aren't quite sure what to make of themselves.

AudioHammock Score (Russ): 8.3
AudioHammock Score (Dylan): 6.6

Kevin Morby - City Music

Genre: Indie folk, Singer songwrtier
Released: June 16, 2017 on Dead Oceans

After 2016's stellar Singing Saw music fans were surprised a few months ago when Kevin Morby announced a follow up so soon after. 2017 sees Morby with his second solo album in as many years (fourth overall) and confirms that the singer songwriter is at the peak of his powers.

As a musician and lyricist, Kevin Morby has an endearing campfire charm. He sings of lost love, the nomadic life, and for many, a inclusion with nature or a modern country experience. While Singing Saw captured this gentle way of life nicely, City Music sees Morby taking off the worn duster, putting out the fire, and heading towards the city. We've all been there, in a big city, perhaps on vacation or visiting a lover, and something in the middle of the night catches your eye: perhaps city architechture, the way the moonlight bounces of a city block, the low hum of a diner jukebox as you walk inside, a vista from a staircase that offers a panoramic view into the heart of the city. Whatever it is, the moment is fleeting and the rush it generates within you can leave a lasting impression. Whatever you call that feeling (beautiful at the least), it is exactly what Kevin Morby is aiming for with City Music.

For City Music Morby has crafted the fictional character Mabel. A loner and a recluse, Mabel sits in her apartment during the day and years for the company of the moon and the night. This is seen in the first song and single "Come To Me Now".

[Pre-Chorus]
I can't wait for the sun to go down
Tired of squinting at this god-awful town
I can't wait for that moon to rise
She's my friend, always been, you can see it in my eyes

[Chorus]
That I love her
Yeah, I do
Oh, I love her
And she loves me too

On initial listen what seems like a despondent love song is merely an old woman waiting for the appearance of the moon. It's a vibrant take on a woman who ultimately lives an inconsequential life; yet there is still beauty to be found. City Music is full of this off-kilter lifestyle and does a great job of reminding you to not be so harsh on those that differ from you. After an endearing tribute to the Ramones "1234", the album climaxes with "Flannery", "City Music", and "Tin Can". Starting with the first song, an interlude really, "Flannery" is an exceprt from a Flannery Oconnor book that features a boy on his first time to the city, he mistakes the city lights as a fire and instills a sense of wonderment in the listener. This wonderment is key because it carries into the album's title track "City Music". Mostly an instrumental tune with lighthearted lyrics, Morby stated in an interview with NPR that he wanted the song to be as simple as possible. The guitar line, originally created on a banjo, was expanded on in a practice session after the band walked in and heard Morby playing around with it. The guitar track is still subtle and bluesy, a testament to the gentleness of the original instrument it was crafted on. A timid snare and woodblock accompany Morby's vocals as he sings about the allure of the city sounds what can hear that pull at the heartstrings. He ends with the vocal line "let's go downtown" and the following guitar solo takes off on a journey, almost as if you're running hand in hand with Morby or someone in your life you love, to where else, but downtown. "Tin Can" returns to Mabel, who is now peeking out of her curtains and people watching. "Who are these people, where are they going, just strangers in a stranger place" sings Moby. Mabel sits in her "Tin Can" trying to convince herself to go out, pondering lifelong questions as the sun comes up and goes down. A prisoner in her own apartment, she manages to find comfort in vulnerability and "Tin Can" captures this narrative beautifully as Morby's guitar goes up and down with the reflection of Mabel's mood.

Kevin Morby makes isolation beautiful in a way that is seldom looked at. While band's like Radiohead can offer existential reflection in the ultimate sense, City Songs reminds you that even in unfavorable situations and uncertain moments in urban living, true beauty can be found.

AudioHammock Score: 8.7

Fleet Foxes - Crack Up

Genre: Indie Rock
Released: June 16, 2017 on Nonesuch

We'll keep this short and sweet. Everyone knows about Fleet Foxes and listens to them, and with good reason. Crack Up fits into the pantheon of the discogrphy amazingly well. Fleet Foxes continue to be at the forefront of a progressive and expansive folk/indie movement and there is so much instrumentally speaking on Crack Up that it requires repeat listens for even the most dedicated of music fans to decipher. From Robin's vocal overlayers perhaps talking to a younger version of himself to the inclusion of high school choirs, Moroccan percussion ("Mearcstapa"), 12-string guitars, harpsichords, digital samples of blue noise, guitar tunings influenced by Mailian artists, and more, we easily run out of breath trying to breach the intricacy of the compositions. Crack Up is recommended listening now, tomorrow, and forever.

AudioHammock Score: 8.9

Vince Staples - Big Fish Theory

Genre: Hip hop
Released: June 23, 2017 on ARTium/Def Jam

Changing lanes, we're just as high on Vince Staples as we are Fleet Foxes. With Big Fish Theory Vince challenges all preconcived notions of what hip hop should sound like. In a time that contains a lot of political unknown, Staples has transfered that to the hip hop canvas and here is an album that features a more electronic and downtempo disposition than people might be used to but fans of the two genres will find it increasingly pleasant. Paving the way is "Yea Right" the collaboration that features Staples and Kendrick Lamar, one that we've all been waiting for and that doesn't disappoint. "Yea Right" is a scathing look at the way hip hop has produced an ecosystem which relies on artists flaunting material wealth and questions it entirely. It is an appropriate conversation and a take that is refreshing since it is led by the genres two most talented artists at this time (yes Vince is really that good). Vince's nihilstic outlook is still present at times but it continues to be welcome in a continuous vacuum of the genres self-centered ego boosting and plays off the disjointed twists and turns of the album's breakbeats and electropop road flares. Nothing has sounded this dystopian and futeristic since Deltron 3030 (Damon Albarn has had a hand in both of these masterpieces) and if this collaboration continues we're all the wiser. Vince Staples still isn't for the mainsteam top 40 hip hop fan but in a century from now his work will be cited, sourced, imitated, and remembered fondly.

AudioHammock Score: 8.7


Other artists discussed on the podcast include: London Grammar, Phoenix, Portugal The Man. , and Big Thief. Subscribe to the podcast now!

Russ Bashaw

Founder, Owner

Russ Bashaw founded AudioHammock in the summer of 2013 and continues to be an active contributor and editor. In addition to writing the occasional review Russ is also one of the hosts of the AudioHammock Podcast. Follow Russ on Instagram @russba1 or email him at russ@audiohammock.com.

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