Trebuchet – Volte-Face
This one’s kind of a problem for me. In theory, I hate it. It’s all slow strings and churchy harmonies and soft compassion. Like, it’s pleasant. It sounds nice. Give me a fucking break. The problem is that, actually listening to it, I have exactly zero negative feelings about it. It’s obviously great. I’m capable of objectively appreciating things that aren’t my thing, but that’s not what this. I really like this on a personal level, and that fact contradicts things that I’m pretty sure I know about myself. I mean, it’s not really that confusing. It opens with a literal hymn, but it inverts the meaning: not eating the fruit – failing to act recklessly enough to push the world out of its state of grace – is framed as the act requiring forgiveness. The rhythms are pretty hot; they’re not emphasized, but they do a lot to mitigate the austerity and get a little bit of blood flowing. And it’s not actually deniable that the singing is great, the songwriting is elegant and the whole thing is emotionally affecting on a very basic level. So it’s not like I have to renounce my faith here, but I still feel unreconciled. I suppose that has its own value, though. The world’s a complicated place. You’re definitely wrong about a bunch of stuff, and you’re never going to figure most of it out, so, if not caution, at least a little bit of magnanimity is called for. It’s parochiality that truly numbers among the greatest sins.
Elliott Brood – Ghost Gardens
This one at least has murder in it, so I feel a little less guilty about it. It’s a simple and actually very modest and quiet country album – I probably wouldn’t have given these guys a second thought if it weren’t for the fact that they’re extremely good live, for reasons I don’t fully understand. They’re normally a little more artful, but this one’s sort of a back-to-basics twangs-and-jangles affair. Except, I mean, not bad like that makes it sound. “Dig A Little Hole” is extremely cute (which doesn’t make it any less great), but overall it’s very calm and focused, and its slowness doesn’t make it feel any less alive (despite spending most of its time, y’know, “ghost gardening” – ghosts are alive, they’re just not physical). It doesn’t even end anywhere in particular, it just sort of meanders out of view while doing its thing. Turns out there’s still some virtue left in modesty.
Shilpa Ray – Door Girl
Shilpa Ray used to have a disorienting tendency to alternate between big crazy rockers and slow, harmonium-driven crooners (Teenage and Torture switches gears with literally every song) but this one synthesizes both of those tones, as well as bizarro hip-hop, pseudo showtunes, and a bunch of other stuff (but not a dream sequence) into a weirdly consistent story album. It’s not actually less disorienting – “EMT, Police, and the Fire Department” is especially notable for being a completely simplistic and ridiculous hardcore song that clashes wildly with the rest of the album – but it’s a mix of musical professionalism, blatant silliness, pointed commentary, straightforward emotion, and passionate world-weariness that feels at once perfectly formed and entirely unlike anything else that’s ever existed.
Torres – Three Futures
I mostly just love the beats on this thing. Like, you wouldn’t expect that much, it’s mostly still on the minimalist singer/songwriter side of things, and it acquits itself perfectly well in that regard. But rhythm tends to get short shrift in music of this type, while here it’s core to the conception of each song, coloring in the edges and providing a stronger foundation for the vocals to lunge from. It makes everything feel more alive, and also more threatening. This aspect of the album mostly lurks in the background, mutating the songs into darker and more violent forms, but it bursts right out of the chest on “Helen in the Woods,” an insanely kickass horrorcore song that comes out of absolutely nowhere. Even if there’s nothing new under the sun, that’s no reason to stop paying attention. People can still surprise you.
Vita and the Woolf – Tunnels
“Dramatic” is generally one of the dumber words you can use to describe music, but it’s difficult to avoid here, because this thing is really fucking dramatic. It’s centered around a huge, operatic vocal performance, and there actually isn’t a whole hell of a lot else going on. The basic beats and synths just sort of wrap around it so that it has an actual body. It pulls it off, though – the amount of empty space it holds on to is surprisingly disarming, giving the simple stuff more of an impact and also powering occasional moments of hugeness. It’s maybe a bit histrionic, and I feel like some of the lyrics don’t quite bear the amount of weight that’s being put on them, but it’s ultimately difficult not to be won over by this kind of ardor, delivered with this much force.