The New Releases Shelf: Goths

I have a lot of affection for the Mountain Goats, but I was disappointed with their last album. Released in 2015, Beat the Champ was a concept album, awash in songwriter John Darnielle’s abiding affection for professional wrestling, and not the kind that takes up hours of national programming hours with intricate stories and flashy production values. Darnielle was writing for the hardscrabble, downscale grapplers who shed blood and sweat (but no tears in this manliest of sports) in half-filled municipal coliseums and on static dappled UHF stations in his younger years. Much as I appreciate Darnielle’s conviction that absolutely … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Goths

The New Releases Shelf: No Shape

How ludicrously exquisite can pop music get? Truly, how much tingly elegance can be layered into songs of piercing beauty before the material shifts and ripples into something else entirely, some fragile creation that begs for the invention of a whole new artistic designation. Words must be coined, because the contents of the current dictionary are inadequate. Others have flirted with this level of dazzling transformation — Kate Bush comes immediately to mind — but it’s beginning to seem that Mike Hadreas, in his guise as Perfume Genius, may yet reach it. No Shape is the fourth full-length studio release under … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: No Shape

The New Releases Shelf: What Now

I have previously confessed to having a weakness for songs about songs. The inherent meta-based tomfoolery is enjoyable, but I think there’s another layer to it. Responses to pop songs — great pop songs, anyway — tend to run deep, tapping into emotions that shiver beneath the surface, anxious for an outlet. When a song directly acknowledges that abiding desire, it is asserting the value of its purpose in the most automatically convincing manner. If the song also manages to be catchy, enticing, disarming, then it approaches the realm of the pop culture magic. What Now, the sophomore album from … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: What Now

The New Releases Shelf: Humanz

Damon Albarn sure has a funky, groovy id. It’s now been about twenty years since the frontman of Blur created a decidedly strange side project: an Archies for the then-looming new millennium. Working with comic book artist Jamie Hewlett, Albarn fashioned an animated quartet (comprised of lead vocalist and keyboardist 2-D, guitarist Noodle, bassist Murdoc Niccals, and drummer Russel Hobbs) that unleashed loose, lithe dance tracks. I don’t recall if Albarn ever explicitly noted that the “virtual band” was a means to more playful expression musically, but it definitely seemed that way to me, especially as Blur moved toward increasingly dense and ponderous … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Humanz

The New Releases Shelf: Robyn Hitchcock

When Robyn Hitchcock released his prior album, 2014’s The Man Upstairs, he offered explanations about the track listing’s assemblage of cover songs and previously incomplete originals salvaged from the archive. He told Billboard that the aging process stirred a specific instinct, making creators “want to put themselves in a historical context, like a picture looking for a frame.” It seemed an intentional announcement of a revised approach to his musicianship, an allowance that glances backward might be the new norm for a singular artist whose deeply embedded eccentricity had previously offered endless surprise. It wasn’t all bad news — the … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Robyn Hitchcock

The New Releases Shelf: Pure Comedy

To a degree, Josh Tillman has always positioned himself as a man out of time when performing in his Father John Misty persona. There’s a wounded troubadour embrace of classic pop that’s always been the shiniest threads running through the fabric of his songs. There’s also been a sense of humor that clangs against the opposing guardrails of bleak and boisterous, but mostly Father John has long sounded like a guy on the brink of collapse, and not in the James Brown grand showman way. The existential agony is what’s getting him down. Even happiness sows aching confusion. Tillman quadruples … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Pure Comedy

The New Releases Shelf: Swear I’m Good At This

Crushes on bands are a thing, right? Certain songs, certain albums, certain riffs and vocal howls can set the heart aflutter with something that transcends taste and appreciation and escalates to full-on swooning adoration. I feel like that used to happen to me about every other week when I was a devoted staff member at the college radio station, eons ago. Every undiscovered album dropped over the spindle or CD fed into the player held the potential of triggering a rapturing affair of the psyche. For whatever reason, album rarely leave me reeling in that way any longer, probably because … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: Swear I’m Good At This

The New Releases Shelf: In Between

When I was writing music reviews for Spectrum Culture, I sometimes felt obligated to volunteer for the new releases from bands who had banged out tunes at club shows staged before some of my cohorts were born. There was no clanging indication that I was an uncommon elder, but I felt a certain protectiveness. My own longstanding skepticism of bands who’d arguably overstayed their welcome — or, worse yet, reunited after a significant layoff — made me want to make sure that the artists I’d once played new records from on college radio were getting a fair shake. That I … Continue reading The New Releases Shelf: In Between