By Phil Pucci
Ought – More Than Any Other Day
“Something crawled into your pleasant heart,” so begins the debut full-length album from Montreal art-punkers Ought, “and cried out for your head.” How fitting that vocalist, Tim Beeler, would begin More Than Any Other Day this way; this album slithered into my psyche and stayed there for weeks like an itch I couldn’t scratch. I would be at work pushing papers and would start singing the jittery coda of “Habit” aloud to myself, and would have to sneak out and run to my car to get a fix. I felt a habit forming. This album is the perfect marriage of style and substance. This album is fucking manic (no wonder I was drawn to it.) These post-punk anthems aren’t declarative as much as they are jittery outbursts; euphoric one minute and torn to pieces the next, Ought pushes and pulls, but their presence in your heart never wanes. I read that when this band formed, they all lived in their practice space together. It made the vision behind More Than Any Other Day become much clearer, as this album is the sound of four disheveled and weary souls cooped up in a room, putting all their shit on the table and betting everything they have on their songs. And with the rise in popularity of bedroom pop bands, bands like Ought, with their gritty take on punk pop, are a refreshing change of pace. They knocked this one out of the park.
Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra – Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything
Silver Mt. Zion has just released their seventh solid full-length album in a row. So can you guys stop calling them a Godspeed You! Black Emperor side project now? As a post-rock band, Silver Mt. Zion is on an awkward playing field, with peers that I’m not sure they’d feel comfortable acknowledging as such, because they aren’t pretty or sentimental. In fact, Fuck Off narrowly misses doom metal territory at times. Its opening eponymous track is a frenzied waltz of screeching, multi-tracked guitars and interweaving vocals. Then, about six minutes in, the song shifts completely without warning into a sludgy four-chord dirge. This album is filled with haunting chants, repeated ad nauseam, and beautiful orchestration, but amply distorted guitars are the clear focus here.
Triathalon – Lo-Tide
If you turn up the volume, the first thing you hear on this album, before the dreamy guitar strums and the sounds of crashing waves in the background, is the hum of a tube amp. It’s a warm analog invitation; a sound that is familiar and dear to my heart. Opener “Brain Dead” encapsulates everything I like about Lo-Tide: there are beach-ready guitar leads and high-octave harmonies reminiscent of Ariel Pink, until halfway through, when the song splits into half-time. Cue a woozy version of that same guitar lead. You know those slo-mo videos iPhones take where everything is jolted and hyperactive and then the shift in the middle leaves you in a mess of cognitive dissonance, and then at the end it’s like, “Just kiddin’,” and reels you back in for that hyperactive last few seconds? That is what this Triathalon album is like.
Clark – Clark
Berlin-via-England electronic producer Chris Clark released his eighth full-length for Warp Records in November. Clark is a patchwork of techno, though the seamless transitions between songs don’t exactly make this album 100% club-ready as much as they give it a progressive house affectation. Mood changes are common and are laid down with machinelike efficiency. Take the song “Unfurla,” which glides, beginning ferociously with an angular synth pattern underneath a piano countermelody. It’s intense, but quickly enough veers into hazier territory, repeating a somber inflection and quieting down to segue directly into “Strength Through Fertility,” which retains the bleak feeling and drives it home.
Mac DeMarco – Salad Days
When I was 15, I made demos by plugging my guitar straight into my computer or tape recorder because I didn’t have a microphone. My tone sounded like plastic. Eventually, I had to learn how to record my amplifier, because the music I was recording had a certain nauseating quality to it, with no breathing room between the sound of my guitar and my ears. And now, here comes Mac DeMarco, plugging his guitar straight into a tape machine. Ah, yes, 13 years later, there’s that stomach turning feeling again. DeMarco is as old school as jangle pop gets, forgoing effects pedals, favoring purist effects like tape warping, and physical chord-bending executed by pushing with the base of his palm into the body of his guitar, sprinkling warbling gooeyness all over his songs. Tape warping, OK, I’ll be right back – I’m gonna be sick.
Francis Harris – Minutes of Sleep
New York electronic musician Francis Harris once made music strictly for the dancefloor. But after the death of both his mother and father within mere years of each other, his Minutes of Sleep is a monumentally mournful album steeped in introspection. Harris took an analog approach, producing beats and samples from instruments recorded live. Vocalist Gry makes several contributions to the album. By the way, don’t fall asleep listening to Minutes of Sleep with headphones – the first couple minutes of “Dangerdream” will induce a nightmare that will make you wish it’d just woken you up instead.
Museum Mouth – Alex I Am Nothing
On his recent standup special Thinky Pain, comedian Marc Maron cheekily proposed, “There is something to be said for doing a lot of drugs. I personally have no respect for people who don’t have the courage to lose complete control of their lives for a few years.” And if I may apply the spirit of that sentiment, I offer that if you have never wasted months (or years, even) pining over someone who doesn’t love you back, you are missing out on one of life’s most basic and heartbreaking idiosyncrasies. And out of the lowest abasement can come triumph and savory self-actualization. I’d call that a rite of passage. Alex I Am Nothing is a fuzzy pop-punk concept album with lyrics that play out like the unfiltered and wildly manic messages you send to an unrequited crush when you reach a certain drunken level of desperation. Vocalist and drummer Karl Kuehn knows what he’s doing but can’t help himself: “I’ll never do what I’m supposed to do.” Alex I Am Nothing is a fitting title – after the harshly cathartic pouring out of emotion on these songs, I couldn’t fathom having the energy to feel anything at all for a little while.
Protomartyr – Under Color of Official Right
“Want Remover” is without question my favorite song of 2014 and possibly even ranks somewhere in the greatest songs I’ve heard in my entire life. It’s a piece of punk genius, and no matter the context in which I’m listening; it will animate my body fiercely. This song even threw me into an existential funk for days: the idea of something like watching television as a Want Remover is absolutely terrifying to me. It made me think about how human beings are not evolved to binge-watch Netflix while playing Two Dots on our phone. We are supposed to rest because we need it for a few hours every day, not fire up Apple TV and let an entire day drift by – and get unreasonably about doing so. And I don’t know what the hell to do.
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
My girlfriend, an ardent fan of Mark Kozelek and much more familiar with his music than I am, couldn’t listen to Benji completely the first time she listened to it. “I feel sick,” she said after stopping the perverse “Dogs” short. “I didn’t like that song. Who is this, Nickelback?” Though he has always been a bluntly honest songwriter, on Benji, Kozelek writes of death, sex and family with a decidedly disturbing palpability. The unsettling feeling this album gives you can be attributed to the way the lyrics read like memoirs written decades removed from its subject matter in a stupor of drunken clarity. Some of Kozelek’s lyrics make me wryly smile like I did the first time I read Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. But other times they just make me cry. Lines like “Yesterday I woke up to so many 330-area-code calls” are wrought with implication and strike a nerve few songwriters are capable of hitting.
Grouper – Ruins
In 2011, I lived in a house with two of my bandmates. We had band practice in the dining room and invited people over often to drink and listen to records. A small mill-style house with hardwood floors, it was noisy and had a lot of distractions. I found myself retreating to my room to find quiet with Grouper’s album Alien Observer several nights a week. It’s an album that I feel songwriter Liz Harris had been building towards her entire life; the ethereal vocals, dreamy landscapes and blissful drone of her guitar had all reached critical mass. And when an artist’s sound arrives to its tipping point, it allows for an album like Ruins to be made. It’s a palette-cleansing album, devoid of the cloudy reverb and any other such frills Grouper has so skillfully employed in the past. So, do Harris’ songs still hold up when they are stripped to the core and aren’t hiding behind anything? Well, it’s midnight right now as I write this, and Ruins is taking my breath away. Emphatically, I say yes. And I feel like Harris can go in any direction she’d like, now that she has so boldly created a cosmic disturbance in her discography.