What are record reviews in this age when most people have Spotify and can listen to everything? Instead of telling you where you should spend your money, record reviews are like signposts pointing you to where you should spend your time, or to keep you from wasting it.
With that in mind, these reviews are more like notes taken while listening to these albums, all of which were released this year. All are worth checking out, though some more than others. You’ll know which I mean.
Yo La Tengo, There’s a Riot Going On (Matador) — I assume the title was supposed to be ironic? I’ve been listening to Yo La Tengo since the ’90s, and while every album has a few sleepy tracks, there’s also always a handful of Velvet Underground-style rockers. Not so much this time. With the exception of the grinding “Out of the Pool” and the bouncy “For You Too,” this was the most yawn-inducing YLT album ever, like listening to breezy airport music — warm, pleasant and easy to ignore.
Car Seat Headrest, Twin Fantasy (Matador) — The first time I listened to their last album, Teens of Denial, I had the lyrics sheet resting on my lap and followed along word-for-word. It made for a satisfying hour of headphone bliss, like reading a series of depressing short stories written by a precocious, bashful teen outsider who doesn’t have enough to complain about. I don’t have the lyrics sheet for Twin Fantasy, which actually is a re-recording of an earlier CSH album. As a result, it’s hard to stay focused for the hour-plus collection of dense lyrics and power chords. Will Toledo could be this generation’s Elvis Costello, but a much more unsatisfied one.
Nap Eyes, I’m Bad Now (Jagjaguwar) — This warm, melodic indie rock comes from an act out of Nova Scotia who played in Omaha last year opening for Fleet Foxes (a show I missed). They remind me of The Feelies, especially because lead vocalist Nigel Chapman’s drab, nasal delivery matches Feelies’ Glenn Mercer, though Nap Eyes lacks Feelies’ driving, relentless rhythms that rise and rise and explode. This just sort of lays there from song to song.
Anna McClellan, Yes and No (Father/Daughter) — More than any other female indie singer-songwriter doing piano-driven confessionals, my heart hurts when I hear her slightly off-kilter voice warble through a set of yearning love notes. McClellan unashamedly holds nothing back when she belts out her stories unpolished and beautiful. She’s a broken-hearted nerd who deserves to win, just like the rest of us.
Caroline Rose, Loner (New West) — This sassy New Yorker calls her style “schizodrift,” which I guess means it tries to capture her ever-shifting moods that range from anger to sarcasm to irony to humor. Actually, three of those are attitudes more than moods. Imagine Alvvays or La Roux but with a darkly wicked sense of humor and a bracingly accurate view of this modern world. It could become my summer album for 2018.
MGMT, Little Dark Age (Columbia) — I always thought MGMT was signed to an indie label. They’ve always been on Columbia, all the way back to their 2007 debut, Oracular Spectacular, but somehow they get grouped in with the indie kids, which was where they belonged when they released their last few disturbing “experimental” albums. They’re back to their original radio-rock sound, which has that clubby pop bounce that got them signed to a major in the first place.
Hookworms, Microshift (Domino) — British neo-psych band has a bit in common with Tame Impala but lacks that band’s quirky melodies and willingness to go over the edge and look back at you. The result is a straight-forward electronic album big on chiming rhythms but small on memorable melodies.
Clarence Tilton / Monday Mourners, split LP (self release) — This is like getting two albums in one because there’s so much material from both of these local bands — six tracks per band. Side one is Clarence Tilton, who provides another set of the best alt-country you’re going to hear this side of Uncle Tupelo. Des Moines’ Monday Mourners is a new discovery, with a sound that ranges from more traditional C&W (“Steal My Time,” “Trouble at Home”) to heavier, snarling country rock (“Blood on the Wheel”) with twanging guitars that float atop a cushion of organ tones. Giddy-up.
High Up, You Are Here (Team Love) — This Omaha act has been working up to a full-length debut for a couple years, and a number of these songs have been released as different recordings on their debut EP last year. Most notable is “Two Weeks,” which gets a different arrangement that brings the horns up front and feels louder and more confident. Unlike their past EP (and live performances) the band keeps the energy pumping even on the ballad-heavy numbers like the cover of Bright Eyes’ “Make a Plan to Love Me” and the gospel-organ fueled “Blue Moon” that sounds like an FM radio single. “Domino,” another stand-out, is a punchy sequel to “Two Weeks.” When will a bigger audience discover these guys?
Eleanor Friedberger, Rebound (FrenchKiss) — The former Fiery Furnaces frontwoman’s solo debut Last Summer was a fave of 2011, but the follow-ups have been mostly yawners. This synth-heavy collection is loaded with simple, sing-along pop ditties like the sun-shiny “Make Me a Song” and “The Letter.” The arrangements are so simple they almost sound like demos, with rhythms akin to beat box programs, but Friedberger’s sweet coo keeps you listening. Out May 4.
Preoccupations, New Material (Jagjaguwar) — From the guys who used to be called Viet Cong. I listen to a lot of Sirius First Wave, which plays post-punk/New Wave music from the ‘80s and ‘90s, and some of these tracks could be dropped into rotation and no one would notice. Opener “Espionage,” for example, sounds like ‘80s Gary Numan synth rock crossed with Interpol. On the other hand, “Antidote” is Eno-esque modern and dissonant while “Solace” sounds like reimagined New Order. A favorite.
Heaven, All Love Is Blue (Little Cloud) — Another favorite, it’s like listening to a really good post-punk shoe-gaze band, but instead of each song droning along a flat, fuzzy chord progression, Heaven conjures bright melodies. It’s like Jesus and Mary Chain but each song sounds different, unlike JAMC albums that are like 12 versions of the same song. We’re getting a generation and a half beyond when this style of music first arrived. This is what you get from folks who grew up listening to their parents’ records (if their parents were cool).
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org