REVIEW ROUND-UP// APRIL 2017 (PART 1): FATHER JOHN MISTY, FUTURE ISLANDS, AND ARCA.

April

Check out the March edition here. It was a big month for us music fans as we saw some very profile releases from some critically acclaimed artists. There were so many releases that I have to make an entire separate post covering 4 other albums. Also, don’t worry we will be reviewing the new Gorillaz record when that comes out on the 28th. For now though, let’s dive in to this month’s review round up.

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Father John Misty – Pure Comedy

Josh Tillman’s third album under the Father John Misty moniker is a nihilistic and apocalyptic look into society and its myriad of  ironies and contradictions . When the single “Pure Comedy” came out earlier this year, I was really fascinated by this new direction Tillman would be embarking on. His last album, 2015’s I Love You, Honeybear, was my 3rd favorite album of that year and more importantly, it thrust Tillman into the indie darling status with artists like Mac Demarco and Sufjan Stevens. It was an album that was still cynical, but undeniably sweet and brutally honest in how it discussed love and relationships. Pure Comedy took those cynical feelings and upped it to 11 and I absolutely love it.

The title track, “Pure Comedy”, is an absolutely stellar opener with distorted news samples playing for a few seconds before the lone piano key hits. The song’s tone immediately turns dark as Tillman sings about the human condition and how cruel life is. On this song he covers everything from gender inequality to religion to politics, and even the irony of birth singing that:

Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips
And so Nature, she divines this alternative
We emerged half-formed and hope that whoever greets us on the other end
Is kind enough to fill us in
And, babies, that’s pretty much how it’s been ever since

To Tillman, he sees the human progression and all of life as a sick joke, pure comedy. I interpreted this as a play on the tragedy/comedy theme hat is pervasive on this album. It’s utterly brilliant how Tillman is able to convey such feelings of nihilism while being self-aware of the part that he himself plays as an entertainer with influence. This is shown on the track “Leaving LA”, a harsh 13 minute critique of not only Los Angeles, the music industry and the culture that surrounds it, but himself. He does a complete self-deprecating analyzation of his music and Tillman goes very deep into his own psyche. He addressees his commercial success, whilst  talking about how  it is getting difficult to differentiate between the Father John Misty title and and his real life persona. One particular moment that really caught me (Even made me tear up a bit), was near the end of the track where he talks about his first experience with music. Normally his kind of story is a pretty memorable and heartfelt story about perhaps how the artists’ parents played music for them or maybe they discovered it on their own. For Tillman, it was memorable, but for the wrong reasons.

My first memory of music’s from
The time at JCPenney’s with my mom
The watermelon candy I was choking on
Barbara screaming, “Someone help my son!”
I relive it most times the radio’s on
That “tell me lies, sweet little white lies” song
That’s when I first saw the comedy won’t stop for
Even little boys dying in department stores

That last line is what really got me and it really speaks to the album’s theme as a whole. Life really doesn’t care who you are, it pauses for absolutely no one, even for little Tillman choking in a JCPenney’s. The irony of his whole thing is that this moment was the first time he had ever had an experienced with music, the career that he would be undertaking when he became older when it could have easily killed him.

What make this song so memorable, among other things, is that this track is probably Tillman’s most ambitious. There’s no chorus, no catchy refrain, or guitar melody. Just Tillman, a guitar, and a backing synth. It’s a fantastic way to sing about this raw of a topic. Tillman knew that this kind of change would alienate a lot of his fans, and he even addresses it in the song. It helps that the song sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s minimalist in the best way and is easily my favorite song on the album. Also this set of lyrics are absolutely incredible and needs to be mentioned.

Mara taunts me ‘neath the tree
She’s like, “Oh great, that’s just what we all need
Another white guy in 2017
Who takes himself so goddamn seriously.”
She’s not far off, the strange thing is
That’s pretty much what I thought when I started this
It took me my whole life to learn to the play the G
But the role of Oedipus was a total breeze

The only flaw I have from his album comes from the second to last track, “So I’m Growing Old on Magic Mountain”. It’s an absolutely great song lyrically, performance wise, and Tillman is great on vocals as usual. It was nearly perfect. After about 5 minutes though, Tillman  stops singing and this drone instrumental plays for another 6 minutes. It really makes the song kind of long winded.

This album is absolutely incredible and will more likely end up very highly on many people’s end of the year lists. I don’t necessarily think that it’s better than I Love You, Honeybear, but it comes extremely close. One thing is for sure though, it’s a masterful look at the human condition and how life can be extremely bleak. There is still hope though. As Tillman says at the end of “Pure Comedy”, “I hate to say it, but each other’s all we got.”

9.8/10

Support Father John Misty and purchase Pure Comedy here.

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Future Islands – The Far Field

Easily one of my most anticipated albums of this year. Baltimore’s Future Islands is one of those bands that has gotten better with every release and with 2014’s Singles, the band was thrust into one indie’s best synth-pop acts. One of the keys that makes this group so great is their front-man, Sam Herring, who I absolutely adore. Herring’s vocal performances across the band’s 4 studio albums and several EP’s is consistently incredible and unique.

The Far Field hasthe band at an interesting crossroads though. After the success of Singles, fans were wondering where the group would go. Some were wondering if the band would make a change in their sound or stick to their guns. The answer would be the latter and I think that it was for the best. The Far Fields is similar to Singles in a lot of ways, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing if you love that album as much as I do. That seems to have been a point of contention with some critics though and I will acknowledge this negative right away. The album can feel very repetitive, almost to the point where literally every song sounds the same. I doesn’t necessarily ruin the album for me,  but it’s worth noting.

Another negative is something has been plaguing the band is the mixing. This has been an issue that the band has dealt with since their early EP’s in 2006. The problem is that Herring’s vocals will often get buried in the instrumental so badly that he gets drowned out and you can barely hear him. This was especially prevalent on 2010’s In The Evening Air and 2011’s On The Water. It’s gotten better since then, but it still persists even here on this new album. There has been notable improvement in the mixing however and I’m glad to say that this is the most clear sounding album the band has put out.

Now that negatives are out of the way, let’s go over the positives. Instrumentally, this is one area where the band absolutely knocks it out of the park. Every track on The Far Field will instantly  make you want get up and dance. The beats are so infectious and groovy, albeit a bit samey. I’ve probably lost 10 pounds by dancing to “Ran”. That song in particular is great because of the uptempo pacing. That’s all due to the incredible bass and keyboard work done by William Cashion and Gerrit Welmers. It literally makes you want to, well, run.

Ingest, where it goes, nobody sees but me
So perfect and so sweet
But the rest, feels incomplete
Like the rabbit’s foot I keep
In the locket, with no key

As usual with Future Islands releases, Sam Herring is an absolute beast on the lead vocals throughout the entire album. Not only is Herring an amazing  singer on his own, he constantly changes his vocal inflections and style to keep the songs fresh and unique. So while instrumentally the songs may sound the same, Herring’s vocal delivery really makes them different. His constant growls and snarls amongst the cleanly sung vocals just add to the amount of charisma that he is already just oozing with.

Another complaint that I had toward some of Future Islands’ early work is that the band albums would start off very well, but the second half would often teeter off and become lackluster or mediocre. Thankfully, the deeper cuts on this album are all great and hold up just as good, if not better than the beginning. While “Ran” is my favorite song on the album, “North Star”, “Ancient Water”, and “Day Glow Fire” are all great with some the bands most catchy and memorable refrains to date.

Overall, I can definitively say that I enjoy this new album a ton.  It’s not as good as Singles, but it shows why Future Islands remains as one of the best bands working right now. Their versatility and charisma keep them from getting stale and each release sees them improving in many different aspects. I’ll definitely be looking forward to see what the band does next!

8.5/10

Support Future Islands and buy The Far Field here.

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Arca – Arca

Arca is one of those artists that really fascinates me. One reason is because his kind of art is something I absolutely love. Stuff that is so weird and different that it immediately enthralls you. The Venezuelan producer/singer-songwriter has done quality work in the past with his set of mixtapes titled &&&&, Sheep, and his most recent one titled Entranas. His music was so good in fact, that it caught the eye of high profile artists like Kanye West, Bjork, and FKA Twigs. What fascinates me about Arca though is his approach to electronic music. His   kind of music is very avant-garde and experimental. Constantly shifting beats with production that feels almost intergalactic. It’s like rave music for another galaxy. With this self-titled release though, Arca strips all of that back in favor of his most mature release yet.

This album incorporates Arca singing for the first time ever on any of his songs. I was really unsure how much I would like this change because Arca’s appeal was how played and toyed with the music to give it that other-worldy feeling to it. To add onto that, the entire album is sung in Spanish, which absolutely threw me for a loop. So, I was going into this pretty wary, but after a few listens I can definitely say that this is some of Arca’s best work.

Arca’s vocals on this album is absolutely haunting and beautiful. You can definitely see the influence that Bjork has had on Arca because a lot of what is here sounds like music from Vulnicura, Bjork’s last album. Songs like “Reverie”, and “Piel” are so disturbing that it sounded like I was listening to the soundtrack to a vampire film. Ironically enough, this album actually reminds me a lot Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch, that came out last year. Not only sonically, but subject matter wise too. Blood Bitch‘s was all about blood and a lust or desire for it as she sings about it from a vampire’s perspective. Arca’s work on this album is all about lust too, but for sex and love.

If you look at the music videos released for this album, you will notice two underlying themes behind all of them, Arca’s approach sex and the human body. This album is very sexual in nature, but it’s not juvenile in how it analyzes it. Look at the song titles for instance. “Piel” translated from Spanish to English means skin. Throughout this song, Arca tells someone (his love interest presumably) to “Take off my skin from yesterday.” He then goes to talk about he much he needs this person to the point that he don’t know what he’ll do without them. Easily my favorite track on the album.

Anoche is also plays on Arca’s feeling of loneliness and sadness which is pervasive throughout the album. Anoche translates into Last Night, and this song is about a break-up that Arca might have recently gone through. He sings about abandonment and how he keeps dreaming about this person, despite this abandonment.

Alone I healed
The wounds of the wars you’ve fought
Last night I loved you
And you left me shattered

Even the instrumental cuts on this album tie into the theme of sex. The track “Whip” has no singing, no vocals at all. The song is literally a whip cracking sample looped and changed to fit the sputtering, glitchy production. From a technical standpoint, this is masterful work. From a thematic view though, this songs take new light. It’s presumed Arca’s that might be into masochism with this track Again, it’s only implied, but that’s what I interpreted.

All in all, I adore this album The only minor complaint that I have is that occasionally there are sometimes the Bjork influence can be a bit too apparent like on Sin Rumbo and even parts of Anoche. Still though, if you like your music to be weird and experimental give Arca’s discography a listen. If perhaps you were turned off to Arca previously because of his style of electronic music, gives this album a shot. It may change your mind.

9.6/10

Support Arca and buy his self-titled album here.

~Mark

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