by Alan Ke PO’22
After a week off for catching up, KSPC brings to you an insider peek into what our DJs – or rather DJ (singular) – thought of the latest releases. Here, we have everything from bubblegum pop to atmospheric black metal. So sit tight, turn up your speakers, and get listenin’. You might want to ready some popcorn this time around, because we’re issuing a few hot takes, too. Will it be glowing praise or a dose of scathing critique? Read on to find out.
100 gecs – 1000 gecs & The Tree of Clues
If 2019 taught us anything about music, it’s that even the most absurd, ridiculous musical ideas can catch on as long as it’s memorable. With the rise of TikTok and Spotify, the music landscape shifting more towards an economy of attention, 100 gecs capitalized on their knack for writing catchy songs and took the year by storm with 1000 gecs. Their sound is the culmination of a whole lot of scenes and genres, from the forward-thinking electronic music of the PC Music camp, deconstructed pop sounds of the likes of SOPHIE and Arca, and the bubblegum pop of artists like Kero Kero Bonito. On 1000 gecs, Laura Les and Dylan Brady take those sounds and dial it to their maximum. Whether or not the product is something good is up for debate but their success is unmistakeable.
Here, we find the ripple effects the group had on music with a handful of remixes from some of the most innovative voices in pop music. The list of collaborators include some of the aforementioned artists, along with high profile names like Charli XCX and Dorian Electra, even occasionally dipping into other genres with Fall Out Boy and Black Dresses. The eclectic cast keeps The Tree of Clues an interesting listen, if only to hear how the 100 gecs sound is interpreted by different artists. Unfortunately, the novelty wears out fairly quick. There’s really only so much you can consume in one sitting without it getting obnoxious or slightly irritating. On top of that, not much variation is on show here, most the time the remix will focus too much on expanding the bloated pop qualities of the original song, which is what 100 gecs have already done. Thus, the most compelling remixes are those where the artist takes what’s been made and incorporates it into a sound of their own, instead of just rehashing the original. Songs like Injury Reserve’s take on “745 Sticky” and Dorian Electra’s “gec 2 Ãœ” remix stand out for this. Of course, there’s also the “ringtone” remix with Charli XCX, Rico Nasty, and Kero Kero Bonito, which is both tons of fun while having a whole lot of personality on display.
That said, I’m sure 100 gecs are perfectly aware that their sound isn’t meant for an album experience. Instead, you’re meant to find the few songs that catch your attention and stick to them. Overall, Tree of Clues is more for the diehard 100 gecs fans, and you know who you are.
Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers – Just Coolin’
On this archival release, we catch a glimpse of Blakey in his prime. Just hot off of releasing his seminal album Moanin’, this never-before released album captures the magic once more with a stellar lineup. With the versatile Hank Mobley on tenor sax, listeners are treated with everything from the effortless swing on “Hipsippy Blues” to the restless frenzy on “Jimerick.” The latter also features an incredible solo from Blakey in the close with a momentum that only Blakey can contain. While nowhere near as bold as Moanin’, Just Coolin’ offers some of the most satisfying tunes one can ask for. The chemistry between the players shines through on tracks like “Close Your Eyes,” which features vibrant solos that flow seamlessly and complement each others’ flourishes. “M&M” also brings forth a staple of Blakey’s live sets, an electric back-and-forth between Lee Morgan and Mobley, whose names are immortalized in the title. Of course, there’s also the swinging title track that brings together the album in a perfect close. Traversing through a slew of solos, we come full circle, reaching a solo from Blakey – the roaring backbone that’s carried the band forth for the whole journey. Not a single moment on this record lets up, and that’s exactly how it was intended.
Built to Spill – Plays the Songs of Daniel Johnston
Doug Martsch and co. bring together their sound as the backing band on Daniel Johnston’s ultimate tour. Though a pleasant listen, this release struggles with identity issues that go beyond the performance of the band. None of Martsch’s celebrated guitar playing is found on here, which is excusable since these are, after all, lo-fi indie songs by origin. But then, the songs end up sounding a little tame and pass just as plain indie rock. The songs that stand out aren’t necessarily by virtue of the performances, but by the caliber of their writing. “Honey I Sure Miss You” is an essential of the Daniel Johnston canon and its bittersweet energy is welcomed on this rendition. Beyond that, most of the covers come from Johnston’s middling later discography, which is unfortunately not as memorable to begin with.
Hum – Inlet
Two decades after disbanding, Hum mark their return with Inlet, a record that’s just as surprising in its sound as it was with its release. On Inlet, there’s hardly a trace of Hum’s familiar and to be blunt, dated, alternative rock sound. Instead what they offer is a smattering of songs that are far heavier and more expansive than we are used to, with a strong shoegaze influence. On the opening track “Waves,” the resemblance of the guitar sound to some of the writing on My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless is striking. Though not as psychedelic as the genre’s originators, the combination of spacy guitars with driving riffs is an unmistakable formula of the genre. While there isn’t anything particularly wrong about the way Hum play, even this change of style doesn’t feel that all that gratifying or gripping. Over half the songs on Inlet run over the six-minute mark but even when the songs have multiple sections like on the unfolding “Desert Rambler,” the songd gets tedious pretty quick or worse, indistinguishable. That said, this is still enjoyable in small doses as no song individually is all that weak. You just won’t find me doing a Hum marathon or putting this album on all the way through any time soon.
King Krule – Man Alive!
Man Alive! follows in the footsteps of Archy Marshall’s last project, The Ooz. By now, he’s figured out his sound and hones in on it, jazz chords played over layers of reverb accompanied with his distinctively raspy, heavily-accented vocals. What results is a collection of songs that have much more cohesion than on The Ooz, but at the expense of variation. Ironically though, the sound reflects the album’s themes of dissociation and separation, and lingers on a largely directionless, mostly hazy, swampiness.
On The Ooz, most songs could have been either categorized into heady, slightly psychedelic rock or laidback, jazzy meandering. Here, the only song that really matches the description of the former is the sludgy “Stoned Again.” These cuts used to be the most straightforward listens, jam-packed with personality and memorable hooks. Unfortunately, the emphasis of the latter on Man Alive! demands much more patience from the listener. Even then, the best really come towards the end. The final run of songs from the vulnerable “Underclass,” the dissolving “Energy Fleeting,” and the longing on “Please Complete Thee” make for some of the album’s most emotional moments. Other songs on the album, while not unpleasant, lack these dynamics and are altogether not as gratifying. That said, the bass-driven rock of songs like “Cellular” and “Comet Face” at least provide delectable bites of sound in between the mires of vague malaise that Archy indulges in.
Sadness – Alluring the Distant Eye
Depressive, sprawling, and helmed by only one artist. Sadness a.k.a. Damian Ojeda is a prolific, one-man band that conjures stunning landscapes of bleakness. At times, the songs exhibit a lightness to them, such as on the chilling vastness that is “Cerulean.” On others, they’re riff-driven and come delivered with pummeling force. Ojeda takes atmospheric black metal and raises it to the next level, with post-rock worthy crescendos and walls of sound borrowed from blackgaze. The execution on this album is also spot-on, with orchestrated buildups to give room for the climaxes to shine. The longer cuts steal the show but each song is cathartic in its own right. Sadness has never felt this good.
D Bin Adds
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Ghosteen
After 2016’s cold, morose Skeleton Tree, Ghosteen takes one of the most unexpected turns in Nick Cave’s discography. Here, he embraces qualities of electronic and ambient music as the backdrop to his anguished crooning. No track weighs down with the dread or heaviness of early cage. Instead, Ghosteen exhibits a consistent lightness and ephemerality that constantly teeters on the brink between tenderness and sorrow. As usual, Cave relays elaborate stories and images with his lyrics – but more abstract here than elsewhere.
The album opens strong with “Spinning Song” and “Bright Horses,” two solemn ballads both tinged with the slightest traces of hope. Few moments on the album retain the gorgeous precedent these two songs set, but a track like the partially-ambient “Sun Forest” manages to capture the magic of Nick Cave’s songwriting. The album closes with two longer, layered songs in the form of “Ghosteen” and “Hollywood.” The former builds up into an effervescent display of opulence and gradually collapses within itself in its second half. The latter is a bleak story intensely wrapped in a cinematically unraveling score. Cave’s signature understated beauty emanates throughout both of these songs. Ghosteen proves that Nick Cave doesn’t need to make every song into “The Mercy Seat” or “Jesus Alone” to wrench the emotions out of his listeners – and he does it so elegantly.
Otoboke Beaver – Itekoma Hits
Somehow, Otoboke Beaver’s been toiling away in the Japanese underground for a decade and nobody’s paid attention to them before now, and boy is Itekoma Hits a statement. They come out guns blazing on this release, pulling no punches and letting loose a smattering of frenzied, erratic, and above all, characteristic songs. Every riff Otoboke Beaver comes up with is consistently irresistible and aggressive, backed with just the right amount of noise. Even months after hearing the album for the first time, I had the songs “S’il vous plait” and “I’m tired of your repeating story” lodged in my memory. The energy Otoboke Beaver delivers is unparalleled, and these songs are a spectacle you’re not likely to forget anytime soon. They can hardly contain their fervor within these songs for their own good. I’m sure these recordings hardly do the songs justice when performed live.
For those averse to abrasion, Otoboke Beaver balances their heaviness out with cutesy, playful vocals and fun chanting like on the manic “Don’t light my fire” or the restless “Introduce me to your family.” While songs vary in length and pace, the band makes sure not to let up even for a second, resulting in a thrilling debut that’ll always keep you on your toes.