Kurt Vile – Bottle It In

Kurt Vile has a knack for making music you can get lost in. It’s a quality that’s been there since his first album back in 2008, Constant Hitmaker, but he’s just got better at it over time. Now eight albums deep into his career, he’s pretty much perfected it. Bottle It In is the sort of album you can just fall into – like a hazy, reverb-y bath.

Nowhere is this more clear than the song ‘Bassackwards’, perhaps the lushest, most atmospheric track he’s put out. For a ten minute song, it doesn’t progress a whole lot, circling around the chords and swirling electronics for most of its runtime, but it doesn’t need to. It paints a distinct mood – like being half-caught in a daydream – that Vile’s lyrics only emphasis: ‘I was on the beach, but I was thinking about the bay’. Like many of his best songs (think ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’) it just feels effortless, like it was improvised on the spot, despite the amount of work that obviously went into it.

The song encapsulates Bottle It In as a whole pretty well. Vile takes his time to get where he’s going on the album (and most of the time it doesn’t sound like he knows where he’s going), taking just about every detour he can along the way. For any other artist, this would be a criticism. Bottle It In is a hefty album, clocking in at just under 80 minutes, but it just about works. It’s his most ambitious release, dipping into more styles and moods than any of his past albums. There are short-and-punchy rockers, drone-y ten-minute epics and just about everything in between on here. In many ways, it feels like a cumulation of the seven albums that came before it.

There’s plenty of classic Vile on here such as opener ‘Loading Zones’, which – of all things – is about trying to get free parking. It’s the catchiest track he’s dropped since ‘Pretty Pimpin’ and I particularly love the ‘I park for free’ chants that close out the track. ‘One Trick Ponies’ is a sweet and goofy self-referential song (‘Some are one trick ponies but so am I’) that features some of the album’s strongest lyrics. It’s schmaltzy, but Vile’s vocals sell it. Also great are ‘Yeah Bones’, which features a propulsive rhythm and a great hook, and ‘Check Baby’, a fantastically drawn-out rocker. The song fades out around the eight-minute mark, but there’s the sense it could roll along on its riff forever.

There’s a palpable shift in mood on the album at the halfway point with the 11-minute title track. Along with the equally long closer (‘Skinny Mini’), it’s likely to go down as one Bottle It In’s most divisive tracks. The instrumentation has an almost skeletal feel to it and the lyrics are some of the moodiest, most introspective ones Vile has penned: ‘Don’t tell them that you love them, for your own sake’. The tracks the follow on from it carry its mood. While Vile’s quirks still shine through on the second half of the album, it does have a more melancholy atmosphere overall.

On ‘Mutinies’, he mumbles over a particularly downbeat guitar loop, coming out with some of his most personal lyrics: ‘The mutinies in my head keep staying, I take pills and pills to make them go away’. ‘Come Again’ and ‘Cold Was The Wild’ carry a similarly melancholy feel; the latter in particular is an album standout, featuring some new instrumental twists. The song sounds like it was designed to soundtrack an old-school horror movie, featuring cawing sound effects, background static and some ominous bass guitar slides. It borders on uncomfortable at times.

Out of all the albums Kurt Vile has released, Bottle It In is the most difficult to untangle. Yet, it also feels like his best. It’s a versatile release, featuring tracks that explore sounds that Vile has more-or-less mastered at this stage (‘Bassackwards’) and others that push him into new territory (‘Cold Was The Wind’). It’ll be interesting to see where he goes next.

Best Tracks: ‘Bassackwards’, ‘One Trick Ponies’, ‘Skinny Mini’

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Roosevelt – Young Romance

You can discover some fantastic bands by turning up for the support acts at gigs. While I’m guilty of skipping them more often than not these days, I’ve found plenty of favourites through showing up early, such as Vacations, Money and – as you can probably guess from this review’s title – Roosevelt. The project of Marius Lauber, Roosevelt constructions slick, danceable synth-pop. After catching him as the support for Glass Animals a couple years back, I quickly jumped on his debut Roosevelt, which was just as good as the live show promised. The album doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before, but what it sets out to do it does incredibly well. The songs are fun with big hooks and feature just enough variation between them for things to stay interesting.

Two years later and we now have Young Romance. The album covers a lot of the same ground as Roosevelt, continuing to blend disco and house with an old school tinge. The mood of the album is somewhat different though. Roosevelt felt like one long night out with friends at the club, whereas Young Romance is more tinged nostalgia and a longing for the past. The brief opener ‘Take Me Back’ comes across as the album’s mission statement; the title can be read in two ways, both as the protagonist’s desire to return to an old relationship (a common lyrical theme throughout the album) and Roosevelt’s interest in the sounds of the past.

‘Take Me Back’ quickly leads on to ‘Under The Sun’, one of the album’s strongest cuts. Though its chorus doesn’t make much sense (‘Tonight I’ll show you everything under the sun’), it doesn’t really have to; the song is catchy, fun and summery, and honestly, that’s all it needs to be. Lyrics have never been Roosevelt’s strong suit, and the ones on Young Romance aim to be broad and relatable. They’re angsty, teenager-ish and a little overblown, as you’d expect given the album’s title. ‘Shadows’ is about being unable to forget a past lover (‘The shadows of our love’), ‘Yr Love’ rekindling an old romance (‘Bring your love back to be’) and ‘Getaway’ trying to run away from the world with a partner (‘We can get away tonight’). Like I said, big and broad. But they mostly work.

The album isn’t as routinely consistent as Roosevelt, nor does it flow as well, but there are some strong tracks on here. Songs like ‘Shadows’ and ‘Losing Touch’ can stand toe-to-toe with Roosevelt’s best songs, featuring killer basslines, thumping drums and the aforementioned catchy hooks. Young Romance doesn’t quite do enough to justify its 50-minute runtime though and there are a few clunkers around the middle (such as ‘Better Days’) that drag things out a bit. The album would have benefitted from having a couple of tracks cut from it, making things just that little bit leaner.

Young Romance is ultimately a fun but middling release. It’s not the sort of album that survives being picked apart too much and works best when you just chuck it on in the background. If you like your indie pop with a thick retro coating, then it’s worth checking out.

Best Tracks: ‘Under The Sun’, ‘Losing Touch’, ‘Shadows’.

Interpol – Marauder

Like so many bands from the early 2000s post-punk revival (think The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Bloc Party), Interpol have been struggling to remain relevant for a while. The band’s last truly great album – their sophomore effort Antics – was released all the way back in 2004, and since then we’ve received three albums of middling quality. Our Love To Admire felt muddled and unfocused despite some highlights, Interpol was a bit of a depressive slog and El Pintor a retread of past glories.

Unfortunately, the band’s latest effort Marauder isn’t the return to form fans have been waiting for. While Interpol do branch out in new directions on some songs, with the disco stomp of ‘Surveillance’ and the humming electronics on ‘NYSMAW’, it suffers from the same major fault as El Pintor: the band play it too safe. Mostly, it’s just Interpol-by-the-numbers.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing if you’re a big fan of the band, and songs like ‘If You Really Love Nothing’ and ‘Number 10’ are sure to fit pretty snuggly among Interpol classics in their live shows. But nothing here comes close to hitting the same heights as Turn On The Bright Lights or Antics… Heck, not even El Pintor. Lead single ‘The Rover’ is probably the best of the lot, featuring a propulsive, rollicking rhythm and some characteristically kooky lyrics about the cult leader. The song isn’t anything groundbreaking, but it’s a lot of fun.

‘If You Really Love Nothing’ is similarly strong, featuring some of the album’s strongest lyrics and some haunting, floating vocals from Paul Banks. I’m also a fan of ‘Mountain Child’, which builds up nicely. Starting out with a lone guitar line, the track picks up more and more energy the further it goes along, eventually finishing out with a great climax. ‘It Probably Matters’ acts as a serviceable closer, featuring some nice reflective lyrics.

However, I’d be lying if I said the album didn’t falter in a few places. Many of the songs on the Marauder feel overly repetitive (even the ones I’m a fan of), circling around the same chords for a few minutes before the ending. They feel like they’re missing a sense of progression or propulsion (‘Mountain Child’ being one of the few exceptions). Because of this, the album starts the blend together a little halfway through, with everything becoming a little too samey. The two interludes attempt to break things up, but neither add anything substantial to the album.

Marauder just seems to lack any strong sense of identity. It’s unlikely to be anyone’s least favourite Interpol album, sure, but it’s even more unlikely to be anyone’s favourite. If you’re a fan of the band, it’s worth a couple listens, but there’s nothing here that they haven’t done better on past releases.

Best Tracks: ‘The Rover’, ‘Mountain Child’, ‘Number 10’.

Dirty Projectors – Lamp-Lit Prose

It’s only been a little over a year since Dirty Projectors dropped their last album, 2017’s self-titled release, yet David Longstreth’s project is back again. It’s not difficult to see why such a quick turnaround way opted for; Dirty Projectors was met with mixed reception, due to the huge shift in sound it presented, swapping out colourful indie rock for downbeat R&B, as well as its uncomfortably personal lyrics. Charting the deterioration of Longstreth’s romantic relationship with former band member Amber Coffman, the album didn’t really hold back when it came to emotional ugliness.

Personally, I thought the album was Dirty Projectors’ strongest effort to date. While it was far from being perfect, the album’s strong points more than outweighed its weak ones. The production was absolutely fantastic in places and the lyrics – while a little cringey at times – felt a lot more honest and powerful than the ones on the project’s older albums. My opinion was everyone’s opinion though and, when examining the direction Longstreth has taken on this new album, it’s not hard to see that he took some of those criticisms to heart.

On Lamp-Lit Prose, Dirty Projectors takes an almost complete U-turn. Moody electronic R&B beats are traded off for colourful live instrumentation, bitter break-up lyrics for ones about new love and Longstreth’s singular, isolated vocals for a range of guest stars. It’s a return to Dirty Projector’s old sound, basically – which is both a good and bad thing. While the album is a lot less gutsy and ambitious than Dirty Projectors, it’s also a lot more fun to listen to… I mean, I’ve pretty much had it on repeat since it came out.

Lead single ‘Break-Thru’ is an easy standout. It took me a few listens to get into the track (at first sounding a bit like an overstuffed mess; Longstreth leaves no breathing space in the song, piling on layer after layer of instrumentation) but it’s since grown on me. It’s a sweet and catchy love song with a killer central guitar riff and some characteristcally goofy Longstreth lyrics, with everyone from Federico Fellini to Julian Casablancas getting name-dropped. It’s a real earworm.

The album’s other two singles are similarly solid. On ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, Longstreth addresses politics and consumerism while still managing to pull together a catchy hook, while ‘I Feel Energy’ is an all-out jam with an almost gospel edge to it. Both songs have a classic Dirty Projectors vibe to them and honestly wouldn’t have felt out of the place on one of the band’s few albums preceding their self-titled one.

And despite Dirty Projectors essentially being a solo project now, their sound has never been so rich. These tracks are filled to the brim with gorgeous instrumentation, with some trumpet flourishes here and a bit of harmonica there. The rich range of instruments featured allows even the album’s musically weaker songs to shine. Additionally, Longstreth’s vocals, while still very much an acquired taste, have never sounded better. I particularly love his falsetto freak-out at the end of ‘I Feel Energy’.

‘Blue Bird’ is the only the song I really dislike, with its nursery rhyme-like melody and lyrics that veer too far into sappy territory. Luckily, the album’s weaker moments like this one don’t detract from the overall experience too much, thanks to it only being a brisk ten tracks long, clocking in at just under forty minutes.  Lamp-Lit Prose isn’t trying to be something big and dramatic like Dirty Projectors, it knows what it is: a fun and quirky indie rock album.

While I’m still not totally sold on the band’s stylistic U-turn with this album, Lamp-Lit Prose is hard to dislike. It’s not particularly adventurous and it can be argued that it doesn’t do anything that the band haven’t done better on past releases, but it’s still a lot of fun. And maybe that’s all some albums need to be.

Best Tracks: ‘Break-Thru’, ‘That’s A Lifestyle’, ‘I Feel Energy’.

Superorganism – Superorganism

Superorganism is one of those bands that kind of came out of nowhere. After dropping their first major single late last year, ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’, they were immediately hyped up by various music sites. I thought the song was creative and weird in all the right ways (as was the following single ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’), but was unsure as to whether Superorganism’s quirky style would work well on a full-length album. A few months later and here we are with the band’s self-titled debut.

Part of the charm of Superorganism is their strangeness. Their sound has a collage-like feel to it, drawing from a lot of different places… It features beach rock guitar licks, squelchy synths and a heavy abundance of sound effects. There’s also a certain laziness to it that reminds me of artists such as Mac Demarco, with lead vocalist Orono Noguchi sounding as though she’s singing while lying down in bed. Songs titles like ‘It’s All Good’ and ‘The Prawn Song’ convey Superorganism’s lazy/quirky aesthetic quite well. The band have definitely nailed a genuinely unique sound, though it does bounce between being charming and slightly grating.

The aforementioned ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’ is a definite highlight. It’s the best introduction to the band, featuring all the signature elements of their sound and using them better than any other track on Superorganism. There’s all kinds of weirdness going on in the song, like the random sound effects in the background and the pitch shifting vocals. ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’ is also a stand-out; it’s easily the poppiest moment on the album and features an incredibly catchy chorus (and verses, to honest.)

There are plenty of other solid tracks here as well, such as ‘SPRORGNSM’ and ‘The Prawn Song’. Both are pretty ridiculous (the first featuring a distorted voiceover and second, well, being about being a prawn) but suit the band’s vibe well. I’m also a fan of ‘Night Time’, which has a great glittery disco feel to it. Most of the tracks on Superorganism feel stuffed to the brim, but ‘Night Time’ has a lot of breathing room on it. It has a great atmosphere.

As I mentioned before, the band’s sound does get grating in places. Though the album only clocks in at about 30 minutes, Superorganism’s various quirks do begin to wear thin by its end. The band have a habit of recycling the same elements over and over, such as the voiceover (which appears on both ‘SPRORGNSM’ and ‘It’s All Good’) as well as the beach-y guitar sound. I did experience some deja vu a couple of times because of this; in particular, the guitar at the opening of ‘Nai’s March’ sounds identical to that on ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’.

Superorganism is a fun listen though and the band have done a good job of crafting a unique sound. While the album isn’t perfect, it’s a good starting place for the band and I’m looking forward to seeing where they go next.

Best Tracks: ‘Everybody Wants To Be Famous’, ‘Something For Your M.I.N.D.’, ‘Night Time’

Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

It’s easy to see indie rock as a dying genre. Though last year saw new albums from some of the genre’s biggest names (Arcade Fire, Fleet Foxes, Phoenix, to name a few), most of them felt just okay. None of the albums felt as essential as any of the stuff the bands had come out with last decade when the genre was in its heyday.

Really, all the hope for indie rock lies in its newer names now, like The War On Drugs, Parquet Courts and – of course – Car Seat Headrest. I was a little bit late to the party when it came to the band’s last release, Teen Of Denial – their first ‘studio’ album – but it’s quickly become one of my favourite releases of the decade so far. The album had something that recent releases from older bands like Arcade Fire seemed to be missing – a certain level of musical and emotional depth. Songs like ‘Fill in the Blank’ and ‘Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales’ had an old-school indie rock feel to them but still managed to feel fresh at the same time.

Twin Fantasy, Car Seat Headrest’s latest release, isn’t technically a new album, but a reimagining of frontman Will Toledo’s most famous Bandcamp release from the band’s pre-Matador days. It might as well be a new release though, because the album still feels incredibly fresh and incredibly ambitious. Twin Fantasy is a concept album focusing on a teen romance of Toledo’s (it’s still hard to believe that he first wrote these songs in his teenage years), telling a pretty cohesive story over its ten songs. While Teens Of Denial got personal at times, this release definitely feels a lot rawer emotionally.

Just look at the album’s lead single, ‘Beach Life-In-Death’. It’s a monster of a track, clocking in at just over thirteen minutes and featuring three distinct sections. It’s pretty emotionally loaded, dealing with everything from Toledo’s depression to him coming out to his friends over Skype. It’s also a fantastic song musically, shifting and changing constantly without it ever feeling forced. The album’s other huge track, ‘Prophets (Stars)’, which is another three minutes longer than ‘Beach Life-In-Death’,  acts as the album’s huge climax. It’s a slower song, more drawn out, but arguably just as powerful.

With such long songs, Twin Fantasy can seem like a daunting album to jump into, but it also features its fair share of moments that are a little less intense. ‘Sober to Death’ is a gorgeous ballad about depression and features some of Toledo’s sweetest lyrics, while ‘Nervous Young Inhumans’ is probably the album’s most radio-friendly moment. ‘Bodys’ and ‘Cute Thing’ are similarly fantastic – it’s hard not to love the latter track’s roaring chorus – each featuring Toledo’s usual blend of clever lyrics and interesting instrumental choices. There’s a huge amount to love here.

Impressively for an album of this length, every track here feels essential (except maybe ‘Stop Smoking (We Love You)’, but it’s not even two minutes long). It’s an incredibly cohesive release, perhaps even more so than Teens Of Denial.

While it would’ve been nice to receive a completely new album from the band, I’m guessing most people haven’t dug into the Toledo’s Bandcamp back catalogue – essentially making all these songs fresh. Twin Fantasy shows that there’s still plenty of life left in indie rock and, despite some fairly stale releases from last year, it’s a genre that can still surprise us. We just need a few more bands like Car Seat Headrest.

Best Tracks: ‘Beach Life-In-Death’, ‘Sober to Death’, ‘Bodys’.

MGMT – Little Dark Age

Let’s be honest, MGMT are always going to be defined by their first album. Not because it’s necessarily their best one, but because it’s the home to three huge singles that everyone knows (‘Time To Pretend’, ‘Electric Feel’ and, of course, ‘Kids’.) On the two albums that followed Oracular Spectacular, the band seemed to do everything they could to get away from the poppiness of those singles, taking things in a more challenging psychedelic direction… A move that paid off pretty nicely on 2010’s Congratulations and not so well on 2013’s MGMT.

Given this trajectory, everyone expected MGMT to go even further down the weird rabbit-hole on their fourth album… But nope, instead, we get a bit of a U-turn, with the band re-embracing the pop sound they abandoned almost ten years ago. And surprisingly, it pays off; Little Dark Age is the most accessible album the band have put out in a long time and yet doesn’t feel like a retread of their early successes. It’s creative, fun and just the right amount of strange.

Kicking the album off is ‘She Works Out Too Much’ – a break-up song that’s beautifully ridiculous. Backed by some 80s fitness video-style synths, Andrew VanWyngarden sings about a relationship that fell apart because, well, his girlfriend spent too much time working out. Again, it’s ridiculous but MGMT make it work – in part because they fully commit to the silliness of it all, even having a fitness instructor monologue exercise routines on the bridge of the song.

There are plenty of other tracks on the album that adopt a similar tone, such as ‘TSLAMP‘ or ‘Time Spent Looking At My Phone’. It’s a great little critique of modern culture (‘God descends to take me home, find me staring at my phone’) that, like ‘She Works Out Too Much’, is musically a lot of fun too. There’s also ‘When You Die’, in which VanWyngarden attempts to come across as menacing to hilarious effect. Throughout the song, he tries to assure the listener that he’s evil (telling them to go fuck themselves at one point), the lyrics contrasting with his very boyish vocals. It’s great – just great.

Some songs take a darker tone, being less outright funny, such as ‘Little Dark Age’. The synths on this track are fantastic, having a heavy gothic tinge to them. The lyrics are similarly great, though pretty cryptic. I also love the similarly dark and melancholy ‘When You’re Small’ – on which the band reflect on their own rise to fame. It’s a minimalist track – only really featuring an acoustic guitar, a piano and VanWyngarden’s echoing vocals – and that makes it all the more eerie.

Little Dark Age only falters in a couple of places and never too heavily. ‘James’ is the only song I find easy to skip in the tracklist (coming across as a little bland), with the rest being solid. Overall, it’s an excellent return to form for the band – demonstrating that they can still retain their signature weirdness while making music that’s accessible and poppy.

Best Tracks: ‘She Works Out Too Much’, ‘Little Dark Age’, ‘Me and Michael’.

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