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’.

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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’.

Ty Segall – Freedom’s Goblin

Much like his garage rock contemporaries Oh Sees and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Ty Segall does not believe in taking a break. Following up 2017’s self-titled album, Freedom’s Goblin is Segall’s ninth album in ten years… And a double one at that. It’s been described by a lot of people as his White Album, a comparison that definitely fits. At 75 minutes long, it’s grand, sprawling and diverse (exploring every genre from disco to jazz), demonstrating that Ty Segall really is a master at what he does.

Unlike the White Album though, Freedom’s Goblin is a single, focused vision. Despite all the genre-hopping, it flows incredibly well; the dramatic piano ballad ‘Rain’ slips effortlessly into Segall’s heavy, fuzzy cover of Hot Chocolate’s ‘Every 1’s A Winner’, and the acoustic ballad ‘I’m Free’ feels like the perfect breather after the off-kilter freakiness of ‘The Main Pretender’. All of the songs fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and there’s only a handful that feel like they could’ve been cut. Even ‘Prison’, an instrumental track that lasts only a minute, feels important, acting as a fantastic bridge between ‘She’ and ‘Talkin’ 3’. It’s rare for a nineteen-song album to be so devoid of filler.

There are too many noteworthy tracks on Freedom’s Goblin for me to go into them all. ‘Fanny Dog’ which opens the album is bombastic and fun, with Ty singing about his pet dog over a typically fuzzy guitar and some trumpet flourishes. It’s a solid song, and there’s something undeniably sweet about him singing so dramatically about his pet.  Elsewhere, he dives into more jazzy territory with tracks like ‘Rain’ and ‘Talkin’ 3’. The former is a low-key piano ballad that builds to a big finish, while the latter is a deranged saxophone freak-out. There are also some great acoustic songs littered throughout the tracklist (the best of which being ‘My Lady’s On Fire’) as well as some which resist being pigeonholed into specific genres – like ‘Despoiler Of Cadaver’. Featuring an old-school drum machine beat, the track manages to be groovy and unsettling at the same time – a mood that the album pulls off frequently.

The album also features its fair share of great rock songs among Segall’s experimentation. ‘Alta’ is probably the most straight-forward cut on the album; it features a huge, almost anthemic chorus with a classic rock feel to it. ‘Shoot You Up’ similarly plays things straight, but has a more lighthearted and playful vibe to it. The album’s finest rock moment, though, is ‘She’ – a mostly instrumental track filled with writhing guitar solos and Segall screeching out the song’s title here and there. It’s rock in its purest form, and while there’s not a lot of substance to it that doesn’t stop from being a lot of fun. Segall knows how to put together a song that you just want to rock out to.

Though Freedom’s Goblin is consistent overall, there are a few weaker moments in the tracklist. A couple of songs do feel slightly inessential; ‘Cry Cry Cry’ and ‘You Say All The Nice Things’ in particular lean on the forgettable side. Almost every song on the album has a unique spark to it – allowing it to stand out in its own way – but these two don’t do much that isn’t done better elsewhere. In terms of the album’s softer moments, ‘My Lady’s On Fire’ and ‘I’m Free’ work a lot better for me.

But luckily, these weaker songs don’t detract from the album too much… Freedom’s Goblin is generally solid all the way through and avoids being front-loaded like many double albums are. It opens strong and it closes strong. ‘The Main Pretender’, which lands right near the end, might just be the album’s best cut – it’s fantastically weird, with some off-beat brass instrumentation, yet it also has a great sing-a-long chorus. Similarly, ‘And, Goodnight’, the album’s closer is stunning. It’s indulgent at fourteen minutes, but it feels like the perfect way to cap things off.

When a huge and sprawling album like this one is put out, it’s almost always a let-down. It’s rare for an album so long to remain engaging throughout, but somehow Ty Segall manages to pull it off. Freedom’s Goblin’s is one of the best rock albums I’ve heard in a long time and easily one of the best albums to drop this year so far.

Best Tracks: ‘Rain’, ‘My Lady’s On Fire’, ‘The Main Pretender’

Django Django – Marble Skies

After their debut album was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2012, Django Django shot into prominence abruptly. And the attention was deserved; Django Django is a great album that I still find myself revisiting from time to time. It strikes a balance between the band’s kookiness and accessibility, featuring plenty of solid songs like the incredibly catchy ‘Default’. Django Django’s sophomore effort, 2015’s Born Under Saturn, was admittedly much weaker, with even the band showing some ambivalence towards it in recent interviews. Despite a few solid tracks (‘First Light’ is still one of the best songs they’ve put out), it felt uneven and bloated at almost an hour long.

Luckily, Django Django seem to have learned from that album’s problems. Their latest release Marble Skies brushes in at just forty minutes with only ten tracks and feels tighter than anything they’ve released before. Unlike Born Under Saturn, it doesn’t feel like the band are trying to be big and showy (even the promotion in the lead-up to the album’s release felt muted) but just serve up a solid set of songs that flow together well. And I’d say they’ve succeeded at that.

Marble Skies features some of the most straight-up fun songs the band have ever put out, from the incredibly danceable ‘In Your Beat’ to the wild and jumpy ‘Tic Tac Toe’. It definitely feels like they’re trying to cut loose a bit more. The album’s title track and opener shows this best; ‘Marble Skies’ contrasts significantly with the slow openers featured on the band’s previous two albums, kicking things off with a huge burst of energy. The song barrels along through its verses, choruses and delightful vocoder-featuring bridge at a break-neck pace, never letting up. This is true with many of the album’s highlights, such as the previously mentioned ‘In Your Beat’ and ‘Tic Tac Toe’ (which even opens with David Maclean telling us to not ‘go so slow’.)

Though many of the album’s less hectic moments land just as well, such as the R&B-infused ‘Surface to Air’. Featuring guest vocals from Slow Club’s Rebecca Taylor, it definitely has a distinct feel among the band’s songs – even if the bizarre instrumentation is incredibly Django Django. It’s restrained, yet still punchy. Another highlight is ‘Real Gone’, the one track on Marble Skies that really does take its time. The song opens with a long synth-tinged instrumental intro (that sounds like the soundtrack to a long-lost ‘70s sci-fi movie) before slowly gathering momentum. It’s easily the album’s most self-indulgent moment, but the crescendo the track eventually reaches is definitely worth it.

I will admit that the album does end up sagging slightly in the middle with the country-infused ‘Further’ and piano ballad ‘Sundials’, both of which, while not bad, definitely stick out among the much stronger songs that surround them. I similarly found myself underwhelmed with ‘Fountains’, which closes out the album. It just feels too inconsequential to me – as pleasant as the song is – ending things with a shrug rather than a bang.

This isn’t an album that comes across as a grand artistic statement – like many try to be these days – and I don’t think that’s what it was intended to be. It feels like Django Django took a back-to-basics approach, focusing on crafting songs that are just plain enjoyable to listen to. And I definitely Marble Skies is all the better for it.

Best Tracks: ‘Marble Skies’, ‘Tic Tac Toe’, ‘In Your Beat’.

Dream Wife – Dream Wife

Following a string of impressive singles, Dream Wife’s debut album is here. Boasting a strong alt-rock sound with a feminist edge, the style the band go for isn’t entirely fresh but they pull it off incredibly well. Fronted by Rakel Mjöll and her violent vocals (with Alice Go on guitar and Bella Podpadec on bass), at their best, they deliver up fantastic punchy anthems full of aggression and energy.

When the songs land here, they really do. The aforementioned impressive singles – ‘Let’s Make Out’, ‘Somebody’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ – open up the album in a long line. All of these tracks have the same verse-chorus pop song structure, but there’s just about enough variation between them for the songs to stand out from each other. ‘Let’s Make Out’ starts things off on a huge high-note; I love Mjöll’s screaming, raw delivery of the song’s title on the chorus. ‘Hey Heartbreaker’ is similarly high-energy, with plenty of shouting again and even some peppy hand clapping. ‘Somebody’ and ‘Fire’ are both gentler in tone, but no less solid. The lyrics on these songs aren’t anything remarkable, but they’re fun and memorable.

Unfortunately, the album seems to lose its footing after these opening tracks. While the rest of the album is far from bad, nothing really matches up to those first four songs. We get a number of slower, less poppy tracks, such as ‘Kids’ and ‘Love Without Reason’. Both of these songs shift away from screaming vocals, opting for a more tender sound… But Mjöll’s voice doesn’t work half as well when she’s speaking softly. It’s way more suited to big, melodramatic songs about heartbreak than quiet ones about friendship, like ‘Kids’ (even if it has the most lyrical depth out of any song on Dream Wife.) In comparison, ‘Love Without Reason’ falters largely because of its lack of lyrical depth, pretty much jumping between a one-line verse and a one-line chorus for the entirety of the song. It just feels underbaked.

The songs in the second half in which the band return to their energetic punk-rock sound work better. ‘Taste’ and ‘F.U.U.’ are both solid, fun songs, featuring huge choruses… But they’re held back by the fact that the band have done the whole ‘quiet verse and loud chorus’ structure better before, making it hard for them to stand out. They’re fine, they’re fun – but there’s not much more to them than that. And in a way, that’s how I kinda feel about Dream Wife as a whole. It’s a really enjoyable rock album with tons of attitude, but you’ll probably get everything out of it on the first listen. I just can’t see myself coming back to it much.

Best Tracks: ‘Let’s Make Out’, ‘Somebody’, ‘Hey Heartbreaker’.

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