I’m still on the fence about “Call The Police,” but I’m already in love with LCD Soundsystem’s other comeback song, “American Dream.” Despite being a bleak ballad about (what else?) aging, aimlessness, and regret, it’s one of the flat-out prettiest tracks the band has ever produced. All that introspection is afloat on a tide of synths, swaying along with the bass-heavy lulls until a Phil Spector-style timpani flare calls for a monster wave of shimmering keys and bells to carry James Murphy away. That rise and fall repeats a few times as the track builds to a final euphoric climb, this time pairing Murphy with some profoundly unenthused backup singers. All the while, an equally melancholic woodblock tick-tocks in the background like a reminder of the cruel passage of time Murphy suddenly finds himself feeling—or, to my ears, like the dripping faucet below the bathroom mirror he’s staring into, while he loses himself in this rush of depressing thoughts. It’s simultaneously heavenly and heartbreaking, and this damn album can’t come soon enough.
I’ve written about Westside Gunn before, whose debut Flygod was one of last year’s best rap records—a dingy, ice-cold stretch of East Coast boom-bap punctuated with moments of red-hot violence. Since then, Gunn and his brother Conway signed with Eminem’s Shady Records, which, you are correct in guessing, has not been up to all that much since 50 Cent and Obie Trice dropped their debuts a very long time ago. But they may have something in these two. The Buffalo-based duo has released a few tracks since the announcement, ranging from the Just Blaze-produced flourish of “MachineGun Black” to last week’s hallucinatory 14-minute odyssey “Raw Is Flygod.” But the best of the batch is the extremely well-named eight-minute dirge “Easter Gunday,” which stretches on for eight goddamn minutes of gloomy shit-talk. The track is nothing new, and perfect for it, all horror movie synthesizers and undead drums shuffling dustily into the sunset. This is gothic drone-rock for Killah Bees, discreet music for the damned. Hopefully Shady Records will let them drop a 10-track, 80-minute gauntlet of this shit that we can all listen to while the world burns.
As part of my ongoing immersion into electronic music, I’ve lately been spending a lot of time getting into dub techno. It’s a genre that can be really, really dull in its most dumbed-down form—just get yourself a 4/4 kickdrum and some reverbed chord stabs, make it sound like it’s playing through an iPhone you dropped in the toilet—yet even then it’s almost uniformly listenable, particularly when you’re just looking for something to work or zone out to. But it can also be really transportive in the right hands, such as the form made by dub techno’s acknowledged pioneers, Basic Channel, or released on the duo’s Chain Reaction label. Porter Ricks made that kind of dub techno for that label, and while it was incredibly short-lived, the team-up of Andy Mellwig and ambient artist Thomas Köner produced some of the most progressive music of its kind in the ’90s, before their surprise reemergence in late 2016 with the Shadow Boat EP. I’ve been listening to its three tracks a lot since I recently discovered Shadow Boat in the used vinyl bins, though my favorite is the second, “Bay Rouge,” which is just six minutes of a chugging, brooding bass line, some airy synth overlays, and minimalist chords that ripple and echo across like distant crashes of lightning. It’s so simple yet so extremely hypnotic, and a good example of how dub techno can be more than just excellent background music (though obviously it’s great for that too).
Backwards Dancer is a welcome return to a form of music that normally bores me these days: dudes with loud, distorted guitars playing grungy tunes while alternately yelling and crooning. I thought I had exhausted any fondness for this particular style of ’90s-era rawk, but as it turns out, when a band is really, really good at it, I’ll get drawn back in. That’s what happened with the group’s self-titled debut, a gripping collection of cutting and bombastic rock in the vein of harder-hitting emo bands that wouldn’t sound out of place on an installment of MTV’s 120 Minutes circa 1998. Formed by singer-guitarist Zack Shaw in 2014 after he departed The Hotelier, the group had already released an EP that failed to make much of an impression on me. But the new record manages the feat of delivering churning rock action without feeling derivative or retro. It’s nice to be reminded that, once in a while, some guys making noise with the old four-piece lineup and a couple chord changes can still move me.
Before embarking on a recent road trip, my wife put together a playlist that was like one long version of that scene in High Fidelity where Barry foists Psychocandy off on the Echo And The Bunnymen fan who looks down his nose at The Jesus And Mary Chain. Here’s what happened the first time Tennis’ “My Emotions Are Blinding” came on in our rental car—or at least how I remember it happening.
Erik: Yeah, I have all the other Rilo Kiley albums.
Tiffany: Oh, you do? So how about Tennis?
Erik: Aw, they always seemed…
Tiffany: They always seemed what?
The AM Gold shuffle of “My Emotions Are Blinding” quieted my dismissal, coming across like a lost Rilo Kiley single that’s had its Fleetwood Mac quotient turned way, way up. It’s a song made entirely of hooks: the chiming guitar figure of its verses; the cheeky, faux-academic chants in the prechorus (“I get hysterical / It’s empirical”); the part where it’s all handclaps and organ and frontwoman Alaina Moore really feeling the song’s title. There’s an archness to what Moore is singing here, giving “My Emotions Are Blinding” the feeling that it’s the barbed inner monologue of someone performing a more traditional torch song. I like a little tartness in my pop confections, which “My Emotions Are Blinding” definitely delivers. Tennis picked up where my precious Rilo left off, and I’m sitting around complaining about no more Rilo albums. I’ve listened to “My Emotions Are Blinding” dozens of times in the last few weeks, but I’ve yet to pick up the album it’s on, Yours Conditionally—to which I’m sure my wife would say, “I can’t believe you don’t own this fucking record.”