Listening: January 2018

A selection of this month’s album listening, featuring Alice Glass, Fall Out Boy and Kelis

I liked a lot of other albums more than these five, though it’s different when you try to write words about them. Others may have had great songs with great sounds, but that was as much as I could squeeze out of them after the first listen. These, however, had a little bit more to add for better or for worse. Not that I wouldn’t recommend any of these — well, maybe not one of them.

Here are five albums that caught my attention during January:

We’ve Done Something Wonderful by Epik High (YG, 2017)

The more wistful brand of Korean rap such as Epik High’s latest album gets me in a nostalgic place. The musical patchwork of We’ve Done Something Wonderful resembles the stitching woven by friends of friends of my teen days who picked up rap. What they prop in their own takes of rap that’s also similarly found in Epik High’s is a certain masculinity made up of cool sourced by golden-age backpacker rap and a sentimentality shown through earnest ballads. The Nujabes-ism of the piano-backed boom-bap “Love Story,” paired with a chorus of equally earnest singer IU, first tapped into my own history. “Here Comes the Regrets” and “The Benefits of Heartbreak” sound exactly as moody as those titles read.

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M A N I A by Fall Out Boy (Island, 2018)

I shrugged off this band’s antics initially because I figured they are self-aware of their love for explosions, and they’re taking the piss at themselves through the sheer ridiculousness they record. But it seems they didn’t really have much humor to begin with. The content didn’t come from so much self-deprecation than it was a product of self-obsession. This fails their totems for devotion: the culminated loudness gets across that Patrick Stump worries more about his expression of faith being exact than his general faith itself or, more importantly, the person who he’s dedicating the song to. How they take his word doesn’t matter as much the fact he got his word across. Weirdly, “Champion” works more in the context of this album than as a standalone single, though that’s not exactly a good thing. That single, too, is a banner anthem of self-belief with him singing his words enough times until he believe it to be true for himself. In many ways, the music is made so you can’t hear yourself in it. If that isn’t mania, than what is?

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Alice Glass EP by Alice Glass (Loma Vista, 2017)

Alice Glass partly inspired my piece about finding comfort in “ugly music.” I saw her live the day she posted her note online about her time with Ethan Kath, and that night I thought deep about why people feel the need to scream, both on record and on stage. She sings here, too, in a soft, private coo, as she did while recording for Crystal Castles, but screaming is the better mode for such bruised synth-pop with its emotional core sourced from a dark place. (This was already shown in CC songs as well.) The most gruesome to bear may be “Natural Selection,” where she screams “get the fuck off of me” into the void while static pierces the blankness of the beat. It’s music that can only only be heard and felt through screams. It’s less an aesthetic choice than it may be bare necessity.

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Kelis Was Here by Kelis (Jive, 2006)

“You don’t have to love me. You don’t even have to like me. But you will respect me.” So Kelis begins “Bossy,” as well as her fourth album, then justifies her demands by listing the things she has done. The most she should take pride? “I switched up the beat of the drum.” Kelis doesn’t get enough credit for such an adventurous ride into the new pop millennium with Kaleidoscope and especially Wanderland. So adventurous in fact it feels like an outlier in itself for her to dive into a more contemporary pop — for 2006 standards anyway. Through her is a bass-heavy prism of what that year offered from post-crunk club pop, roller-rink funk to glamorous studio R&B. And the title itself starts to ring like a gloat that, yes, she has done this already a few years prior in more alien forms.

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Feel Me Before They Kill Me by Tommy Wright III (Streets Smart, 1998)

The obsession with demons, the occult and horror-movie themes found in the Three 6 Mafia school of Memphis rap made a lot of sense stumbling upon Tommy Wright III’s “Hell on Earth.” To backtrack, it’s the second song to a cult classic titled Feel Me Before They Kill Me. Not only was death was around the corner enough to turn the current living world look and feel like a ghoulish haunt, its presence threatened to turn Earth into what people pictured the afterlife to resemble for those far less well off. The environment seems to inform a lot of the corroding music, the rapid and urgent delivery as well as paranoia looming throughout most of these 16 songs — or at least these touchstones do a lot to paint the environment according to him.

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Other albums that caught my interest in January:

  • Cyclo (Ryoji Ikeda & Alva Noto): Id (2017)
  • Nabihah Iqbal: Weighing of the Heart (2017)
  • Living Colour: Vivid (1989)
  • Payroll Giovanni & Cardo: Big Bossin’, Vol. 2 (2018)
  • Mariya Takeuchi: Variety (1984)
  • Kensuke Ushio: A Shape of Voice (2016) / Devilman Crybaby (2018)
  • Monari Wakita: I am ONLY (2017)
  • WJSN: The Secret (2016)
  • Younha: Go! Younha (2006)

music, etc.