As March wraps up and students begin the April haul of exam prep, registration, and end of semester resolutions, we’re highlighting our favorite releases from the past month. It’s been a busy month with impressive releases from underground groups--Wu-Lu, Eric Taxxon, and Frankie Cosmos--as well a particularly confusing one from Jack White. Either way, here’s what stood out this month:
Wu-Lu -- N.A.I.S
South London based producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist Wu-Lu (aka Miles Romans-Hopcraft) creates otherworldly scenes in his songs. On N.A.I.S., the tracks are beamed from outer space to play in the mortal world with ethereal melodies, wafting electronics, and dynamic grooves only to vanish in smoke by the end of the album. With his second EP, Wu-Lu’s ability to layer instruments and ideas comes to full fruition through intricate arrangements and lo-fi experimentation. Best tracks: Habesha, Storms - JVV
Eric Taxxon -- Punk
For the past 30 years, punk rock has suffered under the vague pseudo-angst of acts like Simple Plan and 5 Seconds of Summer. The genre has slowly lost its edge and relevancy almost to the point where it’s become nothing more than a glittering shell of millennial pandering, but surprisingly enough, the most inherently “punk” record you’ll hear this year doesn’t really fit that descriptor.
Punk by Eric Taxxon isn’t a punk record. In fact, it falls under the strange and polarizing genre of plunderphonics, a style known primarily for its heavy usage of samples. This album’s a conglomerate of wildly different songs driven by a satirical look at modern copyright laws as they relate to music, finding itself in unsettling territories along the way.
With samples ranging from underground acts like Lost Lander to a completely unedited track by AJR (a band of which I have a strong disdain for), Mr. Taxxon drives home the overall theme of this record: he doesn’t care if you enjoy what he’s creating, he’s got a point to make. Sure, the vicious power chords aren’t present, but Punk’s still got the same ideology that makes albums like Marquee Moon and London Calling so captivating. The only difference here is Taxxon is taking the guitar, slamming it into the nearest amp, and looping the noise while repeatedly saying “sue me” over the cacophony. Best tracks: Squaredance, Hell March 2011, Sing and Sing - GB
Yukons -- South of the Equator
Self-described as Latinx Expression Rock, Yukon’s South of the Equator EP is a powerful statement of resilience and strong identity. “I live in a country that’s disgraced Latinx people,” reads their description of the EP on Bandcamp. “As a Latinx individual, I feel it is important to create and speak up and share and be loud right now.” With their first release as a three-piece in the Atlanta D.I.Y. scene, the group pairs fierce power chords with equally sharp songwriting in both English and Spanish. South of the Equator is loud, defiant, and demands your attention--Yukons won’t be letting up anytime soon. Best tracks: NUEVO, TODAY, TOOLBOX (the way she thinks) - JVV
Kraus -- Path
Sonic wizardry isn’t really a phrase I’d use to describe music, but it seems to be the only proper way to articulate my thoughts on the sophomore effort by Kraus. Walking the thin tightrope between the distant aching of dream pop and the sharp experimentation of shoegaze, Kraus is able to strategically craft each of his songs into a captivating experience.
However, the most striking detail of this project is not its sound quality. Will Kraus wrote, recorded, and produced this entire record in his bedroom, and to be able to achieve My Bloody Valentine levels of quality on your own isn’t something to be taken lightly. Unfortunately, Will’s vocals appear to be the biggest detractor here, often falling into rough, strained territory. The project also lacks lyrically and can feel monotone at times, but when the music is that good, it’s easy to ignore these criticisms and get lost into sounds offered within Path. Best tracks: Follow, Bum, Mostly - GB
Frankie Cosmos -- Vessel
The beauty of Frankie Cosmos’ Vessel lies in its spectrum of dance-ready bangers and stare-at-the-ceiling-wondering-what-the-hell-you’re-doing kind of songs. From opening track “Carmelize” to highlight “Being Alive,” Frankie Cosmos takes you through all of what feeling blue can do to a person. The songwriting on the album is vulnerable while startlingly emotionally mature; every track is a page from the bedroom pop standards songbook. Filled with short and dreamy pop rock songs of longing, if you want an album to prance around to that’ll resonate with you to your core, this’ll be your best bet. Best tracks: Carmelize, Being Alive, Ballad of R & J - JVV
Mechanical Museum – Hex Winter
Electronic music is fairly difficult to analyze. Each project seems to play at different frequencies ranging from person to person, often only clicking with a specific niche. Hex Winter is not one of those albums. On his second LP, Mechanical Museum has crafted a world that is both inherently his and openly communicative to those who hear it, and its usage of nuanced production techniques works for its benefit and creates something both new and nostalgic.
The overall taste of this album is atmospheric and cold, blending the complex structures of IDM with the subtle and chill vibes of downtempo and ambient music. It’s incredulously hard not to get lost in this project and focus intensely on the details, but while it does get you engaged, it only lasts for a disappointingly brief 27 minutes. Don’t get me wrong, though. What we get on this project is definitely well crafted and interesting, but it sadly leaves something to be desired.
I still strongly recommend Hex Winter despite its premature conclusion, and to anyone who may be new to Mechanical Museum, I urge you to dive further into his discography. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Best tracks: Train to Helsinki, Perpetual Yesterday, Hex Solar - GB
Leon Bridges -- “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” and “Bad Bad News”
Before I go any further, let me be clear: I’m a soul music fanatic. If you gave me the opportunity, I’d listen to Sam Cooke and James Brown the whole day long. The same goes for retro-soul savant Leon Bridges--the guy’s got a natural talent of turning classic soul influences into impeccable and stylish modern soul and R&B music. With his latest releases in anticipation of his upcoming album Good Thing, Leon Bridges takes the retro-soul sound one step further into 90’s R&B jams territory. Taking cues from everyone from Marvin Gaye to D’Angelo, on “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand” and “Bad Bad News,” a ballad and a self empowerment song, Leon Bridges is in his element. - JVV
Courtney Barnett -- “Need A Little Time”
If you were unsure Courtney Barnett was a badass, let “Need A Little Time” and “Nameless, Faceless” from her upcoming album Tell Me How You Really Feel be exhibit A and B. On “Need A Little Time,” Barnett turns her deadpan observational tone inward with promising results. “I’d try to write a song about someone I was close to who was going through something, but it would turn into a total self-help book,” she says about her new album in an interview with Pitchfork. “When I look back, it’s like, ‘Oh, wow, I was trying really hard to help myself get through something.’” The track is about finding peace with yourself after a conflict with your partner, and you can feel her resentment to your core. Filled with 90’s rock hooks and jangly guitar flourishes, “Need A Little Time” shows her immense growth and evolution as an artist.