I feel like I’m an old man yelling at a cloud here, but it’s all Vampire Weekend’s fault. Or maybe it was Justin Vernon first. Both of these artists started using studio trickery like autotune many years ago (see Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” and VW’s “California English”) and as a result opened the floodgates for everyone else to exploit, copy, rearrange and eventually change the course of indie rock.
Sanitization is in full swing. A clean, bright white sheen has painted over the rough spots. It’s been happening so gradually that not until you reach the end can you actually witness it. I can draw a straight line from Bon Iver to Broken Social Scene’s abuse of autotune on their new EP Let’s Try The After (Vol. 2). The same line can be drawn from Vampire Weekend to Local Natives’ over-produced abomination Violet Street. And now it’s happened on Cayucas’s latest Real Life. All three records have virtually no guitar, instead it’s all shiny strings, keyboards and drum machines.
The guitar’s slow death in popular music has left us with a sound that feels canned, clinical and often times heartless. But I need to step off this soapbox because I know I sound like Grandpa here. Music changes. Bands change. I get it. Indulge me and listen to the aforementioned new releases and ask yourself, does it have to sound so perfect? I think there’s still room for a little grime, or the smallest pop of colour on an otherwise pale, sandy landscape.
Ignore the hideous cover, this is a fantastic record from one of the most prolific songwriters of the past five years. Kevin Morby has also set his guitar aside, instead he sat down at the piano to craft a warm, lush rumination on religion, loneliness and gun control. He’s not a God-fearing man, but he’s praying for change like a snake-charmer in a dusty tent. Oh My God radiates on the gospel choir-tinged “No Halo” and the standout “Congratulations.”
People Under The Stairs have mysteriously returned and have brought back some old school hip hop with them. Full of tricky rhyme schemes, record scratching and head-nodding beats, Sincerely, the P is the antithesis of modern hip hop. That classic jazzy, 90s era vibe returns on tracks like “Reach Out” and “The Effects of Climate Change on Densely Populated Areas.”
Sweden’s The Tallest Man On Earth has one of those voices that’s so emotive and vulnerable. He’s once again laid himself bare on I Love you. It’s a Fever Dream. It’s a quiet album, and occasionally suffers from sad-guy-with-a-piano/guitar-syndrome, however the tone and tempo ramps up on the excellent “I’m A Stranger Now.”
If you’ve ever been to the Dakota Tavern, Toronto’s temple to the Nashville sound, then you’ll know what I mean when I say that every time I walk by it, I instantly feel hungover. Shovels & Rope feels like a band that’s made for the Dakota and its consequently foggy morning/afternoon after. By Blood bursts with such fist-pumping, bourbon-swilling anthemic power on tracks like “Mississippi Nuthin’” and “C’mon Utah,” that I think I need a need some hair of the dog.
Josh Ritter has teamed up with Jason Isbell and his band The 400 Unit on Fever Breaks. It’s a plugged-in, turbulent record. At times Crazy Horse (“Losing Battles”) and other times Paul Simon (“Old Black Magic”), but this is a perfect synergy between two outstanding musicians.
I know very little about Craig Finn. His album I Need a New War was recommended to me by a friend with great music taste. I’ve resisted researching who this guy is because sometimes context doesn’t matter when something comes out of the blue and sounds this good. “Magic Marker” might be my favourite find this month; I won’t spoil it for you, just give it a spin and enjoy.