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It’s been clear for many years now that Beck can do whatever he wants. Since his breakout hit “Loser,” the musical Renaissance Man has explored sounds from funk to folk, art rock to Americana. With every left turn, Beck’s oddball lyrics and trippy textures have followed: there was the sample-heavy, genre-bending “Odelay” with its unexpectedly refined strangeness; the dreamy and unsettling folk detours of “Mutations” and “Sea Change”; and the psychedelic funk rock explorations of “Guero” and “The Information.” And then, in 2014, Beck revealed the optimistic and serene side of his “Sea Change” style with “Morning Phase.” The record was his most beautiful work to date and famously triumphed over Beyoncé’s self-titled LP for Album of the Year at the 2015 Grammys. Now, after countless rumors and false starts, Beck has returned with his latest left turn, the aptly named “Colors.”
Wolf Parade made their mark in the 2000s. The Canadian group’s 2005 debut “Apologies to the Queen Mary” was rambunctious and noisy, and it propelled the young Montreal-driven indie rock movement. It both borrowed significantly from and filtered out much of the weirdness of its producer Isaac Brock’s claim to fame, Modest Mouse, and it was far less gimmicky than its Canadian contemporary Arcade Fire. The record was nothing special, and it’s probably a bit overrated now, but it was enough to carve out a role in shaping indie rock in the mid-2000s. Their next two albums followed in 2008 and 2010; they succeeded in eliminating the components that nearly made Wolf Parade a Modest Mouse knock-off. But despite seemingly predetermined critical success, they failed in replacing those components with anything unique. Now, after a seven-year hiatus, Wolf Parade have released “Cry Cry Cry”, their most interesting and refined record yet.
I’ve always been slightly deterred by EDM. The build-and-drop structure of the genre seemed formulaic and repetitive, the lyrics meaningless. I wrote it off as nothing more than a transition phase in the grand scheme of music, filler used by artists as a means for reaching a more interesting and developed sound as Daft Punk did on “Random Access Memories.” But the genre garners billions of online streams, consistently produces Billboard hits and attracts some of the biggest festival crowds in the world. What’s even more significant is that any college kid can download an electronic music production software, post their music to SoundCloud and become more successful than many label-signed artists dream of becoming. I would be foolish to ignore a genre as monumental as EDM. So I listened to Odesza’s new album “A Moment Apart.”
You’ve got to hand it to Mutemath: they stick to their guns. The New Orleans alternative rock band has maintained a strong but niche fanbase for over 10 years, and yet they have never once made an attempt to be anything other than themselves. Even on 2015’s danceable “Vitals,” which found the group finally diving headfirst into their fascination with electronic flare, Mutemath did not abandon their signature sound. It was reminiscent of 2011’s “Mylo Xyloto,” on which Coldplay explored a more mainstream style seemingly without commercial motivation. So while “Vitals” was a triumph, it would have been reasonable to expect Mutemath to sacrifice their character and finally make a leap for the mainstream on their follow-up. Pair that with an extensive summer tour alongside the Grammy-winning Twenty One Pilots in 2016, and the group was surely headed in the commercial direction of Coldplay’s “A Head Full Of Dreams.” Mutemath’s new album “Play Dead” defies all of these expectations, and for that alone it is a success.
Several artists throughout history have pushed to the frontier of musical innovation by inventing new genres, inspiring scores of musicians to emulate their sounds. Kanye West established the modern incarnation of hip-hop. Bob Dylan founded American folk rock. The Beatles reinvented basically every other type of rock. Philadelphia alternative rock band The War on Drugs is not one of those artists, and not only do they know it, but they embrace it. Among all the artists who try to combine the sounds of their pioneering influences to create something unique, perhaps no one does it better than The War on Drugs. This is elegantly proven on their new album “A Deeper Understanding.”
Almost four years removed from their debut album, Milky Chance has finally returned with their sophomore effort “Blossom.” The singles leading up to the release only hinted at the maturity the group has gained over the past few years. With the addition of multi-instrumentalist Antonio Greger, the German trio has filled out its sound and created a satisfyingly interesting product.
On Donald Glover’s first album as Childish Gambino, he talked about a lesson he learned as a kid. After confessing his feelings to his summer camp crush, the girl betrayed his trust and told her friends, who immediately laughed at him. Glover recalled, “I told you something. It was just for you and you told everybody. So I learned cut out the middle man, make it all for everybody, always.” On his third effort “Awaken, My Love!”, the lesson finally hits home.
Casual listeners of a band will stick around for a few albums, perhaps even five or six if the group evolves well. But what could possibly keep listeners interested in and excited about a band’s eighteenth album? Indeed, “An Odd Entrances” is lead vocalist and guitarist John Dwyer’s eighteenth studio album with Thee Oh Sees and second of 2016, and while it succeeds in more than a few ways, it essentially relies on its chronological position in Thee Oh Sees’ abundant career to be understood.
Phantogram has been easy to miss. The duo of Sarah Barthel and Josh Carter released their debut LP “Eyelid Movies” in 2009, just when the modern synth-pop movement in alternative music was beginning to take form. But those who paid attention to Phantogram’s debut found in “Eyelid Movies” an impressive take on trip-hop: a brighter, more accessible and eclectic version of Portishead’s “Dummy.”
I tend to seek out music that satisfies at least one of two personal requirements: the music explores previously unexplored emotions, or the music explores familiar emotions in a new way (through new instrumentation, unprecedented songwriting style, etc.). Considering this, I was rather confused when I found myself tapping my foot and basically jamming out to The Mowgli’s’ new album, "Where’d Your Weekend Go?"
Every so often, an artist creates a masterpiece. A defining work that is so unexpected—such a left turn—and yet such a sensible progression. Kendrick Lamar’s "To Pimp A Butterfly," Daft Punk’s "Random Access Memories," Radiohead’s "Kid A"; these albums all broke the mold, spanned and blended whole genres and told magnificent stories. Bon Iver’s "22, A Million" is just such a masterpiece.
The Mowgli’s hails from Los Angeles and is well known for their laid back west coast pop music stylings. The Chronicle’s Aaron Paskin talked to drummer Andy Warren about the band, their new album and their new tour.
Following up a successful debut album is an incredibly difficult task. The best artists have used their sophomore effort as an expansion on the characteristic sound they established on their debut. Bastille’s electronic-rock contemporary Alt-J did this masterfully on their second album “This Is All Yours.” On their colossal, nineteen-song album “Wild World,” Bastille succeeds in progressing their unique sound, even finding brilliance on several songs. However, they also wander into forgettable territory.