The Flaming Lips – The Terror
Thirteenth album proper from Oklahoman funksters The Flaming Lips, and their most nakedly avant-garde since 2010’s divisive Dark Side Of The Moon covers LP, starring Henry Rollins no less. Newcomers (where have you been?) won’t find this an easy entry point, but those who have traveled this far with the band will revel in tracks like the thirteen-minute ‘You Lust’, a masterpiece of droning tension which swirls synths and drums while a perturbing electronic pulse (heavily reminiscent of Jon Brion’s Punch-Drunk Love score) gently suffuses into the mix. It’s a dreamy, perpetual high, and possibly the best track they’ve ever recorded. If the rest of The Terror (the title is only semi-ironic) feels lacking in comparison, it’s only because ‘You Lust’ sets an unreachable benchmark halfway into proceedings.
Still, it’s not without its poppier moments. Bonus track ‘Sun Blows Up Today’, with its driving, fuzzed-out guitar, handclaps and gooey vocals is this year’s first great summer track, but elsewhere the pop riffs are concealed under onerous, paranoid electronics. It’s not exactly the new Knife, but it’s certainly not a walk in the park for anyone who relates to ‘The W.A.N.D.’ as a foot-stomper. As ever, Wayne Coyne’s shimmering, candy cane vocals are what gives the album light; replace him with, say, Nick Cave, and tracks like ‘You Are Alone’ would come off as damn near nihilistic. As it is, Coyne – on top form, as ever – lends an extra dimension to proceedings, making the album feel full when some of its more adventurous melodies (‘Butterfly, How Long’) become a little rectum-gazing. Spend some time with it and expect to be rewarded, but The Flaming Lips do feel like they’re being intentionally difficult on this album, even if it’s to often striking effect.
Nails – Abandon All Life
When I was in college, I was a real metalhead. I was into the sort of cranium-crushing, hernia-inducing, blood-quickening death metal that would make the Reaper himself feel a little bit of penis envy. Bands like Job For A Cowboy, who are the musical equivalent of a lethal injection. I hadn’t listened to a new metal album in years when Anthony Fantano at The Needle Drop recommended the new Nails LP, which is 17-minutes of remorseless, punishing hardcore. And boy, is it fucking brilliant.
Discussing individual tracks is difficult, as Abandon All Life feels like one massive boiling pot of emotions and melodies – some songs here clock it at under a minute, with ‘Cry Wolf’ lasting only 24 seconds. It’ll come as no surprise to learn that it’s one of the most vicious on the album. But it’s not just senseless noise – ‘Wide Open Wound’ is a primer on the band’s overall sound, building from the threat of violence into actual violence through carefully constructed riffs and vocals – the whispered defeat of frontman Todd Jones explodes into one of his most aggressive vocals, where he thrashes almost as hard as the raw, dirty guitars (but again, listen to the detail of this track’s end, as the guitar strangles itself into a dark, plummeting collapse). Closing track ‘Suum Cuique’ is equally layered, closing the album with an amazing guitar solo which reaches for the heavens before relocating to the band’s natural home… hell.
Those looking for a place to vent their aggression will want Abandon All Life playing on a loop, but the immaculate production, instrumental ferocity and the band’s undeniable passion will provide plenty of rewards for those looking to spend some more intimate time with this album. One for real hardcore fans, and I might just have to reinvestigate the genre’s current scene as a result of it.
The Doppelgangaz – HARK
HARK, the latest full length from enigmatic boom-bap duo Doppelgangaz, hasn’t enjoyed much advance hype in the UK, but it’s the most accomplished hip-hop album of the year thus far, casting a long shadow even over Aspects fantastic comeback LP, Left Hand Path.
HARK‘s production is notably starkers, stripped back to hip-hop’s bare necessities – samples are sparse and unobtrusive, guest MC’s uninvited, and you’ll find nothing to organise the album narratively à la Kendrick Lamar. From beginning to end this is an album of thick instrumentation and heavy feedback. In fact, two of the duo’s past releases were straightforward instrumentals (listen to the drums on ‘Hark Back’ and ‘Us 2 Da Man’ and tell me that wasn’t obvious), but what stands out here are the heavy, chewed-up vocals, spat out in a throaty new yawwk accent. Album highlight ‘Barbiturates’ drops a gorgeous soul sample to underline the harshness of the lead vocal, creating an unlikely and catchy harmony which, were it 1993, would quickly become the sound of summer. It’s a stunning track, and after it not even the hazy, sunshine-and-dope vibe of ‘Smang Life’ can recapture its magic.
Not that the rest of HARK is bad. In fact, across its meticulously measured 37 minutes, the only album which can match it this year for density and craftsmanship, evoking so much with seemingly so little, it the latest effort from Danish post-punk outfit Iceage, You’re Nothing. This stands as an extraordinary blueprint of what’s to come from Doppelgangaz, and is a lush, atmospheric record in its own right, perfectly suited to being cranked-up through your speakers or dialed-down through headphones. The landing of their next LP might not be so muted.