Album Reviews

Drop Everything and Listen to Big Fish Theory Right Now

Vince Staples has not missed a beat. In the same vein as Summertime ’06 (and half as long), the industrial sound has a champion in Long Beach’s very own. His new album Big Fish Theory misses no beats and is incredible. Not much can be put into words on how Staples takes sounds that should not sound good and crafts masterpieces. Staples continues to blend many themes and emotions throughout this album, something that has been prevalent in his earlier work. Early favorites are “Alyssa Interlude”, “Love Can Be”, and the Kendrick-assisted “Yeah Right”.

There are a few weak spots on the album, namely “Homage”. And while Vince’s ability to jump around in theme is a hallmark of his work, this album seemed slightly more disjointed than ’06.

But this is still one of the best albums of the year. Staples continues his hot streak of music and this album is sure to become a cult-classic. It is one that you need to hear in order to truly understand.

 

The Melodic Tree’s Top Six Albums of the Year

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1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

2016 was a break-out year for Will Toledo, aka Car Seat Headrest, whether it was signing to Matador Records to releasing Teens of Denial, their second on the label and first that consisted of entirely new material. On their thirteenth album, Toledo’s lyrics are, as always, emotional and reflective, looking at his dealing with mental illness and dealing with the inevitable feeling of dread that has been a recurring theme throughout this album and their previous 12. In the opening track, “Fill in the Blank,” Toledo goes on to say: “You have no right to be depressed. You haven’t tried hard enough to like it. Haven’t seen enough of this world yet. But it hurts, it hurts, it hurts, it hurts. Well stop your whining, try again.” The idea of no one truly understanding his depression and what is going on inside his head repeats back and forth in this song until the outro when he affirms he has a right to be depressed and that he has tried to fight it. This reflectiveness is not uncommon for Toledo in the third track on Teens in Denial, “Vincent,” where he talks about googling his depression and his previous albums, especially the track, “We Can’t Afford (Your Depression Anymore)” on his album, Nervous Young Man. This cleaner sounding and breakout album from Car Seat Headrest is just the beginning of what will be even more critcal success for the band in the future.

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2. Bon Iver – 22 A Million

The highly anticipated return of Bon Iver and follow up to 2011’s self-titled, 22 A Million, heads in a completely different direction than what Justin Vernon has done in his history. However, it is somewhat expected from Bon Iver as For Emma, Forever Ago, showed what Vernon could do alone, not including what he released previously under his own name, and Bon Iver showed what could be done with a full band and recording with more people. 22 A Million shows what Vernon can do as a musician and what the band can do outside the realms they built for themselves in indie folk. This turn to a more experimental and somewhat strange new sound that Bon Iver brings to the table with this album is an interesting new step in what might be a new era of the band.

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3. Mitski – Puberty 2

The 25-year-old singer-songwriter, Mitski’s fourth studio album discusses the struggles of being happy from day to day, especially shown on the track, “My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars,” where she sings: “I don’t know how I’m gonna pay rent. I wanna see the whole world. Would you kill me, Jerusalem.” The lyrics go on to talk about how she hopes she does well in a job interview and the stereotypical interviewee line “I work better under deadlines” being repeated. This sort of trying to find something to grasp onto in order to find some sort of happiness in the cloud of depression and anxiety is a recurring theme throughout this album as Mitski shows off her chaotically good sound that she has had across her discography.

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4. The Growlers – City Club

The Growlers, have always managed to combine “country, surf pop and rock” all into one, something that is somewhat trademark to them and lead to the definition of their sound, “Beach Goth” to a popular festival under the same name. The industrial-esque funkiness of “I’ll Be Around” allows it to be one of the best tracks on the albums. Another notable track is “Neverending Line” because of how seemingly miserable the chorus sounds: “It’s the end of a line. Another shit job. Another piss-stained room. Another tomb. Another city. Hardly make it to the other side. Just to find, it ain’t so pretty.” The darkness of this song encompasses the album and its mood in what seemed to be one of the somewhat slower tracks.

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5. Iji – Bubble

The almost always upbeatness of iji’s (pronounced “eehee”) latest album, Bubble, is the perfect album for anyone in need for the perfectly groovy pop album. The song, “Wild Music,” is particularly a favorite, where the singer, guitarist, and saxophonist, talks about wanting to “play the saxophone in your band” and the fluidity of this track is both is invigorating as it gets to the two-minute mark and soothing at the same time. This eccentrically melodic pop album is erratic as they masterfully maneuver through these weird but engrossing 13 tracks.

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6. The Washboard Abs – Have U Scanned Ur Club Card

Denver-born and Olympia-based, The Washboard Abs’ Have U Scanned Ur Club Card gracefully goes through bedroom indie music as Clarke Sondermann sings somber and reflective lyrics in the seemingly melancholic backing tracks. The song, “Window,” is the perfect example on this album as the lyrics are earnest (i.e.“Early in the morning but later in the day, your brother snoring the sky will slowly grey, and I will drink my coffee and I will try to say I think about you often I hope you’re not okay”) and yet it is a seemingly warm song with the guitar repeats. The third track, “Sugar Skulls” differs n the sense that it is somewhat more upbeat and the Sondermann’s lyrics talk about self-destruction. They are one of our favorite local bands and it makes sense why they are on the rise and opening for bigger and bigger indie bands.

FREE 6LACK, a review

6LACK is one of few new rappers coming forth with substance, plain and simple. In the meme era of virality and mumble rappers, it can be difficult to find new rap that actually has something to say. 6LACK (born Ricardo Valentine) on the other hand, a 24-year-old Atlanta rapper, attempts to weave a story of his recent life with his newly released album FREE 6LACK. Having just gotten out of a disastrous record deal that saw him not be able to release music for five years. The new album also paints a picture of love and loss. Songs like “PRBLMS” and “Ex Calling” speak on the problems of dating and loving in a digital age.

One must realize the necessity for the kind of music that he is putting forth. In each “class” of up and coming rappers, there are certain roles that need to be filled. The most important role would have to be that of the one with something important to actually say. 6LACK fills this role in the age of over-production and underwritten lyrics. His almost Frank Ocean-esque way of crooning into the mic on some of the slower songs deeply affects the listener, almost as if he is speaking directly to the listener. This is most shown in the song “Learn Ya.”

All in all, 6LACK’s FREE 6LACK is an important album for 2016. In a year where it felt like rap and the world were falling apart, an album with true feelings and emotions from someone new was a much-needed respite. Give it a listen.

 

The Melodic Tree’s top 10 albums of 2015

10. Wanted On Voyage – George Ezra: There is something about George Ezra’s low, fairly surprising voice that captured the hearts of his fans that lead to his ultimate widespread success on this album. Songs like his hit “Budapest” gives the aura of him being from another era and not a British twenty-something. The variety of the album while also maintaining its simplicity makes it accessible to a wider range of audience.

9. Currents – Tame Impala: Tame Impala returned on this album with as much ambition as they had before. They have returned with their familiar sound but somehow managed to come back fresh and the band never seems to fail and experimenting with their music without much disappointment.

8. If I Should Go Before You – City & Colour: Maybe this album is on the because Dallas Green never seems to fail at pulling at the heartstrings of everyone who comes across his music, however, this album seems to maintain a much more electric sound compared to his previous releases. But, the lyrics stay true to his much praised sound and maintains his classic voice while transitioning to this new sound.

7. Nathaniel Ratecliff & The Night Sweat – Nathaniel Ratecliff and The Night Sweats: It’s such a strange happening when a band like this releases an album so strong and have a song named “S.O.B.” about drinking after a breakup. However, this didn’t take away from his massive voice is overwhelming and is accompanied by what sounds like a band that belongs to a soul artist at the start of that era. This album is one that helping lead the way to new soul becoming more and more popular.

6. All We Need – Raury: It’s hard to find such an ambitious 19 year-old who can have such an eclectic sound on an album. Combing soul, hip-hop, and folk, Raury genre hops throughout the album and never seems to miss a beat of it. The lyrics stay the main catch as the transition between melancholia,  especially in tracks like “Forbidden Knowledge,” and optimism as the album progresses.

5. Vestiges & Claws – José González: In the subtle layers in each song, his voice stays soft and calm with cyclical guitar. The track “The Forest” features the flute and cello which seem to add the sense of solitude that is recurrent in the album. Even though his songs are gradual, the have massive themes including how to situate in the world and making your voice heard.

4. I Love You, Honeybear – Father John Misty: As a sincere ode to his wife, Father John Misty demonstrated the intimacy and attachment he has felt towards her through of it. The stand-out track on the LP is the hit, “Chateau Lobby #4 (In C for Two Virgins)” where he displays this grand sound through brass and strings.

3. Prom King – Skylar Spence: Ever since transitioning from Saint Pepsi to his current stage name, the sound that comes from Prom King seems to be the monument that seems to suit such a name. This type of nu disco sound is hard to discover anywhere else and seems to focus thematically on love, which especially shown in tracks like “Fall Harder.” Skylar Spence fulfills wishes that any fan would want to hear on this first album under the name.

2. The Epic – Kamasi Washington: Kamasi Washington’s jazz debut is one of a kind and seems to move seemingly track after track. Even at three hours, the album has a smooth energy to it, never letting it feel like it should be any less. Every aspect of the album seems to be meticulously put together, which makes it such a compositional overload. Such a jazz album now is hard to come by and with the sound it has, it sounds similar to those that influenced him as a child. No matter what is going on, The Epic seems to never disappoint.

1. To Pimp A Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar: Kendrick Lamar probably had the most groundbreaking year with this album. It maintains this cinematic way of incorporating various themes, dealing heavily with racism, and networking various dramas and different characters. Lamar has this overarching tone of chaos and wryness, sometimes may it be all at once, but under the chaos, there is the narration of avoidance of the manifestation of the devil, Lucy and saying his fame has not helped his family at home.

Winter – Vancouver Sleep Clinic

18-year-old Tim Bettinson, better known by his adopted moniker as Vancouver Sleep Clinic, is an ambient artist who’s new EP, Winter resembles a cold, reclusive, winter day. Created over months of writing and recording, Winter is a chilly EP and has soaring falsettos that are greeted with synthy instrumentation, there is obvious Justin Vernon/Bon Iver influences scattered across Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s sound. However, this similarity does not takeaway from this EP’s individuality and these six beautiful tracks shows that Winter is only the beginning of this young musician’s sound.

With soaring falsettos, the vocals on this EP are stunning and throughout Winter, the vocals keep its distance while maintaining the focus of the EP on them. The lyrics on this EP evokes a feeling of winter, much like its namesake, and with his pop influences, Bettinson sings about love. Even as the EP grows in shape, with growing instrumentation and differentiating rhythms, Winter maintains sincere and vulnerable lyrics. The airiness in Bettinson’s voice gives a frosty and solemn mood to the EP. With vague narratives, allowing the listener to interpret the songs in their own way, the themes throughout Winter are clear and yet, never overpowering.

Exploring atmospheric pop, the melodies in Winter are beautiful and emotional, with expressive guitars and gentle piano. Rhythms consist of simple drum beats and glitch pads. A constant percussion section throughout Winter keeps the EP from falling into As the EP progresses tracks such as “Vapour” explodes as the song moves forward into its climax with broader instrumentation. Bettinson’s music is far from minimalistic, there is always room for evolving in his sound, especially on this EP. It is a tough move to insert an interlude, “(Aftermath),” for an up-and-coming artist, especially on a six-track album, but, on this EP, Bettinson seems to know that it will fit and hence, inserts it with beauty.

No matter if you love Bon Iver or not, there is something in Vancouver Sleep Clinic’s sound that is worth listening to.

Turn Blue – The Black Keys

There’s something about the Black Keys that keeps people coming back to their music, whether it is their bluesy vocals or their raw garage rock instrumentation. On their eighth-studio and newest album, Turn Blue, the Black Keys show more psychedelic and soul influence. The Black Keys consist of the duo, Dan Auerbach, guitar and vocals, and Patrick Carney, drums. Even with different sounds and influences in Turn Blue, there is still elements of the classic blues-rock sound of the Black Keys. Much of the song-writing revolved around Auerbach’s messy and highly publicized divorce, giving the album a much more moodier tone to it.

Lyrically, Turn Blue varies between simplistic story telling, such as in the track, “Fever,” and a narrative about heartbreak, especially in the nearly seven minute long opener, “Weight of Love.” However, this variety and sort of accessibility gives these tracks a fresh feel to them. The lyrical shift from record to record for the Black Keys is dramatic undoubtedly because of the emotional impact on Auerbach after his divorce in 2013. The lyrics are straightforward and Auerbach delivers these with the same vocals he has in virtually all of the Black Keys’ previous albums.

With a take on a more soulful sound while sticking to their typical blues rock tone. The coexistence of the Auerbach’s guitar and Carney’s drumming blends together fluidly as much as the Black Keys’ previous releases. The guitar riffs are  smart and fluid and Auerbach has developed a style that unique to him. Carney’s understanding drumming meets the guitar with shifting tempos and beats that hard to beat. The bass lines on Turn Blue is one of the strongest elements to this album, giving it a much funkier sound than if it stood back behind the drums and guitar.

“Gotta Get Away” is a bold finish to this slow album but with this upbeat song, it seems to remind listeners that although Turn Blue is a drastic step away from the old Black Keys, they still have what drew them in in the first place.

Singles – Future Islands

It is hard to resist the emotional synthpop sound of Baltimore-based trio, Future Islands. Even on their fourth and newest album, Singles, Future Islands can still pull the heartstrings of anyone who listens to their potent music. Meeting while studying in Greenville, North Carolina, the trio consists of Gerrit Welmers (keyboards and programming), William Cashion (bass, acoustic and electric guitars), and Samuel T. Herring (vocals). Future Islands, especially on Singles, have a sound similar to early Killers albums.

Future Islands’ performance on “Late Show with David Letterman” was a landmark for their career as it was the most viewed musical guest in the show’s history. This performance is undoubtedly a showing of the band’s powerful music, especially Herring’s singing and dancing, which seems to have had the most influence in getting the band as much attention as they have been getting recently.

Herring has a vocal delivery that is unparalleled among other singers as he has a sort of growl in his voice and conveys a certain emotional depth that is hard to find elsewhere. With songs about devastating heartbreak, Herring plays with the lyrics in a melodramatic way. He grinds his voice throughout the album and during Future Islands’ live performances, and gives off an emotion that is hard to find elsewhere. Herring’s impulsive singing seems to bring the album together as he pulls in listeners with his attitude.

With seemingly blissful melodies that leave listeners in awe, there is something about the instrumentation on Singles that sets Future Islands into something that is unique. Cashion’s bass lines have a voice of their own in this album and seems to give the band  a much bigger sound. “Fall From Grace,” one of the last songs on the album, has a spotlight on Cashion’s guitar and with the slow tempo of this song, there seems to be a much more sorrowful tone on this track compared to the other songs, which is a considerable feat considering all of the songs deal with such melodramatic themes.

Leaving the listener in a cross between joy and sorrow, Future Islands is one of the few bands that can bring on so many emotions at once in one album. Whether it is the powerful vocals of Herring or the vast instrumentation by Welmers and Cashion, this album is sentimental and yet, restrained at the same time, therefore giving it an ecstatic sound to it.