It seems to be the nature of the world to chafe at any spot of contentment in your life, and Born on Flag Day captures that sense of being at odds with your surroundings as well as any release this year. It’s a feeling of conflict that exists in every part of the band’s music: the faster songs feel like they’re about to run off the rails, sharp lyrics lurk in the slower songs just waiting for their chance to cut to the bone, and vocalist John Joseph McCauley conveys it all with an acute, nasally rasp. Born on Flag Day is an album with a lot of stories to tell, and its characters—from the regret-filled grandfather of “Song About a Man” to the slacker lovers of “Friday XIII”—offer insight into the bad choices we make, and why we might be making them.
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It’s a music writer cliché to say that something takes a genre from the past and makes it fresh again, but the shoe—or the neon blue shades—fits with LA’s Dam-Funk. His resuscitation of ‘80s R&B and boogie provided for hands down the best music of the summer, instrumentals that glisten and glide with burbling bass and greasy synth solos that in a perfect world would last forever. But what’s best about Dam-Funk is that he’s reverent of his funk heroes without allowing that to bog him down. Instead, he uses their music as the blueprint for an intergalactic strand of instrumental hip-hop that is distinctly his. There is a song here called “Searchin’ 4 Funk’s Future”—it’s nine minutes long and two hours of music come after it. I think Riddick is too humble to realize that he might be it.
Forget 2012. If 2009 marked the apocalypse, Scars would make a fantastic send-off for planet Earth. In their dependably inimitable manner, Basement Jaxx have crafted an album that fuses together beats of numerous styles and orientations. Scars distills a good half-century’s worth of dance music from around the world—ska, Euro-pop, bhangra—and funnels it through the genius of Felix Buxton and Simon Racliffe. Santigold, Yoko Ono, and Yo Majesty lead a motley crew of guests who bring a distinct flavor to each production, which makes singling out one defining track a futile enterprise. However, if today is all we had, and tomorrow ceased to exist, I know I’d want to face my mortality with the voices of Sam Sparro (“Feelings Gone”) and Lightspeed Champion (“My Turn”) leading the way.
(Hidden Shoal Recordings)
The cliché ‘all killer, no filler’ is often bandied around with very little to back it up. In the case of Mukaizake’s stunning new release Unknown Knowns, the cliché applies. Unknown Knowns kicks off with the fuzzy propulsion of single ‘The Yeah Conditioner’, immediately launching the listener into Mukaizake’s compelling corner of the musical universe. This is serpentine indie-rock at its finest, weaving hook after hook around your chest until you’re suspended from the clouds, a grin plastered across your face, unable to even think about listening to anything else.
“Part math-rock, part jangly dream-pop, the six songs are a beguiling dive into the oceanic sounds of 90’s indie rock. Vocalists Geoff Symons and Erickson can both actually sing with clarity, lending the songs a sort of choirboy purity, even when singing about slashing tyres… The outcome is a pristine and intelligent composite of sounds old and new… It’s a heady combination.” – Rave Magazine.
1. The Yeah Conditioner (Single)
2. Rule Norse
3. Corporal Steam
5. My Friend Flicker
6. Slack Bees
The Yeah Conditioner [MP3]
It took Antony Hegarty four years to follow the breakthrough success of I Am a Bird Now with The Crying Light, but in terms of the internal thematic landscape of the songs, it feels light years ahead of its predecessor. Hegarty largely abandons issues of gender ambiguity here for a bruising, heartfelt examination of man and his relationship to nature, infused with a sense of deep spirituality and longing. Uncertainties be damned: his artistic leap pays off boundlessly. Keeping his musings eloquently grounded in supple arrangements that utilize woodwinds, strings, and his ever-prescient piano, these songs soar in their introspective wanderlust, guiding us with genuine awe into each question Antony spiels forth in his disarming, wounded voice. Alternating between languid yet beautiful ballads and swirling piano-pop shuffles, Hegarty keeps our interest as much for the subtle shades he adds to his fully-realized musical vision as his philosophical ruminations. As an artist, he may forever cloud himself in an aura of enigma, playfully sprouting double entendres with his clever songwriting and arrangements; yet with each project, he reveals multi-dimensional facets that are as intriguing as they are dazzling. Those willing to follow him ever-further down his own eccentric paths are assured to be as comforted and rewarded by what they find as they are challenged by what they hear.