With Heavy Blog having changed the kind of content we publish and how we publish it, we’ve decided to retire our recurring Unmetal Monday column in favor of more ongoing/mercurial coverage of unmetal genres like indie rock, alternative, EDM, and more. One of the side effects of this is that we no longer had a central place to write about new music and albums from these kinds of artists/bands in a more informal way – things we might want to talk about but not necessarily in long-form. In light of that and our tradition of combining certain metal releases into groups to form “Rapidfire Reviews,” we’ve established this semi-regular column to take three recent or upcoming releases from the world of “indie” in the pejorative sense and offer some quick takes on them. In our latest Indie Rapidfire Roundup, contributor Mike McMahan and editors Nick Cusworth and Scott Murphy offer their thoughts on three very different, yet all well-anticipated albums: La Sera‘s Queens, Nicolas Jaar‘s Sirens and Preoccupations self-titled debut.
Katy Goodman is having the best year ever. But Todd Wisenbaker is having an outstanding year, too.
Goodman is the frontwoman for Los Angeles indie rockers La Sera, and has dropped three releases this year. La Sera released the Ryan Adams-produced Music For Listening To Music To in March. Then, in August, it was a duo covers album for Goodman and Greta Morgan, Take It, It’s Yours. The album featured Goodman’s now-trademark folksy jangle pop on surprising choices like Bad Brains’ “Pay To Cum,” Misfits‘ “Where Eagles Dare” and Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell.” On the heels of these, La Sera has now released an EP, Queens, which highlights Wisenbaker, Goodman’s guitar slinger husband, and his contributions to the band. If there was any doubt about this intent, Wisenbaker appears on a La Sera album cover for the first time, whereas previous releases featured only Goodman.
The band recorded the EP immediately after returning from tour, and their nightly performances bringing the rock have clearly influenced Queens. The EP kicks off with the title track and leaves no doubt as to why the song was chosen as the EP’s namesake. It is a full-fledged duet between Goodman and Wisenbaker, and the confidence in Wisenbaker’s space-cowboy-by-way-of-California-hippie voice is evident, and he delivers his strongest vocal performance to date. The contrast between his voice in the verse and Goodman’s on the catchy chorus is very effective.
The EP continues with “Magic In Your Eyes” a solid addition to the band’s canon, though it is the least noteworthy track. The next two tracks are re-recordings of songs that appeared on Music, “Shadow Of Your Love” and “I Need An Angel.” The songs are cheekily re-titled here, with “Shadow Of Your Love (Slight Return)” gaining a bit of oomph from the live workouts. However “I Really Need An Angel” vaults into the upper echelon of the band’s tracks and showcases Wisenbaker in full force. His roadhouse vocals benefit from a dose of the road and he adds an absolutely ripping guitar solo in a brand new coda that ups the swagger. The song leads into a brief run-through of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” which combines a ghostly, detached performance from Goodman with Wisenbaker nailing the classic Page leads. The song suffers only from a very brief running time, wrapping up at less than three minutes, making it in some ways a tease, especially considering the strength of what is there.
As a whole, Queens is a fun exclamation point on Goodman’s great year that also serves as a snapshot in time of a growing band.
Electronic/ambient artist Nicolas Jaar has been busy since formally announcing that his collaboration project with guitarist Dave Harrington, the incredible DARKSIDE, was going on hiatus late 2014. Last year he released two film scores, one as an alternate imagining of the score to the 1969 film The Color of Pomegranates, and the other to filmmaker Jacques Audiard’s Dheepan, which took the top award at Cannes that same year. He also released a series of singles under the collective name Nymphs. It’s only just now though that Jaar is releasing his first proper solo LP since 2011’s Space Is Only Noise, the album that brought him to prominence originally. That album, Sirens, continues down the spaced-out, psychedelic house path Jaar has been floating down for years, but it’s not without a few tricks up its sleeve.
Opener “Killing Time,” with its cascading piano lines, crooned falsetto, and glitchy fits of noise, is perhaps the most familiar touchpoint of the album for Jaar and fans of DARKSIDE. It’s a serenely brooding and surreal piece, befitting lyrics speaking of a boy named Ahmed in handcuffs and money needing its middle class. What follows in “The Governor” is far more driving, Jaar’s monotonous half-singing/half-spoken word delivery serving as the engine that ignites the cavalcade of drum and bass noise, glitches, and some unidentifiably warped woodwind. It might not want to make you dance as much as have an existential freakout, but it’s a fascinating change of pace nonetheless.
“No” is another curveball, as Jaar dips into an understated Latin-inspired groove and builds an awfully fun and compelling space to lose yourself in and shuffle about. The track is sung in his native Spanish and flanked by audio clips that sound like old family recordings of himself and perhaps his father, helping further the dreamy feeling of nostalgia throughout. Like “The Governor,” following track “Three Sides of Nazareth” breaks the reveries with a pulsating, heavier beat, though this time midway through it devolves into a pool of ambient stream of consciousness before snapping back to attention. It’s an immensely fun and well-constructed piece, certainly a high point for the album outside of “Killing Time.” Closer “History Lesson” is a bit of a head-scratcher in its sudden switch to deconstructed doo-wop and makes for a somewhat awkward way to end the whole thing, but it still remains entertaining. Sirens never quite coalesces around any particular musical theme or set of sounds, but it’s yet another effective showcase of the sheer diversity and talents of Jaar’s eclectic musicality. By constantly daring to go places where this kind of house-indebted electronic rarely goes, he’s able to lure you in with familiar markers of the genre but ultimately grabs you and keeps you guessing with what he does with them.
Preoccupations’ debut is a resurrection record. Those familiar with the band’s trajectory will know the literal element of this statement – the actual (Women) and nominal (Viet Cong) deaths of two previous bands led to the dreary slab of post-punk that lies before us. But more important than the notches on the band’s timeline are the stretches in between, when their sound morphed from noisy, psychedelia-tinged post punk under the Women banner into the noticeably darker, “labyrinthine” take on the genre with 2015’s self-titled Viet Cong record. And just over a year and a half later, the quartet demonstrates just how much of a harbinger Viet Cong was for its successor.
Be warned – this isn’t a charming post punk record with quirky, upbeat melodies abound. This is the man on the cover of Bauhaus’ In the Flat Field using his metal pipe to suck every last ounce of joy out of The Cure while Joy Division drowns out any additional background noise. The ensuing sound is one soaked in viscous, suffocating post punk tinted with the sound of melody disintegrating rather than being created anew.
Each of the tracks here takes the breadth of what the genre has to offer and presents it in an ignorable manner. From the opening dirge of “Anxiety” to a numbing drone capping off “Memory” to the quick-hitting lamentations of “Sense” and “Forbidden,” there’s never any doubt that Preoccupations feel every ounce of what post punk purports to represent.
But what truly draws this all together is bassist Matt Flegel’s monotone sneer – a confrontational snarl to the world and its cruel indifference delivered with the hopelessness of Ian Curtis soured by the attitude of Iggy Pop and Lou Reed. It’s the kind of delivery that grounds post punk as cathartic from of inner easement, aimed to pour every bit of sorrow out in hopes of an effective self-cleanse. Hopefully Flegel and the band have satisfied themselves enough with this record to retain both their name and the success that Preoccupations has to offer.