AF 2018 IN REVIEW: Our Favorite Albums and Singles of the Year

Here we are again! As the new year approaches, it’s time to look back and take stock of the albums and singles that defined this moment in music history. 2018 was an eclectic year, to say the least, and there are a lot of new names on the list: Tirzah, Snail Mail, Soccer Mommy, Noname, King Princess, and Kali Uchis all had phenomenal debuts this year, not to mention the inimitable Cardi B, who made good on the promise of last year’s smash hit “Bodak Yellow” with Invasion of Privacy in April. There were established artists who still managed to surprise us, whether in the form of unearthed Prince demos, The Arctic Monkeys’ loungey sci-fi concept album, Tim Hecker introducing us to ancient Japanese court music, Dev Hynes making his most personal Blood Orange record yet, or Lil Wayne finally dropping Tha Carter V. And then there are those artists who fall somewhere in between, their ascendant careers a thrill to watch as 2018 saw them finally hit their stride. US Girls. Yves Tumor. serpentwithfeet. And perhaps most spectacularly, Mitski and Janelle Monáe.

As each of our writers (and editors, too) created their own mini-lists, those were two names that kept cropping up, and there’s no doubt you’ve seen them on just about every year-end list on the interwebs. If there’s any chance you haven’t heard Be The Cowboy or Dirty Computer, by all means, fire up that Spotify Premium post haste. But the recommendations here are as diverse as our writers themselves, so we hope you’ll take time to explore some of the lesser-known, hardly hyped artists we’ve highlighted, too – and keep your eyes peeled for more year-end coverage as we cruise in to 2019.

EDITOR LISTS

  • Marianne White (Executive Director)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) boygenuis – boygenius
    2) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    3) Nenah Cherry – Broken Politics
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) serpentwithfeet – soil
    6) CupcakKE – Ephorize
    7) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    8) Autechre – NTS Sessions 1-4
    9) Snail Mail – Lush
    10) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Let’s Eat Grandma – “Hot Pink”
    2) Jon Hopkins – “Emerald Rush”
    3) The Internet – “Look What You Started”
    4) Cardi B, Bad Bunny, J Balvin – “I Like It”
    5) boygenius – “Bite The Hand”

  • Lindsey Rhoades (Editor-in-Chief)

    Top 10 Albums:
    1) Low – Double Negative
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Madeline Kenney – Perfect Shapes 
    4) Yves Tumor – Safe In The Hands of Love
    5) DJ Koze – Knock Knock
    6) Caroline Rose – Loner
    7) Tim Hecker – Konoyo
    8) Virginia Wing – Ecstatic Arrow
    9) Frigs – Basic Behaviour
    10) bedbug – i’ll count to heaven in years without seasons
    Top 10 Singles:
    1) Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Loma – “Black Willow”
    3) The Breeders – “All Nerve”
    4) SOPHIE – “Is It Cold In The Water?”
    5) Jonathan Wilson – “Loving You”
    6) Empath – “The Eye”
    7) Sibile Attar – “Paloma”
    8) Jono Ma & Dreems – “Can’t Stop My Dreaming (Of You)”
    9) Shopping – “Discover”
    10) Ed Schrader’s Music Beat – “Dunce”

  • Mandy Brownholtz (Social Media)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Miserable – Lover Boy/Dog Days
    2) Snail Mail – Lush
    3) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    4) Teyana Taylor – K.T.S.E.
    5) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Nothing – “Blue Line Baby”
    2) Hinds – “The Club”
    3) Mitski – “Nobody”

  • Lauren Zambri (Events)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Amen Dunes – Freedom
    2) US Girls – In A Poem Unlimited
    3) Beach House – 7
    4) Iceage – Beyondless
    5) Tirzah – Devotion
    Top 5 Singles:
    1) Jenny Hval – “Spells”
    2) US Girls – “Velvet 4 Sale”
    3) Yves Tumor – “Licking An Orchid”
    4) Amen Dunes – “Believe”
    5) Low – “Always Trying to Work it Out”

STAFF LISTS

  • Ashley Prillaman (Premieres, AudioMama)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Alice Ivy – I’m Dreaming
    2) Sudan Archives – Sink
    3) Marlon Williams – Make Way For Love
    4) Earth Girl Helen Brown – Venus
    5) Rüfüs Du Sol – Solace
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Rhye – “Taste”
    2) Alice Ivy – “Chasing Stars”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Tarra Thiessen (Check the Spreadsheet)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) DRINKS – Hippo Lite
    2) Shannon & the Clams – Onion
    3) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction
    4) Prince – Piano & a Microphone 1983 
    5) Sloppy Jane – Willow
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Public Practice – “Fate/Glory”
    2) The Nude Party – “Chevrolet Van”
    3) Big Bliss – “Surface”

  • Natalie Kirch (Pet Politics)

    Top 10 Releases Out of the Brooklyn DIY Scene (in Chronological Order):
    1) THICK — Would You Rather? (Self-Released)
    2) BODEGA — Endless Scroll (What’s Your Rupture?)
    3) Baked — II (Exploding In Sound)
    4) Pecas — After Dark (Broken Circles)
    5) Big Bliss – At Middle Distance (Exit Stencil Recordings)
    6) Kevin Hairs — Freak In The Streets (GP Stripes)
    7) PILL – Soft Hell (Mexican Summer)
    8) Stove – ‘s Favorite Friend (Exploding In Sound)
    9) Lost Boy ? – Paranoid Fiction (Little Dickman Records/ Rich Moms)
    10) Janet LaBelle – I Only See You (Loantaka Records)

  • Sara Barron (Playing Detroit)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Kali Uchis – Isolation
    2) Blood Orange – Negro Swan
    3) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    4) Mitski – Be the Cowboy
    5) Noname – Room 25
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Ama Lou – “Tried Up”
    2) Britney Stoney – “OD”
    3) Janelle Monáe – “PYNK”

  • Luci Turner (Playing Atlanta)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) The Arctic Monkeys – Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
    2) The 1975 – A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships
    3) Charles Bradley – Black Velvet
    4) Brandi Carlile – By The Way, I Forgive You
    5) Jack White – Boarding House Reach
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) The Raconteurs – “Now That You’re Gone”
    2) Mac Miller – “2009”
    3) Dead Naked Hippies – “Rare”

  • Victoria Moorwood (Playing Cincy)

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    2) Lil Wayne – Tha Carter V
    3) J. Cole – KOD
    4) Preme – Light of Day
    5) Jazz Cartier – Fleurever
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Lil Wayne feat. Reginae Carter – “Famous”
    2) Cardi B – “Thru Your Phone”
    3) J. Cole – “Brackets”

  • Desdemona Dallas

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Noname – Room 25
    2) Flatbush Zombies – Vacation In Hell
    3) Mountain Man – Magic Ship
    4) Lucy Dacus – Historian
    5) Nao – Saturn
    Top 3 Singles:
    1)  Janelle Monáe – “Make Me Feel”
    2) Twin Shadow – “Saturdays”
    3) Sudan Archives – “Nont For Sale”

  • Erin Rose O’Brien

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski — Be The Cowboy
    2) Antarctigo Vespucci — Love in the Time of E-mail
    3) Car Seat Headrest — Twin Fantasy
    4) Soccer Mommy — Clean
    5) Janelle Monáe — Dirty Computer
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) Bad Moves — “Cool Generator”
    2) The Beths — “Future Me Hates Me”
    3) Miya Folick — “Stop Talking”

  • Ysabella Monton

    Top 5 Albums:
    1) Mitski – Be The Cowboy
    2) Janelle Monáe – Dirty Computer
    3) Brockhampton – Iridescence
    4) Soccer Mommy – Clean
    5) Cardi B – Invasion of Privacy
    Top 3 Singles:
    1) King Princess – “1950”
    2) Childish Gambino – “This is America”
    3) Pusha T – “If You Know You Know”

ONLY NOISE: Like A Summer Thursday

One of my favorite descriptions of summer, particularly its languid, melancholy months, comes from Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana: “Summer unfolds slowly,” DeLillo writes, “a carpeted silence rolling out across expanding steel, and the days begin to rhyme, distance swelling with the bridges, heat bending the air, small breaks in the pavement, those days when nothing seems to live on the earth but butterflies, the tranquilized mantis, the spider scaling the length of the mudcaked broken rake inside the dark garage.”

This of course is not the summer of your childhood, spent racing to the river, camping out on the trampoline, and picking salmon berries in the woods. It’s a slower summer; the passage of time stifled by heat and concrete, and the knowledge that as an adult, the only distinguishing aspect of the season is its boiling sun andif you’re luckyan abbreviated Friday at the office. During these months I tend to favor tunes that match the heat in grime and delirium, rather than turn up to the tempo of summer jamz (who really needs to cue those up anyway, when they’re blaring from every idling car come August?). For me, summer is a season of slower music, mimicking the sluggish pace of trudging through the sweltering city, and dreaming of a place with more treesor at least cheaper booze. For all the like-minded, hot weather sloths, here are five records to get lost in this summer.  

Van Morrison, Astral Weeks, 1968

For me this record is synonymous with waking early up in a sun-filled room and shaping a slow and quiet day; making a pot of coffee, scrambling some eggs, and lazing about. Van Morrison’s 1968 freeform masterpiece blooms with verdant imagery so beautiful it is agonizing, and while I’ve probably listened to it in full more than any other record, its transportative nature always manages to take me to a place I’ve never been before. The meandering phrases of flute, saxophone, guitar, and bass make you feel like you’ve wandered an unknown region of the world without so much as stirring from your couch. Perfect for the days when it’s too hot to venture outside.

Astral Weeks feels as much a part of the sky as and stars as it does the earth. On its centerpiece “Cyprus Avenue,” spare bass roots the song into the dirt, while plinks of harpsichord and fluttering woodwind lift it skyward. It is an aching portrayal of love so painful that its narrator endures multiple bouts of complete paralysis: “And I’m conquered in a car seat/Not a thing that I can do,” Morrison sings. “Cyprus Avenue” is one of the most precise depictions of new lovesomething that summer can rot just as easily as ripen. The title track, which opens the eight-song cycle, is a (slightly) less heartbreaking soundscape, arranging strings, celestial flute, and brushes of guitar into a solar system of sound, at the center of which is Morrison’s voice, beaming like the sun.

Townes Van Zandt, Our Mother the Mountain, 1969

Maybe I’m so drawn to this record in the sunny months because that’s when it first came to me. Townes Van Zandt’s second album Our Mother the Mountain is filled with tales of gambling saints, witchy women, and enough booze to power a dam. Van Zandt’s lyrical mysticism made his songs sound as if they were born in an era when folklore was taken at face valueand yet his interpretation of country music was completely original. Perhaps he was so ahead of his time that he sounded ancient.

Our Mother dances between deep, undeniable melancholy, and slightly sad songs that merely sound chipper. Opening ditty “Be Here to Love Me,” falls into the latter category, in which a drunkard entreats his woman to stay. Van Zandt paints summertime depictions of a small town with his distinct twang: “The children are dancing, the gamblers are chancin’ their all/The window’s accusin’ the door of abusin’ the wall,” he drawls, depicting a bawdy saloon scene. Cowboy ballad “Like a Summer Thursday,” meanwhile, is a sombre tale of love lost, in which Van Zandt recounts the stunning traits of a long gone lady. “Her face was crystal, fair and fine,” he sings, before revealing her cold disposition. “If only she could feel my pain,” he continues. “But feeling is a burden she can’t sustain/So like a summer Thursday, I cry for rain/To come and turn the ground to green again.” It is one of the most aching summer love songs, Van Zandt blaming the heat as much as the heart for all of his grief. If anything, Townes Van Zandt might just be the best summer companion for the sweaty and miserable.   

Smog, A River Ain’t Too Much to Love, 2005

Bill Callahan’s final offering under his Smog moniker turned out to be his masterpiece. A River Ain’t Too Much to Love is an hour of slow simmering folk songs brimming with naturalistic poetry. It’s hard not to associate this album with summertime, simply for the fact that its descriptions of woods and rivers and horses and valleys are so colorful and numerous. “Drinking at the Dam” recalls a particular kind of smalltown summer, where adults are absent and the brambles are the place to hang out and flip through “skin backs.” The sun is as much a part of this record as broken hearts and booze are to Our Mother the Mountain, and its rays fall upon rivers, bedrooms, and forests of pine, adding a waking melancholy to Callahan’s pensive lyrics. It is a record so stifled by heat, all there is to do within it is lie around and think. “It’s summer now, and it’s hot/And the sweat pours out,” Callahan sings on “Running the Loping.” “And the air is the same as my body/And I breathe my body inside out.” A River is replete with this kind of imagery, and that’s exactly what makes it a pleasant companion for the sweltering season.

Bob Dylan, Nashville Skyline, 1969

Along with Astral Weeks, I’ve listened to Dylan’s country delight Nashville Skyline so many times in my life, it automatically qualifies as a “Desert Island Disc,” god forbid I ever have to pack that suitcase. Aside from its beatific album cover, featuring Dylan tilting is hat like a southern gentleman against a blushing sunset, Nashville Skyline is bursting with the stuff of rural summer: Bluegrass fingerpicking, lazy lovers, and backwoods euphemisms involving every type of pie you can name. Opener “Girl From the North Country” (a duet with Johnny Cash that reimagines the original version from 1963’s The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan) features the lone mention of cold weather and winter coats before the record bursts into the jubilant guitar duel, “Nashville Skyline Rag.” This album is a lively companion for cooking summer meals and drinking beer on the front porch. Heck, it’s so homey and warm, it can even make you feel like you have a porch.  

Amen Dunes, Freedom, 2018

Damon McMahon’s fifth studio album as Amen Dunes may have been released in the dead of winter, but the 11-song suite is radiant and lushfar more suited to aimless summer strolls than March hibernation. The entirety of Freedom is rendered with production details that place you seaside, on a boardwalk in shirt-wilting temperatures. The bright riffs of guitar, the breezy reverb, and McMahon’s languid delivery all move with the pace of light waves bending on hot air. While the previous albums I’ve mentioned might lend themselves best to lounging around light-filled rooms or dank taverns, Freedom begs you to walk around town and project its sun-faded imagery before you. Whether it’s the nostalgic twang of “Skipping School” or the beachy bent of “Miki Dora,” this is a record that can weave silvery summer blues into tapestries of hope.

INTERVIEW: Heaters

Heaters2

“Play ‘Free Bird!’ Hey, play some Skynyrd!”

It’s surprising to think that after all these years, the above still gets shouted at rock bands who are just trying to finish their set. I personally stopped finding the line funny around age 14, but the same cannot be said for the sad twenty-somethings behind me whose idea of high art is probably the Fast and the Furious franchise.

I digress. The real victims of this sloppy heckle are not my ears, but rather the members of Heaters, a band who has come all the way from Grand Rapids, Michigan to play the annual Village Voice 4Knots Festival. Fortunately the vast majority of the crowd are brimming with enthusiasm for the group, who sound as tight live as they do on their recordings. They’ve recently released their Mean Green 7” on Beyond Beyond is Beyond records and will have a full length come September. Having played SXSW, and the Austin Psych Festival in the past couple of months, the band is still in a perpetual state of momentum. Fortunately for us at AudioFemme, they slowed down ever so slightly to give us an exclusive interview and chatted about the Grand Rapids music scene, playing bass on acid, and stealing other bands’ drummers.

AudioFemme: Welcome to New York!

Heaters: Thank you.

AF: Did you guys just get in this morning?

Nolan Krebs: (bass/vocals) We got in yesterday actually, we had the day off yesterday so we went out to the Rockaways and had a nice ass day.

AF: Are you in town for long?

NK: ‘Til Monday and then we play Boston.

AF: Do you have anything fun planned for the rest of the stay?

Andrew Tamlyn (guitar/vocals): We’re gonna go to Coney Island I think tomorrow.

NK: Yeah, we’ve never been.

AF: I love Coney Island. The Side Show is worth it if they still run it.

NK: Oh I’d be so down.

AF: It’s really good. Don’t go on the Cyclone.

NK: I feel like I would throw up. Is it intense?

AF: It’s not so much the motion sickness, it’s just that it’s made out of wood and it gives you whiplash. Every time you go around it feels like someone’s punching you in the back. So if you’re into that, go on it. So 4Knots! Your set was amazing, I really enjoyed it.

All: Thank you!

AF: Did you hear that guy yelling “play ‘Free Bird’” by any chance?

NK: Yeah, what a tacky, unoriginal thing to say.

AF: Do people still think that’s funny?

AT: I don’t know. It’s kind of like a “your mom” joke, you know?

AF: Who were you most excited to see at 4Knots?

AT: Meat Bodies.

AF: They’re great! I was just kinda like, oh, another band. But then they started playing and I immediately ran to the stage. Their guitarist is fantastic – so animated. I was very impressed by their set.

AT: Most of these bands I haven’t heard of, but I’m excited to see Happyness.

NK: Happyness are our friends.

AF: I LOVE Happyness.

NK: We met them at South by this year and they’re total sweethearts.

AF: Yeah I saw them in April and interviewed them in a tiny bathroom in a venue in Brooklyn, and they’re just adorable. They’re the sweetest guys. So, you guys are from Grand Rapids Michigan; what’s the music scene like over there?

AT: It’s weird, it’s kind of all over the place. There’s lots of metal and folk.

Joshua Korf (drums): There’s a lot of pop punk.

NK: They’re trying though. It’s a cool city and we moved there because we knew there would be places to play. Andrew and I were friends in high school and we kind of split up during college and shit, and then afterwards knew we wanted to try and do something with music so that is the best place in Michigan to try and start something. It’s young and looking for a foothold but it’s trying.

AF: Yeah I was going to ask why you were drawn to that city as opposed to other music hubs like New York…the big ones.

JK: It’s a cheap place to live.

NK: Yeah I feel like we had a little bit of space to breathe there and figure out what we wanted to do and what kind of music we wanted to make. Chicago isn’t very far away and we play there about once a month so sometimes we kind of feel like we’re a Chicago band.

AF: Well I think midwestern bands kind of get slumped into that one category a bit…Chicago and Minneapolis and such.

NK: Totally.

AF: I feel like you guys have recorded quite a lot in the small time that you’ve been a band. I know that the Mean Green 7” just came out in April- are you guys already working on anything new?

NK: We have our first full length coming out in September on Beyond Beyond is Beyond, which is a Brooklyn-based label. Our Mean Green record came out through them as well. When September rolls around we’ll be-we’re on a two month tour right now-but by then we’ll have some space to breathe and probably start working on something else.

AF: How far into the tour are you?

AT: Just like a week.

AF: You guys did another pretty long tour in March?

NK: Yeah, March through May we went down to Texas for South By Southwest and Austin Psych Fest so it was kind of like back and forth driving to and from Texas.

AF: Anything ridiculous happen? Any good tour stories?

(Josh starts laughing hysterically)

AF: Oh, something happened.

(Continual laughter)

NK: I took acid way too late in the night before we played at Austin Psych Fest because we were watching Tame Impala and someone politely asked if we wanted LSD, so I said yes and didn’t end up sleeping that night, which sucks. I had a great time but didn’t sleep before our set…

AF: Did you play while you were high?

NK: Um, I wasn’t really high by the time we played but I remember looking at my bass guitar and thinking, “this feels weird. Something’s weird.”

AF: I can’t imagine performing while on acid. That sounds terrifying.

NK: Yeah, some bands can totally pull it off but personally I get confused.

AF: So you two (Andrew and Nolan) moved to Grand Rapids together, and Josh, you were their next-door neighbor. How did that courtship work? Did you just see a drum kit in a window and bring him a Jell-O mold, or?

AT: Actually, he was playing in another band and after his set we were like, “dude, we really like you! Come play with us!” So we stole him and then we all moved in together and just started hammerin’ out tunes.

AF: So now all three of you live together?

NK: Yep. We’ve lived together for like two years.

JK: It’s really convenient for stuff like rehearsing and practicing and recording in general. Instead of having to go to a practice space we can all wake up in the morning, have coffee and go to the basement and play together.

AT: We’re all brothers.

AF: Yeah, it’s impressive. The dynamics must work so well for you to not get sick of each other.

NK: It’s weird because I actually hate them both, so…..

AF: I can tell. I can sense the steely reserve emanating from you.

(All laugh)

AF: I was reading an interview with you guys recently and I believe Andrew you said that a lot of new music consists of people doing a kind of karaoke vocal track over prerecorded music.

AT: In certain genres, yeah.

AF: Do you feel semi out-of-touch with contemporary music?

AT: I’d say so, yeah. I feel like we’re a little out of touch with most radio/contemporary music, but I mean when it comes to just playing with other rock n’ roll bands, not at all.

NK: Contemporary music is kind of funny for us to listen to as engineers of our own music. We listen to it and we’re like “oh my god, this is so different from what we try to do in our basement.” But, to each his own.

A: I still respect it all. I’m not hating on anything.

AF: Hate on some things.

(All shake heads)

AF: No? All right. Speaking of contemporary music, what are you listening to right now?

All: The Fat White Family, Vocaloid.

NK: They’re a Chilean Psych band.

AT: On Sacred Bones Records.

NK: Amen Dunes, Mystic Braves…honestly the bands we’ve toured with have come to be our favorite bands. Mystery Lights. Wand.

AF: So your contemporaries.

All: Yeah.

AF: What are your goals as a band currently? Are there festivals you’re dying to play, or venues you’re trying to get into or radio stations you want to be on?

AT: I think it’d be cool to play the Fillmore in San Francisco. That’s pretty iconic.

JK: My dream was always to play Psych Fest.

AF: You did it!

JK: Yeah, when we got that email it was so surreal.

AF: It sounds like such a blast.

JK: Yeah, it’s the perfect festival in my mind, because everyone that’s there is there to see music. There’s a hang-out-and-do-drugs thing, but I’ve been to so many other festivals where it’s just about how fucked up you can get and it’s not about the music, and everyone I talked to and encountered at that festival was there to see good music.

NK: It was like, record nerds.

AF: Your people.

NK: Yep, our people.

AF: So my last question is kind of a silly one: do you have any music that you love which is a guilty pleasure? And what is it? But un-ironically, like you truly love the band.

JK: The Strokes (who are currently playing on the boat)

AF: They’re playing this for you!

AT: Grizzly Bear????

AF: Oh, come on.

NK: They make beautiful music.

AF: That’s bullshit. They’re a hip band.

NK: I don’t feel bad about any music…

AF: Not bad but embarrassed. Mine’s The Wallflowers if that helps anyone.

NK: Oh, ok.

JK: Guns N’Roses.

NK: Andrew and I listened to a lot of hardcore music when we were teenagers, so now listening back to that it will make me blush.

AF: Like Alkaline Trio or something?

NK: Yeah that sort of bullshit, but whatever, that got us into a lot of guitar music so…

AF: Oh no, you don’t have to defend it.

NK: haha, thank you.

AF: The blushing part is what I mean. The fact that it makes you blush makes it that category.

Be sure to check out the title track off of Mean Green below:

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TRACK REVIEW: Amen Dunes “Lonely Richard”

In 2006, during the Northeast’s creepiest and most beautiful time of year–fall–Damon McMahon started recording his tightly knotted, introspective guitar melodies in the Catskills, never intending them for public consumption. Thus Amen Dunes was born, and thus–essentially–it remains: the music is simple, lonesome and woodsy, with a healthy dose of the otherworldly-creepy sensation you get from spending a lot of time alone with the Hudson Valley’s sinisterly beautiful landscape.

“Lonely Richard,” off the forthcoming album Love (out 5/13 on Sacred Bones) illustrates McMahon’s penchant for interiority–his voice, small-sounding and thick with melancholy, takes a back seat to the guitars, which screech and whine and slide all over this track. There’s a folky simplicity at the heart of it, but much more immediate is the drone of the instrumentals–how the guitar lines repeat and loop over themselves, how the strings maintain such a constant pitch that they lose form by the end of the song, assuming an atmospheric presence that evokes wind, or clouds, or something else just as environmental. The track builds low and slow, then fades away just as subtly. It’s sort of an anti-social number, but the simple chord structure underlying it keeps “Lonely Richard” from being unfriendly.

In typical fashion, Amen Dunes have released a single that reveals practically nothing about the album to come–the track wouldn’t be gripping enough to save a lethargic album or to temper an overly sweet one, but by itself, “Lonely Richard” has a deceptively compelling low-grade catchiness that will, if nothing else, awaken your curiosity. Wet your whistle with “Lonely Richard,” via Soundcloud:

TRACK REVIEW: Amen Dunes “I Can’t Dig It”

The two tracks off Amen Dunes‘ forthcoming album Love that have surfaced  (“Lilac in Hand” and “Lonely Richard”) are both on the murky side of things, but neither can touch the newest single, “I Can’t Dig It” for sheer liberated noise. Lo-fi and howly, the track is an ingloriously atonal celebration of being no good in all the right ways. Rough rhythms and war-cry vocals abound.

As always, the music is the product of Damon McMahon and friends, but Love is probably the first Amen Dunes recording that can’t be considered a solo album. Not only do we see McMahon’s longtime collaborators Parker Kindred (drums) and Jordi Wheeler (piano, guitar) join him for the length of the album, but several of the tracks feature input from other friends and neighbors. In fact, “I Can’t Dig It” gets its guitar and sax lines, respectively, from Efrim Manuck, of Godspeed! You Black Emperor, and Colin Stetson, of too many projects to list here.

Truth be told, there might be too many people on this track. Stacked as high as a too-tall deli sandwich, “I Can’t Dig It” has too many instrumental lines, rhythms, and sections to keep track of, let alone rock out to. Which is a shame, because the high-flying vocals and fast-paced, moshable rhythms would make for fantastically distorted and dirty party music if the song’s structure were a little bit simpler.

Amen Dunes newest album Love, including “I Can’t Dig It,” will be out May 13th on Sacred Bones. Can you dig it? Yeah, I thought I was gonna get through the whole review without making that joke, too. Give the track a listen below via Soundcloud:

SHOW REVIEW: Vår

On Saturday I had every intention of seeing Gap Dream and Grass Widow but had absolutely no energy left for anything not resembling sleep. My family was still in town and while it was wonderful it was still totally draining. I did make sure to catch the Sacred Bones showcase on Sunday at Glasslands, but didn’t get there until Vår were almost finished with their set.
As a side project of Danish band Iceage’s Elias Rønnenfelt, Vår could be considered a slightly darker and more electronic-based iteration of the hardcore punk for which Iceage is known. This show was supposed to be their New York debut but only a few days prior they’d played a raucous secret set at Wierd in which Rønnenfelt and bandmate Loke Rahbek made out to an instrumental track for almost ten minutes. When I arrived at Glasslands, the place was swathed in thick clouds emanating from multiple fog machines, and Vår was performing perhaps their best known single, “Hold Me In Your Arms”. The pounding beat and pleading vocals were not unlike an arrow through my chest, with any other senses obscured as they were by the dense fog.
I was slightly side-tracked by trying to locate my own crush, and by the time I found him Rønnenfelt and Rahbek were already locked in an embrace that made ours look pretty hetero-normative and not so Scandinavian, either, so we debated instead about whether their move was “brave” or “gimmicky”. The fact is that no matter how much I want a show-stopper like that to be commonplace, we live in a political climate where it’s still challenging to some. So challenge away, you beautiful Danish teenagers you.

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I borrowed this image from nyctaper, since it was way too dark & foggy for me to get photo or video of my own. Thanks nyctaper!

Amen Dunes played next, with Crystal Stilts to follow. But Amen Dunes’ set was admittedly less interesting to me at that point than going somewhere for a burger and flirting, so after they played a version of “Bedroom Drum” that (inexplicably) did NOT feature the essentially titular bass drum we took off.

Sacred Bones does a pretty awesome job forwarding the interests of the bands they represent; I think I’ve seen every band on that label play somewhere in Brooklyn or beyond at least once with exception of, I don’t know, Slug Guts? And maybe Pop. 1280 because I’m just not that into it. It’s not all that strange that label stalwarts Crystal Stilts headlined the show. But with all the buzz surrounding Vår, not to mention the fact that the band needed passports to get here, makes putting Amen Dunes above them on the bill a somewhat questionable move. After all, this was Vår’s official debut, and Amen Dunes plays NYC constantly. Then again, I can also go to Dumont anytime I like, so maybe there’s also something to be said for force of habit.

 


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