Olympia: it’s got good parts and blah bits
by Aidan Morgan
Here’s the thing about Austra’s new album: you can skip the middle. You’ll be fine. Listen to the first three or even four tracks and then jump to the last two or three. The result will be a solid EP of danceable and beautiful tracks that sound like a Weimar-era cabaret singer wandered into a time machine and landed in a European disco in 2005. Listen to the entire thing, though, and you’ll find yourself forgetting that it’s even on. And if you snap back to attention during “I Don’t Care (I’m a Man)”, you’ll be sorry you have ears.
Olympia is like one of those sandwiches with fantastic bread but a mysterious middle. Is that egg salad? you think as you chew your way through another bite. It tastes like they started with egg salad but forgot the paprika. It’s okay, but it’s not really holding up its end of the sandwich.
An unfinished midsection isn’t the worst thing that can happen to an album. Plenty of recordings take some time to experiment with ideas and try out songs that may not work perfectly but point towards possible directions in which the band can grow. I’m willing to listen to a band explore even if the results aren’t always satisfying. But I’m worried Austra doesn’t know where its strengths lie on Olympia. “Home”, the song that kicks off the middle doldrums of the album, was the debut single. If that’s the direction that Katie Stelmanis and company are going, I’ll be hitchhiking the other way. [hr]
“I’d rather be a dick than a swallower.” That line from “New Slaves” on Kanye West’s new album, Yeezus, has unsurprisingly been on my mind since I heard it. But as West morphs from ‘heart-so-open-it’s-inside-out’ MC to an out-and-out provocateur, how we should feel about his approach to sexual politics — where his insatiable appetites are linked with his agency — is more problematic, or at least difficult to parse. In some places it feels like he’s just searching for buttons to push, hitting a few while also throwing out “I Am a God”, which feels old hat for him now. At least West’s song-craft makes the album impressive. The sound contradicts itself — it’s primal and instinctive but, counter-intuitively, it’s full of digital distortion. And while it’s sparse on pure jams, Yeezus finds West catching up on trends –– dancehall, industrial, et cetera –– while also managing to blow them away. Yeezus is a collage of clashing parts that aren’t so much trimmed and stitched together as hacked with a meat cleaver and seared into a whole. /James Brotheridge [hr]
Sometimes when I talk about or listen to present-day garage rock, I think of the Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns learns he has every disease in the world. His doctor demonstrates this by cramming handfuls of cotton ball “viruses” through a small doorframe, which makes them all jam in together, Three Stooges-style. That’s not really a metaphor for this glut of Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees soundalikes –– nor is it a diss, necessarily –– but the image has entered my mind more than once.
Bass Drum of Death’s debut GB City was definitely the type to get lost in that pack, but right from the opening snare drum onslaught, it’s clear that this album is more distinctive. It has all the distorted drums, vocal yelps and swagger you’d expect, but “I Wanna Be Forgotten” and “Crawling After You” reference Wipers-esque punk-rock enough to keep the boring away. /Mason Pitzel [hr]
Apparently About Group are on their third album? As a casual listener to the music of Alexis Taylor, I’m a little surprised this hasn’t come to my attention sooner. What’s not surprising is that the frontman for British alt-dance act Hot Chip would need another outlet, something less precise and meticulous. To my ears, this is where About Group comes in. In place of controlled dance-a-thon, Taylor’s assembled a band willing to follow him in whatever jam-tastic direction he’s got in mind. And boy, do they jam. Rather than releasing his wildman id, Taylor remains the calm centre of the songs while free-form havoc erupts around him. The band records quickly, and it sounds like it. Luckily, the record mostly comes out on the good side of this: fewer meandering solos and more players pushing each other into weird places. /James Brotheridge