REVIEW: Soft Hair – Soft Hair

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Soft Hair, the duo of New Zealand psych-pop artist Connan Mockasin and electronic singer-songwriter Samuel Eastgate, a.k.a. LA Priest, have released one of the most bizarre and unique albums of the year with  their self-titled debut. Before even giving it a listen, one can anticipate the oddness ahead by looking at the cover, which shows the two members with their arms around each other holding a snake, their creepily red-painted bodies naked down to the torso. Yet the disarming eccentricity of the group might be their greatest strength; they take structurally conventional funky tunes and add something extra, whether its the bleeping electronic voices on opener “Relaxed Lizard” or the warbly, washed out instrumentation of “i.v.”
As if that weren’t enough, they add fun but off-putting lyrics to the hooks of their catchiest tunes. Standout single “Lying Has to Stop” could act as an international smash hit on a different planet with its irresistible groove and smooth falsetto crooning from Mockasin, but lyrics like “I’d like to watch to you run but I’ll never touch your bum” make one ponder the merit of singing along to it mindlessly. Second single “In Love” is a spooky midtempo jam with a great vocal turn from Eastgate and blissfully phased out guitars, but has an even more questionable chorus, “In love with the Japanese girls/in love with the Chinese girls,” which is then accompanied by a wildly disorienting saxophone interlude.
These guys are most definitely out there, and this album certainly isn’t for everyone, but what shines through all the odd production touches, band appearances and quasi-predatorial lyrics is an amazing songwriting sensibility, a quality that trumps all. The fact of the matter is that these are simply wonderfully constructed pop-funk songs that will stick in your head like a sweaty itch, or an itchy sweat, or whatever makes your skin crawl in awe. It is most certainly worth a shot to figure out if you like this feeling or not.

-Will Jacobsen

REVIEW: Vulfpeck – The Beautiful Game

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The Michigan-based funk group Vulfpeck have developed a cult following in recent years for their electric live shows and irresistible grooves, paying homage to the great funk in-house studio  bands such as the Wrecking Crew and the Funk Brothers while maintaining a constant energy on stage. They have never taken themselves too seriously, and their latest album, The Beautiful Game, does nothing to change that perception. Their growing popularity has resulted in a much more polished studio sound than their earlier EP’s, and they have added more featured vocalists to their typically instrumental catalogue, but the zany, infectious spirit of the band still shines through. Truthfully, the lyrics for Vulfpeck have always been a way of expressing their weirdness and clear preference for the groove over meaning. Longtime contributing singer Antwaun Stanley croons random sports euphemisms on “1 for 1, DiMaggio”, and standout “Conscious Club” features a bizarre skit about looking for a mysterious club in Berlin, none of which adds up to any sort of sense. However, this is clearly intentional by the group, as the surrealist lyrics add to the party that the quartet cook up with their instruments. “Dean Town” is a showcase for bassist Joe Dart, who has seen his reputation grow as one of the most talented bassists in popular music today, as he stutter-stops and chugs through a rollicking bassline that is rhythmic enough to drive the entire tune.
The album can’t exactly be considered a major step forward for the band, but it doesn’t seem as though they care about that fact. It doesn’t really hurt them, because their formula is such a winning one, but on the few tracks that act as a departure from their typical sound, we find that there is exciting territory for them that has yet to been fully explored. “Margery, My First Car,” updates an instrumental from an earlier release, with a beautifully haunting three-part harmony echoed by contributing vocalist Christine Hucal added to give the song a crossover-alternative sound. It is one of the first Vulfpeck songs to sound like something other than pure funk, and it is an intriguing  glimpse into the future if they choose to go further down that path. Similarly, “Aunt Leslie,” sung by Stanley, is a rare minor-key effort that sounds like something that could be taken out of a crucial scene from an 80’s action movie. The song has arguably the best production to date on a Vulfpeck song, with cutting guitar from contributor Cory Wong adding perfect atmosphere, along with flamenco flourishes and horns and strings thrown in for good measure. Some of the solid instrumentals which would typically be par for the course on a Vulfpeck album, like the simmering “El Chepe” can’t measure up to these more daring sonic attempts, despite being the solid ground that the group excels in. All in all, this is an album that highlights the best of Vulfpeck while simultaneously giving  listeners a sense that the best has yet to come.
– Will Jacobsen

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There’s music exploding out of someone’s head, there’s young Katheryn Bigelow looking through a massive camera and there’s this blog. What connects them all? What is the thing that if we dive deep, we can discover? The missing link, the unknown variable, the mystery association?

 

Music Directors. Boom. Blowing minds (and ears) since 1939. Just kidding, I don’t think we had MDs back then….. but we have them now and this is our blog and that’s all that matters right now!

We’ll be trying to hit all of our beloved readership with our sexy sexy charts every week (we’re talking about you too promoters), we’ll hopefully have reviews of music – we are the music directors after all – but most of all we want to give YOU, the reader a way of telling us what you want, and what you don’t. Hit up that comments box or send us an email (just kidding about the comments box, just email us: wesumd@wesufm.org) and let us know what music you want that we don’t have, let us know what you want from us and we will do it for you. Chiller lighting in the studio? We’re trying. Easier access to new records? We’re on it. Bringing dope tunes to 88.1? It’s happening. Welcome to the new MD blog.

Music Directors’ Top Records of the Week

Welcome to this year’s first installment of the WESU Music Director’s Blog! We had a large number of adds this week, and Zach Ezer and Ethan Hill are here to tell you about a few of our favorites.


Zach’s Pick: Heems – Eat, Pray, Thug from Megaforce Records
Coming from the brink of near bankruptcy, the dissolution of his Greedhead label, and some deep personal issues, Himanshu Suri (Wesleyan alumnus and former member of Das Racist) returns with a very soulful, incredibly personal record that strikes a counterpoint to his ironic and distant work with Das Racist. Heems brings in more direct references to his Hinduism as well as an R&B soundscape to the table on this record in order to make a name for himself as a solo artist distinct from his former bandmate Kool A.D. and the “hipster-rap” of his past.


Ethan’s Pick: Jeff Rosenstock – We Cool? from SideOneDummy Records
The former frontman of underground heroes Bomb the Music Industry! returns with a fantastically poignant album chock full of heart-wrenching tunes. The album screams of sentimentality for lost youth, the sort of retrospective longing for those moments of idiotic high school summers that we love remembering but hated living. We Cool?‘s scuzzy guitars and overdriven, chanted vocals make you want to jump around with all your angsty suburban friends and just feel something. According to Rosenstock, “malt liquor doesn’t make you young,” but listening to We Cool?, you can at least fool yourself for a couple of hours.

Other Great Adds: (Band Name, Name of Album, Record Label)
ELEL – 40 Watt, Mom and Pop Records
Riley Walker – Primrose Green, Dead Oceans
Jack Ladder and the Dreamlanders – Playmates, Fat Possum Records
Ecid, Pheromone Heavy – Fill in the Breaks
Ewert and the Two Dragons – Circles, Sire Records
Beto Hale – Rebirth, Lalo Records
Lady Lamb and the Beekeepers – After, Mom and Pop Records
Diamond Drugs – Cosmetics, Sycamore Records

Top Five New Albums of the Week: March 4th

1    THE MEN    Tomorrow’s Hits    Sacred Bones

This ramshackle Brooklyn group has come quite a long way since their 2010 debut Immaculada, a gut-punch of fast, hard-hitting hardcore punk. In the past four years, they’ve experimented with Crazy Horse -esque fuzz rock, acoustic jangle pop, and even twangy pedal steel. Their latest, Tomorrow’s Hits, experiments with explosive, grandiose rock n roll akin to Bruce Springsteen, even featuring some killer sax licks. This album is massive and downright triumphant, a fitting release for the ever-evolving Men.


 

2    REAL ESTATE    Atlas    Domino

Real Estate’s sombre follow-up to 2011’s Days is an absolute treat, a relaxing and contemplative exploration of reminiscence. Their previous releases, though equally reverb-coated, found the band at a decidedly more “chill” moment, a place of joyful and summery presence. Atlas, however, seems to be a reflection of what comes after, the teary-eyed but necessary reflection of those perfect days that came and went.

3    ST. VINCENT    St. Vincent    Loma Vista

St. Vincent has always been noodly and always will be noodly. The Berklee-educated guitar virtuoso has a serious knack for licks and riffs that seems to take over a song and become a long lasting ear worm. Her latest self-titled record, however, finds her experimenting like never before, transferring that spirit of riffage to vastly new instruments and forms. It’s a fascinating exploration of unlimited pop possibilities of the synth, opening St. Vincent up to a whole new plane of musical experimentation.

4    AXXA/ABRAXAS    Axxa/Abraxas    Captured Tracks

Psychedelic pop is never just what it seems. Axxa/Abraxas, the solo-project of North Carolina’s Ben Asbury, proves this right off the bat on his debut album’s kick-off song, a rather vast and meandering musical field that begins with a spacey, asymmetric tonal atmosphere, only to evolve into the album’s catchiest tune. These spacey and distorted songs are sure to get stuck in your head, but it’ll be an absolute treat.

 

5    BLACK LIPS    Underneath The Rainbow    Vice

The Black Lips’ latest record, a follow-up to 2011’s Arabia Mountain, seems to have come right  out of nowhere. Though these Atlanta weirdos certainly aren’t at their catchiest, a plane reached back in 2007 with Good Bad Not Evil, they’re still got it, whatever it may be. Underneath The Rainbow‘s second track “Smiling” is a poppy head-nodder if I’ve ever heard one, and from the Black Lips alone, I feel I’ve heard many. Don’t let their seemingly never-ending career put you off; The Black Lips latest is exactly what it should be, which is rather great.

– Ethan Hill

 

Top Five New Albums of the Week: February 25th

1    NATURAL CHILD    Dancin’ With Wolves    Burger

This follow-up to 2012’s Hard in Heaven has been a long time coming. At least it’s felt that way for me, a hopelessly devoted and childishly obsessed Natural Child fanboy. And goddamn if Dancin’ With Wolves is not every bit as groovy and hopped-up as you could hope for. From the angsty drunken twang of “Saturday Night Blues” to the downright Brazilian glow of the loungey “Bailando Con Lobos,” Dancin’ With Wolves is quite simply a pleasure. Who needs Kevin Costner when you’ve got Natty Chile?

2    TACOCAT    NVM    Hardly Art

These jangley palindrome and internet lovers are quite a bit more than meets the eyes and ears. Singing about everything from the surfy joy that can be your period to a quinciñera on acid, Tacocat seem to always find the perfect catchy melodies to fit their playful and distinct sense of humor. From overdriven riffage to playful lyrics about toxic shock syndrome, Tacocat have a distinct and endlessly enjoyable personality that the polished NVM showcases so well.

3    CHERRY GLAZRR    Haxel Princess    Burger  

There is something doubtlessly pretty and oddly spooky, it seems, about every song on Haxel Princess, Cherry Glazrr’s sophomore release on Burger records. Cherry Glazrr’s brand of guitar pop is uniquely unsettling, continuously shifting, and really really impressive. It’s impossible not to mention that these guys still have one more year left of high school. It’s certainly a part of their identity. But Haxel Princess is a seriously cool and great record regardless of any condescendingly “cute”  assumptions of age and talent. One thing’s for sure; these weirdos are here to stay.

4    ETERNAL SUMMERS    The Drop Beneath    Kanine

Equal parts shimmering and fuzzy, Virginia’s Eternal Summers are reminiscent of their good buds Bleeding Rainbow as well as a plethora of scuzzy ’90s guitar bands, all of which comparison with is purely flattering.


5    MICHAEL KIWANUKA    You’ve Got Nothing to Lose 7″    Third Man

Unfortunately for the clearly talented English soul singer Michael Kiwanuka, it’s quite impossible to mention a release like his on Third Man Records without talking about Jack White. Kiwanuka’s Richie Haven’s -esque spirited voice is undeniably sweet, reminiscent of the may rallying crys of singers of his musical ilk during the ’60s, but White’s production on both the A side single and the backing Townes Van Zandt cover is rich, spectacular, and absolutely necessary.

– Ethan Hill

Smith & Smith top the WESU Charts!


1. SMITH WESTERNS / Soft Will
2. CURT SMITH / Deceptively Heavy
3. DAFT PUNK / Random Access Memories
4. BOARDS OF CANADA / Tomorrow’s Harvest
5. CFCF / Music For Objects
6. ROBERT POLLARD / Honey Locust Honky Tonk
7. ALL TINY CREATURES / Dark Clock
8. SYNCHRONICE / Countdown – EP
9. JAMES ZOLLAR / It’s All Good People
10. GOLD TOP / “Uh Oh” [Single]
11. MOLLY VENTER AND EBEN PARISER / Goodnight Moonshine
12. ELLIS / Wherever You Are
13. BOZ SCAGGS / Memphis
14. TRAVIS BRETZER / Making Love – EP
15. OXYLICE / Signs (feat. Katie’s Ambition) – Single
16. SPEEDY ORTIZ / Major Arcana
17. JIM JAMES / Regions Of Light And Sound
18. BENNETT & BRUBECK / The White House Sessions
19. BUDDY MONDLOCK / The Memory Wall
20. ALICE GERRARD / Bittersweet
21. ROBOKOP / Therapy
22. BIG STAR / Nothing Can Hurt Me
23. ALEX BLEEKER AND THE FREAKS / How Far Away
24. VARIOUS ARTISTS / Verve Remixed: The First Ladies
25. YAMANTAKA / YT//ST
26. DOUGH ROLLERS / Little Lily
27. HOT CHIP / Dark And Stormy
28. PART TIME / PDA
29. BASS DRUM OF DEATH / Bass Drum Of Death
30. ROSE WINDOWS / The Sun Dogs