What Am I Listening To? – March 2016

2016_MiikeSnow_iiiMiike Snow – iii
Miike Snow inches a little closer toward the mainstream with their third release, adding a ton more sampling to their already heavily electronic sound and downplaying the live instrumentation that they balanced so well with it on Happy to You. At times I’m intrigued with where the trip-hop, R&B, and club influences take them, but then there are other times when I think you can only loop an 808 drum so many different ways before you start to get diminishing returns. Add some egregious use of Autotune on a few tracks, and some sleazy lyrics here and there, and it starts to remind me of a bad fun. or Maroon 5 record. Not exactly a direction I was hoping they’d take, but there are enough enjoyable tracks despite that to keep my interest.

2016_The1975_ILikeItWhenYouSleepForYouAreSoBeautifulYetSoUnawareofItThe 1975 – I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It
I’m pretty sure this album title has already been mocked six ways from Sunday for its stalker-ish vibe and its ridiculous length, so I won’t belabor the point. I know nothing of The 1975’s previous sound, but on this record they spend well over an hour on total genre roulette, mostly centered around synthpop and disco-funk (think Empire of the Sun, M83, maybe a little bit of The Killers), but with some unexpected R&B and ambient influences on several tracks in the album’s introverted midsection, and a few rather cloying acoustic tracks at the end. Not all of this is necessary, despite frontman Matt Healy’s claims to the contrary. And some of the lyrics are downright goofy to the point where I’m not sure they’re aiming for self-parody – it can be really distracting on a few songs that have an otherwise very sincere demeanor to them. At times I want The 1975 to just pick an identity and go with it, instead of being a band in what seems like a constant state of flux, but I have to admit they have more on their minds than just the throwaway retro-pop exercise I was expecting based on the first few (admittedly extremely catchy) singles.

2016_Lucius_GoodGriefLucius – Good Grief
This would have been one of my most anticipated 2016 releases if I had even known it was coming out ahead of time. I have pretty high expectations of this group since Wildewoman was such an ideal combination of “perfect pop album” and a few ragged edges. This one seems to have that whole sophomore album curse at first with the group branching out into programmed pop (which really makes them sound like Haim) and a few other new sounds. The overall pacing and structure of the album seeming a bit weird at first; at times I wouldn’t realize it was Lucius, but then the dual female vocals get going and I realize it can’t be anyone else. I feel like they take more vocal risks here, which sometimes pushes the song climaxes into near-shouting territory. I had a love/hate relationship with this on their last album as well, but I’d say it’s more prominent here. Other than the bizarre ending of “Gone Insane”, it’s not too terribly painful. Ultimately, some pretty catchy stuff that doesn’t always play by the rules I expect it to, with a few of the seams showing, but basically where a growing band needs to be on album #2.

2016_ParkerMillsap_TheVeryLastDayParker Millsap – The Very Last Day
This is the second solo record from the Oklahoma-based country/blues singer from with the ragged voice that makes it hard for me to believe this guy’s still in his early 20s. I like his songwriting style for much the same reason I like Josh Ritter’s and Iron & Wine’s, in the sense that his stories are haunted by Bible Belt culture and aren’t afraid to touch on the pros and cons of how a person of conservative faith has his outlook on life shaped by it. Most attention-grabbing in that vein this time around is “Heaven Sent”, a heartbreaking plea for love from a gay son to his father that could easily be the other side of the dialogue ehard in Court Yard Hounds’ “Ain’t No Son”. Elsewhere, Millsap gets more raucuous and more sparse than his last album on a few tracks, making sure we can’t easily pin him down to a single genre, and for the most part, I prefer it that way.

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