For the Record: Summer Review

By Chad Clemens

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be paid to spend exorbitant amounts of time listening to music – along with more logistical responsibilities – here at WRMC, Middlebury College’s student-run radio station. Aside from getting a hold of the biggest releases in the college radio world, the station received a slew of lesser-hyped gems that earned repeated indulgences during those sticky Midd-summer nights. A bit about some of my favorites:

Owen Pallett – In Conflict
An intricate, smartly crafted record from Polaris Music Prize winner and Arcade Fire member, it peaks and descends at times you would never expect among complex woven narratives that depict bland and bleak aspects of life with an immediately engrossing particularity. His emotive string arrangements, rooted heavily in theory, range from startlingly dramatic to subtly curious; all the while, he evokes charm and wit with clever bass lines and complements of synth, giving life to the dreary landscapes he draws.

Hundred Waters – The Moon Rang Like a Bell
This record is delicately packed with gorgeous, airy, ethereal and – above all – sexy melodies that softly explore the outer contours established by singer Nicole Miglis’ hushed 2000s pop-R&B vocals. As a whole, the tracks exude seamlessly-blended styles ranging from folk to dark pop to ambient noise. My impulse is to describe The Moon Rang Like a Bell as atmospheric, though such a term implies a distinction between the listener and her environment, one that the album certainly does not allow. Standouts like “Chambers (Passing Train)” paradoxically draw out isolation and comfort with familiar yet bracingly unique sounds.

Sounds of Sputnik – New Born
Taking strong cues from My Bloody Valentine, New Born is composed of rich, sparkling, spaced-out ‘new-gaze’ dream pop wonder spawned from some of the coldest places on earth – Ummagma, the Canadian-Ukranian duo, add vocals and instrumentation to the Moscow-based Sound of Sputnik’s arrangements. Shimmery piano interludes help foster the feeling of vastness and grandeur laid out by their drawn-out compositions. While this record contains only five original songs (along with seven not too dissimilar remixes and one radio cut), each retains its own cosmic flare within a unifying musical framework.

Shabazz Palaces – Lese Majesty
Shabazz Palaces’ sophomore LP is no joke. Lese Majesty is a collage of futuristic beats, rhythms and sounds rendered impossibly smooth and explicitly sinister, forsaking conventional hip-hop structures in favor of conceptual fluidity and sonic reversals. Ishmael Butler a.k.a. Palaceer Lazero attacks the complacency of modern rappers with controlled aggression, lyrics dripping venom and political consciousness. While not as immediately enthralling as predecessor Black Up, Lese Majesty shows promise of mainstream recourse away from straight bombast toward revitalizing rap as a forum for conscious action.

Ben Frost – A U R O R A
Ben Frost claws away the fringe layers of melody and sound until he strikes their cores in this bracing LP, his first solo studio album since 2009’s equally challenging By the Throat. Spectrally haunting one moment, screeching and dissonant the next; A U R O R A will rip apart your preconceived notions of what music ought to sound like and thrust you into a sometimes-mind-rattling, often terrifying new musical paradigm.

Warehouse Eye – Carvings
Carvings is a strong debut from a fledging Minneapolis group that displays a smart mix of lush dream pop, buoyant vocals and stretched-out slowcore post-rock that, rather than striking new ground, treads along the mean of their influences – Beach House, Slowdive, Low and Grizzly Bear, to name a few. While no track is particularly original, tracks like “Tokyo” and “Through the Grass” demonstrate clear talent and the potential for a solid debut LP in the very near future.

Wunder Wunder – Everything Infinite
Wunder Wunder boast a refreshingly jangly, melodic and fluid psych/surf rock sound. “Coastline,” the by-and-away best track on the record, floats along like a SoCal breeze while swirling around bits of Tame Impala and the Beatles. The subtle funk and soul influences give this West Coast duo a distinctive touch, but they occasionally spoil it with overpowering synths that caramelize their aesthetic.

Countless other excellent albums were released this past summer, far more than I could ever hope to listen to with the attention they deserve, let alone evaluate enough for two-three sentences’ worth of remarks.  Yet an exciting fall lies ahead with plenty of big names and impending album drops. Check in again in three weeks for more on the latest releases.

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