Having fallen in love with Destroyer after hearing the soaring guitar-based melodies and shimmering atmospherics of 2006’s still-excellent Destroyer’s Rubies, I was initially put off when Dan Bejar and his band starting drifting into the corny adult-contemporary sheen of Kaputt. But the more I listened, the more I begrudgingly grew to adore that sound, to the point that I even missed it when Poison Season, another great Destroyer record in its own right, dialed back the sophisti-pop cheese. Lucky for me, it’s all over the band’s new single, “Sky Grey.” An early cut from ken, a new album set to release in October, it’s an odd, two-headed track that starts with Bejar singing off his typical conversational lyrics and stroking his solemn piano over quiet coked-out electronics that sound like they’ve been accidentally pasted in from another song. It’s hypnotic, nonetheless, but everything clicks as soon as the delightfully melodramatic transition hits and the song moves into its more comfortable back half. The thread holding it all together, of course, is Bejar’s vocals, captured here with a striking intimacy and warmth.
I have no particular fondness or disaffection toward Travis Scott; he is an entity toward which I can, with strong accuracy, say I possess a completely neutral, Zen-like attitude. He dates Kylie Jenner. He has had some massively successful singles, some of which I have moderately enjoyed; probably my favorite Travis Scott tracks ever are guest spots from the most recent SZA and Drake records, on both of which he merely maintains the ambient temperature of the room as more characterful stars perform nearby. He’s that kid in high school who you were ostensibly friends with but you never knew why. If I had to describe him in a word, that word would be “extant.” You get the idea.
This would explain why I paid no attention to his three-track SoundCloud release earlier this year, one of which, “Butterfly Effect,” was turned into an official single, with a video and everything, a few weeks back. What was I doing when that occurred? I don’t know. Not paying attention to Travis Scott. And yet I have found myself… liking it. Noticing it, in a manner that seems diametrically opposed to my long-standing relationship with the musician. The video’s all ’90s psychedelia, full of butterflies and fluorescent gradients, and the beat’s a melancholy loop that Scott doggedly refuses to impose his will over, but it’s good enough that this is a plus. He flosses on a gold Ferrari. Like a lot of good recent pop rap, you can’t quite tell whether he’s happy or sad, the music dwelling in some weird minor-key gray space of druggy excess.
Anyway, it’s good. It’s what I’ve been listening to. Color me as surprised as anyone.
Things have been a little stressful around here—not to mention around the general vicinity of America—which means I’ve been spending a lot of my off-hours decompressing with Talk Talk’s Laughing Stock, an album that never fails to make me feel calmer. For those who aren’t familiar, Laughing Stock (along with its predecessor, Spirit Of Eden) was something often discussed yet rarely followed through on: the purely artistic statement made by a band that had achieved commercial success but now wanted to make something “real.” In this case, that success was the pop hit “It’s My Life” and all the attendant Duran Duran-aping that Mark Hollis and the rest of Talk Talk did in the early ’80s before making 1986’s more complex The Colour Of Spring. In the wake of that album, Hollis and company completely abandoned pop entirely, crafting two fluid, improvisatory records that merged jazz experimentation and ambient textures in a way that presaged “post-rock,” and confounded their label, fans, and contemporary critics, but cemented their legacy. Laughing Stock remains awe-inspiring no matter how many times I listen to it: Legendarily recorded in the open, echoing spaces of a studio with blacked-out windows and lit by oil projections, it has a heart-stilling quality that I find unmatched, and eternally restorative. Give it a try.
My bizarre time travel back into mid-’90s alt-rock continues apace this summer, as I find myself proceeding to get into brand-new bands playing the kind of distorted guitar anthems I haven’t listened to in a good 15 years. (I take back every time in the past decade when I proclaimed the ’90s were back, because it obviously wasn’t true until now, going by the dependable internet yardstick of “if it’s true for me, clearly it’s true for everyone.”) There’s something comforting about angry young people playing grunge-inflected songs, perhaps because it transports the ears back to those halcyon days prior to mid-1997 when it was all ruined.
The latest group to contribute to this addictive way-back machine is Milk Teeth, a British four-piece that combines the snarling sass of a Toadies or a Hole with the high-gloss production and hook-ready choruses of Weezer. “Prism,” the second track off its recently released four-song EP Be Nice, slowly wormed its way into my brain after only a few listens. Singer Becky Blomfield delivers the “take my name out of your mouth” refrain with straightforward aplomb, resisting the temptation to vamp it up or apply an affected air to her vocals. With a bracingly direct performance, the band makes music that isn’t trying to be anything other than midtempo headbangers for people who like loud but hook-filled rock. My only concern is the production, which veers dangerously close to tipping over into wildly overproduced—a common problem for bands recently signed to majors and experiencing the overwhelming possibilities of studio magic—and thereby introducing the worrying potential for Evanescence-level silliness. With luck, Milk Teeth will use the EP as a course correction and steer into the rough, scrappy vibe of these songs: raw, effervescent, and full of energy.
Sicko was one of the leading lights of pop punk back in the ’90s—a case we’ve made here several times—so it’s good to see alumnus Ean Hernandez delivering hooky power pop in Seattle’s Date Night With Brian. Like Sicko, this is a trio, rounded out by drummer Reba Cowan Hernandez and guitarist Brian Wallace—no bass. Hernandez and Cowan Hernandez are married and played together before in the slightly twee Tales From The Birdbath, but the drummer insisted on something other than “that pussy meow-meow birdbath cardigan sweater shit” for their new band. That became Date Night With Brian, so named because Hernandez told her, “Isn’t it great that we can play music together every week? It’s our date night!” “But it’s with Brian!” she replied. Their latest EP, Summertime, is anchored by the effervescent, and strikingly Sicko-esque, title track about one of Hernandez’s go-to topics: the weather in the Pacific Northwest. Moodier, but plenty hooky, is “Supervisor,” a tuneful ode to skipping work (and a spiritual sibling to the Sicko classic “On The Clock”). As the song says, we all need time away. Play it on your next day off.