Welcome back to Go, Slow, No, a weekly rundown of the good, the bad, and the middling in music today.
Pedro the Lion – Phoenix
David Bazan’s lyrics don’t fully connect the boy he was to the man he is—that’s a lifetime’s work—but damn if this journey through his past doesn’t accomplish something similar musically, wedding his searching solo inquiries to the skewed sonics/straightforward dynamics of the coulda-been alt/emo contenders he disbanded in 2005. If that sounds too schematic, trust me there’s nothing pat about a thoughtful post-Christian expiating his secular flaws through the judicious arrangement of riffs that, I swear to post-Christ, suggest (oh blessed contradiction) an introspective Pixies. Bazan can be too hard on himself—belatedly acknowledging complicity in a school bullying incident is one thing, sulking ’cause you blew through your allowance too quick another—but that’s the shit that sticks with you, and you know how it works: There’s no forgiveness without confession. GO
Deerhunter – Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Synthesizers are funny things. Admirers have pegged this indeed-tuneful, political-they-say fantasia as “pop,” but (I doublechecked) the pent-up guitar dissonance of Monomania was catchier. What this is instead is artier, its polychromatic cheer radiating out of a menagerie of vintage avant-garde touches—electro-metallic horns suggesting Bowie’s Berlin, minimalist repetition, a Laurie Anderson impression, all manner of keyboards including oozy and abrading, guitars often but not always making noises the synths couldn’t. The contrast between this pixelated pastoral setting and Bradford Cox’s elliptical visions of decay makes for an effect that’s less ironic than disorienting, and if Cox has a message, it is, as he sings on “Détournement,” “There is some form of art left,” which is political-I-say. GO
Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary
The exciting thing about the ’90s alt/indie revival is how rarely young bands are stooping to slavish retro or winking pastiche--they’ve uncovered a language, with numerous dialects and accents, that’s particularly pliable to the needs of female and non-binary performers. (Lucky me, who is neither, that it’s the music of my youth being retooled.) The intimate interlacing of Harmony Tividad and Cleo Tucker’s unison singing on Girlpool’s early recordings was too delicate to last, and Tucker’s hormone treatments have only accelerated the vocal divergence. Literally finding a new a voice, which is sometimes as breathy as Elliott Smith and sometimes as querulous as Doug Martsch, Tucker sounds occasionally emboldened by the process, even as Tividad poeticizes a premature disillusionment, sometimes acutely (“All the kids you thought had bigger eyes/ Consumed by schemes.”) sometimes too cutely. And If both remain suspicious of the big not-them world and overprotective of each other as they feel their way forward in the dark, well, that’s all part of the tradition, no? SLOW
Better Oblivion Community Center – Better Oblivion Community Center
Like sand in water or that extra credit question on your AP Calc exam, Conor Oberst’s perpetual sob is insoluble—there’s no voice that can blend with his bleat in pure harmony, no cure for his irritable malaise. No ray of hopeful sunshine herself, Phoebe Bridgers refuses to Emmylou sweetly over the top when Oberst takes lead, instead accentuating vocal eccentricities I don’t always catch on her solo stuff, and that goes double for her spotlight moments. If a collection of duets where both artists nurse their discontent without curbing their idiosyncrasies sounds like the ingredients for a mess, instead it makes for a collection more bracing than tempos (slow) and dynamics (low) would suggest. SLOW
Maggie Rogers – Heard It in a Past Life
A Florence trapped inside the machine, a Haim orphan unbuoyed by sisterhood (or instrumental chops), Rogers belts without wallop, lilts without delight, vaguely indicates any number of emotions that exist solely within the airtight confines of pop songs, and over-applies herself to a series of theoretically marketable styles so ineptly that when she nails the movie-trailer uplift of “Light On” you could almost mistake it for some kind of achievement. NO
Go Slow No is a weekly survey of new and overlooked album releases. The rating system is pretty self-explanatory: GO means listen to this now, SLOW means check it out when you get a chance, and NO means run screaming from the room if you hear so much as a note of it.