Album Reviews: Royal Trux, SZA + more
Royal Trux — Platinum Tips + Ice Cream
The live album is a weird thing because essentially it creates something aural that is enjoyed mainly as a visual experience. The band on stage, the energy, the crowd, the unpredictable is packaged as a listening experience. Whatever the idea of the live album, a kind of rock staple, Royal Trux’s Platinum Tips and Ice Cream is a document of one of the world’s greatest rock n’ roll bands. There is no real way to experience Royal Trux as the band they were, but that is not really the point here; the point is to experience Royal Trux. First up, I would suggest, as a convert to the Trux-ian religion, that this album be for the unanointed a crash course. It’s only 12 songs, and for a band as excellent as Royal Trux, there is so much more to explore. However, the 12 songs presented span almost the entire Royal Trux universe, from “Esso Dame,” “Ice Cream,” “Red Tiger,” “Mercury,” which are all early bangers, to later masterworks like “Blue is The Frequency,” “The Banana Question,” and “Deafer Than Blind.” The magnificence of this album is that, as anyone who knows the Trux can attest, there are no perfect versions of a Royal Trux songs, they have always been subject to interpretation by the band in whatever form they see fit at the time. “Junkie Nurse” is more boogie than the album version, but “Mercury” is a very true version in accordance with the original. The charisma and magic of Jennifer Herema cannot be captured on any record, but this does have traces of that magical dust. Neil Hagerty is a monster guitar player and that is on full display here, as Hagerty almost faithfully recreates every great Royal Trux lick and then some. At one time, the live record was the introduction, but it was also farce, add in more crowd sounds, overdub some instruments, but this is not that trickery because the Trux don’t play that shit. They do respect the craft, and the live album goes with the narrative, so here it is, you are welcome.
SZA — Ctrl
We all hope to exercise some level of control over our lives, to feel that we are navigating more than just participating. In your 20s, this is the thing, always trying to exert or display control and most times that involves our romantic lives, our parents, and our friends. SZA has made the perfect album for someone in that place, and there’s actually a song called “20 Something.” I feel like this album is a companion to Rihanna’s Anti in theme, it takes the living of life within the loves, betrayals and confusions of “figuring it out.” “Love Galore” is the sidechick situation, much like “The Weekend,” the shared love including the guilt and the lack thereof; I love you but not this. “Doves In The Wind” begins, “real niggas do not deserve pussy,” later to clarify “you deserve the whole box of chocolates,” the idea of being more than the object of and subjected to. “Drew Barrymore” is the clear hit of the album, however “Garden (Say It Like That)” could also fill that spot, a song of the joy of the delusion: “you’ll never love me, but I believe it when you say it like that.” The album bangs, the beats are ridiculous, but unlike other SZA albums, the singing is front and center, the lyrics discernible. It’s probably her best album in that sense. Get with it.
Andrew Cohen & Light Coma — Unreality
Andrew Cohen is/was a member of two of my favorite bands, Silkworm and Bottomless Pitt, and also, in my humble opinion, one of the best guitarists walking. However, that is not the (only) reason I was ready for this release; it’s also because Cohen has a knack for writing a song that is both humorous and thought provoking. Unreality is where we are, living our lives within the insanity that is living a life, the comic tragedy. “Your Biography” has the lyric “we were learning all the way what was important, what to give away,” a true tale. Have you ever cleaned your garage and decided to donate the popcorn maker that was once the center of your recreational existence? It happens. Musically, this is great guitar music. There is no rapping or fusion, I appreciate that, if you have been a fan you will continue to be. “Repack” is of the Silkworm style, a superior style. “Sugar Puffs” is for those of us who have children or problems with vices: “I’ve been living on sugar puffs, 43 years have been enough, they have melted into some stuff.” But maybe the puffs are ideas and there comes a time for change, a diet of the mind? “Midwest DTs” is gold, “Blue Dragon” is gold. Music is best when you feel things and think about things, and both happened whilst listening to these gems. So no, son, you cannot have a fidget spinner, go outside and find a dead body or a troll living in a cave like the good ol’ days.
House and Land — House and Land
The old world was fucked up. The Appalachians were a wild place in the early stages of ‘Merica with it’s unemployment and satanic possessions, but dammit, the music it spawned! House and Land are singing the songs of the old world today, but they feel modern because we are still affected by many of the same things, even the satanic possession. “False True Lover” is the “love song” as I love thee, thine has married thot (well maybe not thot), but here the beauty is magnified by the sparse instrumentation of 12-string guitar and banjo; it is mysterious and moving. God, in a particular space, represents a deliverance from evil, and everything is evil, so the true salvation is death. So death becomes a good thing, or deliverance does, and “The Day Is Past and Gone,” “Home Over Yonder” and “Feather Dove” all deliver the idea of transcendence, and they all sound transcendent. Comprised of Sally Anne Morgan and Sarah Louise Henson (The Black Twig Pickers), the instruments here — 12-string guitar, banjo, shruti box, upright bass — are all naturally amplified. These are the sounds of folk and Appalachian ballads that evoke images of trees and mountains and natural law, but it is not an antiquarian affair. “Unquiet Grave” is like a free jazz version of folk. These songs are from a time, but they also represent the darkness that is. “Listen to the Roll” is about walking through a graveyard, the drone technique applied summons the ghosts, but ghosts of what? This is an excellent record, a haunting record, it is a space and a place, an environment. Also, if you have not heard Sally Anne Morgan’s solo albums, do that now.
Half Waif — form/a
“I’m so aware of all my moods, all my moods when I’m around you; What if I remove myself from all the action knowing that every mood is a reaction.” This is the way excellence starts, that magnificence is courtesy of the song “Severed Logic” from the brilliant release form/a. It’s the acknowledgement of presence and prescience, I am here because I choose; but if I choose you, I choose this, it is a psychological thriller. The suppression of the self is sometimes what it all becomes, “the highest I will ever climb is hardly high enough,” sung in ”Wave,” the idea that these limitations are imposed (externally and internally). form/ a explores the self as that which involves and evolves, but that one can never truly change something until there is a realization of the thing. Pop music does not always have to acquiesce to the idea of “dumbed down.” All of these songs could be about love or a person, or an obsession or an idea, which ultimately love is. “Night Heat” encapsulates the confusion of that situation perfectly: “I try to get away, but I don’t know what I’m after.” I need to leave this to go where? But all of these limitations: relationships, bodies, conditions, are all forms that can be reformed or abandoned: “and you have been patient through all of my storms, forgive me baby, but what’s one more.” This a superior work, it is incessantly beautiful and provoking, it is all and everything, I am engulfed and enraptured.
Big Thief — Capacity
Capacity, according to Dictionary.com, is the ability to receive or contain, and this can be taken many ways. In some ways, we understand people within their capacity, what one can you endure or sacrifice. Big Thief is never above the heavy, but here it is delivered with a gentleness and grace. “Shark Smile” is the fatal story of a car accident, but your feet tap as you cringe. Adrianne Lenker, the chief songwriter in Big Thief, is a beautiful singer and wordsmith, turning the awful into the digestible. “Watering” has the lyric, “He cut off my oxygen and my eyes were watering as he tore into my skin like a lion,” which is presented in a calm and subdued tone that speaks of a peace with the abuse. A helplessness or acceptance, and either is disturbing, but the song also jams hard so you are crying and while your head nods. The band also shines here, Buck Meek’s guitar lines pierce at the right time, the rhythm section of Max Oleartchik and James Krivchenia are McVie/Fleetwood tight. The band’s last album, Masterpiece, was good, but this is stellar, and I loved the last album. This is the sound of a unit. “Haley” is ridiculously good, and “Mythological Beauty” is awe inspiring. While these songs have subject matter, the album is ultimately about humanity, someone loves the monsters, too. We are all capable of terribleness, we can inflict and be inflicted, but we find ways, even in nightmares and breakdowns, we go on, scarred but alive. Excuse me while I pull this knife out of my side.
Kevin Morby — City Music
The soundtrack of our lives. The best music narrates our stories, helps to color our canvas. It is at the times the caption to the photo, it gives context and connection. Kevin Morby’s City Music is that, as you live your life in the city, these are the tales of the city folk living, loving, and lying around. “Come To Me Now” is the worried love, looking out the window into the night, staring at the phone, pacing the floor. “Dry Your Eyes” is the Solomun Burke slow jam, it is sad and grooving, it is walking alone at night, driving the old haunts, the unspeaking company of lovers; it is soul music because it stirs that. City Music is just that. The city music, the tunes that accompany the backdrop and the drama, the downtown band in the bar, the guitarist on the street, the Mariachi band, the oldies playing in the restaurant, the cars and their jams. It is the vibrant sound of the city and being alive. If one were to listen to this album several times, the favorites would adjust themselves to the setting and the mood and it’s all here. “In my time of sorrow, you have a song I could borrow” goes the beginning of “Pearly Gates.” “Downtown Lights” ushers you into the night or the morning, it is the last stop on the trip, the journey through. This is a whole experience to be felt as such. Oh, that city music.