Pretty Boring is at times pretty, but never boring. T.S. Tadin’s latest record is a collection of smart and subtle indie pop, with laconic, dry vocals that evoke the everyday-life musings of Jonathan Richman or Courtney Barnett. Tadin does it all on Pretty Boring, adding just the right amount of fuzz, guitar flourishes, and keyboard touches to the otherwise uncluttered song arrangements. He makes all the right aesthetic choices over and within the hazy production and lazing vocals.
The Richman influence is apparent straight off in the first song “Clown From a Dystopian Town.” It’s a countrified groover, showcasing Tadin’s tasty guitar skills and evocative lyrics describing life in a downtrodden town.
The title track is Barnett-esque in its delivery and lyrics, filled with delightful turns of phrase that detail the ennui associated with our otherwise chaotic modern lives: “Try hard to live in the moment/but sometimes it gets pretty boring”; “My calendar’s filled with disappointment/each day is a dentist appointment.”
“Like a Flower” jars us out of our relaxed state with an arpeggiated piano introduction. No choruses here; a subtle shift in rhythm helps deliver Tadin’s thesis on falling in love:
Cuts through concrete like a flower. Cracking pavement to devour this desire for self destruction, is only vanity in vain.
A nice bit of fuzz guitar to starts off lead single “It’s a Drag.” It soon transitions into a bouncy Beatle rhythm mixed with just a little James Gang snarl. Here, Tadin’s piano playing is more of an insistent pounding, adding infectious heft to the solid groove he’s laying down on drums and bass.
“Better Cry Yourself to Sleep” takes a bit of a turn in a new direction. Tadin emerges from his chilled-out state to reach higher vocally and produce maybe the strongest melodies on the record. It’s an excursion into dreampop, but without the genre’s hallmarks of heavily reverbed vocals and overdriven guitars. “You can count on me/to take things too far,” Tadin begins the first verse, before rising to a worldless chorus that floats into the clouds. The simple strumming of acoustic and electric guitars, an ascending bassline, and washy cymbal crashes create an airy backdrop. Tadin sings a new verse from these heights before landing back on solid ground, returning to the initial verse. A gem of a tune.
There are more engaging moments on Pretty Boring. Tadin once again invokes the old Modern Lover, Jonathan Richman, on “I’ll Be Your Umbrella,” with the choice line, “It’s OK, I’ll be your umbrella, baby/I’ll keep you dry—that’s a lie.” On “Killin’ Rock ‘n’ Roll,” Tadin earnestly sings “Disinfect my soul/killin’ rock ‘n’ roll” over possibly the most rock ‘n’ roll beat of all time, the Bo Diddley Beat. (Think “I Want Candy.”)
Pretty Boring is charming, engaging, and cohesive, and showcases Tadin’s sharp songwriting talent, imaginative lyrics, and artful musical choices. He wears his influences on his sleeve, but is able to create his own inventive pop style. You’ll hear him lazily singing in your head long after the record is over.
Pretty Boring was self released and is available on all major streamers.
What a ride. Jordan/Martin Hell’s wide-ranging new record, Psychosocialite, comes across as both tossed-off and well thought-out, somehow embodying the immediacy of a first take/best take philosophy while also being studiously crafted. The lo-fi, bedroom-pop production belies a colorful soundscape that defies categorization. Jordan/Martin Hell either consumes tons of music or ignored it entirely while holing himself up to create this insular soundworld. Genre boundaries are decimated, vocal stylings vary wildly, songs range from deeply emotional to charming and carefree—Psychosocialite is, by far, one of the most engrossing and original records of the year. We are happy to premiere it here for you today on FTA!
Hell’s label, Insecurity Hits, elaborates on this via a press release saying: “The intention was to create a genre-full album of hybrids that also involved the emotional intimacies of Jordan/Martin’s early 20’s. At the time Jordan/Martin thought he was compiling songs in the order they came out of him but songs know more about you than you know about yourself sometimes. Now that Psychosocialite is being released, when Jordan/Martin listens to it now he hears the pain and the love and longing that was always there and maybe always will be. Plus, Jordan/Martin got to make it with like a million friends so that always a good sign. Jordan/Martin now understands that he wasn’t making music for a label or anything but just making it to survive as a Black trans schizophrenic person in a world that wants him dead.” They also add that Psychosocialite was made over the period of 2015-2020 and includes songs recorded all over the world (including but not limited to Montreal, Argentina, Berlin and New York.)
The journey begins with “2 1/2 MIN.” Angular guitar strums stab over top a mellow yet insistent synth hook. Hell’s vocals are soulful, at times hushed and distant. The track ends with some backwards guitar touches before we’re jarred out of the clouds and back to the ground with the mathy riffing of “ACTOR.” There are some Ryley Walker/’80s Trey Anastasio elements to the dexterous guitar playing. Above the fray, Hell repeats, “You are never going home,” seemingly from a far-off distance. A stringed melody (violin, perhaps?) weaves throughout, soothing some of the anxiousness of the intricate guitar lines.
The strings are present again in the next tune, this time adding pathos to the disco-stomp of “BABYGIRL.” Once again, the guitar playing is sublime—gritty and a little nervous while also supporting the melody of Hell’s vocals and the strings. The vocals come down from the sky a bit to deliver the line “I don’t love nobody.” A simple line but delivered with a complex combination of earnestness and coldness, as if he’s defiantly convincing himself.
Another left turn follows on “BLONDE AMBITION (feat. Kid Naps).” It kicks off with Kid Naps rapping over…no beat! Nothing behind them but haunting string ambience for half the track. Midway, a simple hip-hop beat kicks in and Kid Naps flows anew before their vocals get subsumed by strings and high-pitched, full-throated vocalizations.
Four songs, four completely different sounds, and we’re only a quarter of the way through. Other standout cuts include “DEMETER,” featuring elements of math rock underneath Hell’s soulful, yearning vocals, and ever-shifting rhythms; “ESTER,” with its straightforward (sort of) guitar line and vocal melody that collapse into noise at various intervals; “FUCK.ME,” an excursion into video-game music, with all the wonderful synth sounds and programmed beats that go with it—but from a distance, Hell screams, grunts, and screeches; “GOD HATE” is Lou Reedesque in its simplicity and ominousness; “PRISCILLA” demonstrates the full ability of Hell’s voice in a plaintive, psych-folk ballad.
Perhaps contributing the chaotic and far-flung nature of the record is the wide array of musicians who contributed to the record, geographical boundaries being ignored alongside genre ones. While he plays something on every song on the record, Hell also enlisted help from Sheena McGrath (drums), Carlos Hernandez (engineering; organ/piano), Renata Zeiguer, Emily Cline (violin), Keba Robinson (bass/drums), Raz Robinson (guitar/drums), Noah Demland (drums/percussion), as well as members of Drama Section on drums, guitar, vocals, bass, and sax, and members of Didi on cello and flute.
Hell says the final product is also the result of using whatever free recording and mixing programs he could find. Surprisingly, there is a consistent sonic quality to the record for the most part. It’s an interesting experiment in what a record should sound like and how it should be recorded. Many musicians during lockdown found themselves scrambling for ways to achieve consistent recordings compiled from their socially distanced bandmates, seeking the same cohesion that they’d previously achieved in person. But maybe it’s OK for the listener to hear some of the stitchwork involved in the process. And like many great records, you’ll find yourself hearing cool bits on a second and third listen that you may have missed initially.
Psychosocialite plays like being inside a restlessly and infinitely creative mind, a person getting down all their ideas as they come and honing them into individual tunes that are enigmatic, delightful, and unpredictable. It is a freewheeling collection that also boasts depth of musicality and feeling. There is, quite simply, more here than initially meets the ear. It’s an engaging and essential listen.
Boris play a lot of styles: noise, stoner rock, shoegaze, industrial, ambient, punk, metal. Their Heavy Rocks series of albums tend to focus on the latter two. This latest installment is in the same mold, but the band showcases almost all of these influences as well, sometimes within the same tune.
Though not as focused as 2020’s full-on metal assault, No, or as transcendent as W from earlier this year (read our review), Heavy Rocks has a lot of killer tracks. From the jump, the band hits on a couple different heavy styles: the lead track “She is burning” is fast-paced metal with saxophone echoing the vocal melodies to exhilarating effect. This is followed by the Faith No More-esque flavor of “Cramper” and the crossover thrash of “My name is blank.”
Suddenly, we’re full-on skronking: “Blah Blah Blah” blares with saxophone cacophony before transitioning into an industrial groove, Takeshi’s fuzz bass rumbling under Atsuo’s steady drum pattern while guitar wizard Wata stabs and pierces sporadically with her angular, noisy axe work. Quite a left-turn from the first three straight-ahead rockers. This is followed by the fantastic “Question 1,” a trad metal–type offering with galloping rhythms, Wata’s shredding leads, and strong, soaring vocal melodies. Before you can get too comfortable, the song breaks down entirely, guitar noise leading to a goth-metal middle of big vocals and synth touches before returning to a faster pace.
“Ruins” is another standout cut, an under-three-minutes thrasher featuring Wata’s fast-picked chugging (reminiscent of 80s thrash guitar heroes like Hetfield or Mustaine) but with more punk rock attitude in the mix. “Ghostly imagination” brings the heavy and the speed but in a completely different way. Atsuo’s robotic stomping drumbeat is somehow danceable even at its breakneck pace.
The album is full of twists and turns that are trademark Boris, all the while showcasing the many influences. The band effortlessly steer their way through various sonic landscapes and continue to solidify themselves as one of the all-time brilliant and mind-bending guitar bands.
It’s breathtaking to watch an artist rising toward their peak. Before the pandemic, during the pandemic, and now in whatever stage we’re in, harpist Brandee Younger has been a restless and prolific force in the realm of jazz (or, as trumpeter Nicholas Payton rightfully insists we all say, Black American Music, or BAM. You can read his essay on that here). It’s been a steady ascent for Younger since 2019’s stunning Soul Awakening. Her latest effort, a deeply affecting two-song EP called Unrest, features two of her strongest songs to date.
Unrest is hot on the heels of her 2021 acclaimed release, Somewhere Different, her debut for Impulse! It represents Younger’s musical reflection on the uprisings we’ve seen in recent years against police violence and the ever-present racism so inherent to US society. On the lead track, “Unrest I”, Younger needs only her harp take the listener on her emotional journey, of anxiety, anger, aching, and sadness. The melodies are striking and tense. They soon give way to a more introspective interlude, Younger working delicately yet deliberately around the harp, perhaps grasping for notes as we would words to describe the indescribable. She returns to the theme, all the more cutting after hearing her seemingly reaching for answers.
“Unrest II” features the rhythm section of Allan Mednard on drums and Rashaan Carter on bass. Mednard and Carter drive a steady rhythm under Younger’s theme. Much like on the first track, the certainty of the initial theme soon gives way to something more open-ended, this time in the form a brief but phenomenal drum solo by Mednard. Soon, Carter and Younger reprise the initial theme before closing out the tune.
Produced by Younger’s partner, bassist Dezron Douglas (with whom she recorded 2020’s “pandemic record” of their livestream brunch sessions, Force Majeure), Unrest further solidifies Younger’s distinctive voice. Her playing and songwriting have both depth and subtlety, and while Unrest is not as modern sounding as Somewhere Different, it reminds us that the struggle Younger writes about here is a centuries-old one. But, there is hope in the unrest, that we are advancing toward something better.
Unrest is out now via Impulse! and available on all major streaming platforms.
Ah, the many sides of Boris. Many of us fell in love with the Japanese trio for their brain-rattling, bowel-shaking, ungodly guitar tones and riffs. Led by guitar hero, Wata—usually positioned in front of an impressive skyline of Orange amplifier stacks—Boris shows are often aurally overwhelming experiences. But on the heels of their 2020 thrash-focused excursion, NO, Boris emphasizes the more ambient and hazy sides of their sound on the intriguing new record, W.
The band says NO and W are intended to be companion albums, with the overarching title, NOW. The aggression of NO gives way to more subdued sounds on initial third of W. “I Want to Go to the Side Where You Can Touch…” opens the record. Wata’s hushed vocals whisper over booming drums and various droning and feedbacking guitars before stopping abruptly. “Icelina” then quietly tiptoes in with shimmering guitars and electronic synth and percussion treatments. Wata’s vocals remain hushed but clearer atop the softer musical bed. Her guitars stay subtle on the goth/industrial “Drowning by Numbers.” Takeshi’s bass and Atsuo’s drums move to the fore, providing a bit of funk and a bit of glitch.
It’s not til the fifth song, nearly halfway through W, that we get a barrage of Boris-style downtuned riffage. The instrumental “The Fallen” does not disappoint. An intro dirge of heavy sludge segues into more propulsive chugging, then to a final slow-motion explosion of big drums and deconstructed guitar.
W continues its exploration of dynamics and subtlety with the lullabye, “Beyond Good and Evil,” featuring beautifully executed soft/loud dynamics. “Old Projector” is a spooky instrumental with EVOL-era Sonic Youth atmosphere that evokes a sort of zombie spaghetti western. From there, the band veers into a pounding doom outro before the song stops abruptly.
Boris saves its most expansive statement for near-last with the hypnotic “You Will Know (Ohayo Version).” Takeshi and Atsuo leave wide spaces for Wata’s distant guitar noise and soft vocals. The drums go silent as the band envelopes the tune in more atmospherics of guitars, electronics, synths, and possible accordion? (The liner notes say Wata plays accordion on the record, but I haven’t definitively found where.) “You Will Know” fades out to a brief ambient vignette “Jozan” that closes the album.
It’s nearly impossible to disentangle music creation of the past two-plus years from the backdrop of the global pandemic. If NO was a blistering sonic statement of the frustration and despair of the early days of COVID-19, W mostly aims to soothe some nerves, albeit with the occasional outburst. It reminds us that these are incredibly challenging times for people all over the planet and that many of us have reacted and navigated the times similarly regardless of our where we live. Though it might soon become cliché for bands to put out their “COVID records,” their musical statements of a scary and bizarre time, it’s only helpful to be reminded that this has affected everyone everywhere. If that can’t unite us as a global species, what can?