There is no such thing as a typical Magnetic Fields album. Over the course of the eleven albums they have released since 1991, their sound and even genre has changed album to album and song to song. That said, their latest album, 50 Song Memoir, is like nothing else they or anyone else has released. While epic-lengthed albums aren’t a new development (their best known album, 69 Love Songs, consists, unsurprisingly, of 69 love songs), 50 Song Memoir is remarkable not for its length but for the fact that one narrative runs through the entire album. Each song marks one year in the life of Stephin Merritt, founder/leader/heart and soul of The Magnetic Fields, starting with birth and going right up to the recording of the album, which began on Merritt’s fiftieth birthday.
By Devon Chodzin ‘19
For many artists, the third time’s the charm. There’s no doubt that Solange fits in this pattern. Solange’s third full-length solo album, A Seat at the Table, is a miraculous and expansive suite which is a privilege to hear.
by Sonia Calzaretta ’18
As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a huge fan of music with an indie folk sound. Songs with haunting harmonies and that twangy banjo/ mandolin combo that reminds me of childhood summers.
Liking this kind of music means that I’ve become pretty proficient at recognizing an indie folk album cover when I see one. “The Heartland” looks exactly like what you’d expect an inside folk album cover to look like: a watercolor painting of a city in purples and grays, blocky band name, cursive album title. It came out in February of this year, so it’s fairly new, and Rabbit Wilde has only been making music since 2014. I found the album when I was walking through the hallway between the WKCO office and the broadcast booth, alphabetized among the hundreds of CDs we have down there. It looked interesting, so I took it home. I’m so glad that I did. The plain cover hides an album of surprising merit, one that I’m sure will be among my favorites for years to come.
By Devon Chodzin ’19
I’m physically upset by what I have to do right now.
This week, I tasked myself with reviewing M.I.A.’s latest release, AIM, the fifth studio album from the London-based rapper. Before I dive into discussing AIM, allow me to preface this by explaining that, regardless of the contents of this album, M.I.A. has still proven herself to be a worthy favorite and a beacon of inspiration for women of the South Asian diaspora, whose art is frequently and unduly discounted from the mainstream. In addition to her music, M.I.A. has made a huge name for herself as a fashion icon and a radical activist for oft-overlooked South Asian causes. M.I.A. (aka Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasm) spent much of her youth in Sri Lanka as well, and uses her fame to amplify the voices of the most oppressed groups in Sri Lanka. She’s a jack of all trades and a master of all of them, which is a combination tough to find in the contemporary age, where specialization is so heavily enforced.
That being said, AIM was not very good, musically.
By Charlotte Freccia ’19
In 2014, a calamity struck the California-based indie-folk collective Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros in the loss of their only female member, Jade Castrinos. Fans of the group lamented: gone were Jade’s soulful vocals, which added wonder and whimsy in duet with Alex Ebert, the band’s frontman and main vocalist, in infectious and iconic tracks like “Home” and “That’s What’s Up” and her significant feminine presence. Without Jade, ESMZ is just a group of eleven bearded, suede-hat wearing white dudes. Distinctly less inclusive, and less interesting. Even worse, the separation of Jade from the band became very messy and very public, complicating the twelve-piece wannabe-psychedelic pseudo-folk cult’s image of harmonic melody-making and free love. Real hippies don’t have occupational disputes, am I right?
by Audrey Avril ’19
Earlier this month, Scottish post-rock band Mogwai released their new album, Atomic. Technically, they released a collection of songs off the soundtrack they produced for a documentary, but if you’re a Mogwai fan, you take what you can get. In this case, what you get is a pretty good album.
Tied loosely to the history of the atomic bomb, Mogwai manages to encompass destruction and creation, the past and the present, despair and hope, all in a mere 50 minutes. From the first track to the last, Atomic sends you on an otherworldly journey while keeping you tethered to the humanity of it all. Buckle up.
By Charlotte Freccia ’19
I know it’s like the Number One Commandment of How To Be Good At Liking Music — Thou shalt not listen to, much less actively like, a band that got famous for having its song accompany an earnest, heavily light-leaked montage of a barn wedding on a Bing commercial — and being Good At Liking Music is very important to me but goddammit my soft, soft indie-dudebro-loving heart just can’t get enough of The Lumineers. I’m not even sorry that I’m not sorry. I liked them when they came out with their self-titled debut in late 2012, but back in those days we were in the thick of the (sadly) short-lived era known as “folk revival” during which it was a bit more socially acceptable to express admiration for bands that made liberal use of the banjo. I guess even then I understood, though, that The Lumineers were a little gimmicky and I imagined that their influence and playability would be short-lived. Nonetheless, I unexpectedly got pretty heavily back into the band this winter after The Stairwells performed an appropriately unironic cover of their cover of The Talking Heads’s “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” which I not surprisingly loved and which inspired me to take another listen (or 12) to the Deluxe Edition of The Lumineers and to get excited for the release of a second album by the Denver-based band.
I was happily surprised that this band subverted my expectations in the production of a––so far as I can tell––mature and nuanced sophomore album, Cleopatra, which was released last week. The leading single from the album, “Ophelia,” echoed the band’s breakout hit “Ho Hey” down to the dominant sounds of upbeat, Ragtime-esque piano and tambourine and the rhythmic group chorus. “Ophelia” remains a standout on the album, but make no mistake: on Cleopatra, the old blissfully ignorant, Americana-devoted Lumineers who sang of college-bar flirtation are gone and in their place are three disillusioned and vaguely existential twenty-somethings who make music with lots of spaces, lots of distance. The endearing group vocals of The Lumineers are gone; here, singer-guitarist Wesley Schultz sings alone and frequently of foreboding Shakespearian leading ladies who, like himself, are not quite sure what to make of their lives despite ostensible distinction and success.
Something I’ve long admired about this band is that their music seems crafted not for production but for live recording, and that holds true on this album. Its draftiness, its imperfection, feel newly melancholic and powerful on Cleopatra. A friend of mine told me that this album makes her feel weary and grown up, and she doesn’t know if it’s because the last time she seriously listened to this band she was a sophomore in high school, but I think there’s something to that: the opening song, “Sleep on the Floor,” is a sunrise, certainly, but one that wakes you up alone and much too early. “Gun Song” is reminiscent of another yearning, slow-burning ballad by another Band That I Loved In High School To Which I Remain Unironically Devoted Though It Has Become Less Cool To Be So that was released this year with the word “gun” in the title: “Hold No Guns” by Death Cab For Cutie. Both seem to ruminate on the futility of love in the face of infallible sincerity. The album’s title song, “Cleopatra,” is thematically similar to “Gun Song” in that its hapless heroine, a beautiful and relatively successful actress, spurns a would-be lover despite her premonition that she will “die alone” (!!!). (Side note––I was disappointed with this band when I first glimpsed the cover art and saw there a notably white woman dressed in ancient Egyptian garb, but that the song is about an actress playing Cleopatra rather than the formidable (and distinctly African) empress herself makes this bit of cultural appropriation slightly more acceptable if eye-rollingly predictable from a band that would surely make Sun Kil Moon’s master list of “Whitest Bands I’ve Ever Heard”). The album closes with “Patience,” a simple minute-and-a-half wordless piano coda that sets the weary sun on this bittersweet set of songs that are musically and emotionally resonant and herald the emergence of the somber, disillusioned band that once made, so innocently, the song “Flowers In Your Hair” and now must acknowledge the hard truths of the life on the road.
Cleopatra is hard and heavy and much more complex than The Lumineers’s first attempt which is to say that it might be slightly more cool but a hell of a lot less fun to like the band in 2016 than it was in 2012.
By Tom Loughney ’16
It’s finally here. The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s new album, released on TIDAL last week, and the world hasn’t been the same since. Artists everywhere have laid down their brushes, their pencils, and their instruments, unanimously deciding that no more art needs to be made. All war has ended, Tupac came back from the dead, and the police threw Donald Trump in a gulag.
Actually, the world’s been pretty much exactly the same – there have just been a lot more thinkpieces about Kanye West. Such is life in the digital era. So sit back, relax, and get ready to disagree with my opinion – it’s review time.
By Devon Chodzin ’19
Nearly four years after Oshin, the post-punk dreamers at DIIV have released Is the Is Are, a monstrous, 17-track sophomore album which features a surprisingly non-diverse array of songs. Not unlike Oshin, the most captivating part of most tracks on Is the Is Are is the systematically-arranged guitar lines. The layered guitar lines are especially pleasing in “Under the Sun,” a single which DIIV gifted to us in mid-December. Since mid-September, DIIV has released four singles from this album, which despite the album’s lack of intense diversity, have significant disparities between them. For example, “Bent (Roi’s Song)” and “Under the Sun,” two singles released in November and December respectively, differ widely in that “Bent” is rough, scratchy, and, for dreamy rock, kind of edgy, while “Under the Sun” is much more methodical and behaves like a 2010 shoegaze track SHOULD behave. “Bent,” on the other hand, brings forth some of the more unpleasant sounds which characterize the original shoegaze. In short, there’s really something for everyone here.
Audrey Avril ’19
Late into last year, Baroness released Purple and reminded us that we should give metal a shot some time.
The 4th full-length album from the sludge metal band from Savannah, Georgia, Purple continues the band’s journey through the color spectrum, from the electric energy of breakout Red and the unrelenting harshness it sustained into Blue, to a maturation of the experimentation (borderline indie rock vibe) found on the double album Yellow & Green. In the end, Baroness pulls from the best of their discography to craft a powerful, thrilling, and diverse sound that is well worth a listen from any fan of metal, hard rock, or heck, music in general.