Alvvays - Antisocialites

Alvvays channeled the bane of youth on their self-titled 2014 debut. “Too late to go out/Too young to stay in,” singer/guitarist Molly Rankin bemoaned on “Archie, Marry Me,” cementing herself as the voice for preoccupied twenty-somethings who feel like the first generation to experience quarter-life-crises all on their own. Three years later, Alvvays’s newest release Antisocialites sees Rankin and company still feeling preoccupied, but this time, the crossroads between commitment and abandonment, nostalgia and uncertainty are textually more defined and far more intimate as Rankin catalogues broken promises and painful choices.

Much of Antisocialites is engaged in a larger struggle to pin down what, exactly, happiness is—at least for now, at a point in life when true adulthood starts to meet reality and aging suddenly becomes a creeping thought, consciously or not. Sometimes Rankin looks for contentedness in simple routines. “Meditate, play solitaire, take up self defense,” she sings on lead single “In Undertow.” These small acts of control help stave off the dread of growing old, or just growing up in general, but not for long as Rankin asks in the very next line, “When you get old and faded out will you want your friends?”

Other times, Rankin wonders if lovers might ease some of this anxiety, mostly finding that they just add to it. On the punchy and distorted “Your Type” she laments a crush that leaves her feeling lonely, “I die on the inside every time/You will never be all right/I will never be your type.” Songs like “In Undertow” and “Your Type” are as much homages to 60s romances as they are send-ups to the submission and loneliness that underlies many hits within that era of early bubblegum pop. But Alvvays is able to place that feeling in the present. “I can’t buy-in to psychology/And won’t rely on your mood for anything,” Rankin coos before the chorus of “In Undertow,” highlighting her ability to tap into the frustration of love at a time when there are myriad ways to “know” how someone feels, most of which seem like open-ended pseudoscience.

Musically, you’ll find Antisocialites highlights Rankin and lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s ability to write using musical cues beyond vaguely alluding to their influences here-and-there. Rankin takes on the indignantly cool attitude that plagues indie music on “Plimsoll Punks” singing, “Your postures blocking out any possible light/I can hardly see … You’re the seashell in my sandal/That’s slicing up my heel.” Over this, O’Hanley’s standout guitar work plays with song structure, calling and responding by inverting earlier musical motifs in the song as the second chorus comes along. It’s cheeky, and you can feel the “See what I did there?” moment coming from O’Hanley, but it adds to the playfulness of Antisocialites, which feels like such a rare quality beyond just indie rock when its pulled of as expertly as it is here.

Ultimately, Antisocialites is for anyone who knows the power struggle between what we feel and what we want to feel. Rankin plays it like she’s losing this game for much of the album, but she knows better than to leave the listener so low. In the album’s finale “Forget About Life” she calls a truce with her bleak outlook on relationships and adulthood. Letting out a gentle, but nonetheless celebratory “woo” she asks, “Underneath this flickering light/Did you wanna forget about life with me tonight?” It’s a complicated question for a complicated relationship, but Rankin knows it’s at least possible.

Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.

Kendrick Lamar’s latest album Damn. explores feelings of isolation, and his struggle with the negative side of fame and fortune. These are themes that were touched on heavily in his previous album, To Pimp a Butterfly, but this time around we hear them from a different perspective. On TPAB, Lamar was a bit younger and coming to terms with fame and fortune for the first time, but now almost 30, Lamar addresses this struggle from a more mature point of view.

kendrick-damn-during-tpabArt by GoufyGoogs

At this point in Lamar’s career he is well acquainted with the woes that wealth carries and the negativity that fame has brought out of people around him. He often feels as though he is alone in life and those that grow closer to him are just trying to get a cut of his paycheck. These feelings are heard with the recurring line “ain’t nobody praying for me,” heard on the tracks “ELEMENT.” and “FEEL.”. Amongst the artistry of his emotional struggle, Lamar also gets back to work shutting down his critics and other rappers who find themselves determined to bring him down. He addresses these subjects in songs such as “HUMBLE.” and “DNA.” Lamar further asserts his dominance on “GOD.” when he raps,”This what God feel like, huh, yeah.” Damn. also features a heavy arsenal of guest performers such as Rihanna (“LOYALTY.”) Kaytranada and BadBadNotGood (LUST.), as well as the legendary U2 (XXX.).

The thing that I find myself impressed with the most about Kendrick on this record is the way he articulates his verses, or even sections within a single verse. He raises and lowers his intensity or modifies his intonation in sync with the lyrics and the rhythmic structure the producer creates, whether it’s Sounwave, Bekon, 9th Wonder, or The Alchemist. Kendrick treats each producer as a member of his band and like a true musician he listens to their contribution and fits himself perfectly within that structure. This is what I believe really sets him apart from other hip-hop artists as well as why I think he works so well with jazz musicians (see To Pimp a Butterfly). It’s not just a sick beat with some flow thrown on top, Kendrick is out here composing honest and serious music and taking every aspect of the listening experience into account. Everything you hear on Damn., every musical motif, every vocal inflection and so on, is decision that was carefully made.

HOMESHAKE - Fresh Air

Fresh Air, the third album from Montreal-based Homeshake dives deeper into the rainy-day melancholy former Mac DeMarco guitarist Peter Sagar and company are renowned for crafting so well. This time around, they expand on the synth strolls and melodic bass lines boasted on 2015’s Midnight Snack.

homeshake band membersHomeshake, as featured on their Bandcamp

“Serious” plays with an abrasive siren-like sound in the chorus, showing Sagar’s ambition to incorporate unconventional sounds to further Homeshake’s songwriting capacities. Sagar’s signature falsetto comes out to shine on tracks like “Not U,” his falsetto refrain on the hook blissfully complementing the woozy, sonically dense instrumentation.

What separates Fresh Air from its predecessors is the sheer density of these 14 tracks. The rich low-end groovy synths anchor the record to R&B framework, but the higher synths, guitars and advancement in production techniques provide refuge for Sagar and his croon to find room to breathe. Though Fresh Air boasts Homeshake’s most complex and well-produced work yet, “TV Volume” and “So She” recall Homeshake’s first full-length- the former toying with wah-kissed guitar trills littered through In The Shower, while the latter basks in a single chord strummed amble.

With that said, Fresh Air feels like significantly less of a musical jump than Midnight Snack was from 2014’s In The Shower. However, this shouldn’t be perceived as negative. The most stark connection to previous material is “Getting Down Pt. II,” a gloomy groove where Sagar calls back the main melodies from “He’s On Fire” from Midnight Snack.

The perma-stoned bliss and suave lyricism that Sagar seems to have mastered makes Homeshake a recommended listen for someone who needs some “fresh air,” or perhaps maybe just a deep breath. Fresh Air finds itself straddling between stimulating and sedating, but nothing urges, nothing pushes, everything is organic and unforced. The opening lines of “This Way” serve as a fitting mantra for Fresh Air: “Come in and sit and stay a while, you can relax, it’s me.”

For fans of: Mac DeMarco, Alex Calder, Mild High Club