Posts Tagged ‘Best Albums 2018’

Arriving in the early months of 2017, Bonny Doon’s self-titled debut was a warm introduction to the Detroit quartet for many. Hazy and bright, the album’s woozy melodies and swirling webs of summery guitar textures were easily ingested as low-key slacker pop, blissfully awash in lo-fi sensibilities and dreamy ambiance. But the nonchalant breeziness belied a serious attention to songcraft that beckoned careful listening, and hinted at depths yet unexplored. Lo and behold, before the ink was even dry on the first record, work had already begun on its follow-up Longwave, a conscious about-face from the sonic experimentation of the first album, and a journey inward.

Opting for spontaneity and simplicity over the exploration of layers and textures that defined the first record, the band architected an incredibly intimate sound for these new songs. The album was tracked with minimal overdubs or production flourishes, constructing a frame that is spare and understated. The songs on Longwave amble through moonlit fields of melancholy guitar leads and self-reflection, the collection unfolding almost as one uninterrupted conversation with self. The session aimed to capture the band at their essence. With the superfluous stripped away, a gentle but steadfast spiritual core is revealed as the backbone of Bonny Doon’s cosmic American music.

Bobby Colombo of Bonny Doon said, “When you – if you – listen to our music, there’s a lot of self-critique and doubt, and questioning. That could be construed as negativity – I don’t think we do, though.” That kind of self-awareness is self-evident, and is the theme behind Longwave‘s ten tracks. But for an album full of wistfully declarative, introspective sentences, Bonny Doon left ample room for their take on spaced-out, captivating, catchy music. This one-two punch – confidence in self-doubt, and a strolling groove – helped Longwave arrive as one of the most fully-formed debuts this side of the millennium, and demanded repeated listens, both this year and beyond.

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Released March 23rd, 2018

Bill Lennox- vocals and guitar
Bobby Colombo– vocals and guitar
Jake Kmiecik– drums
Joshua Brooks– bass

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Near the end of Reagan’s first term, the Western Massachusetts Hardcore scene coughed up an insanely shaped chunk called Dinosaur. Comprised of WMHC vets, the trio was a miasmic tornado of guitar noise, bad attitude and near-subliminal pop-based-shape-shifting. Through their existence, Dinosaur (amended to Dinosaur Jr. for legal reasons) defined a very specific, very aggressive set of oblique song-based responses to what was going on. Their one constant was the scalp-fryingly loud guitar and deeply buried vocals of J Mascis.

Sure, Dinosaur Jr.’s J Mascis isn’t reinventing the wheel with this latest release, but that’s because he invented the wheel. Where was your outrage when Thomas Edison refused to redesign the light bulb? Exactly. This here is the title track off his latest solo record of the same name, released just last week.

Like its predecessors, Elastic Days was recorded at J’s own Bisquiteen studio. Mascis does almost all his own stunts, although Ken Miauri (who also appeared on Tied to a Star) plays keyboards and there are a few guest vocal spots. These include old mates Pall Jenkins (Black Heart Procession), and Mark Mulcahy (Miracle Legion, etc.), as well as the newly added voice of Zoë Randell (Luluc)  among others. But the show is mostly J’s and J’s alone.

He laughs when I tell him I’m surprised by how melodic his vocals seem to have gotten. Asked if that was intentional, he says, “No. I took some singing lessons and do vocal warm-ups now, but that was mostly just to keep from blowing out my vocal cords when Dino started touring again. The biggest difference with this record might have to do with the drums. I’d just got a new drum set I was really excited about. I don’t have too many drum outlets at the moment, so I played a lot more drums than I’d originally planned. I just kept playing. [laughs] I’d play the acoustic guitar parts then head right to the drums.”

Elastic Days brims with great moments. Epic hooks that snare you in surprisingly subtle ways, guitar textures that slide against each other like old lovers, and structures that range from a neo-power-ballad (“Web So Dense”) to jazzily-canted West Coasty post-psych (“Give It Off”) to a track that subliminally recalls the keyboard approach of Scott Thurston-era Stooges (“Drop Me”). The album plays out with a combination of holism and variety that is certain to set many brains ablaze.

J says he’ll be taking this album on the road later in the year. He’ll be playing by himself, but unlike other solo tours he says he’ll be standing up this time. “I used to just sit down and build a little fort around myself – amps, music stands, drinks stands, all that stuff. But I just realized it sounds better if the amps are higher up because I’m so used to playing with stacks. So I’ll stand this time.” I ask if it’s not pretty weird to stand alone on a big stage. “Yeah,” he says. “But it’s weird sitting down too.” Ha. Good point. One needs to be elastic. In all things.

There is plenty of drumming on the dozen songs on Elastic Days. But for those expecting the hallucinatory overload of Dinosaur Jr’s live attack, the gentleness of the approach here will draw easy comparisons to Neil Young’s binary approach to working solo versus working with Crazy Horse.

Elastic Days (Release Date: November 9th, 2018)

Image may contain: 1 person, on stage, playing a musical instrument and night

The first time I wrote about The Beths “Future Me Hates Me”—which is already near the top of my own personal Best of the Year list 2018 , I zeroed in on one specific aspect of it: the album’s sense of melancholy. And while that’s undeniably present on the record—on the rip-roaring “Uptown Girl,” Elizabeth Stokes vows to “drink the whole town dry”—but what’s also present is a sense of elation. The starry-eyed deep-in-love ballad “Little Death” offers a deeply earnest and touching depiction of true romance, Stokes gently singing, “Your smile, it makes me weak/ and the red spreads to my cheeks/ you make me feel three glasses in,” as the band steadily accelerates behind her, as if matching the rhythms of her heart. The whole record is shot through with deceptively complicated musicianship and attention to craft; what at first feel like full-blast indie rock songs soon open up to reveal deft, complicated guitar work, clever, counterintuitive structures—like the way the coulda-been-on-Jade-Tree rave-up “Not Running” slams the brakes midway through to turn the melody over to group-sung a cappella vocals.  It’s pitch perfect power-pop with smart, sad lyrics and insanely catchy hooks.

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The more you listen, the more you notice the little filigrees and pivots that usually start showing up on a band’s fifth record, not their first—which is both an accomplishment and a challenge. If The Beths are this good already, just imagine where they’ll be four albums from now.