Music Features

Quick Takes (July 2018)

Welcome to this slightly abridged version of Quick Takes! It's just me this time, as Carl is still on a hiatus, but I'm sure he'd like to let all of you know that he's really into the new Internet record. As for me, my two top picks this month come from promising trio The Ophelias and fellow Puerto Rican folktronica group Balún. I was also quite delighted to hear that The Rock*A*Teens are back, a superb indie rock band from the early 2000's who deserve to be more than a well-kept secret. 

What were your favorite albums during the month of July? Anything we didn't get to review on our site that we should've? You can always reach us on Facebook, or on our official twitter page. Juan


Prisma Tropical
(Good Child Music)

Balún escape into an idyllic tropical getaway on Prisma Tropical. Since their start, the Brooklyn-via-Puerto Rico quartet have focused their attention on the dreamier side of electronic music alongside acoustic and chamber instrumentation, but this time around, they're expanding their influences even further. Inspired by the dembow movement - a sound that is practically ubiquitous to their native homeland - the husband-and-wife duo of José Olivares and Angelica Negrón, both adroit musos who come from academic musical backgrounds, entangle those distinct elements into a congenial atmosphere filled with bewildering masses of color. Much of Prisma Tropical invites you to dance to their ambling rhythms, like in La Nueva Ciudad, but there's also a tenuous melancholy that surrounds its otherwise ambient passages. It's a generous hour-long offering that seldom repeats itself, and the band makes sure to pull all the stops as if it were their last chance to make a final impression. Which hopefully isn't the case, because as the enlightening Prisma Tropical attests, their radiant, untroubled look into Latino displacement and identity within a dominant Anglo-Saxon musical landscape should, in an ideal world, leap over those barriers. [8/10] 


The Ophelias
(Joyful Noise)

The Ophelias were fortunate to have met through similarly distasteful circumstances. After parting ways with their respective male-oriented bands, the Cincinnati, Ohio quartet wanted to write songs which addressed their concerns as young women. And Almost, their second effort, strengthens that point of view by pairing up stories of sorrow and gallows humor with a delicate constitution. Underscored with a minimal production by musician Yoni Wolf, the band carry their chamber pop arrangements with a lo-fi grain that sounds like it was recorded inside a dusty basement. Under the guise of an amateur, that cavernous ambiance would've obfuscated their luscious instrumentation. But the tinny, almost stifling recording adds a unique and personal touch that further emphasizes their songwriting idiosyncrasies. But above else, Almost presents touching, and often forthright, chronicles of the messy scenarios we stumble into which defy easy explanations. [8/10]

The Rock*A*Teens
Sixth House

Not too many bands can approach the grandiose as faultlessly as The Rock*A*Teens. That's not to say that it was the chief characteristic of the Cabbagetown, Georgia's sound, but there is a life-affirming zest to their songs that lights up the sky like fireworks. It's been eighteen years since the cult band released their last record, the masterful Sweet Bird Youth, a quiet departure that felt unfair considering they influenced artists like Okkervil River and The New Pornographers (and though not stated publicly, I'm sure the bookish musicologists of Arcade Fire stole a thing or two from them). What's fascinating about their return in album form, Sixth House, is how they manage to pick themselves quite faithfully from their teetering anthemic force. Age and wisdom do punctuate their dramatic delivery even further, though instead of a celebration, there's a palpable darkness that seeps into those positively transcendent moments. The quartet always sounded bigger than themselves, and not much has changed in this respect, from the bittersweet fable Count in Odd Numbers to the descending, sunburned blues of Lady Macbeth. The Rock*A*Teens never got their due, and though Sixth House will remain a well-kept secret, it should at least redeem a band who's long overdue a reappraisal. [7/10]

Trust Fund
Bringing the Backline
(Ellis N Jones)

Ellis Jones is starting to burn out on Bringing the Backline. For five years, the Bristol singer-songwriter known as Trust Fund, alongside a revolving cast of musicians, has maintained a prolific streak of records which are filled with striking and amusing remarks. Even if his albums are usually adorned with a playful mesh of divergent musical styles - filled with self-referential experiences told from an anti-rock star stance - he essentially interlocks them within fierce power-pop anthems. And Bringing the Backline continues his knack for razor-sharp, yet sugary guitars, a driving force which counters against his timid, squeamish vocal delivery. But that's also Jones's quiet strength; his scuffed-up, handclap worthy sing-alongs wouldn't resonate as well if he performed them with a disingenuous confidence. As it is with an artist whose chock-full of ideas, Bringing the Backline does suffer from throwing in too many ideas at once, prickly indulgences which cast a shadow to his otherwise simple, yet sturdy compositions. But being his last album as Trust Fund, there's a sense that he was intent on giving it the ornate conclusion it deserves. It's a shame he threw in the towel just as we were getting to know him. [7/10]


Still Run

Brooklyn duo Wet fight off the remnants of a dwindling ethereal R&B era on Still Run. Not that there's the possibility of making it sound compelling again, but as the commonplace ten tracks on this album show, it sounds like they're content with competing against the dime-o-dozen artists who are trying to get a fair shot from clueless music executives. Some of Still Run sounds promising, even if the trite sentimentality that accompanies it doesn't do it any favors - Kelly Zutrau impersonates the rugged charm of Amy Winehouse with satisfactory results on You're Not Wrong, while the ghostly lullaby of Love is Not Enough is a sweet sendoff that frustratingly pinpoints what the album could've been with a change of focus. Wet feel disconnected from the album's overarching theme, and though they do put some feeling into their maudlin ballads, you'll come off it without remembering a single note. [3/10]