The Month in Music: Craft Spells, White Lung, Greys, and Parquet Courts
While Pitchfork's Ian Cohen has given Craft Spells' Nausea a paltry 5.8 (in a review that seems more concerned with Justin Paul Vallesteros' "unhealthy relationship with social media" and asking if bedroom rock actually rocks than anything else), neither the grade nor the review do Craft Spells' sophomore album any real justice. First off, I feel the album deserves a bit more than a 5.8. Secondly, other than mentioning that Craft Spells shares a label with Wild Nothing, and that Jack Tatum's influence, especially the craftsmanship present on Nocturne, is present on Nausea (neither of which are a negative, not in my opinion), Cohen seems unable to truly talk about the music on the album. Other than some strange wordplay—he describes the experience of listening to "Komorebi" as "like watching [a] colorized black & white movie," and then, in what I'm sure he regards as a deft turn of phrase, calls the rest of the songwriting "monochromatic"—there is no real analysis of the album, just a collection of asides that Cohen never fleshes out into anything more.
There's no point denying that Wild Nothing's Nocturne, one of the best albums released in the last few years, colored and shaped Vallesteros' second full-length. This is only a problem if all that Craft Spells did on Nausea was weakly ape Tatum's triumphant effort, which is not the case. (Though to be honest, even a problematic rip off of Nocturne would be better than 80% of the music coming out most weeks.) Focusing on the parallels between the albums overlooks the numerous differences between them, and gives short shrift to Nausea itself, which is a wonderful record.
There truly isn't a misstep on the album for me—it starts off very strong the fantastic title track, "Komorebi," and "Changing Faces"; I'd really like to sit down with Ian Cohen, put on "Dwindle," and have him look me in the eye and say the song is "monochromatic" or sounds too much like a track Nocturne; and "Breaking the Angle Against the Tide" is wonderful, as are all the other songs I didn't list here.
And I only expect Nausea to continue to grow on me, especially when the humidity that plagues the east coast finally breaks as summer bleeds into autumn.
Ever since being turned on to White Lung by a friend a few years back (thanks again, Jack!), I've had high hopes for the Canadian punk outfit. Despite growing up around people involved in the DC punk scene (and playing a few small roles myself in the scene in Stockholm, Sweden), it's rare for punk to affect me like it did when I was younger. That said, when a band does make an impact these days, they make a rather profound one, and none more profound than White Lung. I'm surprised and delighted to see Domino—the label best known for playing a role in launching the careers of Arctic Monkeys and Animal Collective—taking a chance on Mish Way and company, if only because the label has the clout and reach to expose White Lung to a whole new audience who may have missed their phenomenal Sorry back in 2012.
While my love of punk waned with the rise of bands like Bloc Party and Interpol in the early 2000s (and my renewed interest in bands like Joy Dvision and the Chameleons around that time), my respect for the genre has remained unchanged. Punk rock played a crucial role in my life for a long time, introducing me to bands, people, ideas, books, and films that completely changed the way I see, appreciate, and move in the world, and I can't think of a better band to expose a new disaffected, bored, and angry generation to the scene and the potentials of punk rock than White Lung.
Deep Fantasy continues and expands upon the strengths of Sorry—the catchy, nimble guitar work; the fast, yet fantastically intricate drumming; the crush of the bass; the razor's edge of Mish Way's unique voice, which occasionally echoes Courtney Love's delivery and ferocity on Live Through This. Even with a larger recording budget, White Lung still sound like a punk band—there's no unnecessary vocal production, no bizarre effects put on the screeching lead guitar, no annoying, manufactured studio wizardry. Producer Jesse Gander, who also manned the mixing board for Sorry, does what a good producer should do: bring out the best in a band and their compositions.
And bringing out the best of a band like White Lung yields brilliant results.
June is shaping up to be a banner month for Canadian punk music, with Greys' If Anything accompanying White Lung's Deep Fantasy as one of this week's new releases. The band has addressed the inevitable comparisons to fellow Toronto outfit Metz (whose 2012 self-titled debut was one of my favorite albums of 2012), and—as with the comparisons between Nausea and Nocturne—this correlation is actually quite flattering. Yes, there are similarities—which the band acknowledges, with Shehzaad Jiwani saying rather aptly, "A lot of people think we’d sort of chafe under that constant comparison, but that’s how you create a music scene," and welcoming people getting into their music from people saying they "sound like Metz"—but there are noticeable differences, too.
For example: the opening of "Pretty Grim" could be mistaken for a Metz song—similar guitar and drum work, both focused almost solely on the percussive, pounding elements of the music—but as soon as the vocals kick in, differences begin to emerge—the guitar work starts to move away from a crushing wall of sound towards a more intricate web of distortion—and the last minute of the song moves the band entirely out of the territory they share with Metz. And "Pretty Grim" is about as close at Greys come to encroaching into Metz' sonic landscape. The rest of the album continues to develop the band's own sound and approach to punk rock, which is remarkable.
"Brain Dead" is a solid example of what the band does so well, effortlessly and seamlessly exploring the entire territory open to punk and post-punk bands (which can be quite vast in the right hands). The song kicks off with drums and noise, then the guitars start to truly thrash, the sung-spoken-screamed vocals spark alive, culminating in an anthemic chant of "I'm brain dead, it's what they said!"— and then on a dime the song transitions into a very different vein about 1:40 in, echoing the quieter moments of early At the Drive-In. Just as easily, Greys move the song right back into the heavy, mosh pit-ready chorus to close out the track. The following song, "Cold Soak," reminds me of the amazing stuff bands like Majority Rule and City of Caterpillar were doing in the DC area in the early '00s.
There's a lot more going on with Greys than a sharing a city and some elements of their sound with Metz, and If Anything is very much worth your time, if not your money.
Parquet Courts and I have a strange, somewhat strained relationship. See, I wanted to like them right off the bat, and there are extremely few reasons for me to not like them—their sound is influenced by some of my favorite bands (Pink Flag-era Wire, the Velvet Underground, Television, Pavement, etc.), and like those bands they are wonderfully creative and experimental, and I've even enjoyed all of their record covers to date. (Ugly/boring record covers truly bother me, as do ugly/boring book covers.) But as so many of my friends were entranced with Parquet Courts' Light Up Gold, I found myself somehow on the outside, like someone who has been looking forward to going to a party for a while and then spends the evening on the peripheries, sipping their drink, not sure how to work their way into the fray, eventually leaving so they aren't seen as a buzzkill or an awkward wallflower.
With Sunbathing Animal, however, Parquet Courts and I seem to be finding some common ground. I'm still not ready to proclaim them the second coming of the Velvet Underground or the greatest band in Brooklyn, but that doesn't mean I'm not learning to truly enjoy them. I think the shift away from the "Pavement of Post-Punk" sound of Light Up Gold towards a Pink Flag revivalism (see: "Vienna II") on Sunbathing Animal has really helped me to come around.
At this point, for Parquet Courts and I to make what couples counselors call "a big breakthrough," I probably need to get up to New York City at some point this summer, preferably an unbearably hot weekend, and spend a few days wandering Brooklyn and the East Village in the heat, a few nights out drinking with friends, listening to nothing but Sunbathing Animal as I navigate around. Maybe I should invite Noah Baumbach along. He seems like the kind of cat to truly appreciate this kind of undertaking.