“My Country,” the stunning opener of Whokill, is a barbaric yawp, a righteous tantrum and a declaration of independence. For 3.5 minutes, Merrill Garbus absolutely shreds my country with X-Acto jabs, and then defies genre-fication over the remaining nine tracks. This album bulges with Hard Rain pictures of life in America, and Garbus is raw, hopeful, seductive, ruthless and terrified in the face of her homeland experience. This album astonishes both lyrically and sonically, as each track builds into an agile sonic vessel for such diverse and powerful subject matter.
Over the last few years I’ve seen more of this “chill wave” creep into my discography. It isn’t an accident, it turns out. Was I the Wave? was immediately easy to love. Icy intro “Awe” seamlessly blurs into “Tracers,” setting an unaffected mood, but Miracle Fortress get more melodic and more sonically interesting on “Raw Spectacle.” The Drop comes about halfway in while maintaining its breathy melody and flitting synths. “Spectre” evolves further with bright melodies and harmonies riding a tide of 80s dance pop. Several songs hit the sweet spot of melodic and standoffish, dance-y grooves. I can’t help but shake my white self. “Everything Works” and “Miscalculations” continue in the same vein. You get the picture.
“Menudo on drugs” can only partially describe Davila 666’s squalor-filled Puerto Rican punk. Cringe-inducing lyrics such as “no te gusta que te toquen, pues cabrona no provoques” abound as do tales of societal unrest (“Esa Nena Nunca Regresó”), frustrated relationships (“Yo Sería Otro”) and general angst (“¡Diablo!”). Aside from aligning themselves with punk’s thematic cannon, Davila 666 string plenty of hooks together to give extra thrust to their desperation. I like “Noche de Terror” in particular; it might be the strongest single song for its bouncing chorus that celebrates horror and pleasure. This blending of fear, anger and vulnerability make for a unique feel throughout and is one of the reasons that Davila 666 made the best album foreign album I heard all year.
“I don’t wanna change, but I don’t wanna stay the same
I don’t wanna go but I’m runnin’
I don’t wanna work but I don’t wanna sit around
all day frownin.”
He’s a bit more depressed than the restless troubadours of On the Road, but Kurt Vile hangs his hat on a come-what-may ethos fleshed out in these acoustic musings. I’m mostly reminded of Tom Petty on songs “Jesus Fever” and “In My Time,” but other forefathers may surface elsewhere. Smoke Ring for My Halo: bed-ridden folk in a bottle that washed up on my shore. It might not have.
1. The Dodos – No Color
2008’s Visiter’s torrent of acoustic fury and chaotic percussion was just so damn unexpected. The following year’s Time to Die collapsed under its predecessor’s weight (for me). A sophomore slump? Perhaps. The Dodos experimented with more ornate arrangements (strings, etc.) in lieu of their earlier base formula: rabidly-strummed guitar and manic banging of sticks on drumlike things. 2011’s No Color was a cautious reach for me; I didn’t want The Dodos to end up a one-off in my memory when their sound was so unique and expressive. Happily, as you may discern from the ranking, to my ear No Color is everything Time to Die wanted to be so badly. Here, The Dodos careen through nine tracks of the same acoustic earnestness that made Visiter so exciting while also finding time to work in a decent amount of peripheral instruments. “Uhhhhhhhhhhh!!!” I’m listening to it now and that’s the only sound that expresses what it feels like to hear any of the first several tracks. They carry so much emotional intensity with just the instrumentation. Then, overlaid with sincere (and occasionally deeply profound) lyrics, sung in increasingly inviting melodies is just too. damn. good. for me to express. Loud live The Dodos.