MJC’s Records of the Week 5/4

Every week at WSUM, our Music Director, Izzi, chooses her favorite new releases to add to our music library. In turn, WSUM’s Music Journalism Club shares what records they’ve had on repeat. From new releases to classic albums, here’s what the members of MJC have been listening to.

Sufjan Stevens, The Age Adz

(2010, Asthmatic Kitty)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Get Real Get Real,” “Futile Devices,” “Vesuvius”

GENRE: Alternative, experimental

RIYL: Susumu Yokota, Bon Iver, Crumb

THIS ALBUM SLAPS. Sufjan Stevens holds a special place in my heart and when I was perusing my library I stumbled across this treasure. I haven’t listened to this album in years, I tend to just stick to Illinoise or Carrie and Lowell but after spinning this for two weeks I can confidently say it has secured itself in rotation. What I like about this album compared to other Sufjan Stevens albums is that it takes leaps towards experimental music but maintains his eery, singer-songwriter tendencies. Tracks like “Futile Devices” and “All for Myself” mirror this, they keep the album calm and somber and contrast the upbeat tracks like  “Too Much” and “I Walked.” Sufjan combines different elements and emotions to create this masterpiece. The song “Futile Devices” appears in the 2017 film, Call Me By Your Name and has introduced many more indie kids to Sufjan. It’s funny because I heard “Futile Devices” prior to the film but didn’t put it together until I found a live performance of the track on YouTube from 2011 and said to myself “Hold up, why am I thinking about Timothée Chalamet?!” The video is iconic, Sufjan is sporting a colorful headband and muscle T, and it all feels right. Sufjan Stevens is not a rock star, he is talented and committed to his work. I’ve been falling more in love with his work as I listen more closely to what he has produced and created. Through his music he is able to simultaneously make me cry and dance, it’s an odd but authentic reality. I say stop what you are doing right now and go appreciate our king, Sufjan Stevens, with his 2010 release, The Age of Adz. — Izzi Bavis


Daniel Lopatin, Uncut Gems – Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

(2019, Warp)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “The Ballad of Howie Bling”, “Fuck You Howard”, “Uncut Gems”

GENRE: Film score, electronic, space ambient

RIYL: Oneohtrix Point Never, Andy Stott, James FerraroIf

I could leave you with one takeaway from this album it would be this: somehow Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never) managed to make a soundtrack that both fits perfectly and contrasts completely to this rollercoaster of a movie. Each track is chock full of glittering modular synths that remind me of the Stranger Things soundtrack. The instrumentation makes you feel like you’re walking through a contemplative dream sequence, which couldn’t be further from the actual plot itself. Tastefully scattered in between are clips of dialogue from the movie. These pseudo-found dialogue samples sound organic and seamless with the music just like Lopatin recorded them while eavesdropping on the subway, and they contribute even more to the bizarro, hazy feeling of the overall soundtrack. Yet despite the otherworldly sound Lopatin cultivates, some of the tracks fit the movie perfectly. The rapidly arpeggiating synths of “School Play” generate just the amount of suspense I would expect for Adam Sandler being chased on foot through a school parking lot. One of my favorite tracks “Fuck You Howard” has these uber-corny and seemingly unfitting opera vocals that double the synth melody, which at first listen I physically recoiled at. Ultimately though, the campy instrumentation results in an evil cocktail of sound that succeeds in making you feel as unsettled as the scene it accompanies. Watch the movie if you’d like (it’s fantastic), but I highly recommend the soundtrack as well as it’s an achievement in and of itself. — Shelby Len


Deerhunter, Cryptograms 

(2007, Kranky)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Cryptograms,” “Lake Somerset,” “Spring Hall Convert,” “Hazel St”

GENRE: Experimental rock, neo-psychedelia, indie rock, ambient 

RIYL: My Bloody Valentine, Animal Collective, Yo La Tengo, No Age 

Having been introduced to Deerhunter by Ayden (who wrote a quite exquisite blurb on Halcyon Digest which you should read), I decided it was only proper for me to further explore Deerhunter’s discography considering how much I enjoyed Halcyon Digest. The best way to familiarize myself with the Deerhunter catalog is to start at the very beginning. I must disclose that Cryptograms is not the band’s debut album. I am not even sure what the band’s debut album actually is. Both Wikipedia and Rateyourmusic give vastly different answers for this, therefore after some confusion and listening to two different albums that may be the band’s debut I encountered Cryptograms. Cryptograms is less vocally driven than much of the band’s other works, for instance “White Ink” is one of five of the album’s ambient and drone pieces which take up a considerable amount of the album’s 48 minute runtime. Even a track such as the tense and bouncy “Octet” burries Bradford Cox’s vocals underneath the playfully deranged dance-punk chaos of the track. However, this is not to say there aren’t vocally driven tracks on Cryptogram. Take the title track for example, a hazy and urgent cut that does an excellent job in priming the listener for the proceeding ten tracks of charming psychedelia. Following soon after this track is “Lake Somerset” one of a couple tracks on Cryptograms as equally indebted to post-punk as they are to psych rock. This track in particular is not too far removed from a Contortions track, utilizing the same kind of frayed vocal delivery and jerky instrumentation, however, the song also adds a thick layer of shoegaze inspired effects into the mix. 

Later into the album we are shown some of the album’s finest cuts like “Spring Convert Hall” which is my personal favorite from the album, its extended outro is blissful and sublime. “Hazel St” and its overall vibe is somewhere in between bittersweet and triumphant, featuring reverb drenched vocals and playful yet sharp guitar lines. As a bit of an aside, if you’re a fan of either early Interpol or The Strokes, I would highly recommend “Hazel St” as your starting point for this album, it integrates the slick and often nocturnal sounds of both of these bands into Deerhunter’s cool psychedelia to great results. Cryptograms as a whole seems to be a bit underlooked in the context of Deerhunter’s discography, but rest assured, the same great songwriting, memorable melodies and hooks, interesting instrumentation, and overall adventurous approach to their craft is all here. So if you’re looking for a bit of a mesmerizing walk into the wide genre of neo-psych, Cryptograms might just be the album for you. — M. Jarosinski


AJJ, Good Luck Everybody

(2020, AJJ unlimited LTD)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Normalization Blues,” “Body Terror Song,” “Psychic Warfare,” “Mega Guillotine 2020”

GENRE: Folk-punk, anti-folk, protest music

RIYL: Neutral Milk Hotel, The Mountain Goats, The Front Bottoms, Days N’ Daze

AJJ’s eighth studio album Good Luck Everybody is a bleak, emotional, angry take on the political scene we live in. In their most political work yet, Sean Bonnette and Ben Gallaty tackle the state of America, the upcoming elections, the current administration, and fears over technology with a blend of familiar sounds from the band’s past records. When this album first came out in January I don’t think I appreciated it as much as I do now. In an era where our President tells us to inject disinfectants to end a disease, songs such as “Psychic Warfare” and “Normalization Blues”  are cathartic releases that become more and more relevant everyday. Bonnette’s anger over the President sparks AJJ’s classical witty one-liners that are among some of the best in their career. The track “Normalization Blues” has the best examples of this lyricism, which soon became one of my favorite songs. In a simplistic I-IV-V blended with Bonnette’s ridiculously fast folk strumming patterns the track gives the singer space to express all his fears regarding the current administration, with lyrics ranging from “connection is more important now than it ever was but I’d rather be alone” to “we live in the golden age of dickotry, probably the last golden age of anything” it feels like the folk songwritter’s attempt to make the best of our situation by laughing at it. Good Luck Everybody feels like the perfect record to introduce someone to AJJ’s vast discography, feeling like a fully developed pocket size version of the band’s signature vibes. From the more fuzzy electric guitar lead in Loudmouth evoking Knife Man to the more folksy psychedelic “Body Terror Song” reminiscing their first album People Who Can Eat People Are The Luckiest People In The World, this record has something for everyone. The clear oddball of the record is the Beatles-like anthem “Mega Guillotine 2020.” The track was based on a viral tweet where a patent for a guillotine that could fit “up to fifteen congressmen” was filed and Bonnette took the opportunity to make a hilarious music video as he declares who he’s vote is going for in a kid’s show inspired sing-along video that deserved at least a mention. While being bummed about their June Madison concert getting cancelled, rediscovering this album via Sean Bonnette’s comforting daily quarantine setlists helped me find some sort of solace and laugh a little at the situation we’re living in. I highly recommend the cathartic Good Luck Everybody for everyone looking for some music that reflects the current environment. And thanks AJJ, if I could vote in November, please know that my vote would be going for the Mega Guillotine. — Arthur Machado


Jack Stauber, Pop Food 

(2017, Plopscotch Records) 

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Oh Klahoma,” “Dog Nightmare,” “Bothersome,” “Safe Socks,” “My Plea”

GENRE: Hypnagogic pop, neo-psychedelia, indie pop, new wave

RIYL: Lemon Demon, Miracle Musical, bo en, Oingo Boingo, Talking Heads 

Pop Food is Pittsburgh-based musical and visual artist Jack Stauber’s third album. Widely known for his surreal animations and short songs that dabble in both surrealism and eerie imagery as well as more tender and wholesome works, Stauber has risen in prominence in the last seven or so years to amass a following of over 1 million subscribers on Youtube. Pop Food, while more akin to the style of the songs Stauber within his videos from 2017, feels like a definite departure from Stauber’s two previous albums, Viator and Finite Form, both albums featuring heavy influences from the world of psychedelic folk. Instead, Pop Food takes an approach informed by both neo-psychedelia and new wave. I originally heard Pop Food in the summer of 2019. I enjoyed it but I can’t say it was something I constantly revisited at the time. A year later and something about this album just seems to click with me in a way it never did before. Maybe it’s the way its songs like “Oh Klahoma,” are both a bit uncanny as well as infectious. Or it could be its astutely composed and abnormal tracks such as “Dog Nightmare,” the bleak chillness and macabre of “Bothersome,” or the cool late night summer vibes of “Safe Socks.” It could also be just the carefree and fun tracks such as “My Plea,” a song which on its surface level is about calling your mom to convince her to give you money to buy candy bars. Whatever it is, I have grown incredibly fond of Pop Food and its excellent and odd songs in the past few weeks and heavily recommend this album to anyone looking for a unorthodox and outlandish trip into the genres of neo-psychedelia and pop.  — M. Jarosinski


Queens of the Stone Age, Era Vulgaris

(2007, Matador Records)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS:  “Misfit Love,” “I’m Designer,” “Turnin on the Screw”

GENRE: Hard-Rock, Alternative Rock

RIYL: Them Crooked Vultures, Iggy Pop, Kyuss

Between the release of Queens of the Stone Age’s 2002 magnum opus desert driving album, Songs for the Deaf, and their fantastically dark and dreary comeback, 2013’s Like Clockwork, the band put out a strange little record called Era Vulgaris. From my experience, it seems that Era Vulgaris is an album you either love or hate. To some, this is the best Queens album, and to others this is the worst. I have a feeling the split in the community over this album’s quality can be chalked up to its sonic texture, which I can only describe as “sour.” You may be wondering, “how the fuck can an album be sour?” In all honesty, I don’t really know myself. There’s something about the guitar tones and riffs on this record that remind me of Iggy Pop’s The Idiot with its drunken rhythms and burn out attitude. However, where The Idiot feels like an inebriated shamble through dimly lit European streets, Era Vulgaris sounds like you’re creeping through the streets of LA under blistering sunlight, hyped up on pure sin. Its straight vulgarity. Songs for the Deaf was front man Josh Homme’s attempt at turning a drive through southern California desert into an album, Era Vulgaris is his conceptualization of Hollywood. It’s an ode to the burnouts, has beens, and wanna-bes. Those naïve enough fall into Hollywood’s gaping maw, selling themselves like nick nacks. As Homme states on “I’m Designer,” “My generation’s for sale. Beats a steady job. How much have you got?” This record is built on indulgence and entitlement, not only in its themes, but also in its sound. The sourness comes from the overdriven and clinky guitars, the high end always buzzing through the mix. The solos are ridiculous and top heavy, always on the verge of toppling over. Some may read this as a criticism, but I assure you this is what makes the album so good. While this album isn’t always consistent, sometimes fitting songs into the setlist that don’t push the albums iconic acidic sound, there is something charming and certainly entertaining to be derived from the records putridity, and I hope more people can distill it as I have. — Ayden Schultz


HORSE the Band, R. Borlax

(2003, Pluto Records)

HIGHLIGHT TRACKS: “Seven Tentacles and Eight Flames,” “Cutsman,” “In The Wake Of The Bunt,” “The Immense Defecation of The Buntaluffigus”

GENRE: Nintendocore, metalcore, post-hardcore, mathcore, chiptune

RIYL: Genghis Tron, Every Time I Die, Blood Brothers, Rolo Tomassi

What does the idea of “nintendocore” bring up in your mind? Is it of some equally sweaty and angry hardcore band banging out breakdowns to a cover of a song off the Majora’s Mask soundtrack? Well, you’d be half right, nintendocore just like screamo means very different things depending on who you ask. In some cases nintendocore refers to progressive rock and metal tinged covers of classic 8-bit soundtracks. The Advantage features the talents of Hella’s Spencer Seim on drums covering “Fortress” from the original Legend of Zelda on the NES. However, to the actual originators of the term, HORSE the band, nintendocore means blistering and furious metalcore combined with the same blippy chiptune synths you may have heard all the way back in 1985. Chiptune is foundational to HORSE the band’s frantic sound and this becomes very apparent on R. Borlax very quickly with the extended synth break of the opener “Seven Tentacles and Eight Flames” that appears a third of the way into the track. Besides this energetic synth break, this track opens up in a destructively frenzied way, with its tremolo picked guitars and blast beats introducing you to the 34 minutes of synth fused metalcore to follow. Directly after this track is one of HORSE the band’s defining tracks, “Cutsman.” Never has a song about a Megaman villian sounded so menacing, with the track featuring multiple breakdowns along with the same confrontational instrumentation mentioned previously. Following this track is “In The Wake Of The Bunt” featuring seemingly shifting time signatures to accompany the tracks forceful and panicky attack. Remember when I mentioned “Fortress?” What if I told you there was an interpolation of this same song that shows up on the albums shortest and most aggressive track, “The Immense Defecation of The Buntaluffigus.” Around halfway through this track, you’ll notice the classic 8-bit tune except this time with chugging guitars and anxious hardcore growls. Honestly, I could provide a little tidbit about every track on R. Borlax, I live for this brand of somewhat goofy hardcore that is still played with the same passion and anger as any other hardcore act. So if you’re ever in need of hearing the world’s most belligerent use of chiptune I would highly recommend R. Borlax. —  M. Jarosinski