Editor’s note: From 2012 to 2014, Matt Rice wrote the music column Matt on Music for The Eastern Echo, the student newspaper for Eastern Michigan University. Beginning in 2016, Matt relaunched this column on The Young Folks. You can read past installments of this column here.
I’m mostly indifferent to Cloud Nothings, Japandroids make exciting, slight music, and Surfer Blood are tiresome. Grass is green, the sky is blue, etc. etc. My adoration of Car Seat Headrest made me think I was growing more tolerant to this kind of thing, but I guess Will Toledo is just an exceptional songwriter/compiler.
Cloud Nothings: Life Without Sound (Carpark) Like any hooksmith worth their salt, Dylan Baldi knows that the words don’t really matter. It’s about how they sound, after all, not what they mean, and his words have gotten closer to sounding as strong as his guitars on each outing. But although it’s been nice watching him keep embracing pop craft more every couple years since 2012, culminating in what is, at its heart, a pop-punk album, he generally only excels at his most singley. Without an instant classic on the level of “Stay Useless” and “I’m Not Part of Me,” the band’s most consistent record still fails to live up to the expectations it’s been impossible not to place on him ever since everyone overrated Attack on Memory. Closest to classic: “Modern Act.” 7.5/10
Japandroids: Near to the Wild Heart of Life (Anti-) They had their moment and then took five. Thank God. The biggest problem with Celebration Rock, a fine rock and roll artifact, was the hype surrounding it. Here, the oohs and ahs and self-overproduction signify less, which is just another way of saying there’s little pretense. They love playing music, even if the music is minor and spotty, and the break has humbled them. I doubt I’ll listen to it much, if I even listen to it again. But I’m glad that this inevitably disappointing follow-up stings less than it would have two, three, four years ago. 7/10
Surfer Blood: Snowdonia (Joyful Noise) Beyond the infuriating and sad personal events that have overtaken most discussion of this band in recent years, can we just admit they were never that good in the first place? The praise given to their debut was dumbfounding, and the amount of leeway it’s granted them since has been painful to watch. John Paul Pitts has melodic chops, no doubt, but even when they were actually interested in rocking, his utilization of them was light and empty. Here, they are actually trying to be light, which gives the music about as much life as you’d expect. Personal, maybe. Tragic, certainly. But personal, tragic songwriting can be tedious too. The AV Club writes, “Songs like these evidence Pitts as a rapidly maturing songwriter and his companions as more than capable of executing a wide range of styles.” Maybe indie really did peak in 2009. 3.5/10
Single of the Week – Spoon: “Hot Thoughts” (Matador)