New Music: Friday Roll Out! Illogic & DJ Criminal, Vivian Girls, Daedelus, Monograms, Ani Cordero

I’m a realist. There, I’ve said it. I have a family, those I have to look after, which falls under the wide umbrella of responsibilities. There aren’t any shortcuts in life and we all have to be aware of the fact that good fortune isn’t going to come to any of us if we sit on our asses. I could just write about these albums and tuck them away on my home computer but for some reason, there are those that want constructive criticism. With that said, if your expectations of Nirvana-esque status rests in your mind but you can’t find the energy to remove yourself from a sofa, blaming the world isn’t going to help. We always must cite Robert Pollard as being the exception to the rule, although, the thousands of songs he wrote for GBV (who has a new album out next month. No surprise.) and his solo work were coupled with incessant touring back in the day.

There are a couple of things I didn’t get to this week because circumstances were beyond my control (i.e. computer issues) but I’m hoping to get around to them soon. One is Daedelus with his new The Bittereinders (Brainfeeder), whose drawn-out soundscapes never fail to intrigue, and I don’t think there’s anyone that’s ever come close to matching his sound. His association with Flying Lotus makes all the sense in the world. And then there’s Ani Cordero with the release of her new El Machete (Panapén Records). The activist/musician, with Puerto Rican roots, has music that should touch people on so many different levels and “Prestame Tus Penas” is probably one of my favorites here.

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I occasionally don’t know what I’m going to end up with when listening to a regional band that very first time. In fact, a feeling of dread usually comes over me because I never want to pan something just for the sake of panning. That’s when this hits my desk and media player.

It’s the music by Monograms. The brainchild of one Ian Jacobs, a multi-instrumentalist that started Monograms as a bedroom experiment before filling out the ranks into a full-fledged band with drummer Rich Carrillo, bassist Sam Bartos, and keyboardist Michelle Feliciano. The band just released its sophomore album Living Wire (PaperCup Music) and it sounds like there’s a lot of clever things happening here, but also tugs at your sense of nostalgia, allowing you to reminisce on your older brother’s dusty record collection in your mom’s basement. Or, it could be your dad’s collection in your grandma’s home. Either way, there’s something about this that worth discussing.

Living Wire is riddled with nostalgia, but with feet firmly rooted in the now, and far from sharing any type of redundancy of an 80’s bar band. “Buzz Choir” has Feliciano’s keyboard taking center stage before the rest of the band works around her notes and fall into a dark melancholy with an upbeat tempo. Given, it does have moments that are reminiscent of early New Order, but I do love me some New Order. Jacobs’ slightly distorted vocals feed off of the melody the band pieces together and allow the track to move in a singular motion. And then there’s “Sounds Like Mean Spirit,” which may be a play on words of a 90s band but the track itself again harks back to another 80s-era act and I’m not sure if I’m reminded more of “Play For Today” or “A Forest” but luckily, Jacobs sounds nothing like Robert Smith and comes with a full-frontal assault on his vocals when he shouts.

Michelle Feliciano’s work on “Don’t Fight For It” is eerily reminiscent of Gillian Gilbert’s but ok, I’ll say it, Sam Bartos has that Peter Hook low-end as well! It’s difficult to break from comparisons here because these could be the songs their musical ancestors wish they wrote. The band changes its pace on the post-punk of “Common Circles” with sparse guitar work and a rhythm that moves at a much quicker pace. Then there is that staccato guitar work on “Garbage Can” that’s as infectious as the rhythm. The band shifts gears again on “Pirate Government, Inc” with its unique movement built around Feliciano’s keyboard work. It’s quite different and as experimental as any synth-pop track could get.

In the end, Monograms went digging in the crates on Living Wire for a nostalgic yet original take on music with haven’t heard in some time. The band is far from being a mimic or a caricature of those that came before them. They’re reviving something that probably left much too soon.  

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Can I even claim to have been a Vivian Girls fan at any point in time? No, not really but at no point in time had I ever dissuaded anyone to not listen to the group.  The band’s first two records were swallowed by distortion and had a cacophonic edginess to them and sometimes reminiscent of Hazel’s Jody Bleyle’s frenetic drumming. Now, the band hasn’t released an album since 2011’s Share The Joy, which got rid of much of the distortion for a cleaner approach. The trio would disband in 2014 but now the band has returned.

With the band’s new Memory (Polyvinyl Records), one must wonder what changes have been made in the 8 years between releases. The band has eschewed the quick simplicity of its earlier releases and has found its love again of distortion. The band’s songwriting hasn’t changed much, as they’ve always been pretty straight-forward in structure, but songs have always had a bit of flair and finesse only the Vivian Girls could deliver. Take “Something To Do” as an example here. The band encapsulates everything that’s great about indie rock in general. There’s a melody that’s distinctive, they harmonize with sweet vocals while surrounding the song with a guitar distortion that’s beautiful and adds another aspect to the track itself.

Had the Vivian Girls been born in the 60s the powerful harmonies could have made serious waves produced by Phil Spector. If one listens closely to “Sludge,” aside from the dissonant flair, there’s much to be offered with harmonies that float weightlessly. But it’s “All Your Promises” that has me captivated by the band’s effortless vocal delivery over jangly and distorted guitars before the dissonance comes in. It’s easily addictive.

It’s easy to say that if I wasn’t a fan before, Memory has changed that, allowing me to soak in everything the band has to offer. And there is a lot going on here, possibly more than one can dream of.

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Now, Illogic has always been a staple of underground Hip-Hop and if you’re from Columbus, Ohio, you’ve probably been fortunate to catch him performing live. You wouldn’t be scolded if you’re unfamiliar with the prolific rapper because the only ones that lose out are those that haven’t had the opportunity to hear him. Illogic has released more than a handful of proper solo albums, along with a plethora of collaborations.  

The emcee returns with the new A Change In Mantra, with DJ Criminal providing the soundscape for this release which seems to suit Illogic’s words and cadence perfectly. Piecing together exotic sounds/instrumentation over thick beats at times, the release seems to go places and do things others don’t: challenge. Opening with “The Spark,” the Pittsburgh native and internationally traveled Criminal, pieces together eastern vibes that work well against Ill’s renowned storytelling. Here he spits poetic, revolving around metaphors and when he raps, “I may not be the flame, but I’m the spark that ignites / the wind beneath the wings of eagles on a purposeful flight,” I may have to disagree because his words burn brighter than most.  

An art form has been lost throughout the years, and that’s storytelling, which Illogic is masterful at creating. That’s clear with songs like “Experience,” a fictional story where he shares tales culled from reality of a struggling artist’s attempt at success, but failing for his art. It’s a story shared by many in music, film, art, and just about any other medium, but here Ill’s imagery is captured in detail. The same could be said for “Look But Don’t Touch,” where images are personified from two separate viewpoints, as fidelity is tested in a relationship. But Illogic isn’t here to just preach to you with tall tales, his words are here to, dare I say it again, challenge. “Mission” drops with distorted guitar playing around his words as the beat remains steady to literally, blow minds. Guitars are balanced here by that deep bass line on “Flight Plan,” which is intense and hypnotic.

Not sure what I would end up with on A Change In Mantra but what we’re left with is a junkie itch for more of the same because the union of Ill and Criminal works wonders through a kaleidoscope of imagery, both lyrically and musically.

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