What We Missed: 2016 Quarter One

There’s a preposterous amount of music out there, so much that sometimes we don’t even get to cover all of it in a timely manner. What We Missed is our chance to catch up on records that may have slipped through the cracks. In this edition we touch on notable releases from the first three months of 2016, including debut full lengths from Florist and Kevin Gates, as well as anticipated followups from Chairlift and The 1975.

chairlift-moth

Chairlift – Moth

Chairlift’s second album, Something, sounded surreal, like each song was it’s own out-of-body experience. The duo’s latest record, Moth, is much more earthbound. Caroline Polachek and Patrick Wimberley upgrade their pop production to move with a slicker sheen. Though the two twist a few sounds here and there like their previous funhouse pop — that robotic whirr and string squiggle of  “Ottawa to Osaka,” for one — they favor clean lines over blown-out textures.

The touch-up on the production allows Polachek’s hook game to stand out as the strongest takeaway of Moth. Her playful aside in the chorus of “Moth to the Flame” — “he’s that kind of man, mama” — could spawn a meme in another world. Her voice, a much more contained instrument here than on Something, also continues to play essential as a Chairlift signature. It’s again the cracks in her vocals that give the songs a personal quality: the sway and peaks of her voice in “Crying in Public” express the very experience of catching yourself falling in love.

Otherworldly sensations similar to the one in “Crying in Public” also filled the music of Something. But while Polachek couldn’t quite a finger on what she was feeling before, she now got the hang of streamlining complex feelings such as desire and attraction into efficient, thrilling pop singles. She knows what she wants in Moth, and she knows just how to get it. – Ryo Miyauchi

Ivan Muela-Unsound

Iván MuelaUnsound

Have you every spaced out when  traveling about a big city? Do you ever wonder what all the other people on the bus or train around you are thinking about? Everyone’s going through thousands of thoughts daily – a thought in itself that can distract and humble us. But inevitably you get distracted. Life is full of busy little things taking us away from the task at hand. Messages on our phones, adverts on televisions, billboards, offers in supermarkets, songs on the radio, and, of course, the internet all take us away, be it for hours or just a few seconds. London-based composer Iván Muela tries to capture this wandering state of mind on his latest album, Unsound.

There are long stretches of deep thoughts that swell for 11 minutes, like on the transforming slow beauty of “Silience”, or “Carlo”, a gorgeous piano number that grows like a flower sprouting from the ground. Next to these longer suites are momentary snatches of thought, like the delicately plucked “Lemon” and “Woodbox”, or “Traprock”, which bellows a few deep piano chords before halting suddenly and decaying away into quietly reverberating silence. Unsound is light but busy, a carefully considered 44 minutes that bleeds spontaneous piano improvisations with homespun studio effects. It often resonates deeply like Max Richter‘s work. Like its cover art the album is classical but with wash of distracting beauty over it. Sometimes it reaches out of its cosier templates, like on “Unlimed”, which contrast two differing violin lines, one being played deliberately out of key. It spends its time constantly looking for resolution, but is always held back. So easily does the conclusion seem in sight, but so easily does something else come along to distract from the easy end point. – Ray Finlayson

kevin gates - islah

Kevin GatesIslah

On “Really Really” Gates claims that he’s “A lyrical songwriter and he can sing.” In respect to his run of mixtapes prior to the release of Islah, his major label debut, this boast is spot on. Taken in the context of Islah it only feels half true. Gates is right to highlight his singing. Whether on a hook or in one of his verses the Lousiana rapper’s voice is his greatest asset. Gates delivers his lyrics in a gravelly baritone that’s surprisingly flexible as a melodic instrument. When firing on all cylinders, like on the infectious “2 Phones” Gates injects small hooks into his rapping voice that build on the central melody of the song’s chorus. Kevin Gates is also a remarkably affecting when he allows his emotions get the best of him on “The Truth” where he strains and audibly loses his cool as the song escalates. This smart songwriting and natural charisma is part of what has propelled Young Thug and Future to mega-stardom, but unlike the space alien auto-tune goop of the Atlanta sound, Kevin Gates’ singing is an extension of the gruffness of rapping voice. Gates is perfectly positioned to slot right alongside the sounds of hip-hop’s mainstream while preserving his own unique character.

While Gates’ delivery will help him transition from local sensation to a broader national audience, it also forces him into some unpleasant creative territory. When he raps over acoustic guitars on “Hard For” he gets dangerously close to sounding like the singer of a late 90s post-grunge band, and the sleaziness of “One Thing” is an even harder sell in his hands. Much of Islah‘s second half is bogged down by corny sex raps that feel clumsily executed and come at the expense of the virtuosity that Gates used to light up his mixtapes. Gates is an adequate second fiddle when he lets Trey Songz and Ty Dolla $ign do the heavy lifting on “Jam,” but these concessions to mainstream appeal feels like a misunderstanding of Gates’s strengths as a writer and performer. The best material on Islah, “Really Really,” “2 Phones” and “Time For That,” all present a version of Gates that doesn’t need to sacrifice his idiosyncrasies in order to make hits. Gates trusts in the power of his voice, but hasn’t found the firepower to back it up yet. – Ian Cory

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FloristThe Birds Outside Sang

You’re right to think that Emily Sprague sounds downtrodden – defeated even – on The Birds Outside Sang. Sprague – lead singer/songwriter of Florist – composed most of the album while recovering indoors from a hit-and-run accident which left her in a neck brace and unable to use her left arm. The Birds Outside Sang details her accident in plain and real detail, as if Sprague is trying to forego poetry to describe the devastating horror of the incident and the effect it had on her. On the first half of the album she sounds like she’s singing from inside a bedroom, recovering slowly as the world outside goes on with everything. Most of the album centres around simple keyboard notes, that and her voice being the only options left open to Sprague since she couldn’t play guitar.

The simplicity works. Sprague’s nervous, melancholic voice is complimented by compositions that wrap her in either a chilly air or a lightly sweet sunlight. Sometimes she sounds like she’s drifting between dream states, replaying the accident in her head in slow motion. “I am weightless / I am bone”, she sings plainly on “A Hospital + Crucifix Made Of Plastic” before adding in “I am asphalt”. She merges mortality with the everyday on the múm-like whistling warmth of “Thank You”, trying to appreciate life in all its splendour, but  is still chained down by the inevitable fate of us all. “I’m really grateful for the people i’ve met / But that won’t make me die any less,” she sings, thankful, but defeated. Sprague might be young, but she’s wistful, as The Birds Outside Sang shows in modest doses. She says the album is “about the speed at which rain falls, life goes on, and people grow”. She sometimes sounds like she’s slowing down the past, but more importantly, she’s also moving forward, hour by hour and day by day. – Ray Finlayson

Ross Ellis 12" Gatefold 11298

Treetop FlyersPalomino

London’s Treetop Flyers are a band that manage to mix sounds from both sides of the ocean. On their second album, Palomino, they wander between the easygoing warmth of 60s/70s Americana and the homespun melancholia of early British folk-rock. They sound enraptured with a world decades past, but they never become lost in it, instead owning their fusion and letting it sprout into an expansive, rewarding hour. “Lady Luck” is almost dirge-like, taking cues from traditional folk and resembles a nightmare that slowly becomes more harrowing as each line is uttered, while “Never Been As Hard” is a soft, pedal-steel driven number which becomes a soundtrack to a night sat by the bar, singing, “Never been as hard upon on myself as I am right now.”

Elsewhere the mood is upbeat and forward-driven, conjuring up the gold and white horse coat colour the album is named after. There’s the blustery “31 Years”, the electrified “It’s A Shame”, and the psychedelic opening track “You, Darling You”, which morphs spacey synths into a wholesome acoustic number. It’s easy to sense that Palomino is a collaborative affair (no single band member owns the songwriting credit to any song here), the band working tightly, but never like they’re caught up in the minute differences of each other’s playing. They work to create a smooth, open-aired atmosphere that tackles issues of loss, reconciliation, and downtrodden optimism by holding one’s head up high and galloping forward. – Ray Finlayson

1975

The 1975i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet unaware of it

Shedding the power-pop gleam that dominated their 2013 epynomous debut, Manchester-based The 1975 have instead incorporated too many sounds and too many genres to accurately describe their newest record in a few words. On i like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful, yet unaware of it, The 1975 have lost the bad-boy pop that popularized songs like “Chocolate” and “Sex” from their debut. Instead, they went in an entirely new direction, sprawling out for 17 tracks. The record begins with the space-y “The 1975” that begins, then abruptly stops, before recalling a night with a girl in hushed vocals and twinkling synths. As soon at the track reaches it’s peak, it ends, and awkwardly transitioning into “Love Me.”

A lead single from the record, “Love Me” was a sure sign that The 1975 were seeking a new sound. With a saccharine disco beat and sing-a-long chorus, it’s definitely an ear worm. Compare the track with “Change of Heart,” and it’s hard to see how these three songs can all be on the same album. i like it when you sleep is one of the least cohesive pop albums to recent memory. Still, the album has been hovering on the top of the charts since its release, even delaying it’s availability on Spotify for three weeks. It’s a vulnerable pop album in a time where vulnerabilities are embraced- even in style. Instead of the bravado and money and girls (or boys) that have marked popular music for the past couple of decades, The 1975 are part of a new era of pop music, not necessarily sad, but more realistic. Their album sales are enough to prove it to be true. – Jessica Yarvin