New Music Tuesday: Beck • Schoolboy Q • St. Vincent • Wild Beasts • Mike Gordon • The Notwist

Beck - Morning Phase

Every Tuesday, we focus on new music releases by naming our top tracks, album highlights, lowlights and important takeaways for select albums.

BeckMorning Phase

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Heart Is a Drum”
“Country Down”
“Blackbird Chain”

Album Highlights: As indicated in the title, Morning Phase acts as a slow opening of ones eyes into a sunny bedroom on any given morning. Slow and sensual, each song ebbs into the next without a moment’s hesitation. It feels inherently Beck, touching on all his sensibilities without driving any of them home. The single, “Blue Moon,” is the most assertive track, naturally being featured as the debut single and showcases intensively audible lyrics. Other standout tracks are “Heart is a Drum” and “Country Down.” They are different from one another, but both highlight Beck’s ability to straddle genres, though he coins Morning Phase as “California music.” “Heart Is a Drum” is soft and comforting with twinkles of piano, portraying an ambient feel. “Country Down” shines with harmonica and acoustic guitar play, we see a glimpse of Beck in his younger years, if only briefly.

Album Lowlight: As mentioned previously, the album acts a slow opening of the eyes into a sunny bedroom. But, one couldn’t assume we would get something along the lines of Midnite Vultures, or even Guero. Songs like “Wave” really lay on the Zen moments pretty thick, and at times you want to shake the man and serve him a strong cup of coffee. Alas, as Beck, and we all, mature, we can’t come to expect music videos with kitchen appliances humping anymore as he turns more inward and lovely with age.

Takeaway: Beck is now a grown-ass man, and he is coming to accept this cruel fact, as demonstrated in Morning Phase. It fully carries similarities to Sea Change, or rather its ‘companion’ as stated by Mr. Hansen himself. Hearing this influence is undeniable while lowering the general feeling of gloominess that came with that emotional release in 2002. Yes, it’s slow, but its contemplative, it’s personal. The range that Beck has exhibited is impressive, but the focus he can bring is uncanny, drawing comparisons to legends of yesteryear. There are moments of string and brass, written by his father, David Campbell, that add another reason to simply fall in love with this album. The album feels highly emotional at times, but it also retains a certain lightheartedness that will lend to its replay value. Beck is confidently striding with his career and sound, building on all that has past while looking forward to the next step.

~Katy Meacham

Schoolboy QOxymoron

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Collared Greens” feat. Kendrick Lamar
“Blind Threats” feat. Raekwon
“Break the Bank”

Album Highlights: One quarter of the Black Hippy collective, Schoolboy Q has returned with a follow-up to his 2012 release Habits & Contradiction, equally impressive and oozing with tales of all-things-gangsta. Let’s not beat around the bush and call this album what it is: gangsta rap. Quincy Hanley grew up a Crip in Los Angeles, pushing Oxy and a little crack and weed, so it’s only natural that he rhymes about his life and past experiences.

Oxymoron is well-rounded in it’s shifting vibe, polished production and healthy roster of guests, while not relying on star power or other gimmicks to try to make this album compete with Drake or other mega-MCs.

One surprise that Oxymoron does present is a handful of (more) radio-friendly, club anthems that weren’t present on Habits. “Hell of a Night” is a prime example as the obvious lyrical content paired with trap drums and sensual overtones are sure to equate to repeated play at hip-hop clubs across the country. Out of the club, Oxymoron is simply an enjoyable slice of West Coast rap that sustains its enjoyment, throughout.

Album Lowlight: Some of the guest MCs on Oxymoron are massively talented, and in the case of “Collard Greens,” you can’t help but focus on Kendrick as Q’s vocals can leave a little to be desired when stacked against the unofficial Black Hippy leader. Songs like “Hoover Street” come off overly produced and overworked at times, especially when trying to be dark and brooding. Tyler, the Creator should also limit his guesting, as his oddball antics fit best in the confines of one of the dozen Odd Future acts.

Takeaway: Black Hippy have restored faith to West Coast hip-hop over the past few years, and now that the honeymoon has wrapped up, it’s nice to see where its respective members will go from there. Q carries the torch confidently into the darker side of the streets for us, re-emerging full of urban tales of sexual conquest and narco-life. His honesty in this realm is what makes this genre of the 90’s sound so fresh, 20 years after B.I.G and Pac.

~Kevin Quandt

St. VincentSt. Vincent

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Bring Me Your Loves”
“Huey Newton”

Album Highlights: Annie Clark ups the electronic ante on her fourth studio album and self-titled debut on Republic Records, St. Vincent. Branching out of her typically experimental indie pop compositions, she embraces more cohesive arrangements in which she focuses her creativity on deconstructed production and sound obstruction. Her ethereal vocals remain at the forefront of her songs and are complemented by the elements of distortion and reverb she plays with through the use of predominantly analog instrumentation. Annie hits you hard with her new sound right off the bat, fiercely unapologetic in the first two tracks, “Rattlesnake” and “Birth in Reverse.” Both equally impressive in sound quality and sass, these opening tracks set the tone for the rest of the records’ exciting stylistic shifts and the intriguing unveiling of Annie’s gritty rock goddess persona.

Album Lowlight: It’s difficult to find much wrong with this album, which undoubtedly is one of Clark’s most ambitious efforts to date. Filled with beautifully searing vocal tracks, robust beat-driven compositions and impeccably funky pop gems, Clark truly knocked this album out of the park. The weaker songs on the album aren’t even bad necessarily, but just lack the transitional effectiveness into the graduated St. Vincent sound that make the record so utterly impressive. Although beautiful in their own right, songs like “Severed Cross Fingers” and “I Prefer Your Love” follow suit more with Clark’s previous work and subsequently lose the edginess this album delightfully brings to the table.

Takeaway: Annie Clark has always been a captivating artist, pushing creative boundaries and taking risks most would deem too dicey for any generic pop songstress. Her delicate vocals and theatrical soundscapes have deceivingly kept her compartmentalized in this type of fringe-pop genre and unfortunate state of limbo that has yet to allow her to fully breakthrough as the powerful female artist she is. She has had a successful career in respect to most of her indie-pop counterparts, enhanced by last year’s collaboration with creative giant David Byrne, amongst others, acquiring a dedicated fan base amidst her creative journey thus far. Clark is continuously growing as an artist, now with an incredibly impressive body of work, highlighted by this pivotal fourth album which will undoubtedly put her on the mainstream radar. Unapologetic, raw and addictively genius, St. Vincent is going to make Annie Clark the star she has always been and deservedly should be recognized as.

~Molly Kish

Wild BeastsPresent Tense

4.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Sweet Spot”

Album Highlights: With co-producers Leo Abrahams and Alex “Lexxx” Droomgoole hopping on board, the members of Wild Beasts — childhood friends Hayden Thorpe, Ben Little, Tom Fleming and Chris Talbot — spent last year methodically piecing together its fourth full-length record that “was built on computers rather than played first,” according to Talbot. And that’s pretty evident from the very beginning of Present Tense, as synthesizers replace guitars on the album’s opening track “Wanderlust.” The beat of a drum machine pulsates behind Thorpe, who repeatedly delivers his ghoulish message of “Don’t confuse me with someone who gives a fuck / Funny how that little gold can buy a lot of luck,” setting the mood for the rest of the album. But even though gloom and despair also fuel the band’s vocals on ensuing tracks “Nature Boy” and “Mecca,” Present Tense doesn’t grow stale amidst its melancholy disposition. For as dreamy as the 11-track LP gets, Wild Beasts refuse to lull you to sleep before Present Tense comes to an end. There are clearly some intriguing resemblances here, not only to their fellow Brits of Elbow — Fleming, who shares singing duties with Thorpe, does his own Guy Garvey impression quite well on “New Life” for example — but also when it comes to the eeriness that George Lewis Jr. exudes as Twin Shadow. On “Sweet Spot,” carefully-plucked guitars pave the way for an opening verse that sees Thorpe waste no time revealing his heart ache to the world, crooning “The sweetest spot / When it’s gone, it’s gone / Don’t make me suffer for that / Just to love me / A final dividend.” The tone isn’t all that different from what follows it shortly thereafter, but it’s hard to say there’s another song on Present Tense that conveys as dark of an image as “Daughters.” It isn’t until we catch Thorpe’s patented falsetto colliding with Fleming’s contrasting baritone on “A Simple Beautiful Truth” that things start to turn around. So, by the time “Parade” closes out Present Tense with lines like “We may be savage and raw but at the core / We’ve higher needs,” there’s still a sliver of hope left. This is Wild Beasts at its best, a sobering exploration into human emotion without all the sappiness that one dreads hearing.

Album Lowlight: If there’s one drawback more obvious than any other, it’s the change of pace that’s lacking between songs. As unique as Present Tense sounds, there’s an accessibility factor that’s missing altogether. Is this the newest chapter in new wave music or just your typical indie rock flair? In reality, it’s neither. On the one hand, Present Tense is a record that’s uniquely Wild Beasts — one that doesn’t sound like it’s ever been made before. But on the other hand, it’s also an album that you would be hard-pressed to discover through mainstream radio even months from now. That’s certainly not always the mark of a good record, but with little to no pop element to speak of, Present Tense most likely won’t be headed for any major commercial success stateside.

Takeaway: Though almost five years passed before Wild Beasts ever earned critical acclaim back home, it wasn’t until a Mercury Prize nomination in 2010 that had music critics outside of the UK taking note. Since then, the big question for the London-based quartet has been whether its morose tunes can carry the same weight among listeners across the pond. But on Present Tense, it remains determined to finally break that trend. Compared to their three previous offerings, Wild Beasts makes a conscientious effort to show that its interests extend into the realm of electronic music — one that certainly passes the ear test after a couple of listens. This album may not end up on any “Best of the Year” lists in December, but it’s one that still deserves to be commended.

~Josh Herwitt

Mike GordonOverstep

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“Say Something”

Album Highlights: Everyone’s favorite Phish bassist is back for his 4th studio album, titled Overstep. Mike Gordon brings back long-time guitarist Scott Murawski for an even closer collaboration than past projects. For Overstep, the song writing process was a true collaborative effort as Gordon and Murawaski wrote many of the songs together on writing retreats in the north east part of the States. What results is a very loose and light album that encapsulates everything from grunge to reggae.

Gordon takes a “less is more” philosophy with Overstep. In a recent interview with, he spoke about giving the notes room to breath, and wanting to peel back layers of the music. It’s not “simple” he says, but “specific.” This philosophy can be heard both literally and figuratively with one of the most interesting songs on the album “Peel”.

Phish fans will recognize a few of the tracks. Both “Yarmouth Road” and “Say Something” made their live debut with Phish last summer. It will be very interesting the hear how these songs are different when the Mike Gordon Band hits the road Friday.

Album Lowlight: This album makes me thirsty to see this band live. In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, Gordo said Overstep “is not an album of long jams or anything like that. I like to be kind of song-y on albums.” As great as that is, I can’t wait to see how these songs are performed in a live setting. Gordon’s desire to give songs more room to breath can be ultimately realized when they are jammed out in a live setting.

Takeaway: It might be still too early to say where this lands in the hierarchy of albums in Mike Gordon’s solo portfolio, I’m a big fan of his first output, Inside In. However, I think some his strongest songs of his career are on this record. “Say Something” is an instant classic that will be spun for ages.

Overstep is a very deliberate record. It is very simple, filled with Gordo’s trademark bass and quirky lyrics. For a man who is only a couple short years away from 50, and having the comfort of a musical giant with Phish, it is refreshing to hear an effort like this. Mike Gordon is not afraid to do something different, and on his own terms, and for that, you must respect it.

~Kevin Raos

The NotwistClose to the Glass

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Run Run Run”

Album Highlights: For their 25th anniversary, German indie group The Notwist have produced a wonderfully addictive record, one that could only be created by artists that have constantly kept busy reinventing themselves. They’ve always strived for an evolving sound; first the Notwist were heavy metal-dominant, then foreboding indie rock became their hallmark — now electronic music is at their core with their eighth long player, a record that blossoms with a perfect balance of experimental gusto and melodic restraint.

While the record mixes and mashes many styles of music from drone to indie rock to shoegaze, the ethos of electronic music is the centerpiece. The future-forward production balances out mostly through Markus Acher’s grounding voice, but the record is also sequenced masterfully, allowing acoustic-based numbers like “Casino” and “Steppin’ In” to change the pace and offer peaceful transition to help break the tension. While a proclivity toward electronic music dominates sonically, it’s the idea of being confined, stuck, boxed in (read “Close to the Glass”) that is messaged through lyrics.

The first two tracks set a bouncy, drone-filled soundscape that inspires brooding imagery through Thom York-like voice-used-as-instrument background vocals. Immediately it’s clear everything is leaning more towards the digitized than the organic, that is until “Kong,” a song that would be a radio hit single if there was justice in this world. It’s a big, bold song that’s upbeat in it’s tone and lyrics, accompanied by orchestrated elements —- it wouldn’t be crazy if someone thought it was a new song from the Strokes.

“Run Run Run” wholly signifies the the marriage of tense electronic sounds and structure to express the idea of confinement. “Run run run till the alley comes …” sets the stage, only to morph from an ominous existential sounding track into one that flourishes into house-driven, pulsating excitement, mimicking the fleeing feeling of sprinting away while being hunted. “7-Hour-Drive” drives the point home with a shoe-gaze approach, using power-chord wailing wall-of sound urgency to convey love that was never meant to be, certainly a situation that can feel restricting.

Album Lowlight: This is electronic noise-pop at it’s finest, and one must be willing to listen to drone-filled music that wallops the space between your ears into submission, just to the point that some kind of right turn with a pleasant release or a peaceful transition track shifts the mood. Accessible to everyone it is not.

Takeaway: Close to the Glass thrives in its intensity, allowing the softer, more intimate moments to shine brighter. A roller coaster ride in tone and volume, it’s a must-listen headphone album, yet it’s one that is plenty good from viable speakers too. The instrumentals and digitized sounds work together to create tension and anxiety, but always with the point of some auditory payoff. The Notwist will have a big year now that they’ve delivered their masterpiece, Close to the Glass.

~Mike Frash


  1. I went Beck over St Vincent.

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