New Music Tuesday: Future Islands • Liars • The Bad Plus • Glenn Kotche


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

Future IslandsSingles

4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Seasons (Waiting On You)”
“Sun in the Morning”
“A Dream of You and Me”

Album Highlights: The fourth album from Future Islands, Singles, jumps right out of the gates, showing their cards early and presenting the listener with their trademark new-school new-wave sound. Spotlighted by Samuel Herring’s assaulting vocals, opening track “Seasons (Waiting On You)” is a quintessential slice of the emotion this band has become well known for both onstage and in the studio. Hailing from Baltimore, this three-piece band has been nestled snuggly in the bosom of the underground, playing smaller festivals such as FYF and house parties alike, over the past years. Only recently have they been launched into the ears, and eyes, of new fans and having sold out the majority of their spring tour (not to mention banner sets at Coachella).

Future Island’s music can be described as polarizing. It truly is brilliant music as bassist William Cashion’s thumping lines perfectly compliment Gerrit Welmers synth and drum sequences. Samuel Herring’s vocals are stunning as he pitches and growls through tales of the tougher side of love. It’s pretty, gripping and powerful while also holding certain pop sentiments, lending to an overall lightness while being arresting. “Doves” balances all the elements nicely, shining a light on the top-notch production featured on Singles. “Song for Our Grandfathers” is another tender example of the bands ability to transform some serious subject matter into a beam of thoughtful optimism, all delivered by Herring’s supreme baritone. Powerful stuff going on here, guys.

Album Lowlight: This music is not for everyone, though it should be respected by the vast majority of tuned-in listeners. It’s plain to see Future Islands, as a band, appeal to fans of new-wave music, so again, may not be for every taste. On that note, every inquisitive music aficionado should give this album some time and respect.

Takeaway: It’s been a long wait for the fanatic followers of Future Islands as their previous release was released in 2011, and with this wait they have all been rewarded with a full album of superb tracks to dig deep into. As previously mentioned, Future Islands are polarizing and not everyone will latch onto Singles immediately, but those who give it time and attention will be rewarded. Surely, you’ll need to see them on stage as that is a whole other beast altogether. In the meantime, settle into a pinch of 80s nostalgia with a dash of heart, and play Singles by candlelight… if that’s your thing.

~Kevin Quandt


4-BamsTop Tracks:
“Mask Maker”
“Vox Tuned D.E.D.”
“Mess on a Mission”

Album Highlights: It feels strange to talk about an album of dark electro and industrial as a band’s most mainstream work, but Liars have never been much for conforming to norms. On Mess, their 7th album, the band delivers two relatively neat halves – one for the party, and one for the dank recesses of the after party – that are unified by their straightforwardness and presence on the spectrum of electronic dance music.

After spending the majority of their career exploring different ways to create anxiety and vertiginous instability, Liars kick off Mess by saying “Fuck it, let’s dance.” Not literally, though. Literally they start the album with Angus Andrew’s detuned voice dementedly commanding the listener to “Take my pants off, use my socks, smell my socks, eat my face off” before launching into a track (“Mask Maker”) that could sit comfortably between Front 242 and Revolting Cocks.

Emboldened by their new-found mastery of electronic instrumentation (made possible by the difficult making of 2012’s WIXIW), Liars spend the first half of Mess exchanging their traditional dread and unease for debauched revelry. “Vox Tuned D.E.D.” and “I’m No Gold” flaunt an end-of-the-world-party libido, while on “Pro Anti Anti”, an eerie organ riff is pummeled by a battering ram of synths, drums and Angus Andrew’s bellowing baritone, and the song proceeds to dance all over the debris.

Following the cerebral electro of the lead single, “Mess on a Mission”, the album shifts to a muted, post-apocalyptic tone and stays there for the duration. These songs have their root in the despair of WIXIW, but are fleshed out as proper dance tracks – “Dress Walker” is a particular highlight, with its percolating percussion and bouncing yet understated techno melody. The album concludes with “Perpetual Village” and “Left Speaker Blown,” 16 minutes of hypnotic murk.

Album Lowlight: Front-loading Mess with all of the album’s muscular & tuneful numbers was a gamble, and though it succeeds in providing a visceral rush, the dramatic about-face (never to return) will no doubt result in many jettisoned listeners. To be sure, there are interesting ideas throughout Mess‘ second half, but it does takes a few listens for them to reveal themselves. Liars earned a reputation early on as being difficult; one infamous review in Spin called them “unlistenable.” Through their sequencing choices in the second half of Mess, the band comes dangerously close to sounding boring.

Takeaway: Every Liars album is a transitional one, and Mess feels especially liminal. In pre-release interviews, the band has discussed how they wanted to break from the habit of over-analyzing every detail during the recording process, and this desire to cleanse the palate is palpable throughout Mess. And it suits them well: as a vocalist, Andrew is as dynamic as he’s ever been, and Aaron Hemphill has now fully transformed himself from a guitarist to a synth wizard. After resisting it for so long, Liars have finally opened themselves up to the musical possibilities of catharsis on Mess, and in doing so they’ve created a bonafide goth album. Whether it reaches the Hot Topic crowd is another matter entirely, but either way – don’t expect Liars to concern themselves with it the next time around.

~Karl Kukta

The Bad PlusThe Rite of Spring

3.5-BamsTop Tracks:
“The Augors of Spring”
“The Sage/Dance of the Earth”
“Glorification of the Chosen One”

Album Highlights: With the ninth album by the avant-garde jazz trio The Bad Plus, they decided to record Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, and they absolutely nailed it. This classical piece is widely considered one of the most moving and important works of the twentieth century, and even started a small riot when it first premiered in 1913 Paris, France. Leave it to this trio to transform a historical musical masterpiece, most recently recognized in Disney’s “Fantasia”, into a work that is very much their own. Although this is essentially a cover album, The Bad Plus only use drums, bass, and piano to cover all the instruments that the original piece uses, so it is quite the task for these three talented men. If the original premiere was anything like this band’s version, then one can fully understand why a riot broke out over a century ago when listening to “The Augors of Spring”.

The beginning piano pounding off this song is extremely dramatic and could easily cause the mild-tempered to become crazed with anger. “The Glorification of the Chosen One” is my personal favorite piece from the whole ballet, mainly because of the many fast and swift time changes throughout, especially on piano. Another highlight is the amazing section of “The Sage/Dance of the Earth”. This piece starts quietly, as if trying to portray the morning stillness, then suddenly erupts into a bouncy, glorious afternoon of dance rhythms, primarily played by Dave King on Drums and pianist Ethan Iverson.

Album Lowlight: It’s quite hard to give a lowlight on this album because it is, after all, considered one the most important pieces in ballet or classical music. One lowlight would be that The Bad Plus took this long to put out a recording they have been playing live since 2011.

Takeaway: The Bad Plus took a chance with recording this masterpiece, and I feel that they succeeded with what they were setting out to do, which is to record an important piece of history while putting their own unique twist on it. Any fan of avant-garde jazz would enjoy this album immensely, while the traditionalist might find it hard to connect with such a wild style of play. I challenge anyone to listen to the original composition and then throw on The Bad Plus’s version and tell me that they’re not impressed with the group’s musical ability.

~Pete Mauch

Glenn KotcheAdventureland

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Anomaly: Mvt. I”
“Anomaly: Mvt. II”
“Anomaly: Mvt. VII”

Album Highlights: Glenn Kotche has found great success as Wilco’s drummer since the release of the classic Yankee Foxtrot Hotel. Throughout his tenure with Wilco, Kotche’s playful exploration of word percussion has become apparent with the implementation of unique items, such as hubcaps, to his drumset. And so it comes as no surprise his latest solo effort, Adventureland, is exactly that; an exploration in percussion that is both deep and diverse.

After hearing Kotche’s initial release Mobile, David Harrington of Kronos Quartet fame (a San Francisco based string quartet) asked Kotche to compose a piece for them. The result was Anomaly, a seven movement piece which provides the structure to Adventureland. The electronics-heavy album opener “Anomaly: Mvt. I” is the first signal of Kotche’s compositional talents in contemporary music. Static introduces perfect textures to this movement, creating a soundscape which simultaneously entrances and orients the listener to the ensuing movements.

“Anomaly: Mvt II” might be considered the only track that mimics a more conventional structure. The strings of the Kronos Quartet blend beautifully with the driving bass of the drums, creating melodic moments that are hard to come by throughout the rest of the album.

Anomaly, on the whole, is the true meat of Adventureland. The progressive nature of each of it’s movements creates a nice arc, leaving us with the more subdued “Anomaly: Mvt: VII” and one last taste of the Kronos Quartet’s gorgeous string melodies.

Album Lowlight: The intention behind contemporary works is to create aural environments that tell stories or relate feelings. Kotche’s compositions are certainly successful at this throughout Adventureland. However, some of the compositions such as “The Haunted” selections feel as though they lack the cohesion that is present in the “Anomaly” movements, as though a thread is missing between a few of the movements.

Takeaway: While Wilco may be on Glenn Kotche’s list of credentials, only the foolish would expect to hear anything reminiscent of Sky Blue Sky from this album. Adventureland is Kotche’s escape from all things Wilco. This album is an exploration into the loose musical structure only contemporary works will allow for, a modern take on an ancient form of musical expression. While it may be likely this album finds it’s audience with Berklee School of Music grads, I would like to bet with the right ear, many can come to appreciate Glenn Kotche’s ability to create such intricate compositions.

~Kory Thibeault


  1. Just got my copy of Mess in the mail, and it’s the special edition!

    I had to cut it open to get the vinyl itself, which has caused the string to move a bit, but it’s still really awesome!

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