June 10 Release Day -Caustic Commentary: Joyce Manor, Grace Ives, Dream Syndicate, Rusty & More

Joyce Manor – “Souvenir”

This kind of snotty punk pop doesn’t normally leave me this cold, but aside from the sole cover, Joyce Manor has been better before. Maybe I’m predisposed to anything OMD adjacent, but it’s hard not to admit how well the track slides into the band’s garage rock vibe. Somehow Joyce Manor manage to make the track even more anthemic, with chugging guitars and some great drum work. Most will probably find the rest of 40 Oz. To Fresno is just as catchy but sometimes it’s more impressive when you can own a classic this effortlessly.

Grace Ives – “Lullaby”

Ives has taken the formula that worked so well for her on her debut, 2nd and simply improved on ever measurable facet. The songwriting is more consistent, the production is clearer and beautifully layered and Janky Star, above all else, is more mature. Even a track as wistful as “Lullaby”, a song that seems destined to be written and performed in a dorm room is elevated immeasurable by Ives’ growing confidence as a singer and conceptual understanding of the music she makes. If this track was written for her debut, the drum machine, and basic programmed beat would have been sufficient to make this a highlight, but on Janky Star, Ives is constantly weaving extraneous instrumentation, echo, and sample loops into the mix, never cluttering it, but instead, demonstrating how well she can create her own micro-orchestra.

The Dream Syndicate – “Beyond Control”

Since 2012, when Steve Wynn reformed The Dream Syndicate, we’ve got four more albums, all serviceable in a sort of admirably cheesy reunion sentimentality, but none approaching the original group’s greatness. Still, they have been worth subscribing to, if only for the few standouts that crop up on each release. In this case, “Beyond Control” is worth noting for its sweeping opening and its drawn-out theatrics. Wynn doesn’t do himself any favors on the lyrical end, but his delivery and the band’s relentless groove are captivating enough.

Liss – “Turn Your Back on Me”

Last May, singer Søren Holm committed suicide, leaving the rest of the Danish indie-pop outfit Liss to reconsider themselves as a group. After three critically acclaimed EPs, the band was preparing to release their full-length debut. Now, just over a year after Holm’s passing, Liss has dropped I Guess Nothing Will Be the Same and dedicated it to the late frontman’s memory. I Guess Nothing, is almost relentlessly professional, always sounding like the album that this band has been working on for years, and all the better for it. “Turn Your Back on Me” in particular finds a wait to be both breezy and dramatic, Holm sounding like a seasoned performer, someone who can simultaneously convey his exasperation and confidence in between reedy croons.

Jamila Woods – “Kootchi”

This Neneh Cherry cover album, featuring the likes of Anohni, Robyn and Kelsey Lu, does what most cover albums are reluctant to consider, that the version their performing could be better than the original. Of course, most don’t consider that, because it’s rarely true, and even when it is, those covers are usually released on full-length albums, not one-off cover projects like this. Most of these covers don’t come close to the original, but to her credit, Jamila Woods blows Cherry out of the water on “Kootchi”. Originally, a strange kind of grungy, mid-90s sex jam, Cherry’s version is a weird little curio, a track both dated and thought-provoking and not one to be overlooked. In Woods’ hands though, “Kootchi” is a spritely, tongue-in-cheek sex jam, with one crucial addition – where Cherry’s intensity was part of the satirical appeal, Woods sounds like she’s actually having fun, effortlessly gliding through all the silly asides with a gleeful smirk. 

Rusty – “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Dance Dance Dance Medley”

Elvis Costello’s trip down memory lane with early collaborator Allan Hayes is exactly the kind of vanity project I had hoped it wouldn’t be. Costello to his credit, admitted that this album was “the record we would have cut when we were 18, if anyone had let us,” and it’s clear that this is exactly the work of a couple of 18-year-old’s and that there’s a reason no one wanted to release it. The problem is that after over forty years carving out a niche as one of the most consistent legacy acts around, it’s more than a little disconcerting to hear him play at this level of simplicity. Most of the covers pale in comparison to their source material and the originals barely register as Costello tracks. What does work however, is when the two combine a couple of Neil Young songs towards the end of the record. “Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere / Dance Dance Dance” is slight in a good way, thrown together as if they were just caught teasing it live, and more importantly, it’s the only track that accurately captures the youth and vibrancy Costello is attempting to resurrect.

Elucid – “Mangosteen”

With the Billy Woods feature, “Mangosteen” is basically an Armand Hammer track, and it works in many of the same ways. The production is simultaneously dark and shimmering, transmitting its samples with a knowingly downbeat pulse and Elucid and Billy Woods rap with no regard to the relationship between their flow and their own production. The track drips in a kind of approachable aggression, one where the anger is directed at a third party and where any ounce of menace is muted by the duo’s own charisma.

The Range – “Bicameral

James Hinton remains one of the brightest and most compelling artists in electronic music today, and that’s acknowledging this is his first album in six years. It also might be his best. Each track sounds more urgent than the last, but each also demonstrates a dynamic versatility that only slowly reveals itself as the album unfurls. If there’s one track to listen to though, it would be the opener “Bicameral”, a song that’s almost relentlessly euphoric in its single-minded objectives. The vocal sample, purposely layered to read as either “When You Lighten” or “When You Lied” may lend a more nuanced outlook to the track but the density and propulsion of the instrumentation is squarely built on rhythm. It took Hinton four years to finish this track and it’s easy to see why. 

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