"Our Spilt Milk" this week includes new music from The Avalanches, Beck, and Davol, as well as "Documentary Now!" and a deluxe reissue of Adam and the Ants.
After a 16-year hiatus, The Avalanches are back and as weird as ever. The experimental electronic band from Australia have teased a second album for years, but in April they announced they were getting back together. About two weeks ago, they released a mysterious teaser video titled "Since They Left Us," with cameos from Ariel Pink and Father John Misty. (The video’s title is a nod to their first and only album, Since I Left You, a commercial and critical success woven from a rich tapestry of samples that features the freakout anthem "Frontier Psychiatrist".) From there, things only got stranger. The week before last, posters began popping up around London with a phone number at the bottom, a hotline that played a teaser of a new song called "Subways." (This hotline is now available in the U.S. at 855-953-3597.) Last week, The Avalanches finally released some hard evidence of the new album on Twitter, including artwork, a track list, and a name: Wildflower. On Wednesday, they released the album's first bona fide single, and a video to go with it.
The "Frankie Sinatra" video starts off at a carnival in a backwater town and unravels into an insane stream of consciousness; a group of men who look like they belong in Duck Dynasty firing paintballs from a fan boat morphs into a war/acid flashback that takes us to a sinister family dinner and then pauses for a moment on a D'angelo-like image of a black man bathing in feathers with an eerie rendition of "My Favorite Things" from The Sound of Music playing in the background. Through it all, the perspective is constantly shifting, and the only continuous thread is a neon yellow liquid, which manifests itself as a frozen custard at the carnival, the paint in the paintballs, and the punch at the family dinner. The video is certainly bizarre, but that's to be expected. What's unexpected is the features, rappers Danny Brown and MF DOOM, who each lend a strong verse. Somehow, Brown’s high-pitched punk rock shout and DOOM's deep drawl both sound at home over the calypso sample ("Bobby Sox Idol" by Wilmoth Houdini) that serves as both the driving instrumental and the hook. The video ends with a bird's eye shot of the carnival, where everyone has apparently either died or been driven crazy by the mysterious yellow liquid, leaving the viewer confused, deliciously horrified, and eager for more new music as soon as possible. (Raphael Helfand)
Beck's latest single "Wow" has me saying just that. Earlier this year, he was featured on the electronica group M83's album Junk, and more recently he appeared on future bass powerhouse Flume's latest Skin. Does Beck want his name to be associated with electronic music? It certainly seems that way, at least for now.
"Wow" begins with an electronic pan flute melody that carries throughout the rest of the track and creates a wild west vibe. The flute is met with a western whistle that queues the tumbleweed. Kick drums and bass roll in and create a hip-hop-esque beat, which is something that hasn’t been a meaningful part of Beck’s sound since Mellow Gold and Odelay. He raps the first half of the song, laying down some uplifting bars about owning your own life and making the most of it. He sings most of the second verse over piano as the sound becomes denser.The psychedelic lyric video reinforces the song’s true nature and is a playful preview of the untitled album due out this fall. (Ryan Knight)
It’s summer, and what’s playing from my car speakers as I cruise around town? Probably Davol’s Little Blue EP on repeat. Davol makes the kind of music that can very easily fade into the background, not because it’s boring, but because it blends so seamlessly with your world that it feels like your life is a movie and there’s a classically trained pianist making a beautiful electronic soundtrack for it. Little Blue is the kind of music that would play when you’re lying on your back in the park with your eyes closed, the breeze blowing through your hair and the sun peeking through your eyelids. It’s contentment and bliss, like going to the beach meets going to the spa, and it makes my summer feel as carefree as it did as a kid. (Nicole Cohen)
When I was a kid, my friend down the street had a really crappy video camera. Producing and starring in original shorts became our main hobby. We made some great work including Killer Kittens, Girls Running a Grocery Store, and my personal favorite, Beanie Baby Bar-mitzvah in which we dressed our stuff animals in prayer shawls and had them recite from a mini-Torah. Recently, my mom found these tapes and forced my family and I to watch them in what I can only assume was an act of some sort of revenge. In the videos, my friend and I did whatever we thought was exciting, filming for the fun of it.
Take that child-like abandon, combine it with actual acting and writing skills, and you have Documentary Now!, a mockumentary series cooked up by Bill Hader, Seth Myers, and Fred Armisen. Hader and Armisen star in spoofs of real documentary styles that range from Behind the Music backstory tales to Vice-inspired, testosterone-filled exposés. Hader and Armisen obviously had a ball shooting this series, showcasing their friendship and comedic compatibility. They bounce energy off each other on screen, spitting out one liners and clever insights rapidly, an ability that can only come from years of refining their comedic crafts. There are few hard hitting punchlines throughout the series; rather, the details of each episode make the series stand out. For instance, in my personal favorite episode “Gentle and Soft,” Arimsen and Hader act as former band members of the Blue Jean Committee, a soft rock ‘70s band gone sour. So much time is spent creating those two characters, building their relationship, their back stories, and even their clothing choices, that by the end I felt a personal connection to the band. To top it off, Armisen actually wrote an entire album to act as the fake band’s hit record.
That amount of care can’t be beat. It reminds me of my friend and I, painstakingly cutting out tiny paper yarmulkes for our beanie babies. It’s not that anyone else would have noticed one way or the other; it’s that we cared about the small stuff. The same holds true with Documentary Now! The writers and actors were doing this for themselves and having a blast, and, unlike my childhood pursuits, theirs paid off. (Jessie Rubini)
Time hasn’t been kind to many early ’80s British pop bands. Their fashion decisions and gimmicky music have been taken as a triumph of style over substance by doubters, but what you also hear is the optimistic belief that after punk, anyone could be a pop star. Adam and the Ants illustrate the truth behind that possibility. The recently reissued (in various deluxe forms due to what demand?) Kings of the Wild Frontier includes a live show from Chicago in 1981 that flies entirely on exuberance and commitment. During the live “Antmusic,” backing vocalists likely working without a competent monitor mix shout their parts vainly hoping to find a key they never locate, and throughout Adam Ant is all gulps, hiccups, yelps and swagger. Any actual singing he got out of his system backstage.
The “Antmusic” single captures the moment perfectly, though. Its chorus of “Unplug the jukebox and do us all a favor / that music’s lost its taste so try another flavor / Antmusic!” pisses in a punk-like manner on everything that came before it, but in the language of advertising, tapping into graphic artist Jamie Reid’s ability to cut up language and graphics from the mainstream world to critique it, most famously on The Sex Pistols' cover art. The product Adam and the Ants have to sell has an utterly silly brand name, but the brashness of the band’s combination of pirate and Native American iconography with Burundi drums and spaghetti western guitar remains the dominant takeaway over a mix-and-match aesthetic that seemed unmotivated even then. If that spirit speaks to you, so will a lot of the album--more than I expected. In the liner notes, Adam Ant—Michael Sanderson—writes, “This is the story of a band of brothers in musical arms who came together in the studio in 1980 to create a bit of magic,” and if he would have betrayed even one wince in those notes, the whole album would sound like less. Instead, his notes and the album reflect a moment when people believed anyone could shape the future of pop and were right. (Alex Rawls)