Pan American (self-titled) and Pole 1

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Album covers for Pan American (Self-Titled) and Pole 1

It’s a beautiful spring afternoon and I’m in the drive-thru at Taco Bell in Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. It’s 1998 and I’m thrilled to finally have a Taco Bell in my neighborhood. I’m bored with the stash of CDs in my pickup so I’m flipping through radio stations when a sound I’ve never heard floats into my ears. A lazy beat… Read more »

Zhu – Dreamland 2021

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Album cover for Zhu "Dreamland 2021"

My taste in electronic dance music runs a bit below the radar. I’ve got nothing against artists like Skrillex or David Guetta, they just don’t speak to me. That’s why I’ve never bothered with Zhu. However, there was a compelling LA Times article about him and anti-AAPI racism, so I decided to check out Dreamland 2021. The album’s fine. It… Read more »

Jayda G – DJ-Kicks

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Album cover for Jayda G "DJ-Kicks"

As Westminster Quarters (you know, the doorbell song) opens Jayda G’s new DJ-Kicks set, I’m taken back to the new Visionist record. While Visionist used the melody to submerge us in a haunted fever dream, Jayda G promises us an uplifting summertime jam filled with sunshine, warm nights, and dance floors filled with sweat and smiles. This record completely delivers… Read more »

Actress – Karma & Desire

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Album cover for Actress "Karma & Desire"

Bob once said that the Rolling Stones can’t write a song, they only write riffs. The same could be said about Actress. On Karma & Desire, however, Darren Cunningham pushes his riffs and challenges himself and his collaborators. Karma & Desire doesn’t rely on the factory drones that open 2014’s Ghettoville, but it builds the same grey mood. Cunningham and… Read more »

Yoshinori Hayashi – Pulse of Defiance

Album cover for "Pulse of Defiance" by Yoshinori Hayashi

Many dance albums take us on a roller coaster of intense peaks followed by chances to catch our breath. Pulse of Defiance instead climbs from an introspective opening to three high-energy closing tracks. It’s a journey that few producers have the confidence or discipline to attempt, and Yoshinori Hayashi nails it. Hayashi also navigates a journey across subgenres. The album… Read more »

Record Reviews, Brevity, and Pitchfork

It’s surprisingly difficult to write short reviews that convey something meaningful. One of my personal constraints is to keep my reviews below 200 words. That’s still a lot of words, but in record review circles, it’s practically a haiku-level of brevity. I don’t always succeed, but I try to help people answer one question: is this an album I want… Read more »

Beach Boys – “I Just Wasn’t Made for These Times”

There are two kinds of outsiders: those who reject society and those who find themselves rejected. In pop music, the former can be found in Johnny Cash’s altruistic “Man in Black” or the Clash’s good-hearted “Bankrobber.” The latter produces the betrayed rage of Black Flag’s “My War,” but also the almost sheepish awkwardness of the Beach Boys “I Just Wasn’t… Read more »

YYY – A Tribute to the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds

In an interview, Austin Carson, who is YYY, talked about being inspired by the same Phil Spector “wall of sound” that inspired Brian Wilson, but for most of the album (and all the songs from Pet Sounds itself) he never really achieves that. Where he succeeds is not in the wall, but more in the corners, the subtleties where his… Read more »

How I came to appreciate the Beach Boys

Some bands I just like from the moment I first hear them. Others grow on me over time. Sometimes, returning to a band I hated sheds some new light. But I can only think of one band that I came to appreciate by actively arguing against them: the Beach Boys. While the Beatles versus the Beach Boys is not quite… Read more »

Beach Boys – Today!

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As a songwriter, Brian Wilson falls in the shadow of 60’s peers Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards. As a producer and arranger, he falls in the shadow of Phil Spector. When you look at the longer history of popular music, this makes sense as Wilson just didn’t have the longevity, but in March of 1965, it didn’t. The Beach Boys released Today!… Read more »