It’s the last batch of reviews of 2020 releases. Ichiko Aoba dresses up her folk music in strings and synths, Poppy explores pop-metal, and Jeff Rosenstock pumps out another album of anxious punk. I meant to also review Mr. Bungle’s The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo, but I skipped it because it’s hard to review in the holidays (noone else in my family likes metal) and I’ll cover it in a Mr. Bungle page sometime.
Kyoto folk musician Ichika Aoba has been releasing albums for a decade – she was still a teenager when Kamisori Otome came out in 2010. She plays classical guitar – earlier releases like 2013’s o were centered around her guitar. On Windswept Adan she submerges her music in ambient strings and electronics. Billed as a “soundtrack for a fictitious movie”, it’s gorgeous. Aoba’s talked in interviews about how a lot of her songs come to her in dreams – she told Japan Times that “the dreams I have are like movies: They even have opening titles and credits at the end.”
The most accessible song is the most upbeat – ‘Sagu’s Palm Song’ is built around joyful guitar lines. There’s diversity in the textures – the piano in ‘Parfum D’étoiles’ has touches of jazz and classical. Even though the lyrics are in Japanese, songs like ‘Dawn in the Adan’ and ‘Adan No Shima No Tanjyosai’ don’t sound as Asian as you might expect – the guitars and strings aren’t far removed from what you might find on a 21st century Vashti Bunyan record.
Windswept Adan is a gorgeous album, a folkie embracing new sounds to widen her palette without losing her core appeal.
On her third album, Boston’s Poppy explores an unlikely pop-metal crossover. Like Grimes, she’s adopted a dystopian image for her public persona – it’s not surprising that the pair collaborated on Poppy’s previous album Am I A Girl? The pop-metal sound of I Disagree is intrinsically gimmicky, but the results are sporadically excellent.
The best pop-metal tracks are at the start – ‘Concrete’ combines majestic Brian May-style guitar with an unusual vocal melody and even stranger lyrics. The title track and ‘Bloodmoney’ are abrasive, while ‘Fill The Crown’ and ‘Bite Your Teeth’ are the most schizophrenic mixtures of pop and metal, careening between different sections with reckless abandon. The metal elements are absent from ‘Nothing I Need’, but it’s a lovely piece of smooth pop, while the lead guitar in ‘Sick of the Sun’ is a nice touch in a pop song.
I Disagree doesn’t always feel substantial, but it’s a fun record that combines two disparate genres to interesting effect.
Long Island retro-punker Jeff Rosenstock released his fourth solo album in May 2020. In his late 30s, he already spent time as the leader of The Arrogant Sons of Bitches and Bomb the Music Industry! before going solo. His 2016 solo album Worry was a breakthrough with Rosenstock’s anxiety resonating during an unprecedented period of US history. Rosenstock’s punk recalls the 1990s – at his least abrasive, he’s a bit like early Weezer, and sometimes he’s reminiscent of Bob Mould’s 1990s work with Sugar.
Due to its homogeneous nature making full length punk albums hold attention isn’t easy, but it’s a skill that Rosenstock has acquired. While it’s not as strong as Worry, on NO DREAM he’s able to vary intensity and use enough hooks to keep things moving. On ‘Old Crap’ he’s keeps up momentum using only an acoustic guitar as accompaniment, while ‘Honeymoon Ashtray’ is also acoustic. The rockers on side one are most memorable though – ‘N O D R E A M’ adds a psychedelic swirl to the guitars, while ‘State Line’ is rapid paced and full of hooks.
Rosenstock’s mining well-worn territory on No Dream, but he’s clever enough to do it well.