Payday Albums: 7/26/13 & 8/23/13

Julianna Barwick's new album, Nepenthe, is available now. Photo: Shawn Brackbill.

I’ve been so happily preoccupied with my review of NAD’s new D 3020 integrated amplifier that I’ve again fallen behind on my “Payday Albums” posts. My review of the D 3020 will appear in our November issue. I used many of the albums listed below as demo material for that review.

It’s been a seriously great time.

Payday Albums: 7/26/13

Mayer Hawthorne: Where Does this Door Go (CD, Republic Records)

We had been planning a feature on Mayer Hawthorne, to be published in our October issue, but it fell through. At around the same time, I began seeing ads for the Hawthorne’s album, Where Does this Door Go, everywhere, so I became curious. Two things set me over the top: Pharrell Williams’ involvement as co-producer and Kendrick Lamar’s guest verse on the single, “Crime.”

My initial response was more or less positive, but I still haven’t given this album much of a chance. I need to come back to it.

Zomby: With Love (LP, 4AD)

Ah, Zomby. I pretty much love everything this guy does. His sound is dark, distinct, and troubled. It always gets my attention. I wish, though, that there were more variation overall and that individual tracks were more fully formed. Some of these pieces feel like sketches and Zomby seems to have no problem just throwing stuff out there—it’s almost as though he has a certain disregard, or lack of respect, for his own work—but, even as sketches, these pieces are captivating.

And, somehow, as much as the individual pieces feel incomplete, the whole feels epic.

Boards of Canada: Tomorrow’s Harvest (LP, Warp Records)

Honestly, I don’t know much about Boards of Canada, except that they are almost universally respected by critics and adored by their fans. The fact that this is their first full-length release since 2005, and that it came as such a surprise to so many, made it feel even more important. I haven’t listened to it yet, though.

Daft Punk: “Get Lucky” (12” LP single, Columbia)

My ongoing affair with Daft Punk’s brilliant Random Access Memories continues with this 12-inch single for the smash hit, “Get Lucky.” Included here is the album version, a radio edit, and, especially great for parties, an extended remix.

Jay-Z: Magna Carta Holy Grail (CD, Roc-A-Fella Records/RocNation)

In stark contrast to Kanye West’s Yeezus, release just two weeks prior to Magna Carta Holy Grail, Jay-Z’s latest is luxuriously packaged and looks, feels, and sounds thoroughly and thoughtfully considered.

I had no idea that this album was coming out, or even in the works, until a day before its release, when I saw a Samsung advertisement that aired on network television. The album was made available as a free digital download for Samsung customers, via smartphone app, on July 4, and released for retail sale four days later by Roc-A-Fella and Roc Nation.

The unusual marketing strategy was a success, I guess. The album was certified platinum on the day it was released.

There are some seriously cheesy songs here, but there are also a lot of interesting beats. And, every now and then, Jay-Z drops a series of lines that completely dazzle. Overall, the production is very good. I desperately wish, though, that Jay-Z would look beyond himself, beyond his own failures and successes, for lyrical inspiration. I’m especially tired of hearing about his collection of cars and paintings.

Wale: The Gifted (CD, Atlantic Records)

The second I heard the hit single, “Bad,” which uses a creaky bedspring for a rhythm track (Why hadn’t anyone thought of that before?), I needed to learn more about Wale. Turns out, he’s a Nigerian-American rapper from Washington, DC, and The Gifted is his third full-length release.

The horrible album art was almost enough to drive me away, but I gave in when Ms. Little fell even harder for “Bad” than I. And I’m glad I did because this album has brought me more pure happiness than any other on this list. It’s fun, smart, expertly produced, invokes classic rock and soul while placing its lyrical focus on modern topics, and is filled with the sort of big, infectious choruses that beg spontaneous sing-alongs.

Payday Albums: 8/23/13

Anna von Hausswolff: Ceremony (LP, Other Music Recording Co.)

Born September 6, 1986, in Gothenburg, Sweden, Anna Michaela Ebba Electra von Hausswolff is a singer, songwriter, and pianist. On this, her second full length album, she plays pipe organ and often displays her own soaring pipes.

When I heard the lovely single, “Mountains Crave,” which successfully employs pipe organ as a pop-music instrument, I made a note of Hausswolff’s name and waited patiently for the album’s release. North American listeners had to wait until July 9th to hear Ceremony, but the album was actually released last year in Europe, where it was exceptionally well-received, earning nominations for two Swedish Grammys and the Nordic Music Prize. It’s hard to imagine an album of this nature winning such praise in the US, where creaky bedsprings and Samsung promos rule, but it certainly deserves the attention. Ceremony, like Loud City Song and Nepenthe (below), strikes me as an uncommonly beautiful and distinct work. Incidentally, Anna von Hausswolff is the daughter of sound artist Carl Michael von Hausswolff. Thanks to Other Music for bringing her to our homes.

Marina Rosenfeld: P.A./Hard Love (LP, ROOM40)

Another deep and fascinating album from Lawrence English’s Room40 label, P.A./Hard Love finds sound artist Marina Rosenfeld collaborating with virtuoso cellist Okkyung Lee and dancehall vocalist Warrior Queen. An unlikely but successful marriage of musical and artistic elements—intriguing, nearly impossible to categorize, and not at all as academic as it sounds on paper. More than anything else, these songs sound like dancehall tracks from outer space. Pretty awesome.

Van Dyke Parks: Songs Cycled (LP, Bella Union)

Nothing much to say here except that when Van Dye Parks releases an album, buying it seems like the right thing to do. Great album title and cover art, too.

Earl Sweatshirt: Doris (CD, Columbia)

It sounds like 1990s gangsta rap slowed down to a crawl—thick, dense, and sluggish—while Earl lets impossibly long strings of words fall from his mouth. Like his father, Keorapetse Kgositsile (Bra Willie), Earl’s a poet. You’ll hear beginning rhyme, end rhyme, tons of internal rhyme—all with endless twists and turns.

After only a couple of listens, I find the music somewhat dull, but the words and flow are impossible to ignore. I’ll keep listening.

Julianna Barwick: Nepenthe (LP, Dead Oceans)

Vocalist Julianna Barwick traveled from Brooklyn to Iceland, where she wrote, recorded, and produced this album with Alex Somers of Sigur Ros. Though I would still love to hear more straightforward songs from Barwick, Nepenthe is as beautiful as anything she’s previously released, but sounds far more focused, considered, and fully realized.

Julia Holter: Loud City Song (LP, Domino Recording Co.)

Loud City Song is Julia Holter’s third full-length release, but first to be recorded in a proper studio. It sounds it, too—polished, mature, and determined. You can read more about it now, at AudioStream, and check out my review in our upcoming October issue. I think you’ll like this one. A lot.

torturegarden's picture

This is a pretty good list. I own abouy hakf of them. You should grab the new Zola Jesus LP, Versions. It's excellent.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I have this album and I know the interesting backstory, but I've only listened to small bits, mostly because I've overdosed on Zola Jesus. (However, I entirely support and encourage the appreciation of her work.)

Et Quelle's picture

Hip-hop is dead! Nas told everybody that years ago because it is true. Why are so many people still wasting time with these talent-lacking rappers and not MCs. They are garbage, even Jigga whateva is garbage too. I used to listen to mostly rap and R & B. Then I saw Slim Shady was the last MC released. Only the other vets are worth anytime

Stephen Mejias's picture

I think hip-hop is very much alive. Young artists like Earl Sweatshirt, Kendrick Lamar, The Underachievers, Ab-Soul, Schoolboy Q, and others (in addition to many more I'm sure I haven't heard of) are exploring new subject matter and collaborating with adventurous electronic composers to take the form to exciting places.

BradleyP's picture

Your post was about the music, but you started off with a positive comment about the NAD D 3020, so here's my question.  Did you compare it to the Nu-Force DDA-100? These two new all-digital amps are close in power, size, and price, and they work the same way. The DDA-100 has gotten marvellous reviews, and the only caveat is that bass is on the lighter side, which is no surprise for $595.  Combine either amp with a smaller pair of high-efficiency floorstanders from Zu, Tekton, or others, and you've got big, real hi-fi sound for under $2k.  (Will the NAD drive the Maggie MMG as rumored?) Such a feat for $2k in today's dollars wasn't imaginable ten years ago, much less twenty.

I am giddy about what's happening on the real-world end of the spectrum in hi-fi these days, and I eagerly anticipate your review.

Stephen Mejias's picture

I didn't compare the NAD D 3020 to the NuForce DDA-100, partly because both were completely new to me and it doesn't make sense to compare two unknowns. The D 3020, by itself, deserved a lot of space, so I focused on it.

I have considered the DDA-100, however, and I might still cover it in the future. Part of what's kept me from it is its complete lack of analog inputs and outputs. The NAD does have one analog input, as well as headphone and subwoofer/preamp outputs. Considering those features and the NAD's Bluetooth capability, I think it and the NuForce are significantly different types of products.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture


My first bestest reason for reading Stereophile is to learn about music I'd otherwise never hear.  (The gear reviews are also fun, especially when you in particular review good, affordable equipment.  A lot of the other reviews are aspirational, but it's still nice to know about the lottery/inheritance stuff.)  

So, about the music; I have a question for you.  Since I'm an old jazz and classical fart, where narrative is almost everything, tell me what I'm supposed to be listening for in the best of this alt/pop/electronica.  Seriously, if I can get, maybe I won't be so dismissive of it.  The way I see it, the more music there is to love, the happier I'll be. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

Thanks for reading Stereophile! I'm glad you enjoy my column.

Since I'm an old jazz and classical fart, where narrative is almost everything, tell me what I'm supposed to be listening for in the best of this alt/pop/electronica.

That's an interesting question and I'm not sure how to answer it. I post these "Payday Albums" lists, in part, to show that the music I listen to and enjoy doesn't easily fit into a single genre, but is nevertheless related. Julianna Barwick's music, for instance, is not superficially very much like Jay-Z's music, but I enjoy them both and I can hear similarities in some of the production and musical influences. It's fun for me to trace those relationships.

Other times, like with Wale, I get a kick out of the lyrical content (he's funny), the inventive production qualities, the connection to 1970s-style soul and funk music, and its ability to make me sing and dance.

There are narratives to these albums. Nepenthe is partially about starting over in a foreign land; Loud City Song is partially an ode to Los Angeles; Magna Carta Holy Grail is partially about the struggle to maintain one's identity despite tremendous successes and failures. . .

I'm not sure if this answers your question.

Rick Tomaszewicz's picture

Thanks Stephen.

I suppose the good stuff, by one's own view necessarily, floats above the rest.  Genre and production values aren't as important as what the artist has to say and how they make us feel. (Ironically, Daft Punk's RAM is mostly about genre and production values, but still makes us feel good.)  But, it can take time to catch up with the good artists - time being art's version of "Kill 'em all and let God sort 'em out".  So, I'll keep listening past my preconceptions, with you and the rest of the crew as tour guides.

JamesR505's picture

Random access memories? Really Stephen? Long time reader, first time poster. 

We all know that Human After All was pretty decent, but this new record is just a mediocre collection of samples that these guys are using to capitalize on that past success. 

I could only make it through two tracks on the hifi before I had to pull the CD out of my Marantz and put it where it belongs, the JVC Kaboom (Model# RV-NB70, $250.00) that sits atop my refrigerator that we use to play background music while cooking. At least the "Sad Robot Clown" vocal in Within gave me a few hearty laughs as I loaded the dishwasher. 

Stephen Mejias's picture

this new record is just a mediocre collection of samples that these guys are using to capitalize on that past success.

More than any other Daft Punk record, Random Access Memories is made of real musicians playing real instruments and recording those instruments in real studios: Henson Recording Studios, Conway Recording Studios, and Capitol Studios in California; Electric Lady Studios in New York City; and Gang Recording Studio in Paris. The band has said that the record is about machines becoming human, music returning to an organic state. And I do hear that in the music.

Check the liner notes: Nile Rodgers (guitar), JR Robinson (drums), Nathan East (bass), Greg Leisz (pedal steel), Chilly Gonzales (keys), vocals by Panda Bear, Julian Casablancas, Paul Williams, Pharrell Williams, Giorgio Moroder. . . These are A-list players and star vocalists. There is a string orchestra and choir. The album was mastered by Bob Ludwig and sounds amazing. 

I don't expect you or anyone to like it—I also hated it after just one listen—but to call it "a mediocre collection of samples" is at the very least inaccurate. Maybe you can give it another try. If not, no big deal. But I love it and I think that I will continue to love it for a very long time. It strikes me as a special album.

Ariel Bitran's picture

let's see if this works...

BradleyP's picture

Stephen--Thanks for pointing us readers to the Anna von Hausswolff album. That's a noteworthy, haunting recording. If you like her work, you will probably like the recent Dead Can Dance live album, too. It's a real stunner both musically and sonically.

How do you take a pipe organ on tour? I'd hate to be von Hauswolff's roadie. wink