Earlier this year, the Parenthetical Girls started a five-part series of EPs which will eventually form their fourth album, and Privilege Pt. II: The Past, Imperfect, is, as you might guess, the second installment. It's hard to imagine it not being the first, however, what with how bold and forward-thinking opener The Common Touch is. Nearly all four tracks share this quality, with a clever application of the broad instrumentation not unlike These New Puritans' spectacular album Hidden from earlier this year. The one exception is the single Young Throats, which makes up for this with how sparingly it tosses off hooks; pleasant melodies are abound in both the lead and harmonizing vocals alike as well as the bright, poppy synths, and even the snare drum has an oddly cheerful quality about it. The more somber Weaknesses starts with a dramatic string and drum combo before delving into a gentle, organ-led verse and chorus, with more and more keyboards bubbling up to the surface as its conclusion nears.
The closing Present Perfect (An Epithalamium) almost marries it all together very smoothly; with the exception of a few awkward changeovers, the interesting breakdowns and thoughtful instrument application go startlingly well with the bright melodies and Zac Pennington's fragile vibrato, and it closes things out in fine fashion. The only flaw one can attribute to Parenthetical Girls, really, is that with as prolific as they've been over the last six years, they still have give off the same impression of being just about to come into their own, and still haven't. Still though, if this is the best we're going to get from them, it's hardly anything to complain about.
Coming off the heels of the incredible (and massively well-received) Cosmogramma is yet another release from celebrated Los Angeles DJ Flying Lotus, a seven track EP that's just shy of twenty minutes. Pattern+Grid World has all the characteristics of FlyLo's last LP, and in fact was probably even recorded around the same time, given how soon after it saw release, but definitely has its own feel. The tracks don't bleed together, and while brief, each gets a great chance to stand out with its own qualities. The opening combo of Clay and Kill Your Co-Workers serve as excellent examples of this, with the former's smooth, jazzy beat and the aggressive, yet oddly relaxing, chiptune dominated latter track.
Speaking of aggressive, closer Physics for Everyone! is a scorcher. At once ear piercing, melodious, catchy, and fun, FlyLo piles on effect after effect with such finesse that you can scarcely even notice him toying with the underlying beat all the while. Even among these other great songs though, the previously released Camera Day still holds its own with ease. Those kick-back melodies wash over one another so wonderfully, and it gently bobs to its conclusion with all the elements meeting up in some way or another.
A few of the tracks really do feel like throwaways, particularly PieFace and Jurassic Notion/M Theory. PieFace starts off sounding great, with house-y whistles and erratic percussion, but never really ends up going anywhere. Jurassic Notion is loaded with great ideas sonically, but from a songwriting standpoint it, again, simply goes nowhere. Halfway through there's a hint of a build-up towards an intense, percussive zenith, but it never comes, and ultimately the track just fizzles out. Still, the tracks that work are pretty damn good, and the strength of this EP is that the songs get to stand out as such, as opposed to just pieces of something larger - which is not to slight Cosmogramma in the least, it's just a welcome change of pace. It's not a step forward, but frankly it's impressive to get anything new after something as massive as FlyLo's last album, and for the most part it's a very fun listen.
Having given up on his "50 States Project," Sufjan Stevens resurfaced out of just about nowhere with a new EP after five years of silence. And while All Delighted People is an EP, it's staggeringly ambitious - even by Stevens' standards. Producing an hour long EP with the bookend tracks totaling nearly half that on their own is not necessarily a bad idea, but here it's crushed under the weight of its own aims. All Delighted People (The Original Version) and Djohariah, the opening and closing tracks, respectively, have tremendously beautiful, tightly composed sections. However, the peaks of these songs are just that - sections. Not only are they surrounded by far lesser parts, but there's barely any flow connecting any of it. There's no feel of a build-up, of a purpose to the pomposity of these two songs, and it's truly a shame because had they been shaved down to their best moments, they would be practically flawless.
There are some songs that work wonderfully, one fine example being Heirloom, which is the exact opposite of the aforementioned cuts. It's short, pared down, and intimate, and could well be the most striking song here simply for those reasons. All Delighted People (Classic Rock Version) is slightly more straight-forward than its meandering counterpart, but not by much (though it does have a great synth backed oddball guitar solo to boast), and the dark, almost chilling The Owl and the Tanager is another choice cut, but ultimately this is just something to tide fans over until Stevens' next full-length is released, which hopefully will not suffer from ambition overshadowing skill as All Delighted People tends to do here and there.
It's very seldom that a band can wear their influences on their sleeve without coming across as derivative, but the Black String Theory is able to pull this off far better than one might think. One of the chief deal breakers of a group that emanates others is that there's minimal to no soul to their sound, but this is something nobody can pin on Scott Van Dort, who performed all the vocals and instruments himself on the project's self-titled EP. Van Dort has a knack for creating a big chorus without succumbing to bombast or predictability, as either From Where I Stand or A Lifelong Mystery show in spades. Then there's the genuine mourning of Too Late, which piles a bluesy guitar and light synth tastefully over a lonesome vocal and piano.
The Black String Theory gives the pop rock format a solid, creative edge, embracing influences while keeping in tact an unshakable genuine nature. For anybody who has wished that Muse, Keane, or even Coldplay could just take their best traits and start over again from scratch, The Black String Theory is a band to keep your eye on.
For any pioneer of any genre, a comeback nearly twenty years after their prime is going to be tricky, and met with a blend of skepticism and excitement. So here's Autopsy, infamous in the death metal community, coming back together after a less-than-successful bid as death/punk hybrid Abscess, returning back to their classic death metal roots. For better and for worse, in most regards, the band picks up exactly where they left off (well if you don't count 1995's terrible-as-it-sounds album Shitfun) with the same heavy riffs and alternately grinding and blistering tempos.
The Tomb Within really delivers everything one could expect from the band, and the songs are crafted as well as they'd ever been (particularly the frantic Seven Skulls and the delightfully filthy sounding Human Genocide), but there's just nothing new here; it really sounds like something that could have been released fifteen years ago. The fact that the group has lost none of their ability (though Chris Reifert's vocals certainly aren't what they used to be) is a good sign though, and keeps the promise alive for their upcoming full-length, Macabre Eternal. Besides, while Autopsy is doing the exact same thing they were doing back in the early 90s, they still do it very well.
Like Flying Lotus, Kristian Matsson follows up a massive album with a fantastic EP within a few scant months. Unlike FlyLo, however, the Tallest Man on Earth's latest collection shows some interesting new shades, like how Like the Wheel shows that Matsson can implement multiple elements into his songs quite well when he wants to, or the way The Dreamer makes you wonder why he hasn't picked up an electric more often. Sometimes the Blues... is dynamic also in the emotive muscle it flexes; at times it feels much softer and gentler than The Wild Hunt, but every so often he'll belt out a powerful line, such as the EP's namesake's "Sometimes the blues is just a passing bird, why can't that always be?" or his sheer determination in the repeated "I'm not leavin' alone" that concludes Tangle in This Trampled Wheat.
Even the EP's bookends, Little River and Thrown Right at Me, which constitute both the most familiar and most gentle moments here, carry such charisma that they feel fresh and attention grabbing - when he begins a musing with "there is something 'bout the leaving of a lover," your ear perks and you're hanging on every word, just waiting for him to finish that thought. This EP accomplishes quite a bit over the course of five songs and seventeen minutes, illustrating once again how incredibly talented the man is and that while he's already quite possibly the best folk act around today, he's just getting started.