MUSIC

The Hit List | The National (re)discover that rock thang

And more! Bully blast us back to '92, HiRSH and Jackie Highway freak us out and Chelsea Cutler tells us why she wants to be the female Odesza

Pop sucks (right now).

An alarming indictment, especially from the folks at Popdust. But if you've read one post-VMA write-up, you've read ten of them: pop music is failing us. Maybe it's the churn of T-swizzle's robo-whine greeting us into a new media cycle or maybe it was that photo of Katy Perry looked dazed by a fidget spinner aimlessly instead of singing about her devotion to our lord and savior. Even Fifth Harmony feels dampered by fake news; come on guys Fourth Harmony has such a ring to it.

Is all of that really what we need, now more than ever?

Which is probably why we've found ourselves collectively cheering on grumpy white dudes with guitars and miles north of thirty. Last week, grown-up New Jersey emo-belters Brand New hit the top of the Billboard 200 for the first time in their career, with the arrival of their warmly-received fifth album, Science Fiction (Procrastinate! Music Traitors), their first (and supposedly final) album in eight years. And there's a solid chance that it's spot this weekend will be taken by another comeback machine: James Murphy spent much of the past year selling out mid-size Brooklyn venues by the week-load and finally has something to show for it, LCD Soundsystem's big number four, American Dream (Columbia). It's a relative slow-burner compared to 2010's This Is Happening (there's no "Dance Yrself Clean" for the Spotify mix) but with enough subtly gorgeous moments to keep the scaplers in their nefarious business for years to come.

The National - "Day I Die"

The next week will also bring the return of another aging indie rock institution who has found surprising popularity in today's frantic clime: The National, who made their first number one on the Adult Alternative chart with "The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness" earlier this year. It's no coincidence that the album attached to, Sleep Well Beast (4AD) also happens to be their strongest in a decade, a coherent arrangement of the band's best parts: complex, layered, string instruments brought together only to be blasted through by frontman Matt Berninger's gravely baritone, a sound that's midway between Morrissey and the howling wind that rages on late-nights in Bushwick between refurbished warehouses.

The record's latest single, "Day I Die" both underlines this aesthetic with a sharpie, a sort of thesis statement of what the band can do when they're whatever the indie rock version of flexing is. This is important: if the National are America's Radiohead, they have to burn a few witches too: "Day I Die" lights the dry brush hoarded in the silo all summer long, the kind of antic, particularly crashing indie banger that most bands whip out once and never quite recapture, see: "Wolf Like Me" or "Maps." It immediately brings to mind the propulsive material of their 2007 breakout Boxer but it also fits in a way that, say, TV on the Radio's "Winter" or anything on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Mosquito didn't. Just listen to how tight guitarist and primary songwriter Aaron Dessner holds back the chorus, waiting until the perfect, most well-thought second to let Berninger's grovel explode.

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Two Rap Kings and Kanye's DJ: Your Guide to Meadows

FESTIVAL | Future! Weezer! Gorillaz! Lizzo! Festival season strikes in the Fall

Getty images/AK illustration

Something for oldheads, newheads and indie rock fiends

The rock critic Zoe Camp reckons the competition between Live Nation and AEG for New York music festival domination to an arms race for geographic hegemony, to be the Woodstock in the mind of the east coast set. Last year, in reaction to the warmly-received debut of AEG/Goldenvoice's missile silo, the Panorama Music Festival (they had bathrooms that could flush! oy!) and a dispiriting turn of events at their own Governor's Ball—the third day had been canceled due to fears of a thunderstorm that never ended up happening--the Gov Ball people (a company called Founders Entertainment, now a division of Live Nation) announced that they were going to have one up on those invading Californians and pull off what so many festival organizations couldn't: a New York music festival that you didn't require an obnoxious ferry line. Put together in a rush and settling for a parking lot in Queens, last year's Meadows Music & Arts Festival was a bit of a mess. Headliner and ostensible raison d'etre, Kanye West, who was among those who were supposed to perform on that ill-fated third day, ended up dipping midway and the festival's second headliner, the reliably chartopping Toronto crooner The Weeknd, didn't even make it and had to be replaced with the vaguely polarizing J. Cole.

This year's festivities promise to be different. Extended into a traditional three-day spread, The Meadows is marking a flag on new terrain for the slowly expanding festival season. Competing for attention this month in the Big Apple will be smaller fare: the return of the Village Voice's Seaport Music Festival, which used to run in the early naughties until it was supplanted by something called 4Knots which, itself, mysteriously disappeared this year and Pitchfork Media's plunge into the New York scene, something called Octfest, which has something to do with their AnBev-funded offshoot of a similar name. Both are old school rock events, headlined by Ted Leo and Guided By Voices, respectively, Meadows is, correspondingly, using their newfound Live Nation weight to bring some of the big names in hip hop over to Queen's Citi Field.

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MUSIC

Popdust Presents | The Districts have mixed feelings about music festivals

The Pennsylvania indie crew comes by and performs "Fat Kiddo"

"The main ones are all owned by the all same companies...which is interesting, I guess," Grote observes.

Fresh-faced from the release of their second record on Fat Possum, the rock stars from Litz, Pennsylvania didn't quite look like the reckless teenagers passing around hand-drawn album covers around high school anymore. Popular Manipulations was the third album in an eclectic discography, one of the more elegantly mature statement about modern life to come out of the indie scene this year. To flex those mature songwriting muscles, we invited frontman Rob Grote to the Popdust offices to bang out "Fat Kiddo," one of Popular Manipulations' more reflective tracks.

Watch "Fat Kiddo" below:

There are few things more reliving than a band moving past the hype. Grote and his bandmates had attracted the attention of John Congleton, the studio wonk behind turning names like Angel Olson and St. Vincent into household concerns, shortly after they begun passing around their self-released debut among their fellow high school sophomores and on the wider world of the internet. The record that came out of that: 2015's A Flourish and a Spoil was a curious cat in the indie scene: released on Fat Possum, the label that begun by releasing obscure blues records for hipsters and these days focused on developing the brands of low-fi indie (American Wrestlers, Yuck, Smith Westerns), it sounded like a strange throwback to a simpler time of rock and roll, a tightly-held encapsulation of what wasn't being played on the radio in 2006. It got them opening slots at festivals like Gov Ball, where I saw them for the first time, but then what?

Popular Manipulations was an urgent step forward. It had songs, like "Fat Kiddo," that bawled in the observational vein of folk: anecdotes about the kinds of strange people you find in the middle of Pennsylvania, in between the chocolate factories and the Amish romance novels. With a new guitarist, Pat Cassidy, and an eye for exactly the kind of sound they wanted (Grote and his band produced most of the new record themselves), Popular Manipulations comes out of left field for any fans with limp memories of humming along to "Suburban Smell" on Sirius.

Bombastic, elegant and leaving you hitting that replay button, Popular Manipulations is as near a fucking masterpiece as you're going to find in guitarland. Grote's voice, guzzy post-punk already, turns mournful and anthemic at the same time, bursting through guitars that sound like they were recorded in the middle of a misty field. His penchant for storytelling, which felt somewhat underdeveloped on A Flourish and a Spoil, turns into a self-propelled engine capable of leaving the station, his bawdy Pennsylvanian tales feel like the minute Joycean epics on Protomartyr's The Agent Intellect, rewritten by William Kennedy and set in small town, USA. It's good shit, my man.

Catch the Districts' thoughts on music festivals, guitar solos and authenticity:


Popular Manipulations is out now via Fat Possum Records.

The Districts: Popular Manipulations (Indie Exclusive Colored Vinyl) Vinyl LP

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Popdust Presents | PRETTYMUCH the best thing you'll hear all day

Simon Cowell's latest boyband want to fix your broken 1D hearts. Watch ⇓⇓⇓

L-R: Zion Kuwonu, Brandon Arreaga, Austin Porter and Nick Mara.Offscreen: Edwin Honoret (Andrew Karpan)

A rising boyband performs a little a capella and answers our pressing questions.

Shortly after their Teen Choice Awards performance, Simon Cowell's latest boyband stopped by Popdust's New York offices to perform an a cappella version of "Would You Mind," beatboxing the tight beat of their debut single into a handclap symphony of pop perfection.

Watch below:

While you were busy crying profusely about the breakup of the only band of the 21 st century that mattered (you know the one, guys), the impresario behind Fifth Harmony and Little Mix, along with our good friends Liam, Harry and Zayn (team Zayn forever), was busy putting together another band of alarmingly cute boys in order to fill the void in our collective hearts. As you can see above, I bring good news: that band is PRETTYMUCH and the boys are alarming. They are, ahem: Austin Porter, Brandon Arreaga, Edwin Honoret, Nick Mara and Zion Kuwonu.

But Cowell's acumen is largely where the surface level comparisons with One Direction ends. Their debut single, which they performed live for the first time earlier this month at the Teen Choice Awards and was, admittedly, penned by the some of the same people behind "What Makes You Beautiful" as well as "One More Night" and "Can't Feel My Face" is a burst of the kind of pure Backstreet Boys adrenaline that pop music hasn't heard since the early Bush administration.

And if you haven't caught their TV debut, there's something else you should know: these boys can dance. For the past two years, they've been holed up together in LA practicing their moves, accruing over a hundred thousand followers on Instagram before releasing a single note. Unlike One Direction, which Cowell formed out of 2010 contestants on The X Factor, PRETTYMUCH were put together after Cowell discovered each of them busting their own moves on Instagram. They named themselves after their own ability to overpower you with vocal harmonics, you think you've heard melisma before? Well, then you haven't heard PRETTYMUCH.

But will these handsome lasses from the States be able to the fill the anglophile dreams of many an earnest teen?

The band also stayed around to give some of their opinions on the leading issues of the day. Fidget spinners: did they really make any sense? What about that Leonardo DeCaprio? Does ol' Jack Dawson still resonate with today's teens?

Catch our conversation below:

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REVIEW | Do Queens of the Stone Age just want to dance?

Josh Homme returns with an album-length collaboration with pep impresario Mark Ronson

Matador Records

Josh Homme creates a polished sound somewhere between Glam-Rock Marilyn Manson and whatever the Foo Fighters sound like these days. It's not great.

It is fashionable to not only decry that rock and roll is not dead but to insult the questioner. Its current hero-savant is an Australian fellow in his early thirties by the name of Kevin Parker, who recently headlined a music festival with his two year old major label debut, a record of bass, syths and steel that still resoundingly fucks. Earlier this year Parker, defying the ironclad rule about signing your soul to only one of the two live music conglomerates, played a lower billing at another music festival, LiveNation's Gov Ball, spinning records alongside Mark Ronson, a walking suede jacket, DJ and producer with an eye for making pop singers sound authentic and in-your-face (Amy Winehouse's Back to Black in 2006 and Lady Gaga's Joanne in 2016; in between, he convincingly made Bruno Mars sound like Michael Jackson). Ronson and Pakrer's extended pairing—they've made a number of songs together under Ronson's name and cowrote "Perfect Illusion" for Gaga—makes sense: Parker got bored of being hyped as the next coming of David Gilmour two cycles ago and Ronson could never really make hits the way the Swedes do; "Uptown Funk" was a viral anomaly, even his work with Gaga failed to crack the top ten.

Over a decade older than Parker, Josh Homme is the latest ax-welding titan to partner with Ronson and Villains, the latest record from Homme's flagship operation, Queens of the Stone Age, is forty minutes and change inside Ronson's Hollywood confines. No "radio formulas" are imposed on the QOTSA crew, claims Jon Pareles in the Times, which is true enough: the songs are universally north of the four minute mark, three of them are over six; classic territory from the man sold as the godfather of slow-burning stoner rock. But the result is also noting like anything Homme has ever been involved in before; a curveball pitch for Homme as the lone, dancing, biker of the apocalypse, notice the cartoonish reappearance of the Dark Prince on the cover art, the appearance of words like "evil," "haunted" and "reborn" in the song titles. Gloom and doom, thy name is Homme.

In order to do this, Homme and Ronson turns to another one-hit wonder of sorts: the stylings of one Marylyn Manson. Manson, who absconded the equipment, baggage and sound he borrowed from Trent Reznor the same year Homme first launched his prehistoric crew into being; that would be '98 and a bargain bin classic called Mechanical Animals. On the cover Manson wore lithe, prosthetic breasts, a nod to the glam era of Bowie, returning to vogue at the time (Placebo, Velvet Goldmine). Backed by a flurry of Mick Ronson riffs, Manson rejected his position as spokesman or hero for a generation of similarly disaffected or pale people, people he now considered very boring (i.e. the mechanical animals): "I am never gonna be the one for you/ I am never gonna save the world from you," which ends up being, in that post-Columbine/pre- Bowling for Columbine moment, elegic, pompous and boring. Twenty years later, Homme, not really a spokesman or hero, more a perpetually crabby outsider, turns less withholding: "You've got heart, I'll have it for lunch," he belts, after comparing street protesters to swing dancers. He calls them "Domesticated Animals."

QOTSA's latest is a partnership with the jacket-wearing British producer Mark Ronson. "I like to dance," claims frontman Josh Homme.(Kevin Mazur/Getty)

Homme has done this kind of generation commentary before, from both the hedonistically callous center ("Feel Good Hit of the Summer") and the Dylan-esque outside ("Mr. Designer") but he has never sounded so bored, so out of touch with what the kids whose parents are buying the hundred dollar tickets to see him at MSG really are feeling, protesting in those streets. Which is to say that it's coming out this week and none of it has aged very well already; a good phrase to sum up the seven (!!!) albums Manson has made since Animals; the only remarkable thing is that Homme had lasted so long with making one of his own. The doomed-to-be-underrated Era Vulgaris was their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot without the ten-point score and even the hideously titled ...Like Clockwork was kept together by moments of indie rock Wagernian beauty, like that rising swarm of locusts in Days of Heaven.

But on the far more functionally titled Villians, Homme just struts and you can smell the bad motorcycle leather. His era of Bowie is more fashionable than Manson was going for (Berlin, with an ear to the particularly hidden guitar hero work of Robert Fripp) but none of it is very listenable. Songs begin or end with pretty, overwhelming skill but go on, with unbearable choruses and codas that sound like well-oiled machines churning, churning along. Midway between the poppy sludge anthems that Homme perfected around the turn of the millennium and bag wig music, think bands like Sweet or T. Rex when Marc Bolan couldn't bring himself to care anymore about his own half-ass epics. A song like "Evil Has Landed," which feels like it should be some pertinent how-about-that-Trump music, only becomes salvageable when Homme stops singing and a rush of Kinks power chords ooze gorgeously next to a line a synths, a rare moment where whatever kind of "dance music" Homme is trying to accomplish is perfect articulated.

A while ago, I caught another of Homme's bands, Eagles of Death Metal, opening for Mastodon. The band is a collaboration with an absurd mustache named Jesse Hughes and Homme never actually can bring himself to tours with him and for good reason; they are most well-known for playing the Le Bataclan in Paris while it was being attached by masked gunmen and later being all racist about it. But the sound is not all that different from Homme's main operation, circa '17, a pompous display of bad boys, shooting surgery power chords, lifted from Nuggets compilations instead of the Bowie line that Homme likes to ride. It was like those gay bars in midtown where strapping half-naked men wear cowboy hats and play bad country music: it's neither really a gay bar nor are the men really cowboys. It's an articulation of something else, something which is only not terrible when you don't look at it, when you sway in the crowd, when you respond to the fake catcalls with fake enthusiasm.

Another photo of Josh Homme. Why not?(Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

It's a kind of nowhere rock, wanting to whip up that evil devil stuff but is wearing a halloween costume from the corner convenience store. Which is to say that Villians wants, very desperately, to be that kind of holistic sonic transformation that younger metalheads go for all the time: New Bermuda, The Ark Work. The effect, instead, is like that one Foo Fighters record where David Grohl pretended to ride the highway like a wandering bluesman for HBO money. It won't save your soul, baby.

Villains is out 8/25 via Matador. Listen to "The Evil Has Landed" here

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Popdust Presents | Brooklyn hipsters take on Sean Paul

A sibling-led ensemble called Lawrence come to our offices and "Get Busy"

A slice of the early naughts, fresh from Brooklyn

When I saw the band approach, I immediately took another elevator. Even as a diminished four-piece, the Brooklyn hipster ensemble looked like they could crush you given the convenient constraint of an elevator. In another live session, with the full band in swing, they barely fit in a room, a mad orchestra barely contained by a single shot. Could their sound even fit in a single room?

Fronted by Clyde and Gracie Lawrence, siblings who claim to have been raised on "Stevie Wonder, Janis Joplin, and Eggo waffles," Lawrence is strange sort of folk act. They have the collegiate pull, sure (Cylde claims to have put begun putting the band together while at Brown) but they carefully eschew the genre's twin currents: they are neither small n' Bon Iver intimate nor rankled with the pomposity of stage-filling bands like Arcade Fire or the Polyphonic Spree. Their music, similarly, lacks the obtuse abstraction of genre (the producer Mike Dean said it best when he remarked that Justin Vernon sings "like he's got marbles in his mouth."), Clyde sings plainly: he'll "put on my finest sweatpants and I'll order you pad thai" and it will be a "an intimate occasion, you and me and HBO." This is a man who takes the semantics of "Netflix and chill" seriously. Discovered by Warner last year, who rereleased their debut, Breakfast, they are both coy and charming, nerds who dress like cheerleaders.

The band in action or at least in sound check. (news.bandsintown.com)

Their live show is somewhere in between Miles Davis and a children's choir you might catch at the Port Authority while waiting for the bus to Jersey. Drummer Sam Askin kept time on a nearby box like a Long Island Jaki Liebezeit, I can still hear the beat in my mind, months later, a soft drilling into skull tissue. And for ten minutes, Jonny Koh, their guitarist and militant perfectionist, was our Jimmy Hendrix, holding together what felt like our souls. Riffing on their love for late '90s/early '00s pop music, afterward Clyde gave me an exuberant performance of this monologue about the cathartic power of Brittney Spears at her prime, they delivered their take on Sean Paul's "Get Busy," a 2003 hit that was notably featured as an option on Dance Dance Revolution Extreme 2, considered the more spirited of the Dance Dance Revolution editions that flooded our homes during the late Bush years. You can watch that above.

They also played for us a new song of theirs; you won't be able to find it on Breakfast. Called "Friend or Enemy," it's a slow-jam that's not afraid to let the feelings flow, a warm cracker that you'll want to hold close like butter playing toast.

Watch "Friend or Enemy" below:

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