Little Thoughts is a brand-new monthly guest post series where music fans and writers cover three albums, new or old, that they think deserve to be heard. The series itself is named after a Bloc Party song, a band introduced to me by my older brother Jacob Jeffers, so it’s only fitting that he’s featured in the first guest post. Jacob currently runs a radio show, “Hot Chicken, Hot Chicken”, with Cailynn Beck and Seth Shanley on AROUSE on Fridays at 7pm.
My name is Jacob, and my qualifications for these recommendations include that I listen to a lot of music when I go running and that I met one of the dudes from Neutral Milk Hotel once. With that in mind, here are a couple of albums that I love that deserve to be heard.
Mannequin Pussy – Romantic (2016)
As an incoming college freshman in November of 2016, I saw Mannequin Pussy play in a living room in Columbus while old Star Trek episodes were projected onto the ceiling. To this day, that show stands out as maybe the most fun I’ve ever had at a house show. Mannequin Pussy kicked that house’s ass in a way most other bands can only dream of. A little over a year later, I listened to their studio album Romantic for the first time, and it holds up just as well through headphones as it does in a mosh pit.
On Romantic, the Philadelphia four-piece screams and claws their way through eleven songs in seventeen minutes–the longest one being well under three minutes. The overall sound of the album is pretty consistent, with exactly the churning guitars and screaming vocals you’d expect from a punk band in 2016. Most punk bands, though, wouldn’t write a song like Romantic’s title track, which almost becomes a sparse dream pop song during the verse before it explodes into a chorus of angry shouts and angular guitars.
As much as Mannequin Pussy knows how to write blistering punk rock, they also have a unique ear for sensitive moments and catchy melodies. What sets them apart is how easily they switch between the two without sacrificing the integrity of either one. A highlight is “Anything”, which starts out with what sounds almost an acoustic guitar before climaxing into a screeching wall of sound and feedback. Mannequin Pussy writes better melodies than most of their peers while still topping them all in terms of raw energy and volume. If some of these tunes were a little quieter, they could almost be power pop.
I’m definitely a little late on Romantic, but I love this album. With two years since Romantic, there’s a good chance Mannequin Pussy will be back pretty soon, so this is a great excuse to brush up on their catalog. And if you get the chance to see them at a DIY space, do it–they’re way too much fun to miss live.
Standouts: “Denial”, “Meatslave One”, “Beside Yourself”
Alex Cameron – Forced Witness (2017)
A few months ago, Alex Cameron made it onto The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon–as a joke instead of a guest. For Fallon’s “Do Not Play” segment, he showcased the “cringe-worthy” music video for a song called “Big Enough”, in which Cameron and his friend-slash-collaborator Kirin J. Callinan face off as cowboys in the Wild West.
That was a shame, for two reasons. First of all, “Big Enough” is f*cking hilarious. But more importantly, Alex Cameron is a brilliant songwriter with a bizarre stage persona who deserves a lot more credit than just being the butt of a joke on late-night TV. Case in point: his recent album, Forced Witness.
Forced Witness doesn’t sound like an album from 2017–between catchy songwriting, glossy, synthesized production and the occasional saxophone appearance, it sounds more like something recorded in the 80’s and lost somewhere in a record store for decades. Alex Cameron pulls it off the nostalgia and upbeat synth-pop flawlessly, without sounding cheesy or dated. Every song on Forced Witness is untouchable from a songwriting perspective, and even when it occasionally dips in quality, it’s still fun and accessible. The album is also helped by a couple of choice collaborators–Angel Olsen jumps on “Stranger’s Kiss” for a blissful duet, while standout track “Runnin’ Outta Luck” features a songwriting credit from Brandon Flowers of The Killers.
A lot of the charm of Forced Witness comes from the album’s sense of humor. I mentioned Alex Cameron’s persona earlier; if you don’t listen carefully, it’s still a great record without it, but this dude is something else. The cover features Cameron staring thoughtfully at the camera with a green leather jacket, cheap plastic sunglasses, and his shoulder-length hair slicked back in a weird sort of retro “tough guy” look. This is reflected in the lyrics on the album–“Studmuffin96” is about a man catfishing a teenage girl, while “The Chihuahua” is about Cameron breaking up with his girlfriend and drowning his sorrow in pornography. It’s weird and uncomfortable at times, but he sells his obnoxious alpha male character so well that it becomes darkly hilarious.
Overall, Forced Witness doesn’t take any risks, but it doesn’t really need to either. This is an album to take at face value–a collection of hilarious, endlessly listenable pop songs. It’s a fun album, and that’s helped by a seriously committed persona from its eccentric creator.
Standouts: “Marlon Brando”, “Runnin’ Outta Luck”
JPEGMAFIA – Veteran (2018)
After a string of self-released and self-produced music spanning two mixtapes, two EPs and a double album, JPEG returns with maybe his most scattered and diverse release in an impressive three-year run, Veteran. Most of its 19 songs don’t even reach three minutes, lending the album plenty of room to mess around and experiment.
I don’t know if we’re still in the era where anything weird and aggressive automatically gets compared to Death Grips, but before anything else, this doesn’t sound anything like Death Grips. Yes, JPEG yells a lot, and the production is based around a lot of warped electronics and samples, but Veteran is incomparable to anything else. After three years, this is the tightest his production has ever sounded, and he spends most of the album filtering different styles and ideas through his own glitchy headspace. On “1539 N. Calvert”, JPEG pairs floating synths with a routine trap beat, while “Thug Tears” twists a stream of scattered vocal samples around a robotic clicking beat and overdriven bassline.
Probably the most unique part of Veteran is JPEG’s weirdly aggressive sense of humor. He raps about everything from killing Donald Trump, to shopping at Whole Foods, to GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64. There’s a song towards the end called “I Cannot Fucking Wait Until Morrissey Dies”, and it’s one of the better ones.
Not everyone is going to be super into Veteran, and sometimes he sounds so tongue-in-cheek that it’s hard to take it seriously, but this is one of the most unique hip-hop albums you’re going to hear for a while.
Standouts: “Thug Tears”, “Baby I’m Bleeding”
That’s all I have for now. Thanks for reading. Join me next week for my newly syndicated column in which I review Soundcloud covers of Christmas carols.