Five Notable Releases of the Week (11/11)
If you’re a reader of this website and you live in America, it’s hard to believe that new albums are what’s on your mind this week. Maybe you’re just listening to a certain YG song over and over. Or maybe all you want to hear is the dearly-missed Leonard Cohen.
If you are looking for something new, at least this week is pretty heavy on protest music. Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Just three years after saying they’d be done for good, A Tribe Called Quest not only came back but they decided to make their first album since the ’90s. They’re also saying this is their final album, though the finality feels a little more real this time. 2016 has been a year filled with way too many deaths of truly legendary musicians, and one of those is Phife Dawg. Phife and his fellow original Tribe members Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Jarobi recorded most of the album before Phife died, so these aren’t just old unused Phife verses or anything. This doubles as the cherry on top of Tribe’s legacy and one last taste of the beloved Phife Dawg. It feels like we’re lucky to even have this album, and even more so because it’s really good.
Comeback albums are tough, and it feels safe to say they’re particularly tough in rap, which is usually a young person’s game. It’s been an especially good year for comebacks from the original era of jazzy New York alternative hip hop though. Digable Planets just wrapped up a well-received reunion tour and De La Soul’s first proper album in 12 years is a real winner, not to mention that BROOKZILL! album. Talking about BROOKZILL! last month, I suggested maybe this sound feels so relevant 25 years later because its influence can be heard in Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Both of those guys are actually on this Tribe album, keeping it even more relevant-sounding than it would’ve been anyway. Kanye’s voice is mostly in the background, but Kendrick brings the fire on “Conrad Tokyo.” He’s the kind of guy whose guest appearances feel very well-curated (well, most of the time at least), and his presence alone makes it worth listening to a song that you wouldn’t otherwise listen to. Another guy that can be described that way is Andre 3000, and he’s here in top form too (on “Kids…”).
The guests aren’t the only thing making this album of the moment. Tribe formed when Reagan was in office, and it doesn’t feel like a coincidence that they came back during the possibility (and now reality) of a Trump presidency. On “We the People…,” Q-Tip raps, “All you black folks, you must go / All you Mexicans, you must go / And all you poor folks, you must go / Muslims and gays, boy, we hate your ways / So all you bad folks, you must go.” And something tells us he’s not speaking from his own perspective. On “Conrad Tokyo,” Phife asks, “Why y’all cool with the fuckery? Trump and SNL hilarity / Troublesome times kid, no times for comedy.” (It remains to be seen what Tribe will do on SNL tomorrow.) And of course it’s a real kicker that they named the album’s final song, “The Donald.” This album joins in on the protest against America’s soon-to-be leader, it helps us say goodbye to a sorely-missed legend, and it reminds the world that today’s biggest artists wouldn’t be who they are without A Tribe Called Quest.
The term “emo revival” has taken on a few different meanings, but initially it was meant to be taken literally. It was the title given to a group of modern bands who were reviving the type of emo created by ’90s bands like American Football, Cap’n Jazz, Braid and The Promise Ring. You Blew It were one of the earliest bands in this scene, helping to bring “Kinsella-style” riffs back way before the mainstream music media was documenting the revival. In hindsight, those “revival” bands were a necessary transition to get emo back to its indie roots. Thanks to modern classics of the genre like TWIABP’s Harmlessness, Foxing’s Dealer, and The Hotelier’s Goodness, emo is now being pushed forward, not looking back. YBI are clearly paying attention, because for their third and best album yet (and Triple Crown debut), Abendrot, they stopped reviving and started evolving.
They still strain their voices like a Midwest ’90s emo band, and there’s a mathy riff here and there, but this is largely a huge departure from anything they’d done prior. The songs are more dynamic, the tempos shift more often, and they’ve introduced gorgeous atmospheres and vocal harmonies. It sort of sounds like Braid writing a record with Manchester Orchestra after listening to a lot of Caspian. As you usually expect from an emo band, the lyrics are dramatic and earnest, though YBI avoid the genre stereotype of singing about unrequited love. The album tackles inner turmoil, religion, and death; and sometimes those latter two pop up in the same song. Its most memorable moment is on “Autotheology,” when they sing “When God dies I’ll skip the funeral.” You Blew It have been a fairly niche band throughout their career thus far, but Abendrot feels like the album that’ll give them a much-deserved breakthrough.
Sadie Dupuis has already put out two great albums as the singer of Speedy Ortiz, and now she’s got her solo debut as Sad13. It’s synthier and poppier than Speedy Ortiz’s mathy indie rock (and features a guest verse from a rapper, Sammus), but it’s challenging pop’s formula more than it’s adhering to it. Sadie surely pulls from radio pop — Speedy already has a song with a known Kelis influence — but in her own words, she’s making “songs that put affirmative consent at the heart of the subject matter and emphasize friendship among women and try to deescalate the toxic jealousy and ownership that are often centered in romantic pop songs.” The lyrics are really the thing that drive this album home, and they are usually blunt, uncompromising, and overwhelmingly positive. Like Sadie says in that aforementioned quote, a lot of this album is about affirmative consent. “Get A Yes” is its big consent anthem, but it’s in other songs like “The Sting” too. In a time where America has a president-elect who brags about sexually assaulting women, this registers as much-needed protest music. The album also includes a subversive (and tongue-in-cheek) ode to objectifying men (“Just A Friend”), and then there’s the anti-media, anti-gender-inequality song with the line that everyone’s already quoting: “They still want to lick my asshole” (“Hype”).
A good message isn’t enough on its own to sell a song though, and fortunately Slugger is as catchy as it is lyrically powerful. It’s her “pop” album, but the unexpected melodic turns of Speedy Ortiz are fully intact here. Sadie rarely stays neatly within a major scale or plays a common chord progression without making sure she gets a little dissonant somewhere in there. The songs are reminders of what made Speedy Ortiz so instantly exciting but also a clear progression from what that band has put out so far. If the hype (no pun intended) for this album has you afraid that it’ll be too far removed from Speedy, you can ease your fears. A song like “Line Up” pulls from the same post-hardcore and noise rock influences that Speedy does.
As referenced in the You Blew It blurb above, (non-commercial) emo/post-hardcore is back in a big way, and few musicians impacted this genre like Walter Schreifels. When the genre blew up in the early 2000s, a huge handful of the pop-punk-leaning bands could be traced back to Gorilla Biscuits, and the darker, heavier ones to Quicksand. Walter himself was not just an elder statesman to the scene at that point but also a peer, thanks to Rival Schools. GB and Quicksand play shows every year these days, and if you’re into this sorta stuff, those are two of the very best bands you can see live right now. But they stick to playing the classics and Walter is a forever-creative kinda guy who needs an outlet to write new songs, and that’s where his two current bands Dead Heavens and Vanishing Life come in. Dead Heavens do a modern take on ’60s psych/garage rock, but Vanishing Life is the closest he’s come to his hardcore roots in a while. The band’s whole lineup has quite the punk pedigree — it’s Walter with Autry Fulbright and Jamie Miller of …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead (the latter of whom also recently joined Bad Religion), and prolific punk musician Zach Blair (who’s played in Only Crime, The Loved Ones, GWAR, Rise Against, Drakulas, and more) — and actually Walter says it’s Jamie who set the punk/hc tone of the band. Vanishing Life isn’t exactly like any of Walter’s previous bands in particular, but it’s not a million miles away from them either. A lot of this album is the closest he’s come to classic punk and early hardcore — the power chord riffs on “Exile” and “Vanishing Life” sound right out of 1978. A few moments, though, sound like what you might expect a new Quicksand album to sound like. If he whipped out the grungy “Pretty Ruined” at that band’s next show, I bet it would fit right in. Surveillance may be far from the spotlight that, say, United By Fate or Manic Compression were in, but for fans of his hardcore years, this may be the best album in he’s made in quite some time.
Exterminators have quite the interesting story. Formed in 1977 and broken up by 1978 without releasing any music, the Exterminators were one of Phoenix’s first punk bands ever, along with The Consumers, and their members went on to form The Germs, The Gun Club, The Feederz, Mighty Sphincter, 45 Grave, and more. Now, original members Dan “Johnny Macho” Clark on vocals (The Feederz), Doug “Buzzy Murder” Clark (Mighty Sphincter), and Jimmy “Don Bolles” Giorsetti (The Germs, 45 Grave) reunited to finally record the songs they wrote back in the ’70s and release their first-ever album. Bassist Rob Graves (The Gun Club, 45 Grave) passed away in 1990, but the Exterminators got the Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood to fill in for him and also produce the album. I interviewed Cris about the album last month, and here’s an excerpt of what I wrote about the album then:
You hear about “forgotten” records getting rediscovered all the time now, but it’s truly a treat that we’re getting this one. If you dig The Germs, The Feederz, Meat Puppets, other Phoenix punk bands like The Consumers or JFA or Sun City Girls, or just the original wave of ’70s punk in general, you’re probably gonna love this Exterminators album. Every song is as loud, fast, angry, as classic as punk gets. Since these are re-recordings, it’s possible that the guys spiced them up a bit (Cris did mention some lyrics were re-written), but mostly it’s pretty clear how ahead of their time this band was. It predicts hardcore just about as much as The Germs or early Black Flag did.
The album has also been repped by Keith Morris, Mike Watt, East Bay Ray of the Dead Kennedys, and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross. Its song “Destruction Unit” (which became a Feederz song) is where Phoenix’s best current punk band got their name (and Don Bolles plays on that band’s latest record). The internet has unearthed so many hidden musical gems from the past, and every time you think you’ve found them all, an album like this comes along. If punk means anything to you, this Exterminators album will be a real treat.