Notable Releases of the Week (3/8)
Here at BrooklynVegan we’ve been gearing up for SXSW, which is already underway (but the music portion officially kicks off in a few days). If you’ll be in Austin next week, come hang with us at the BrooklynVegan day parties at Mohawk on Thursday and Friday (lineups TBA very soon!) and the BrooklynVegan showcase Saturday night at Scoot Inn (with Trail of Dead playing Madonna, Charly Bliss, and more).
SXSW craziness may just about be in full swing, but there’s still plenty of other stuff going on in the music world including lots of great new music out this week. I picked five new releases that I highlighted below, and here are some more honorable mentions: Helado Negro, Gesaffelstein, SASAMI, The Coathangers, Dido, William Basinski, Drinking Boys and Girls Choir, Misery Index, Justus Proffit, Xeno & Oaklander, Patty Griffin, Dead Swords (mem The Gaslight Anthem), the Black Anvil EP, The Antlers‘ Hospice reissue, and the Flight of the Conchords live album.
Check out my five picks below (note: two of the album covers are NSFW). What was your favorite release of the week?
Amanda Palmer is constantly busy with one project or another, but she hasn’t released a proper solo album in seven years until now. There Will Be No Intermission is her third proper solo album ever, and it follows 2012’s Theatre Is Evil, which Amanda made with the Grand Theft Orchestra. It’s also a much different sounding album than the rock-oriented Theatre Is Evil. The songs on There Will Be No Intermission are more somber, often with just Amanda and her piano or Amanda and her ukulele, and the stripped-back arrangements help put Amanda’s lyrics — which are especially powerful on this album — in the forefront. In Amanda’s words, “The rise of global fascism alongside the spreading fire of #MeToo has forged a louder megaphone for all women, and we’re all seeing that radical truth is infectious. I feel more urgency than ever to share the naked truth of my experiences. The kind of stories that I’m sharing on this record – abortion, miscarriage, cancer, grief, the darker sides of parenthood – have been therapeutic and frightening to write.” You can hear the power in Amanda’s voice all throughout this album — which clocks in at an ambitious 78 minutes with 20 tracks, 10 of which are orchestral instrumentals arranged by Jherek Bischoff — and there are several songs where Amanda will stop you in your tracks and have you hanging on her every word. And though it is a more stripped-back album, there are also a handful of moments where it builds to a maximalist, chamber pop climax. As is always the case with Amanda Palmer albums, there’s really nothing else that sounds like There Will Be No Intermission. She’s a true original, and with this album, she’s written some of her most urgent, necessary songs yet.
Between Amanda Palmer’s latest and this debut album from Australia’s Stella Donnelly, it’s a good week for albums that resonate in the #MeToo era. Beware of the Dogs takes its sonic cues from twee-ish indie pop, but there is nothing lighthearted about this album lyrically. She issues warnings like “Are you scared of me old man? Or are you scared of what I’ll do? You grabbed me with an open hand, the world is grabbing back at you” (“Old Man”), she sings bluntly about rape and victim-blaming (“Boys Will Be Boys”), she discusses those awkward political debates with conservative relatives during the holidays (“Season’s Greetings”), she tackles everyday sexism (“Tricks”) and religion-based sexism (“Watching Telly”), and she sings proudly and unsubtly about a vibrator (“Mosquito”). Stella holds nothing back at all and rarely clouds her song’s messages with metaphor. Stella’s songs can be both funny and empowering, and they’re very catchy too. They leave an impact on first listen that stays with you long after the record is over, and it’s not everyday that a debut album does that to this extent.
The Meat Puppets may always exist in the shadow of Meat Puppets II — their iconic, timeless, and massively influential 1984 sophomore album — but if you can put the unlikely task of topping that album aside, you’ll find that the Meat Puppets have been one of underground rock’s most consistent bands for nearly four decades. Even their less classic albums have memorable moments, they’ve remained a mesmerizing live band, and they’ve almost never lost sight of the highly original sound that has helped them stand out from their peers for their entire career. The Meat Puppets came out of punk, but they quickly expanded their sound and their minds and became one of the earliest punk bands to embrace the tripped-out sounds of the Grateful Dead (and still one of the only punk bands to embrace the psychedelic bluegrass of the Dead’s pals New Riders of the Purple Sage). They influenced Nirvana and helped shape grunge and alternative rock as we know it long before anyone called it that (and ended up scoring their sole hit at the height of the grunge era, after Nirvana had brought them on stage at MTV Unplugged). Even with their influence stretching far and wide, there still aren’t many bands that sound like them. If you made a venn diagram of Deadhead jams, Crazy Horse’s ragged folk rock, Black Flag’s punk spirit, and Nirvana’s greatest hits, the Meat Puppets would be right in the center, and they wouldn’t have much company.
The Meat Puppets are heroes for outsiders and genuine weirdos, and they retain that status on Dusty Notes, which is their 15th album and their most exciting in a while for a few reasons. It’s their first with original drummer Derrick Bostrom since 1995’s No Joke!, which finally sees the original Meat Puppets lineup of Derrick and the Kirkwood brothers (Curt and Cris) back together for the first time in over 20 years. It’s also their rawest-sounding album in a while, and the humble production helps make it more enjoyable than the last few Meat Puppets records too. Save for the hard rock of “Vampyr’s Winged Fantasy,” there’s hardly any studio shine on Dusty Notes, and Meat Puppets sound best without it. It’s not as raw as Meat Puppets II, and it’s definitely not as fast and punky as that album, but Meat Puppets have grown towards focusing on a more laid-back folk/country sound, and that side of them is in fine form on Dusty Notes. In addition to the original trio, Curt’s son Elmo plays guitar and he has clearly absorbed his father’s band’s unique style and channels it like a natural. The album also features jazz-trained keyboardist Ron Stabinsky, and the combo of folk/country guitars and jazzy keys makes this album especially Grateful Dead-like. Not to mention Strabinsky’s harpsichord on “Unfrozen Memory” gives Meat Puppets a baroque pop twist that you don’t normally hear from them. The subtle new touches like that are welcome, but mostly Dusty Notes succeeds because of its familiarity. This album sounds like a warm, stoned Sunday morning and it should instantly remind longtime fans of the band’s glory days. It might not rival the band’s most-loved classics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes down as a late-career fave.
Little Rock, Arkansas rapper Kari Faux broke out with her 2014 banger “No Small Talk” (which got a boost later on thanks to a remix from Childish Gambino and thanks to it being featured in season one of Insecure), and while she still hasn’t released a followup album to her 2016 debut LP Lost En Los Angeles, she dropped the Primary EP in 2017 and now she’s back with another EP, Cry 4 Help. The Primary EP saw Kari branching out from the immediate pop appeal of “No Small Talk” into headier funk territory, and Cry 4 Help is an even more pensive project that sees her dabbling in lush, laid-back soul. It also — as the title implies — sees her tackling the heaviest topics of her career thus far. “These past traumas were just coming up that, I guess, I hadn’t realized I hadn’t dealt with,” she told NPR, and the traumas included (in NPR writer Sidney Madden’s words) “abandonment issues related to her being adopted, having a miscarriage at 15-years old and staying in toxic relationships because she didn’t know better.” “I’ve always felt like I was never able to put my real, real life into my music,” Kari added. “So this was kind of like a test for me to see like, ‘OK, can you write about the s*** [that] has actually happened to you?’.” Kari puts these struggles all out there on Cry 4 Help, and it makes for some of her most gripping songs yet. The EP sort of doubled as therapy for Kari, and could do the same for listeners. She told NPR that she has more music coming later this year, and these five songs have me very excited to hear what she does next. It’s obvious that she’s a more mature, more unique artist than ever, and it already feels like Cry 4 Help is just the tip of the iceberg.
Up until this point, NYC’s Kings Destroy were a rock-solid but fairly typical stoner doom band, but with their fourth album Fantasma Nera they’re branching off into much more ambitious and much more original territory. The album was produced by David Bottrill, who you know from prog classics like King Crimson’s Thrak and Tool’s Ænima and Lateralus, and the band credits Bottrill for helping them discover a new side of themselves. (They also brought in another impressive name to design the vivd album artwork: former Neurosis visual artist Josh Graham.) Their ambitions resulted in an album that contains some of their most experimental work, and some of their catchiest. They’ve got a few songs that sound like they could’ve been hits in the grunge era like “Unmake It,” “Yonkers Ceiling Collapse,” and my personal favorite “Barbarossa,” which sorta sounds like ’90s Foo Fighters meets ’80s Iron Maiden. They also toy with a psychedelic side on parts of “Seven Billion Drones,” “Stormy Times,” and especially the title track, which sees them venturing off into trippy desert rock territory. And “Dead Before” sees them successfully trying their hand at a non-cheesy power ballad. Fantasma Nera kinda reminds me of Baroness’ Yellow & Green, the album that saw Baroness evolving from their more extreme metal roots into a band that dabbled in grunge, prog, psych, and really whatever they felt like. If you like that record, there’s a good chance you’ll like this one too. It’s the biggest step forward Kings Destroy have ever taken, and one of the more enjoyable heavy rock albums I’ve heard this year so far.