Five Notable Releases of the Week (5/11)
Before I talk about any new music today, I have to talk about the heartbreaking news that Frightened Rabbit singer Scott Hutchison was tragically found dead at age 36 last night. Scott’s music is heartfelt in ways I can’t even begin to describe, and he’s impacted the lives of so many people over the years, myself included. Listen to some Frightened Rabbit today in his honor. Rest in peace, Scott.
A few honorable mentions today: Beach House (which Jeremy reviewed), Simian Mobile Disco in collaboration with Deep Throat Choir (which Bill reviewed), The Body (featuring Lingua Ignota and Uniform’s Michael Berdan), Mark Kozelek, worlds greatest dad, and Illuminati Hotties.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
I regret to admit that I haven’t stayed super up to date on all of The Sea & Cake records that have come out over the years, but I checked back in for the new Any Day (their first since 2012’s Runner) to find that they’re still doing what they’ve done best for over two decades. What they do, if you’re unfamiliar, is make pleasantly breezy indie pop with little jazz/post-rock eccentricities thrown in, and they do it in a way that’s unmistakably their own. Any Day is a bit more accessible than some of The Sea & Cake’s more classic albums, with their jazz/post-rock side toned down a bit, and a greater focus on driving drumbeats, jangly guitars, and subtly catchy hooks. They’ve still got a couple weirder songs (“Occurs,” “Into Rain”), but this is a fun record, not a challenging one. One of the songs I keep going back to, “I Should Care,” sounds like it could be a Song of the Summer contender within indie rock circles, even though the unfortunate reality is it’ll probably go overlooked. (No pun originally intended on that song title, but now that I think about it, pun totally intended.) That song’s just one of many gems on this album, which is 38 minutes long but flies by at what feels like half of that time. It’s yet another high quality record from a band who never fail to operate on this level.
Slow Mass first caught my ear with their 2016 debut EP Treasure Pains because I’m a fan of their drummer Josh Sparks, who’s played on Damiera’s Quiet Loud Mouth Hands and Into It. Over It.’s Standards. Josh actually left the band to tour with Minus the Bear before Slow Mass’ debut album On Watch was completed, but he still plays on six of its 13 songs, and even the ones he doesn’t play on are winners. Slow Mass have really come a long way since that first EP, and have turned into a powerful unit where no individual member is the selling point. Some of the best songs on this album have no drums at all.
The Treasure Pains EP was mostly reviving the kind of mathy post-hardcore that Dischord Records was putting out in the ’90s, and there’s some of that on On Watch, but there’s also a lot more at play. There’s soaring, gradually-building post-rock, there’s Microphones/Mount Eerie style bedroom folk, there’s little experimental interludes, there’s delicate indie rock, there’s sludgy riff rock, and still more. Mercedes Webb sings a lot more on this album, basically splitting lead vocal duties down the middle with Dave Collis, which really adds a lot to Slow Mass’ sound. Dave has the roaring yell, while Mercedes has the more ethereal delivery, and they often take a call-and-response approach which brings these songs to the next level. Dave also has been perfecting his hushed side, and when he takes lead on those bedroom folk songs like “My Violent Years” and “Tunnel Vision Quest,” he shows off a tender delivery that you may have never known he had in him from listening to Treasure Pains. If all this sounds a little all over the place on paper, one listen to the record will prove it doesn’t in actuality. Slow Mass bring all of these sounds together seamlessly, in a way that your average post-hardcore band might not figure out how to do until their third album. If On Watch makes one thing clear, it’s that Slow Mass are definitely not your average post-hardcore band.
Jess Williamson has been at it for a few years now, with a couple albums and an EP under her belt, but she made some significant changes before and during the making of her third album, Cosmic Wink. She signed to a larger label (Mexican Summer), teamed up with a new producer (Loma/Cross Record member Dan Duszynski), and perhaps most significantly of all, she left her native Texas for California. I don’t know if it’s because of those things, a coincidence, or maybe a little of both, but Cosmic Wink is a noticeably different sounding record for Jess Williamson and it’s her best yet. The songs sound bigger, warmer, and more confident in just about every way. The arrangements really bring these songs to life; other than the gorgeously psychedelic “Wild Rain” and the bare-bones album closer “Love On The Piano,” they sound like the musical equivalent of the sun rising on a 75-degree day. Jess’ voice is also in finer form than it’s ever been. For a modern comparison, she sort of sounds somewhere between Angel Olsen and latter-day Feist, and like both of those singers, she can soar when she needs to or dial it back and sound effortlessly cool. But it doesn’t do Jess Williamson enough justice to just compare her to modern-day artists. She sounds like a student of the folk, blues, and psychedelia of half a century ago. When she delivers her own song “White Bird,” it’s hard not to hear echoes of It’s A Beautiful Day’s song of the same name. On “Thunder Song,” when she sings the refrain of “Who do you love?”, it’s hard not to think of Bo Diddley’s oft-covered “Who Do You Love?”. Whether or not these were intentional references, it speaks volumes that Jess Williamson has the ability to recall such foundational music from the past, and also sound fresh and original today.
Detroit rapper Tee Grizzley was one of the best new-ish artists of 2017 thanks to the strength of his debut mixtape My Moment and his collaborative mixtape with Lil Durk, Bloodas. There were no guests on either of those, with Grizzley using My Moment to prove his skills as a rapper with no frills or distractions, and Bloodas as a way to hone those skills by throwing some friendly competition with Lil Durk in the mix. Now Grizzley is releasing his debut album, and I don’t know if this was his call or the record label’s fear that Activated wouldn’t have any singles, but not only is it loaded with guests, it’s loaded with the kinds of guests that dominate pop radio, like Slim Jxmmi of Rae Sremmurd, Lil Yachty, and Lil Pump. (Not to mention there’s two songs with Chris Brown, which is a bad look not just because of the violent things Chris Brown has long been accused of, but because his out-of-style pop-R&B delivery doesn’t help Tee Grizzley much.) Grizzley himself even adopts today’s ever-popular trap cadences and the production matches. It might be a more commercially viable approach than My Moment was, but it also might be a disappointment for anyone who thought the appeal of My Moment was that it didn’t sound like every trap guy on the radio. The good news, though, is that since Tee Grizzley did spend his two 2017 mixtapes honing a skilled delivery, he does this trap stuff with more technical prowess than most “mumble” rappers. If you’re in favor of this new direction, you’ll probably find that Tee Grizzley is pretty damn good at it. Activated is full of bangers that rival any handful of songs you might hear on Hot 97, and it’s a real fun record. If it does in fact help make him famous, though, I hope he can bring some more of the My Moment style to his next record.
Arctic Monkeys’ first album in five years is a drastic change for them. My full review is HERE. Read an excerpt:
A lot of the traits that have come to define Arctic Monkeys and make them so special are absent on Tranquility, but to the band’s credit, it’s been five years since a milestone album — they kind of had to shake things up. It’d be boring to wait this long just to hear them repeat themselves, and of all the things Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino might be, it’s definitely not boring. It’s over the top in ways the band has never been before (“I just wanted to be one of The Strokes / Now look at the mess you made me make,” Alex begins, on the stream-of-consciousness, self-aware leaning self-obsessed album opener “Star Treatment”), and it’s got some musical influences you probably never thought you’d hear on an Arctic Monkeys album, like Pet Sounds. You can hear Brian Wilson’s masterpiece in Tranquility‘s reverby, Wrecking Crew-style percussion (“Star Treatment”), lightly bouncy pianos (“One Point Perspective”) and its many melodic basslines.
Other reference points for Tranquility Base Hotel + Casino include late ’50s ballroom ballads, showtunes, the whimsical side of late ’60s Beatles, and the dark, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds-inspired sense of cool that they’ve been honing for a while. The album is bookended by its two most traditional sounding ballads, but in between in gets weird. The Pet Sounds-y percussion, piano, and basslines all come together on “The World’s First Ever Monster Truck Front Flip,” which, with its dash of circus music, is basically “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Brian Wilson.” The totally out-there “She Looks Like Fun” might be exactly what it would sound like if Nick Cave mashed up “21st Century Schizoid Man” and “Magical Mystery Tour.” The title track seems simple and subdued at first, but reveals itself to be a clash of funky, modern R&B, ’60s rock organs, and psychedelic sound effects. “Science Fiction” sounds like it might’ve fit in an old black and white horror film, and it’s the most evil-sounding song that Arctic Monkeys have written since “Pretty Visitors.”
Read the rest HERE.