Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/22)
What a week in music it’s been. When I ran this column last week, I (and most other people) had barely heard the new Kanye-produced Nas album, but it’s since sunken in and… it leaves much to be desired (you can read my review). The next day, the conversation in rap’s upper echelon quickly shifted towards the far superior Beyonce and Jay-Z album (more on that here). Those two albums feel like the only music anyone can talk about this week, but there’s of course so much more.
Before I get to my picks, some honorable mentions include Kamasi Washington, Vein, the MorMor EP, the surprise Freddie Gibbs mixtape, The Killers‘ career-spanning vinyl box set (which you can win a copy of), and the final installment of the month of Kanye-produced albums: Teyana Taylor.
Check out my five picks below. What’s your favorite release of the week?
Outside of Radiohead, is there any major ’90s rock band making challenging music more frequently and effectively than Nine Inch Nails right now? The just-released Bad Witch is the final installment of a trilogy that began with 2016’s Not The Actual Events and 2017’s Add Violence, and like its predecessors, it sees Trent Reznor (and current bandmate Atticus Ross) making music that’s looking forwards but that also proves he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. Whether or not you consider Bad Witch an EP or a full-length (Trent says that its two predecessors are EPs but he’s labeling Bad Witch a full-length because EPs register as “singles” on Spotify and other streaming services), one thing that’s for sure is these three projects are all short, and this format has been working really well for Nine Inch Nails. (Bad Witch is six songs that clock in at 30 minutes, which for what it’s worth, is longer than all of the Kanye-produced “albums” that have dropped in the past month.) Trent has really been making sure that each song on these releases is its own beast, and it’s refreshing to hear just six well thought out, uniquely different songs with no filler (especially in a time where other major artists are trying to game streaming services by releasing 100-minute-long albums to increase streaming numbers). Bad Witch opens up on its most aggressive note, with the noise-punk ripper “Shit Mirror” that makes so much of today’s indie rock sound featherlight in comparison. The song doesn’t sound entirely nostalgic for the ’90s, though of course traces of that decade’s sound are here, but it does sound nostalgic for a time when a popular band could make abrasive music. And I’m probably not alone in missing that a little bit. Those who prefer NIN’s industrial-electronic side will probably be pleased by the next song, “Ahead of Ourselves,” which takes the band into evil dancefloor territory, complete with creepy psychedelia, harsh screams, and more. Then things get weird(er). Nine Inch Nails spent many of their recent shows paying tribute to David Bowie by covering their old pal’s “I Can’t Give Everything Away” off Bowie’s final album Blackstar. Bowie, after just about five decades of making music, went out on a surprisingly inventive note, with a dark, challenging album that featured a lot of avant-jazz sax. It now sounds like Trent is not just covering a song from that album at his shows but also taking noticeable influence from it for his own work. He brings in dark, out-there sax for the instrumental “Play the Goddamned Part,” and then keeps that going for “God Break Down the Door,” which also sees him taking on more of a Bowie-esque croon than usual. This all happens over a frantic, danceable beat that sort of helps the song bridge the gap between The Downward Spiral and the sounds Trent is interested in right now. After an eerie, David Lynch-ian instrumental (“I’m Not From This World”), Bad Witch wraps up with another Blackstar-ish song, “Over and Out.” This one’s a lot more somber, but Trent once again shows off a crooned vocal that sounds like it would’ve made Bowie proud. Bowie found new sounds again and again throughout his career, and he had extremely talented followers each time. Blackstar was yet another trek through uncharted territory for Bowie, and Bad Witch is one of the first (if not the first) major albums to follow in its footsteps. Of course Trent puts its own spin on it, but that’s what’s always made his and Bowie’s relationship so exciting — the way they inspired each other and learned from each other and challenged each other. If only Bowie were here to hear this.
Khemmis have never been your average doom band; across their first two albums, they always found a little time for some flashier impulses. But on their third album, Desolation, they let the flashiness take over and the results are thrilling. Picture Iron Maiden, Thin Lizzy, and Remission-era Mastodon in a blender, and that’s kind of what Desolation sounds like. They’ve still got the tremendous weight (and occasional growls) of the latter, but the galloping riffs, screaming twin leads, and epic howling of the Maiden and Thin Lizzy influences reign supreme. Like with Maiden, you kinda have to love and embrace the cheese on Desolation, but once you do, the pay-off is worth it. This batch of six songs (most of which are pretty long) is an expertly executed exercise in traditional heavy metal. They’ve clearly studied the greats, and they just know how to hit all the sweet spots so well. Whether it’s just the right vocal harmony, or just the right guitar lick, this record rarely misses an opportunity to give you that pure sugar rush that the giants of metal gave you in the ’70s and ’80s. Again, the flashiness does take over and it is easy to view this album mostly through the lense of traditional metal, but the more modern sludge/doom side is a big part of what keeps it feeling fresh. The Maiden influence is undeniable, but Maiden didn’t have songs with swampy downtuned riffs that went on for eight minutes just because they were too snail-paced to go on for four. Desolation is never reinventing the wheel, but it’s bringing different parts of the wheel together in exciting ways. And most importantly, they’ve got more than just the chops and studious research of the last four decades of metal. Perhaps more than ever, Khemmis are writing genuinely great songs.
After cutting their teeth as an otherworldly experimental act for years, Gang Gang Dance started making what you could accurately call pop music on their 2011 album, Eye Contact. It felt very of its time. 2011 was the same year Tune-Yards started turning her world music-inspired experiments into pop music, and Animal Collective’s trek into pop was still reigning supreme (the great and well-received Panda Bear album Tomboy dropped that year). GGD went away after that, and now in 2018, that kind of music is not nearly as in fashion as it used to be. But GGD’s particular take on experimental pop has proved to be a little prescient. Their weirdo synthetic dream pop side isn’t too far removed from what experimental-artist-turned-pop-artist Grimes started doing the year after Eye Contact dropped, and Grimes is bigger and more beloved than ever. I’m not saying that GGD necessarily influenced Grimes (or the other way around), but while listening to Kazuashita — their first album in seven years — you’ll hear that Gang Gang Dance made a record that sounds unexpectedly zeitgeisty in 2018, and they did so without really changing up their sound. There’s nothing as immediate as Eye Contact‘s “MindKilla,” which does already feel kind of dated to the early 2010s, but the quieter, more atmospheric songs of Kazuashita are a better look right now. Like Eye Contact, Kazuashita is still experimental music, but it’s easily accessible. It’s got a few alienating sounds in the mix, but GGD never wait too long to hit you with another poppier one. The production (aided by Jorge Elbrecht) is meticulous and full of exciting subtleties, but it’s Lizzi Bougatsos’ singing that brings this album to the next level. She’s mastered an approach where she sounds airy and ethereal but still bold and in your face, and it really drives these songs home.
My full review of Beyonce and Jay-Z’s new collaborative is HERE. Read an excerpt:
It’s been 15 years or so since Bey and Jay were knocking out classics like “03 Bonnie and Clyde” and “Crazy In Love,” and they’ve appeared on each other’s albums several times since, so Everything Is Love feels like a long time coming, not a recent development to capitalize on fame. When they made said classics, Jay was at his peak. Now he sounds a bit more weathered like he did on 4:44, but it also sounds like Beyonce is rejuvenating him. Bey is at the point in her career where everything she touches turns to gold; when “Crazy In Love” came out, I don’t think anyone could’ve imagined the level Beyonce would reach with her self-titled album and Lemonade. On Everything Is Love, which sounds a bit less obsessed over than Lemonade and Beyonce, Bey and her collaborators still manage to casually churn out music that sounds cut from those album’s cloths. The aforementioned “Summer” channels ’70s psychedelic soul as effectively as Lemonade often did, and Bey’s shimmering, harmony-backed delivery is as gripping as her finest moments on that album. “Boss” brings in victorious trumpets that rival the ones on Lemonade standout “All Night.” “Heard About Us” is powered by a bouncing bassline that gives the one on Beyonce‘s “Blow” a run for its money. It’s a collaborative album, but Everything Is Love is more firmly planted in Beyonce’s world than in Jay-Z’s, and that’s partially why it sounds so lush.
Read the rest HERE.
My full review of the 20th anniversary expanded reissue of Garbage’s classic Version 2.0 is HERE. Read an excerpt:
[Version 2.0] starts out with three out-of-this-world songs and stays on that level. Those three songs show off Garbage’s various styles — “Temptation Waits” has the trip-hop influence, “I Think I’m Paranoid” is probably the best grunge/industrial song they’ve ever written, and “When I Grow Up” is about as good as their pop side gets — yet they all flow together perfectly. After that overwhelming one-two-three punch, Garbage calm things down by successfully trying their hand at a ballad (“Medication”), and from there we get deeper dives into experimental electronics (“Hammering In My Head”), laid-back ’90s-style psychedelia (“The Trick Is To Keep Breathing”), a sex-fueled late-night jam (“Sleep Together”), and a “Don’t Worry Baby” interpolation that rivals the original (“Push It”). The album really never lets up — Version 2.0 was Garbage firing on all cylinders, it was the album where everything fell into place.
Read the rest HERE.