Notable Releases of the Week (11/24)
It’s Thanksgiving Weekend (hope everyone had a good holiday!), which means the year is officially starting to wind down. The coming weeks will be lighter on new music, and more and more year-end lists will start coming out (Rough Trade, Decibel, MOJO, Uncut, Q, and NME already published theirs), so for that reason, there may be less albums each week in this column until the album release schedule picks back up again in January. This week I have three, including what is one of the most anticipated albums of the year (and #3 on that Rough Trade list): Bjork.
Also, since it’s a shorter list this week and it’s a good time to catch up on some 2017 albums you have missed, I included the writeup I did this week of Nadia Reid’s great 2017 album Preservation, which came out back in March but flew under my radar at the time. Nadia plays her first US shows in December.
If you’re in NYC this weekend, check out our Guide to 2017 Thanksgiving Weekend Events in NYC. No matter where you are, today is Black Friday, which for music nerds also means Record Store Day Black Friday. Releases this year include the first-ever North American vinyl pressing of Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, a 40th anniversary addition of Richard Hell & the Voidoids’ Blank Generation, Tori Amos’ “lost” hair metal album, a live Fleet Foxes EP, and more. Full list of RSD Black Friday exclusives here.
Check out my picks for this week’s Notable Releases below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Bjork has really never made a bad album, but she was greeted with more acclaim than she had been in years for 2015’s Vulnicura, a breakup album recorded with boundary-pushing electronic musician Arca. Its followup, Utopia, was also recorded with Arca, but this one is a much more positive album. Bjork says it’s about being in love. She also says that unlike for Vulnicura, where she brought Arca in later in the process, she started collaborating with him from the start for Utopia. (She also brought in the Tri Angle-signed electronic musician Rabit for some songs.) Working with Arca, Bjork took a noticeably new approach to this one production-wise. She used flutes instead of strings, and many of the electronic sounds match the flutes in terms of airiness. The flutes combined with Arca’s and Bjork’s complementary yet distinctly different songwriting approaches make for some truly out-there stuff. The title track and “Courtship” are two that really stand out as challenging, weird-in-a-good-way songs, even for Bjork, whose career has been full of challenging weirdness. For the most part, though, this album focuses on beautiful sounds. You could hear the unease not just in the lyrics of Vulnicura but also in the music, and the same could be said of Utopia‘s happiness. The flute parts often sound like bright, sunny mornings, making Utopia both figuratively and literally a new beginning for Bjork. When those sounds clash with some of the harder-edged sounds, as they do on the aforementioned “Courtship,” it makes for some of the most exciting music of Bjork’s late-period career.
The Lees of Memory has been the main concern of Superdrag frontman John Davis and guitarist Brandon Fisher (and drummer Nick Slack from John Davis’ band Epic Ditch) since they released their debut album Sisyphus Says in 2014, and in just three years they have been incredibly prolific and stylistically diverse. Sisyphus Says channelled MBV-ish shoegaze, while last year’s Unnecessary Evil was a return to the crunchy power pop of classic Superdrag, with a few hints of psychedelia here and there. On The Blinding White of Nothing At All, a double album, they’re diving headfirst into that psychedelia. Superdrag’s ambitious 1998 sophomore album Head Trip In Every Key has been called “Beatlesque,” but Blinding White is next-level Beatles worship. “Blue As The Moon” is the kind of raga rock that would’ve driven George Harrison wild, “Keep A Tight Grip On Your Mind” sorta sounds like a fusion of “Magical Mystery Tour” and “Rain,” “Open-Hearted Lover” is piano rock straight from the book of McCartney, the horn-fueled whimsy of “I Know How To Do” is total Sgt. Pepper’s, and the last song is called “All You Really Want Is Love.” Those are perhaps the most directly Beatles-inspired songs, but hints of the Fab Four are on plenty of other Blinding White songs, with John Davis often adapting a John Lennon circa Revolver style snarl. And the record’s sonic palette expands beyond The Beatles. “It’s Too Late To Change” has some hints of The Zombies, “Last Thing I Wanted To Do” is harder-edged acid rock, “Mountaintop (I’m A Goner)” dips its toes in early ’70s glam, “Pictures of Ordinary Things” sounds like a song David Crosby would’ve written for The Byrds, “Hard to Breathe Easy” has touches of Smile-era Beach Boys, “Where The Sun Never Shines” channels the Meat Puppets’ psychedelic country, and The Lees return to swirling shoegazy guitars for “Bring It Home To Me.” For a lesser band, this could sound like a series of rip-offs, but for The Lees of Memory, it’s an established group of great musicians showing how far they can stretch their musical chops and obsessive knowledge.
NYC experimental black metal band Krallice have been ridiculously prolific lately. They released Prelapsarian at the tail-end of 2017, Loüm (a collaboration with Neurosis’ Dave Edwardson) in October, and now Go Be Forgotten, their third full length in under 12 months. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up when artists release this much, but it’s hard to complain when each new album is high-quality and distinct from the previous one, like Krallice’s have been. Prelapsarian had the band in a brainy, avant-garde mode, Loüm was more focused on brutality and aggression, and Go Be Forgotten tends to veer closer to black metal’s atmospheric second wave. Those summaries are a little reductive though, as every Krallice album is full of so many different sounds, and Go Be Forgotten is no different. It opens with “This Forest For Which We Have Killed,” perhaps the most traditional-sounding black metal song on the album, but with punky shouts in place of trad-BM shrieks. The nearly-11-minute title track is a rather pretty-sounding song for Krallice’s standards, with what sounds like some piano poking its head out from under the wall of sound. “Quadripartite Mirror Realm” abandons metal entirely, going into synth/film score territory. And “Ground Prayer” starts out on the darker, heavier side, but turns into total post-rock/post-metal, and that continues right into closer “Outro,” which is as post-rocky as something like This Will Destroy You. There’s also two shorter songs which stay in attack mode from start to finish (“Failed Visionary Cults” and “Chaos of the Living”), but it’s those longer songs where Go Be Forgotten really stretches its wings. They show a band one decade and eight albums in who refuse to stop exploring new sounds.
From my writeup of Nadia’s upcoming first-ever US tour:
Earlier this year, New Zealand bare-bones folk singer Nadia Reid released her sophomore album Preservation, the followup to 2015’s Listen to Formation, Look for the Signs. It’s a gorgeous, instantly-great album that’s already deservedly ended up on some Best of 2017 lists, including Rough Trade Shops, Q, and MOJO, the latter of which ranked her at a very impressive #2. She’s a longtime friend and former flatmate of fellow New Zealander Aldous Harding and her first US tour includes shows with Julie Byrne. If you like either of those two artists, or outsider ’70s folk, or Mazzy Star-style ’90s slowcore, you’re almost definitely going to like Preservation. Nadia’s voice is truly astonishing (and live videos prove that she doesn’t miss a note), and the minimal arrangements suit the songs perfectly.