Five Notable Releases of the Week (9/30)
It is, once again, a huge week for new albums. Tycho just dropped one out of nowhere, and Solange and Nicolas Jaar dropped their almost out of nowhere (not to mention we got hit with a DJ Mustard album this morning too). Major acts like (the Kim Deal-less) Pixies, Opeth, Bob Weir ft. members of The National, and Regina Spektor put out albums today. Great newer bands like Ultimate Painting and S U R V I V E did too.
Check out the five I picked below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The new Bon Iver album comes five years after his second, which came four years after his first, and it was worth the wait. Like every Bon Iver album, it’s a massive reinvention and a brilliant piece of work. I wrote more extensively about it HERE, and here’s an excerpt:
It’s also full of so many different sounds. After the gentle opener “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” which kind of sounds more like James Blake’s early Bon Iver-inspired material than any previously-existing actual Bon Iver material, he brings in “10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄,” which backs his trademark falsetto harmonies with echoes of industrial and glitch. A song like that one is highly percussive, but then he’ll have a song with no percussion at all, like “715 – CR∑∑KS,” which sounds like the sonic sequel to Bon Iver’s insanely influential “Woods.” While almost every song is miles away from For Emma, Forever Ago, “29 #Strafford APTS” reminds me more of For Emma than anything on the last album did. The song may be more of a studio production than Bon Iver’s earlier material, but it has the same quietness, like it’s hiding from the world. The complex layered instrumentation of the second album shows up again on 22, A Million too, even on the songs that feel heaviest on electronics, like “33 ‘God’.” Just like the album begins on a gentle note, it ends on one too. “00000 Million” is a piano ballad with little more than Justin’s voice, his keys, and some atmospheric effects that makes for an excellent comedown from the album’s whacky sounds.
Read more HERE.
Danny Brown came up with a generation of rappers using the advantages of the internet to release free albums to mass audiences without the help of a major label. Most of these guys were a little too weird for majors anyway, but it eventually caught on, and now The Big Three are releasing jazz odysseys by Kendrick Lamar, acid-dipped psychedelia by A$AP Rocky, and paranoid bedroom-rap by Earl Sweatshirt. WATTBA indeed, but even with the weirdos dominating the mainstream, none of Danny Brown’s contemporaries truly embraced weirdness the way he did. It makes sense that he’s the one who signed to IDM machine Warp Records and named his new album after a Joy Division song. His new album has collaborations with genre-less artists Petite Noir, Kelela, and Evian Christ, and almost all of the production comes from a guy Danny’s been working with for most of his career: British producer Paul White. It’s Danny’s only album where he worked so closely with one other person, and it’s his most cohesive as a result.
It also makes sense, musically speaking, that Danny signed to Warp. Some of these beats are far from anything you’d call a “hip hop beat” and the production is truly inventive. I don’t fully know how to describe Paul White’s beats on “Ain’t It Funny,” “Golddust” and “Dance In The Water,” but I do know that they’d fit on Warp’s roster and be very worth hearing even without Danny rapping on them. That said, the album’s biggest highlight honors one of hip hop’s oldest traditions: the posse cut. The Black Milk-produced “Really Doe” has Danny spitting fire with Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt, and it kinda feels like a spiritual sequel to A$AP Rocky’s “1 Train,” the last major new-school posse cut to surface on an album (which featured Kendrick and Danny). It’s the kind of song that rap nerds will spend years obsessing over and arguing about which rapper has the best verse. (For my money: Kendrick is obviously the best rapper in the game right now and kills it here but Earl wins this one.) “Really Doe” is the biggest highlight but it’s far from the only one. “Downward Spiral” is a woozy opener that lives up to its name. “Tell Me What I Don’t Know” is the kind of head-bopper Danny rarely makes but always excels at when he does. The Evian Christ collab “Pneumonia” has the kind of cold, metallic beat that Evian’s usually known for, and Danny sounds perfect for it. The whole album has no fat, no filler, and more instant-replay value than any of its predecessors.
There are a lot of good albums out today, and one that I’ve chosen to not include but would have included in a slower week is the new Alcest album. Alcest perfected the whole shoegaze/black metal thing before Deafheaven even attempted it, and today they’re putting out their best album since 2010. That’s something worth celebrating, but in the name of diversity, I’m only putting one post-black-metal album on this list and I have to go with Rheia, the third and best album by Belgium’s Oathbreaker. Like Deafheaven (but unlike Alcest), Oathbreaker got to black metal through hardcore punk, and elements of both are on this album. Like Alcest (but unlike Deafheaven), Oathbreaker mix screamed vocals with sung ones, which makes both them and Alcest a little more palatable for people who don’t like screaming. That said, Alcest’s style of sung vocals tend to veer into lame alternative rock territory, while Oathbreaker’s are the thing that elevates them from a good band to a great one. Caro Tanghe is a real force to be reckoned with. When she’s screaming, it’s genuinely terrifying stuff, but actually her singing voice might be the creepier one. Someone she’s kinda similar to is Julie Christmas (who put out a great collaborative LP with Cult of Luna this year), another person who can brutally scream and gently sing, and sound truly weird doing either one. This is all evident by track two, “Second Son of R.,” which has crushing black metal blasts, but also a clean-guitar and vocal interlude that’s closer to post-rock than metal. That description may sound a lot like Deafheaven, but Deafheaven are never this versatile. While you could complain that George Clarke is a little one note, Caro Tanghe is like, seven-note. On every single song.
Oathbreaker can also sustain their softer side for an entire song. “Stay Here / Accroche-Moi” is a fully-fledged dark-folk song, the kind of song that’s par for the course on a Marissa Nadler album but really stands out here. Especially when it’s followed by “Needles In Your Skin,” the album’s lead single and one of its most ambitious songs. On “Where I Leave,” Oathbreaker show they can do the heavy/beautiful contrast with slowed-down sludge too, not just with blast beats. And then they wrap things up an entirely different note, with the gothy effects-laden “Begeerte,” which sounds more like Chelsea Wolfe covering a black metal song than Chelsea Wolfe actually covering a black metal song does. Oathbreaker were already a great band, as their earlier, more hardcore-inspired material proved, but they were never this distinct of a band.
I said I’d only include one Deafheaven/Alcest-wave album on this list, so I should probably admit that yes, Emma Ruth Rundle has toured with Alcest and her band Marriages has toured with Deafheaven. But Emma’s own music is sort of the inverse of those bands (and Oathbreaker), not similar to it. Emma’s more like Chelsea Wolfe, where the dark beauty is in the forefront and the heavy side is more in the atmosphere and the occasional doomy guitar riff. Marked For Death follows Emma’s 2014 album Some Heavy Ocean and last year’s Marriages LP, Salome, and if you dug either or both of those, you’ll be happy to learn that Emma has done it again. Her voice alone makes her music such a thrill to listen to. It may not be unlike anything you’ve ever heard, but after a few listens you’d never mistake her for somebody else. It’s powerful, but not in an overbearing way, and her melodies just seem to roll off of her tongue and into your brain. She may have a foot in the metal world, but she really writes like a folk singer. If, say, Deafheaven and Alcest aren’t your thing at all but you’re into Angel Olsen, or classics like Vashti Bunyan and Leonard Cohen, you should probably get your hands on Marked For Death.
Sometimes Emma actually records like a folk singer, like on the rawly-recorded closer “Real Big Sky,” which apparently is the version she recorded while demo-ing the album. But most of the time, Marked For Death is a richly-produced album. The drumming here is about as essential to the overall sound as Emma’s voice, giving the songs a pounding, rhythmic backbone that’s closer in spirit to Swans than to typical rock drumming. When the songs do get heavy, like the title track and “Protection” — which, instrumentally speaking, are pretty much sludge metal songs — they still manage to retain a delicacy. If you aren’t listening closely enough, they don’t actually sound that different from the acoustic songs. Marked For Death pushes boundaries, defies genre limitations, and finds the sweet spot between music that’s high-brow and highly-listenable.
Norway’s Jenny Hval returns today with the highly conceptual Blood Bitch, an album that she says is both her most fictional and her most personal. Here’s more from Jenny:
Blood Bitch is an investigation of blood. Blood that is shed naturally. The purest and most powerful, yet most trivial, and most terrifying blood: Menstruation. The white and red toilet roll chain which ties together the virgins, the whores, the mothers, the witches, the dreamers, and the lovers.
Blood Bitch is also a fictitious story, fed by characters and images from horror and exploitation films of the ’70s. With that language, rather than smart, modern social commentary, I found I could tell a different story about myself and my own time: a poetic diary of modern transience and transcendence.
There is a character in this story that is a vampire Orlando, traveling through time and space. But there is also a story here of a 35-year old artist stuck in a touring loop, and wearing a black wig. She is always up at night, jet lagged, playing late night shows – and by day she is quietly resting over an Arp Odyssey synthesizer while a black van drives her around Europe and America.
So yes there’s a lot riding on Blood Bitch, but Jenny also seems kind of playful about it. In a very informative profile on NYLON, she says the concept wasn’t even planned, and kind of came together by accident. In the intro to the song “The Great Undressing,” a voice asks “What’s this album about, Jenny?”, and Jenny replies, “It’s about Vampires.” “No. What?“, the other person replies… “That’s so basic!” She’s writing about dead-serious stuff, so the sense of humor is a welcome contrast.
Album concept aside, Blood Bitch also just sounds really good. Her sound has been all over the place since day one, but it feels like she’s bringing together her various influences more neatly than ever before. Jenny creates dark atmospheres and experimental sound effects, but her songs go down easy. There’s an underlying pop song on every track, and she’s always a gripping vocalist. Sometimes she’s delivering delicate, pretty melodies, other times she’s going for off-kilter dissonant stuff. Sometimes she’s incorporating spoken word, and other times she’s not using words at all, like with the huffing of “In the Red.” When the maniacal screaming voices come in on “The Plague,” it sounds more like a horror film than an album of music. Jenny brings some pretty wild artist-meets-artist comparisons to mind, like maybe Rid of Me-era PJ Harvey singing with Big Science-era Laurie Anderson, but she rarely (if ever) sounds derivative. It’s the kind of album that works as a good palate-cleanser when everything else starts sounding too samey.