Five Notable Releases of the Week (11/2)
Hope everyone had a great Halloween! Since the holiday fell in the middle of the week, it basically gets two weekends of celebration, so that means more Halloween shows this weekend. And then after that, we gear up for Thanksgiving and then the holidays and then year-end lists!!! Time really does fly.
Before I get ahead of myself, though, there’s plenty of great music still to be released this year including a lot of great stuff this week. Some honorable mentions include Freddie Gibbs + Curren$y + The Alchemist, Action Bronson, Pistol Annies, BlocBoy JB, Kelly Moran, The Ocean, Moonface, Sick Of It All, Dead Can Dance, Bill Ryder-Jones, Tenacious D, The Prodigy, All Get Out, Marianne Faithfull, Sun Kil Moon, Takeoff (of Migos), the guest-filled Metro Boomin album (ft. Drake and others), the guest-filled Swizz Beatz album (ft. Kendrick Lamar and others), the Touche Amore live album, and the Tera Melos EP.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus are three of the brightest young, rapidly rising voices in indie rock and indie folk, so, needless to say, it came as very exciting news when it was revealed that they formed a supergroup together. They’re called boygenius (the name comes from an inside joke — “We were just talking about boys and men we know who’ve been told that they are geniuses since they could hear, basically,” Lucy Dacus told the NY Times), and their six-song self-titled debut EP very much lives up to the hype. There are certain songs that sound like they were primarily the work of each individual member, and then there are songs that sound like they only could’ve come together as a collaboration. And even on the songs that sound like an individual brought the main idea to their table, the trio’s harmonies take the song to the next level. That’s especially true of “Me & My Dog,” one of the EP’s best songs, which is led by Phoebe Bridgers. It starts out not a million miles away from Phoebe’s fan fave “Motion Sickness” (with a similar chord progression and similar phrasing), and when Lucy and Julien come in, it goes nearly into Indigo Girls or Dixie Chicks territory. The harmonies are just a bit more subdued (but no less lovely) on the Lucy Dacus-led “Bite The Hand” and the Julien Baker-led “Stay Down.” The former is one of the EP’s two most rockin’ songs and it sounds like it would’ve fit perfectly on Lucy’s 2018 album Historian (which is also pretty rockin’), and the latter is especially a treat, as it’s a rare chance to hear what Julien Baker’s music would sound like if she employed a full band, which she has still yet to do. Her usual, more minimal style still works wonders, but “Stay Down” makes me hope she does more stuff in this style too. Of the more collaborative songs, there’s the wonderfully gentle acoustic indie folk of “Souvenir” where Julien and Phoebe trade verses in a way that sounds like they were born to sing together, before Lucy takes it away for the song’s coda. Then there’s “Salt In The Wound,” which starts out as another rockin’ Lucy Dacus song, until the trio deliver another of their massive harmonies and then Julien takes over on lead and gives one of her most belted performances. The EP closes with “Ketchum, ID,” where each member takes a verse and they all join forces in the choruses for close harmonies that recall pre-Beatles folk music. The only downside is that it’s all over way too soon, and leaves you yearning for much more. While the photo on the album cover may be an homage to Crosby, Stills & Nash, there’s no word yet if boygenius plan to make this an ongoing concern like CSN, or if this EP ends up just being a one-off to promote the tour they’re about to embark on, but here’s to hoping it’s the former. And if they do keep going, will they add a Neil Young?? (Soccer Mommy? Mitski? Adrianne Lenker? Angel Olsen?)
Vince Staples has released a project a year since his breakthrough Def Jam debut, 2014’s instant-classic Hell Can Wait EP. 2015 brought his debut full-length album Summertime ’06, 2016 brought the Prima Donna EP, 2017 brought his second full-length Big Fish Theory, and now he’s back once again in 2018 with FM!. It’s not exactly clear at the moment if this one is being marketed as an album or an EP (not that it really matters anymore), but FM! is definitely concise. It’s got 11 tracks, but only eight real songs (there’s a skit, an interlude with 20 seconds of Earl Sweatshirt rapping, and a second interlude with 30 seconds of Tyga singing), and the whole thing clocks in at about 22 minutes. It also sounds like it was intended as a lower-stakes release compared to the much more fleshed-out-sounding Summertime ’06 and Big Fish Theory. Big Fish Theory was Vince’s most experimental album to date; it saw him working with real-deal dance music and making hypnotic, outré songs that sometimes didn’t have rapping at all. In comparison, FM! is much closer to the classic West Coast rap that informed Vince’s music earlier on in his career, but it’s by no means a “return to form.” It’s actually like nothing he’s ever done. The whole thing plays out as one continuous piece of music, and it’s based around a concept where it’s supposed to sound like you’re listening to the radio. (It is called FM! after all.) Spokespeople come in at the beginnings and ends of songs, and each song is intentionally cut off before it ends (as songs on rap radio often are), which makes the whole thing fly by. Album opener “Feels Like Summer” begins with LA radio host Big Boy saying “Whatever day, vibe, month it is, it just feels like summer… You get a chance to lay back, you get a chance to laugh, you get a chance to chill…,” but it quickly becomes clear that “summer” doesn’t imply laying back, laughing, and chilling in Vince Staples’ world (just like it didn’t imply that on Summertime ’06). The song quickly becomes a harsh telling of shootings and untimely deaths, and that sets the vibe for most of this brief project, which spends the bulk of its running time painting a picture of the murder and violence Vince witnessed growing up in Long Beach. “We just lost somebody else this weekend,” Kehlani sighs on album closer “Tweakin’,” and her hook serves as the album’s sad but powerful conclusion.
Besides Kehlani and the aforementioned Earl Sweatshirt and Tyga interludes, Vince brings in a few other exciting guests to help him fulfill this miniature album’s vision, and their appearances tend to be short but effective. Fellow street-wise West Coaster Jay Rock is the perfect guy to handle the chorus of “Don’t Get Chipped.” Kamaiyah assists Vince on the bouncy G-funk hook of “No Bleedin.” E-40 does his usual tongue-twisting thing on “FUN!” (another song with a red herring of a title), and Ty Dolla $ign blesses “Feels Like Summer” with gorgeous melancholy. No guest really steals the show, and even Vince himself rarely does. It’s almost like, as with listening to the radio, he sort of wanted everything to blur together and sometimes fade into the background. The juxtaposition between how hurried it all sounds and the depth in the lyrics, though, is what makes it so powerfully jarring every listen.
Last year, I wrote a piece on emo bands making art rock and included the song “Hands in the Sky (Big Shot)” by Straylight Run, the band John Nolan co-fronted with his sister Michelle after co-writing and doing a lot of the vocals on Taking Back Sunday’s classic debut. “Hands in the Sky” saw John keeping the unique thrill of early 2000s emo and post-hardcore intact while heading into electronic art rock territory that wouldn’t feel out of place next to Portishead, Radiohead, or Nine Inch Nails. At the time of that article, it was easily the most adventurous song that John Nolan had ever written. He’s been back in Taking Back Sunday for eight years, but his presence on their new albums is felt much less than it was felt on Tell All Your Friends, and while his own recent solo material is good, it’s a little more straightforward than the ambitious music he was writing during Straylight Run’s prime.
But then this year John put out “Do You Remember?,” another blend of post-hardcore and electronic art rock that felt — at least sonically — like a spiritual sequel to “Hands in the Sky.” And lyrically, John was just as fired up on that song as he was in the early days, but about much different topics. “I wanted to tap into the feeling of existential dread that a lot of us have living in a place where horrific tragedies take place on a regular basis and are essentially shrugged off,” he said. “Do You Remember?” is the first song on his new solo album Abendigo, and while it does overshadow the rest of the record a bit (as “Hands in the Sky” did on the Prepare to Be Wrong EP), there are plenty of other gems on this album — enough to make it his most consistently appealing release since Straylight Run’s final 2007 LP The Needles the Space
Those looking for more atmospheric rock like “Do You Remember?” will find “Smiling And Alive” comes close to scratching the same itch, but I’d argue the album’s real secret weapon is deep cut “How Much Difference Does It Make?”. With little more than a layer of ambience, a sparsely picked guitar, and John giving the kind of vocal performance where you take in each individual syllable as he sings them, it’s overwhelming in its delicate minimalism. And still, before the song ends, it evolves into the kind of communal shout-along that John has been perfecting since the early days of his career.
At a concise eight songs, all of which sound fairly different from each other, the album goes by without dragging and just about every song earns its spot on the LP. “Outside Of This Tragedy” is a skippable melodramatic rocker that sounds like it could’ve been on the chopping block in 2004, but other than that, Abendigo is loaded with songs that recall the best moments in John’s career and sound fresh today. “Over Before It Begins” is the kind of anthemic alt-rock song that could’ve fit on Straylight Run’s debut (it’s like the middle point between “The Tension and the Terror” and “Another Word for Desperate”), “Half A Block To Go” is a nice dose of folky indie rock that would’ve sounded at home on The Needles the Space (and it also sounds a little like Jimmy Eat World), and “Anything You Want” is one of the most straight-up punk songs of John’s career that proves his scream still sounds as ferocious as it did on “There’s No “I” In Team.” If you’ve ever screamed your lungs out to emo classics like that one, hearing John Nolan shred his vocal cords on “Anything You Want” should bring on a rush of nostalgia. And he ends the album on a note that’s not like much of anything he’s done before. “Without You/Nothing Is Over” is a quiet piano ballad but closer to Sigur Ros than to the ones John has written in the past. It’s a beautiful closing track that leaves you with the feeling that John Nolan has made a record that feels relevant and urgent right now. His current songwriting is too powerful for him to be stereotyped as a relic from emo’s mainstream boom or a nostalgia act, and Abendigo is strong proof of that.
Patrick Kindlon already released one album this year called Have You Considered Punk Music with his band Self Defense Family which was really only “punk” in spirit, but now he’s back with a new album from his band Drug Church and it’s ten songs of straight-up punk rippers. The band’s current bio calls the album “too poppy for the heavy crowd, too heavy for the poppy crowd,” which is pretty much the perfect description (and, if you like this kind of tug-of-war between sounds, a great sell). It all exists somewhere between crushing ’90s alternative rock, fist-clenching post-hardcore, and yeah, even a little emo and pop punk. It sounds to me like if Title Fight tried transitioning towards Torche-y sludge pop instead of shoegaze, or if Fucked Up tried doing their growly hardcore side and their poppy indie rock side at the exact same time, or if Samiam and Fugazi made a lost collaborative album in the mid-’90s and Caution-era Hot Water Music got a hold of it and covered the entire thing. Cheer is full of familiar sounds, and you could probably go on and on listing bands it reminds you of, but mostly, it just sounds like Drug Church. Patrick Kindlon and the rest of the band — Nick Cogan (guitar), Cory Galusha (guitar), Pat Wynne (bass), and Chris Villeneuve (drums) — take these familiar sounds and package them in a way that feels entirely their own. The push and pull between Cheer‘s ultra catchiness and its ability to make you wanna punch a hole through your floor makes it so constantly thrilling. It’s the kind of album where the band makes every move you’re hoping they’ll make. Every time you’re waiting for a tension-building verse to explode into a euphoric chorus, it does. Every time you want Kindlon to bring his voice to a cathartic roar, he does. A cynic could call it predictable, but music like this is too satisfying to feel cynical about.
Sylvaine is the musical moniker of Norwegian multi-instrumentalist and singer Kathrine Shepard, who is a frequent collaborator of Alcest main member Neige. Neige drummed on her 2016 sophomore album Wistful and Katherine sang on Alcest’s 2016 album Kodama, and she once again worked with him on her new album Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone. (He again lent his drumming and also this time co-produced the album with Katherine and Kodama producer Benoît Roux.) Like Alcest, there is both black metal and post-rock in Sylvaine’s sound, and while she does have a pretty brutal scream, Atoms Aligned mostly pulls from the latter. She spends most of her time singing clean, and she’s got a stunning, soaring voice that is too good to go unnoticed. If you liked the idea of Chelsea Wolfe singing on a Deafheaven album but you wished she sang on one of the heavier songs, that’s kind of what this album sounds like. Even that description is a little reductive though. Katherine’s voice reminds me a lot more of Chelsea’s Sargent House labelmate Emma Ruth Rundle than Chelsea herself, and while Atoms Aligned has a few blasty black metal parts, the instrumentation reminds me more of something like Caspian‘s slow-paced rock. It’s an album that feels cold, like it was recorded in the dead of winter with the snowy air coming in through the windows, but it also feels majestic and uplifting. It of course has its moments with screams and distorted guitars, but the more remarkable moments are the clean ones — not just Katherine’s singing but her shimmering clean guitars that make songs like “Abeyance” and “Worlds Collide” and “L’Appel de Vide” so awe-inspiring. Most of the attention that Sylvaine’s last album got was within metal circles, and it’s a little unfortunate that she hasn’t seemed to achieve the crossover success that’s reserved for… mostly Deafheaven (especially since Sylvaine’s music is far more accessible for non-metal listeners than Deafheaven’s). Here’s to hoping she has more of a breakthrough this time around, because Atoms Aligned, Coming Undone is truly an album that exists outside of specific genres of music. It’s the kind of album that anyone who likes folk melodies or post-rock instrumentation or any type of dark, ethereal music needs to hear.