Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/7)
Hope everyone had a good holiday weekend and got to see some fireworks. It may have been a short week for some people but it’s not short on good new albums. Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Broken Social Scene haven’t released an album in seven years, which feels even longer ago than it sounds. But those seven years disappear as soon as you click play on Hug of Thunder, which transports you right back to their classic era. It’s especially comforting in a time when the Canadian indie rock scene that birthed them looks so different than it once did. Contemporaries like Arcade Fire have a new album on the way that — going by early singles — is a far cry from their most classic material. The same can be said for peer and collaborator Feist, whose first album in six years this year is darker and more experimental than any of her most classic material. Change is good, but BSS remind us that there are plus sides to familiarity too. Feist contributes to about half the songs on Hug of Thunder and sings lead on the title track, which is as classic-sounding a Feist/BSS collab as there ever was. If you missed that side of her on Pleasure (a great album in its own right), it should be very satisfying to hear what she does here. The album’s lead single and first proper song, “Halfway Home,” sounds so much like mid-2000s era BSS that it could believably pass as an outtake from then (in a good way). That one’s a major highlight, but really every song on Hug of Thunder is on the same level. It’s got all the BSS traits that we fell in love with back in the day: the busy, energized drumming, the uplifting harmonies, the triumphant horns, the atmospherics, the off-kilter approach to pop. It feels like these songs have already been stuck in my head for years — hopefully that means they will be for years to come.
In one form or another, the Melvins remain ridiculously prolific. Longtime members Buzz Osborne and Dale Crover have been shifting their lineup from album to album over the past few years, and this is their first as a trio with bassist Steve McDonald of Redd Kross and OFF! (though Steve did play on last year’s Basses Loaded, which featured six different bassists). It’s also the band’s first double album and the two discs are meant to show off two different sides of the band. Death is a “proper Melvins album” and Love is the soundtrack to a Jesse Nieminen-directed short film that’s set to accompany this new album. There’s stuff on Death that has the Melvins offering up their trademark sludgefeast (“Black Heath,” “Euthanasia,” “Flaming Creature”), but other songs break the formula. “What’s Wrong With You” has Steve McDonald on lead vocals with backing vocals from his wife, that dog.’s Anna Waronker, and it’s a psych/punk/pop song that basically sounds like Redd Kross. “Cactus Party” has Teri Gender Bender offering backup vocals and there’s a nice amount of psychedelic rock on that one too. On Love, they really let the psychedelia explode. After some real tripped-out space jams that the Grateful Dead might’ve approved of, they go into the organ-fueled “Give It To Me” that sounds straight off Nuggets. Double albums have a tendency to be daunting, especially if one disc is a film score, but A Walk With Love and Death really earns its hour-and-twenty-eight minute running time. The Melvins do so much crazy stuff here that you’d be remiss to not hear them out through all of it.
Sludge metal greats Bison — or Bison B.C. — are back with their first album in five years, the followup to 2012’s Lovelessness. It’s also their first for Pelagic and first with bassist Shane Clark, formerly of 3 Inches of Blood. These firsts give new life to Bison, which is exactly what guitarist/vocalist James Farwell says this album is about: “A story of a new life and escaping the city, while still being tethered to it.” Bison make heavy, punishing music, but they really do sound alive and uplifting on You Are Not The Ocean You Are The Patient. There’s a bit more a punk edge to this one than to Lovelessness. They sound faster, brighter, and more energized, and their dual-vocal shouts remain firmly rooted in hardcore — “Anti War,” for example, is closer to the latest Power Trip album than to the latest Baroness album. On “Kenopsia,” they’ve got lead guitar that’s nearly in Converge territory. Throughout the album, Bison aid their thick power chords with a handful of fiery classic-style guitar solos, and it’s all captured with crisp-but-raw production courtesy of Jesse Gander (who’s done several Bison releases, White Lung, Japandroids, and more). After an album of pure ferocity, they calm things down for the last song. It’s a seven-minute, violin-fueled dose of Neurosis-style post-metal that really proves Bison are far from a one-trick pony on this LP.
This Is The Kit’s first album, 2008’s Krulle Bol (made with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish), was a raw folk album that sounded at times like it could’ve been recorded 40 years earlier. Their third album, 2015’s Bashed Out (made with The National’s Aaron Dessner), had so much in the way of atmospherics and electronics that it was almost surprisingly modern-sounding for an old soul like TITK leader Kate Stables. Moonshine Freeze, which includes contributions from both John Parish and Aaron Dessner, brings together the best of both of Kate’s previous collaborations with those musicians. This time around, Kate’s songs never sound overtly modern or retro. Her experienced-sounding voice and knack for tapping into traditional-style folk melodies give the album a lived-in feel, while Parish’s production — not far removed from the sounds of the last two PJ Harvey albums — keeps things crystal-clear in a way Krulle Bol was not. (Parish is having a great year with folk albums between this and the Aldous Harding album.) The string and horn flourishes on Moonshine Freeze really add a lot, as does Kate’s band. She made sure Rozi Plain, Jamie Whitby-Coles, and Neil Smith (the core TITK band) had a hand in this album from the start, and it shows. Save for a few songs that are just Kate with minimal backing, Moonshine Freeze really sounds like an album made by a group of musicians feeding off of each other.
Every album by Public Service Broadcasting is a unique, high-concept album pulled from an array of source material, and Every Valley is no different. This one “tells the story of the rise and fall of the coal mining industry in South Wales” and it pulls soundbites from the “National Coal Board films at The BFI, the independent documentary The Welsh Miner, and audio tape from the South Wales Miners’ Library at Swansea University, recorded by Dr Hywel Francis in the strike’s immediate aftermath with many of the key players” (via press release). Accompanying the band’s patched-together instrumental passages and spoken word samples on Every Valley are collaborations with live vocalists — including Manic Street Preachers’ James Dean Bradfield, Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell, and 9Bach’s Lisa Jen Brown — that really give PSB a new twist. The song with Traceyanne Campbell, “Progress,” is a gorgeous dose of indie pop that’s really as appealing as most Camera Obscura songs. With the instrumental/spoken word stuff peppered by the live-singing songs, the album really tells a story sonically as much as it does conceptually. It sounds almost like the audio to a film (score, soundtrack, dialog, and all). Every Valley is highly impressive, and there’s really not much other new music like it.