Notable Releases of the Week (1/24)
In case you missed some of the highlights of this very busy music week: Bright Eyes are officially back, Hayley Williams officially launched a solo career, Sparta announced their first album in 14 years, Stereolab are touring, Stephen Malkmus is releasing an album, Down announced their first US NOLA 25th anniversary show, and even more.
There are also a lot of good albums out this week. I highlighted ten below, but first, some honorable mentions: Bohren & der Club of Gore, The Haden Triplets, Andy Shauf, Pet Shop Boys, The Turning soundtrack (with Mitski, Courtney Love, Kim Gordon, Soccer Mommy, and more), Midnight, Mortiis, Annihilator, The Black Lips, Nero Di Marte, Kota The Friend, the Glean demo, and Colin Stetson’s Color Out of Space score.
Read on for my ten picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Caspian – On Circles
“I’ve grown weary of reading about bands discuss the renewing, rehabilitative properties their most recent [album] has had on them,” said Caspian guitarist/keyboardist Philip Jamieson when Caspian announced their fifth full-length, On Circles. “They incur corrosion, come close to running out of gas, descend into the dark abyss, and finally emerge on the other side with a record that has given them crystal clear perspective and a confident path forward. On Circles is not that record.” He also added, “What if we just made an album for the simple sake of making music, with as few existential expectations as we are capable?”
It’s not hard to see why Philip would say these kinds of things. On Circles is the band’s first album in five years and followed a period where the band slowed down and took some time off. And, while you may still think of Caspian (who formed in 2004) as a newer-generation post-rock band, heirs to the bands who defined the genre in the ’90s and early 2000s, Caspian are basically elder statesmen at this point. They’ve been doing this for a while, and most people who know them pretty much know what they’re about. To generate hype for a new album by a long-running band with an established sound, there’s usually pressure to try to contextualize the album into some greater narrative, and as far as this album’s narrative is concerned, Philip is basically saying there isn’t one. In a way, that’s what makes it feel so effortlessly great. Caspian no longer sound like a band with something to prove, but they’re still playing their hearts out and coming out with so many gorgeous melodies and suspenseful build-ups. And On Circles may not have some grand concept driving it, but it’s just a great collection of songs, and there’s a nice amount of diversity too. Plenty of the band’s usual post-rock stylings are here, and they also flash their metal chops on “Collapser,” show off their acoustic/orchestral side on “Ishmael,” and work in two songs with vocals. One is album closer “Circles on Circles,” a rare foray for Caspian into singer/songwriter material with Philip Jamieson’s own voice at the helm. The other is “Nostalgist” with Pianos Become the Teeth frontman Kyle Durfey, a dream collab that sounds as good in execution as it does on paper. Pianos Become the Teeth have always sort of been a post-rock band with vocals, and Caspian’s post-rock has always veered emo, so it’s no surprise that beautiful-sounding things happen when they meet in the middle. (It also probably helps that this Caspian album was produced by Will Yip, who did the last two PBTT albums.) Especially for those of us who are more instantly won over by something we can sing along to, that collab is the biggest sell here and it’s the track that’s most effective as a standalone song, but it’s far from the only worthwhile thing On Circles has to offer. Some of the instrumental tracks on this album are among the most devastating in Caspian’s discography, and even if they didn’t necessarily intend it to be one grand, linear piece, when you listen start to finish, it still sounds as vast as their more conceptual records.
Higher Power – 27 Miles Underwater
UK band Higher Power’s second album (and first for Roadrunner) finds them branching out from their hardcore roots and incorporating bits of shoegaze, alternative rock, and more, resulting in the best straight-up rock record I’ve heard in a while. You can read my full review of it here.
Wolf Parade – Thin Mind
First, Wolf Parade took the indie world by storm with their early EPs and instant-classic debut album, 2005’s Apologies to the Queen Mary. Then came the side projects and finally the highly anticipated sophomore album At Mount Zoomer in 2008. More side projects and two years later came third album Expo 86, underrated at first but treated well over time, especially when it ended up being their last before hiatus. Then, hiatus ended and we got the 2017 comeback album Cry Cry Cry, an album firmly planted within Wolf Parade’s wheelhouse and maybe not quite as good as Expo 86, but met with more excitement than that album because, hey, Wolf Parade were back! To make a similar (but slightly) different point to what I was talking about in the Caspian review above, Thin Mind is sort of the first Wolf Parade album to arrive without an immediate narrative surrounding it. They already made their big comeback, and they probably aren’t really expected to write another classic. The only real difference is that this album follows the departure of Dante DeCaro, and though Dante always brought a ton of energy to Wolf Parade’s live shows, that’s not necessarily a major change in the studio. Dante didn’t join until after Apologies and Spencer Krug and Dan Boeckner have always written all the songs. So, there’s no immediate narrative here beyond “another Wolf Parade album,” and as you could have guessed from the pre-release singles, there’s nothing really out of the norm of what you’d expect from Wolf Parade on Thin Mind and nothing that makes it as zeitgeisty as the band’s 2000s albums were. Don’t let that deter you though because, despite all of that, Wolf Parade have once again made a very good Wolf Parade album.
Thin Mind may not see Spencer and Dan doing anything they haven’t done before, but it reminds you that they’re still really good at the things they do. Both of them have a way with words and melodies that hit you right away, and that feel fresh and familiar at the same time. And both continue to have noticeably different styles — Spencer the whimsical one, Dan the more straight-ahead rocker; they’ve gotten their fair share of Lennon/McCartney comparisons — that blend together seamlessly. It’s all on display throughout Thin Mind, and with ten compact, accessible songs and no filler, this album goes down very easily. It’s not an album that’s gonna take the world by storm like Wolf Parade’s debut did, but Wolf Parade don’t necessarily need to make another groundbreaking revelation of an album. At this point, it’s pretty impressive just that they continue to churn out such instantly-satisfying indie rock, 15 years on from their debut. Plenty of their peers ran out of creative juice years ago, but Wolf Parade just keep going, never losing steam.
Wolf Parade also have a new Chad VanGaalen-directed video for “Julia Take Your Man Home.”
Kirk Windstein – Dream In Motion
When Kirk Windstein, frontman and only constant member of the beloved, long-running NOLA sludge band Crowbar (and member of Down), revealed that he would be releasing a solo album, he made sure to clarify that it was “not an acoustic record” and he called it “my version of a mellow Crowbar basically.” That’s a pretty perfect description of Dream In Motion — though note that he’s using the word “mellow” very relatively — which probably could’ve just been a Crowbar record if Kirk wanted it to be. I get why he didn’t; the upcoming Crowbar album (which is being worked on as we speak) is sure to be even heavier than Dream In Motion, but the level of quality control that Kirk put into this album is on par with that of his main band. Dream In Motion isn’t a tossed-off side project or less fleshed-out ideas; it’s just different ideas. Compared to Crowbar’s hardcore punk-informed sludge, Dream In Motion is more like metal and prog-informed rock. Kirk ends the album with a mostly-faithful but slightly-sludgier cover of Jethro Tull’s 1971 classic “Aqualung,” and fans of that song are most likely gonna dig Kirk’s originals on this album too. He hints at Sabbath’s riffage from that same era on the title track and “Toxic,” but in a tasteful, original way that — unlike a lot of Sabbath-worshipping doom bands — remembers that Sabbath actually wrote songs. The attention to songcraft on Dream In Motion also makes it similar to other recent melodic, rock-friendly metal bands like Baroness and Pallbearer, but that’s probably more a result of shared influences than anything else. (Also, it’s very likely that both of those bands are influenced by Crowbar.) It sounds like Kirk is very consumed with the early ’70s on this album, but the reason I bring up those newer bands at all is because, for all its ’70s influence, Dream In Motion never sounds retro. You don’t have to be a Jethro Tull fan or even a Crowbar fan to appreciate this record; you could stumble upon it as a person who just listens to current rock music and fall in love. It’s enough of a reinvention that I wouldn’t be surprised if it gains Kirk some new fans, but it’s also got enough of that classic Kirk Windstein songwriting style that his old fans should find themselves hopping on board too.
Okay Kaya – Watch This Liquid Pour Itself
Okay Kaya (real name Kaya Wilkins) caught a lot of people’s ears by singing on King Krule and Porches albums, but she’s been proving herself as a force of her own, and if you still know her best for the artists she’s lent her voice to in 2020 then you just aren’t paying attention. Watch This Liquid Pour Itself is her second album and first for Jagjaguwar, and it finds her making all kinds of interesting music throughout its 15 songs, all of which are pretty different. With help from producers Jacob Portrait (of Unknown Mortal Orchestra) and John Carroll Kirby (Solange, Frank Ocean, Bat For Lashes, Blood Orange, etc), Okay Kaya tackles synthy art pop, acoustic indie folk, intimate bedroom pop, classic balladry, avant-garde art rock, and more, and her great voice ties all of those sometimes-disparate styles together. It’s an album where Okay Kaya decided to throw shit at a wall and see what sticks, and it pretty much all stuck.
Sarah Mary Chadwick – Please Daddy
Sarah Mary Chadwick’s last album was 2019’s The Queen Who Stole The Sky, which was a super ambitious album recorded on the Melbourne Town Hall’s 147-year-old pipe organ that I once said sounded like Amanda Palmer meets Bjork. Its followup Please Daddy is a much more straightforward, guitar and piano-oriented indie rock album, but even straightforward Sarah Mary Chadwick is breathtaking. Her voice is truly something else, soaring and powerful and wholly unique. This is an album that you couldn’t tune out if you tried, and you probably won’t want to anyway.
Jeff Parker – Suite for Max Brown
Guitarist Jeff Parker is perhaps best known in the indie rock world for being a member of post-rock greats Tortoise since the mid-’90s, but he’s also been an acclaimed jazz bandleader for quite some time, and today he releases his latest jazz album, Suite for Max Brown. It’s named after and dedicated to his mother (who’s pictured on the cover at age 19), and Jeff says that he “thought it would be nice this time to dedicate something to [his] mom while she’s still here to see it,” as his 2016 album The New Breed “became a kind of tribute to [Jeff’s] father who passed away while [he] was making [it].” He made this one with a similar band to The New Breed — bassist/producer Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann), alto saxist Josh Johnson (Leon Bridges), and drummer Jamire Williams (Solange, Moses Sumney, Christian Scott, Big K.R.I.T.) — and this time he also brought in Bright Eyes’ Nate Walcott on trumpet. The band may be full of indie rock and hip hop connections, and there are definitely some modern, non-jazz sounds to be heard on Suite for Max Brown, but it can also be a very classic-sounding, ’60s/’70s-style jazz album, and not just on the ’60s/’70s covers (it features a version of John Coltrane’s 1963 song “After the Rain” and Gnarciss,” an interpretation of Joe Henderson’s 1977 song “Black Narcissus”). Jeff also remains a stunning guitarist. There are some guest vocals on this album, but even when there aren’t, he really makes his guitar sing.
J Hus – Big Conspiracy
J Hus became one of the most beloved new UK rappers with his genre-defying 2017 album Common Sense, so needless to say, there’s a lot riding on its highly anticipated followup Big Conspiracy, which arrived this morning. And it already feels like he met expectations. Like its predecessor, Big Conspiracy is a whole mish-mash of genres — Afropop, trap, lively real-deal jazz, chilled-out electronics, and more — and J Hus continues to succeed at blending those genres in inventive and natural-sounding ways. It’s also a calmer album than its predecessor. The beats are more laid back, and J Hus sounds a little more pensive and introspective in his raps than he did on Common Sense. He nails a balance between delivering what people already loved about him and treading new waters too. He’s also got two exciting guests. J Hus embraces his love of Afropop even more directly than usual when he welcomes current Afropop leader Burna Boy on “Play Play.” He’s also got rising Jamaican reggae singer Koffee on “Repeat,” only this time it’s her who assimilates into J Hus’ unique brand of melodic rap, reminding you how increasingly versatile an artist she is. (The album’s only other guest is iceè tgm, who fans are speculating is J Hus’ sister.) It’s clear even from his choice of guests that J Hus is intent on breaking down barriers between genres and regions, and it’s impressive how naturally both Koffee and Burna Boy fit into J Hus’ world. It’s a testament to the strength of J Hus’ vision, a vision in which pop meets underground, synthetic meets organic, and Jamaica meets Nigeria meets London, all while sounding tightly cohesive and instantly satisfying.
Bonny Light Horseman – Bonny Light Horseman
Bonny Light Horseman is the new supergroup of Anais Mitchell, Eric D Johnson (Fruit Bats), and The National/Craig Finn/Hiss Golden Messenger collaborator Josh Kaufman, and they’re named after the traditional folk song of the same name, a cover of which was also their debut single (and included on this debut album). The album features a mix of traditionals and originals in the vein of the first wave of 1960s folk rock bands, but updated in sound and production style to fit within modern-day indie rock. (It’s similar, in a way, to what The Decemberists did with Offa Rex.) The album also features a handful of exciting guests, including 37d03d Records founders Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National), as well as Kate Stables (This Is The Kit), Lisa Hannigan, The Staves, Christian Lee Hutson, and more. With a cast like that, and a traditional folk approach, you probably know what you’re getting out of this album. And if your tastes veer towards the 37d03d orbit or classic folk rock like Fairport Convention or both, you’ll probably find that this album is right up your alley and delivers.
Wire – Mind Hive
Long-running, don’t-call-them-a-punk band Wire are back with their first album in three years, Mind Hive, and it’s another winner. In case you haven’t kept up with their post-Pink Flag/Chairs Missing/154 output, they sound nothing like they did in the ’70s anymore, but they continue to write impassioned, intricate art rock and Mind Hive is no exception. Bill’s got a longer review in Bill’s Indie Basement.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the ‘Upcoming Releases’ each week on Invisible Oranges.