Notable Releases of the Week (1/25)
Come February, I’ll have been reviewing five albums a week for the Notable Releases column for three years, and three years into this project, it’s time for a slight change. The format of including a strict five albums each week often made for a fun challenge, but the cons of that format started to outweigh the pros for me. Some weeks, it was nearly impossible to come up with five albums I truly cared about. Others, I had seven or eight that I felt equally strong about and would end up having to cut a few albums that I’d highlight in a heartbeat on a less busy week. So, welcome to the new and improved Notable Releases, which no longer has a specific number of albums included from week to week.
You may notice that, on days like today with more albums included than ever before, some of the blurbs are more brief than they’ve been in the past. But we’ll also be running more standalone, longform reviews (on both BrooklynVegan and Invisible Oranges), and those will regularly resurface in this column. Ultimately the goal is to shine a light on as much worthy music as possible, and we hope this updated version of Notable Releases will help with that.
For just a few honorable mentions before getting to this week’s eight Notable Releases: William Tyler, The Dandy Warhols, Mike Krol, TOY, Sarah Louise, Rudimental, Boogie, Tim Armstrong associate Rat Boy, the Kid Koala ambient album, and the Nils Frahm EP. Also, the new Buzzcocks reissues are out today. Bill wrote much more about those here back in October. Rest in peace, Pete Shelley.
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Dawn Richard made the transition from a major label, mainstream-sounding R&B singer to an independent, experimental one with 2012’s Armor On and Whiteout EPs, and then she went on to release a trilogy of some of the most adventurous R&B albums of the decade: Goldenheart, Blackheart, and Redemption. Dawn went relatively quiet after Redemption, and the way she tells it, she almost decided that she had said all she needed to say with the trilogy. Thankfully, she decided to make the new album new breed, which is like nothing she’s ever done and quite possibly her best yet. It was inspired by a trip back to her hometown of New Orleans, and the music and culture of New Orleans is all over this album. As is a strong sense of feminism, pride in black excellence, and a celebration of independence, both in the music industry and in life. “I never saw myself as a victim but have survived assault and I thought hiding it made me strong. But as I’ve watched all these amazing strong women speak on their experiences I found courage in speaking on my story,” she said when the album was announced. “This record is for all of us. We are the new breed. We are strong, unapologetic and the future is female.”
The whole premise reminds me a bit of what the Knowles sisters have been doing in recent years, and if you like Beyonce, Lemonade, and A Seat at the Table, you’re probably going to like new breed too. It has spoken word sections and field recordings that drop you right in the middle of the New Orleans streets, all the background noise included, and the people who speak on this album are inspiring, powerful, and full of pride. It’s more than a collection of songs; new breed really tells a story, both with its words and with its sounds. And while there are still hints of the cold, electronic R&B of Dawn’s earlier work (like on the title track), most of new breed experiments with sounds Dawn has never or only rarely touched before. There’s a nice amount of real-deal funk, like “shades” and “dreams and converse,” the latter of which beats Anderson .Paak at his own game. Dawn tries her hand at a belted, ’90s-style R&B ballad with major album highlight “jealousy,” an incredibly satisfying “fuck you” to a current partner’s ex. She’s got New Orleans jazz piano and an uplifting gospel soul chorus on “we, diamonds.” Throughout the album, Dawn raps, she sings, and she weaves together radiant vocal harmonies that sound more human and down-to-earth than anything else she’s done. In hindsight, it’s almost funny to think Dawn was ready to consider the trilogy the conclusion to her career. Now it feels like it was only the beginning.
My full review of Phoebe Bridgers and Conor Oberst’s collaborative album as Better Oblivion Community Center is here. Read an excerpt:
It’s only been out for a day but it’s already clear that this is no tossed-off side project and no ego-fueled supergroup; it’s an essential album for fans of either artist.
They’ve got plenty of the intimate, folky songs you’d expect from these two (“Didn’t Know What I Was In For,” “Service Road,” “Chesapeake,” “Forest Lawn,” etc), and plenty of the instantly-quotable one-liners you’d expect from the lyric-centric pair (“There’s no way I’m curing cancer, but I’ll sweat it out” already feels like a classic line), but they do more than just mine familiar territory. “Exception to the Rule” takes them into bouncy, synthy art pop territory. “Big Black Heart” is the kind of driving emo rocker that might’ve fit on the first Desaparecidos album, but Phoebe’s wailing delivery turns into something totally new (also, this make me want to hear Phoebe sing on more heavy songs). “Dylan Thomas,” the single (and the one they played on Colbert), is a ’90s-style alt-rocker that’s bursting at the seams and begging to become a hit (it probably would have 25 years ago). Rounding out the full-band songs, by the way, is Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner on guitar, Phoebe’s touring bassist Anna Butters, and regular Conor collaborator Carla Azar of Autolux and Jack White’s band on drums. Phoebe collaborator, singer-songwriter Christian Lee Hutson is also the band’s main guitarist. Members of Dawes, who were Conor’s band on a recent tour, also play on the album.
You can read the rest HERE.
Max Bemis’s Say Anything project rose to fame with 2004’s …Is A Real Boy (and even more so with its expanded 2006 major label reissue). It made Say Anything one of the biggest bands of the mid 2000s pop punk/emo boom, but Say Anything never sounded much like any of the other mainstream pop punk/emo bands. Max became an ambassador for the underrated greats of ’90s pop punk/emo, he crossed over with indie rock fanbases (even if he didn’t win over the era’s unseen panel of hipster judges), and he ended up influencing many of the great indie/emo crossover bands of the past decade, many of which he was an early supporter of too. Max never looked back, kept toying with Say Anything’s sound from album to album, and he had flashes of brilliance pop up all throughout their career, but Oliver Appropriate — which he says may be the last Say Anything album — is easily the project’s strongest album since Is A Real Boy. If it does end up being their last, it’s a hell of a way to go out.
The highly ambitious Is A Real Boy was a massive leap from the humbly brilliant home-recorded albums, EPs, and demos that Say Anything recorded in the pre-fame days (much of which were collected for 2013’s All My Friends Are Enemies: Early Rarities), and Oliver Appropriate kind of sounds like the album Max might’ve made in between those home recordings and Is A Real Boy, if he had made one. Like his early work, there’s a lot of acoustic guitar, and these songs have the most raw, stripped-down arrangements of any Say Anything album since the demos (Will Yip’s production does wonders for this album). The album’s got some of the trademark gang vocals of Is A Real Boy, but Max doesn’t try to recreate that album’s rock opera-sized ambition. It sounds like he decided to stop trying to outdo himself and just made an album that he and his fans can love, and at this point in his career, there’s nothing wrong with that. And while this is the most classic-sounding Say Anything album in a long time, it’s not really fair to only think about it in terms of nostalgia. Max envisioned it as something of a sequel to Is A Real Boy. He revisited the main character of that album and thought about what he’d be doing now (“His band did well but then fell off, hard. He’d be my age, of course, but he’d still be living in Brooklyn, struggling with financial woes, single and strung out,” Max wrote). The character of Is A Real Boy wasn’t the healthiest person, wasn’t necessarily someone worth looking up to, but his mania made for stories that kids would be quoting and screaming at shows for 15 years, and you get that same kind of storytelling on Oliver Appropriate. The way Max sneers “thrillllllll” when he rhymes “I’m a pill man / It’s a thrill, man” on “Pink Snot” is all the proof you need that the Is A Real Boy character is still somewhere out there, living the same life we were introduced to 15 years ago.
Oliver Appropriate sees Max finding solace in a new collaborator, Museum Mouth’s Karl Kuehn. Max says the album was inspired by Museum Mouth’s 2014 album Alex I Am Nothing, and Karl drummed and sang on the album, and even wrote and sang lead on a full song (“Your Father”). Karl’s song doesn’t just fit right in with the album; it’s one of the highlights. You can tell that Karl’s contributions were crucial, but still, it’s The Max Bemis Show and he’s got some of his most purely catchy songs in years on this thing: “Daze,” the aforementioned “Pink Snot,” and my personal favorite, “It’s A Process.” Whether it’s instantly-quotable punchlines about New York (“The dream of Julian Casablancas, gyro salesmen, and a stranger in my blankets”) or singalongs so catchy you might not even realize what you’re singing along to (I was hooked on the chorus of “It’s A Process” for weeks before realizing the first line is actually “char my member in the furnace”), this record is some of Max’s most enjoyable, immediate stuff yet, and we’re lucky to be getting songs like these after all he’s been through — especially since it may be the very last time we hear from Say Anything.
Adam Voorhees reviewed Japanese post-rock vets Mono’s new album Nowhere Now Here for Invisible Oranges. Here’s an excerpt:
Nowhere Now Here represents a coming-together once again to explore the dualities of Light and Dark with a fully armed presentation of everything the band is and was through their continued experimentation. The duality here feels innately spiritual:, that merging of darkness and light becomes almost transient toward enlightenment with the album acting as one swirling dynamic rather than neatly cut-up tracks. Nowhere Now Here should be thought of as movements defined by emotions felt rather than through the standard constraints of the traditional album format.
The one-two punch of “After You Comes the Flood” and the rare glimpse of vocals in “Breathe” are the perfect examples of the fleeting yet incredibly well-defined emotion this album exudes. This swirling cacophony swells so intensely, so utterly overwhelmingly, that the instrumentation on show could be summed up as a force of nature though frantic layers of guitars and drums. Fading out into “Breathe,” the onslaught falls away into waves of breathless vocals and shimmeringly simple guitar lines that sweep and swell so brightly to become the tide on which these lines drift toward home.
Read the rest HERE.
Texas hardcore crew Judiciary have been making a name for themselves for the past few years now, and Invisible Oranges named them one of 15 essential hardcore bands right now in 2017 off the strength of just one EP and a demo. Now they’re finally here with their debut full-length, and it very much lives up to the promise they’ve been showing since forming in 2013. It’s out on Closed Casket Activities (home to releases by Vein, Harms Way, Incendiary, and more), and like a lot of Closed Casket bands, Judiciary strike the perfect balance between metal and punk. At their core, these are quintessential hardcore songs, with all the chugga chugga riffs you can ask for and a convincingly pissed-off bark from frontman Jake Collinson, but they’ve got the chops needed for classic metal too. They toss in grinding thrash leads and searing solos, and they do it without ever seeming too flashy for the punks. They’re good at blurring genre lines, but they’re ever better at making music that kicks so much ass that you won’t really be thinking about the minor details. These songs all sound built to turn an entire room into a mosh pit, and with the crisp production of Taylor Young (Twitching Tongues, Xibalba, etc), they’re pretty fucking great on your home speakers too.
I wrote about Brooklyn punks The 1865’s new album Don’t Tread On We! in yesterday’s premiere of their “Buckshot” video. Here’s an excerpt:
The 1865 are a new-ish Brooklyn punk band, founded by Sacha Jenkins (who, among many other things, is also in the bands The White Mandingos and The Wilding Incident, and directed the new Wu-Tang docu-series coming to Showtime), and fronted by the powerful pipes of Carolyn “Honeychild” Coleman. Their band name comes from the fact that they write their music from the perspective of a person living in 1865 America, post the Emancipation. It makes for strong, impactful music that reminds you of America’s dark past, but also reminds you that the effects of slavery are still felt today. “[It] was a great way to create contemporary music that spoke to the past, but also spoke to the same things that continue to happen over and over again in our country,” Sacha Jenkins said.
The band self-describe their sound as “Bad Brains meets Foo Fighters in a black woman’s hair salon for a cup of tea,” and that should give you a pretty good idea of what to expect. Their new album Don’t Tread on We! has got 13 tracks of real-deal punk rippers. No bullshit or added frills or anything, just raw, driving guitars, sneering vocals, and exactly the kind of powerful message you want from punk rock.
Read more HERE.
Shoegaze may actually be more popular now than it was in the ’90s, so it’s great to have a lot of the OG bands back to prove they’ve still got it and show the kids how it’s done. Swervedriver did that very thing with 2015’s I Wasn’t Born To Lose You — which was their first in 17 years — and now they’re back once again with a second reunion album, Future Ruins. Bill reviewed the album for Bill’s Indie Basement and you can read that here.
Chicago rapper Dreezy has been on the come-up for few years now, and she’s back with this lean ten-song project featuring Offset, Jeremih, Jacquees, Kash Doll, and Derez Deshon. She plays the game a little and offers up some radio-ready “mumble rap” here and there, but Dreezy’s a talented spitter in the traditional sense, and she makes plenty of room to remind you of that on Big Dreez. There’s little filler on the album, and lots of great punchlines (choice lyric: “your n**** only see me on the weekend like I’m SZA”).