Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/25/16)
It’s another stacked release day, with so many records out today that are worth hearing. Albums that didn’t make the cut include Eric Bachmann, The Thermals, Open Mike Eagle & Paul White, RJD2, Blood Ceremony, The Body & Full of Hell, Domo Genesis, Oddisee, Iamsu, Plague Vendor, just to name a few of the good records out this week (I haven’t even had a chance to listen to the surprise new Azealia Banks mixtape). I picked five, the first two of which are absolute personal favorites of 2016 so far. (Like I said, stacked week.)
Check out my picks below. What’s your favorite release of the week?
It’s tough to talk about country music in 2016 without sounding reactionary to the red solo cup stuff in the Top 40, but just know that the remarkably masterful debut album from Nashville country singer Margo Price is nothing like that at all. It hearkens back to classic mid-’60s singers like Loretta Lynn, but this is on Jack White’s label, so you know it takes those old sounds and finds ways to modernize them. The album’s also never content to stick to one sound. “Tennessee Song” is basically a ’70s-rock song, “Four Years Of Chances” is a keyboard-led rhythm & blues boogie, and album closer “World’s Greatest Loser” is melancholic folk. The album does work in typical country styles, like the danceable “Hurtin’ (On The Bottle)” and “This Town Gets Around,” and the balladry of “How The Mighty Have Fallen,” but it does it so genuinely that Margo often rivals her influences. What really puts this album over the top though, is it proves Margo to be one of our generation’s great storytellers. She sings about life struggle after life struggle: men, whiskey, and on the devastating opening track “Hands Of Time,” the death of her child. That’s one of the most heartbreaking songs I’ve heard in a long time; it’s the kind of song that stops you in your tracks and has you paying attention to every single word. It will genuinely depress you, but Margo brings the smile back to your face once she hits you with the upbeat songs. An album this world-weary and expertly executed usually comes later in artist’s career, but Margo knocked it out of the park with LP1. It’s quite possibly the strongest debut album of 2016 yet.
The story of how this album came to be is a strange one. It’s Cobalt’s first album in seven years, the followup to 2009’s Gin (which landed at #2 on the BV metal albums list that year) and it follows founding member/lead vocalist Phil McSorley getting kicked out of the band after going on a highly offensive Facebook rant. A founding member/lead vocalist getting kicked out of a duo might sound like the end of a band’s career, but Erik Wunder instead replaced McSorley with former Lord Mantis vocalist Charlie Fell and made Slow Forever, the best heavy album I’ve heard all year. If you usually listen to metal, you probably don’t need anyone to recommend you a new Cobalt album, but if you don’t, do not sleep on this. It’s nearly impossible to classify this thing. They sound like a hardcore band at times, and like a dark psychedelic rock band at others. There are quiet acoustic guitar passages, tricky rhythms that cross into prog-rock territory, and straight-up badass devil horn-throwing riffs. Charlie Fell sounds pissed off as all hell throughout the whole 80+ minutes, and you’ll be screaming along with him in no time. It’s accessible, but it’s certainly not simplistic. It’s a fun record, but it’s a cerebral one too. It’s the kind of album that makes me think “holy shit” every time I hear it. I’ve hardly gone a day without putting it on since I first got it, and if I go too long without it, I’m always hopelessly crawling back. With the amount of access we all have to music now, even albums that rock our world at first end up quickly falling out of rotation. But I have a good feeling this one’s gonna stick with me for a long time.
The ridiculously prolific Young Thug can be tough to keep up with. He already released the I’m Up mixtape this year, now Slime Season 3 is out today, and he’s saying his major label debut album Hy!£UN35 will be out later this year. The bright side though, is that just about everything he puts out is great so you can hop on the Young Thug train with any of these releases and be satisfied. SS3 is a lean eight tracks and it only has one guest (Yak Gotti), but if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it has way more. Thug has like nine different voices, and he sounds absolutely insane with all of them. He’s probably most famous for sounding like a drugged-out Lil Wayne, but there’s also the lower, tougher sounding Young Thug, the stretched-out, note-bending Young Thug, the stuttering trap rap Young Thug, the list goes on. As it was on I’m Up, his production is especially good here (mostly by London On Da Track, but also by Mike WiLL Made-It and others), sounding skeletal but bass-heavy and full of glossy atmosphere. Even if you do feel like Thug could use some quality control, it’s hard to deny how many great songs continue to show up.
People talk a lot about a ’90s rock revival, but can a sound be “revived” if the artists who pioneered it are still keeping it alive and well themselves? Classic indie rock as we know it wouldn’t exist without Bob Mould, whose work in Husker Du (an “’80s rock” band, if we’re splitting hairs) and Sugar helped shape the sound that bands like Joyce Manor and Cymbals Eat Guitars are keeping relevant today. But as a solo artist, Bob himself is ensuring that that stuff doesn’t go anywhere. Patch the Sky is his third consecutive record this decade with Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on drums, and it’s another winner that’s right up the alley of Flip Your Wig and Copper Blue. If you’ve seen Bob live lately, you know he puts stuff off those records right up against his new material and it flows seamlessly, and I can’t wait to hear how the Patch the Sky songs fit in too. (By the way, Bob, Jason and Jon are also one of the best working power trios and you should not miss their upcoming tour with Ted Leo.) All these years later, Bob remembers that indie rock comes from punk and he keeps the raw drive of the latter intact, and he’s also still chock full of instant-classic choruses. The guy’s now put out timeless rock music in four different decades. Most artists can only hope to be this good.
IDM producer The Range (aka James Hinton), who recently relocated from Providence to NYC, picked up a fair amount of buzz for his 2013 debut album Nonfiction. He signed to Domino for its followup which means he’ll probably reach a larger audience than ever, and deservedly so, because Potential is the best thing he’s done to date. It hits a similar sweet spot to Four Tet or Jon Hopkins, electronic musicians who are not only talented beatmakers but also incorporate gorgeous melodies into their work. It’s music that functions more similarly to post-rock than to dance music, building up, climaxing and sounding beautiful while doing so. It’s also full of human voices, with samples of various vocalists including a few rappers who help Potential feel in line with the current renewed interest in grime. The album’s got a great flow to it, and it feels a lot shorter than its 40-minute running time. Throw this on with a nice pair of headphones (and definitely not through laptop speakers), and just let it wash over you.