Notable Releases of the Week (4/12)
Prepare for online music discussion to be dominated by Coachella, which begins today. If you’re not going, you can stream it live, and whether you’re watching in the desert or on your couch, check out our lists of 15 lower-poster acts we’re excited for and 10 more artists we’re excited to see.
And that aside, there’s plenty of good music out this week. I highlighted six new albums below (including one by an artist who plays Coachella today), and here are some honorable mentions: Budos Band, LSD (aka Labrinth, Sia & Diplo), Emily Reo, Sun Kil Moon, Dave Hause, The Chemical Brothers, Glen Hansard, Fontaines DC, Napalm Death offshoot Tronos, Ketzer, Lowly, Clowns, Alireza, the Supa Bwe EP, and the PJ Harvey score for the theater adaption of All About Eve.
Read on for my six picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Inter Arma are no strangers to making ambitious, genre-defying albums full of ten-minute songs, as recent albums Paradise Gallows and Sky Burial make very clear, but Sulphur English just may be their most ambitious and genre-defying yet. Their heavy side continues to not fit neatly into any metal subgenre — falling somewhere between sludge, death, black, post-, and doom — and Inter Arma’s softer side has never sounded better than it does on Sulphur English. After a short, instrumental intro track, Sulphur English starts with two of its most brutal songs (“A Waxen Sea” and “Citadel”), and from there it gradually builds towards their softer side, exploring tribaly, Swans-like sounds (“Howling Lands”), dark folk (“Stillness”), trippy psychedelic rock (“The Atavist’s Meridian”), and more, with plenty of the more traditionally metal sounds in between. Inter Arma have been experts at brutality since the early days, but they’ve never sounded this confident with the cleaner material. To go back to the Swans comparison, Sulphur English is sort of like where Swans were at circa Children of God, when they fully realized they could master not just abrasive music but also beautiful music, while sounding dark and menacing the whole time. That’s just what Inter Arma do on Sulphur English, and while comparisons to other bands still remain, they do it in a way they can really call their own.
Last year, Anderson .Paak teamed with Dr. Dre for Oxnard (which Dre executive produced and released on his Aftermath label), and it was the kind of super ambitious album stacked with major guest appearances where Paak very intentionally tried to create a classic. We named it one of the best rap albums of 2018 and it helped elevate Paak to arena-headliner status, and now he’s back just five months later with a followup. For Ventura, he once again had Dre executive producing, it’s also on Aftermath, and he’s got more big-name guests, but this is a shorter, more humble album and it sounds like Paak took a more relaxed approach to making it. “I drove myself crazy with Oxnard. That was almost why I was like, I’m about to put [Ventura] over to the side now, like a ‘break in case of emergency,'” he told Esquire. “I didn’t want to over-produce, I didn’t want to start second-guessing it.” Though he does have more impressive guests like Smokey Robinson, Brandy, Nate Dogg, and Jazmine Sullivan, the only time any guest really steals the show on Ventura is when the elusive Andre 3000 shows up to dominate on album opener “Come Home.” After that, it’s the Anderson .Paak show, and these 11 songs feel as urgent and fresh as most of Oxnard. Oxnard was a more rap-heavy album for Paak, but Ventura has him focusing much more strongly on his funk and soul side. It does indeed feel more relaxed than Oxnard, but it doesn’t feel tossed-off, or like these songs were “leftovers” that didn’t make the cut for Oxnard. It’s just a different, more laid-back side of him, and it’s impressive that he can remain this prolific and continue to dish out such effortlessly enjoyable stuff.
Last year, long-running singer/songwriter Damien Jurado, followed his fleshed-out, Richard Swift-produced trilogy of albums with his first-ever self-produced album, The Horizon Just Laughed. It was a more stripped-down album than its recent predecessors, but it still had those more heavily-arranged moments, and you’d hardly call it stripped-down at all compared to the new In The Shape of A Storm. With almost nothing more than his voice and acoustic guitar, this is Damien’s most bare-bones album since 2000’s Ghost of David, and it’s arguably even more bare-bones than that album. Damien finished recording this one before Richard Swift’s untimely passing, but Damien himself says “his absence is very much felt on this record,” and it does feel like the polar opposite of the albums he made with Swift. He also — after 20+ years of albums on Secretly Canadian and Sub Pop — released this one on the smaller Mama Bird Recording Co label (home to releases by Haley Heynderickx, Courtney Marie Andrews, Saintseneca, and others), perhaps to make it appear even more hidden and tucked-away than his previous work. He recorded the entire thing in just two hours, but it doesn’t feel rushed. As likable as the ambitious arrangements of his other recent albums are, Damien is often at his most gripping when it’s just him and a guitar, and this album grips from start to finish.
In certain circles, Big Business need no introduction. They’ve been staples of sludge metal for about 15 years, before that frontman Jared Warren played in sludgy punk band Karp and drummer Coady Willis played in punk n’ rollers The Murder City Devils, and Jared and Coady have both also played as members of the Melvins. But if you do still need an introduction to Big Business, The Beast You Are is a very good one. It’s one of the most accessible albums of their career. Like its 2016 predecessor Command Your Weather, they made it as just the core duo of Jared and Coady, the same set-up they had when they formed the band before expanding their lineup later on. And Big Business just might work best this way. The Beast You Are is such a refined collection of songs, and it gives recent Torche and Baroness records a run for their money as one of the catchiest modern sludge albums around. Talking about it just in the context of modern music and just in the context of metal does The Beast You Are an injustice though. Many of these songs are poppy, heavy rock songs that could’ve dominated during the grunge era, and would appeal not just to fans of Big Business collaborators the Melvins but also to fans of In Utero and Badmotorfinger. Still, the pop moments are balanced out by plenty of psychedelic moments, and Big Business’ rhythm section is as earthquake-inducing as ever. They haven’t messed too much with their formula, they’ve merely fine-tuned it and updated it and come out with some of their finest work yet.
In the time since Bars of Gold last released an album (2013’s Wheels), singer Marc Paffi and drummer Brandon Moss got their beloved early 2000s band Bear vs Shark back together and put on some truly killer reunion shows. The reunion was brief, and no new music came of it, but now Marc and Brandon turned their attention back to Bars of Gold, they added Bear vs Shark guitarist John Gaviglio to their lineup, and they’re now back with the first Bars of Gold album in six years, SHELTERS. And if you wished Bear vs Shark’s reunion did result in new music, SHELTERS is the next best thing. (That was true for the last two Bars of Gold albums too, but hopefully the renewed interest for BvS will have more ears glued to this one. This is also Bars of Gold’s first album on Bear vs Shark’s former label home, Equal Vision.) Bear vs Shark had just two albums, their mathy post-hardcore debut Right Now, You’re in the Best of Hands… and its more experimental followup Terrorhawk, and Bars of Gold have always basically picked up where Terrorhawk left off. They have moments that dive into pure post-hardcore catharsis, and Marc Paffi’s voice is as gritty and unmistakable in this band as it is in BvS, but SHELTERS also goes in a handful of other directions, from the atmospheric “Sometimes” to the slowcore-ish “Montana” to the fidgety art rock of “Plywood To Pine” to the shuffling indie rock of “Atlantic City.” It’s all over the place (in a good way), but all tied together by this band’s strong vision and that trademark Marc Paffi rasp.
Multi-instrumentalist/producer/singer Stephen Wilkinson, aka Bibio, has long been one of the leaders of the “folktronica” genre, and he’s also long been a master of both styles of music that make up that term. His electronic work makes him appealing to fans of his old friends/influences Boards of Canada, and his British folk stylings could appeal to fans of Bert Jansch or Richard Thompson. At the same time, his music has always been too diverse to fit into that box (or any box, for that matter). He’s just as prone to writing a driving indie rock song, or a gooey funk song that fits in with the chillwave era which he pre-dated. He also dove head-first into ambient music on his last album, 2017’s Phantom Brickworks, but for his new album Ribbons, he’s back to exploring the earthier sounds of 2016’s A Mineral Love. Though Bibio has been warranting those classic British folk comparisons for years, he used to cover his folk side with an electronic haze, but A Mineral Love saw him bringing his more organic sounds to the forefront, and Ribbons goes even further in that direction. The new album still has some atmospheric electronic stuff like the Kid A-ish “Pretty Ribbons and Lovely Flowers,” and he’s still got chillwavey songs like “Before” and “Old Graffiti,” but most of Ribbons may actually appeal more to fans of traditional British folk than to fans of Boards of Canada. Wilkinson plays not just the arresting fingerpicked guitar lines, but also the mandolins, fiddles, and other string instruments you hear on Ribbons, and he comes out with so many gorgeous melodies in the process. When he works in the field recordings he’s often known for, he favors sounds like birds chirping, which fit perfectly in the context of this springy, sunny-day album. And though there’s an old soul to the guitars and other string instruments on the album, his voice — which is as pristine and confident as ever — keeps the songs sounding youthful and fresh.