Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/15)
June treks on, which means more Kanye-related listening parties and more music festivals. What do you think of the new Nas album? I’m a little underwhelmed on first listen (Pusha T remains the best of these). As for festivals, this weekend is Dover, Delaware’s Firefly, which has some pretty great stuff like Kendrick Lamar, Arctic Monkeys, Eminem, SZA, MGMT, alt-J, Jimmy Eat World, Portugal. The Man, Lord Huron, and more. You can stream select sets live.
In addition to Nas, other honorable mentions this week include SOPHIE, Johnny Marr, Madball, Arthur Buck (aka Joseph Arthur + Peter Buck), Melody’s Echo Chamber, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Here Lies Man, Leon Vynehall, Apollo Brown & Locksmith, Robert Glasper’s R+R=NOW, and the Protomartyr EP.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
As TDE/Black Hippy fans probably know, Jay Rock was actually the first artist on the label to have success, back when Kendrick Lamar was still figuring out his sound, and it always seemed a little weird that he released no album of his own in the time when TDE started to rise and was rapidly churning out new stuff by Jay’s Black Hippy groupmates Kendrick, Schoolboy Q, and Ab-Soul. But that finally changed in 2015 with the release of his proper sophomore album, 90059, which proved that the wait was worth it. As each member of the group established their own style, Jay Rock emerged as the one who stayed most true to a more traditional sound, and 90059 was some of the finest trad-style modern rap around when it dropped. Thankfully he’s only made us wait less than three years for a followup, and on Redemption, he’s done it again. Across its 13 songs, Jay Rock quickly cruises over the album’s masterful production, never straying from the kind of hard-hitting, bassy, fast-paced delivery that he had when he first took off. There’s not an ounce of fat on this thing, and Jay holds your attention verse after verse — he makes the album fly by in what feels like half the time. He’s got his longtime pal Kendrick Lamar on there for a verse on “Wow Freestyle” and a few other brief appearances too, and TDE’s newest star SZA sings a gorgeous hook on the title track. Jay also brings in Jeremih for some fine crooning on “Tap Out,” and “OSOM” has the hit-or-miss J. Cole, who really hits here. He also included his song “King’s Dead” from Black Panther: The Album, and while Future’s verse is still there, Kendrick’s verse is absent on this one (too bad it wasn’t the other way around). Like most people, I didn’t hear the album until this morning so it’s too soon to say if it’s better than 90059 or not, but it immediately sounds like Jay Rock is having more fun with this one. It feels a little more lively, like it’s got just a bit more of a hop in its step. It deserves many more listens, but it’s clear already that it’s a triumph.
Around the time that Bay Area punks Culture Abuse signed to Epitaph, they went on tour with Joyce Manor and Wavves (and also made collaborative songs with Wavves), and that may be the most perfectly matched tour they’ll ever go on, as their Epitaph debut Bay Dream sounds like the exact middle point between those two bands. Noticeably different from their 2016 debut Peach (6131), Bay Dream is equal parts Joyce Manor style no-frills emo-punk, and Wavves style lo-fi surf punk. Is “surf emo” a real subgenre yet? ‘Cause that may just be what Bay Dream is. Leaving the aggression of Peach entirely behind, Bay Dream sounds like the kind of record you’d blast on a hot summer day. As the title sort of implies, it does indeed sound like the dream of California, the idealized, beach-rat version you see in movies and TV shows, but just like real California, Bay Dream isn’t only fun in the sun. It’s happy music that feels written in response to overcoming bad feelings, not being carefree and avoiding those feelings entirely. “I didn’t realize how much of a dark place I was in until I got to the other side,” singer David Kelling said in reference to the jump that he as a person made in the time between writing Peach and writing Bay Dream. Sometimes fans react negatively to a band’s “happy record,” but in Culture Abuse’s case, it should be the opposite. Bay Dream surpasses Peach in just about every way — it sounds bigger, catchier, more confident, and more uniquely the work of no other band. Peach was a promising debut, but it couldn’t prepare you for the jump Culture Abuse would make on Bay Dream. It’s a little bit like the new album by Turnstile, who Culture Abuse toured with earlier this year. Both are punk bands learning to rapidly evolve early on their in their careers, and be fearless about anyone who might criticize them for doing so.
Petal (aka Kiley Lotz) proved she could write driving, super catchy, ’90s-style indie/punk jams on her 2015 debut Shame, and she’s still doing some of that on Magic Gone, but she’s also taking her sound in a few new directions, and the emotions run much higher on this one. Kiley says that she wrote the record after finally coming out as queer, and also while dealing with serious mental health issues. She says that the first half of the album was written before entering treatment for those issues, and the second half was written in recovery. “I think those two parts of me are what kept me alive,” she says. You can hear that emotion really coming through on all of the Magic Gone songs. Kiley sings every word like her life depends on it, and she really belts it more than she did on her debut too (she cites Solange and Nina Simone as influences for this album, along with more predictable indie rock choices). The album opens with its two rippers, “Better Than You” and “Tightrope,” which were also the album’s first two singles, and those songs kind of turned out to be red herrings. It’s mostly a much slower album, more similar to (past tourmate) Julien Baker than to her collaborators Tigers Jaw, who Shame often sounded like. And like Julien, Kiley has the ability to stop you in your tracks with nothing other than her powerful voice and a sole backing instrument. On the piano-and-voice standout “Something From Me” — from the “recovery” side of the album — Kiley wails “I can’t sleep anymore, but you all want something from me,” and it feels like, right before our eyes, she’s coming to terms with the fact that it’s okay to put yourself first once in a while. It’s a feeling that it isn’t hard to relate to, and when Kiley sings with this level of both conviction and vulnerability — as she does several times on this album — you can not just hear her own feelings, but feel them deep inside yourself.
In the 15+ years they’ve been a band, North Carolina’s ASG have established themselves as one of the finest purveyors of sludge-metal-that’s-actually-just-kinda-heavy-rock, along with Mastodon, Baroness, Torche, Kylesa, Black Tusk, etc, and in the time since their last album — 2013’s Blood Drive — the most psychedelic of those bands, Kylesa, broke up. So with that void left to fill, it’s good news that ASG have noticeably upped the psychedelia for Survive Sunrise (Helms Alee are helping to fill this void too). They’re still churning out genuinely catchy hooks, courtesy of genuinely soaring vocalist Jason Shi, and they’ve still got an arsenal of Headbanger’s Ball-worthy riffs, but Survive Sunrise really leans into the hypnotic guitars and entrancing vocals of psychedelia (and just look at that artwork). And as you’d expect from this seasoned, consistently solid band, they do it really well. Shi sounds like an even stronger singer than usual on this record — like a guy who really deserves to be on (whatever’s left of) rock radio — but the trippier edge and fuzzier production steer the songs away from ever sounding too radio-ready. And as much as the increased focus on psychedelia is one of the album’s biggest appeals, it shouldn’t go unmentioned how crushing the riffs can be too. “Execution Thirst” offers up a thrashy punk riff as ripping as anything on last year’s Power Trip record, and “Lightning Song” delivers mammoth-sized sludge that the Melvins would be proud of. Even if you can trace some of its influences, there’s no easy way to pin down Survive Sunrise, and that’s a big part of what makes it such an exciting record.
John Parish is always busy producing albums for other great artists, and he’s spent the past several years making instrumental records, but Bird Dog Dante is his first “song oriented album” in almost a decade, and it’s great to hear him making music like this. He’s got a wonderful singing voice — with the echo on his voice on the beautifully minimal opener “Add To The List,” he can almost sound like Bradford Cox at his most tender — and he really excels at more traditional songwriting. He’s got the prettier songs like the aforementioned “Add To The List,” the sleepy rocker “The March,” the subtly anthemic ballad “Type 1,” and the surprisingly upbeat closer “The First Star,” which is probably the closest this album comes to ’60s psych pop. I say “surprisingly” because it follows three atmospheric tracks that have Parish returning to the instrumental sound of his other recent records — it’s kind of sequenced like David Bowie’s Heroes, how he hits you with “The Secret Life of Arabia” after the long stretch of instrumental music. Parish has also got some creepy weird stuff like “Buffalo,” which is almost Syd Barrett-esque. Another treat is that he brings in a few of his talented friends; he duets with longtime collaborator PJ Harvey on “Sorry For Your Loss,” and it basically sounds like a song that could’ve fit on the last two PJ Harvey records, and one of his great newer collaborators, Aldous Harding, lends some fantastic backing vocals to the Transformer era Lou Reed-ish “Rachel.” There’s a lot to like about this record — here’s to hoping Parish doesn’t make us wait another decade for more songs like this.