Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/20)
It’s been another shitty week in the world for a lot of reasons but it’s also another especially good week for new music. A few of today’s honorable mentions that are very worth hearing include Makthaverskan, Bully, Colleen, Radiator Hospital, and Amenra.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
As Jeremy Enigk continues to remain elusive, any move he makes (with or without his legendary ’90s band Sunny Day Real Estate) is a big deal. SDRE reunited in 2009, attempted a new album but scrapped it, and released just one song from those sessions in 2014. The following year, Jeremy started playing solo shows again and now he has finally released his first album in eight years, Ghosts. It follows 2009’s OK Bear, and like that album, it shares some traits with the art rock of SDRE’s third album How It Feels To Be Something On. The first three songs, “Light and Shadow,” “The Long Wait Is Over,” and “Amazing Worlds,” would especially fit on How It Feels. Ghosts is even more beautifully produced than OK Bear though; it’s the kind of album that presumably took so long because Jeremy waited until inspiration hit and really made sure he saw each meticulous detail through in the studio. He had been playing solo acoustic at his shows, but Ghosts is heavily layered. It does use acoustic guitar on nearly every song but sometimes a distorted electric too, as well as gorgeous strings and piano, precise drumming that’s minimal at times and thunderous at others, and tons of atmosphere. And while OK Bear was sort of a “return to rock” album for Jeremy, Ghosts finds time to touch on several styles from throughout his career. He revisits The Fire Theft’s uplifting piano balladry with “Victory,” the orchestral sounds of The Missing Link and World Waits with “Empty Row,” and the hushed folk of Return of the Frog Queen with “Ancient Road.” Sometimes, those styles cross paths within songs. Album closer “Days Design” opens like a Frog Queen-style folk song but ends with the orchestral swirl of Missing Link/World Waits. “Onaroll” brings back his scream and is probably the closest to SDRE that this album comes, but it also finds time for an ambient interlude and a quiet folky passage. When he does bring disparate sounds together like that, he makes the transitions sound seamless.
Haley Fohr has been very busy this past few years, releasing music as Circuit des Yeux, as Jackie Lynn, and as one half of Mind Over Mirrors. Her last Circuit des Yeux album, 2015’s In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey), mixed her songwriting style with ambience and experimental electronics, but this year’s Reaching for Indigo — her first for Drag City — strips her sound back and is a little closer in spirit to 2013’s Overdue. Like on that album, she sounds clear and puts her voice in the forefront with usually an acoustic guitar or piano as the main backdrop. She’s still got ambient textures in the background, and she’s accompanied by drums, strings, some eccentric effects at times and some noise at others, but mostly this is a real “songwriter” album. Her low, distinct voice is as moving as ever, and this kind of songwriting offers a welcome contrast to her more experimental music. As thrilling as the very heady In Plain Speech is, the approachability of Reaching for Indigo allows it to hit in a way that its predecessor couldn’t.
Note: The full stream of ‘Reaching for Indigo’ isn’t live yet but it presumably will be soon.
Seattle doom duo Bell Witch had already been showing a ton of ambition and releasing 20-ish minute songs since their 2011 debut, but they’re really taking the ambition and the long songs to a new level with their fourth album, Mirror Reaper. The whole thing is just one track that clocks in at one hour and 23 minutes. An experiment like this leaves room for some flaws, and Mirror Reaper isn’t flawless (I’d say they could’ve shaved off about 20 minutes and achieved the same effect), but mostly this monster of a track is really impressive. They’ve never been a straight-up doom band, and this has some of their least straight-up doom material yet. Overall it’s almost more like post-rock than doom metal, both in the way that the music builds and fades away and then builds again, and also because of how much clean guitar is on this. Lots of clean vocals too; it’s the kind of album that should genuinely appeal as much to fans of Low or Red House Painters as to fans of the funeral doom acts that likely influenced Bell Witch early on like Esoteric. The clean vocals, as they usually do, come from Bell Witch singer/bassist Dylan Desmond and frequent guest contributor Erik Moggridge (aka Aerial Ruin), but some of the screams on this album came from unused recordings of former drummer Adrian Guerra’s voice from the Four Phantoms sessions. Adrian sadly passed away last year and his death largely informed this album. Sometimes it’s in the lyrics, but even when it’s not, you can feel death looming over Mirror Reaper. (Dylan explained to Noisey that while part of the song was actually written before Adrian’s passing, “in the studio, the recording took on a shade of his grieving process.”) Knowing the backstory makes listening to Mirror Reaper even more intense, but even if you don’t, it’s such a powerful piece of music that you’ll be able to feel that some type of major force was behind it.
Margo Price had one of the best debut albums of 2016 with Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and just a year and a half later, she’s already following it with her sophomore LP, All American Made. Like with fellow country rocker Jason Isbell’s 2017 LP, The Nashville Sound, you get the sense that there’s a little irony at play in the album’s traditional, conservative-sounding title. Not just this year, but especially this year, artists have been questioning what it really means to be American, and the answer doesn’t always look so great. What she doesn’t say in the album title, she says in the song of the same name: “The part of me that hurts the worst is the one I just can’t spot, and it’s all American made.” In that same song, Margo “wonders if the president gets much sleep at night” and in “Pay Gap” she says, “We are all the same in the eyes of God, but in the eyes of rich white men? No more than a maid to be owned like a dog, a second class citizen.” On Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, Margo’s pain was internal, but this time she’s looking outward. Margo has the catchy choruses and the strong voice to go pop, but she instead took this railing-against-the-system approach and aligns herself people like outlaw country legend and activist Willie Nelson, who duets with her on All American Made’s “Learning to Lose.” And like on Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, she refuses to ever really stick just to one sound, country or otherwise. “Cocaine Cowboys” sounds like the Grateful Dead and “Do Right By Me” takes on classic gospel/soul with backing vocals from Nashville gospel group The McCrary Sisters. The album’s catchiest song, “A Little Pain,” works in honky tonk piano, twangy fiddle, and an organ solo that sounds straight out of ’60s rock and yet the song never feels retro. Margo continues to show new sides of herself all over All American Made. If the album has less “wow” factor than her debut, it’s only because we now know what she’s capable of.
The New Pornographers returned earlier this year with their great new album Whiteout Conditions. The only thing it was missing was Dan Bejar, but Dan now makes up for that with eleven new Destroyer songs. He’s been putting out great music as Destroyer since the ’90s, and 2011’s Kaputt kickstarted a new era of Destroyer by taking influence from ’80s sophisti-pop and making sax cool within indie rock. He kept a similar vibe going on 2015’s Poison Season, and this year’s ken is cut from that same cloth as well. He’s still pulling from the ’80s, still taking lots of Bowie influence and still using sax, but there’s maybe a little more of a new wave vibe to some of these songs. (Kaputt‘s “Savage Night at the Opera” came close but it didn’t dive as head first into it as this album does.) “In the Morning” and “Tinseltown Swimming in Blood” in particular have more shades of The Cure/New Order than Dan’s songwriting usually has, and “Ivory Coast” and “Stay Lost” are synthpop ballads that might’ve fit on the Drive soundtrack. The arpeggiated synths and stadium-ready guitar solo of “La Regle du Jeu” feel right off ’80s pop radio and might’ve come off pretty cheesy if not for the unique twist that Dan Bejar puts on everything he touches. It’s impressive to watch Dan attempt and master all these various different sounds throughout his career, but if you’re hungry for that classic Destroyer sound, ken offers a little of that too with the folky “Saw You at the Hospital.” It fits right in with the new stuff and it’s his first song like it in a while.