Notable Releases of the Week (3/22)
SXSW is behind us (if you haven’t already, check out pictures, the best sets we saw, and more coverage), and things are moving right along in the music world. This week saw some major festival announcements like Woodstock 50 and Lollapalooza, not to mention the constantly-expanding Psycho Las Vegas lineup looks even more killer than most of the more major fests.
And this is a huge week for new albums. I picked eight that I highlighted below, and some other very worthy albums out this week include Andrew Bird, Jenny Lewis, Apparat, Ibibio Sound Machine, Spiral Stairs (which Bill reviewed for Indie Basement), Sleeper (ditto), Tamaryn, These New Puritans, Mary Lattimore & Mac McCaughan, Orville Peck, Lafawndah, Bill MacKay, Cykada (mem Ezra Collective, Maisha, etc), Laurel Halo’s DK-Kicks mix, the Dalek EP, and the Duster box set.
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It seems like nostalgia sets in faster than ever lately. A decade doesn’t really feel like a very long time, but more and more bands are celebrating 10-year anniversaries of albums and the fans keep eating it up. La Dispute aren’t immune to the craze — last year, they celebrated the 10th anniversary of their 2008 debut album Somewhere at the Bottom of the River Between Vega and Altair with a revamped reissue. But while these anniversary celebrations are returns to the glory days for so many bands, that’s not the case for La Dispute. They’re back with a new album — their first in five years, first for Epitaph, and first without original guitarist Kevin Whittemore — and they’re continuing to push forward.
Every La Dispute album has been different, and Panorama is no exception. The debut saw Jordan Dreyer singing (and speaking and screaming) about loss of love over a heavy backdrop that combined ’90s screamo with ’70s progressive rock riffs, and it quickly cemented the band as leaders of the new wave of post-hardcore that was taking shape at the time. Its 2011 followup Wildlife saw the band go in an even more genre-defying and often art rock-inspired direction, and Jordan’s lyrics expanded into less personal topics, including on the now-iconic “King Park,” where he takes the perspective of a man who just accidentally shot and killed an innocent kid (based on a true story). And 2014’s Rooms of the House was a fictional concept album that went in a lighter, more indie rock direction than its two predecessors. Panorama brings back some of the aggression of the pre-Rooms of the House material, but it’s not a “return to form” or anything. Instead of heavy guitar riffs, La Dispute is taking more of an atmospheric post-rock approach with this one. Take the vocals out, and it sounds closer to Caspian or This Will Destroy You than to early La Dispute. Put them back in, and it sounds like no other band on the planet, as Jordan Dreyer has become one of the most recognizable voices in underground rock. It’s also Jordan’s most personal album since their debut. Gone is the storytelling (fact or fiction) of the last two albums, and in its place are countless “I” and “you” pronouns written about Jordan himself and his real-life partner. The band has said that the album takes place on the many drives Jordan and his partner would take from their home in Grand Rapids to Lowell, where she grew up, and you can hear the introspection experienced during those trips all throughout Panorama. They’ll spot flowers on the side of the road, leading Jordan to dive deep into the details of a fatal car crash, or Jordan will drop you right into the scene of a more casual moment, like in “Rhodonite and Grief” (“For a moment in the turnaround I was waiting with the car in drive, watched you hurry on across the parking lot”).
Even at its most aggressive moments, Panorama has the refined maturity of Rooms of the House, and it also shares that album’s warmer production (both were done by Will Yip). There aren’t as many instantly satisfying songs like “King Park” or “Said The King To The River” or “Bury Your Flame,” but Panorama doesn’t need those types of songs to hook you in. There are a few times when Panorama veers in that direction, like on the cathartic, sludgy choruses of “There You Are (Hiding Place),” but mostly it wins you over with something like the slow build of “Fulton Street I” or the melancholic trumpets of “Rhodonite and Grief” or the swelling ambience of “In Northern Michigan” or the towering post-rock climaxes of “View From Our Bedroom Window.” It’s less of a fist-raiser, but it’s a breathtaking album from start to finish. It sounds like nothing La Dispute have ever done before, yet it’s unmistakably the work of no other band. Over a decade into an already-fruitful career, that’s no minor accomplishment.
American Football’s third album sees them moving on from their storied past and writing an album that may be even better than their classic debut. It features members of Slowdive, Paramore, and Land of Talk. You can read my full review of it here.
UK artist Nilüfer Yanya has been on a steady rise for a while now, and it’s not hard to see why. Her early EPs and singles were so impressive that she cracked lists like BBC’s Sound of 2018 and Pitchfork’s Best Songs of 2017, played a handful of major festivals, and opened for artists like Interpol, Belle & Sebastian, and Sharon Van Etten all before releasing a full-length album. Now her debut album is finally here, and it’s one of those albums that you feel like you’ve known your entire life. It’s jazzy pop that can recall anything from Sade to mid-2000s Feist, and it’s accessible and polished enough to get as big as those artists too. Don’t be surprised if it does — Miss Universe is loaded with potential hits, the kinds of songs you find yourself humming to without even realizing it. There’s a familiarity to these songs, but Nilufer has a touch that’s entirely her own. Miss Universe has all the makings of an instant-classic debut; it’s an inventive, riveting album, and one that’s very fun to listen to.
Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s last project was 2017’s Ruler Rebel, Diaspora, and The Emancipation Procrastination, a trilogy of psychedelic, trip-hop-inspired jazz albums that included a cover of “Videotape” by Radiohead (whose Thom Yorke has jammed with Christian Scott) and would appeal to fans of Radiohead (or Portishead) as much as it would appeal to fans of Herbie Hancock. He revisits that sound with the deep, downtempo beats of “Before” off his new album Ancestral Recall — which also features a gorgeous flute solo by Elena Pinderhughes — but for the most part, Christian Scott is working in drastically different territory on Ancestral Recall. And in an entirely different way, it’s yet another triumph for this seemingly-unstoppable musician.
Unlike the 2017 trilogy, Ancestral Recall is filled with guest vocals. The great Saul Williams contributes impassioned spoken word to three songs, and “Forevergirl” features Chris Turner singing and Mike Larry Draw rapping. Christian Scott is no stranger to creating jazz that hip hop fans would like, especially as a member of R+R=NOW (with Robert Glasper, Terrace Martin, and others), but Ancestral Recall might be his most accessible album for hip hop fans yet. It’s also a loud, lively album that’s highly interested in Afrobeat polyrhythms. In his own words, Christian Scott set out to create “a national set of rhythms; rhythms rooted in the synergy between West African, First Nation, African Diaspora/Caribbean rhythms and their marriage to rhythmic templates found in trap music, alt-rock, and other modern forms,” and he achieves that goal again and again on Ancestral Recall. Credit also goes to Weedie Braimah, who provides the album with its pounding hand drums, and Christian mentioned on stage at the Blue Note earlier this year that Weedie was a big influence on the writing of this album. Even without knowing that, you can feel it. Weedie’s drums are in the spotlight almost as much as Christian Scott’s horns.
I don’t mean to pigeonhole Ancestral Recall as an Afrobeat album though, because it certainly isn’t. “Songs She Never Heard” finds the middle ground between ’60s jazz and modern trap, “Diviner [Devan]” is spacey psychedelia, and “Double Consciousness” dips its toes in Latin jazz. These various sounds come together seamlessly on Ancestral Recall, and it speaks to Christian Scott’s talents as a bandleader that he can allow his music to go in so many different directions without falling off the rails. Whether it’s an Afrobeat song, a hip hop song, or an electronic song, Christian Scott’s emotional performances tie everything on this album together. As I wrote when discussing his Blue Note show earlier this year, Christian’s horns feel like they’re talking to you, even when the song has no words. That’s as true on Ancestral Recall as it was at his live show. This album may be stacked with guest vocalists, but often it’s Christian Scott’s own playing that speaks the loudest.
It’s been nearly five years since Rips, the debut album that Mary Timony, Betsy Wright and Laura Harris made as Ex Hex, following Mary Timony’s resurgence as a member of Wild Flag with 2/3 of Sleater-Kinney. And now Ex Hex are back with a second album, It’s Real. Compared to the off-kilter sounds Mary Timony made with her classic bands Helium and Autoclave, Rips was a much more accessible mix of glam, punk, and power pop, and It’s Real follows suit but tightens the screws and beefs up the sound. The guitar licks are shreddier, the harmonies are more soaring, and everything just sounds bigger. It’s more a refinement than a reinvention, but when the songs are this good, that’s totally fine. It only takes one or two listens to be singing or air-guitaring along, and that’s what you want from this kind of swaggering rock and roll. No frills, just instantly satisfying feel-good jams.
Strand of Oaks’ new album Eraserland — which was recorded with 4/5 of My Morning Jacket and features appearances by Jason Isbell and Emma Ruth Rundle — is a more humble album than its predecessor, but still one of the most consistently rewarding Strand of Oaks albums in its own right. You can read my full review of it here.
When Animal Collective put out Merriweather Post Pavilion, they were at the top of the indie food chain, but even with all the AnCo imitators that followed, it wasn’t long before the zeitgeist left them behind. They’re now sorta back to where they were in the mid-2000s, a talented, strange band existing just on the fringes of popular indie. And with his new solo album Cows on Hourglass Pond, Avey Tare’s music kinda sounds like it did in the mid-2000s too. Having already made so many different types of music, this unexpected return to form is a cool look for him. Avey recorded it on a Tascam 48 half-inch reel-to-reel tape machine, which probably helps give it that nostalgic, rustic feel, and though it’s still got the colorful electronics of his more recent work, the earthy, strummed acoustic guitars are enough to gain this the “freak folk” tag that AnCo used to always get pegged with. Avey began his return to folkier music on 2017’s Eucalyptus, though the more compact Cows on Hourglass Pond feels like an improvement of what he started on that album. (It’s 10 songs in 45 minutes compared to Eucalyptus‘ 15 songs that clocked in at over an hour, and the fat-trimmed approach works to his benefit.) Cows on Hourglass Pond isn’t another Merriweather, but it’s not trying to be. Maybe it could end up being another Campfire Songs, and that’s not a bad place to be at all.
Two and a half decades ago, Kurt Wagner’s Lambchop project was a staple of the alt-country underground, but like last year’s veteran indie MVPs Low, he has moved into extremely modern territory lately. 2016’s great FLOTUS saw him bringing vocoders and an R&B influence into his Americana sound, which inevitably caused people to draw comparisons to the likeminded Bon Iver album that had come out about a month earlier. Coincidentally (?) Kurt worked with Bon Iver drummer Matt McCaughan (brother of Superchunk/Merge Records’ Mac McCaughan) on FLOTUS‘ followup This (is what I wanted to tell you), and this one sees him diving even deeper into the vocoder world. More so than Bon Iver, though, This reminds me a lot of James Blake, an artist Kurt is a big fan of. It’s not everyday that you hear an established underground veteran like Kurt Wagner pulling influence from a bigger and much newer artist like James Blake, but Kurt Wagner is far from your average musician and This (is what I wanted to tell you) proves his music can be as fresh and modern as someone just starting out.