Notable Releases of the Week (10/18)
It’s been yet another exciting week for music. Yesterday, we finally got the anticipated Matt Berninger/Phoebe Bridgers single (and it’s really good), and then we found out Matt is releasing his debut solo album. I’ve also been spending much of this week watching Rhythm + Flow, T.I., Cardi B, and Chance the Rapper’s new rap competition show on Netflix. Will it actually create a new rap superstar? Who knows, but it’s fun TV.
As for new albums out this week, I highlighted seven below, and here are a bunch of honorable mentions: clipping., Homeboy Sandman, Vagabon, Jim James, Mark Lanegan, 1349, Caroline Polachek, Corridor, Foxes In Fiction, Patrick Watson, Audio Karate, Dave Monks (Tokyo Police Club), Black Moon, Fastball, Ariel View, Foals, Anna Wise, PAT, Jacques Greene, Refused, the Melii EP, the beabadoobee EP, the No Vacation EP, the Smoke DZA EP, the Grayling EP, the Jeff Rosenstock live album, the Face to Face live album, the Screaming Females compilation, and last but certainly not least, the Rob Halford of Judas Priest Christmas album.
You can read more about Mark Lanegan, Corridor, and PAT in Bill’s Indie Basement.
Read on for my seven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
What we never could have known when alt-rock/punk vets The Muffs announced their seventh album No Holiday, is that it would be their last. Singer/guitarist Kim Shattuck sadly passed away after a two-year battle with ALS, just a few weeks before No Holiday‘s scheduled release. She must have known this might be her last chance to make a Muffs record, so it makes even more sense that the band held absolutely nothing back this time. “We decided to have a long album and use songs that had been in my arsenal but were weeded out for super concise albums,” Kim said when the album was announced. “They were all great songs and we didn’t want them to go to waste. No way!” The result is an 18-song album that’s full of all kinds of different ideas, yet never feels overstuffed or inconsistent. The Muffs have had slow songs before, but this album is almost half acoustic songs and ballads, with the other half providing another worthy offering of their trademark crunchy, punchy alt-rock. The quieter songs suit them well, and fit in just fine with the louder ones, and the louder ones provide one last taste of classic Muffs, and of Kim Shattuck’s unparalleled scream. No Holiday manages to scratch the itch for ’90s Muffs while also sounding like no other album The Muffs ever made. That’s a pretty rare feat for a band over 25 years into their career, and it’s also rare for a band this long-running to make an album that sounds this relevant within the realm of modern music. It makes sense though; The Muffs influenced so many of today’s indie rock bands, and the past decade has produced plenty of great Muffs-sounding records even in years where The Muffs didn’t release new music. When Kim passed, the range of artists who paid tribute spanned from her peers like Green Day, Veruca Salt, and the Pixies (who she briefly played bass for in 2013) to recent indie/punk staples like Waxahatchee, Jeff Rosenstock, Fucked Up’s Damian Abraham, and Vivian Girls’ Katy Goodman, and it was no surprise to learn that artists like those hold Kim in such high regard. She was a force like no other, and it’s a treat that she went all out for this one final record for us to remember her by.
Jimmy Eat World have been having a late-career burst of creativity lately. Their last album, 2016’s Integrity Blues, was not just their best album in a long time, it was one of the best emo/punk/etc albums of 2016 period. It was a dark, adventurous album that felt like a spiritual sequel to 2004’s classic Futures. It was a treat to hear them getting back to that kind of stuff, but darkness eventually makes way for light, and Integrity Blues‘ followup Surviving is a much brighter record. If Integrity Blues was a descendent of Futures, then Surviving is a descendent of 2001’s Bleed American, the album that took Jimmy Eat World from “Rockstar” to rock stars. When they wrote that album, drummer Zach Lind said, “We’d gotten interested in people like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen – guys who wrote really great, big American rock songs,” and it sounds like they’ve done the same thing on Surviving. It’s a lean ten-song album with no obvious filler, and more than half of these tracks are crunchy, power pop-tinged, alternative rock anthems that sound like they would’ve been as radio-ready in the early 2000s as “The Middle” was. Rachel Haden (who sang the iconic backing vocals on Bleed American‘s “The Authority Song” and four other songs on that album) (and who was featured in this column two weeks ago with her band that dog.’s first album in 22 years) reprises her role as a key collaborator and lends her voice to the mountain-sized single “All The Way (Stay).” “Love Never” sounds like a modern update of Jimmy Eat World’s mid-2000s alt-rock radio staple “Work” (which was on Future’s, but sounded kinda like a Bleed American song). “Criminal Energy” finds Jimmy Eat World pulling off a perfect pop song but with a little ’90s post-hardcore edge, like they did on Bleed American‘s title track and “Get It Faster.” “Delivery” is the kind of jangly alt-rock power ballad that Jimmy Eat World have been mastering since “Lucky Denver Mint,” and the poppy-yet-hard-rock-tinged “Surviving” and “Diamond” are far from the first time Jimmy Eat World beat 21st Century Weezer at their own game.
Surviving isn’t just Bleed American Pt. 2 though; it’s very much a reflection of who Jimmy Eat World are as a band in 2019. Like Integrity Blues, it was produced by Justin Meldal-Johnsen (who also co-produced M83’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and helped give Paramore a second life in the 2010s), and their collaborative relationship with him has done very good things for this band. “555” channels the same kind of electronic pop that Integrity Blues sometimes flirted with, and album closer “Congratulations” finds Jimmy Eat World mixing sludge metal and modern pop gloss the way they did on Integrity Blues‘ “Pass the Baby.” Surviving manages to recall some of Jimmy Eat World’s most classic moments, while also sounding cut from a similar cloth as their best album in years. It’s not as essential as the albums they put out in their ’90s/’00s prime, but it doesn’t really sound like it’s trying to be. It’s got a little nostalgia, a little newness, and it sounds like it was a fun record for the band to make and an easily-digestible record for their longtime fans. For a band who have been consistently grinding with the same lineup for nearly 25 years, they’re in a pretty good place. They are, you might say, surviving.
Common Holly (real name Brigitte Naggar) has come a long away since self-releasing her debut album Playing House back in 2016. It quickly stirred up buzz, helping Brigitte ink a deal with Solitaire Recordings, who gave the album a wider release in 2017, which is when the Montreal artist started to catch on in the U.S. The album’s folk and jazz-pop vibes gained Common Holly more than a few comparisons to fellow Canadian Feist, but on its new followup — and Barsuk debut — When I say to you Black Lightning, she is taking her sound into much different territories. This time around, the first comparison that comes to mind is Julia Holter, but really she is just continuing to carve a unique space for herself. Instead of folk and jazz-pop, Black Lightning takes Common Holly’s sound in more atmospheric and more experimental art-pop directions than ever before. It’s both more complex and more gorgeous sounding, and despite it being a more experimental album, it’s just as accessible as the debut. Brigitte herself says the album “documents a period of growth,” and that’s obvious just from listening to it. The album was made over a two-year period, which is sort of a long time in our fast-paced, short-attention-span world, but when you make artistic leaps like Common Holly did on Black Lightning, it’s worth the wait.
From Indian Lakes started out in 2009 as an emo band — an atmospheric, post-rock-leaning emo band, but an emo band nonetheless — and they eventually signed to Triple Crown and toured with bands like Balance & Composure, so they got pigeonholed into that whole “emo revival” thing. They’ve been clearly moving away from that for a while, though, and with Dimly Lit — their most ambitious and genre-defying album yet — there’s really no way to pigeonhole them into anything. For this album, From Indian Lakes took a more DIY route than they’d taken since the early days. Frontman Joey Vannucchi wrote, recorded, and produced the whole thing himself in his apartment in Harlem, and they self-released the record, and just put the early singles out straight to the fans, without premieres or press releases or anything like that. If Dimly Lit ends up being referred to as a “hidden gem” or an “overlooked record” or something, that might be part of why. But DIY doesn’t mean rawer or more bare-bones in the case of Dimly Lit; it’s From Indian Lakes’ most expansive and collaborative album to date. Joey worked with a handful of impressive guest vocalists, including Half Waif’s Nandi Rose Plunket, Queen of Jeans’ Miriam Devora, PVRIS’ Lynn Gunn, Lemolo’s Meagan Grandall, and Tummyache’s Soren Bryce, and their voices all make for a nice contrast with Joey’s airy, boyish croon. Instrumentally, it’s still an indie rock record, but synths are the driving force, and the result is just great electronic indie pop, the kind of thing that could appeal to fans of anything from The Postal Service to Imogen Heap to M83. Like those artists, Dimly Lit has an alluring synthy atmosphere on the surface, but at their core, these are singer/songwriter songs that would work just fine on an acoustic guitar. It’s easy to let the aesthetic do all the work with music that sounds this pretty, but From Indian Lakes always make sure there’s substance and depth in the mix too.
As we speak, Take Offense is wreaking havoc across the US with Municipal Waste, Napalm Death, and Sick Of It All, and though they’re by far the least-known band on the bill, they fit in perfectly and they might be about to noticeably rise. Not only is this tour putting them in front all of the right people, but today they release their first album for Pure Noise Records, who are behind some of the year’s biggest and best hardcore records like Knocked Loose, SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Counterparts, and more. Pure Noise presumably hooked Take Offense up with a bigger budget than they were used to, and you can hear it on Keep An Eye Out, which is easily the best sounding album they’ve ever made, but it isn’t overly polished or a “sell-out” record or anything; it still sounds like hardcore. It’s in a similar vein to the new Fury album or last year’s Turnstile album, which were those bands’ first for bigger labels and which bought them the potential for crossover success without abandoning their roots. Likewise, Keep An Eye Out is a real-deal hardcore record, but it’s also got some good hooks, some psychedelic guitar, and warm, welcoming, indie rock-friendly production. I wouldn’t chalk it all up to the new record label, though. It’s been six years since the last Take Offense album, and like any band, Take Offense probably just got into more and more music over the years and got better at fusing it all together. One of the best examples of this is “Internalized,” which just got the video treatment yesterday. It’s got a verse that sounds like chugging tough-guy hardcore, a hook that sounds like early Dag Nasty, and flashy leads and a solo that sound like NWOBWHM, and they blend it all together in a way that feels natural. Even the album artwork does it — it looks like it’d be a late ’60s Grateful Dead album cover if not for the extremely metal font it uses. And that’s basically this album in a nutshell. It’s mostly all ideas you’ve seen and heard before, but Take Offense piece them together in new ways.
By the time Sam Shepherd released his first full-length Floating Points album, he had evolved Floating Points from a one-man dance music project into a contemporary jazz outfit who performed live with up to 16 members, but for his new album Crush, he’s getting back to his dance music roots. It’s his first time making a full-length album in this style, and it’s cool to hear him doing so. The album’s split between the kind of shuffling rhythms and booming bass you’d hear at a dance club and atmospheric stuff that nears Eno territory, and Floating Points adds a psychedelic edge to all of it. It all blurs together very nicely, and kinda sounds like the sonic equivalent of the vivid, swirling colors in the album artwork. You might not necessarily have expected Crush to come after Floating Points’ expansive jazz work, but it’s kind of like when Kendrick Lamar made DAMN. after To Pimp A Butterfly; it’s a back-to-basics album by someone who already learned how to successfully branch out from the basics, and sounds effortlessly like a master upon returning to them.
Not to throw stones, but when some of the music press gushed over black midi’s debut album earlier this year like it was the kind of record no one had ever heard before, it was hard not to wonder if maybe those critics just don’t really listen to math rock. That black midi record is great, but a handful of math rock bands have done similar things during the past couple decades, and the band that came to mind for me the most was Battles. They remind me most of the first Battles album, released when vocalist Tyondai Braxton was still in the band, 2007’s Mirrored (which itself was pretty buzzed about in the music critic world, in case anyone forgot), though Battles’ sound has been a bit different since then. Still, if the black midi buzz has got you in a mathy mood this year, it’d be a very good time to check out the very solid new Battles album, Juice B Crypts. Like 2011’s Gloss Drop, Juice B Crypts makes up for no lead vocalist with a star-studded cast of guest vocalists, this time including Xenia Rubinos, classic Yes vocalist Jon Anderson, Taipei psychedelic band Prairie WWWW, Sal Principato of ’80s era NYC dance-punk group Liquid Liquid, Shabazz Palaces, and Tune-Yards. The album is split well between the instrumentals and the vocal-led songs, and Battles remain experts of both pop music and mind-melting experimental music. As with Gloss Drop, there are some key guest-aided songs that work on their own (my favorites are the one with Xenia Rubinos and the one with Shabazz Palaces), but for the most part, Juice B Crypts is the kind of album that works best when you play it front to back and let it suck you into its uniquely weird world.