Five Notable Releases of the Week (9/23)
September has really been on a roll for genuinely good music. Last week had five albums I truly couldn’t recommend enough (and then some) and this week does too. And that’s not even counting the new Grim Reaper album! (Which is pretty hit-or-miss, but mainly I just wanted to remind you that the first Grim Reaper album since 1987 is out today. Crazy!) The Springsteen compilation, Devendra Banhart, and the Hamilton Leithauser & Rostam LP are a few other records you might wanna spin today.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Neurosis return today with Fires Within Fires, which I wrote more extensively about HERE. It’s the latest in their series of slow-paced, Steve Albini-recorded albums that began with 1999’s Times of Grace, and it’s pretty much what you’d expect from a post-Times of Grace Neurosis album. That said, it does have some differences. It’s a more low-key album than they usually make, and at 40-ish minutes, it’s their shortest LP since they were a hardcore band. Here’s an excerpt from my writeup:
Another of its appeals is that even when it’s predictable, it’s still brilliantly-crafted, still relevant-sounding, and still better than the countless Neurosis clones that pop up every year. It’s truly a treat to get music this good from a band 30 years into their career, especially because it keeps getting the younger generations hooked in too. If your introduction to this kind of stuff was Mastodon in the mid-2000s, Neurosis were there for you then. If you’re just finding it now through Inter Arma or something, it’s a godsend that you still get a record like this one and can still see their towering live show.
Read the rest HERE.
“The words I scream are meaningless or holy things. They kiss my tongue before they split to fix someone,” James Alex sings on “Punks In A Disco Bar,” the first single off their sophomore album A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, which comes less than a year after their highly-spirited debut. It’s far from the first time that James has sung about exactly what he’s doing at that very moment. He’s probably a little more aware of it now than he was when he was writing that first album — and definitely more than when he wrote Beach Slang’s first EP — but his words really do touch people. “Holy things” that “fix someone.” But yes, sometimes this band gets knocked and that’s where “meaningless” comes in. “Is it really possible that this guy can keep singing about broken kids and dead-end kids and dirty towns and wild boredom and young hearts and really mean it?”, Beach Slang’s naysayers ask. Well, yes. If you follow Beach Slang closely, their lyrical themes and Westerberg-ian sounds may quickly become familiar, but their impact doesn’t lessen.
What keeps this band so consistently interesting is the push and pull of polar opposites in their music. For every lyric you can find about pure euphoria, there’s underlying depression somewhere else. Beach Slang may rock hard, but there’s a sensitive sweetness to their delivery. The album revels in being young and alive (which, yes, is a song title from their debut), but it also battles death in complicated ways. The album’s most fun song, “Atom Bomb,” is a driving leather-jacket punk song where James Alex tells you that he won’t die. It comes one track after he tells you that he hopes he never dies, and two tracks before he begins a song, “When I die…” Fast-forward three more songs and he opens by telling someone, “Please don’t die before I do.” Like all Beach Slang releases, there’s love and lust all over this album, but this time it feels like he’s speaking more directly to a specific person than ever before. And when James needs to take a second to get real with you, it hits hard. On “Spin the Dial” (which, because of this band’s relationship with The Replacements, is not to be confused with “Left of the Dial”), James delivers, “Bathe my bones in alcohol so I don’t have to think at all” and “I take some drugs to fix my brain / They numb my tongue, but miss the pain, and it feels like a very serious contemplation of self-medication. A far cry from “The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk.” So yes this sounds kinda like The Replacements, and yes it sounds kinda like their first album, and yes it still has song titles like “Wasted Daze of Youth,” but these songs could really fix some broken kid.
Tom Krell spent exactly one album — How to Dress Well’s still-great 2010 debut Love Remains — trying to cover up his love of R&B and pop with ambience and weird effects. Each album since has turned him more and more into a pop singer, and when he announced that Care, his fourth, would include some involvement by Jack Antonoff (who fronts Bleachers, was in the band fun., and is responsible for Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods”), I got worried he was jumping the shark. (Granted it also has input from weirdo electronic musician CFCF, but still.) It’s not that there’s anything wrong with pop music, it’s just that Tom Krell is one of our generation’s better artists at fucking with pop’s formula, and it’d be sad to see him play it too safe, or, you know, “sell out.” It turns out that while Care is in fact a very accessible album, it’s not a safe or uninteresting one at all. Maybe I’m just in the right mood, but this might be my favorite HTDW album since his debut.
A handful of songs here feel like true alt-hits. Opener “Can’t You Tell” has a hip-shaking bassline and percussive guitar strokes that Nile Rodgers would be proud of, and Tom’s crooning is hard not to hum along too. It feels like a successful attempt at pop music that’s both retro and futuristic, both artful and catchy. And things only go uphill from here. “Lost Youth / Lost You” was a great choice for the lead single — that chorus is unstoppable. If there’s one part of this album that makes me drop what I’m doing every time, it’s that one. It’s followed by the darker “The Ruins,” which sounds like what The Weeknd might be doing these days if he kept up the style of his early mixtapes. (Not to mention there’s a moment where he does an impression of The Weeknd’s “Low Life” collaborator Future.) Powered by the kind of fast-paced four-on-the-floor drum machine that everyone from Michael Jackson to Don Henley used in the ’80s, “I Was Terrible” sounds like an instantly-familiar pop song and it’s another major highlight. I could keep dissecting this song by song, but hopefully I’ve made Care‘s vision clear. Tom finds the good in several eras of pop music, and he can combine those sounds in ways that always feel new and exciting. He was one of the earliest artists in the alt-R&B movement, and he’s remained one of the best by always leading his sound in new directions rather than following the herd.
After doing their last album with legendary producer Flood, Warpaint reunited with Jacob Bercovici — who recorded their debut EP Exquisite Corpse — for their new LP, Heads Up. In the time since Warpaint and Jake last worked together, Warpaint became a pretty popular band and Jake became a member of Julian Casabalancas + the Voidz, so their pairing now makes a lot of sense. Both Warpaint and Jake have experience playing in front of increasingly large audiences, and both can’t stop creating weird music. (Their pairing made sense back then too — half of Warpaint’s lineup at the time were actresses, and Jake was fresh off writing, producing, acting in, and composing the music for the film Just Us Girls.) The lead single off Heads Up is “New Song,” the band’s most danceable, poppiest song to date which feels like it has the ability to win over a lot of new fans. (It’s also one of their best singles yet.) If it does do that, those new fans may be thrown for a curveball when they hear the rest of this album. “New Song” aside, Warpaint have not stopped crafting psychedelic art rock that manages to truly feel weird even in a time where indie-psych musicians write for Lady Gaga and get covered by Rihanna. There’s a groovy backbone here for sure, but it’s not dance music. It sort of exists in this weird middle ground between the music that gets crowds going crazy at Firefly Festival and the music that zones people out at Levitation. It’s a style Warpaint have been working towards since day one, and at this point they kind of don’t sound like anyone but themselves. Songs like opener “Whiteout” or “The Stall” or “Don’t Let Go” are classic Warpaint… really most of the album is. And, because I’m a sucker for bare-bones psychedelic folk music, I have to point out that “Today Dear” is a totally arresting closer that sounds like something Sibylle Baier might’ve written. It’s a hell of a way to end an album.
Trap Them have recorded all of their albums with Converge’s Kurt Ballou producing, and a couple of their older releases came out on Deathwish, the label run by that band’s frontman Jacob Bannon. So Converge comparisons have always been thrown Trap Them’s way, and they’re warranted on Crown Feral too. I can think of a handful of times while listening to this record where Trap Them whip out a lick that sounds straight out of Converge’s catalog, but when Converge get ambitious and arty, Trap Them just keep making ass-kicking hardcore. They’re sort of the Reign In Blood to Converge’s Master of Puppets. The latter may have more diversity and may be more widely-appealing, but if you need start-to-finish pedal-to-the-medal badassery, you always have to go with the former. Also similarly to Slayer, Trap Them are a band who don’t change up their sound much. Crown Feral isn’t anything you haven’t heard before, but it feels like a high point in their discography. They just really hit all the right spots this time around. The album whips by, but not in a way where the songs blur. Ballou’s production is especially sharp here, and everything — especially the vocals — pops out at you. It’s hard to pick a highlight, because really the thrill is just letting the sonic assault of all ten songs hit you one after the other, though I am kinda partial to “Revival Spines.” Trap Them go for extremity over accessibility, but “Revival Spines” almost has crossover appeal. It kinda sounds like if (Trap Them’s 2010 tourmates) Every Time I Die had gotten heavier after Hot Damn! instead of more into Southern rock. Maybe it also helps that that song comes right after “Twitching In The Auras,” a swampy dirge that slows the album down for three and a half minutes, which makes the “Revival Spines” intro even more ass-kicking.