Notable Releases of the Week (10/4)
Before I get to talking about new music, I just want to take a moment to honor Kim Shattuck of The Muffs (and The Pandoras, The Coolies, briefly the Pixies, and more), who sadly passed away at age 56 this week after a two-year battle with ALS. (Just two weeks ahead of the release of their new album.) Tons of musicians from all across the board have paid tribute to Kim, and it’s easy to see why. They’ve been a force in the punk, indie rock, and alternative rock worlds for decades, they remain influential today, and their recent comeback has only helped solidify their legacy as one of the more uniquely great rock bands of the past 25 years. If you haven’t already, blast some Muffs this weekend in Kim’s honor.
As for new music, it’s a pretty insanely stacked week. I highlighted nine new albums below, and here are even more noteworthy records out today: The Menzingers, DIIV, Boduf Songs, Lightning Dust, GosT, Exhumed, L’Orange & Jeremiah Jae, Say Sue Me, Insomnium, Dysrhythmia, Harmony Woods, Toxic Holocaust, Paramore offshoot Halfnoise, Carla dal Forno, Minor Pieces, Gong Gong Gong, Billy Woods, Summer Walker, the Vinnie Caruana (Movielife) EP, the GoGo Penguin EP, and the Deaf Club (mem The Locust, ACxDC) EP.
Check out my nine picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Nick Cave began a trilogy of 2010s albums with 2013’s Push the Sky Away, continued it on 2016’s Skeleton Tree, and he completes it with his new double album, Ghosteen. It’s an even more meditative album than Skeleton Tree, with a backdrop that’s made up of ambient textures, strings, piano, wordless harmonies, and very little percussion, and Nick takes center stage with his commanding, poetic, often stream-of-consciousness delivery, keeping you at the edge of your seat even during the album’s most minimal moments. Nick’s voice has grown even more grizzled and wearied in the time since Skeleton Tree, but the musical backdrop is often just the opposite: rich, glistening, full of life. It makes for a stirring contrast with his thunderous baritone, and with his lyrics, over which death often looms large. As with Skeleton Tree, it’s hard not to draw lines between the themes of death on this album and the tragic death of Nick Cave’s teenage son, who fell from a cliff at age 15 the year prior to Skeleton Tree‘s release. Nick has referred to the first part of the album (tracks 1-8) as the “children” and the second part (tracks 9-11) as “their parents,” and it’s easy to interpret these two parts as if they’re in conversation with each other. On the album’s opener, “Spinning Song,” Nick sings, “peace will come in time,” and on the powerful closing track “Hollywood” — in which Nick explicitly tells the story of a woman named Kisa who had to bury her baby — he ends by singing, “I’m just waiting now, for peace to come…” It’s an album full of grief and darkness, but also an album that seems to have some hope too, or at least wants to have some. It’s a gripping, gorgeous album throughout, and I can tell it’s the kind that requires many more listens to fully unpack, so I’m not going to try to give it a full review this soon after its release. For now, I just recommend doing what I know I’m going to spend all weekend (and many weekends after that) doing: really let yourself take it all in.
Up to this point, each Angel Olsen album was bigger-sounding and more instantly satisfying than the last. From her folky, bare-bones 2012 debut Half Way Home, to her more indie rock-oriented 2014 album Burn Your Fire for No Witness, to her more explicitly poppy 2016 album My Woman, Angel has been on a clear, steady rise. But for this year’s All Mirrors, she went off the path and made an album that requires more patience than anything she’s done since her debut. It also doesn’t sound like anything she’s done before, though it’s unmistakably the work of Angel Olsen. There’s still an underlying folk song approach to these songs, and she doesn’t entirely abandon the guitar, but for the most part, these are atmospheric slow-burners and they find Angel embracing ethereal synthesizers more than ever before. It’s a common thing for indie rockers to eventually get bored of indie rock and make a synthpop album, though All Mirrors manages to be a “synth” record without being a “pop” one. Instead, it’s perhaps her most “difficult” album yet. I hate to drop the cliché line and call this a “grower,” but it’s at least an album that I don’t recommend judging on first listen. These are songs that hit you hardest after you’ve heard them a few times, and really allow them to tunnel their way into your brain. They’re also songs that resonate most when you’re able to tune out your busy life and really sit down and listen to them. With the amount of music and information we get on a daily basis, that can be easier said than done, but for All Mirrors, it’s worth it.
A bit of a theme this week: like Angel Olsen, Danny Brown is also a very established artist who’s been on a steady rise and put out a handful of great albums over the years, and his new one uknowhatimsayin¿ is also an album where he steps back from making bangers and demands a little more of your patience. The only part of the album that really pops out at you is the part where Danny hands the mic over to Run The Jewels, who add a taste of their booming stadium rap to this hazy album. (The album also impressively boasts guest appearances by Obongjayar, Blood Orange, and JPEGMAFIA, the latter of whom also produced some of these tracks, but they blend right in with the music whereas Run The Jewels sound like they jumped through the studio’s walls, Kool-Aid Man style.) Danny has always made eccentric, left-of-the-dial rap music, but he’s never made an album this overtly psychedelic. In addition to JPEGMAFIA and Danny’s frequent collaborator Paul White, the album has production by Flying Lotus, avant-jazz group Standing on the Corner (who also worked on the latest Solange and Earl Sweatshirt albums), and jazz-rap legend Q-Tip (who also executive produced), and that cast of beatmakers should give you an idea of the kinds of blurry, trippy sounds Danny was seeking for this LP. It makes sense that JPEGMAFIA is on it because it pairs very well with his new album, which came out just three weeks ago. Both are rap albums that favor mood and atmosphere over anything else, but do also feature plenty of great rapping. At this point, Danny has been making quality music for the entirety of this decade, and as some of his peers are starting to plateau or fizzle out, it’s clear that Danny is still challenging himself and his listeners. Nothing pops like “Smokin’ & Drinkin'” or “Really Doe,” but uknowhatimsayin¿ is a gorgeous record that obviously took a lot of talent to make, and it’s always exciting to get something this abstract from someone who could have just as easily settled for cheaper thrills.
Chromatics – Closer To Grey
Chromatics still never released their forever-delayed Dear Tommy (will they ever?), but this week they did finally semi-surprise-release a different followup to 2012’s great Kill For Love, Closer To Grey. Kill For Love started with a very Chromatics-sounding gothy dream pop cover of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My,” and Closer To Grey continues that trend, starting with one of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence.” From there, they trek through all kinds of variations on their now-signature theme, and the whole thing is pretty great. Bill’s got a longer review of the album that you can read here.
Shapeshifting Japanese band Boris have made all kinds of heavy (and sometimes not-heavy) music in their 25+ years as a band, and their most recent, 2017’s Dear, was one of their most concise and accessible in a while. Its new double-album followup LφVE & EVφL is just the opposite. This one’s heavy on lengthy passages of noise and drone, with the more traditional “song”-type ideas sprinkled in, but often as an afterthought. There are a couple easily digestible ones, like the gorgeous dream pop/post-rock opener “Away From You” or the trippy psychedelic rock of “LOVE,” but mostly this is an abrasive, taxing record. Still, when the prettier moments hit, it’s all the more satisfying.
Alt-rock greats that dog. released three albums in the ’90s before breaking up in 1997, and then they finally reunited in 2011 for live shows and now they’re finally releasing a new album for the first time in 22 years. that dog. never got as popular as collaborators like Weezer and Jimmy Eat World (both of whom prominently featured that dog. bassist/vocalist Rachel Haden on songs), but their catchy, crunchy sound has proved to be highly influential. A huge handful of the best and most-loved indie rock and punk bands of the past decade owe a lot to that dog., and if you didn’t know any better, you could play one of their ’90s records today and convince someone it’s a hot new band on Sub Pop or Polyvinyl or Run For Cover. So it’s great timing for them to finally make a new record, and Old LP was worth the wait. Their trademark punkish, power pop-ish alt-rock is in fine form, and while strings were always part of their sound (former member Petra Haden played violin), Old LP is not just a satisfying throwback to their glory days but also the band’s most orchestral record yet. They’ve got a whole string section, with arrangements composed by lead singer/guitarist Anna Waronker, and the baroque-ness blends seamlessly with the otherwise poppy, punky songs. Old LP is very much the that dog. you know and love, but it’s also just different enough from the band’s classics that it makes for a genuinely unique entry into the band’s discography. It should be total ear candy for longtime fans, and if you haven’t dug into the band’s work yet but you listen to modern-day indie rock, you may be surprised at how relevant this album is to your interests.
Wilco may never make a classic like Summerteeth or Yankee Hotel Foxtrot again, but they’ve been remarkably consistent over the years (as has Jeff Tweedy as a solo artist), and every time they release something new it’s worth tuning back in. As you probably predicted, Ode To Joy is a reliably great Wilco album, but it’s also a little different than you may have expected. It’s called Ode To Joy, and be that as it may, it’s a more dark, somber, and wearied album than the music Wilco had recently been releasing. But the title isn’t necessarily ironic or a red herring; Jeff Tweedy explains, “The record is, in a weird way, an ode; this terrible stuff is happening, this deepening sense of creeping authoritarianism that weighs on everybody’s psyche on a daily basis, and you’re allowed to feel a lot of things at once. And one thing that is worth feeling, that is worth fighting for, is your freedom to still have joy even though things are going to shit.” It’s always nice to hear when Wilco explores their darker side, and this more wearied sound is one they could only develop after being around for so long, and it works well for them. Some of the jamminess of their live show creeps into this album too (there is a lot of great lead guitar on Ode To Joy), and no complaints there. It’s not Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, but it’s a fine distillation of where Wilco — and the world — is at now.
Robert Glasper began a month-long Blue Note Jazz Club residency this week, and in conjunction with that, he released this new mixtape. The line between “mixtape” and “album” tends to blur these days, but “mixtape” is the perfect word for Fuck Yo Feelings, which truly feels more like a collection of songs than a start-to-finish cohesive album, and Robert Glasper is known for making very cohesive albums. He’s also been known for years for merging the worlds of hip hop and jazz, and this mixtape does that more explicitly than he ever has before. It features an amazing cast of rappers who all work well with jazzy backdrops, including the legendary Mos Def (who’s performing at Glasper’s residency this week) as well as newer rappers like Denzel Curry, Rapsody, Mick Jenkins, Buddy, and YBN Cordae, plus hip hop-friendly soul singers like Bilal, SiR, Andra Day, and YEBBA. It’s also got contributions from jazz legend Herbie Hancock, and from Glasper’s R+R=NOW bandmate Terrace Martin, who has played a major role in shaping Kendrick Lamar’s sound. Glasper’s warm, laid-back instrumentals have always sounded like they were itching to be rapped over, so it’s a real treat to see him release a project that’s so heavy on rappers whose bars fit into the pocket of Glasper’s arrangements. The mixtape is mostly front-loaded with the rap portion, and it gets more traditionally jazz at the end (though there’s some rap in the second half too). The whole thing is worth hearing, whether you’re coming to it as a jazz fan, a rap fan, or both.
Gatecreeper guitarist Nate Garrett already has one of the year’s most-loved metal records with Spirit Adrift’s great, don’t-call-it-a-doom-album Divided By Darkness, and Gatecreeper’s sophomore record Deserted is sure to quickly join those same ranks. Their 2016 debut LP Sonoran Depravation established them as one of the most buzzed-about new death metal bands around, and Deserted proves that Sonoran Depravation was no fluke and that Gatecreeper are only getting better. The new record pulls from thrash-inspired early death metal, the bright riffs of ’90s melodeath, and hardcore punk-style barks, and Gatecreeper blur all these sounds together into something they can call their own. They’ve clearly got a handful of 20-to-30-year-old influences, but Deserted feels refreshingly modern. It was mixed by Converge’s Kurt Ballou, who really knows how to bring out the best in bands who want a precise, clear sound without sacrificing any of the brutality. And like Converge themselves, Gatecreeper seem intent on tearing down boundaries between scenes and subgenres, and just making hard-hitting songs that can unite all types of heavy music fans.