Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/21) — Nine Inch Nails, Lana Del Rey & more
It’s a really great week for new music, one of those weeks where it was tough to narrow my list down to five picks. The Tallest Man on Earth and yMusic have a new collaborative EP (that I wrote about here), Cornelius is back with his first album in 11 years and it’s a crazy avant-pop trip that’s very worth hearing, and Tyler the Creator has a worthy new album (ft. Frank Ocean and A$AP Rocky). There’s also Alchemist‘s new guest-filled album (ft. Your Old Droog, Action Bronson, Meyhem Lauren, and more), Meek Mill, Nav & Metro Boomin, Avey Tare of Animal Collective, Dizzee Rascal, and more.
Rest in peace Chester Bennington.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Trent Reznor has never been one to make predictable moves. He followed Nine Inch Nails’ breakthrough album The Downward Spiral with a nearly-two-hour double album, The Fragile, an album that even in 2017 is sparking debates and causing headlines like “Nine Inch Nails’ ‘The Fragile’ is Twice as Good When It’s Half as Long.” For his latest musical endeavor, he’s taking the opposite approach; he’s releasing his new music as a series of EPs. It’s a worthwhile experiment, especially in a time where music listeners tend to have shorter attention spans than ever, and so far it’s proving to be very successful. The first entry in the trilogy, Not The Actual Events, came out in late December and the second is out today. NTAE had some of NIN’s most abrasive music in recent memory, and each song on it truly stood out from the rest. Add Violence is a less harsh, more accessible release than NTAE, and just as creatively rich.
Opener and lead single “Less Than” is the poppiest song released for the trilogy so far. With bouncing synths and a vocal melody that you can hum along to after one listen, the verses hook you in instantly. And then it’s got a booming rock chorus, the kind that dominated rock radio in NIN’s heyday. Considering that kind of thing hasn’t gone out of style one bit, it’s nice to hear how naturally Trent still pulls it off. “The Lovers” has Trent going back and forth between his creepy baritone and whispered spoken word, over glitchy, minimal electronics that find the middle ground between Hyperdub Records and a David Lynch soundtrack. Then comes the eerie, atmospheric “This Isn’t The Place,” which is even more Lynchian. It’s so far from anything you’d ever hear on the radio, that it’s hard to believe two songs ago you were listening to a could-be hit. The most aggressive song on this EP is “Not Anymore.” It’s part noise, part classic industrial rock, and another of the quiet-LOUD songs that NIN do so well. To wrap things up, it’s the almost-twelve-minute “The Background World,” a dose of tension-building dark pop with a taunting repeated hook of “are you sure this is what you want?” that evolves into a hypnotic jam and ends in thunderous white noise. It’s hell of a way for a five-song EP to go out.
The band’s third and final EP is expected to be out before the end of 2017, and going by the sounds of Not The Actual Events and Add Violence, it’ll be exciting to see what they do next.
Lana Del Rey has to enjoy pushing buttons. She knows she has some very vocal haters, she knows there’s still a lot of cynicism surrounding her art, and she is laughing in all of her haters’ faces. When she first broke through, she got sexist comments thrown at her suggesting she probably slept with someone in the music industry to get where she is. And on her second album, she had a song called “Fucked My Way Up to the Top.” She always gets the last laugh. On Lust For Life, she’s still sure to be getting under some peoples’ skin. From jacking an Iggy Pop album title and a Velvet Underground song title (“Heroin”), to comparing Coachella to Woodstock, to writing a song called “Tomorrow Never Came” featuring Sean Ono Lennon, the son of the guy who wrote “Tomorrow Never Knows,” you have to assume there are some aging rocker types who are going to say this is blasphemy — even if it recalls The Replacements’ similarly badass move of naming an album Let It Be. And on “Tomorrow Never Came,” she sings “And I could put on the radio to our favorite song / Lennon and Yoko, we would play all day long / ‘Isn’t life crazy?,’ I said, now that I’m singing with Sean!” If that makes your blood boil, Lana wins. (For the rest of us, it’s fucking hilarious.)
Any shit-starting moves that Lana pulls on Lust For Life are backed up by the music, which picks up where the somber, atmospheric Honeymoon left off and brings back some of the hip hop beats from Born to Die. She’s got enjoyable, often addictive melodies on all 16 songs, which feel like they clock in much more quickly than their hour-and-12-minute running time. The title track is particularly gorgeous, with Lana and The Weeknd going back and forth on the syrupy chorus. A$AP Rocky is on two songs, and he sounds fine here, but having rap guests sort of takes away from what makes Lana so unique. She already successfully infiltrated the pop world with music that’s so drastically different from what the radio normally plays today. The A$AP Rocky collaborations sound like an attempt at crossover success that make the album sound less focused.
The most effective guest appearance on Lust For Life, and maybe the best song on the album, is Stevie Nicks duetting with Lana on “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems.” Stevie really is the perfect person to sing with Lana — where would Lana be without songs like “Rhiannon,” “Dreams,” “Gypsy,” or “Sisters of the Moon”? — and Lana makes Stevie sound more relevant on album that she has in years. With all due respect to the new Buckingham/McVie album, this is the best new song from a Fleetwood Mac member in a while. For Lana, the song also offers a moment of reflection. “We get so tired and we complain ’bout how it’s hard to live / It’s more than just a video game,” she sings, referencing her six-year-old breakthrough single. Lana Del Rey’s music is filled with fiction. Her songs and the images associated with them have nostalgia for a time three decades before she was even born. Her career plays out like a film, and it’s important to remember that Lana Del Rey isn’t her real name. Like Slim Shady and Ziggy Stardust, Lana Del Rey is a character. On “Beautiful People Beautiful Problems,” it feels like a little bit of Elizabeth Grant peeks through and says there’s more to life than “singing in the old bars, swinging with the old stars, living for the fame.”
Tau Cross is the current band of Rob “The Baron” Miller, who fronted ’80s-era UK band Amebix, one of the bands credited with paving the way for early crust punk, and their drummer is Michel Langevin of prog-thrash weirdos Voivod (plus they have members of crust bands Misery and Provoked). So needless to say, there’s a lot of legendary talent in the mix here and it’s good news that they’re keeping Tau Cross going and are back with a second album. Pillar of Fire doesn’t really sound like Amebix or Voivod; it’s its own beast entirely. Tau Cross slow things down just a bit more on Pillar than on their debut, giving the song some breathing room and leaving space to really explore their melodies and take them in unexpected directions. They’ve still got a handful of punk/metal rippers, but a lot of times they just sound like a dark rock band, especially when The Baron switches up his throaty yell into more of a sinister howl. In the context of Tau Cross’ usual heavy sound, the most startling songs are the acoustic ones, and Pillar of Fire has Tau Cross’ strongest acoustic songs yet. The best one is the title track, which starts out with The Baron sounding mistakable for David Bowie, and then turns into the kind of dark-folk song that Michael Gira would write. The band sold their debut as “an instant classic that will satisfy the crustiest punks and the blackest metallers.” Pillars of Fire is much less niche than that, and should satisfy fans of any type of challenging, non-commercial rock.
Baltimore hardcore band Trapped Under Ice haven’t released an album in six years, and in that time, members focused on other bands like Turnstile, Angel Du$t, Diamond Youth, and more. Those bands are all pretty different, and the diverse sounds the members have been making over the years all show up in some form on Heatwave. They’ve got plenty of classic TUI moments where Justice Tripp is barking his head off, or where the band goes into a chugging, body-slamming breakdown, but there’s way more to Heatwave than an average hardcore record. Some songs have guitar solos that sound right out of your dad’s record collection. “Throw It Away” gets melodic to the point where TUI sound like they could’ve been a band with a hit record on Epitaph in the ’90s. “Oblivion” has a riff that kinda sounds like System of a Down. It was co-produced by Arthur Rizk, who’s basically running underground metal right now (Power Trip, Crypt Sermon, Sumerlands, etc), and Will Yip who’s running emo revival (Tigers Jaw, Title Fight, Balance & Composure, etc), and Heatwave sounds like the middle ground of those guys’ work. If you’ve always wanted Title Fight to sound a little more like Power Trip, or vice versa, Heatwave is the album for you. And yeah it’s a full length, but it’ll be over in half the time it’ll take you to hear the new Nine Inch Nails EP.
As Pro Era has taken off over the past few years, Joey Bada$$ quickly became its most popular member, but other members of the collective have been quietly honing their talents too. Nyck Caution and Kirk Knight, who both appear on Joey’s excellent new album All-Amerikkkan Bada$$, have been emerging as staples of underground New York rap in their own right, and now they’ve put their heads together for the punnily titled collaborative project Nyck @ Knight. The eight-song, 26-minute album wastes none of your time, and it’s got some of Nyck and Kirk’s most immediately impressive material yet. You’ll definitely recognize Kirk’s production style from his work with Joey, but Nyck @ Knight establishes the duo as something different than their popular pal. They have some ’90s rap in their DNA like Joey does, but they sound a lot less interested in revival. Second single “Dial Up” is a crazed, third-eye banger that could fly as a new song by Pro Era affiliates Flatbush Zombies. “Audiopium” isn’t afraid to put a little trap in the mix, and sounds like it could pass for early A$AP Mob. Mostly though, it’s clear that Nyck @ Knight are really finding their own sound and only getting better. The duo talked in a new XXL interview about how Nyck challenged Kirk to be a better rapper and Kirk challenged Nyck to be a better producer. Hopefully they stick together as a duo and keep raising the bar.