Notable Releases of the Week (2/28)
This is a pretty huge week for new albums. I highlight ten (actually eleven, considering one of the artists released two albums this week) below, and that’s not all this week has to offer. Some honorable mentions include Wasted Shirt (aka Ty Segall + Lightning Bolt’s Brian Chippendale), ShooterGang Kony, Kassa Overall, Insect Ark, it only ends once, Tycho, Intronaut, Psalm Zero, lié, Alabaster DePlume, G Herbo, The Jacka, Cabane (ft. Will Oldham, This Is The Kit, and more), Glacier Veins, Ben Seretan, Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, Close Lobsters, the Christine and the Queens EP, the Disclosure EP, the RZA EP, the Lake Ruth EP, System of a Down drummer John Dolmayan’s covers album, the long-awaited Randy Holden reissue, and the Polvo reissues.
And before I continue, I just want to take a moment to remember David Roback (of Mazzy Star, Opal, and Rain Parade), who sadly passed away this week. So much of the music we talk about every day on this website wouldn’t exist without David’s influence, and his catalog remains untouchable. Listen to some of his music this weekend in his honor. Rest in peace, David.
Read on for my picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Princess Nokia – Everything Sucks / Everything Is Beautiful
New York rapper Princess Nokia is a certified badass. She took the rap world by storm with her great 2016 mixtape 1992, which helped her ink a deal with Rough Trade Records, who released a deluxe version of the tape a year later and got everybody anticipating a proper album followup. Instead, Nokia did a 180 and put out an “emo mixtape” that felt more like a career detour than her next album, and as her music career progressed, she made headlines for throwing soup at a racist subway rider and for making a pretty solid case that Ariana Grande’s very popular “7 rings” stole her sound. She’s a great rapper, she has an uncompromising artistic vision, and she’s an activist both in her lyrics and in her actions. It makes sense that she’s opening for Bikini Kill this year.
1992 is now four years old and her “emo mixtape” is now even two years old, and maybe Nokia ran into some label troubles because she doesn’t appear to be signed to Rough Trade anymore, but this week she finally released the expansive project it seemed like she had in her back when 1992 came out. She put out not one but two new albums: Everything Sucks, a dark, hard-hitting rap album with little more than booming beats and Nokia’s knife-like rhymes; and Everything Is Beautiful, a more melodic, lively, and soulful album that features live instruments and contributions from jazz musician and Kendrick Lamar producer Terrace Martin, NYC jazz group Onyx Collective, and the great NYC neo-soul group OSHUN who just opened for Lauryn Hill last week and who would be five times as popular in a just world. Two albums at once is a bold move for an artist who’s still establishing themselves, and it’s hard not to wonder if the project would’ve been even more effective if the songs were whittled down into one album, but Princess Nokia has already spent her whole career making bold moves, so why stop now? And even if 22 songs is a lot to digest at once, both albums are great and there’s no real filler.
On Everything Sucks, Nokia continues to establish herself as a genuinely great rapper who’s steeped in the tough, loud sounds of NYC’s rap history and who can go bar for bar with the city’s best. It’s a nasty album in every way. The production is dark and favors sounds like distorted bass and whip-cracking snares, Nokia’s lyrics range from ruthless to proudly off-putting (“Gross”), and even with nu metal currently making a comeback within hardcore and metal, the chorus of “Crazy House” is the most effective Korn homage I’ve heard in years. It’s not at all a pop record, but even still, its best songs succeed because Nokia works subtle hooks right into her rhymes. And then on the other side of the coin, Everything Is Beautiful is an uplifting record that finds Nokia going all in on warm melodies and more traditional songcraft. She’s still more of a rapper than a singer, but she shows off a very fine singing voice on Beautiful and some of the best moments come when she’s kinda half singing, half rapping in an Anderson .Paak/Chance the Rapper kind of way. And while part of Everything Sucks‘ appeal is how bare-bones it is, the instrumentation makes Everything Is Beautiful sound gigantic and it’s just as appealing in a totally different way. And it’s impressive how well Nokia does both sounds. That “emo mixtape” may have been a little outside of Nokia’s comfort zone, but Nokia sounds like a natural on both of these new albums. It’s nice that they exist together, with one to remind you Nokia is still punk as fuck and another to show off how much of a musical evolution she’s going through. Everything Sucks on its own might’ve had people accusing her of stripping her sound down too much, and Everything Is Beautiful on its own may have made it look like Nokia was abandoning rap. But together, they’re greater than the sum of their parts and they portray Nokia as an artist who can basically do it all.
Power Alone – Rather Be Alone
Eva Hall has been a vegan straightedge staple for a while, first fronting the metalcore band Gather in the mid 2000s and then Rats In The Wall (whose lineup also included Brad Logan of Leftover Crack and F-Minus), and now she’s fronting the new band Power Alone — which also features her brother/Gather bandmate Dustin and Dustin’s former Lockstep bandmate Joven — whose debut LP Rather Be Alone came out on the legendary Indecision Records (Unbroken, Suicide File, etc) this week. Rather Be Alone has clear-as-day but still gritty and unpolished production courtesy the great Paul Miner (Kill Your Idols, Curl Up and Die, Thrice, etc), and it’s a straight-up, little-to-no-frills hardcore record and about as ferocious as they come. Rather Be Alone‘s got big, chunky, heavy-as-all-hell riffs and killer grooves, and Eva tops it all off with a venomous bark and cutthroat lyricism that straddles the line between personal and political and sticks a middle finger in the face of anyone who gets in her way. It’s not “melodic” hardcore (except for the 40-second standout “All We’ve Got”), but it has so much clarity that I wouldn’t be surprised if this one’s a winner for hardcore kids and the hardcore-curious alike.
Today Is The Day – No Good To Anyone
“Anything goes at any second,” said Today Is The Day mastermind Steve Austin when talking about No Good to Anyone, the long-running project’s first album in six years. And I don’t know if there’s a better way to sum up this album than those five words. Today Is The Day were never easy to pigeonhole into one genre, but on NGTA, Austin’s music sounds more like a hodgepodge of musical styles than ever. It can be black metal one minute and ’70s hard rock the next, and then it could sound like Swans-like dark folk, or it could sound like ’90s alt-rock. The list goes on. Taken out of context, the songs can seem disjointed, but when listened to as a whole, No Good To Anyone takes you on a real trip, constantly surprising you even once you’ve come to expect the unexpected.
Gladie – Safe Sins
After Philly indie-punk greats Cayetana called it quits, singer Augusta Koch stayed busy with solo material, her new super-trio Sheena Anika & Augusta, and her new band Gladie, which began as a collaborative project with Three Man Cannon’s Matt Schimelfenig. Now expanded into a full band that includes bassist Ian Farmer (Modern Baseball) and drummer Pat Conaboy (The Spirit of the Beehive), Gladie’s debut album is here and it’s a reminder that Augusta Koch is a true musical treasure. It might be my favorite thing she’s done since the first Cayetana album.
As with every Augusta Koch project, the first thing you notice is Augusta’s sharp delivery. Her lyrics are intense, and she delivers them like it’s the last time she’ll ever sing, always coating them in catchy melodies. But Gladie isn’t just Cayetana part two. Compared to that band’s driving and jangly guitar rock, Safe Sins is a heavily atmospheric, partially electronic album. It’s almost like if you crossed the Philly indie rock scene that Gladie’s members come from with The Notwist, and it sounds even better in execution than it does on paper. Of all the related bands, Safe Sins might actually sound closest to the hazy sounds of The Spirit of the Beehive, but both really have their own distinct vibes. Spirit go off into zany art rock territory, while Augusta’s firm delivery keeps Gladie’s spacier tendencies grounded on earth.
Ratboys – Printer’s Devil
Back when they released 2017’s GN, Chicago’s Ratboys were regulars of the DIY/indie/punk world but they were injecting a little alt-country into their sound and they seem poised to be one of DIY/indie/punk’s next breakout bands. Now, three years later, their third album Printer’s Devil just might be the one that does it. Ratboys already seem to be getting more praise and hype than ever, and compared to their first two albums, Printer’s Devil sounds big. They’re channelling the soaring, power pop-tinged alternative rock of the ’90s, sounding kind of like a cross between Weezer and the Gin Blossoms but with a distinct delivery from vocalist Julia Steiner that sets them apart from any one band in particular. They also know how to change things up, with Printer’s Devil finding time for punk speed, folk balladry, atmospheric build-ups, and plenty of the in-between. As ever, Julia’s earworm melodies and the band’s strong vision tie it all together.
Real Estate – The Main Thing
Real Estate go further than ever down the rabbithole of previously unfashionable ’70s influences like jam bands, yacht rock, and soft rock, but still in that breezy Real Estate way and with plenty of irresistible melodies. Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath guests. Bill’s got a longer review in Bill’s Indie Basement.
Soccer Mommy – color theory
Speaking of unfashionable influences, Soccer Mommy follows her Fat Possum-released, undeniably great 2018 album Clean with her first album for bigger label Loma Vista, and this time she sounds less like ’90s indie rock and more like the early 2000s mainstream pop rock of “Soak Up the Sun” era Sheryl Crow and “All You Wanted” era Michelle Branch. Still, she keeps things a little more ethereal than that, and she continues to hone a sound that’s unmistakably her own.
Tombs – Monarchy of Shadows
Season of Mist
Tombs are calling their first new release in three years an “EP” but it’s 35 minutes long and covers more musical ground than some bands do in an entire career, and main member Mike Hill even calls it “the strongest record of the band’s history,” so don’t think Monarchy of Shadows is some stop-gap release or anything. This is as much a real-deal Tombs release as any, and it rips. Mike Hill made this one with drummer Justin Spaeth, guitarist Matt Medeiros and bassist Drew Murphy, who all play in NJ death metal band Kalopsia, and he says it’s the first time in Tombs history that a Tombs record has been written as a collaboration between band members, and he calls it a “big difference” from the last Tombs album (2017’s The Grand Annihilation), which he says was “basically a solo record.” The new band is great, and working with them must have really invigorated Mike Hill, because Monarchy of Shadows is a louder, faster, tougher record than The Grand Annihilation. The black metal parts on this one are especially blackened and whiplash-inducing, but as is usually the case with Tombs, the album can’t be pinned down to just one sound. It also takes clear influence from goth and post-punk and Swans, and Tombs fuse those sounds with black metal pretty seamlessly. Some parts lean more in one direction than others, but most of the time, Monarchy of Shadows is everything all at once.
Machine Girl – U-Void Synthesizer
Machine Girl started as the project of NYC musician Matthew Stephenson, and then became a duo with live drummer Sean Kelly a few years back, and if you’re unfamiliar, I once described them as the middle ground between Godflesh, Squarepusher, and HEALTH which should give you a pretty good idea. They just followed 2018’s The Ugly Art (their first album with live drums) with the new album U-Void Synthesizer this week, and it’s got plenty more of the chaos and insanity that its predecessor had. Elements of industrial, noise, synthpunk, drum and bass, and more populate this album, and it never fits neatly into any of those categories. It moves at light speed, and if it ever does slow down, it’s only for a brief moment and it never does so at the cost of softening Machine Girl’s sound. It’s an abrasive, confrontational album that’s definitely not meant to be for everyone, but Matthew works in enough subtle hooks to make Machine Girl something your average Nine Inch Nails fan might like as much a noise fan. (They’re touring with Code Orange soon, which is a very well-matched pairing.) This is all to say that a lot of bands do crazy for crazy’s sake, but Machine Girl have the songs too.
Caribou – Suddenly
Dan Snaith remains a master of boundary-pushing, genre-crossing electronic pop, and Suddenly — his first Caribou record in six years — is no exception. Bill’s got a longer review of it in Bill’s Indie Basement.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the ‘Upcoming Releases’ each week on Invisible Oranges.