Notable Releases of the Week (8/23)
This week has had no shortage of exciting new music and music news, like the long-awaited announcement of the first-ever Kim Gordon solo album, a loud, shouty new 1975 song that’s The 1975 like you’ve never heard them before, a new Vince Staples TV show and song, two more Lana Del Rey songs ahead of her much-anticipated new album, the first Curl Up and Die NYC show announcement since they reunited, and more. Plus, this week we ran down 20 metal albums we’re anticipating before 2019 ends and I wrote about the 10th anniversary of Arctic Monkeys’ Humbug.
There are also a lot of good albums out today, eight of which I highlighted below. First, some honorable mentions: the first Little Brother album in nine years, the first Raphael Saadiq album in eight years (including a song with Kendrick Lamar), the first Sacred Reich album in 23 years, the first In Cold Blood album in 21 years, Jay Som, Redd Kross, Powers Pleasant, G Perico, Jidenna, Jeezy, Lina Tullgren, Coarse, Sheer Mag, David Wax Museum, Tanya Tucker, Shannon Lay, Mariah The Scientist, Modern Nature (mem Ultimate Painting, Beak>, Woods), and Joyero (mem Wye Oak).
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Rapsody is one of the hardest rappers in the game, and her last album Laila’s Wisdom was one of the best albums of that year (2017) in any genre, but even with all that and a Grammy nod, she still remains often underrated and overlooked. That would probably be disheartening for any artist who puts their all into it like Rapsody does, but she’s not letting it slow her down. Instead, she’s back just two years later with a new album that manages to go even harder.
The album is dedicated to powerful women throughout history, and each song is named after a different female icon, including fellow musicians, actresses, athletes, politicians, and even an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. The album itself is called Eve, named after the first famous woman of them all. Through Rapsody’s lyrics and a few spoken word interludes, Eve tackles life as a woman — and often specifically life as a black woman — from several angles, from the still-felt impact of slavery to the injustices that occur in everyday life today. The album opens with a song called “Nina,” beginning with a pitched-up sample of Nina Simone’s version of the anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit,” and then Rapsody comes in, dropping tough, deft bars that set the tone and theme for the entire album. It seems very likely that Rapsody already finished this album before Jermaine Dupri’s very dumb comments that female rappers are “like strippers rapping” and “all rapping about the same thing,” but Rapsody shuts down Dupri’s whole misguided idea less than 30 seconds into the album. “I drew a line without showing my body, that’s a skill,” she boasts. And even if she didn’t say it, it would be self-evident from listening to this album that Rapsody is one of the best around on a lyrical and on a delivery level, male or female or otherwise. A similar thing happens on “Cleo”; Rapsody raps about how the industry favors men, and she raps twice as hard as most men on the radio while doing so. Sometimes, she successfully tries on a flow that could actually fit on the radio (“Serena,” “Whoopi”), but most of the time she stays in her own lane, seemingly not worrying about any current trends.
And a lot of very different stuff happens in that lane. For every shit-talking song like “Cleo,” there’s a sentimental song like album closer “Afeni.” Rapsody changes the flow up on us so smoothly that you almost don’t realize how often she does it. She’s the kind of rapper who holds your attention with such strong command that you start picking up on her gut-punching one-liners on first listen. And her ear for beats is just as diverse as her arsenal of rhymes. She’s got the rich-sounding, To Pimp A Butterfly-esque production of “Aaliyah” (aided by TPAB contributor Terrace Martin), the throwback blues piano of “Hatshepsut,” the lively jazz of “Maya,” classic subwoofer-rattling stuff like “Cleo,”and modern electronic stuff like “Serena” all on the same album, and it all fits perfectly within Rapsody’s unique world. She also chose great guests, including some other very talented rappers who complement Rapsody. One of my favorite verses on the album comes on “Oprah” from Leikeli47, including a punchline where Leikeli alludes to the fact that she’s gotten as far as she has while never appearing in public without a mask on. J Cole also rises to the occasion with one of his strongest verses of 2019 on “Sojourner,” and on “Hatshepsut,” Rapsody coaxes Queen Latifah — who probably could’ve had a song on this album named after her — out of rap retirement to remind everyone she’s still a beast behind the mic. Nobody ever overshadows Rapsody on her own shit though. This is an album that celebrates women all around the world, but it’s also an album that further establishes Rapsody as one of the most remarkable voices in modern hip hop. If this album isn’t enough to convince the world at large of Rapsody’s talent, I don’t know what will. But either way, Rapsody will probably just make an even better album next time.
Philly indie rockers Queen of Jeans have been making a name for themselves for a few years now — with a 2016 self-titled EP, a 2018 debut album Dig Yourself, and tons of shows under their belts — and with their sophomore album If you’re not afraid, I’m not afraid, they’ve made what is easily their best music yet. These songs have still got a modest indie rock backdrop, which sounds sharper than ever thanks to help from go-to punk producer Will Yip, but there’s nothing modest about the way Miriam Devora’s voice soars on this album. It’s got a soaring, yearning quality that recalls the ’60s/’70s Laurel Canyon folk scene, and Miriam’s instantly-addictive melodies are matched by equally impactful lyricism. I admittedly haven’t digested all the lyrics yet, but there are already a handful of lines that pop out at me every time I listen; it’s really affecting stuff. Queen of Jeans may still be on the smaller side compared to other recent folky indie acts like Angel Olsen, Big Thief, Weyes Blood, Mitski, or the boygenius crew, but If you’re not afraid, I’m not afraid is good enough to change that. If you like any or all of those acts and haven’t checked this band out yet, let this great album be your introduction.
Like a lot of styles of music that start out in the underground and then get an unexpected boom in mainstream popularity, metalcore gave us some pretty cringeworthy music, but it’s now been going through a resurgence where a new group of bands are tapping back into what made the genre great in the first place, and going in exciting new directions from there. One of my favorites of these metalcore renaissance albums is one that comes out today, A Different Shade of Blue, the sophomore album from Louisville’s Knocked Loose. It’s a major step forward from the band’s solid but comparatively straightforward 2016 debut Laugh Tracks, and it nails the balance between metalcore nostalgia and innovative, forward-thinking music in ways that many of Knocked Loose’s peers haven’t figured out yet. There are moments that recall the genre’s underground ’90s days as well as moments that recall its more popular 2000s days (including a guest vocal spot from Every Time I Die frontman Keith Buckley), but absolutely none of the more cringeworthy moments are here. Some people enjoy this comeback of metalcore because it’s way to relive past guilty pleasures, but there’s nothing guilty about A Different Shade of Blue. It’s a nasty, uncompromising album, and one that’s more interested in experimentation than cheap thrills. There are some crowd-pleasing breakdowns in there, but Knocked Loose are great at practicing restraint, only offering up what’s necessary for the song and not dishing out machine-gun double kicks just to get kids moshing at Warped Tour. Vocalist Bryan Garris has developed his scream into something that’s piercing and desperate and human in all the ways the great hardcore bands of the past were. The album also has some very inhuman death growls in the mix, but they’re mainly used in moderation to complement Garris’ more distinct, impactful scream. (And in addition to Keith Buckley, Emma Boster of Dying Wish makes a very noteworthy guest appearance.) Riff-wise, Knocked Loose dish out everything from Slayer worship to screechy mathcore leads. Tempo wise, there’s everything from high-speed punk to lumbering doom. And A Different Shade of Blue works in a handful of noisier passages that keep the album on the weirder side than some of Knocked Loose’s peers and forebears. It’s the kind of record that induces an adrenaline rush that instantly satisfies, and that’s also loaded with buried treasures that keep you coming back for more listens.
It’s been 14 years since Missy Elliott last released an album, though she’s put out some standalone singles since then, and while we’re still waiting on a new full-length, she did just drop a new EP today. “Let’s #ThrowItBack to a time when music just felt good and made us want to dance,” she says of this collection of tracks which includes four new songs as well as an a cappella version of EP closer “Why I Still Love You.” She shows off a few different sides of her across these four songs. The first two, “Throw It Back” and “Cool Off,” very much make you want to dance, and they see Missy applying her classic raps to much more modern, radio-friendly production. And the second two show off Missy’s still-strong singing voice, with the R&B-tinged “DripDemeanor” and the soaring soul of “Why I Still Love You.” It’s just a brief project, but glad to have you back Missy!
meth. is one of many projects of Chicago multi-instrumentalist Seb Alvarez, and Mother of Red Light is his first full-length with the project following a few EPs and demos dating back to 2016. The EPs could be accurately described as mathcore or noisecore, but Mother of Red Light goes way beyond anything meth. have ever done before. It’s one of those post-everything albums, where countless styles of music all come together at once without ever sounding like a hodgepodge of genres. Elements of the chaotic math/noisecore of the early EPs are still here, but so is so much more. The album is bookended by white-noise industrial electronics, and in between they seamlessly bounce between post-rock, post-hardcore, noise, sludge, and tons of other sounds that don’t fit neatly into any category. It’s an album where anything goes, as long as it’s dark and intense. Plenty of moments are as harsh and abrasive as the EPs, but there are even more moments than are atmospheric and dirgey, and meth.’s more somber side hits just as hard as their heavy side. It’s not really an album where you can get the idea from just listening to the singles; the songs are good on their own, but together, they create an experience that’s far more overwhelming.
Brockhampton continue to be insanely prolific, with at least one album a year, and 2019 is no different. Not only did group leader Kevin Abstract release a very solid solo album this year, the whole group is now back with Ginger. Brockhampton are a hip hop group who have always called themselves a “boy band” — and even sometimes sounded like one — but Ginger seems to have more of a musical influence from boy bands than ever before, with a heavier emphasis on pop and R&B. It’s also a more modest album than the insanely ambitious Iridescence and a little less immediate than the in-your-face Saturation trilogy, but there are a handful of songs that sneak up on you and give you that classic Brockhampton thrill. One of the most exciting moments actually comes from someone who isn’t a member of Brockhampton: UK rapper slowthai, whose Nothing Great About Britain is one of the year’s best debut albums. As a big group who already have a handful of members with very different yet complementary personas, Brockhampton don’t usually rely much on big-name guest rappers, and slowthai’s music is pretty different than Brockhampton’s, yet he manages to fit into their world seamlessly.
Australia’s Tropical Fuck Storm formed after Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin’s beloved group The Drones went on hiatus, and they’ve quickly taken the underground by (tropical fuck) storm, with some of the most delightfully weird rock music around. Their debut album A Laughing Death In Meatspace was one of our favorite albums of 2018, so needless to say, we’re excited that they’re already back with a followup. Bill’s got a review of it coming in Bill’s Indie Basement, so head there to read more.
It turns out Ceremony make a way better Devo than a Joy Division.