Notable Releases of the Week (11/29)
It’s a shortened week due to Thanksgiving and there’s also less new music out for that reason, but there are still a handful of notable releases out this week and I’m gonna make this quick and cut right to the chase on the five I picked. A few honorable mentions: Kacey Musgraves’ Christmas album (ft. Lana Del Rey, Zooey Deschanel, Camila Cabello, Fred Armisen & more), the Mose Allison tribute (with Iggy Pop, Elvis Costello, Fiona Apple, Richard Thompson, Frank Black of the Pixies, and more), the Prong EP, and the Stereolab reissues (that you can read about in Bill’s Indie Basement).
Also, this list is just about new full-length albums and EPs, but don’t forget it’s also Record Store Day Black Friday and there’s lots of cool stuff you can pick up at participating record stores because of that.
The crossover thrash revival continues to thrive, and DC’s Red Death remain one of the revival’s leading bands. After two ripping albums (2015’s Permanent Exile and 2017’s Formidable Darkness), Red Death are changing things up a little bit on their third (and first for Century Media), Sickness Divine. It sees them following in the path of Metallica circa Ride the Lightning/Master of Puppets and incorporating clean guitar arpeggios, slower tempos, and catchier choruses. Thrash remains a fun, relevant style of music, but it can sometimes get repetitive to a fault, and Sickness Divine proves Red Death aren’t content to follow that path. They still have plenty of thrashy rippers on the album (and a killer cover of the Misfits’ “Death Comes Ripping” as a bonus track), so longtime fans shouldn’t fear a drastically different Red Death just yet, but actually I’d say my favorite song on the album is the one that’s most drastically different: the Swans-like album closer “Exhalation of Decay.” If they continue to explore this direction, I’d be very curious to hear where they go next.
Death metal is in the air this year, thanks to the super hyped Blood Incantation album that came out last week, and other recent releases like the new Gatecreeper and Tomb Mold albums. But it’s not just new bands keeping the genre alive. San Diego death metallers Cattle Decapitation have been consistently reliable since the late ’90s, and this year’s Death Atlas is pretty great too. And if the genre’s current hype is maybe bringing you to this band for the first time, Death Atlas isn’t a bad place to start. It sees them incorporating even more of the “clean” vocals that they started toying with on the last couple albums, making it some of their most accessible stuff. (Also, if you’re up on the current metal scene but new to Cattle Decapitation, you might like to know their stacked tour includes another of 2019’s buzziest metal bands, Full of Hell, along with tech-death OGs Atheist, upcoming Tool tourmate Author & Punisher, and more.) I put “clean” in scare quotes because, while Travis Ryan does indeed sing on this album, it still sounds really fucking dirty. His singing voice is pure evil, and it’s different than your average melodic death metal band with a clean singer. All these years later, Cattle Decapitation remain in a league of their own.
Griselda Records’ Westside Gunn and Conway signed to Eminem’s Shady Records back in 2017, and since then they recruited fellow Buffalo rapper Benny the Butcher and put out countless projects on their own label. Now, as the trio of Westside Gunn, Conway, and Benny, Griselda have finally gotten around to releasing their Shady Records debut. These three have already put out a handful of projects this year alone, all of it good, some of it great, so it’s not always easy to keep track of everything they’re up to, but getting a group album from them — as their major label debut and with big name guests like their label boss Eminem, plus longtime Em associate 50 Cent, and New York rap legend Raekwon — is a great way to catch up and digest WSG, Conway, and Benny’s different styles all at once. If you’re unfamiliar, there’s the high-voiced Westside Gunn, the booming, bassy Benny, and Conway who’s somewhere in the middle. All three of them hearken back to ’90s NYC rap, and all three of them do it in a way that’s so menacing and so convincing that they often rival the guys they’re influenced by. It’s too soon to say if W.W.C.D. is the best Griselda-related project to drop this year (that might still be Benny’s The Plugs I Met), but it’s a great primer and it’s absolutely loaded with in-the-pocket bars and showstopping punchlines. It’s the kind of album where you put it on in your headphones and hang on its every word until it ends.
Speaking of Benny the Butcher, one of the many projects he dropped this year was a collab EP with Smoke DZA, and today DZA has another new collab EP out, this time with longtime collaborator Curren$y. DZA and Curren$y have both long been makers of jazzy, permastoned, throwback-to-the-’90s rap, and that’s exactly what Prestige Manual offers. There are really no surprises or anything new here, but DZA and Curren$y just continue to be so good at this kind of thing and Prestige Manual is a great listen when you’re in the mood for smoky, laid-back stuff like this. It’s hard to keep with artists as prolific as Smoke DZA and Curren$y, but when it’s two for the price of one, that’s always a good opportunity to hop back in.
Need more throwback rap? Boom bap devotee Statik Selektah (who already released a project with Curren$y this year) and Houston veteran Paul Wall have teamed up for this brief Thanksgiving gift, and it also features a fiery verse from Benny the Butcher.) (Other guests include Cypress Hill’s B-Real, frequent Statik collaborator Termanology, NEMS, and CJ Fly of Pro Era.) It’s actually Statik’s second project this year with a veteran Texas rapper (following TrillStatik with Bun B, which also features Paul Wall, Smoke DZA, Westside Gunn, and more), and Statik’s Northeast slap works well with the Texas drawl. Like the Smoke DZA/Curren$y EP, Give Thanks is ear candy for old school rap fans even if it’s not necessarily anything you haven’t heard before, but Give Thanks also does have an element of surprise to it. Smoke DZA, Curren$y, and Statik Selektah all have reputations for keeping throwback rap alive and well throughout the 2010s and being consistently good at it, but I’ll admit I haven’t listened to a new Paul Wall project in a long time, and I think the general consensus is that he’s fallen off from the days when his work with Chamillionaire and his chart-topping solo album The Peoples Champ made him one of the faces of 2000s Houston rap. Well, I’d say Give Thanks proves he’s still got it even if he isn’t impacting the charts anymore, and I like the idea (and sound) of him working with a retro-yet-relevant producer like Statik Selektah. Here’s to hoping this trend continues.