Notable Releases of the Week (1/6)
Happy new year and welcome to the first Notable Releases of 2017. There’s not much out this week (the best album is probably the Brian Eno ambient album but there’s not much to say besides “it’s a Brian Eno ambient album”), but I’m gonna take the opportunity to catch up on some stuff that came out over the holidays. It looks like the big new albums will kick fully into gear next week.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the (last couple) week(s)?
It’s clear from the moment you hit play that RTJ3 is the biggest-sounding thing Run the Jewels have done thus far. El-P’s production on album opener “Down” sounds grander than possibly anything else he’s made with RTJ, and Killer Mike’s old Dungeon Family collaborator Joi gives the song RTJ’s most gorgeous hook yet. It’s also the group’s most celebratory album. On “Legend Has It,” there’s a part that mimics a huge crowd chanting “R! T! J!”. The mantra on “Call Ticketron” is “Run the Jewels live from The Garden.” Run the Jewels actually have played The Garden, opening for Jack White, but on RTJ3 they sound like they’re ready to headline the place. El seems pretty confident that they actually will, and going by how fast they’ve been selling out large clubs in NYC, he’s probably not wrong. The music is still weird and built for the underground on RTJ3, but this time they sound like they know they’re competing with the mainstream too. It’s not unlike what Danny Brown, who appears here on “Hey Kids (Bumaye),” did on last year’s excellent Atrocity Exhibition.
It’s a fun record and a big record, but there is of course something else looming over RTJ3. Though it was recorded before the news broke, it’s the first Run the Jewels album since Donald Trump’s election. The last time Killer Mike wrote a whole song about a celebrity who was elected president, it was one of rap’s most brutal and incisive tellings of injustice in America this side of “Fuck tha Police” (and it’s not the only time Mike tackled injustice). Given Killer Mike’s close relationship with Bernie Sanders, it’s become even more impossible to separate his politics from his artistry. With a Trump presidency on the way, a Run the Jewels album is what a lot of people need. And RTJ3 delivers. Take “Thieves! (Screamed The Ghost),” a song about riots that samples a Martin Luther King Jr. speech. Or “2100,” which begins with Killer Mike asking, “How long before the hate that we hold leads us to another Holocaust?” On RTJ3, El and Mike are fed up, pissed off, and have no time for anyone’s bullshit.
Krallice are making it a tradition to drop albums during the holiday season, and they remain highly consistent. Just about every release they do is at least as strong as the last, and Prelapsarian is no different. As they often do, Prelapsarian sees Colin Marston, Mick Barr, Lev Weinstein, and Nicholas Mcmaster taking a brainy, experimental approach to black metal, rather than a trve approach or a pretty, atmospheric one (as you’d expect from guys who regularly play John Zorn’s avant-garde venue The Stone). It’s an approach that’s highly technical, and often uses atypical melodies and time signatures, and it does so without sacrificing brutality or fun. Second track “Hate Power” opens with a riff that should please devil-horn-throwing air-guitar heroes and contemplative avant-garde enthusiasts alike. The best songs, though, are the two lengthy tracks that bookend the album, “Transformation Chronicles” and “Lotus Throne.” The former moves from heavy, atonal complexity to freeform ambience in a way that reminds you that Thurston Moore once wanted to be in a black metal band. The latter, with its brighter melodies and a part that nears post-rock territory, is sort of a more spastic, unpredictable version of atmospheric BM. And with the pained screams at the end, you hear that, for all the brainyness on Prelapsarian, there’s emotion too.
I try not to get too reactionary, but I I’ve seen some people talk shit on the new Nine Inch Nails EP and I don’t see what all the hate is about. NIN remain a genuinely huge band who do things like introduce their fans to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Dillinger Escape Plan, and Cold Cave at their arena/amphitheater shows. They would do just fine coasting on their ’90s hits, yet they still make challenging music. There’s a good argument to be made that popular rock music has been pretty safe lately (which is exactly the argument that Trent Reznor recently made), and Not The Actual Events feels a lot more risky than most of 2016’s hottest new rock bands.
The quick opener “Branches/Bones” and penultimate track “The Idea of You” both embrace the kind of heavy, in-your-face rock that NIN made in the ’90s and it still sounds like the kind of thing that can get a room of people going wild. (Not to mention the latter has drums by Dave Grohl, and who better to play on a ’90s-ish rock song?) Closer “Burning Bright (Field on Fire)” is a wash of abrasive noise that might feel like par for the course on a Godflesh record but is pretty alienating on a mainstream rock album in 2016 (there’s certainly nothing like it on the last NIN album). Reznor and Atticus Ross (who has worked with Reznor on film scores, in How to Destroy Angels, and has contributed to NIN but is now an official member) don’t only go for harsh sounds though. “Dear World,” embraces Reznor’s dancey side and “She’s Gone Away” is a creeping slow burner. It makes sense why they capped this thing at just an EP. Each of the five songs is its own beast, and together, they really do feel like a complete statement.