Notable Releases of the Week (5/31)
Hey all, I’ll be back to my normal schedule next week, but until then this is one last slightly abbreviated edition of Notable Releases, and unfortunately I didn’t get to hear three of the albums that I picked for this week (but included them on the strength of the singles).
My six picks for this week are below, but first some honorable mentions: Gaahls WYRD, Frank Iero, Remo Drive, Sacred Paws, Pip Blom, Bracket, Eluvium, Death Angel, ionnalee, Mozzy, Miley Cyrus (which, among other things, has a song with Ghostface Killah) and the Katie Dey album that was surprise released yesterday.
Read on for my picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Skepta has been a staple of UK grime for a while, and his last album, 2016’s Konnichiwa, helped reignite North America’s love of grime and cracked several year-end lists from publications on this side of the Atlantic. (Drake’s love of Skepta is probably also to thank.) It’s also one of a few recently acclaimed albums in what is often a singles-oriented genre, and today Skepta follows it with yet another well-executed full-length, Ignorance Is Bliss. The album has an overall darker tone than its predecessor, and Skepta is as commanding an MC as ever, if not even more so. His raps can be dizzyingly fast, but he never raps fast for fast’s sake. He’s an expert storyteller, and his words are bold, clear, and drill their way into your head on first listen. Sometimes the cross-continental love affair is mutual and Skepta raps over a beat that recalls US rap, like on the mock-orchestral “You Wish” or on “What Do You Mean” which almost sounds like a Dr. Dre beat, but mostly the album’s thrilling, inventive production is rooted in the sounds of his home country’s underground electronic music. The often-sinister beats are the perfect fit for Skepta’s rhymes, which are clear-eyed, dead-serious, and perfectly in the pocket.
Post-hardcore greats Jawbox are finally back, and in a couple weeks, they’ll begin their first tour in over 20 years (and over the long weekend they played a secret show to warm up). They’ve mentioned the idea of new music in interviews but nothing concrete, but if you’re hoping for more than just nostalgia from them, frontman J. Robbins’ debut solo album should help tide you over. He made it with a rock-solid band that includes a few of his past collaborators — Pete Moffett (Government Issue, Burning Airlines) on drums, Brooks Harlan (War On Women, Office of Future Plans) on bass, Gordon Withers (Office of Future Plans) on cello, Chris Brooks (Lionize) on keyboards, and Andrew Grimm (June Star) on pedal steel — and it sounds like the kind of punky post-hardcore that you could’ve pictured J writing during Jawbox’s prime. It’s a little lighter than Jawbox usually were, but they were heading in that direction on their ’96 self-titled record, and a lot of the indie/emo/post-hardcore stuff that J crossed paths with in the ’90s and early ’00s sounded pretty similar to this new solo album. It’s no surprise J’s still got it; Jawbox may have broken up a while ago but he’s stayed very active with Burning Airlines, Office of Future Plans, and a handful of other projects (not to mention all his production work). And while he risks reaching less people by releasing these songs under his own name instead of saving them for a Jawbox reunion album, we shouldn’t hold that against him. If this same album was a new Jawbox album, it’d probably be hailed as a major comeback. J really gave this one his all, and it shows.
Norway’s Darkthrone made some of the most influential black metal albums of the ’90s, and though guitarist Zephyrous left in ’93, the remaining core duo of vocalist/guitarist Nocturno Culto and drummer Fenriz have stayed intact for all these years and they’ve continued to make quality music. Their last album, 2016’s Arctic Thunder, was very solid, and the band says this one continues in the same style and is the “big brother” of Arctic Thunder. I’m writing this before hearing the full thing, but lead single “The Hardship of the Scots” saw Darkthrone still sounding furious as hell.
Irish singer/songwriter and The National collaborator Lisa Hannigan certainly takes her time — she began her solo career 11 years ago and has just three albums — and her first album in three years is a live album, though it’s far from your average live album. As the title implies, she recorded it live in Dublin last year, and it was a collaboration with the modern classical ensemble s t a r g a z e (who also have a collaborative album with Polica). Lisa pulled songs from all over her career, and also included the previously unreleased song “Bookmark” and the Aaron Dessner collaboration “Swan” from last year’s PEOPLE Mixtape Vol 1, and she and s t a r g a z e drastically reworked the songs, adding everything from minimalist piano to maximalist orchestral arrangements. “Sometimes working with classically trained musicians can be slightly nerve-wracking as a singer songwriter because they speak a language so beautifully fluently that I can only fumble towards,” Lisa said. “When we started to play though, it felt like all of s t a r g a z e had climbed aboard my rowboat. They approach a song very much as a band would, with an enthusiasm and musicality which immediately felt like home.” Lisa does indeed sound right at home on this album, and it’s exciting to hear her songs arranged like this. I’d love to see them keep working together and make an album of new songs like these, but whether it’s the start of a collaborative relationship or just a one-off, this unique live album should go down as a worthwhile, intriguing new project in Lisa’s career. It’s not just a curio for longtime fans. If anything, it might be one of the best primers for new fans who have yet to dig into Lisa’s work.
Sinkane’s last album, 2017’s funk-inspired Life and Livin’ It, was Sinkane’s liveliest and most political album yet, and it turns out that was only the beginning. Its new followup Dépaysé is perhaps an even more energetic set of songs, one that pulls from various styles of music all around the globe, and it’s even more overtly political. Talking about the last album, main Sinkane member Ahmed Gallab once said, “I didn’t decide, ‘OK, I’m gonna talk about Donald Trump running for president,'” but he referred to this new album as “the story of an immigrant’s journey of self-discovery in the Trump era.” The last one had been written as Trump was running, but this one was written with him in office and it’s no surprise that the music has taken on a darker tone as a result. Still, like the last album, Sinkane has hope. “Every day we wake up to another horror story about racism, and it’s left many of us angry, confused and frustrated. But we can change the news for the better. We can show people that a multicolored world is a beautiful one.” One way of doing that is with a fun, funky album that celebrates cultural diversity in both the sound of the music and the lyrics, and that’s exactly what Dépaysé is.
Denzel Curry released one of our favorite albums of 2018 with TA13OO, so needless to say I’m excited about the news of this quick follow up that comes less than a year later. The album was announced while I’ve been gone so I haven’t been able to spend a lot of time with it, but it’s already clear from early listens that Denzel hasn’t lost his touch one bit and, if anything, is only making more accessible music now. TA13OO was a highly ambitious, meticulously crafted album presented in three acts, but with ZUU it sounds like Denzel is more relaxed and having more fun, just delivering banger after banger without overthinking it.