Five Notable Releases of the Week (4/20)
It just might have been the craziest music news week of the year so far. My Bloody Valentine, Mazzy Star, Deafheaven, Kanye West, Drake, Lykke Li, and Father John Misty all announced new albums (or EPs for MBV and Mazzy). Not to mention, the legendary Sleep announced and IMMEDIATELY RELEASED their first album in over 15 years. More on that one below. In other news: Lauryn Hill is going on a The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill 20th anniversary tour and Coachella returns this weekend, this time with more Marilyn Manson.
Before I get to my picks for this week’s Notable Releases, some honorable mentions: the recently announced and quickly released J. Cole album, Billie Joe Armstrong’s surprise-released debut album by his new side project The Longshot, HIRS‘ guest-filled grindcore album (ft. Shirley Manson, Laura Jane Grace, Marissa Paternoster, and more), Del The Funky Homosapien & Amp Life, Kimbra, Drinks, and Post Animal. But really the only album out today that actually matters is of course the Sting and Shaggy album.
Lastly, Record Store Day is tomorrow. I didn’t include any RSD exclusives in Notable Releases, but check out 25 Record Store Day 2018 exclusive releases we’d actually like to own. Or if you’re just looking to see some live music or drink some free beer on RSD, check out a guide to NYC #RSD18 in-store performances, events, free beer & more.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It’s a 4/20 miracle! Stoner metal legends Sleep are back with The Sciences, their long-discussed followup to Jerusalem/Dopesmoker, which is either their first album in 15 years or 19 years (depending on which version of their third album you count), and which was only officially announced a few hours ago. It’s six songs (in 53 minutes) of all the Sabbath and weed worship you could ask for, aka it’s Sleep doing what Sleep do best, and that’s not a bad thing at all. Sleep were never about reinventing the wheel anyway (they were about slowing down the wheel), and given how long it’s been, the fact that we have six new ripping Sleep songs in the world is enough reason to be very, very excited.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that Sleep pulled this off. They’ve been reunited for almost a decade already, they successfully tested the waters with the new song “The Clarity” in 2014, and all three members have kept their tools sharpened with other projects. Matt Pike continues to be master of the riff with High on Fire, Al Cisneros continues to be master of the trip with Om, and for the past eight years, they’ve had Jason Roeder behind the kit, all while Roeder continues to be the menacing backbone of Neurosis. Plus, at least some of the music has existed for a while. “Sonic Titan” appeared in an earlier form on the 2003 release of Dopesmoker, though it was pretty drastically re-imagined for The Sciences. It’s bigger, bolder, and may not immediately register as a song you’ve heard before. In general, The Sciences has got a bit more of a hop in its step than Dopesmoker — maybe that’s partially Jason Roeder’s doing — and the slightly more in-your-face approach suits Sleep well. But this is still by and large music to turn on, tune in, and drop out to; Matt Pike’s riffs are thick as molasses and Al Cisneros sings like he was stoned for the entire recording session. There are moments that perk you up though. Pike’s fiery solos cut right through the sludge, and album closer “The Botanist” offers a real change of pace. With clean guitars and soaring, mid-paced soloing, “The Botanist” is closer to ’70s prog than ’70s metal, and it ends with a mind-bending passage that Cisneros could’ve used with Om. It’s a fun, trippy, and unexpected way to wrap up the album.
For the first time in Lord Huron’s career, they’ve made an album that doesn’t really sound like any other band, especially not any current band. In the past, it wouldn’t have been crazy to accuse them of bandwagon jumping. Their early EPs sounded like Animal Collective-y freak folk and they switched gears to Mumford and Sons-y folk rock for their debut album and its followup. Now on their third album, Vide Noir — their first for a major label — they introduced an atmospheric side to their Americana sound, and it’d be tempting to compare them to the biggest atmospheric Americana band around, The War On Drugs, who seem to be influencing about as many bands as Animal Collective and Mumford and Sons once did. But Vide Noir doesn’t really sound anything like The War On Drugs. You can pick out some influences for sure, but this time they’ve really landed on a sound that they can call their own. Going by the psychedelic balladry of “Lost In Time and Space,” “Wait by the River,” or “Back from the Edge,” it sounds more like Lord Huron have been listening to The Soft Bulletin than to Lost in the Dream, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that they brought in longtime Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann to mix the album. Fridmann’s mix lets the songs breathe and lets their many layers unravel; like with many Flaming Lips albums, it just sounds spectacular. I don’t know how much of the credit for the new direction goes to Fridmann, but given that frontman Ben Schneider wrote and produced the album himself, you get the sense that Lord Huron’s songs went in this direction naturally.
More than ever before, it sounds like Lord Huron had the ambition and the confidence to take their sound to all kinds of new places, with no rules, and no concern for what anyone expects Lord Huron to sound like. You can hear that greater confidence just by listening to how the band, and especially Ben Schneider, perform on this album. Ben flexes his pipes in ways he never has before, and he’s found his own voice in a way that he only hinted at on earlier albums. The rhythm section is also nearly as crucial as Ben’s hooks on Vide Noir. They go from driving (“Never Ever,” “Ancient Names [part I]”) to groovy (“Secret of Life,” “Vide Noir”) to peppy (“The Balancer’s Eye”) to genuinely rocking (“Ancient Names [part II]”). Ben and the rest of the band handle all of these sounds with expertise, and no matter what type of song it is, the psychedelic atmosphere that defines Vide Noir is still there. Whether they’re making music to dance to, rock out to, or sit and vibe to, the songs on Vide Noir all manage to fit the same mood. As you may have guessed from the album title (which is French for “black void”) that mood is often a dark one, but dark doesn’t mean inaccessible in Vide Noir‘s case. Though it’s by far Lord Huron’s darkest-sounding album, it might also be their catchiest.
It’s no secret that disappearing for a long time can increase an artist’s status as a legend, and Maynard James Keenan is living proof of this. When Tool last released an album — 2006’s 10,000 Days — they still weren’t a band you wanted to talk about with your cool indie rock friends. But when they toured last year — over a decade since 10,000 Days came out and with seemingly serious talk of a new album underway — they were hailed as a living, breathing, and relevant example of an important and popular rock band in many of the same corners of the music tastemaking world where they were previously shunned (and by Sean Yeaton of Parquet Courts). There’s still no word of if or when that new Tool album will actually come out, but in the meantime, Maynard is making another long-awaited return. His band A Perfect Circle, who first reunited in 2010 and then took another break and then started playing shows again last year, are back with Eat the Elephant, their first album since 2004 and their first album of original music since 2003.
The heightened respect for Maynard is likely the cause of a few things, like that a lot of people singing his praises now probably didn’t have a platform to do so 10-15 years ago, and that snobbery about entire genres has died down, even for the severely maligned nu metal, which Maynard is often inaccurately lumped in with. Anyone who’s still fighting for Tool and A Perfect Circle to be taken out of the nu metal conversation is gonna be pretty happy with Eat the Elephant. Not only is it definitely not nu metal, besides “The Doomed,” it’s not even metal. There are more pianos than beefy guitar riffs, and much more attention to atmosphere than any other APC album. You can hear bits of trip-hop, post-rock, and especially the psychedelic side that Tool and A Perfect Circle have always had. There’s expert use of vocoder and vinyl scratches, and subtle but effective string arrangements. A Perfect Circle don’t seem like the type to make a comeback if they’re just going to repeat themselves, and they definitely didn’t do that. Eat the Elephant is at least as much a departure from Thirteenth Step as that album was from Mer de Noms.
Though it’s easy to talk a lot about Maynard, much of the credit for Eat the Elephant goes to Billy Howerdel. Billy played almost all the instruments on the album, and the band’s hilarious album description talks more about Billy’s return to music than Maynard’s. (Maybe Maynard is just humble.) That also means that, though longtime guitarist James Iha was back in the band for recent tours (but won’t be on tour with them this year since he’s back in Smashing Pumpkins; Failure’s Greg Edwards is his replacement), it wasn’t his doing that “Delicious” kind of sounds like Smashing Pumpkins meets Sunny Day Real Estate. And Billy really delivers on this one. The guitar and piano work is some of the finest of his career, and it’s the perfect backdrop for the melancholic vocal performance that Maynard gives on most of these songs. Maynard’s got that same knack for strangely addictive melodies that he’s had since Tool’s early days, and though Eat the Elephant is some of his softest music yet, you can still feel the last two decades of Maynard’s music and Maynard-influenced music coming right back to you as you listen to this album. Eat the Elephant is a comeback album that finds a way to look forward while still inducing nostalgia for the band’s classic sound. It does this so naturally, that when you’re listening to it, you almost forget how different from the classics it really is.
Alexis Taylor’s solo albums have always seen him exploring sounds that got hinted at on Hot Chip albums but mostly existed outside of that band’s usual wheelhouse. 2008’s Rubbed Out and 2016’s Piano were more or less singer/songwriter albums (and there has always been a strong sense of traditional songwriting sneaking its way into Hot Chip songs), while 2014’s Await Barbarians was a bit more on the experimental side, a little closer to what Alexis did in About Group. His newest, Beautiful Thing, kind of brings together elements of all of his projects, including Hot Chip. It’s got the singer/songwriter side, the avant-garde side, and the dance-pop side. It’s too soon to say if it’s his best solo album, but it’s his first solo album that doesn’t feel like a side project. It’s as full-sounding and widely-appealing as most Hot Chip albums. Perhaps part of that is due to working with DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy, who he goes way back with to when Hot Chip were on DFA, but has never made an album with. (This is actually Alexis’ first solo album with an outside producer.) Whatever the reason is, the results are very worth hearing. Beautiful Thing brings together heady, club-ready production (the title track), funky grooves (“Suspicious Of Me”), piano ballads (“A Hit Song”), snappy pop (“Oh Baby”), weirdo sound effects (“Roll On Blank Tapes”), and more, and sometimes a few of those things happen at once. Whether it’s an instantly accessible song or a more challenging one, Alexis’ syrupy smooth voice and knack for uniquely satisfying melodies is always intact. You’d never mistake these songs for another artist, and given how much access to music we have in 2018, that’s more impressive than ever.
With a zillion releases dating back over 30 years, the Melvins seem like they’re aiming to try just about anything they’ve never tried before at this point. And it’s pretty exciting — better than just repeating themselves again and again. Their last album was their first double album and part of the album was intended to soundtrack a film, and the album before that featured six different bassists across twelve songs. This time, they’ve made an entire album with two bassists (Redd Kross’ Steve McDonald and Butthole Surfers’ Jeff Pinkus), and in the words of Buzz Osborne, “We’ve never had two bass players. We’ve had two drummers and two guitar players so it makes total sense to now have two bass players.” Like I said, trying just about anything they’ve never tried before.
With Pinkus in the mix, the Melvins also decided to throw a little Butthole Surfers on this album. The title is of course a combination of Pinkus’ name and and the Buttholes’ classic 1987 album, and the album features two Butthole Surfers covers: one of “Graveyard” and one of “Moving To Florida,” which is a medley with a cover of the James Gang’s “Stop” under the name “Stop Moving To Florida.” That song is as ridiculous as it sounds, but it also kinda works. There’s also a slowed-down, sludged-up cover of The Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which they’ve done live a number of times, and the inclusion of that is just as awesome as hearing it live. As for the originals, they’re all over the place (in a good way). There’s the ripping garage punk of “Embrace the Rub,” the creepy blues-metal of “Don’t Forget to Breathe,” the jangly “Flamboyant Duck,” the classic rock-y “Break Bread,” and the acid rock of “Prenup Butter.” With both Pinkus and McDonald, it’s noticeably a bass-heavy record, but it never sounds like the second bass is out of place or anything. It sounds like the Melvins had a lot of fun making this thing, and, while it’s of course a little silly, it’s fun to listen to, too.