Five Notable Releases of the Week (9/8)
Neil Young finally released Hitchhiker, his lost 1976 album recorded entirely solo acoustic with just guitar, piano, and harmonica. All but two of these songs ended up on later releases, but if you’re a Neil fan, there’s nothing like hearing him doing stripped-down stuff like this right in the middle of his prime ’70s era. Death From Above (who dropped the “1979” from their name) are back with Outrage! Is Now, which follows 2014’s The Physical World, which was their first in ten years. The always-underrated Chad VanGaalen sounds solid as ever on Light Information (Sub Pop). Hardcore vets Burn released their first full-length ever, Do Or Die, which was produced by Converge’s Kurt Ballou and is out on Converge vocalist J Bannon’s Deathwish label (it comes 27 years after their influential debut EP). Deerhoof have a guest-filled album featuring Lætitia Sadier, Juana Molina, Awkwafina, Xenia Rubinos, Jenn Wasner, and more. Alex Cameron also has impressive guests on his album like Angel Olsen, Brandon Flowers, and Kirin J Callinan. As do Mount Kimbie, whose third album Love What Survives features James Blake, King Krule, and Micachu. Art pop vets Sparks released Hippopotamus, their first proper album in 8 years (in 2015, they released a collaborative album with Franz Ferdinand). Paisley Underground OGs The Dream Syndicate are back with How Did I Find Myself Here?, their first album since the ’80s. Dreamy punks Flesh World, whose lineup includes members of Limp Wrist and Brilliant Colors, released their sophomore LP, Into the Shroud. R&B great Syd quickly followed this year’s solo debut Fin with a new EP, Always Never Home. Masked Brooklyn rapper Leikeli47 released her anticipated debut album, Wash & Set.
All of those are worth hearing, as are the five LPs I picked this week. Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The National’s seventh album Sleep Well Beast has lyrics co-written by Matt Berninger with his wife Carin Besser about the struggles of marriage, and it introduces electronics and real-deal guitar solos to their sound. Here’s an excerpt of my review:
What makes the album so interesting and unpredictable is that there’s no simple narrative you can reduce it to. It’s got those aforementioned electronic drums and something close to synthpop with “Walk It Back” (which is also home of this very quotable line: “Until everything is less insane, I’m mixing weed with wine”), but you can’t call it their “electronic” album. Not when it’s got “Turtleneck,” a hard-edged song that rocks like no National song has ever rocked (they’ve had aggressive songs like “Mr. November” and “Available” but nothing in the manic spirit of “Turtleneck”). The drastically new-sounding songs like “Walk it Back” and “Turtleneck” are balanced out by a handful of more traditional National songs. “Day I Die” is a heartbreaking, lyrically detailed look at a marriage in trouble that follows the formula of previous driving rock songs like “Sea of Love” and “Lit Up.” “Carin at the Liquor Store” is a show-stopping piano ballad in the tradition of “Fake Empire” that looks back on an imperfect love with some truly uplifting melodies.
Read the rest HERE.
Zola Jesus signed to Mute for 2014’s Taiga, her biggest-sounding and poppiest album yet (but still not, like, that poppy). For its followup Okovi, she returned to the more boutique label Sacred Bones, who released all of her other material. The first song Zola released off Okovi was “Exhumed,” which made it instantly clear that she was not only back on her old label but back to her old sound. “Exhumed” employs buzzsaw synths that sound like an orchestra and aggressive electronic percussion, and Zola’s uniquely powerful voice is as towering as ever. It’s the kind of dark pop song that would have fit perfectly on Stridulum or Conatus, and was a perfect lead single to really say “I’m back.” That song made anticipation pretty high for Okovi, and the rest of the album lives up to its promise. Several other moments reach the highs of “Exhumed,” like the industrial ballad “Soak,” the atmospheric pop of “Witness,” and the minimal bass of “Wiseblood,” just to name a few. She proves again and again on Okovi that there’s no limit to her forward-thinking production techniques, and that even on her darkest songs, she still has a knack for a hook.
Alvvays’ debut album was one of the more popular jangle/dream pop albums in recent memory, thanks in part to its standout single “Archie, Marry Me” (which, among other things, was covered by Ben Gibbard). There’s nothing as immediate as “Archie, Marry Me” on the band’s second album Antisocialites, but this one might be stronger overall. You can tell Molly Rankin & co are more seasoned songwriters and musicians this time around, and the production is cleaner and shinier than their debut but never overpolished. (Guitarist Alec O’Hanley co-produced it with John Congleton, who’s worked with St Vincent, Angel Olsen, Cloud Nothings, Swans, and many others.) The album opens with its three singles, “In Undertow,” “Dreams Tonite,” and “Plimsoll Punks,” and those are probably the catchiest, though I’d vote for the gorgeous “Not My Baby” as the sleeper hit right now. The song that perks up my ears the most is “Hey,” which has Alvvays diving into krautrock and proving that they’re pretty damn good at it. Even the songs that stand out less add to the album’s pretty-sounding and easily-enjoyable vibes.
Over the course of her three-decade-long career, there have been several versions of Tori Amos. There’s the piano-pop songwriter of her 1992 solo debut Little Earthquakes, which is the Tori that a lot of people (like Kurt Cobain) fell in love with. But there’s also the trip-hop Tori of the late ’90s, the pop rock Tori of the mid 2000s, and the classical side that Tori first worked into her music on Under the Pink but fully embraced in the early 2010s (and of course who could forget hair metal Tori). After those classical experiments earlier this decade, Tori made something of a return to form with 2014’s Unrepentant Geraldines and she continues that on this year’s Native Invader. Save for the wah-heavy “Broken Arrow,” just about all of the 15 songs on Native Invader could fit somewhere in her ’90s catalog. Her piano-pop side is strong on this album, and the trip-hop side comes through a bit too (see the To Venus and Back-esque “Wings” or the minimal beats of “Chocolate Song”). A little of her classical side comes through too, like on the orchestral “Mary’s Eyes.” My favorite song, though, is “Up The Creek,” an upbeat song featuring Tori’s daughter Natashya Hawley that isn’t a million miles away from St. Vincent.
Because Native Invader is Tori’s 15th album and she’s not as in the spotlight as she once was, it’s easy to take it for granted, but we shouldn’t. It’s impressive to see any artist this far into their career making music that recalls their classic era but isn’t just a total rehash of it. This album also sounds plenty modern in the context of 2017. Tori is one of the greats in a long line of Kate Bush acolytes, and Kate Bush-inspired pop is still all the rage. In fact, you could argue another album out today — the above-mentioned Zola Jesus album — is Kate Bush-inspired pop. Also, Tori herself has now become an influence on modern music. She’s been namedropped by Perfume Genius, Torres, and Owen Pallett, and, in addition to the aforementioned St. Vincent, you can hear some similarities in Joanna Newsom and Bat For Lashes too. Tori’s classic sound is everywhere right now, so it’s a pretty great thing that her own new music is still powerful as well.
Though Ted Leo has been anything but inactive over the past seven years, he hasn’t released a proper album of his own material since 2010’s The Brutalist Bricks. That one came out on Matador and he recorded it with longtime backing band The Pharmacists, but he’s self-releasing The Hanged Man and it comes out just under Ted’s own name. He did record most songs with Pharmacists drummer Chris Wilson, and it also includes contributions from his The Both partner Aimee Mann, plus Jean Grae, Adrienne Berry, and Jonathan Coulton. As Ted explained in a lengthy, must-read Stereogum feature, The Hanged Man touches on one of the most tragic events in Ted’s life: the grief for his daughter, who failed to make it after his wife Jodi needed to force a premature birth. It’s not only one of Ted’s most personal and saddest albums lyrically, it’s one of his most diverse musically. He has the classic Ted Leo indie-punk rippers (“Used To Believe,” “Anthems of None,” “You’re Like Me”), but he also has somber acoustic songs (“William Weld in the 21st Century”), orchestral ballads (“Gray Havens”), Motown-inspired pop (“Can’t Go Back”), Beatlesque psych-pop (“The Nazarene”), and more. Ted really went all out for this one — he apparently cut it down from 27 songs and even the 14 he did keep makes for one colossal album. It’s kind of got a White Album-style “try everything and see what sticks” approach. Like White Album, it doesn’t all stick, but at this point in Ted’s very rich career, the experiment was worth it.