Notable Releases of the Week (11/25)
It’s Thanksgiving weekend, and this pretty much signifies the slowing-down of album releases until about mid-January. For that reason, we’re gonna drop the “Five” from Five Notable Releases of the Week until things pick up again, and just focus on however many cool albums we do get each week. But just because the quantity is going down for the next month or so, there’s no reason to think the quality will. December always seems to gift us with high-profile surprise albums, and here’s to hoping December 2016 is no different. (Maybe the Chromatics album will drop?? Fingers crossed.)
Today also happens to be Black Friday and that also means Record Store Day Black Friday. There’s a ton of interesting stuff coming out that you might wanna pick up (though it’s a lot of reissues and live releases, not really the kind of thing I write about here), and you can check out the full list of RSD Black Friday releases here.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
When The Weeknd returned last year with Beauty Behind the Madness, spawning the truly massive hit “Can’t Feel My Face,” it was tempting to read it as a sell-out moment. Not only was the song as omnipresent as mainstream pop gets, it was co-written by Max Martin, who writes pretty much all of those mainstream pop songs. (That’s kind of an exaggeration, but not really.) It was nearly impossible to criticize The Weeknd for it though, ’cause it was just so damn good. More than a sell-out moment, it felt like a win for the “alternative” world. It felt more like “Midnight City” or “1901” than “Why Can’t I?”. If it sounds crazy to call The Weeknd alternative now, don’t forget that the once-mysterious artist was one of the first people associated with “alt-R&B.”
Now that The Weeknd is a genuine (and still-cool) pop star, he quickly made another album, and from the second he put out the Daft Punk-produced title track, it was obvious his hot streak was continuing. “Starboy” kicks off the new album and it really was the obvious choice for lead single. It begins with its highest high, but there are plenty of other peaks throughout the remaining 17 songs. Max Martin reprises his role as co-writer/producer on a handful of songs, most of which are among the album’s best (“Rockin’,” “Love to Lay,” “A Lonely Night”). Like “Can’t Feel My Face,” the Martin compositions have The Weeknd unleashing his inner Michael Jackson in ways he only showed on his “Dirty Diana” cover during the early days. On Starboy, he sounds like futuristic outer space MJ, compared to “Can’t Feel My Face”‘s straightforward retro MJ (and “Rockin'” reportedly features background vocals from the king of futuristic outer space MJ, Justin Timberlake). In general, Starboy feels like the more adventurous followup to the pop stardom of Beauty Behind the Madness, and in some ways it’s the most exciting thing he’s done since the mixtape trilogy.
At this point, The Weeknd’s Michael Jackson impressions are often more stronger than the hazy, stoned vibe he began his career with, though the latter was given a creative boost when he teamed with codeine-coated rapper Future for “Low Life” last December. Future’s back to help The Weeknd dirty things up for two songs on Starboy. “Six Feet Under,” a collaboration with “Low Life” producer Metro Boomin, sounds so much like “Low Life” that it’s hard to believe it doesn’t contain scrapped verses from those sessions. But “All I Know” proves The Weeknd and Future have more collaborative juice in them. Future is maybe The Weeknd’s best rap collaborator since Drake. Disappointingly, Kendrick Lamar is not. Kendrick has verses on some of the best albums of this year (Beyonce, Danny Brown, A Tribe Called Quest), and his songs on those albums all feel catered to his style. He raps his ass of on Starboy centerpiece “Sidewalks,” but feels stylistically out of place. (However, that song follows an interlude with airy Lana Del Rey vocals that feel very in place.) The Weeknd also ends up sounding great over beats from guys who frequent EDM festivals. In addition to those Daft Punk collaborations, he works with Cashmere Cat on a handful of songs and Diplo on the gear-churning “Nothing Without You.”
Like a lot of 2016 albums, Starboy is too long (perhaps streaming rules are to blame), especially for an album where every song is generally in the same ballpark. When it shakes things up though, it really succeeds. “False Alarm” sounds like The Weeknd taking on mid-2000s dance-punk, and it makes you wonder why he doesn’t break out of his comfort zone more often.
Swedish crust punks Martyrdod have been at it for about 15 years now, but their current sound only dates back to 2012’s career-shifting Paranoia. They blended their crust/D-beat roots with their home country’s melodic death metal (and a bit of classic ’70s and ’80s heavy metal) until they basically sounded like a punk version of Slaughter of the Soul-era At the Gates. They often get compared to fellow Swedish crust punk band Disfear’s 2008 album Live the Storm, one of two Disfear albums to actually have ATG singer Tomas Lindberg on lead vocals, but — great as that album is — it’s never as catchy as Paranoia (or Paranoia‘s even catchier followup, 2014’s Elddop). A more apt comparison for present-day Martyrdod is Kvelertak or Tribulation, two bands that combine black/death metal vocals with shiny, melodic riffs that feel closer to classic rock than extreme metal. Martyrdod are a harsh, extreme band, but they’re also a genuinely poppy one. It’s a mix that not that many bands have nailed, and List is their latest triumph.
After opening with “Oerlevaren,” a punk crusher with a solo that Kirk Hammett would be proud of, List really kicks into full gear with its title track. It’s powered by a lead guitar riff that sounds like pure bubblegum as far as crust punk goes (and I mean that in a good way), and then my favorite moment of the whole album kicks in around the 1:56 mark. As yet another bubblegummy riff comes in, they throw a filter on the song that makes it sound like the band’s playing down the hall in a closet, and then… poof! — everything comes back in strong and that new riff is right in the forefront. It’s a tactic that’s pretty common in mainstream rock, and it’s fun as hell to hear a more extreme band like Martyrdod pull it off without sounding cheesy (which is basically Kvelertak’s M.O.). That may be the most fun moment on the album, but every song is a thrill and these ten tracks whip by in what feels like much shorter than their 36-minute running time. Like on the title track, it’s the guitar riffs that lead almost every song. The harshness of the vocals add a welcome brutality to the songs’ brightness, and the drumming is particularly sharp on List too, but it always comes back to those riffs. The melodic leads in the verses will have you humming before you ever figure out what the lyrics are, and the solos all tap into ’80s NWOBHM and thrash without sounding retro. A perfect example of this is on the lead single “Harmageddon,” which we premiered earlier this year. Just around the three-minute mark, Martyrdod break out into a shredding frenzy that’s about as classic as classic-metal gets. A lot of crust bands aim to spend their careers in tiny, dingy venues, but Martyrdod tap into the kind of ambition that once got metal bands playing arenas… and they do it without losing sight of their roots.
I say this kind of thing a lot — maybe too much — but because I have an inkling that many people who read music websites like this one may not otherwise listen to a Swedish metal band called Martyrdod, I really want to stress this album’s crossover appeal, especially now that 2016’s load of new albums is getting lighter. If you normally pay attention to underground metal, Martyrdod is probably a household name, but if you don’t, know that List has a lot in common with music you maybe do listen to. The way the guitars are constantly busy and complex but also bright and melodic reminds me of White Lung. The vocals may be more metallic in style, but Martyrdod often scratch a similar itch to melodic hardcore bands like Modern Life Is War and American Nightmare. And like I hinted at earlier, people who like the classics from Maiden to Metallica may fall in love with Martyrdod’s guitar heroics. If you’re down to give a new metal album a shot this year, List is one of your best bets.
YG is already responsible for the anthem that many people needed this year (or for the next four years), “Fuck Donald Trump,” but he’s not done with 2016 yet. To celebrate Black Friday, the Compton rapper returns with a quick eight-song mixtape, Red Friday. He ditches the G-funk revival of Still Brazy in favor of darker, more modern production (his former right hand man DJ Mustard is back), and he only mentions Trump in passing. Still Brazy felt like an album for the people, the charts, and the rap canon; Red Friday feels built for the streets. The biggest guest on here is current FADER cover star 21 Savage, who helps make “I Be On” the one song you might hear on the radio, but mostly it’s just YG in his own zone. And even if there’s no “FDT” pt. 3, YG still touches on the political stuff with the no-bullshit closing track “One Time Comin'” (which first dropped as a single last month). He calls out racism and police brutality (“You think you hard with your badge… think our life don’t matter?”). It’s one of the shortest songs on the album, but it hits the hardest.