Notable Releases of the Week (6/28)
It’s been another busy week in the music world and in case you missed them, here are some stories I recommend: Vampire Weekend covered The Doors, Alcest announced an album, Korn announced an album, Cardi B released the wildest video of the year, The Jesus Lizard are playing New Year’s Eve in NYC, and it was revealed that TONS of other artists lost masters in the 2008 UMG fire. Also, shameless plug alert: I made a list of Rancid Albums Ranked Worst To Best.
There are also a lot of worthwhile new albums out this week. I highlighted seven below, but first, some honorable mentions: The Black Keys, Erin Durant, Daughter of Swords (aka Alexandra Sauser-Monnig of Mountain Man), Yellow Eyes, Sumac & Keiji Haino, Outer Spaces, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tunng, Berwanger (aka Josh Berwanger of The Anniversary), Horse Jumper of Love, Victims, Ashbringer, Chris Staples, Heilung, Mega Bog, Summer Cannibals, Daniel Caesar, and the guest-filled Mustard album (ft. Migos, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg, YG, Meek Mill, Future, Young Thug, Ella Mai, the late Nipsey Hussle, and more).
Check out my seven picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Freddie Gibbs is a rapper’s rapper. He’s the kind of guy who’s absurdly skilled in the traditional sense but who almost never seems interested in keeping up with the times or writing a song that will cross over into non-hip hop worlds. For Freddie and his core fanbase, that’s probably fine. But every once in a while he taps into something that feels bigger and better than the albums and mixtapes he usually churns out (at an astonishing rate, I might add), and it usually happens when he’s paired with the right producer for the entirety of a project. Freddie’s tough, no-bullshit raps are cut from the cloth of aggressive ’90s rap, so it’s no surprise that he sounds best when he works with guys who actually made beats in the ’90s. That was the case last year with his great collaborative album with Curren$y which was entirely produced by The Alchemist, and it was the case with 2014’s Piñata, which was entirely produced by Madlib. Piñata is still one of Freddie’s most-loved albums to date, so needless to say, there’s a lot riding on its just-released followup, Bandana, Freddie Gibbs and Madlib’s first full-length collab in five years.
Freddie’s bars are blunt and clear, so they make for a nice contrast when they’re up against producers who favor psychedelic sounds, as The Alchemist and Madlib both do. Lib provides Bandana with a handful of beats that sound like old soul records playing on warped vinyl, and Freddie handles them all like a pro. The album is full of threatening bars and heart-stopping punchlines, and Freddie sounds like a beast throughout all of it. With Madlib guiding him, he channels his pure talent and pure aggression into some of his most memorable songs yet. Guest appearances mostly come from other rappers who share Freddie’s same love of hip hop tradition (most of whom have been established for much longer than him), and they all fit this album’s mold just as perfectly as Freddie does. Pusha T and Killer Mike, both of whom have had massive resurgences in recent years just by doing what they do best, both show up on “Palmolive,” and the triple threat of those guys plus Freddie on one song is a real force to be reckoned with. Lifers Yasiin Bey (fka Mos Def) and Black Thought of The Roots help make “Education” nearly as menacing. The closest the album does come to having a crossover track is “Giannis” with the ever popular Anderson .Paak, and Paak nails a balance of gifting the album with his pop smarts without trying to go off script. It’s a nice twist, but it doesn’t overshadow this otherwise very focused album of which Freddie and Madlib are the clear stars. When they first made Piñata, I don’t know if they ever planned to make another album again, but it’s become clear over the years that they’re a dynamic duo who bring out the best in each other, and it’s great to have them back.
In the two-plus decades since The Appleseed Cast formed, there haven’t been many other acts like them. They emerged out of the ’90s emo scene with their 1998 debut album The End of the Ring Wars, a very fine record indebted to bands like Sunny Day Real Estate and Mineral. But after perfecting that sound off the bat, they quickly moved on and became more of a post-rock band with emo tendencies on subsequent albums Mare Vitalis (2000) and Low Level Owl (2001). 2003’s Two Conversations and especially 2006’s Peregrine saw them taking their post-rock atmospherics in a more art rock direction, with the latter finding The Appleseed Cast embracing the grand sounds of ’80s U2. Followup albums Sagarmatha (2009) and Illumination Ritual (2013) were good and still fine examples of the unique musical world that The Appleseed Cast have crafted, but they’ve been plateauing a bit and losing some of the urgency of their most classic work. That is, until now. The Fleeting Light of Impermanence is The Appleseed Cast’s first album in six years and easily their best since Peregrine. It sounds unmistakably like The Appleseed Cast, but it’s not a return to form or anything. The Appleseed Cast have rekindled their flame by making an album like they’ve never made before.
Main member Chris Crisci was joined by the all-new lineup of Sean Bergman, Ben Kimball, and Nick Fredrickson for this one, and this is one of the tightest lineups they’ve had in years. This lineup has been touring with Crisci for three years but this is their first time writing and recording with him, and they’ve put a real hop in The Appleseed Cast’s step, especially drummer Nick Fredrickson. Busy, pounding drums were always a reason that those early Appleseed Cast records hit so hard, and Nick is their most beastly drummer in years. The record was also assembled differently than any other Appleseed Cast record. They recorded literally hundreds of sonic vignettes, and then pieced them together as songs. On paper, that sounds like it might have resulted in a “difficult” album to listen to, but the opposite is true. The Fleeting Light of Impermanence is home to The Appleseed Cast’s strongest and most memorable hooks in a very long time. The soaring harmonies and pounding, metallic drums in the chorus of lead single “Time The Destroyer” make for a song as triumphant-sounding as anything in The Appleseed Cast’s catalog. On album opener “Chaotic Waves,” Crisci dishes out sweet, heartwarming melodies over Fredrickson’s mathy drumming and the result feels like a jolt of lightning to The Appleseed Cast’s career. “Asking the Fire” offers up a blend of wall-of-sound post-rock and yearning emo that rivals plenty of Appleseed Cast songs from 15, 20 years ago. There’s a strong familiarity and a heavy dose of nostalgia to songs like that one, but Impermanence always avoids relying entirely on old tricks. It’s got a dense, claustrophobic, keyboard-heavy sound that no other Appleseed Cast album has really had before. Even on the songs that sound the most like classic Appleseed Cast, there are new twists added in. And as with many of the best Appleseed Cast records of the past, Crisci’s words are heartfelt and sentimental enough to latch onto them with all your might but open-ended and vague enough to interpret them in a number of different ways. These are personal and easily relatable songs without being too tied to the specificities of Crisci’s (or anyone else’s) life. As with recent albums by veteran emo bands American Football or The Appleseed Cast’s recent tourmates mewithoutYou, The Fleeting Light of Impermanence offers up the unique thrill and vulnerability of emo with the wisdom you only gain after you’ve been doing this for 20 years. These bands once operated in a genre that was tied to youth but they’re continuing to prove that they’re capable of growing with their fans. The lyrical concerns and the musical approach are much different on The Fleeting Light of Impermanence than on The End of the Ring Wars, but the ageless feelings are the same.
ANIMA is Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke’s first proper solo album in five years, and it’s very, very good. You can read my review of the album here.
Bad Bunny and J Balvin have both been unstoppable forces within the worlds of Latin hip hop, reggaeton, and beyond for a while now, and they continue to rise. They joined forces last year on Cardi B’s “I Like It,” which became one of the biggest and most widely loved songs in the world, no matter what language you speak, and both artists have come into 2019 swinging. Bad Bunny released his excellent debut album X 100PRE and the tail-end of 2018 and has continued to drop singles throughout this year. J Balvin is still riding high off last year’s Vibras, and he’s had a handful of 2019 tracks too (including one with Rosalía). Now the pair have teamed up once again for a surprise collaborative album, and needless to say, this is the kind of event album that can and will set the music world on fire. I’ve only heard it once so far, so I don’t have a full review yet, but it’s clear from just one listen that Bad Bunny and J Balvin have made a very fun record that I suspect we’ll all be hearing a lot of this summer. It’s got eight songs, most of which are bangers, and then there’s the very appealing tender slow jam “LA CANCIÓN.” There are just two guests — Latin rock veteran Marciano Cantero and Nigerian Afrobeat singer Mr Eazi — and otherwise it’s the Bad Bunny and J Balvin show. With just eight songs, OASIS flies by and leaves you wanting more right away.
It might be hard to get past a band name like Prince Daddy & the Hyena, and it might be even harder to get past Kory Gregory’s scratchy wail, but if you do, you’ll find yourself immersed in one of the most unique DIY punk albums of the year. It’s a three-act, rock opera-style album, influenced both by singer Kory Gregory’s struggles with mental health and The Wizard of Oz. (“I remember watching the Wizard of Oz one time, and noticing some weird kind of parallels between the cyclical nature of my mental health and that movie,” he says.) It has the scope and ambition of a rock opera, but it sounds like it was recorded in a basement and Kory is the furthest thing from “operatic.” His voice can be grating, but often times grating singers are the ones who stick with you the longest — Conor Oberst and Jeff Mangum were described that way at first too, and as with both of those singers, the unfiltered passion in Kory’s voice makes up for any lack of training. He cites other punk rock operas like Titus Andronicus’ The Monitor, Green Day’s American Idiot, and My Chemical Romance’s The Black Parade as primary influences, but those albums had a clean production style that Cosmic Thrill Seekers avoids. (Less so Titus, but even The Monitor is clean compared to this album.) Cosmic Thrill Seekers sounds like the Broadway-ready songwriting of American Idiot mixed with the rawness of Green Day’s old pals Operation Ivy. Kory’s melodies are clearly inspired by pop punk, but his delivery is far from pop. It’s a record full of clashes and contradictions, and Prince Daddy & the Hyena were just crazy enough to pull it all off.
Cleveland metal collective Axioma was formed in 2015 with frontman Aaron Dallison of Keelhaul and Brain Tentacles, Justin Meyers and Jon Vinson of Forged In Glame, and Cyril Blandino of French metal band Morgue. They released their debut EP Opia in 2016 and now they’re back three years later with their first full-length, Crown. The band describes their own sound as “dark and unorthodox,” and that’s about as good a description as any for this album. The songs jump around from black metal to post-metal to sludge/doom, and they even work in a cover of Massive Attack’s “Angel.” These guys are all over the place in the best way, covering tons of very appealing sounds without biting off more than they can chew.
I don’t know if I think this album is good, but the rollout has been very entertaining. First, it was announced that BLARF was signed to Stones Throw and playing an LA show in July. Then, Eric Andre — who had a band called BLARF — tweeted, “People are confusing this guy BLARF on @stonesthrow for me! Let’s go to his show and see what the fuck is going on here!” Then, BLARF announced his debut album Cease & Desist, and when Pitchfork asked the Stones Throw artist if he is Eric Andre, he replied, “Who the fuck is that?” Then, the album artwork (which doesn’t not look like Eric Andre) was revealed, and Eric and Stones Throw both posted it. Then, the lead single/video “Badass Bullshit Benjamin Buttons Butthole Assassin” came out, looking and sounding like some mashup of Adult Swim and The Avalanches, something we wouldn’t put past the Adult Swim-affiliated Eric Andre. Now the whole album is here, and most of it continues in the sample collage format of “Badass Bullshit Benjamin Buttons Butthole Assassin,” though there’s also a 12+ minute noise track called “I Worship Satan.” Even if you never listen to this album again — and I probably won’t — you’ve got to at least be curious.