Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/23)
One of my most anticipated albums of the year is out today, the new Vince Staples album. Other than that, it’s admittedly a slower week and my other four picks this week fall on the more esoteric side. Maybe use the opportunity to catch up on something from last week, which was stacked. Or maybe check out an old album for the first time, like one of the 50 best psychedelic rock albums of 1967.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The most immediately fascinating song on Vince Staples’ new album is “Yeah Right.” It starts out as Vince’s slowed-down, warped version of a banger, with backgrounded gang vocals on the hook that almost mock the fact that Vince knows this one’s an easy crowdpleaser. Then the beat switches and gorgeous melodic singing by Kućka comes in, backed by some crazy sound effects. Then the beat switches again and Kendrick Lamar appears for a show-stopping verse.
It’s interesting that Kendrick has such a major contribution on this album, as it’s increasingly easy to compare Vince to the reigning king of modern-day rap. Kendrick and Vince are both West Coast guys whose breakthrough albums — good kid, m.A.A.d city and Summertime ’06, respectively — had a real classic-album trajectory and told life stories through keen, young eyes. Both can spit bars in a way that’s not as fashionable as it used to be, but both have a weird, new style that’s totally of the millennial generation. Also, every move that each rapper makes is a surprise. And in 2017, those surprise moves have sent both rappers on very different paths. Kendrick Lamar’s recently released DAMN. is the most traditional-sounding high-profile rap album of 2017. It’s one of the best albums of this year, and it sounds like it could be one of the best albums of 1995 too. Vince took the exact opposite approach. In his recent interview with Nardwuar, he shoved off just about every rap album Nardwuar gave him until Nardwuar finally gave him a Joy Division album. On the first song on Big Fish Theory, Vince makes it clear that he’s more interested in UK garage than hip hop beats. The aforementioned “Yeah Right” has an electronic backdrop constructed by PC Music associate SOPHIE and EDM-pop wiz Flume. Right now, Vince looks less like Kendrick Lamar and more like fellow Gorillaz collaborator and tourmate Danny Brown, whose latest album is full of underground dance beats and named after a Joy Division song.
Big Fish Theory is a deeply weird album. Vince does rap on it, but I almost hesitate to refer to it as a “rap album.” “Alyssa Interlude” opens with a sample of Amy Winehouse speaking, and it transitions into Vince quietly singing over pitter-patter electronic drums and weeping piano. It’s followed directly by “Love Can Be…,” another dose of electronics, spoken word, and sung vocals. “Ramona Park Is Yankee Stadium” is a mostly a cappella ditty sung by Vince that clocks in at under a minute. Album closer “Rain Come Down” is gorgeously sung by Ty Dolla $ign, with Vince’s own rhymes sort of feeling like the “guest” appearance.
Compared to DAMN., my initial feeling is to be underwhelmed by Big Fish Theory. DAMN. lead single “HUMBLE.” set expectations for DAMN. that were immediately met by the rest of the album. Big Fish Theory lead singles “BagBak” and “Big Fish” made this one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and those songs turned out to be outliers of sorts. They’re the two most traditional-rap songs on the album (though still both heavily electronic and futuristic), with “BagBak” attacking the current state of the US government and “Big Fish” looking back on Vince’s own life, Summertime ’06 style. I hoped the album would have more songs like this and less like “Love Can Be.” That said, I’ve only had the chance to play the album a few times at this point and I can tell it’s going to take many listens to unpack. DAMN. was one of the most immediate albums I heard in 2017, but Big Fish Theory challenges the listener and challenges Vince himself. It might require a lot of patience, and it might require throwing all expectations out the window. But it feels like a challenge that’s going to be worth it.
Laurel Halo is anything but inactive, though she hasn’t released a “vocal album” since 2012’s excellent Quarantine. Not to discredit Laurel’s dancefloor material, but for fans of her more traditionally song-oriented work, it came as a pleasant surprise when she revealed that Dust would hearken back to her Quarantine style. She uses both live instrumentation and electronics, with contributions from vocalists Klein, Lafawndah, and Michael Salu; and musicians Eli Keszler, Craig Clouse ($hit and $hine), Julia Holter, Max D, Michael Beharie and Diamond Terrifier.
The results are satisfying, and anything but a repeat of Quarantine. It sorta uses the style of that album as a launchpad and then goes off in all sorts of unexpected directions. Calling any of Laurel Halo’s music “traditionally song-oriented” (as I did above) isn’t entirely accurate, as even her most accessible music breaks all kind of songwriting boundaries. On Dust, she and her collaborators trek through spoken word, polyrhythmic percussion, found sounds, laughter, danceable grooves, atonal drones, and more — all while finding time for some sense of melody and structure. It’s really not everyday that music this weird is pulled off this beautifully.
Finnish band Circle have countless studio albums, live albums, and EPs dating back to the early ’90s, but Terminal is more than “just another Circle album.” Southern Lord is touting it as a “searing platter of krautrock with scorching doses of The Stooges & Judas Priest” and honestly I’d say that undersells it. All three of those sounds come together on Terminal (there is especially a lot of Stooges influence on this one), but there’s so much more than that. It opens with “Rakkautta Al Dente,” which marries a psych-sludge riff to harsh, evil screams, and finds time for a lengthy space jam. I’d recommend it equally to fans of Hawkwind, Emperor, and the Grateful Dead. And that’s just one song.
If the opening track makes you think this is going to be “screaming music,” the second song (the title track) immediately refutes that. Led by a riff that sounds straight off the first Stooges album, this one’s got such sparklingly clean vocals that it could try out for The Voice. “Imperiumi” is one where I hear the Priest influence, but it’s like, Priest covering circus music and then going off on a prog-jazz odyssey. “Kill City” takes the Stooges influence of the title track and mashes it together with the space rock of the opener. Closing track “Sick Child” finds the middle ground between Sabbath and MBV, and it’s got a snarling rock vocal that a young Mick Jagger might’ve been impressed by. All of these disparate sounds coming together could be a total mess, but Circle get it right.
Azniv Korkejian is literally a world-traveling musician. The singer/songwriter was born in Syria, moved to Saudi Arabia as a child, and later moved to America, where she lived in Boston and Houston before settling in LA. For her self-titled debut album as Bedouine, she’s joined by a very impressive cast. The album was produced by Gus Seyffert and features guitarist Smokey Hormel (who are both known for working with Beck and Norah Jones), it was mixed by Thom Monahan (Vetiver, Devendra Banhart), and Matthew E White is releasing it on his Spacebomb label. It’s got gorgeous string arrangements by Spacebomb’s co-owner and in-house arranger Trey Pollard, who also lent his talents to Matthew, Natalie Prass, Foxygen, and more. As you may expect from a team like that, the album hearkens back to ’60s and ’70s songwriting, and has a real smooth, calm feel to it. Though she’s lived everywhere, it’s appropriate that she ended up in LA, a breeding ground for a lot of music like this in the ’60s (The Byrds, Linda Ronstadt, John Phillips, Tim Buckley, etc). If you like that stuff, you’ll probably find that Azniv does a lot of justice to that sound. Early highlight “One of These Days” is so instantly familiar and instantly pleasing, that you’ll be checking to make sure it’s not a cover from that era. (It’s not.) Some of the album is really smooth (a lot of Spacebomb stuff is), but my favorite songs are the ones where she lets her freak flag fly a bit. “Solitary Daughter” has a spoken word/poetry feel to it, like Leonard Cohen or the trippier side of Paul Simon. “Summer Cold” embraces dark, queasy melodies, almost sounding like a psych-folk singer covering Billie Holiday. Songs like that prove that Bedouine is anything but a one-trick pony.
On their 2014 debut album Head In The Clouds, Hands In The Dirt, Boston’s Aviator were offering up a fine revival of ’90s screamo and hardcore. Three years is a long time in the internet-music world, and a lot has changed in this scene since then. A handful of notable hardcore bands have ditched punk for shoegaze, or singing for screaming, and some of those bands have gained more mainstream recognition than ever. Aviator appear to have tuned out all that noise, and instead honed the aggressive sound of their debut. When they first came out, it felt like they were a little late to the game. Now that so many of their peers have toned down the aggression, Loneliness Leaves the Light On For Me feels refreshing. They do experiment a little with clean singing, but not by going in the indie rock direction of their peers. “Looks Deep Enough From Here” sort of takes on the melodic punk of Title Fight’s Floral Green. “I Wouldn’t Live There If You Paid Me” seems to pull equally from that sound and their screamo roots. Most of the album, though, still sticks to their screamo side. At this point, Aviator are possibly more appealing to, say, a Deafheaven fan, than to fans of the latest Title Fight album. Loneliness should satisfy people who miss the Touche Amore of Parting the Sea Between Brightness and Me or the Pianos Become the Teeth of The Lack Long After. The dedication to that sound has paid off — Aviator have gotten pretty damn good at it.