Five Notable Releases of the Week (8/5/16)
Surprise — there’s still no Frank Ocean album. If you can somehow gather the strength to listen to something else as you mourn the absence of Boys Don’t Cry, there are excellent albums out this week by Wild Beasts and Dinosaur Jr, and more. Update: There’s also a new Bracket album out today that deserves to be heard.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
English art rockers Wild Beasts have been wildly consistent since their 2008 debut Limbo, Panto. They seem to only know how to make good albums, and Boy King, their fifth, is no exception. It follows 2014’s Present Tense (home of “Mecca,” one of my favorite songs of that year), and to paraphrase Bill, it’s something new for the band but still sounds entirely like Wild Beasts. It’s the band’s first album with producer John Congleton, who’s mastered the art of making rock bands sound raw, clear and powerful. Accordingly, Wild Beasts explore a grittier side here. “It became apparent that that guitar almost became the character within the songs, that phallic character, the all-conquering male,” co-frontman Hayden Thorpe said, talking abut the album’s rawer riffs. The album itself is said to be a concept album that explores “the darker side of masculinity,” and it doesn’t take many listens to start hearing that in both the music and the lyrics. Wild Beasts may have sounded romantic before but now they have sex drive. Hayden and Tom Fleming sound hot and bothered here, and they’re very much making body music. It’s a danceable album, but they haven’t “gone pop.” It’s still very much in Wild Beasts’ own unique world, which seems to have little interest in what’s going on anywhere else.
Dinosaur Jr’s classic lineup of J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph officially have more reunion-era albums than the initial ’80s version of the band had. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not is the band’s 11th album overall, seventh with this lineup, and fourth reunion album. Like fellow indie rock OG Bob Mould, Dino have basically been sticking to the sound that they helped pioneer, and so many bands still try to rip them off that it still sounds timeless. Play “Goin Down” or “Tiny” right next to “Freak Scene” or “Kracked” for someone who’s never heard the band before, and besides differences in recording quality, they probably couldn’t figure out the latter two are almost 20 years older. J’s still chock full of seemingly-effortless melodies and shredding guitar solos, and the band’s still keeping their heads down and staying true to what they know. As other reunion albums have, Glimpse also gives Lou a chance to show off the songwriting chops he honed when he was away from the band. (Not that he didn’t have any songwriting the first time around, but you know, like Bakesale-style chops.) Lou’s actually got some of the sweetest-sounding songs on this record, though of course it’s the Mascis jams that make you feel like you’re hearing a Dinosaur Jr record. For all the “sounds like Dinosaur Jr” bands that seem to pop up monthly, hearing J Mascis, Lou Barlow and Murph still crank out tunes this great themselves is always a reminder that no one else can do it quite like this.
Field Mouse have been at it with various lineups and styles for all of the current decade, and their third and best album Episodic throws them right into the mix of one of rock’s most prevailing current trends. You’ve heard it before: kids in the ’90s came up on a selection of mainstream-alternative bands, found punk through those bands, and now they’re in their twenties or early thirties, combining those sounds and coming out with a second take on “post-grunge.” Post-grunge initially meant taking Eddie Vedder and Chris Cornell’s vocals, and stripping away any signifiers of underground music. For these newer bands, it means taking the bands you maybe didn’t think were so cool back then (be it Gin Blossoms or Third Eye Blind or Garbage) and getting back to a less bombastic, punk-minded culture. It’s given us bands like Bully, Beach Slang, Dilly Dally, and a handful of others. <i>Episodic</i> should please fans of those bands too. (It also features contributions from members of Cymbals Eat Guitars, Speedy Ortiz, and Waxahatchee/Swearin’, and if you like those bands, you’ll also probably like this.) It’s got enough hooks to fill a ’90s teen-movie soundtrack, but a DIY approach. The songs all feel familiar, but Rachel Browne’s great voice makes them enjoyable even to the most fervent ’90s-rock record collectors.
Sacramento duo Dog Party have only been around for a few years, but they’re already on their fifth album, Til You’re Mine (which follows last year’s Vol. 4). These two sisters (Gwendolyn and Lucy Giles) work in the timeless tradition of the Ramones, mixing punk rhythms with ’60s bubblegum pop melodies, and Til You’re Mine is another solid batch of songs in that realm. The album was engineered by Chris Woodhouse, who’s worked with Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, and the aesthetic is definitely up a similarly garagey alley (Dog Party also has affiliations with Burger Records). But there’s a real-deal pop punk side here too. It’s on Asian Man Records, one of the ever-reliable homes for stuff like this (they did sign The Queers after all), and they’re more proof that Mike Park still knows a good band when he hears one. While this is indeed a very bubblegummy album, it’s not all fun in the sun. They do a cover of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” that’s got all the angst and power of the original. It’s pretty straightforward, but Dog Party find ways to make it their own and it’s super fun to hear against their own songs.
If you follow underground punk in NYC closely, you might call Cheena a supergroup. Their most well-known member is Margaret Chardiet, better known as the brains behind the art-noise project Pharmakon, but the rest of this band’s “members of” is highly impressive too: Crazy Spirit, Hank Wood & the Hammerheads, Anasazi, and Dawn of Humans. (By the way, those bands are also all worth checking out, especially Hank Wood & the Hammerheads who may be NYC’s best garage punk band at the moment.) This is nothing like Pharmakon’s noise — lead vocals are handed by Crazy Spirit’s Walker Behl anyway — but it’s a very solid collage of classic punk styles. There’s some Detroit garage rock in here, some ’80s cowpunk, some ’70s New York leather-jacket wearing punk, and there’s a little power pop and glam in there too. Like fellow Sacred Bones-signed punks The Men, Cheena dive into country rock on “Electric Snoopy Gang.” It’s a cool record, especially if you tend to dig stuff like this.