Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/31)
It's been another exciting week in the music world: the first new Broken Social Scene song in 7 years! An absolutely killer Kendrick Lamar song! A bunch of new LCD Soundsystem shows (that were tough to get tickets for). Hopefully we'll be talking about new albums by those artists soon. Meanwhile, let's get to the stuff that's out this week.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Aimee Mann is one of those underdog success stories, an artist who abandoned the major label world, started releasing music on her own label, and has managed to stay creative and relevant for decades. None of this is news, but the career moves she's been making recently have made her even more appealing -- especially to indie rock fans. She got James Mercer of the Shins to sing a duet with her on her last album, 2012's Charmer, and she then formed a collaborative band with Ted Leo, The Both. Now she's back with Charmer's followup, Mental Illness, which Ted Leo contributed to (as did The Long Winters' John Roderick, Jonathan Coulton, and others). Aimee's been describing the album as her "saddest, slowest" one yet. For people who like to hear artists get sadder and slower (guilty), Mental Illness is some of Aimee's most appealing work. The album is heavy on acoustic guitars, weeping strings, and the title is representative of the lyrical content. Aimee told Salon that two or three songs are about a friend of a friend with bipolar disorder, and others are about "depressed people or anxious people or people doing the same things over and over [who are] stuck in patterns that they can’t get out of." Sad, folky music never really goes out of style, but Mental Illness feels even more in the now thanks to current indie successes like Julien Baker and Angel Olsen. Most artists can only hope to make music this vital over 30 years into a musical career. That Aimee Mann manages to sound so natural while doing it is even more impressive.
Maine's Falls of Rauros have been staples of US post-black metal for over a decade now, and they sound grander and more majestic than ever on Vigilance Perennial, their first full length in three years. "Black Metal and Folk sharing musical space" is how the band describe themselves in their bio. On Vigilance Perennial, that's accurate, but it doesn't tell the whole story. They still channel black metal's rawness and they have enough acoustic-guitar parts that qualify as folk music, but those are just two parts of a much larger whole. Their melodic, towering riffs are often closer to epic doom metal than to traditional black metal. They'll throw in solos that are heroic enough for a classic rock band. Then when Falls of Rauros aren't screaming, Vigilance Perennial can genuinely sound like post-rock or slowcore -- the short instrumental track "Warm Quiet Centuries of Rains" could pass for a new This Will Destroy You song if you didn't know any better. These sounds come together seamlessly on Vigilance and Falls of Rauros never stick to just one side of their sound for too long. Other than the vocals, it's almost unfair to call the album "black metal." It's far too diverse to fit into that subgenre's often-strictly-defined box.
Passion Pit first won everyone over with an EP that -- as legend has it -- main member Michael Angelakos made as a self-recorded gift for his girlfriend at the time, and never planned on releasing. Then came the highly successful debut album Manners, the even better (and lyrically heartbreaking) Gossamer, and then the lukewarmly-received Kindred. For Kindred's followup, Tremendous Sea of Love, Michael sorta brought things back to the way it all began. It doesn't appear to have anything to do with his contract with Columbia Records -- he gave it away for free to fans who retweeted his support for neuroscientist Michael F. Wells, a scientist who recently teamed up with Passion Pit to discuss mental illness on Twitter. He also recorded the songs himself quickly, and without much editing. This is a guy who's headlined Madison Square Garden, and his new album is essentially a full-length demo. It's an unexpected (and pretty cool) turn, and Tremendous Sea of Love is a noticeably superior album to Kindred. It's still bright and poppy, but it feels very diary-like and it's some of the least accessible music Passion Pit has ever made. (There's a song called "Inner Dialogue," which would've been a good name for the album too.) Like the debut EP, it feels like it's for one person, not for the world. Only this time, that person is Michael himself.
Tremendous Sea of Love isn't streaming anywhere but you can get it for a retweet.
Even at the height of her stardom, Nelly Furtado has been a little more on the "alternative" side than many of her pop peers. Her 2000 debut had a little '90s trip-hop creeping into it, and her 2006 R&B-leaning, career-reinventing Loose saw her working with Timbaland, whose production was always one step ahead of the game. It's been a while since Nelly's had a hit, but she's been using her time out of the spotlight to embrace that "alternative" side more than ever. A couple of years ago, she took part in a unique David Byrne concert that otherwise featured indie acts such as St Vincent, Blood Orange, Zola Jesus, and tUnE-yArDs. Last year, she contributed a show-stopping lead vocal performance to the Blood Orange album. Now she's finally back with her own album, The Ride, and she made it with the great indie rock producer John Congleton (who's worked with Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Swans, and many more).
It's a good time for Nelly to make a move like this. Early 2000s alt-pop peers Kelis, Michelle Branch, and Vanessa Carlton have been doing similar things, and pop and indie have been crossing paths a lot lately. This is a time where James Blake plays on a Beyonce album and Rihanna has a popular Tame Impala cover. There's arguably never been a better time in Nelly's career for her to go full indie than right now. The results are intriguing, but admittedly fall a bit flat. The album fits in nicely with some of today's alt-pop acts -- most of these songs would sound good on a playlist next to Florence, Lorde, Haim, or Lana, and "Sticks and Stones" reminds me a lot of the less popular Alex Winston -- but none of the songs hit as hard as her actual hits. (They also don’t hit as hard as her Blood Orange collaboration “Hadron Collider,” which is probably her best song since “Promiscuous." If Dev Hynes produces her next album, she may be onto something...) It's hard not to root for Nelly Furtado, and if you are (an indie rock fan who is) rooting for her, it feels pretty triumphant that she took her career in this direction. If she can find a middle ground between her indie-minded creative freedom, and the addictiveness of her prime era, she might once again be unstoppable.
Margaret Chardiet has been busy lately. She put out an album with her no-frills punk band Cheena a few months back, she scored a movie (that premiered at Cannes and played at SXSW), and now she's got a new album with her art-noise project Pharmakon. Contact follows her breakthrough 2013 album Abandon and Abandon's equally great 2014 followup, Bestial Burden. It's not super different from those two albums -- she's still making noise music that's highly confrontational yet strangely addictive -- but you can certainly hear a progression here. She seems to be dishing out even more of the gut-wrenching screams this time, and focusing less on the more delicate parts. Pharmakon was always abrasive, but Contact is her most abrasive work yet.