Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/21)
In the past month or so, both How to Dress Well and Phantogram have appeared in this Notable Releases column. And in the past week, HTDW remixed Phantogram's standout single "You Don't Get Me High Anymore," so it only feels right to get this week's post started by listening to that:
Now for this week's new albums. It's a really stacked week again, and there's some truly great stuff that I chose to leave out. There's The Radio Dept's new album Running Out of Love, which Bill says may be his favorite album of the year (read his interview with them). There's the first album in a decade from post-hardcore greats Planes Mistaken for Stars, Prey. There's former Weakerthans frontman John K. Samson's new solo album Winter Wheat, which has him backed by two of his three ex-bandmates and includes "Virtute at Rest," the third part of the "Cat Named Virtute" trilogy. It's the closest thing we've gotten to a Weakerthans album since 2007.
Of the five albums I did pick, there are two albums by guys who made cult-folk classics in the '60s and '70s and are still making shockingly good music today. There are also albums by two bands responsible for two of the greatest '90s emo records, but who went in wildly different directions at the turn of the century. And lastly, there's an album by a soul/funk/rap artist who already released one great LP this year and is one of 2016's biggest breakout artists.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
American Football released their first and only album in 1999 and broke up shortly after. In the time since its release, it became one of the most highly influential indie-emo records in existence, with its status as a legendary LP growing until the band finally reunited in 2014. 17 years later American Football finally have a followup, and it's not only as good as their debut; it might be better. I interviewed frontman Mike Kinsella for a longer piece on the album, which you can read HERE. Here's an excerpt:
Lyrically, this is the Mike Kinsella we know and love. In his own words, Owen lyrics are “maybe a little more blunt or sarcastic” and American Football’s are “a little more heartfelt or sincere,” but otherwise he’s addressing topics that fit either project: love, lust, alcohol, and the dark sides of all of those things. Moments like the tricky timing of “My Instincts Are the Enemy” or “Born to Lose” are classic American Football, but the boldly melodic chorus of “Where Are We Now” is the kind of songcraft that Mike didn’t perfect until a few albums into Owen’s career. The mathy, kinda shouty “Desire Gets in the Way” almost sounds more like the American Football/Cap’n Jazz blend that Mike Kinsella’s many disciples make, than anything he himself wrote previously. And since it wouldn’t be an American Football album without melancholic trumpets, there are plenty of those. The world may see American Football as musical gods, but LP2 is a triumph because the band is able to distance itself from that title entirely.
Read the rest here
In the '90s, Jimmy Eat World put out two classic emo albums, but unlike American Football (or Braid or Mineral or Texas Is the Reason or Lifetime or Christie Front Drive or Knapsack or Boys Life), they survived the '90s and became a genuinely popular band in the '00s. They didn't even really latch on to that decade's pop-emo boom either; they were just kind of a straight-up rock band. It's been a while since they did anything worth talking about though. The last time they showed true signs of greatness was on 2007's Chase This Light, home of one of their best pop-rock singles ("Big Casino") and their last great deep cut ("Firefight"). After that album they made the awkward transition to Adult Alternative with 2010's disappointing Invented and 2013's only-slightly-better Damage. I don't know what caused it -- maybe the fact that an entire scene emerged that considers them an influence, or that they're seeing all their old pals reunite to excellent results -- but the new Integrity Blues is easily Jimmy Eat World's best album in nine years.
They didn't remake Clarity or anything -- this is still in the vein of their 21st century albums -- but it just sounds like they're more inspired and really gelling as a band on this record. Jimmy Eat World have always been a band that knows how to pick an opening track, so let's start there. Integrity Blues kicks off with "You With Me," home of one of those classic-sounding J.E.W. chorus that only this band can seem to write. Then it's "Sure and Certain," the album's Big Pop Single. It's a slower song that I didn't love the first time I heard it, but now it gets me every time. More of a "Lucky Denver Mint" kind of single than a "The Middle" kind of single, but polished around the edges like the rest of the post-Futures stuff. It's a pleasant song, and a lot of this album is pleasant, but there's some rougher, darker stuff here too. The sludge-metal-leaning "Pass The Baby" is the heaviest song they've written since Futures. That one goes right into "Get Right," a dark rocker that sounds straight off that same album. Jimmy Eat World excel at the darker stuff, but they excel at the pretty ballads too, and with "The End Is Beautiful," they've given us a lovely one here. The one side of Jimmy Eat World that's absent here is their punky side; there's nothing like "Bleed American" and certainly nothing like "Rockstar." Otherwise, Integrity Blues is pretty much a culmination of the band's past 15 years, and a way better album than it seemed like they'd make in 2016.
Honestly, this album deserves to be heard just because at 82 years old, Leonard Cohen wrote an album called You Want It Darker. 49 years after releasing his must-own debut, and coming off the (very) late-career creative burst of Old Ideas (2012) and Popular Problems (2014) -- albums that are far more essential than most musicians make at that age -- Leonard Cohen had literally nothing to prove. And yet, he decides his music wasn't dark enough for us.
I'm of course interpreting the album's title as a declaration to us, his listeners, in reference to his music, though it's entirely possible he didn't intend it that way at all. But the music certainly sounds like he did. His voice has been low and raspy for decades now, but I'm not sure it's ever sounded this gloomy for the length of an entire album. Even on Popular Problems, he often sounded about as uplifting as someone with his voice could. With the sadly large amount of musician deaths we've had this year, including of course David Bowie whose 2016 album now reads like a goodbye letter, it's tempting to read You Want It Darker as Leonard Cohen's goodbye too. That became even more true when Leonard explicitly said he's "ready to die." (Though, amazingly, he quickly clarified: "I intend to live forever.") Maybe that message is hidden in this album, maybe it's not. Either way, like Bowie was on Blackstar, Leonard sounds like he knows this might be his last chance to really shake things up. If he was going for that, he succeeded.
Alternative music's favorite CSNY member will probably always be Neil Young, but after the mid-2000s freak folk movement and the rediscovery of psychedelic folk amongst today's young music listeners, David Crosby emerged as someone particularly influential and ahead of his time for outsider music. His trippy 1971 debut solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name and the nuggets he wrote when he tried to turn The Byrds into a psychedelic band (like "Renaissance Fair" and "Triad") are direct precedents for stuff like Fleet Foxes and Jessica Pratt (both of whom David is now a fan of). When he re-emerged in 2014 with Croz, his first solo album since the early '90s, he proved that he could still do it like back in the day and compete directly with the artists he influenced. Now just two years later he returns with Lighthouse, which is even more on par with his classic debut.
Crosby's selling this one as a "raw, intimate" album, and that description is spot on. So much of it is just Crosby's voice and an acoustic guitar; even his '71 LP was more fleshed out than this. Some of these melodies can bring you right back to If I Could Only Remember My Name or those few Byrds tunes or "Guinnevere." And the harmonies recall that era so perfectly (they also remind you just how much Fleet Foxes take from the Croz). A lot of David Crosby's contemporaries have either lost the interest or the ability to still write psychedelic music, which isn't necessarily a bad thing -- Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones and The Who may never write a trippy song again but they still put on better live shows than most people -- but it's nice to get an album like Lighthouse that even further cements Crosby's status as a psychedelia hero. He's one of the few artists around that your parents' radio station won't stop playing, but whose current music might resonate more strongly with mind-expanding teenagers.
You can download Lighthouse on iTunes or hear it on Apple Music here.
Anderson .Paak is already one of the year's breakout artists thanks to the strength of his latest solo album Malibu, his first album since reaching a wider audience than ever as a guest on several songs of Dr. Dre's 2015 comeback album, and his truly unmissable live shows. He's sort of a hybrid of soul, funk and rap; and he can genuinely sing, genuinely rap, and he's also a killer drummer. It makes for a live show that's not like much else, and it's no surprise that he went from small clubs to playing to huge festival crowds in just a few months. Two of the staples of his setlists at those shows are "Link Up" and "Suede," which both appear on Link Up & Suede, the 2015 EP by NxWorries, Anderson's duo with producer Knxwledge (who, among many other things, produced "Momma" on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly). Those songs reappear on NxWorries' debut album, Yes Lawd!, which feels like a victory lap for Anderson's huge year.
Being that the NxWorries songs are already staples of Anderson .Paak’s live show, Yes Lawd! is essential if you’re a Paak fan (the same reason all Grateful Dead fans should own Garcia). The major difference between this and Malibu, of course, is that here Knxwledge handles production and Malibu has a variety of producers and a group of live instrumentalists, but mostly these albums sound like two parts of a whole. Whether Anderson's backed by a grooving band or a Knxwledge beat, he's a distinct, expressive sound that's increasingly distinguishable from the pack of rappers and R&B singers.