Notable Releases of the Week (10/11)
A lot of music publications have been using this week to publish their end-of-the-decade lists, so that's understandably been driving a lot of the conversation within internet music circles. As fun as it is to discuss and debate that stuff (which we will be doing plenty more of as 2020 nears), the decade isn't over just yet and there's plenty more good '10s music on the way, some of which is out today.
I picked four new albums that I highlighted below, but first, here are a bunch of honorable mentions: Lil' Kim, Cursive, Chris Farren, Lindstrom, Allah-Las, Bryce Dessner's classical album, Blood Orange's classical album, Jonsi & Alex Somers, Kadavar, Never Ending Game, Casanova, Blackwater Holylight, Comet Gain, Gold Dime, Blue Hawaii, Elbow, Bent Knee, Christopher Tignor, Tim Barry (of AVAIL), Life of Agony, Profanatica, Grade 2, Richard Dawson, Babymetal, Mark Kozelek & Petra Haden, Wale, the Municipal Waste EP, and the Bodega EP.
Read about those Comet Gain, Elbow, Lindstrom, Allah-Las albums (and more) in Bill's Indie Basement.
Read on for my five picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Big Thief (and singer Adrianne Lenker as a solo artist) had been on a steady rise for about half the decade, but 2019 will go down as their year. It's the year they signed to the iconic 4AD label, gained more popularity than ever, released two albums, and most importantly of all, made the best music of their career so far. Before announcing either of their new albums, Big Thief started playing the new song "Not" live, and even from watching live videos on YouTube, you could tell it was one of the rawest, heaviest, and best Big Thief songs yet. That song got me thinking Big Thief would be rocking harder than ever on their 4AD debut, but they pulled a 180 and released U.F.O.F., their most atmospheric and most "difficult" album yet. Its heady songs were more frequently compared to Radiohead than to the Americana acts that Big Thief recalled earlier on in their career, and though the album was a "grower," it quickly became clear it was the band's best yet. Today comes their second album of the year, and it includes "Not" and pretty much sounds like the album I thought U.F.O.F. would be. It sounds like it was an easier and more intuitive album to make -- Two Hands sounds closer to Big Thief's stunning live show, while U.F.O.F. sounds like the kind of album that was carefully obsessed over in the studio -- and it's the kind of album you expect a band to make before they make an album like U.F.O.F. (Maybe at least some of it was written first, I am not sure.) But it's kind of nice to get this more immediately accessible album after getting U.F.O.F. We music fans have already spent half the year dissecting Big Thief's most complex work yet, and now they continue their momentum with an album that hits on first listen. If it was the other way around, it might have caused U.F.O.F. to seem like the more indulgent companion album, and perhaps somehow less essential. Two Hands coming out first also might not have made it so immediately clear that Big Thief went through a major evolution. Two albums in one year can be tricky, but Big Thief nailed it.
Ever since the much-missed Sonic Youth called it quits, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore scratched similar itches with their solo records, and while Kim Gordon put out some great music with Body/Head, that more experimental project didn't have enough a gut-punch for those of us yearning for more of the rock songs she wrote with Sonic Youth. But now, over ten years since the last Sonic Youth album, Kim has finally granted our wishes with No Home Record. It's not just her first "rock" album since Sonic Youth's demise, it's actually her first solo album ever, and it's a treat to get an album where Kim is fully the star of the show. There's really no one else in the world who writes songs like Kim Gordon, and she still has that same edge she had three decades ago. There are some more out-there songs, which is to be expected from any member or Sonic Youth, but some of the more punky songs like "Air BnB" and "Hungry Baby" (both released as singles) hit as hard as the Kim-led rippers on the last Sonic Youth album (which, with a decade's hindsight, has held up really well). No Home Record isn't just a repeat of what Kim did with Sonic Youth though. Some of the album has guest drumming by Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint, who helps give it a similarly solid backbone to SY, but a lot of the album relies on drum machine patterns that Kim worked on with producer Justin Raisen, and pulls influence from Kim's love of hip hop. When she combines that with her more usual influences like no wave and The Stooges, the result is undeniably the work of Kim Gordon, but also not really like anything she's done before.
Thrill Jockey has been touting Lightning Bolt's new album as a more straightforward rock album, and even called one of its songs -- the awesomely titled "Husker Don't" -- "their poppiest song yet." And as far as Lightning Bolt's music is concerned, that is actually pretty true. Sonic Citadel is still an abrasive, noisy, nails-on-a-chalkboard album at times, but there really are some genuine hooks in there that cut through all the white noise. At times, it's just a cool punk or hard rock album, and the (slightly) more accessible look suits Lightning Bolt well. They've been doing the chaotic noise rock thing for a very long time; they've earned the right to change it up. And though it is tempting to really run with the "poppier album" narrative, this album isn't that different from the old stuff and longtime fans shouldn't be worried they've sold out or anything. They haven't embraced bubblegum so much as masked their bitter pills with a little fruit yogurt.
As both a solo artist and the force behind the now-defunct Majical Cloudz, Devon Welsh been one of this decade's most reliable makers of impassioned, baritone-fueled atmospheric pop. His songs tend to have beautiful exteriors, and when you dig into them a little more deeply, you're usually left with thoughtful lyricism that can hang around in your head long after the record's stopped playing. That's all true of his latest solo album, True Love, which is as poetic and lovely-sounding as you'd hope. When he first emerged as a hyped artist with a silly band name, he seemed like the kind of thing that might end up being a flash in the pan, but he's proved to have a good amount of longevity and persevered despite parting ways with a big record label (Matador) and going through a messy band breakup. As long as he's making solid records like True Love, his longevity probably won't be stopping any time soon.