Notable Releases of the Week (6/14)
It's been another very eventful week in the music world. Radiohead officially released the 18 hours of OK Computer sessions that were leaked a week earlier, and among the many hours of music you'll probably never need to hear are cool things like the original version of the storied "Lift" and the 12-minute version of "Paranoid Android" (this Google doc will help you sort through it). Also, you can finally stream King Crimson's classic albums on Spotify!
Festival Season continues this weekend with Bonnaroo, and if you're looking for some suggestions of who to see, check out our list of 10 non-headliners not to miss at Bonnaroo 2019.
Lastly, I try my best to keep up with new albums as they are released here in this Notable Releases column, but sometimes I miss stuff. So, as a way to catch up (on some of the heavier stuff specifically), earlier this week I posted 7 great metal and hardcore albums from 2019 you may have missed.
As for this week's new albums, I picked eight that I highlighted below. But first, some honorable mentions: Madonna, Calexico and Iron & Wine, the Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds EP, Kate Tempest, Crumb, Dressy Bessy, The Minus 5, The Darling Fire (ex-Rocking Horse Winner), This Gift Is A Curse, Hate, Claire Cronin, Jeanines (which Bill reviewed for Bill's Indie Basement), and the second surprise Your Old Droog album of 2019.
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Bill Callahan has been a master at making off-kilter, folky music for a long time (under his own name and as Smog), and his first new proper solo album in six years, Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest, offers up 20 great new songs in an especially placid version of his trademark style. Those 20 songs clock in at an hour and four minutes, and they rarely deviate from the album's quiet formula, so this is an album that really requires some patience, but the songwriting is so strong that it really earns the right to demand your close attention. Bill has a lot to say, and he knows how to say it in ways that make even the most everyday occurrences seem poetic. Bill's a father and a husband now, which inspired a lot of the lyricism on Shepherd, and going by these songs, he sounds pretty content with where he's at. Unfortunately, being content doesn't always make for intriguing art, but Bill Callahan has defied the stereotype. He finds ways to make contentedness seem like something that's as much worth exploring as despair. The album does also touch on death, and -- in addition to his marriage and the birth of his son -- the 2018 death of Bill's mother was another pivotal life moment that inspired this album. But death doesn't come off as tragedy on Shepherd In A Sheepskin Vest. Death is inevitable, and, on this album, Bill Callahan seems content with that fact as well.
Baroness made the evolution from a roaring sludge band to a proggy, heavy rock band so gradually that it was almost hard to see it happening in real time. Each album could accurately be described as a "natural progression" from the last, and though this year's Gold & Grey doesn't sound miles away from its 2015 predecessor Purple, it does sound miles away from Baroness' 2007 debut Red Album. Still, every single album they release sounds unmistakably like Baroness, and -- three single albums and two double albums into their career -- that's a pretty impressive feat. Gold & Grey is their second double album, following 2012's Yellow & Green. Like Yellow & Green, the new album sees Baroness offering up Headbanger's Ball anthems ("Borderlines," "Seasons"), as well as hushed acoustic songs ("Emmet: Radiating Light," "Cold: Blooded Angels"). Unlike Yellow & Green though, Gold & Grey doesn't feel split into two distinct parts; it's one, lengthy album where anything goes from start to finish. And though Baroness were inching away from metal for a while, Gold & Grey feels like the moment where it's truly no longer accurate to refer to them only as a metal band. There are still metallic tendencies on the album, but even the heaviest songs sound more like alternative rock songs. And some of the best songs aren't metal at all. One of my favorites, "I'd Do Anything," sees John Baizley belting over a hard-strummed acoustic, with just some atmospheric embellishments in the background and no drums at all. He's really evolved as a songwriter since the early days, to the point where he can rely more on his melodies and words than on flashy guitars or a rush of aggression. He and the band have also been through a lot, and it shows. I can't know for sure if he is singing about the band's near-death experience on this album, but when he belts lines like "I'd do anything to feel like I'm alive again," it's hard not to shudder, knowing the extra weight those words carry coming from a guy like Baizley.
For more on this album, read Invisible Oranges' interview with John Baizley and Sebastian Thomson.
Don't let Rolling Stone's Album of the Year lists fool you; just because Bruce Springsteen releases an album, doesn't mean it's one of the year's best. His other two albums this decade (2012's Wrecking Ball and 2014's High Hopes) weren't bad for late-career albums, but they weren't on par with Bruce's classics and they didn't belong in the top two of the years they came out. But Western Stars, Bruce's new orchestra-aided solo album, is a genuinely good Bruce Springsteen album and his most interesting one in years. That's especially true for fans of Nebraska, the indie rock fan's Springsteen album of choice. As good as Bruce's more bombastic, horn-fueled hits can be, Nebraska proved his songs could sometimes be even more effective with just an acoustic guitar, and it's easy to hear that album's impact on indie singer/songwriters like Bright Eyes and Iron & Wine (or The National, who cover a song from it). Bruce's voice has clearly aged and it's a lot more gravelly now than it was on Nebraska, and the songs on Western Stars aren't quite as stripped-back as the songs on Nebraska, but it's the closest his albums have come to that style in a long time and that's a real treat. (It's his first largely acoustic album since 2005's Devils & Dust and his most overall tender album since 1995's The Ghost of Tom Joad.) Bruce is still great in this quiet, folky, sometimes countrified style, and the string arrangements on the album are gorgeous. Some of the songs, like "Tucson Train" and the title track, are pretty damn catchy too. The Boss may never again reach the heights of his many '70s and '80s classics, but Western Stars is a very solid late-career album and the first one in a while that even the non-obsessives should give a spin.
Bad Books began as the collaborative side project of Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull, but Manchester Orchestra's Robert McDowell eventually became the third core member, and for 2012's Bad Books II, they expanded to a full band and made a more rock-oriented album than their folkier 2010 debut. Bad Books had been quiet for a while, but now, seven years later, they're finally back with a third album and this time the core trio abandoned the idea of a traditional rhythm section and instead made an atmospheric album that relies heavily on organ, foot pedals, string arrangements, and more. As Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra are both very active artists, Bad Books will probably always be thought of as a "side project," but if you've shrugged them off as a less essential project in the past, shrug no more. Not only is Bad Books III possibly the strongest Bad Books album yet, it's also arguably the strongest album to come from either Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra in a while. (And that's not throwing shade at Instigator or A Black Mile to the Surface, which were both very good albums. This one is just even better.) Because of the unique arrangements, it sounds nothing like either of its predecessors and it doesn't sound much like any previous Manchester Orchestra or Kevin Devine album either. The arrangements suit Kevin and Andy's voices well, and they've both written some of their most powerful songs in a while for this one. It's gorgeous on the surface, and there's a depth to the songwriting that keeps these songs lingering in your brain long after first listen.
DC rapper GoldLink has been on the rise for a while, and going by early listens to his sophomore album Diaspora, his future seems brighter than ever. "Diaspora" is defined as the scattering of a peoples from their homeland, and this album lives up to its name, pulling sounds from all over the world. There are the various styles of American hip hop represented, from the R&B-tinged downtempo rap GoldLink frequents to the Atlanta trap of "Rumble," the laid-back jazz rap of "Tiff Freestyle," and the Pusha T-featuring coke rap of "Cokewhite." But GoldLink also explores Afrobeat ("Zulu Screams"), dancehall ("More"), reggae ("Yard"), and more. He's an increasingly skilled rapper, and he sounds silky smooth over the album's lush production. He's also got a couple potential hits on here, like "Maniac" and "U Say," the latter of which features his upcoming tourmate Tyler, the Creator. Maybe they'll play that one together on tour, and maybe since Tyler is having such a major year, he'll help GoldLink reach higher heights than ever before too. Going by the sounds of the very enjoyable Diaspora, GoldLink is ready for it.
UK rapper Octavian had already been on the rise before this year, but 2019 is proving to be his biggest yet. He was named the Sound of 2019 by the BBC in early January, and since then, he appeared on new songs by Diplo and "Mo Bamba" producers Take A Daytrip, and then he released two of his own great new singles, "Bet" (ft. Skepta and Michael Phantom) and "Lit" (ft. A$AP Ferg). The Skepta and A$AP Ferg collabs now join 10 other songs on his new mixtape Endorphins. The tape also includes a rework of SBTRKT and Jessie Ware's "Right Thing To Do" with contributions from Jessie herself (now titled "Walking Alone"), as well as appearances by ABRA, Smokepurrp, Theophilus London, and more. It's easy to see from Endorphins why Octavian continues to take off on both sides of the Atlantic. While other recent UK rap albums like Skepta's Ignorance Is Bliss and slowthai's Nothing Great About Britain are inherently British, Endorphins channels the sounds of American rap at least as much as he channels the rap of his home country. Maybe part of it can be chalked up to Drake's obsession with Octavian, but this mixtape sounds like it'd fit right in on American rap radio, and uses a lot of the same tricks like auto-tuned sing-rap, trap&B production, the occasional foray into dance-pop, and of course the aforementioned verses from A$AP Ferg and Smokepurrp. But there are also some very British sounds, like the aforementioned Skepta song, the SBTRKT rework, and the production on "World" that sounds like it could be coming straight out of a UK dance club. It's an exciting thing to watch the sounds of British rap and American rap collide on such a major level, and right now, Octavian is at the forefront of it.
Atlanta's Abuse of Power have been making a name for themselves in the hardcore scene for a few years now, and following a few talked-about demos and EPs and a talked-about live show, they've now just released their first full-length, What On Earth Can We Do. If you aren't fully immersed in the modern hardcore scene, you might think a lot of the bands just sound the same as each other, or sound the same as past eras of hardcore, but that's not true of Abuse of Power on What On Earth Can We Do. They sound like they've taken just about every past era of hardcore and mixed it up in a blender to the point where you can still pick out specific bits and pieces of their sound, but mostly it all blurs together. Vocalist Kaleb Perdue (who also plays bass in Criminal Instinct and played in the beloved, now-defunct Foundation) has a bark that's most similar to the tough sounds of '90s East Coast hardcore, but Abuse of Power don't stop there. On top of having crisp, modern production that stops it from ever sounding retro, this 9-song LP can touch on anything from Rollins-era Black Flag to Revolution Summer-era Dischord to chugging '90s hardcore to emo-leaning hardcore like Lifetime to no-frills '00s melodic hardcore like Modern Life Is War. The guitarists jump from crossover thrash riffage to tuneful post-hardcore riffage to clean, atmospheric stuff and back. And Abuse of Power don't come off like they're trying to squeeze four decades worth of hardcore into nine songs; it sounds like this all comes naturally to them, like they've absorbed all this music over the years and What On Earth Can We Do is what it sounds like when they spit it back out.
When Texas duo Pinkish Black arrived with their 2012 self-titled LP, it was clear that they had already figured out how to make dark, heavy, psychedelic rock that could often wear its (very cool) influences on its sleeve, but that clearly had a voice of its own as well. They've only gotten better since then, and this year's Concept Unification -- their fourth overall, second for Relapse, and first in four years -- is perhaps their best yet. They sound more confident and more unique than ever, and while you can still often pick out their influences, they're now combining those influences in more interesting ways than ever before. That's no clearer than on the album's stunning twelve-minute closer "Next Solution." It sounds like Blackstar-era Bowie mixed with The Seer-era Swans, and out of nowhere, Pinkish Black bring Goblin-style synths into the mix and the whole thing can knock you off your feet. The other, shorter songs on the album have kind of a Stranger Things Goes Doom Metal vibe to them that's very appealing, but none of it can prepare you for the breathtaking closing track. With its opening title track that might be the album's most accessible song, it's one of those albums that starts on a high, stays there, and then skyrockets at the end. Don't just skip to "Next Solution" though; the buildup throughout the first five songs is necessary and the payoff when you finally get to it is so worth it.