Notable Releases of the Week (8/16)
One of this week's most exciting music news items is that Mr. Bungle are playing reunion shows, and they're not just any reunion shows. They're performing the songs from their thrash-inspired 1986 demo The Raging Wrath Of The Easter Bunny, which were influenced by bands like Slayer and Anthrax and much different than the music Mr. Bungle are most famous for. And making it even more exciting, Scott Ian (Anthrax) and Dave Lombardo (ex-Slayer) are joining original Mr. Bungle members Mike Patton, Trevor Dunn, and Trey Spruance for these shows. Learn more about it here.
This week also brought the very sad news that Phil Haggerty of Boston indie-emo band Somos passed away at the much-too-young age of 28. To help raise money for his funeral expenses, Somos released their new album early for just this week, as a download-only for $5 or more. I'll be reviewing it once it officially comes out in October (it's really good), but until then, I recommend buying a copy and helping out a good band in need.
As for this week's Notable Releases, I picked eight and highlighted them below. But first, honorable mentions: Jason Lytle (of Grandaddy), Uniform + The Body, Here Lies Man, Oso Oso, Snoop Dogg, Friendly Fires, Versus, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard's metal album, Maria Usbeck, Regional Justice Center, Devourment, Off With Their Heads, Frank Turner, Shock Narcotic, Taylor McFerrin, Young Thug, Mach-Hommy + DJ Muggs, Cousin Stizz, and the Quality Control compilation.
Check out my eight picks below. What's your favorite release of the week?
Benjamin John Power has been making battered-up, noisy pieces of electronic music as Blanck Mass and as one half of Fuck Buttons for over a decade now, and his new Blanck Mass album Animated Violence Mild is one of the most immediately satisfying things he's done yet. It frequently pulls directly from bubblegummy pop, while still remaining loud, in-your-face music that would never qualify as "pop" in the traditional sense. Vocals show up in the form of electronically manipulated singing or harsh metallic screams, but vocals aren't really the driving force of this album and they're definitely not why it's so accessible. The synth melodies can recall anything from ABBA to '90s Eurodance to a Max Martin production and they jump out and grab you, or hit you like a shot through the heart, without ever straying from the album's pounding, industrial base.
Animated Violence Mild operates very much like dance music, where hypnotic rhythms and repeated melodies are the key elements, but it's more of a head-trip than an album designed to get you on your feet. In fact, one of the album's most stunning moments is a moment that hardly has a beat at all: the wash of ambience in the mid-section of "Creature/West Fuqua," where Benjamin John Power introduces fluttering melodies from what sounds like a harp and stops you right in your tracks. Power has often been associated with more extreme forms of music -- and this album still has some of that -- but mostly it reminds me of a darker, more industrial version of recent albums by artists like Jon Hopkins and Four Tet. Similarly to their recent work, Animated Violence Mild toys with a rich variety of sounds and reshapes them into something that's hard to define, but simply euphoric.
Sleater-Kinney's new St. Vincent produced album is a thrilling defiance of expectations, and it's the band's darkest and most varied album yet. You can read my full review of it here.
Ride didn't make the same type of stunning comeback as fellow back-in-action shoegaze legends My Bloody Valentine or Slowdive on 2017's Weather Diaries, but they've shaken some of the rust off and their second reunion album, This Is Not A Safe Place, is a noticeable step up from its predecessor. You can read Bill's much longer review of the album in Bill's Indie Basement.
The Hold Steady haven't released a new album in five years, but it's not like they haven't been busy; they've just started avoiding the usual album-tour-album-tour cycle. Instead of lengthy nationwide treks, THS have lately been doing long weekends in various cities throughout the year, and it continues to work out for them. They frequently sell out the shows, and they get to use the opportunity to cater to diehards, changing up their setlists from night to night, bringing out surprise guests, and sometimes performing classic albums in full. And since 2017, they've often released a new single just ahead of one of their weekenders, giving them something new to mix in with the classics. It's not a bad method at all; in our fast-paced, short-attention-span world, it can be nice to just get one or two songs at a time by a band you love. Now, five of their recent singles and five new songs have come together to make up their new album Thrashing Thru the Passion, and this collection sees The Hold Steady sounding more loosened up than they have on an album in years. It seems their new approach to band life is yielding some pretty great results.
Thrashing The the Passion has other cool things going for it too. It's their first album in 14 years on Frenchkiss, the label who released The Hold Steady's beloved first two albums, and it's their first album since 2008's Stay Positive -- their last great album -- to feature keyboardist Franz Nicolay. It's also got a triumphant, E. Street Band-esque horn section that includes the great Stuart Bogie, who's worked on a zillion cool projects including Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn's solo album I Need A New War that came out earlier this year. All of those factors came together to produce this concise, enjoyable Hold Steady album that reminds you of the band's glory days. It's the shortest album they've ever written, and it zips by with no filler. It sounds like they're having a lot more fun being in a band than they were on their last album, and it's fun to listen to too.
The tough-to-pin-down Compton artist Channel Tres' new five-song EP exists somewhere between underground dance beats and a totally warped vision of hip hop, completely unlike the one that's most popularly associated with his hometown (though he does consider The Chronic an influence). His vocal delivery is somewhere between rapping, singing, and speaking, and it's as bass-y and subdued as the production. It's not very attention grabbing in the traditional sense, but it creeps into your veins and hooks you in when you least expect it. It's full of references to other artists (“Black Moses” to Isaac Hayes, "Sexy Black Timberlake" to Justin Timberlake), and it's also full of powerful lyrics that tackle race and sexuality and challenge stereotypes and the status quo. The EP has one guest, JPEGMAFIA (on the title track), and those two make a great pair. They sound very different, as you can clearly hear on this EP, but they both look outside the box musically and use their platforms to discuss aspects of serious issues that aren't always discussed on a widespread level. This EP covers more musical and lyrical ground with four proper songs and a short intro track than some artists do on albums that are quadruple the length. It's already got me excited to hear what Channel Tres does next.
Lillie Mae had a breakthrough in her career after teaming up with Jack White, playing as a backing musician for him, signing to his label Third Man Records, and releasing her 2017 album Forever And Then Some that Jack produced. She's still on Third Man, but she made this new album without Jack, and it turns out that her music might be even better without his involvement. It's got more of a haunting quality than Forever and Then Some, and it also sounds less traditional. It hops freely between folk, country, and psychedelic rock in ways that can recall the past but also sound forward-thinking. She made this album with producer Dave Cobb, and his work with Amanda Shires and Sturgill Simpson feels especially relevant to mention here. Like Shires' To the Sunset and Sturgill's Metamodern Sounds in Country Music, Other Girls is an album that's rooted in a long history of Americana but also not afraid to shake things up and get experimental. The album favors dark, entrancing, leftfield arrangements almost as often as it favors acoustic guitars. The newfound sense of freedom and experimentation helps Other Girls a lot, but even without all the bells and whistles, these are the strongest songs Lillie Mae has ever written. Her voice cuts through the mix with high levels of command, and her words and melodies dig themselves right into your brain with just a few listens.
While each A$AP Rocky album has seen the Harlem rapper changing up his style pretty drastically, A$AP Ferg has spent his career honing the one sound that's made so many people fall in love with him. If you like "Shabba" or "New Level" or "Plain Jane," you're in luck, because Floor Seats has plenty more songs just like that, and they still feel fresh. It's technically an EP, but with nine songs that all clock in around three minutes, it could have just about qualified as an album. Guests include A$AP Rocky, Rico Nasty, Asian Doll, and more, and those three in particular rise to the occasion and offer up verses as loud and in-your-face as the ones Ferg has in store. (Rico Nasty's verse on "Butt Naked" might be my favorite verse on the whole album.) The last two songs see Ferg toning it down a bit -- "Ride" veers into R&B and "Dreams, Fairytales, Fantasies" is a tender slow jam -- but the other seven tracks are as subwoofer-rattling as you'd hope for from Ferg, and I suspect it won't be long until at least one or two of them turn into fan favorites.
Oh Sees make a genuinely mesmerizing mix of punk, garage rock, and psychedelia, and their current two-drummer lineup has them sounding even more trance-inducing than usual. They're a little more of a see-it-live band for me, but there's plenty to like about their new double album Face Stabber, which Bill wrote much more about for Bill's Indie Basement.