Five Notable Releases of the Week (8/24)
Summer is coming to a close but Festival Season is still going strong, and we've got another one here in NYC this weekend: Afropunk Brooklyn. If you're still on the fence about going, there's a ton of great stuff to see, like Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae, The Internet, Tyler the Creator, Miguel, Pusha T, Denzel Curry, Jamila Woods, H.E.R., JPEGMAFIA, Smino, DUCKWRTH, Trash Talk, and more. Set times here.
Check out my five picks below. what was your favorite release of the week?
Dev Hynes got more lyrically political and more musically ambitious than ever on the last Blood Orange album, 2016's excellent Freetown Sound, which may still be the best thing he's ever done. Negro Swan may not top it, but there's still a ton to like about this album. It is, once again, a slight change in direction for Dev's music, and it's full of gorgeous sound and truly powerful words. (It's no less political than its predecessor -- "My newest album is an exploration into my own and many types of black depression, an honest look at the corners of black existence, and the ongoing anxieties of queer/people of color," Dev said in a statement.). Like the last two Blood Orange albums, Negro Swan has a handful of guest vocalists, but it feels like Dev's own voice is the star of this show more than it has been since Blood Orange's debut (and he's a much stronger singer now). As far as the guest appearances go, standouts include writer and transgender rights activist Janet Mock, who's sort of the "narrator" of this album, spoken word by Puff Daddy on "Hope," Georgia Anne Muldrow belting on "Runnin'," and A$AP Rocky teaming with Memphis vet Project Pat for one of Blood Orange's most straightup rap songs yet, "Chewing Gum." But, again, it's Dev's singing that really feels like the driving force on these songs. Part of that may be because, while Freetown Sound felt like a big, communal record, Negro Swan feels smaller, more introspective, and more autobiographical. It's a little less accessible than its two predecessors; instead of reaching out and grabbing you, it invites you to to dive deep into the unique world of Dev Hynes, and it requires a little more patience than, say, "You're Not Good Enough." This is clearer than ever on the album's last song, "Smoke," the first bedroom-folk song of Blood Orange's career. ("If I go to a studio and they only have an acoustic guitar, then I’ll go with that. In fact, that’s how the last song on the album – Smoke – came about: there was just an acoustic guitar," Dev said.) That's the only song like it on the album, but the way it came about feels indicative of this album as a whole. You can tell that Dev really pushed himself to try new things and get out of his comfort zone. The album might not be flawless, but it doesn't seem like the kind of album that tried to be flawless. It sounds like it tried to be raw, honest music -- imperfections and all -- and it succeeds at that.
Majical Cloudz is no more, but frontman Devon Welsh has continued on as a solo artist and his debut album Dream Songs picks right up where Majical Cloudz left off. It might even be a little better. He worked with producer Austin Tufts (of Braids), and together, they came up with more lively arrangements than Devon has ever had before. Instead of the minimal, often atmospheric vibes that Majical Cloudz had, Dream Songs is full of orchestral chamber pop arrangements. It sounds bigger and more complex, but not so much so that it ruins the intimacy that always made Devon's music appealing. At this point, his low-pitched, somber voice is instantly recognizable, and it's just as suited for this kind of music as it was for Majical Cloudz. His voice and his way with words tends to make for highly emotional music, and Dream Songs is no exception. When Devon rings out his notes, you can feel the passion that's driving every single word. These songs tend to be delicate, but they aren't passive. The emotional weight in these songs is so heavy, that even the quietest moments have no trouble commanding your attention.
Ogikubo Station is the duo of Maura Weaver (of Mixtapes) and Mike Park (who founded Asian Man Records and played in a bunch of ska bands in the '90s like Skankin' Pickle), and while their debut album We Can Pretend Like should appeal to fans of Maura and Mike's previous works, it's actually pretty different than anything either has done before. It's raw, melodic indie-punk that fits in very well with a lot of the music in this realm that we've been excited about lately; if you're into stuff like Camp Cope, Swearin', Worriers, Shellshag, Joyce Manor, Jeff Rosenstock (who plays synth on this album), etc, etc, etc you'll probably like this too. Maura's higher, more wailing voice pairs perfectly with Mike's lower, more subdued delivery, and the sugar-sweet melodies they came up with really drive this thing home. There's obviously a punk vibe to this album, but the melodies and tight-knit harmonies often hearken back further than punk, to classic '50s/'60s pop. And they're more than just a punk band; there's a handful of jangly acoustic songs, and there's the standout "Rest Before We Go To War," a dose of soaring indie rock that reminds me a little of Hop Along. It's a humble, modest sounding album -- nothing too crazy going on, just a nice batch of delightfully simple, super enjoyable songs.
Jesus Piece are already starting to get lumped in with bands like Code Orange, Harms Way, and Vein -- bands that make an especially crushing form of modern metalcore with a slight, not-embarrassing nu metal influence in the mix. It's easy to see why, but that doesn't mean that Jesus Piece are bandwagon jumpers or anything. All of those aforementioned bands have their own distinct vibe that separates them from the pack and Jesus Piece are no exception. Of all those, they're probably most similar to Harms Way. They've got a fat, bass-heavy attack that favors pure brutality over complexity. It's the kind of thing that can seem like it exists just so angry kids have an excuse to go to a show and slam their bodies into each other for 20 minutes, but further listens reveal Only Self to be an album that's a little more tasteful than that. The unfiltered aggression pulls you in, but when Jesus Piece's more experimental tendencies come through, like on the atmospheric "In The Silence," it's clear that they've got some creative ideas stirring beneath all the fury. They made the album with Weekend Nachos' Andy Nelson, who knows a thing or two about making creative hardcore albums, and Andy also helps give Jesus Piece the crisp, modern production that you need for this kind of thing. It's just clean enough that Jesus Piece's more interesting ideas are able to shine, but not so clean that it ever softens the band's attack.
When German sludge duo Mantar first started gaining traction in the US, they were greeted by more than a few comparisons to the Melvins, but Mantar haven't followed that band's career path. While the Melvins developed a formula early on and mostly stuck to it, Mantar are in noticeably different territory on their third album than they were when they debuted. The raw sludge-punk stuff is still there, but so is much, much more. Their sound is bigger and clearer than ever, and even more so than on past releases, this two-piece sounds like they have twice as many members. They've got a good amount of cleaner, more melodic stuff worked in this time around, but they also have parts that dive more head-first into harsh black metal than ever. There's some stuff that's like a more extreme version of heavy rock that once got radio/MTV play: the chunky "Taurus" sounds almost like it could've landed a slot on Headbanger's Ball in the early '90s and "Anti Eternia" is like a more muscular version of the danceable, melodramatic metalcore that got big in the early 2000s. There's also stuff that recalls other recent underground metal: "Eternal Return" brings to mind early Mastodon, while groovier songs like "Seek + Forget" and "Midgard Serpent (Seasons of Failure)" get close to Kvelertak territory. These are all sounds that work really well together, especially when they're all brought together by a band with a vision as strong as Mantar's.