Notable Releases of the Week (2/8)
Love 'em or hate 'em, the big event in the music world this weekend is the Grammys. Your favorite artist probably won't win (and probably wasn't even nominated), but hey, at least St. Vincent is performing! (She's also up for Best Rock Song against Greta Van Fleet... please beat them!) There are other cool (but less surprising) performers like Diana Ross, Cardi B, Janelle Monae, and Kacey Musgraves, and the nominees aren't actually that embarrassing this year. But don't be surprised if Post Malone cleans up.
While you wait for (or, hide from) the Grammys, revisit: 10 funniest 'Best New Artist' wins in Grammy history.
As for new music, I picked eight worthy albums out today to read more about and stream below, but first some honorable mentions: Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch, Xiu Xiu, Ariana Grande, Y La Bamba, Downfall of Gaia, Tribe of Pazuzu, Los Huaycos, Black Dresses, Cosey Fanni Tutti, The Lemonheads' covers album, and the new LCD Soundsystem and Mavis Staples live albums.
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
As a co-frontman of Husker Du and then as the frontman of Sugar, Bob Mould helped invent indie and alternative rock as we know it. Like a lot of the earliest indie rockers, he started out playing true punk and hardcore, and gradually expanded his sonic palette over the years until his music started resembling what we now know as indie/alt rock. He influenced everyone from Nirvana to the Pixies to Superchunk to Green Day, and you can still hear his influence today resonating in newer bands like Cloud Nothings and Cymbals Eat Guitars. He's a true lifer who never stopped making music, and he's been on a roll lately. Sunshine Rock is his fourth consecutive album with the rhythm section of bassist Jason Narducy and Superchunk drummer Jon Wurster -- following 2016's Patch the Sky, 2014's Beauty & Ruin, and 2012's Silver Age -- and like the other three, it's a killer indie rock record that stays true to Bob Mould's roots but sounds relevant today too. He never lost his punk sound and spirit, and that's a big part of why -- at 58 years young -- he still rocks harder than half of the newer bands he influenced. Sunshine Rock is mostly cut from the same cloth as its three predecessors, but after three albums, it was time for at least somewhat of a change and Bob Mould delivered. He fleshes these rippin' songs out with ambitious string arrangements. They're the kinds of arrangements you'd expect to hear on a Beatlesque baroque pop record, but Mould makes them work in the context of indie/punk as well. And as the title may make you guess, this is a happy record. It's not that Bob Mould wasn't paying attention to the darkness in the world; he wrote Sunshine Rock in direct opposition to it. It's easy to find solace in the music that echoes the way you're feeling in dark times like these, but there's something powerful about trying your best to stay positive too. Sunshine Rock can help.
In 1968, country singer Bobbie Gentry followed her chart-topping 1967 debut ODe to Billie Joe with the concept album The Delta Sweete. It wasn't a commercial smash like its predecessor, but it's gained a cult following over the years, and two of its biggest fans are Jonathan Donahue and Grasshopper of Mercury Rev. For The Delta Sweete Revisited, Jonathan and Grasshopper have entirely reimagined every song on the album (with production, arrangement, and instrumental help from Jesse Chandler of Midlake), and brought in an unbelievable cast of guest vocalists to help them out: Norah Jones, Margo Price, Phoebe Bridgers, Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), Vashti Bunyan, Rachel Goswell (Slowdive), Lætitia Sadier (Stereolab), Kaela Sinclair (M83), Beth Orton, Susanne Sundfør, and Carice van Houten. (The album also includes a cover of Ode to Billie Joe's title track, which Lucinda Williams sings.) The album sounds almost nothing like the original; it's a true reimagining, a far more ambitious undertaking than your average covers album. And it sounds great. Mercury Rev turn these songs into atmospheric, psychedelic pop songs that aren't too far removed from their own material. And it lives up to the anticipation you'd have after seeing this list of guest vocalists. Even if you've never heard the original songs, it's truly a treat to hear one cohesive album where '90s indie greats Hope Sandoval or Rachel Goswell are singing one minute, current-day greats Phoebe Bridgers or Margo Price are singing the next, and '60s legend Vashti Bunyan is singing the next. All the guests deliver stunning performances, and Mercury Rev's instrumentation ties it all together wonderfully.
In case you aren't familiar with Pete the Roadie, he came up in the late '70s UK punk scene and was first a roadie for the Subhumans, before eventually working with Amebix and other bands, and he moved to the Bay Area in 2000, where he worked with Neurosis, Jello Biafra, and more. After years of roadie-ing, he finally formed his first band, Kicker, in 2010, and he got some pretty incredible Bay Area musicians to join him: Neurosis bassist Dave Edwardson, Dystopia guitarist Mauz (aka Matt Parrillo), and Filth drummer Toby Bitter. They put out two albums, after which Toby was replaced by another Bay Area legend, Operation Ivy's Dave Mello, and they're now releasing their first album with Dave, Pure Drivel.
Kicker call their music "UK meets East Bay punk rock," and that's not just about where the members are from; it also perfectly describes their sound. Pete's got an angry British sneer in the Crass/Subhumans tradition, and the rest of the band have the kind of razor-sharp attack that you'd hear at 924 Gilman at any given night in the late '80s. It's not a total shock that Pete's very UK style fits perfectly with these Bay Area legends; so many of the Gilman Street bands were influenced by UK street punk in the first place, that it feels natural to bridge the 5,000 mile gap like this. And Kicker just hits every pleasure point that you want hit from punk like this. The production is raw and dirty, the rhythms are short and driving with Dave Edwardson's walking basslines putting an extra hop in their step, and Pete just sounds like a total beast. When he snarls "She was an axe mur-der-er! A fucking psychopath!" on "Mrs. Arnold," he sells it. And when Dave Edwardson brings in the ghoulish backing shouts that you'll recognize from his work with Neurosis, Kicker sounds even more evil. (In case you were wondering, "Mrs. Arnold" is a true story of a teacher who axe-murdered the wife and child of another teacher she was having an affair with.) The album isn't all doom and gloom though. It's as angry and dissatisfied and rude as can be, but it's also fun as hell to listen to. It's the kind of classic sound that never goes out of style, and it makes sense that this crew knows how to pull it off. They've lived and breathed it for half their lives.
Jessica Pratt's third album Quiet Signs is her first for Mexican Summer, her first recorded fully in a studio, and it fleshes her sound out with flute, organ, piano, and a string synthesizer, but it still sounds like the Jessica Pratt you know and love. You can read my full review of the album HERE.
Cass McCombs takes a noticeable step forward on his great new album Tip of the Sphere, which incorporates more Grateful Dead influence into his sound than ever before, while still sounding distinctly like Cass McCombs. You can read my full review of the album HERE.
VOL. 4 :: SLAVES OF FEAR dives even deeper into the industrial influence that HEALTH began to explore on Death Magic, and this one's an even heavier record, while still finding plenty of time for good pop songwriting. You can read my full review of the album HERE.
Panda Bear didn't contribute to Animal Collective's new album last year, but now he returns with his first new music since last year's short vinyl-only EP and first new album since 2015's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. Compared to the often very ambitious Grim Reaper, new album Buoys sees Panda Bear stripping back his sound more than he has in a while. No song reaches the five-minute mark, and each one is a familiar, easily digestible version of the type of watery, Brian Wilson-esque psych-pop Panda Bear's been crafting since Person Pitch. And while he's got plenty of the trippy electronic textures of his other recent work, he's strumming an acoustic guitar a lot more on Buoys than he had done in a while. It's not exactly Young Prayer or Sung Tongs, but there's just a little more of that influence than he's had in a while and it's nice to hear him working that type of thing back in.
English folk singer Michael Chapman has been releasing music for half a century, and he's either directly or indirectly influenced so many folk singers who have come after him. If you like the above-mentioned Jessica Pratt album or Steve Gunn's recent The Unseen In Between, you'll probably want to hear Michael Chapman's latest too. In fact, Steve Gunn produced and played guitar on this album, and he's a natural fit to work with Michael. Michael's influence on Steve's music is undeniable, and Steve helps Michael bring his sound into the 21st century. Michael's voice has grizzled with age, but that hasn't stopped him from writing songs that sound fresh. True North is a bit like the final few albums from the late Leonard Cohen. You can hear the wisdom and the experience in the music, but you can also hear that they've still got plenty left to say. And making True North even more exciting are the vocal contributions from another English folk legend, Bridget St John, whose voice sounds absolutely wonderful next to Michael's.