Notable Releases of the Week (11/15)
It's felt like a shorter week in the music world due to Veteran's Day, but definitely not a less busy one. In case you missed any of it in the shuffle, here are some of the music stories from this week: Marilyn Manson opening Ozzy Osbourne's tour, Grimes finally officially announced her album, Wolf Parade announced their album, Boston Calling 2020 headliners revealed, Lou Barlow stars in The Get Up Kids' video for "Lou Barlow," Morbid Angel and Obituary were part of a question on Jeopardy, and the whole Drake getting booed at Camp Flog Gnaw saga.
Now for the new albums out this week. I highlighted five below, and here are some honorable mentions: DJ Shadow, Tindersticks, Left Behind, Aaron Turner, El Drugstore, Big Bite, The Night Watch, Pardison Fontaine, Fatima Al Qadiri's score for Atlantics, the TNGHT EP, the Jeff Rosenstock & Laura Stevenson Neil Young covers EP, Juliana Hatfield's Police covers album, The Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin Live at Red Rocks, the posthumous Arthur Russell album, the Sam Amidon EP, the Becca Stevens EP, the Queen & Slim soundtrack (with Ms. Lauryn Hill, Megan Thee Stallion, Vince Staples, and more), and the Peaky Blinders soundtrack (with Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, David Bowie, The White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Queens of the Stone Age, and more).
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Will Oldham has been very busy for the past few years, but he hasn't released a proper Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album since 2011's Wolfroy Goes to Town, until now. A lot of the projects he's worked on since 2011 have been appealing in their own unique ways, but there's nothing better than Will Oldham in singer/songwriter mode and that's what I Made A Place offers. Still, it's a little different than what you might expect from him. Will Oldham has long been one of the most reliably great makers of somber, melancholic singer/songwriter music, and he offers up some great songs in that style on I Made A Place ("This Is Far From Over," the title track, a song called "The Glow Pt. 3"), but the majority of this album finds Bonnie 'Prince' Billy making happy-sounding, upbeat songs rooted in rollicking alt-country. It's perhaps the most countrified proper Bonnie 'Prince' Billy album since 2008's Lie Down in the Light, but even that album felt more somber than this one. Those who are hoping for another I See A Darkness might initially find it jarring, but there's a distinct quality to Will's songwriting that makes even the most upbeat songs ("New Memory Box," "The Devil's Throat") retain his usual sense of melancholy. Also: he made the album with Joan Shelley and her frequent collaborator Nathan Salsburg (all three of whom are also on Joan's great new album), and his harmonizing with Joan is no small part of what makes I Made A Place such a gorgeous record. It's a good mix of the familiar and some new twists, and for an artist whose 25+ years have been largely defined by his consistency, sometimes those new twists are just what you need to shake things up a little.
The album isn't streaming yet but you can purchase a physical copy at the Drag City webstore and this new video is out today:
Emily Jane White is back with a followup to 2016's great They Moved In Shadow All Together, and its title Immanent Fire comes from what feminist spiritual philosopher Starhawk calls the "war on immanence," and the California wildfires, "[lamenting] the destruction of the sacred feminine and the earth at once," to quote the album's press release. As you might expect from that description, this album often takes on the dark state of the world that we're currently living in, but it does it in poetic and metaphoric ways, not in an overtly literal fashion, which makes it more instantly timeless. The dark themes are matched by dark sounds - like They Moved In Shadow All Together, this is gothy, ethereal folk in the vein of Marissa Nadler or acoustic Chelsea Wolfe, and if you like those artists but still haven't checked out the still-underrated Emily Jane White, I hope this excellent album changes that.
Once upon a time, Abigail Williams worked within the deeply uncool genres of symphonic black metal and deathcore, but they took a turn towards the more fashionable straight-up black metal on 2010's In the Absence of Light, and then towards the even more fashionable atmospheric black metal on 2012's Becoming, and they've continued to head further in that direction ever since. "More fashionable" doesn't always mean "better," but as Abigail Williams have gotten hipper, they've also become more original. They were often considered Dimmu Borgir worship in their early days, but later albums have seen reviewers dropping the old "X meets Y meets Z," and really they just keep increasingly sounding more and more like Abigail Williams. 2015's The Accuser was perhaps their best yet, and its new followup Walk Beyond the Dark (which ups the "fashionable" quotient even more with its Mariusz Lewandowski artwork) is at least as good. Main member Ken Sorceron continues to have a rotating lineup, and this album was made with the rhythm section of Bryan O’Sullivan on bass and Mike Heller on drums, plus it has contributions from cellist Chris “Kakophonix” Brown and guitarists Andrew Markuszewski (who’s in Lord Mantis with Ken) and Justin McKinney (who used to be in The Faceless with Ken).And though longtime guitarist Ian Jekelis is no longer in Abigail Williams, the epic 11-minute closing track "The Final Failure" is the evolution of a song that was originally written with Ian for The Accuser but didn't make the final cut. It's "one of my favorite Abigail songs ever... [and] also serves as a tribute to Ian's time in the band and all the music we wrote together that is still sitting around that may never get released," Ken told Revolver. Walk Beyond the Dark is still a menacing album like its predecessor, but Kakophonix's cello parts really dominate this one in a very effective way, and the beauty of the cello mixed with the intensity that the rest of the band brings makes for a consistently compelling contrast.
Liturgy have always sort of been a divisive band amongst metalheads. Their breakthrough 2011 sophomore album Aesthetica was really strong stuff, but some found their self-imposed "transcendental black metal" label a little pretentious. Its 2015 followup The Ark Work was pretty great in its own right too, but it was hardly a metal album at all and some fans were mad about that. Now they're back with a followup, which comes with another potential drawback: longtime drummer Greg Fox, who's a total beast and as much a household name within heavy music as Liturgy frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, is no longer in the band. (Nor is longtime bassist Tyler Dusenbury.) But I also suspect that H.A.Q.Q. might go down easier with Liturgy's cynics and detractors than the band's last two albums. The new rhythm section (drummer Leo Didkovsky and bassist Tia Vincent-Clark) sound pretty great, and the album feels like it lacks the pretense that some have accused Liturgy of in the past. It's still a genre-defying album that flirts with classical piano, avant-garde compositions, ambient music, Lightning Bolt-esque math/noise rock, and other non-metal forms of music, but all the various elements are fused together more seamlessly on this one than on The Ark Work and black metal fans will be happy to know that the album is largely a return to black metal. And if the self-mythologizing of Aesthethica turned you off, you might be pleased that the vibe and the narrative surrounding this one all seems a little more personal and down to earth. Hunter has been a very outspoken Twitter user lately, and he continues to come off as an interesting, real-life human; not the kind of self-serious bullshit-spewers that remain far too commonplace within black metal. The same humility and modesty of Liturgy's Twitter page is heard on H.A.Q.Q. (an acronym for "Haelegen above Quality and Quantity"), which can easily be enjoyed without knowing what "Haelegen above Quality and Quantity" actually means. When you put everything else aside, and you're face to face with the music, you're left with just a good, rock solid black metal album.
Fran is the project of Chicago singer/songwriter Maria Jacobson, and A Private Picture is her very promising debut album, which touches on indie/folk/country crossover in the Angel Olsen/Big Thief/etc realm, twee-ish indie pop in the classic Slumberland/Sarah Records realm, and more. I wrote more about it earlier this week.