It is a HOT weekend in NYC. It's also a pretty exciting one for music fans. The inaugural Panorama festival begins today on Randall's Island. Guns N' Roses are here. For something a little smaller, I highly recommend catching one of the three Kamaiyah shows. There are also new albums of course, and I picked five that I think are worth checking out.
Browse my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The blues is a tricky genre, because the heart and soul that powered its best artists often takes a backseat to genre-purism and traditionalism. Sometimes it seems virtually impossible to innovate within blues without abandoning the style all together. Breanna Barbara doesn't exactly break this barrier, but she's got a certain spark that makes Mirage Dreams feel fresh. The fuzzy guitar riffs and organs are familiar, but it feels like the inspiration for these songs comes from within, not from the National Recording Registry. Breanna doesn't dress up like it's the 1930s, she doesn't use the word "Howlin'" in her song titles. She's got a lot of heart and a powerhouse voice that doesn't exactly sound like anyone else in particular. And she really knows how to use it.
One day, years from now, if I'm trying to explain the whole "alt-R&B" explosion to someone, I imagine I'm going to namedrop Jeremih's 2012 Late Nights mixtape as a defining document. After three long years, he properly followed it with Late Nights The Album this past December, which was a late contender for 2015 AOTY lists. (It would've ended up on mine if I had more time with it.) Apparently the Late Nights series is not over yet, as Jeremih has just returned with the Late Nights - Europe mixtape. He made the mixtape during his European tour, and each track is named after a city he performed in. It's right up the alley of the other Late Nights releases, which is not a bad thing at all. Slow tempos, thick rubbery bass, and light reverby snaps provide a gorgeous backdrop for Jeremih's smooth, unmistakable voice. It feels more like the cherry on top of his Late Night series than a new classic, but there are some serious jams here. The best is probably "Paris (Who Taught You)," which features fellow crooner Ty Dolla $ign. Ty's also on Late Nights The Album, and if nothing else, "Paris" proves that we need these guys teaming up again.
Swedish musician Reine Fiske is a man of many projects, most of which I will fully admit I'm unfamiliar with. I mostly know him from his work with the psych band Dungen, but his softer, folkier band The Amazing has been a blind spot for me. Their fourth album Ambulance is my introduction to the band, and it's instantly got me won over. Sometimes nothing hits closer to home than some pleasant, melodic indie rock, and that's exactly what this is. I racked my brain for days over what this album reminds me most of, and I ended up deciding I think it kinda sounds like Chad VanGaalen. (That may be a helpful comparison for less than ten people, but I know like seven of you just hit play on this thing.) We are having some tough times all around the world this year, and getting a lot of charged-up music because of it. But sometimes you just need something to calm you down, and Ambulance is one of the more serene pop albums in recent memory.
What was I just saying about feeling serene? This Revocation album is nearly the polar opposite; it's a total ass-kicker. It ends with a cover of Slayer's "Altar of Sacrifice," which they do a totally straightforward rendition of, save for some death-ier vocals. If that sounds like something you'd be into, then all the originals on Great Is Our Sin should be right up your alley too. These guys don't reinvent the wheel or anything -- it's techy thrash/death that's fairly by the books -- but they do it super well. The production is crisp but not polished, the playing is tight, and the band is always in full-on attack mode. If you tend to dig this kinda stuff, Great Is Our Sin should prove to be a winner.
Two of the albums on this week's list stick pretty closely to specific styles (Breanna Barbara and Revocation), but if you just can't get down with something like that, you may find Wreck and Reference very refreshing. "Genre-defying" gets thrown around in music writing a lot, but it's not always as applicable as it is here. This is a band that's equally rooted in screamo and IDM, in rap and goth. The songs often rise and fall like post-rock songs, but they're jarring in a way that post-rock bands rarely are. It may seem like screamo-rap-goth-IDM is just going to end up sounding like a total mess, but Wreck & Reference somehow make this work. It's experimental in approach, but easy to listen to. It's music for the people who are stoked on the festivals who book Touche Amore and Young Thug on the same bill. In these "I listen to everything" times, that's probably more people than you might guess.