Notable Releases of the Week (3/29)
Before I talk about new music or anything, I'd just like to say that we're all still in shock from the unexpected and tragic death of both members of rising UK duo Her's (Stephen Fitzpatrick and Audun Laading) and their tour manager Trevor Engelbrektson as a result of a car crash. We had just seen the band at SXSW and could have never imagined it'd be the last time. Our thoughts are with their friends and families, and may Stephen, Audun, and Trevor rest in peace.
Sadly, this week we also had to say goodbye to two music legends, Scott Walker and Ranking Roger of The Beat/General Public. Those two guys both impacted music forever, as the countless tributes that poured in from multiple generations of musicians proved. Rest in peace to Scott and Roger, too. You can read a tribute to Ranking Roger here.
As for this week's new albums, I highlighted seven below and here are some honorable mentions: Portishead's Beth Gibbons and the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra, Billie Eilish, Melii, Devin Townsend, Fennesz, Gang of Four, Lion Babe, Mekons, Show Me The Body, Son Volt, Mark Hoppus' band Simple Creatures, Low Dose, Jo Schornikow, American Pleasure Club, Small Feet, Unkle, K Á R Y Y N, Totaled, Triumvir Foul, Billy Woods & Kenny Segal, Good Cop Bad Cop (aka Joe Carnall & Arctic Monkeys drummer Matt Helders), the Ben Hayes EP, the Haram EP, the Ty Segall live album, and the "lost" Marvin Gaye album that was intended to follow What's Going On.
Check out my seven picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Last year, Quelle Chris released a collaborative album with Jean Grae called Everything's Fine, and now he's already back with his own new album, Guns. As is usually the case with Quelle Chris, double entendre and wordplay and metaphor are happening all over this album. Everything's Fine took a humorous approach to talking about how everything was definitely not fine, and Guns may make you think this is going to be a very political album about gun violence but that's not really the case. It is a political album, but in various and unexpected ways. "At its core it’s about things that can be weaponized for good or evil, including ourselves," Chris told Complex about the album's title track. "The words we say, what we fear, how we love, how we live, what we ingest, what we believe in, who we idolize, shit like that." Take standout track "It's the Law (Farewell Goodbye Addio, Uncle Tom)." It's a biting criticism of racist, God-fearing America, and it also includes the line "If God made the law, you should follow it / Just like God made this dick, you can swallow it." It's an absurd joke in an otherwise powerful song, and a few lines later Chris is already over his own humor. "'Cause God made the law, you should follow it / Just like God made these bars... you get the goddamn joke." It could come off like a cliché from a lesser rapper, but nothing is cliché in the world of Quelle Chris. He turns rap stereotypes on their head, he defies listeners' expectations, and he delivers powerful messages and slick bars in the process.
Belgium trio Brutus' genre-defying sophomore album Nest can recall anything from White Lung to Deafheaven to Smashing Pumpkins to Bikini Kill, but even those comparisons only give a surface-level idea of Nest, which is one of the most truly original rock albums in recent memory. You can read my full review here.
Magic Circle arrived on the scene fully formed with their 2013 self-titled debut, and though all the members had rich histories playing in such Boston hardcore bands as Rival Mob, Mind Eraser, No Tolerance, Boston Strangler, and Doomriders, their résumé wouldn't have necessarily lead you to believe they'd make one of the best doom debuts in recent memory. If you were used to hearing Brendan Radigan's bark in Rival Mob, you might not've known he can howl like he does in Magic Circle too. Their 2015 sophomore LP Journey Blind injected a faster NWOBHM influence into their sound, but the new Departed Souls sees Magic Circle sticking to the doomier sounds of their debut and refining those sounds more than ever. Departed Souls is very much a retro album -- there are a few times on it where Ozzy could sue Brendan Radigan for copyright infringement -- but Magic Circle play this kinda stuff like they invented it. They do it so well that it doesn't really matter that you're listening to an album from 2019 and not a lost album from 1971 (which, if not for the clean modern production of former Orchid member Will Killingsworth, Departed Souls sounds like it could be). Departed Souls also sees Magic Circle branching out from straight-up doom into psychedelic and progressive rock territory. They hint at those sounds on almost all the songs, but dive head-first into them with the chiming acoustic guitars and tablas of "A Day Will Dawn Without Nightmares," which sounds like it could've been a deep cut on Zeppelin IV. Even more so than on their previous two albums, Magic Circle just sound like a great hard rock band on Departed Souls. It's nothing you haven't heard before, but Magic Circle know how to take familiar sounds and make them feel fresh.
Nashville emo band Free Throw have been honing their sound since releasing their first EP back in 2012, and now with their third album What's Past Is Prologue they've written what is by far their most fully realized, impressive, and enjoyable album to date. Lyrically, singer Cory Castro held nothing back. It's basically a concept album about his mental health struggles, and the album has a linear narrative, beginning with Cory describing himself in a bad place and building to the closing title track where things are finally looking up. "This is the first Free Throw record with a happy ending," Cory says. Musically, Free Throw are giving this one everything they've got. It's got the cleanest production of any Free Throw album yet, and it doesn't shy away from big pop punk choruses. But Free Throw haven't "sold out" or anything. Cory still brings his voice to a post-hardcore roar and Free Throw work in all kinds of math rock tendencies that recall emo's mid-'90s period. It basically sounds like all the various types of emo that existed from 1995 to 2005 all rolled into one album, but it also sounds like the type of album that would only come out today. These sounds may have existed back then, but they've only been connected in this way in hindsight. You can still call these guys "emo revival," but on this album -- both lyrically and sonically -- they are looking forward.
In the decade-plus that Laura Stevenson has been releasing solo material, she has always bounced back and forth between folk music and driving indie-punk -- sometimes on the same song -- but her fifth album The Big Freeze is her most overtly folk album yet, and the new direction suits her well. Besides "Dermatillomania," The Big Freeze almost never even sounds like a rock album, let alone a punk one. Often it's just Laura and her guitar, and when she does bring in other collaborators, it's to add strings or horns or jazzy drumming. "I knew I wanted to have these blooming moments and then have these moments that came down, because I love those Leonard Cohen records, and Judee Sill," Laura told Noisey, and The Big Freeze is definitely an album that would appeal to Leonard Cohen or Judee Sill fans. It's truly a gorgeous album, and an unexpected twist from a musician as established as Laura Stevenson already is.
It didn't take long for Philly's Caracara to catch on after releasing their 2017 debut album Summer Megalith, and in the two years since, they've begun a collaborative relationship with the great modern-day punk producer Will Yip, who helmed their new Better EP and put it out on his Memory Music label. It's only got three songs, but it's clear from these songs that they're already a tighter and even more ambitious band than they were on Summer Megalith. Each song is different, and each shows a band who play like they want to be the biggest rock band in the world. The six-minute title track -- which opens the EP and is its most monumental song -- sorta finds the middle ground between Manchester Orchestra-style alternative rock and the passionate, atmospheric sounds of Pianos Become the Teeth (who Caracara referenced in the lyrics of their debut, and have since opened for). It's got backup vocals from Mannequin Pussy's Marisa Dabice during the song's towering climax, and it's the kind of song that would make any fan of big, triumphant, emotional rock turn their head. "Hades" is a bit softer, more in the realm of Zach Braff soundtrack singer/songwriter indie with just a little '90s alt-rock grit. And that alt-rock grit intensifies on closer "Learn Your Love," a grungy song that kind of occupies the middle ground between "Hades" and "Better." The EP ends way too soon, but in this era of content overload and decreasing attention spans, this short-but-sweet approach works -- Better leaves you wanting more after just one listen.
2019 has been shaping up to be a huge year for OG death metal. Maybe it's because it's the 30th anniversary of 1989, the year that many metalheads agree death metal fully came into its own. There were death metal albums released earlier than 1989, like the classic debut by Possessed (who are releasing their first album in 33 years this year), but death metal had been set in stone as a subgenre by 1989 and that's the year that we got a handful of the albums that still today are considered among the very best of the genre, like Morbid Angel's debut album Altars of Madness. Morbid Angel have gone through several lineup changes and they're still around (they wrapped up a tour earlier this month), but Altars of Madness vocalist David Vincent left the band (for a second time) in 2015. Now he's focused on fronting a new band, Vltimas. Vltimas' lineup is rounded out by Rune "Blasphemer" Eriksen (longtime Aura Noir guitarist who was also in Mayhem from 1995 to 2008) and Flo Mounier (longtime drummer of Montreal tech-death vets Cryptopsy). As you might expect from a trio with a black metal guitarist, a tech-death drummer, and one of the most legendary death metal vocalists of all time, Vltimas' debut Something Wicked Marches In falls into the blackened death metal sub-subgenre, and it's also just as awesome as you'd expect from a band with this much veteran talent. Something Wicked Marches In is one of those "supergroup" albums that manages to scratch the itch of all the related bands without ever sounding too similar to any of them. David Vincent doesn't sound quite as beastly as he did in 1989, but he's still got a truly evil scream and he still captures so much of what made him great three decades ago. The blackened edge of Something Wicked Marches In also suits Vincent very well, especially compared to his reunion with Morbid Angel on 2011's Illud Divinum Insanus, an industrial-tinged album that was met by mixed reviews. (I can't be sure just yet, but I have a feeling this album will be received more positively.) All three members just seem to balance each other out really well. Morbid Angel and Cryptopsy have both explored more polished sounds, while Blasphemer's recent work with Aura Noir stays true to a very raw sound, and Jaime Gomez Arellano's production on Something Wicked Marches In finds an appealing middle ground. Not too raw, not too polished, just clear, thick, and the perfect fit for Vltimas' relentless attack.