Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/2)
There is SO much worthy music out this week. All five of my picks come highly recommended, and I've got a few honorable mentions too: Titus Andronicus, Andrew WK, Sonny Smith, Suuns, Gwenno, Dead Meadow, the long-awaited release of Spiny Normen's shelved '70s psych debut, Ed Schrader's Music Beat, The Men, the Iron Reagan / Gatecreeper split, and the Mozzy EP.
As for some other stuff that went on this week: Jawbreaker finally played their first three NYC shows since the '90s. In case you missed it, check out night one review and pics, night two pics, and night three pics. David Bowie is finally opened at Brooklyn Museum (see pics of the exhibit). USA's new Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and The Notorious B.I.G. premiered and if you haven't watched yet, it's worth changing that.
Here at BrooklynVegan, we announced a SXSW night show with Ted Leo, Wye Oak, Bodega, and Bully, and we have more SXSW shows being announced soon (stay tuned). Also, if you're into these kinds of things, I wrote an argument in defense of Radiohead's under-appreciated The King of Limbs.
Check out my picks for this week's Notable Releases below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Australia's Camp Cope quickly won the indie-punk world over with their 2016 self-titled debut, an album so strong that it made fans out of Laura Jane Grace, Courtney Barnett, The Wonder Years, Modern Baseball, Cayetana and more, all before they ever even made it to the US. They eventually got picked up by the trusty Run For Cover Records on these shores, and they're now releasing their first album for RFC, which bests their debut in every way. The songs are even tighter, and Camp Cope are really honing in on a style that's distinctly their own. The guitars are jangly in a classic indie rock kind of way, the basslines are strong and in your face and almost act like lead guitar parts, and singer Georgia Maq has perfected a fired-up roar that will shake you to the bone. And it's clearer than ever that Camp Cope will stop at nothing to fight the sexism and injustice that women face in both the music industry and daily life. Two of the songs that really drive this home are "The Opener" and "The Face of God." The former, which opens the record, is a "fuck you" to any man that has ever told Camp Cope they aren't good enough or well-liked enough or that they're just a token female-fronted band on a male-heavy bill. The latter details a terrifying account of being sexually assaulted by a fellow musician, questioning if somehow the whole thing was your fault, and having to deal with not being believed because the abuser's "music is too good." Georgia pronounces her words so clearly and with so much emotion that it's nearly impossible to not feel all of the anger, sadness, and confusion at once.
Those songs are the two that most register as a call to arms, given the heightened awareness of social issues like these. "The Face of God" could be the anthem of the #MeToo movement, while "The Opener" could be the soundtrack for the the initiative to fight gender inequality on music festival lineups. Those songs are where Camp Cope are at their most upfront and most defiant, but nearly every other song finds ways to find power in oneself or deal with the mess of a world that we live in. One of the album's most powerful songs is the one that doesn't sound like any other song on the LP. The last song, "I've Got You," which is just Georgia and her acoustic guitar, is a heartbreaking song about the recent death of her father, and it's so detailed that it's hard to hear without tearing up. The details are specific to stories from Georgia's youth, but the overall feeling of loss is universal. It's a difficult topic on an album that's full of difficult topics, but life is not easy and Camp Cope are here to kind of say, "whatever difficult thing you're going through, we get it too."
Lucy Dacus seemingly came out of nowhere with her great debut album No Burden, which came out on the small EggHunt Records in February of 2016, quickly started winning people over with its confident, fully-realized sound, and landed Lucy a deal with Matador just four months later. The album is, among other things, home to "I Don't Wanna Be Funny Anymore," an undeniably catchy song with some Courtney Barnett-style deadpan wit, which is basically a modern indie rock classic. A song that good so early on in your career is tough to top, but Lucy erased all doubts when she released the first single and opening track of her new album Historian, "Night Shift." Opening with the instantly-quotable "the first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit" before making its way to a crashing, singalong refrain, "Night Shift" made it clear: Lucy Dacus is back and she is no one-trick pony.
Historian, her first album recorded for Matador and first recorded for an established, widespread fanbase, is a clear progression from No Burden. She teamed back up with Collin Pastore, who also produced No Burden, but this time she also brought in the great John Congleton (who's worked with Angel Olsen, St. Vincent, Swans, Cloud Nothings, and many others) to mix the record, and Congleton's touch is felt. The album also benefits from some more intricate, diverse arrangements. Right after "Night Shift," she goes into "Addictions," which really shows how far Lucy's sound has come: big triumphant horns, thick driving guitars, and truly killer drumming. On "Nonbeliever" and "Body To Flame," she fleshes out her keen, conversational indie rock with gorgeous, sophisticated string arrangements. "Yours And Mine," maybe the album's second catchiest song after "Night Shift," sees Lucy joined by choir-like backing vocals. And then there's the album's second half, where things really get wild. "Timefighter" takes a break from Lucy's usual indie rock/indie folk for what is basically a soul song, and things go in all kinds of unexpected directions. There's sludgy, nearly-metallic guitar, Lucy howling like you've never heard her howl before, and some serious guitar soloing. Lucy and her band bring that heavier sound back on the following song, "Next Of Kin," where Lucy's singer/songwriter side is almost entirely gone in favor of getting the band together and rocking out. Then there's the seven-plus minute "Pillar Of Truth." The first two and a half minutes are just Lucy and a clean guitar, but then the band comes in, along with some more of those big, bold horns like the ones on "Addictions." Then Lucy really turns it up a notch when she sings, "if my throat can't sing, then my soul will scream... OUT TO YOU!", literally screaming those last three words as the band cuts out, before coming right back in for a climactic ending. Then Lucy wraps things up on a melancholic note with the sorta-title track "Historians," which is just Lucy, her guitar, and weeping strings. It's the kind of comedown you need after songs like "Timefighter" and "Pillar Of Truth," a nice simple ending to an album that's anything but.
Sophie Allison has been releasing music as Soccer Mommy since 2015, with a few Bandcamp EPs, a full-length on the Orchid Tapes label, and a compilation that Fat Possum released last year with re-recordings of some of her early songs. Now she's releasing her first proper album for Fat Possum, Clean, which is the best introduction to Soccer Mommy's sound yet. Like her earlier material, Clean is still rooted in sad, somber music, the kind you might expect from someone who cites Jeff Buckley and Mitski as influences and toured with Mitski and Phoebe Bridgers. But for this album, Sophie has really -- no pun intended -- cleaned up her sound. It was produced by The War On Drugs collaborator Gabe Wax and mixed by Perfume Genius collaborator Ali Chant, and it's got a similar warm, lush sound to those aforementioned acts that Wax and Chant have worked with. The stronger production really brings out the best in Sophie, whose voice, melodies, and way with words have never been better than they are on Clean. The album is split pretty well between the upbeat indie rock of songs like "Cool," "Your Dog," "Last Girl," and "Skin," and the quieter singer/songwriter type stuff like "Still Clean," "Flaw," "Blossom (Wasting All My Time)," "Scorpio Rising," and "Wildflowers," and it's sequenced in a way where you never get too much of the same thing at once. Even underneath the umbrellas of those two approaches, Sophie finds interesting ways to change things up. Sophie backs her plainspoken delivery with a pretty groovy bassline on "Your Dog," and she's got some nice guitar riffing going on in "Cool." My personal favorite, "Last Girl," has Sophie belting it a little more than usual and there's an air-drum-worthy verse that really puts a hop in the album's step. As for the slower songs, she's got a knack for combining sparkly clean guitar and ambient textures on "Still Clean" and "Blossom (Wasting All My Time)," and she does sort of a slowcore-ish build on "Flaw." Sophie ends the album with the three songs that get closest to traditional folk territory. "Scorpio Rising" starts out as a strummy campfire acoustic song, before turning into slow-paced grungy rock. Then she does this really pretty-sounding instrumental interlude, and ends things with "Wildflowers," the kind of grand finale song that really sounds like a strong conclusion to the album. It's another strummy acoustic one, but she's eventually joined by some light drumming and atmospheric embellishments. It sounds like a minor touch on paper, but it's the details like those that really take this song -- and the whole album -- to the next level.
Portland, OR's Haley Heynderickx is one of the latest in a long line of folk singers that make personal, bare-bones music, from the once-obscure '60s-era artists to the many contemporary artists who carry the torch for their stylistic ancestors. Haley cites classic artists like Vashti Bunyan and Connie Converse as influences, and on the modern side, she's gotten more than one comparison to Angel Olsen. The Angel Olsen comparison makes sense; both have a high and lonesome warble, both take a little influence from pre-Beatles pop (Haley has the doo wop-inspired "Oom Sha La La"), and both have moments that dive into driving indie rock. But while comparisons are easy to make, Haley is clearly a force of her own. She has a hell of a voice, and should have no trouble holding people's attention, even on her quietest songs. She opens the record with three quiet, old-time-ish songs, but things really get interesting when Haley and her band get louder and more modern. The album's most stunning song is the nearly-eight-minute "Worth It." It's led by this noodly guitar pattern that's almost more like American Football than Vashti Bunyan, and it slowly builds and builds until all of a sudden it turns into a fast rock song. Haley gets more confrontational with her singing, throwing in speak-sung parts and little yelps, and it becomes clear that Haley is not just another folk singer. The song quiets and slows back down, before building back to a louder ending where Haley is wailing without restraint. It's the best song on the record, but there are a couple others where that came from. "Untitled God Song" gets loud and brings in horns and pounding drums towards the end, and the aforementioned "Oom Sha La La" has Haley raising her voice to a yell as she repeats the title of the album. The songs like those work well surrounded by the quieter, folkier ones, and the whole thing makes for a very promising debut. But it's those more adventurous songs where Haley really proves herself as a unique talent and if she further explores that side of her on future releases, I think she'll be unstoppable.
Just a couple weeks ago in this column, I was talking about the new Superchunk album and how, despite it sounding just like their classic material, it doesn't feel dated because Superchunk's influence has never worn off. Now here we are talking about a new Breeders album, and it's a very similar situation. In fact, you might argue that The Breeders paved the way for more than one of the artists mentioned above. It's a helpful coincidence that a new Breeders album can so naturally be discussed next to some of today's finest new artists. It might help older indie rock fans realize how much great new stuff is coming out right now, and it might help a younger fan fall in love with this influential band.
And All Nerve isn't just any new Breeders album. It's not only the band's first album in a decade, but it's their first album with the lineup of 1993's Last Splash since Last Splash. On early listens, I'm not sure if there's anything as immediate as classics like "Cannonball" and "Doe," but plenty of moments come close. They start off super strong, with "Nervous Mary" and "Wait in the Car," which are two of the album's most upbeat songs and easily could've fit on The Breeders' first two albums. All Nerve is a little lighter on rippers compared to Last Splash (those first two and "Archangel's Thunderbird" are probably the only ones that really rip), but The Breeders' slower side is in fine form on this one. They've got dark, doomy stuff like "MetaGoth," gripping ballads like "Dawn: Making an Effort," and there's that aura of '60s psychedelia that Kim Deal has had since her time in the Pixies. The trippy stuff shows up on a few songs, but it's perhaps most overt on "Howl at the Summit," which borrows a melody from "I Am the Walrus" (and features backing vocals by Courtney Barnett). Not the first time The Breeders have shown their love of weirdo John Lennon songs, of course. It's a cool record all around, and it's a nice reminder that, for all the Breeders-influenced stuff out there, nobody does it quite like The Breeders themselves.