Five Notable Releases of the Week (8/26)
Just as last week's list was about to go up, we got a new Frank Ocean album. Since then, we got ANOTHER Frank Ocean album. Both are great and of course worth listening to (if you haven't already), but we've been talking about Frank all week, so I'm gonna focus on five other albums for this list.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It's already been an awesome year for Cass McCombs, who contributed to one of the "Dark Star" covers on the Grateful Dead tribute album and put out a very good (if underrated) album with his band The Skiffle Players. Those both had Cass exploring his jam side, and the jams definitely come through on Mangy Love, but this is a true "Songwriter" record and it has some of his best songwriting yet. From the first few notes of opener "Bum Bum Bum," it's clear that this is the perfect record for a relaxing morning -- it might be my favorite waking-up album since Kurt Vile's Wakin On A Pretty Daze. And like that album, it's "chill" without ever being boring or too repetitive. "Rancid Girl" is a sleazy rocker, "Run Sister Run" dives into Latin rock, "Laughter Is The Best Medicine" nears soft jazz-rock. Those sonic explorations do a really good job at keeping the album diverse, even if it feels samey on first listen. As you may expect from Cass, the main vibe is sort of an update on late '60s rock -- the era where folk, psychedelia, jazz and other sounds came together and all bonded. "Low Flying Bird" especially sounds like it could've been played at Woodstock. But the album sounds truly modern -- one of its standout lyrics is "Netflix and die" (on "Cry"). It's those little subtleties, whether it's a short clever lyric or something like the fantastic guitar riff that opens "Opposite House," that prove Cass continues to be a step above your average chill-rocker.
De La Soul are responsible for at least one of rap's most landmark albums ever with 1989's 3 Feet High and Rising -- even if some may argue it's too removed from rap's current landscape -- and the legends are now back with their first proper album in 12 years. They did manage to get 2 Chainz on this thing, but if you're one of the people bummed about De La's lack of modern sounds, you should probably turn away now. Most of it's a total throwback to the golden age NYC rap that De La helped create, and it's a great throwback at that. That's clear-as-day by the third song "Pain," which has them teaming with Snoop Dogg who sounds as smooth and blunted here as he does on Doggystyle. And the moments that do have the group branching out from their prime Prince Paul era are closer to art rock than to rap trends. One of those moments is the trippy "Here In After," a collaboration with Damon Albarn, whose "Feel Good Inc" was surely responsible for introducing De La to younger generations. When The Darkness singer Justin Hawkins shows up on "Lord Intended," he's in full Queen mode. When David Byrne sings on "Snoopies," NYC's CBGB's history and rap history blend as seamlessly as they did on "Rapture." There's even a song here called "CBGB's." Not to get too caught up in the guests though. The rapping here is as instant-classic as De La Soul ever were, and that's quite a feat for a genre that's often hard to age gracefully in.
The young Long Beach rapper Vince Staples was promising from day one, and last year's ambitious debut album Summertime '06 (a double album), quickly cemented him as one of the best new artists in the game. Now he's quickly following it up with a short seven-song EP, Prima Donna, which is proof that Vince just keeps getting better. Some of this is up a similar alley to Summertime '06, with Vince's unmistakable voice over dark minimal production, but he's clearly exploring new ground here too. For one, he's got beats from James Blake here, which already makes it a wholly different beast than the hot-pavement production of No I.D. that dominated Summertime '06. (No I.D. does reappear here on "Pimp Hand" though.) And while that album always felt personal, this feels different. It starts with Vince singing a snippet of the gospel song "This Little Light of Mine" (titled "Let It Shine"), and then track two ("War Ready") begins with a sample of an old Andre 3000 verse. The EP doesn't feel like it's looking inward until track three ("Smile"), and that's a song with bigger, brighter production than we usually associate with Vince. And as the end of that song and the next two show, that intro isn't the only time Vince is singing a cappella here. It's minor stuff, but it adds a dark edge.
As we speak, there's an awesome festival going on in Vegas called Psycho Las Vegas, which brings together four generations of heavy psychedelic music. The lineup connects the dots from classic rockers like Blue Oyster Cult and Alice Cooper to the bands that solidified doom metal as a never-ending concern like Electric Wizard and Sleep. The comparatively newer Salt Lake City band SubRosa is playing that fest, and their sound alone connects those same dots. They've got two electronic violinists and soaring clean vocals courtesy of Rebecca Vernon that pull more from '60s/'70s progressive rock than from the usual metal gods, but it's clear from the thick-toned doom riffs and the occasional scream that SubRosa acknowledge the impact those bands left on aggressive music. If SubRosa covered an Alice Cooper song, I bet they'd do a great take on "Black Juju." This is an album where any given song is over 10 minutes, if not over 15, and that extended time is used wisely. While they can be heavy as all hell, they can also be somber and quiet, making the heavy parts all the more cathartic. The focus on melody is equal to or greater than the focus on heaviness, and that's a necessary approach that modern doom bands are often lacking.
Milemarker came from the late '90s / early '00s fidgety post-hardcore scene, the kind most famously associated with Dischord Records (Milemarker were on the Dischord-associated label Lovitt), but they injected robotic synths that separated them from the pack. They called it quits after 2005's Ominosity, but now they're fully back with an ongoing tour and a new album. The live shows have been great, and the new album picks up right where the band left off. That era of post-hardcore has proved to be incredibly influential, and there's a whole crop of bands getting recognition now who pull from it, so it's a great time for Milemarker to come back. They still don't really sound like many other bands, and they still sound like they've got the same spirit they had as a younger band. Overseas switches from frantic shouts to hooky choruses to vocoders, and it's got a strong backbone that those atypical rhythms and synths really enhance. Lately it seems like every band in this world reunites, but it's still kinda rare for those bands to make new music this good.