Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/19)
It just dropped like 30 degrees in NYC this past week, which means it's already starting to feel like year-end list season, but 2018 is far from done giving us great new albums and this week is proof of that. In addition to the five great albums I picked this week, here are some worthy honorable mentions: Empress Of, Neneh Cherry, the final Minus the Bear EP, Roc Marciano x DJ Muggs, Shook Ones, Papercuts, FOD, Richard Ashcroft, Peter Bjorn and John, Will Oldham, Yoko Ono, Graham Van Pelt, the Jason Isbell live album, and John Carpenter's new Halloween score.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Back in 2012, after Cloud Nothings holed up in the studio with Steve Albini, they released Attack On Memory, a post-hardcore/indie rock crossover record that had almost no remnants of their lo-fi pop punk beginnings and sent Cloud Nothings on a path to becoming a very serious, consistently powerful band. For the most part, they've continued to make records in the mold of Attack On Memory, but they mellowed out a bit over time. Last year's Life Without Sound had some of the band's calmest songs yet. Well, that's over, because Last Building Burning is the most aggressive record of Cloud Nothings' career. Parts of it are even heavier than Attack On Memory.
Cloud Nothings waste no time letting you in on this album's mission statement. It opens with "On An Edge," a dose of dissonant post-hardcore fury that sounds closer to '90s Touch & Go/AmRep than Cloud Nothings have ever sounded. Fittingly, frontman Dylan Baldi screams more on this album than he ever has, the band play faster than they ever have, and it's got the rawest production of any Cloud Nothings album since Attack On Memory. This is clear on the punk rager "In Shame," on the noisy, tension building "Offer An End" and "The Echo of the World," and during the nearly 11-minute "Dissolution." Attack On Memory and its followup Here and Nowhere Else both had That One Long Song ("Wasted Days" and "Pattern Walks," respectively), so this may seem like nothing new, but Cloud Nothings have never pulled it off quite like they did this time. The other two long songs generally followed the same pattern (which went: first part of song > make a lot of noise > second part of song), but "Dissolution" progresses in more natural and more complex ways. It's still got the avant-garde mid-section that Cloud Nothings tend to do on songs like these (with drummer Jayson Gerycz losing his mind behind the kit), but it feels less like different parts strung together and more like one constantly evolving song. It's a wild ride that earns all 11 of those minutes.
As every Cloud Nothings album has, Last Building Burning has its sugary songs and its calmer songs too, but even those songs can't resist turning into something more abrasive as they go on. The super-catchy "Leave Him Now" is sort of this album's answer to Attack On Memory's "Fall In," yet it turns into stormy post-hardcore by the song's end. "So Right So Clean" is this album's slow song, and still for about 15 seconds the band builds to a crashing climax and Dylan brings his voice to a piercing scream. Last Building Burning should satisfy fans itching for more of Attack On Memory's grit, but it wouldn't be right to call it a return to form. Cloud Nothings sound fired-up and ready to look nowhere but forwards.
Tom Krell's last How To Dress Well album, 2016's Care, was his poppiest album yet. That's not a bad thing (I really like that album), but it's still exciting to learn that he decided to pull a complete 180 and follow it with his most experimental album yet. Co-produced by Tom Krell and Joel Ford, it's a capital-A album that treks through glitchy, ambient pop and sounds best played start to finish. It makes a great companion with the new Low album, something Tom himself recently noted. Like that album, the gorgeous, heavily manipulated sounds hit you before the words do, but when the words do start drilling their way into your brain, you realize Tom is singing about some powerful, personal stuff. And not only is this album full of gorgeous sounds, it's full of a huge variety of sounds that come together seamlessly. The buzzing atmosphere of "Nonkilling 13 | Ceiling for the Sky" makes way for the murky Daft Punk-on-acid vocoder of "A Memory, The Spinning of a Body | Nonkilling 2," which makes way for the '90s club beats of "Nonkilling 6 | Hunger," which makes way for the spoken word meets glitch frenzy of "July 13 No Hope No Pain," and that's just one of the many intriguing sequences on this record. It's immediately recognizable as a How To Dress Well album -- Tom Krell's R&B-influenced croon shows up in much different ways than usual, but remains as distinct as ever -- though it's truly like nothing else in HTDW's discography. If, by Care, you thought HTDW's trajectory was getting a little predictable, this album should be a welcome surprise. It's the most unpredictable thing he has ever done.
Esperanza Spalding started out as a jazz musician, and though she's branched out from the genre -- as on 2016's great Emily's D+Evolution -- she's always made sure her roots came through loud and clear. That is, until this year's 12 Little Spells. It follows last year's Exposure, which was recorded during a 77-hour livestreamed event, and like that album, this one was also rolled out in a very unique way. Esperanza put out a song a day at 12:12 PM for 12 straight days. Each song has a corresponding body part, and each came with a message written by Esperanza. It was intriguing to watch it all go down, but even if you never heard anything about the backstory, 12 Little Spells should still instantly register as a worthy album with lasting power. I don't mean this as a slight on her jazz work, which is excellent, but for fans of "pop" or "indie" or whatever, 12 Little Spells could be Esperanza's most appealing album yet. More than anything, it reminds me of Julia Holter's experimental take on pop music. Esperanza's still got a jazz feel buried in the mix (as does much of Julia Holter's recent music), as well as several elements of the avant-garde, but for the most part these songs are driven by the gorgeous melodies provided by atmospheric instrumentation and Esperanza's voice. They're often a bit more simple for Esperanza's standards, and simple is good in this case. The basic structures of these songs are so strong, that they don't need much more than a few ambient layers to get their point across. The songs are all clearly cut from the same cloth, but each has a slightly different vibe and each is as strong as the last. (This was something her rollout made especially clear -- every single day, she released a new song that stood on its own as a powerful song.) Sometimes she changes things up more drastically, as on the funky "You Have to Dance," but it works to 12 Little Spells' advantage that the songs are mostly so similar. It's the kind of album where if you like one song, you'll be pleased to find there are 11 others that scratch that exact same itch just as effectively. For many people, Esperanza Spalding needs no introduction (it's already been seven years since she beat Justin Bieber, Drake, Mumford & Sons and Florence + the Machine for Best New Artist at the Grammys, and that was already five years after her first album), but 12 Little Spells could be the album that gains her all kinds of new fans. It's truly a new beginning.
Once an artist is established, EPs are often used to release some material that was left over from an album session, or as a low-stakes way to bridge the gap between high-stakes albums. But sometimes, the brevity of an EP can be used to make a statement that wouldn't be as impactful if it was stretched to the length of an album -- a "less is more" or "quality over quantity" scenario where the EP is a fully-realized piece of work that wouldn't be better any other way. That's what Open Mike Eagle's new EP What Happens When I Try To Relax is. It follows his great 2017 full-length Brick Body Kids Still Daydream and it hits even harder than that album. The production is edgier, Mike's raps are more energized, and he loads this thing with quotable punchlines and thrilling tongue twisters that keep you leaning in, waiting to see what the next line will be. I won't spoil them, mostly because they're more effective when heard in Mike's voice than when read on a screen, but seriously, the amount of wit packed into these six songs is unreal. The boasts are unconventional, the grin-inducing references are plentiful, and the word choices are dizzying -- Mike is like a walking thesaurus. Mike's been prolific and consistently good for a while, but his records tend to be growers, and this EP immediately hooked me in a way that his projects never have before. EP or album or otherwise, when a piece of music feels this complete and this urgent, it can't go ignored.
Phony Ppl call themselves a "no genre" band, and while I'm sure plenty of artists would like to be called that, Phony Ppl truly earn it. mō’zā-ik brings together jazz, rap, soul, funk, rock, psychedelia, and more, usually with at least two of those in the same song and sometimes with at least two of them happening at once. The members are also masters at all of those sounds. It's not everyday you hear a band truly skilled in jazz that are also naturals at rocking out, but Phony Ppl are that band. It's not everyday you hear a band with gorgeous singing voices who can also out-rap half the people on the radio, but Phony Ppl are that band too. If there is a good modern comparison, it's probably Anderson .Paak and the Free Nationals, and fans of Paak will almost definitely like Phony Ppl, but Phony Ppl are really too unique to pin down to one comparison. mō’zā-ik is an album that can bring together fans of '60s post-bop drumming, fans of shredding '70s guitar solos, and fans of '90s boom bap-era spitters, and I can't think of many other albums that can do that. But mō’zā-ik isn't just an exercise in genre or a meeting point for various generations of record collectors. These are gorgeous songs than can bowl you over even if you don't care about things like musicianship and technical prowess. They have songs where the instrumentation is as delicate and glistening as antique glass and the vocals are as syrupy smooth as your favorite Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield records, and others that make you wanna get up and dance. mō’zā-ik is complex but it goes down easy, and once you've taken it in, it's the kind of record where you can hang around for plenty of repeat listens and continue to explore its many details. (And once you've taken it in, catch them on tour with Pusha T.)