Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/9)
Here at BrooklynVegan, we're getting ready for the music portion of SXSW which starts next week. If you'll be there, stop by one of the FIVE BrooklynVegan shows. As of today, all five lineups are finally announced (including the free day parties). Browse our "SXSW" tag for more.
In other big music news, this year's list of Record Store Day exclusives came out this week. See anything you're excited about?
And now, on to the new music. One big honorable mention this week is the new Judas Priest album. It basically sounds exactly like the band's early '80s era, but it's impressive how naturally they can still pull it off 40 years later. And if you don't think too hard about the release date or the absence of KK Downing, these just sound like fun Judas Priest songs. For more, read Invisible Oranges writer Avinash Mittur's review of the album. Also read Avinash's interviews with Rob Halford and former/founding guitarist KK Downing.
Read on for my five picks. What was your favorite release this week?
David Byrne is basically never not busy, but he actually hasn't released a solo album in 14 years. He's put out collaborative albums with Brian Eno, Fatboy Slim, and St. Vincent in more recent years, but American Utopia is the first proper David Byrne album since 2004's Grown Backwards. Longtime collaborator Brian Eno is on this album too, as are much younger artists who surely take some influence from both Byrne and Eno, including Oneohtrix Point Never, Sampha, and Jam City (not to mention past collaborator Doveman). Like the other experimental pop icon and Eno collaborator named David, Byrne has remained an adventurous artist with his ear to the ground for new music, and American Utopia is indicative of this. There are a few awkward moments (like when he sings "The brain of a chicken and the dick of a donkey, a pig in a blanket... and that's why you want me"). but there are also plenty of moments that sound like classic Talking Heads, and plenty of other out-there, psychedelic moments that are as forward-thinking as the modern-day collaborators that Byrne has on this album. Oftentimes it's thanks to those collaborators, like on the OPN collab "This Is That" which isn't far removed from the experimental electronic pop that OPN made a couple years ago with ANOHNI. But Byrne also achieves those moments on his own, like with the psych-industrial freakout on opener "I Dance Like This." He's also got at least one song that sounds ready to rival Byrne's classics on his ambitious tour this year: "Everybody's Coming To My House," which features both Eno and Sampha, and echoes the kind of futuristic tribal pop that Byrne and Eno made on Remain In Light. It's the kind of song that younger rock bands who cite the Talking Heads as an influence tend to write, and it proves that all these years later, David Byrne can still show 'em how it's really done.
Hank Wood and the Hammerheads have been one of the best (if not the best) garage punk bands in NYC for a while now. They roll with the city's underground hardcore scene (and within that scene, their live shows are kinda legendary), but they've got the sound and the swagger to break on a much bigger level, even if they don't have any interest in doing so. Their new self-titled album is their third LP, following 2012's Go Home and 2014's Stay Home, and it's got all the traits that made their first two so appealing. It's got the raw production (recorded by Uniform's Ben Greenberg) and DGAF attitude of the hardcore bands they play shows with, but also wailing '60s rock organ, rockabilly riffs, unexpected dynamic shifts, and some real catchy hooks. And while any good punk band makes you wanna move, Hank Wood have grooves in a way that's often missing from this kind of music. They don't make you wanna bang your head, they make you wanna dance, and they do it without toning down the aggression. They might be from brick-walled New York City, but they sound like Detroit proto-punk, Bay Area garage rock, and Texas southern rock all rolled into one furious band.
It's also worth noting that if you're in NYC tonight, the band is playing a release show at Brooklyn Bazaar. They'll have physical copies of the new album available.
When you suffer from mental illness, sometimes the toughest place to be is at home, left alone with the downward spiral of your own thoughts. Kyle Bates has been there, and Cold Air, the Portland, OR musician's latest album as Drowse, is a peek into both his home and his mind. He wrote and recorded the album during a period where he was self-medicating his paranoia and suicidal thoughts with Klonopin and alcohol, and the album features several spoken word passages where Kyle's health is addressed candidly and in great detail. It's almost uncomfortable to hear. Kyle recorded the album at his house, and his house is featured prominently within the songs too. Anytime you hear a sound from his home in the background, it's safe to assume that was left in intentionally. When you listen to Cold Air, you feel like you're right there with Kyle in his room. It is no overstatement to call this music "intimate." It's a very sad album, and Kyle has concocted just the right blend of musical subgenres to present these heavy themes with. It's one part Loveless, one part The Glow Pt. 2, and Kyle tops it off with bits of ambient drone, slowcore, and a tiny bit of doom metal (during the nearly nine-minute closer "Shower"). He mastered that sleepy, recorded-at-3AM vibe that Loveless has, and vocalist Maya Stoner (who leads the band Floating Room which also includes Kyle as a member) is sort of the Bilinda Butcher to his Kevin Shields. When they harmonize, it's stunning. He's also mastered The Glow Pt. 2's approach to music that threatens to sound too sloppy or amateur, until you realize that somehow he's got the whole thing under control. These are all sounds that you've heard before, but it's not every day that you hear them combined in this way, or delivered with this level of raw, unfiltered emotion.
It makes sense why post-rock and shoegaze fans are into black metal (and vice versa), because as evil as black metal can get, it's so often pretty-sounding music at its core. One of the bands that has appealed to both sides of the divide for a while now is long-running Ukrainian black metal band Drudkh. They had already developed crossover appeal before 2010's Handful of Stars, but it was on that album where they took a few notes from Alcest and went all in on their post-rock and shoegaze influences (members of Drudkh also formed the side project Old Silver Key with Alcest's Neige the following year). A lot of fans of more traditional black metal hated that album, but in hindsight, it was a necessary turning point for the band. Drudkh started getting back to a more aggressive sound afterwards, but they kept the prettier and shinier elements of Handful of Stars in the mix too, and the results have been pretty great. This year's They Often See Dreams About the Spring, their 11th album overall and third since Handful of Stars, is a fine example of what the current version of Drudkh is capable of. The songs are sharp and driving, never plodding along like Handful of Stars sometimes is, but there's also an element of beauty to the melodies and the production that was less developed in the pre-Handful of Stars days. It's a heavy record throughout, but it's meditative, not ass-kicking. It's one of the more effective balances of melody and aggression released this year thus far.
Common defies the assumption that rap is a young person's game. He released a definitive album of conscious/jazz rap with 1994's Resurrection, he had another moment of dominance in the 2000s (including the release of the uniquely ambitious Electric Circus), and he's still going strong today. He recently became the first rapper to win an Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar. Though Common is always reliably great, sometimes he starts to become a little too predictable, but that's not the case with August Greene, the rapper's new supergroup with jazz-hop pianist Robert Glasper and drummer/producer Karriem Riggins. Common sounds more fresh than he has in a while, and his band provides him with the perfect musical backdrop. The group formed after winning an Emmy in 2017 for their collaborative song "Letter To The Free" (from Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th), and now, just a few months later, they've already got their highly accomplished debut album out. Common has of course been making jazz-rap since the early days of his career, so this is both a return to form and a step forward. Instead of rapping over No I.D.'s samples of old jazz records, August Greene has Glasper providing Common with the same kind of real-deal jazz that he has made as a bandleader and as a collaborator on Kendrick Lamar's To Pimp A Butterfly. And maybe it's that lively, human-sounding backdrop that makes Common flow so freely. His turns of phrases and wordplay roll off the tongue on this album; they're as in the pocket as Karriem's drumming. Though it's being touted as a supergroup, Common is really the star, with his bandmates dutifully assuming their roles as the backgrounded yet highly essential members. But Common isn't the only star. August Greene also bring in Brandy for a cover of Sounds of Blackness' "Optimistic," and it's a highlight of the album. Brandy has been getting a much-deserved re-evaluation ever since rock-focused critics started paying more attention to R&B, and her airy, soulful performance on this song is all the proof you need that she's ready for a big comeback. If her talked-about new album is anything like this, things are looking pretty great.
Stream August Greene on Amazon Music. Watch the video for "Optimistic" here: