Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/13)
It's been another busy music week, including: Radiohead are here in NYC for a four-night run at MSG, The Smashing Pumpkins officially began their "reunion" tour, and Pedro the Lion revealed the title and ballpark release date for their first album in 15 years. Also, here on BrooklynVegan, we interviewed Thrice about their just-announced tenth album (and first for Epitaph), Palms.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Deafheaven have become one of the popular extreme metal bands in recent memory (and pissed off a few genre purists) for having a sound that dabbles in black metal, post-rock, screamo, shoegaze, and more, and never really fits neatly into any of those categories. They certainly weren't the first band to do what they do, which is part of what pisses off their detractors, but as they progress as a band, it becomes clearer and clearer that they don't really sound much like any of the bands they're compared to (Alcest, Woods of Desolation, etc). There is increasingly a "Deafheaven sound" and that's more obvious than ever on this year's Ordinary Corrupt Human Love. "Atmospheric black metal" bands tend to blur together, but there are moments on this album where you'll be certain that you're listening to no band other than Deafheaven. That's a pretty impressive trait, especially for music with long instrumental passages and indiscernible vocals.
With some of those moments, like lead single "Honeycomb," you could argue they sound too much like their past selves, like they're following their own formulas too closely. At the same time, the ability to pull off a song as colossal as "Honeycomb" is nothing to scoff at. But also, much of Ordinary Corrupt Human Love sees Deafheaven taking on new sounds that they never have before. The most noticeable one: clean vocals. They open up the album with "You Without End," which has spoken word by Nadia Kury (reading the work of author Tom McElravey) over a mid-tempo jam from Deafheaven that sometimes sounds a little like The Smashing Pumpkins. Then it's the aforementioned "Honeycomb," and then finally "Canary Yellow," which opens on a sorta typical note for Deafheaven, but eventually they bring in clean gang vocals at the end, and it's at this moment that you fully realize you're witnessing a new era of Deafheaven. They aren't half-assed either; it turns out Deafheaven can really sing -- despite previously choosing not to -- and they continue to prove this even more on the next song, "Near." Deafheaven's shoegaze side has never been in the forefront of their sound as much as their metal and post-rock sides, but "Near" is by far the closest Deafheaven have ever come to making actual shoegaze. This one has no screaming at all; instead, it's entirely sung in that whispered, awake-at-3-AM way that My Bloody Valentine's vocals are sung. And the guitars in this song offer up pillowy dream pop that sounds closer to Beach House or Slowdive than Deafheaven have ever sounded. If 2015's New Bermuda was the album where Deafheaven proved their metal cred, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is the one where they're proving their pretty side means business too. And still having the heavy stuff in the mix is what makes this album stand out amongst other rock bands making clean, beautiful sounding music. Shoegaze like "Near" isn't impossible to come by in 2018, but there aren't many albums where five minutes later you're hearing blasts of black metal like the ones you hear on "Glint."
Ordinary Corrupt Human Love does prove Deafheaven can handle actual singing on their own, but the most interesting song is "Night People," where they bring in Chelsea Wolfe for harmonies. They sing together over minimal, atmospheric piano, and eventually they bring in some trademark Deafheaven lead guitar as Chelsea Wolfe collaborator Ben Chisholm brings in dark electronic production. It never even comes close to a traditional-sounding Deafheaven song -- in fact, it doesn't really have a direct comparison to much of anything -- but it works perfectly in the context of this album. And when Deafheaven close out the album with the more stereotypically Deafheaven-sounding "Worthless Animal," it's another nice reminder of just who is responsible for this genre-hopping music, and how well it all works together.
If Ordinary Corrupt Human Love leaves anything to be desired, it could actually use less of the "Worthless Animal" type songs and more of the "Night People" type songs (especially when all four examples of the former pass the ten-minute mark). This album sees Deafheaven working outside of their comfort zone more than ever before, but when you hear how well they work outside of their comfort zone, it's disappointing that the hour-long album still has 40 minutes of music that's inside of it. Maybe it's a transitional album, maybe Deafheaven are testing the waters and next album they'll dive in head first. Hopefully, because Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is a step forward, but it makes it clear that Deafheaven are capable of making a huge leap.
If you're excited about the new Deafheaven album that's out today, you should make sure you hear the new Birds In Row too. Not only have both bands run in similar circles over the years (they've toured with some of the same bands and they used to be labelmates on Converge frontman J Bannon's Deathwish label, which Birds are still signed to), but We Already Lost the World is a similar progression for Birds as Ordinary Corrupt Human Love is for Deafheaven. Both albums see these scream-centric bands dabbling with prettier sounds and clean vocals, without losing the sound they were already known for. Also, you can hear this album in half the time it'll take you to hear Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, so what are you waiting for??
Birds In Row are also a much different band than Deafheaven, and the comparisons will stop here. They're from France (but they sing in English), and they've clearly soaked up their home country's rich screamo history, but on We Already Lost the World, they apply that influence to a template that's very atypical of the genre. They have songs that honor the aggression and the brevity of classic punk/hardcore, but they never really fall into traditional punk fury. Their rhythm section is too unpredictable for that. There are moments where their rhythms are spastic and all over the place, moments that go into atmospheric, sensory-overload territory, moments that slow to a crawl, and moments that settle into a driving groove. And they rarely stick to any of those things for very long. Even on their shortest, fastest songs, they change up the feel more than some bands do on entire albums. Their screams are unpolished and full of passion, as music like this should be, and their singing is rich and accessible, as much like this often isn't. On "We vs Us" and "15-38," they're basically in indie rock territory, but there aren't many indie rock bands in 2018 with a backbone like Birds In Row, which puts these songs a cut above the rest. And when they throw some of their harsher side into their cleaner songs, or vice versa, the results are among their most thrilling moments. Birds have made high quality hardcore before, but they've never put out a release that keeps you on your toes like this one.
After playing as a member of beloved indie band Carissa's Wierd and making solo albums as S (her latest being 2014's vastly underrated Cool Choices), Jenn Champion now releases her first album under her own (stage) name. Cool Choices was mostly made up of traditional indie rock and bedroom pop, except for "Tell Me," which saw Jenn going in a danceable synthpop direction, and for Single Rider, she's further exploring and fully embracing that sound. She made the album with electronic musician SYML, after collaborating with him on his Hurt For Me EP, and the version of synthpop they've come up with on Single Rider is a very addictive one. It's bigger and more '80s than "Tell Me," but Jenn still has that subdued indie rock singing style she's always had, which keeps Single Rider still sounding a lot more indie than the Madonna albums that probably influenced it. It kinda sounds like if the last couple poppy Tegan & Sara albums still had the intimate sound that they had in the early days. The arrangements on Single Rider are sharp as knives -- the synths gleam, the snares snap -- but it's really Jenn's singing and songwriting that takes these songs to the next level and makes them so addictive. Plenty of modern indie bands channel '80s synthpop, but not many bands can write songs like the unmistakable Jenn Champion. At their core, the songs on Single Rider aren't that different than the songs on Cool Choices. The choruses on this album are built to be a little more fun and a little more slogan-like (like "it's time to regulate!"), but otherwise, the emotion, the melodies, and the unique turns of phrase all come through as powerfully as they did on her last album. This one sounds a little happier and you can dance to it; otherwise, it's just more of the magic that Jenn gave us four years ago.
Collections of Colonies of Bees have been making a quality mix of post rock and math rock for years now. They've never had any kind of big breakthrough, but they make niche music and within their niche, they are deservedly very respected. They've most likely been getting a little bit more attention in the (indie) pop world lately though, as members of COCOB play with Bon Iver's Justin Vernon in Volcano Choir, and former COCOB member Nick Sanborn has gotten kinda big as one half of Sylvan Esso (who COCOB are touring with this month). COCOB may also get a little more attention in the pop world for this year's HAWAII, which is by far the most "pop" album they've ever made. For this album, the usually-instrumental band added a new member to their revolving lineup, Marielle Allschwang, and she -- along with guitarist/vocalist Daniel Spack -- contributed to COCOB writing vocal-oriented songs for the first time in their career. Marielle has already collaborated with Daniel a few times in the past (including on her 2015 solo album Dead Not Done and in the band Altos), so it's no surprise that they already work so well together. They sometimes trade vocals and other times harmonize, and his low somber voice blends brilliantly with her more soaring voice and her wider range. Instrumentally, the band is still working with off-kilter, fidgety rhythms and complex guitars, so the songs are both more cerebral than your usual pop songs and more accessible than your usual math rock songs. If you're into the new Dirty Projectors album that's out today and you want another new batch of eccentric, sophisticated pop, this is probably your best bet (fans of Maps & Atlases and Minus the Bear will probably be pleased with COCOB's new direction too). It's too soon to say if HAWAII will actually be COCOB's crossover moment, but with songs as impressive and easily enjoyable as these, they certainly deserve it.
Body/Head -- the duo of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon and Bill Nace -- are back with their second studio album, The Switch, five years after their 2013 debut Coming Apart, and according to the duo's bio (penned by music critic Jes Skolnik), their debut was "more of a rock record" than this new one. If you've heard Coming Apart, you know that it's a noisy trip which isn't much of a rock record at all. So if The Switch is being touted as even less of one, the duo clearly wants you to be prepared for alienating, discordant, inaccessible music, and that's exactly what they give you. Of course, that's been a major part of Sonic Youth's music since day one, so if you're a longtime fan of Kim Gordon, you'll probably find a lot to like about The Switch. She still speak-sings in that eerily commanding way she did on Sonic Youth's many classics, but with more psychedelic vocal effects on The Switch than SY usually had, her songs sound even more out-there on this LP. The guitars are used sometimes just to create an atmosphere of crackling distortion, and other times just to create a wall of feedback, eschewing melody entirely. Sonic Youth has done it before too, but even some of the SYR stuff feels like pop music compared to The Switch. It's not easy listening, but it's definitely captivating listening, and it shouldn't be taken for granted that a musician this iconic is making music this challenging this far into her career. If you do want more traditional rock music from Kim Gordon, it sounds like that's coming next year (she released the awesome rock-oriented solo single "Murdered Out" in 2016 and that is presumably a hint of what her solo album will sound like), but in the meantime, this wild and uncompromising Body/Head album is worth treasuring too.