Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/16)
I'm in Austin for SXSW this week so I'm gonna keep this intro short and get right to the albums. If you're in Austin too, stop by one of the remaining BrooklynVegan day parties. Follow our "SXSW" tag for more updates and coverage.
Check out my picks for this week's Notable Releases below. What was your favorite release of the week?
There's usually some doubt from fans when bands they love release reunion albums, but that shouldn't be the case for Hot Snakes, whose ripping Jericho Sirens makes the 14 years since Audit In Progress feel like 14 months. It's no surprise really. Hot Snakes weren't broken up for that long and they've already been reunited for six years. Not to mention Rick Froberg and John Reis have been keeping their chemistry alive with the Drive Like Jehu reunion, and both of them have stayed prolific in the time since Hot Snakes' last album with Obits, The Night Marchers, and more. And it's perhaps because of how active Froberg and Reis have stayed that Jericho Sirens doesn't sound nostalgic for a previous era. It sounds like Hot Snakes, but it feels fresh, like a current, relevant band with something to prove, not a veteran band attempting a comeback. The production is raw and simple like it should be, and it sounds noticeably modern without trying too hard to fit Hot Snakes in with contemporary bands. They don't need to try too hard anyway -- like Obits were, Hot Snakes are now on Sub Pop (who recently reissued Hot Snakes' first three albums), and Jericho Sirens fits right in with a handful of well-liked current Sub Pop bands like METZ, Bully, Pissed Jeans, and Downtown Boys, all of whom likely take influence from Froberg and Reis' storied career. It's got all the traits that make Hot Snakes the unique band they always were: the fury of hardcore, the dissonant riffs of noise rock, the fuzz-drenched party of garage rock. They've got no fat on this thing -- it's over and done with in 30 minutes and reply value is very high -- and the songs aren't just rippers but catchy too. They'll stick in your head after just a few listens.
Mount Eerie's A Crow Looked At Me was one of the most devastating albums of last year. It was an up close and almost too personal chronicle of the death of Phil Elverum's wife Geneviève that felt more like a diary set to music than music for the sake of consumption. (Even Phil himself sang "[Death is] not for singing about, it's not for making into art," on the album's first song.) Still, it was so powerful that it became one of Phil Elverum's most well-received albums in years, and he's now quickly following it with Now Only, which features many songs that he debuted on the A Crow Looked At Me tour. He takes a similar approach on Now Only to the one he took on A Crow Looked At Me, with minimal instrumentation and most of the focus on his brutally honest, stream of consciousness words. Once again, Geneviève is all over the album. She's there when he's reminiscing about when they first met, or singing about the moment her body was taken from him, or thinking about her continued absence in his life and how he will go on with his own life after this tragedy. But this album also often has Phil looking at his own life, and all the times he's encountered death or been forced to think about what it means to live or die.
He sings about knowing from a very young age that he wanted to create a legacy that would last longer than his own life, about the first dead body he saw (his grandfather's), and about a pregnancy scare from his early 20s when "the terror of the idea of fatherhood at 23 destroyed my foundation." He also gets more Mark Kozelek-ian than ever when he looks at his own post-A Crow Looked At Me life. He muses on being at a music festival that he was flown out to, to "play these death songs to a bunch of young people on drugs," and hearing subwoofers in the distance as he stands next to Skrillex's tour bus while reminiscing about "talking to Weyes Blood and Father John Misty about songwriting" the previous night. Kozelek has made observations like this in his post-Benji career, and both artists share the sentiment that it's a little strange to be receiving this kind of heightened attention from a contemporary music culture that they don't necessarily fit into.
No matter how strange it's been for Phil Elverum, A Crow Looked At Me deserved all the praise it's gotten, and this is a necessary followup. It's sort of our way of being able to check back in with him a year later and hear how his thoughts have been evolving now that the initial impact of the tragedy is entering the rearview. Like its predecessor, Now Only is a heartbreaking album that's more like a diary than like art, but it still functions as very powerful art.
Back in 2014, boom bap legend DJ Premier and longtime Eminem associate Royce da 5'9" teamed up as PRhyme and released a self-titled album that was a pretty big hit amongst rap fans who yearn for the era when DJ Premier still reigned supreme. Now they're back with a followup, and they're still delivering the same type of throwback with the same type of energy. The premise of PRhyme is that DJ Premier samples one specific artist for each album. The first album was Adrian Younge, and this time it's Philly producer/composer Antman Wonder, who remade a classic Premier beat early on in his career which caught the attention of Premier and lead to them collaborating in 2014 (he has since worked with Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, and others). They've also once again selected a cast of modern-day rappers with an affinity for rap's '90s era, this time including Dave East, Roc Marciano, Yelawolf, Rapsody, Big K.R.I.T., and more. (They've also got 2 Chainz, who you may not associate with those other guests, but who's on one of the most overtly throwback tracks, "Flirt," which has references to a couple classic Eminem rhymes and Camp Lo's "Luchini.") All of those guests rise to the occasion -- especially Rapsody, who's fresh off releasing one of the best albums of last year and has one of the best verses on all of PRhyme 2 -- and Royce is in fine form throughout the record as well. He frequently attacks his critics in his lyrics, and the message is kind of clear: he's making exactly the kind of music that he wants to make and he doesn't give a fuck what you think of it. That's part of PRhyme's charm though. They probably are never going to make it big in today's rap climate (unless they somehow have an unexpected career boost like PRhyme 1 collaborator Killer Mike did), but they're making music for the people like themselves, the people who love Premier's scratch-heavy beats and the kind of complex rhymers that he always tends to work with.
Given the increased amount of political music in the Trump era, you may have thought that indie legends Yo La Tengo were going to get political when they revealed that they named their new album after Sly and the Family Stone's 1971 protest album, but that's not exactly the case. "I don’t know what protest music is, I don’t really think of it as a genre," Ira Kaplan told Paste. "For us, the record is about coping." So perhaps the album the album is less about sticking a middle finger up to the Trump administration and more about finding your own way to deal, whatever that may be. If so, Yo La Tengo's way of dealing is by making one of their quietest, most experimental albums. It's their first proper album since 2013's Fade, and compared to the breezy indie pop of that album, this one is back to the more atmospheric and psychedelic sound of their classic '90s era. Though it's even more challenging music than most of their classics are. The band said that, instead of their usual process of writing, rehearsing, and demoing, and then entering a studio with a producer/engineer, the writing/rehearsing/demoing process turned into the album-making process, and the band ended up recording this one themselves. (They later handed it to Tortoise and The Sea & Cake member John McEntire to mix it.) As a result, these recordings came together over a longer period of time than usual, and sometimes they sound a little more improvisational, like you're there in the room listening to Yo La Tengo jam something out rather than listening to a typical studio album. (For what it's worth, this album comes after Ira Kaplan reignited his love of the Grateful Dead and contributed to The National's Dead tribute album.) Music like this requires more focus and patience than we tend to give things in our fast-paced, social media-driven culture, and maybe that was Yo La Tengo's point -- to cope with the constant turmoil in the news by giving us an album that requires you to stop scrolling through your phone.
My full review of The Decemberists' synth-heavy new album is HERE. Read an excerpt:
It does indeed have a lot of synths, but there are still plenty of folk parts, and Colin Meloy's lyrics and melodies still show a love of centuries-old traditionals. My favorite song on the album, "Cutting Stone," starts out like the kind of pseudo-traditional you'd find on Picaresque, but after its strummy acoustic intro, gothy synths and a four-on-the-floor drum beat come in, kind of sounding like British folk meeting Thriller-era Michael Jackson, and somehow it actually works. They've got straightup synthpop songs like lead single "Severed," songs that stay closer to their trademark folk-rock like "Sucker's Prayer," and some real nice middle ground like opener "Once In My Life." They've also got their first lengthy prog song since The Hazards of Love, the eight-plus minute "Rusalka, Rusalka / Wild Rushes." The Decemberists have always excelled at this kind of thing ("The Tain," "The Island," etc), and "Rusalka" is no different. Starting out as a dark, atmospheric song, it goes through all kinds of peaks and valleys, including a sludgy dirge, an upbeat trad-style folk section, moments of jammy psychedelia, and more, which is quite a feat considering how listenable the song is. I'll Be Your Girl isn't without its missteps ("We All Die Young" is pretty skippable), but the highs far outweigh the lows and it's a great thing to be getting music this adventurous from them at this point in their career.
You can read the rest HERE.