Notable Releases of the Week (12/14)
Now that the year is really winding down, and there won't be much in the way of new music until January, I'll be dropping the "Five" from "Five Notable Releases of the Week" until things pick up again. I picked three today, and you can check those out below. The new Jarboe album is also out today, and we published a review of that.
What was your favorite release of the week?
Earlier this year, The Decemberists released the new album I'll Be Your Girl, which put a synthpop twist on their usual folk rock, and made for their most radically drastic shift in direction since 2009's sludge-metal-influenced rock opera The Hazards of Love. They also put out a giant box set of the album with eight 7" vinyl records varying in color and four bonus tracks, and those four tracks have now also been collected for the new Traveling On EP, which also includes a full-band version of "Tripping Along" (which appeared as a Colin Meloy solo track on I'll Be Your Girl). Save for the four-on-the-floor opener "Down On the Knuckle," the songs on this EP are more like classic Decemberists than the synth-fueled songs of I'll Be Your Girl, and they're also all really good. You get the impression that they were left off the album because they didn't fit its vision, not because they weren't worthy. The full-band version of "Tripping Along" is really nice, and I might prefer it to the album version. The title track is a fairly standard yet enjoyable folk rocker that could fit almost anywhere in their discography, while the jaunty, Beatlesque piano pop of "Midlist Author" brings me back to early-career classics like "Billy Liar." The best song, though, is "I Will Not Say Your Name." It's a nearly-seven-minute dose of psychedelic, slowcore-ish folk rock in the vein of Bonnie 'Prince' Billy or Songs:Ohia by way of Neil Young's On the Beach. There's a lot of this kind of stuff out there, but nobody sings like Colin Meloy, and hearing his uniquely appealing voice over this type of appealing music is a serious treat. The whole EP is worth it for longtime fans and completists, but even casual fans need to hear "I Will Not Say Your Name."
The classic lineup of Venom has long been separated, though frontman Cronos keeps the band alive with newer members La Rage and Dante (while Mantas and Abaddon stay busy with their own version of the band, Venom Inc), and Storm The Gates is now Venom's third album with this lineup (and fourth with La Rage). They're probably never going to come even close to the heights of their first two albums -- 1981's Welcome to Hell and 1982's Black Metal, both of which helped shape thrash metal, black metal, and death metal as we know it -- but as on the last Venom LP (2015's From the Very Depths), Storm the Gates is a perfectly competent album that brings back memories of the classics. Cronos doesn't try to push his sound forward, but he doesn't mess up the formula either. His vocals are still as raw and purely evil as they were on the classics, and he still knows how to make a thrashy fury that's dark and heavy and void of the overproduction of Venom's late '80s albums (and his current band do a fine job of keeping things dirty yet precise). It's hard to imagine ever reaching for this album over Welcome to Hell or Black Metal, but it's still pretty admirable that Storm The Gates does as much justice to Venom's classic sound as it does. It's so common for classic bands to lose sight of what made them classic in the first place, and nobody can accuse Cronos of that.
After years of killer singles, EPs, and mixtapes, Vic Mensa finally released his proper debut album with 2017's The Autobiography. While we wait its followup, he's back today with another eight-song EP. Lyrically, Vic tackles some tough subjects on this one (like mental health struggles on "Dark Things"), but he takes a more pop approach than he did on most of The Autobiography. The EP tends to favor standard trap production and big sung choruses, and it's overflowing with auto-tune, which doesn't really play to Vic's strengths. He's a unique rapper, he shouldn't need to make songs that just sound like everyone else. The best song on the EP is the one that mostly doesn't fit the aforementioned description: "The 1 That Got Away/No Shoes." It sees Vic delivering sharp, clear-headed lines over soulful production, and the chorus comes from a real-deal belter: The Gap Band's Charlie Wilson. Vic has other moments where he shines; his first verse on the ominous album opener "Dancing In The Streetz" is cold and gripping, and he nails the fired-up shout-rapping of "Rowdy," which sounds destined to be a new crowdpleaser. It's obvious that he's still hungry and that he's still got a lot of talent, but let's hope the direction of this EP was a one-off experiment and not a hint of where he'll go on his sophomore album. Vic quickly became a distinct, recognizable voice in modern hip hop. With the production clichés and auto-tune overdose of this EP, he sounds anonymous.