Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/27)
Here in NYC, it's Panorama weekend on Randall's Island. A few of us BV staffers will be there this weekend -- stay tuned for coverage -- and if you're going, check out our list of 10 acts not to miss. Also check out set times. And don't forget, there are not only official Panorama aftershows, but also BrooklynVegan is throwing an afterparty on Saturday (7/28) at Upper East Side cafe and bar DT*UT with DJ sets from two of our favorite newer artists, The Shacks and Japanese Breakfast. It starts at 10 AM. Come hang!
As for the new albums out this week, a few honorable mentions: the semi-surprise Santigold album, the first-ever Face to Face acoustic album (with reworkings of songs from throughout their career), the collaborative Iggy Pop & Underworld EP, the Sorry to Bother You soundtrack, G Herbo, and Gia Margaret.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Denzel Curry has been a staple of rap's underground for a few years now, and after working out a few different styles across a few different releases, he really started coming into his own on his 2016 breakout album Imperial. He landed a deal with Loma Vista Recordings (Spoon, St Vincent, Iggy Pop) off the strength of that album, and made his label debut with last year's 13 EP while he worked on his first full length for the label, TA13OO. This album feels like a long time coming, but the wait was worth it. It's easily the best thing Denzel has ever done, and one of the most immediately enjoyable rap records released this year. His pop songs are poppier, his weird songs are weirder, and all his various sounds come together more seamlessly than they ever have before.
On the first song on the record, Denzel sing-raps "I heard you were molested when you hit the age of five," and the bluntness is a sign that Denzel is holding nothing back on this album, while the seriousness of jumping right into a topic like that shows Denzel is in maturer territory than a lot of the SoundCloud rappers he (probably) influenced. He's got punk and emo-inspired stuff that beats those very SoundCloud rappers at their own game like "Clout Cobain," but he also raps on a level that almost none of them are operating at. On "Percs," he actually takes shots at that whole scene, and his disses are totally backed up by the skill set he displays on the song. He changes his flow up like every thirty seconds, and he sounds furious the whole time. It's not the only time he flexes his muscles -- he shows off a nifty, deceptively laid back flow towards the end of "Black Balloons" that's nearly in Kendrick territory, and that song's soul-jazz hooks are as lush as plenty of Kendrick's hooks. And then there's a song like the abrasive, chest-puffed "Sumo," which rivals A$AP Ferg or Migos or any of today's other banger masters.
TA13OO sees Denzel tackling so much, and it's the kind of statement-making album that establishes Denzel not just as a fierce MC, but as an artist capable of making albums that might get called "classic" one day. It's broken down into three "acts": Light (tracks 1-4), Gray (tracks 5-9), and Dark (tracks 10-13). Like any grand dramatic work, each act has its own distinct tone, and together the three acts create something bigger than the sum of their parts. At 13 essential songs, TA13OO feels like it was edited and obsessed over until Denzel hit the point where he had created one cohesive work with no filler. Rap albums are kind of in a weird place right now -- Drake and Migos are packing like 100 minutes of music into one album to game streaming numbers, while Kanye is taking the opposite approach and making 20-minute, seven-song albums -- but Denzel took a traditional approach, making a capital-A Album that really ebbs and flows and feels like a refined work of art.
Baton Rouge metal band Thou are in the midst of a very ambitious release schedule for 2018, which includes three EPs in distinctly different styles, followed by a genre-crossing full-length, Magus (due 8/31 via Sacred Bones). They already released the noise EP The House Primordial (on Robotic Empire), and the slowcore/folk-ish EP Inconsolable (on Community Records), and today they're releasing the third and final installment of the EP trilogy, Rhea Sylvia, which is out on Converge frontman J Bannon's Deathwish Inc label and shows off their "grunge" side. Grunge has always influenced Thou (they're known for covering Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains), but the influence really comes through strongly on Rhea Sylvia, and the result is some of the finest melodic heavy rock of 2018 (plus a cover of "The Lasting Dose" by Crowbar, another metal band that shares some common ground with grunge). I use the term "grunge" loosely, because it's not like Rhea Sylvia sees Thou moving to Seattle and trading in all their clothes for flannel or anything -- longtime Thou fans will be pleased to know it still sounds like Thou. But Rhea Sylvia reminds you that "grunge" and "sludge metal" were never that different in the first place, and that if you're looking for modern rock bands that remind you of '90s grunge bands, you are probably going to find them under the "metal" umbrella. Vocally, Thou mix things up between the blood-curling screams they're usually known for and a cleaner, more straightup rock style, and musically, the album is actually kinda atmospheric and beautiful. It has the weight of sludge metal, but not the dirtiness -- songs like "Non-Entity" and "Deepest Sun" do a post-rock/metal blend as well as anything on the new Deafheaven album. "Deepest Sun" is especially a standout, with a huge, soaring chorus that sounds like it really could've gotten Thou on the radio during the grunge era. If you dig Soundgarden songs like "4th of July" (which is one of Thou's covers), you may not find many better 2018 songs in that style than "Deepest Sun." Make no mistake though, Rhea Sylvia isn't Thou's sell-out move or anything. They've still got stuff like "Unfortunate Times," which sees them trekking through nearly eight minutes of gruesome sludge and harsh shrieks. It's nothing you'd ever hear on the radio in any era.
Lifetime still play reunion shows sometimes, but they haven't released new music since their 2007 comeback LP. Singer Ari Katz started the Mitylion project not long ago, but that indie pop-oriented project is nothing like Lifetime, so, needless to say, it's been too long since we've heard Ari make ripping melodic hardcore like Jersey's Best Dancers and Hello Bastards. Enter Beach Rats, the new punk band Ari Katz is fronting which includes the unfuckwithable lineup of Dag Nasty/Minor Threat/Bad Religion guitarist Brian Baker, two Bouncing Souls members (Brian Kienlen and Pete Steinkopf), and drummer Danny “Dubs” Windas. The five-song Wasted Time EP is their first release, and it's some of the most fast, urgent, no-frills punk that Ari Katz has made since the '90s. No song reaches the two-minute mark, and there isn't an ounce of embellishment on this thing. This just sounds like five seasoned punks plugging in, turning up, and doing what they do best. Ari's voice hasn't aged a bit, and the rest of Beach Rats sound like they still get a huge kick out of playing mile-a-minute songs. Beach Rats aren't reinventing the wheel, but they don't have to. What would melodic hardcore even be without Ari Katz, Brian Baker, or The Bouncing Souls?
As Philly's indie-punk scene began gaining national attention, Thin Lips arrived fully formed with their great debut EP Divorce Year, and they quickly kept the momentum going with their first full length the following year, Riff Hard. Two years later, Thin Lips are back with LP2, Chosen Family, and it's a noticeable step up from anything they've done before. They've still got punk rippers like "What If I Saw You On The Street," but a lot of these songs are a little slower and more spacious than what Thin Lips were known for in the past, making room for more intricate details like the busy lead guitar of the amazingly titled "Gaslight Anthem (The Song Not The Band)" or the tricky rhythm section of the darker, weirder "It's Hard To Tell The Difference When You're..." Chosen Family is also home to some of Thin Lips' catchiest and best songwriting yet, like the bittersweet, jangly "Whats So Bad About Being Lonely," and especially "South America." Ostensibly a breakup song, singer Chrissy Tashjian wails the simple but effective hook of "Now you'll go to South America with a woman that you only met last month," and in just those 15 words, you can hear a slew of emotions -- and it's also the most fist-in-the-air, singalong chorus on the record. If it reminds you a little of Hop Along, that may be because Hop Along's Frances Quinlan sings on it. These two bands have worked closely together for a long time -- Chrissy sings on their records and Frances sings on Thin Lips' records, and Chrissy is also currently a touring member of Hop Along. Hop Along guitarist Joe Reinhart also co-owns the Headroom studio in Philly with Thin Lips bassist Kyle Pulley (where this album and multiple Hop Along albums were made), and both Joe and Frances co-produced this album with Thin Lips. You can feel some of their influence, and it's very likely that Hop Along fans will dig this album, but Chosen Family also finds Thin Lips increasingly finding their own voice and standing out from their many indie-punk peers. Chrissy's lyrics feel more personal than ever, the riffs and rhythms feel a little more off-kilter and unpredictable, and Thin Lips have really figured out how to shake up their formula without straying too far from what already made them likable.
Australian folk singer Julia Jacklin began picking up attention as a solo artist with her debut album Don't Let the Kids Win, which came out on the venerable Polyinyl Records, earned her a few Angel Olsen comparisons, and helped land her some pretty cool tourmates like Mitski and First Aid Kit. She also fronts the rock band Phantastic Ferniture, who, at the time of Julia's solo breakout, seemed almost like a footnote of her career, but who now rival if not surpass her solo music. Phantastic Ferniture are now also signed to Polyvinyl, and their debut album is out today (though at least some of the songs on this album date back a few years). "I’d gone straight into folk music, so every experience I’d had on stage was playing sad music with a guitar in my hand. I thought, I would love to know what it’s like to make people feel good and dance," said Julia of the decision to focus more attention on Phantastic Ferniture. And yes, the songs on this album are more generally crowdpleasing than bare-bones Angel Olsen-style folk, but that's not the only reason this album might actually be better than Julia's solo debut. Angel Olsen and many other similar recent artists have dipped their toes into indie rock as well, but Phantastic Ferniture aren't just another "folk singer goes indie rock" project. Their rhythm section really swings, and they've got some stuff like the heroic guitar riffs and jam tendencies of "I Need It" that bring to mind a harder rocking singer/songwriter (and fellow Australian), Courtney Barnett. The songwriting on Phantastic Ferniture also just a feels like a step up from Don't Let the Kids Win, even if some of the songs were written around the same time. The opening one-two punch of "Uncomfortable Teenager" and "Bad Timing" shows Julia can write songs that sound like potential hits, and they reveal an even more impressive set of pipes than the one Julia showed off on her solo album. She still has that warbly, high-and-lonesome folk vibe going on, but she also really knows how to sing like a rock singer. Don't Let the Kids Win is a charmingly intimate record, but these songs sound ready to be belted at music festivals. Phantastic Ferniture has other highlights like "Fuckin 'n' Rollin," which starts out as a dose of lazy-Sunday haze before slowly building to yet another of the album's soaring choruses, and "Parks," which also starts slow, but then lands on a groove that will get even the most cynical concertgoers on their feet and moving. With just nine songs, Phantastic Ferniture never overstay their welcome. They just leave you wanting more.