Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/29/16)
The summer is really flying by. It feels like July just started, and yet it's already the last weekend of the month. It also happens to be a great week for new music, especially if you're into punk/metal, which my picks lean most heavily on today.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
There's a good argument to be made that save for the Ramones and the Buzzcocks, no band was more influential on pop punk than the Descendents. From giants like blink-182 to underrated newcomers like Colleen Green, they're often the first band to be named as a key influence, and it doesn't take more than one listen to Milo Goes to College to figure out why. That album may always remain the band's classic, but they've really never made a bad record. Hypercaffium Spazzinate, their first in 12 years and first in two decades for Epitaph (a label that's been on fire lately), is no exception. They've still got their longtime lineup of Milo Aukerman, Bill Stevenson, Stephen Egerton and Karl Alvarez, and they're still cranking out the kind of speedy melodic punk rock that they helped pioneer in the '80s.
And it doesn't feel like a coincidence that they decided to come back now. Their first album for Epitaph, 1996's Everything Sucks, was a lot of people's introduction to the Descendents, even though it came 14 years after their classic debut. It had high quality production, and it came out right in the height of '90s pop punk mania. The same label had released The Offspring's Smash and Rancid's ...And Out Come the Wolves not long beforehand, and for a handful of people who found punk through those records, Everything Sucks felt contemporary. The same could be said for its 2004 followup, Cool to Be You, released right in the heart of punk's most mainstream era yet. Now that sound seems to be having a bit of a resurgence yet again. Descendents' upcoming tourmates include Modern Baseball, Beach Slang and Bully, three bands who took off in the last couple years and clearly owe some debt to the Descendents.
The timing is good, but timing doesn't make a great record. Hypercaffium Spazzinate is full of songs that feel as vital and essential as the Descendents' classics. The best of them is "Shameless Halo," a ripper with a bassline that Mike Dirnt wishes he wrote and a chorus that would dominate the radio if the radio still cared about punk. The (kinda) slower-paced "Without Love" is the closest the band comes to tugging at the heartstrings. It's got gorgeous harmonies, and an ever-so-slightly more romantic take on relationships than, say, "Pervert." "No Fat Burger" looks back on "I Like Food" with a new perspective that's inspired by Milo's family history of heart disease. It might be more responsible lyrically, but the music is as fast, snotty and goofy as the band ever was. The whole thing is 16 songs that average less than two minutes a piece, never overstaying its welcome or wearing you out. It's living proof that you don't have to start sounding like U2 to grow up.
Mike Kinsella has really gotten his due in the past few years. "Kinsella" has basically become shorthand for the type of mathy, non-commercial emo that currently dominates indie rock, and the return of American Football was met with a kind of hugely positive reaction that Mike Kinsella literally couldn't believe they got. If you've seen any of his recent shows, you know he's only humbled by it. He also must have gotten a creative spark, because The King of Whys, his eighth album as Owen, is his strongest release in a decade.
American Football and Cap'n Jazz may be Mike's most influential bands, but his strongest songwriting has always been with Owen. (Really listen to No Good for No One Now again before you tell me I'm crazy.) Mike's had collaborators on his albums before, but he's working with a new cast of musicians on The King of Whys that really reinvigorates his sound. It's probably worth noting that two of the collaborators -- Sean Carey and Mike Noyce -- have worked extensively with Justin Vernon in Bon Iver, a project whose emotional folky sounds hit a very similar spot to those early Owen albums. TKOW has gorgeous string arrangements, percussion that's more about accenting the melody than providing a backbeat, and the kind of keen lyricism that has always been crucial to Owen's sound. Whether he's passing on wisdom in "Lovers Come and Go" ("the good ones are incapable of faking it") or looking back on his father's alcohol use in "A Burning Soul" ("he wasn't a saint, but he wasn't a bad man"), Mike's telling gripping stories have you paying attention to every detail. His status may be secured as a musical pioneer, but TKOW sounds like the work of an artist still aiming to prove themselves.
Ringworm have been blurring the lines between metal and hardcore since before "metalcore" became a bad word. Their impact on that world is undeniable, and they haven't lost their creative spark one bit. They finally found the perfect home for their music a few years back (Relapse), and they've been making some of the most badass music of their career since signing to that label. This year's Snake Church, their second full length for the label, is a crusher from start to finish. It's the kind of album that makes you clench your teeth and fists and treat your bedroom like it's a mosh pit. (Maybe hide any sharp objects before you put this on.) Frontman Human Furnace has talked about about how fans hear what they want to hear in Ringworm. The metalheads will swear Ringworm are truly a metal band, and the punks will insist they're a hardcore band. I came up on the punk stuff, so Ringworm's hardcore side is what sticks out to me. I get the same feeling from this new Ringworm album that I get from old NYHC bands: loud, fast, short, brutish blasts, and a barking frontman who sounds like he was pacing around a VFW hall when the band recorded. Still, there's no arguing against Ringworm's metal side when those guitar solos come in. And man does this album have some guitar solos! The ones on "Believer" and "The Razor and the Knife" are straight-up classic heavy metal, not even the whammy bar-heavy Slayer kind. My favorite memory of going to Fun Fun Fun Fest in 2014 was seeing Judas Priest and Gorilla Biscuits in the same weekend. On those two songs, it truly feels like both of those experiences happening at once.
The Bouncing Souls have been churning out punk anthems for over two decades without ever really slowing down, and their tenth album Simplicity gives us a very worthy batch of 13 more. If you like their fast, hardcore-inspired side, you get "Driving All Night," "I Wanna Be Bored," and "Rebel Song." If you like their sweet-sounding ballads, you get "Gravity." If the in-between is more your speed, "Satellite" and "Up To Us" should do the trick. (The chorus of the former especially sounds ready-made to be chanted along to at shows.) This is their first album with drummer George Rebelo of Hot Water Music, and like HWM, The Souls are one of those bands whose mark can be heard on some very popular bands (like The Gaslight Anthem), and who continue to provide worthy entry points into their catalog. I said this talking about Face to Face back in March: there's something to be said for punk bands with this level of consistency. Your favorite record is usually the one you heard first, rather than an agreed-upon classic. For old fans, Simplicity should be lots of fun and feel like home. But it could just as easily win over a handful of new listeners.
A.M.S.G. is the current band of Canadian black metal vet AngelFukk Witchhammer (Ouroboros, Rites of Thy Degringolade), and Hostis Universi Generis is their second full length, following 2013's Anti-Cosmic Tyranny. We're in a pretty good time for boundary-pushing black metal right now, and if you like the many ways in which people have been toying with that sound, this album is a must-hear. Hostis Universi Generis has plenty of the beauty that bands like Deafheaven and Alcest bring to the genre, but AngelFukk Witchhammer's gruesome growls are far more dark and twisted than anything those bands do. They have moments of straight-up rock fronted by spoken word vocals. Other parts dive into industrial noise/electronics, and then throw dissonant sax lines on top of it. They also manage to make good use out of a digeridoo. This is weird music but it's also strangely accessible. I got addicted less than halfway through my first listen and clicked replay as soon as it ended. An album where three songs cross the ten-minute mark and none are shorter than eight minutes may seem like patience is required, but this thing is constantly thrilling. The songs have so many various passages and drastic changes, that it plays out more like a song cycle than "long songs." Classic rock has entered modern extreme metal recently through the riffs of Kvelertak and Tribulation. You won't hear riffs like that here, but it's got the pacing of '70s prog and sometimes -- like the crashing ending of "Broken Chains of Cursed Flesh" or the flashy solo on "Divine.Madness.Transcends." -- it's got the pomp of that decade's hard rock too.