Notable Releases of the Week (9/3)
Can you believe it's already September? I'm still referring to 2019 as "last year" and now we're on the home stretch to 2022. COVID times are weird.
In the U.S., it's Labor Day Weekend, which means Made In America, BottleRock, and Electric Zoo (but not Bonnaroo), and possibly an extra day off, so I hope everyone enjoys the long weekend, whether you're going to a festival, streaming one live from home, or none of the above. Labor Day Weekend also means less albums released than usual; it's no surprise that most of my picks this week come from artists based outside of the U.S.
I highlight six albums below, Bill tackles Suuns, Meatbodies, P.E. (Pill + Eaters), and more in Bill's Indie Basement, and here are more honorable mentions: Kanye West, Manic Street Preachers, Homesafe, Big30, Quentin Ahmad DaGod, David Ferguson, Foreign Pain, Blind Equation, Dntel, David Grubbs & Ryley Walker, Blockhead, Icewear Vezzo, SpermChurch (Trevor Dunn), Pell, Dana Dentata, Bad Waitress, Calicoco, L'Orange, The Picturebooks (ft. members of Refused, Clutch, Kvelertak & more), Freewill, F.S. Blumm & Nils Frahm, W.H. Lung, the See Through Person EP, the Down Again EP, the Dwarves / Raging Nathans split, the Strong Boys EP, the Lady Gaga remix album, the Julien Baker remix EP, and 88rising's Shang-Chi and The Legend of The Ten Rings (ft. Anderson .Paak, Swae Lee, Jhene Aiko, Audrey Nuna, Saweetie, Rick Ross & more).
Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?
Little Simz - Sometimes I Might Be Introvert
The multi-talented UK rapper/singer/producer/instrumentalist Little Simz made one of the most ambitious rap albums in recent memory with 2019's GREY Area, a genre-defying album that connects the dots between Civil Rights era psychedelic soul and gritty '90s rap. It's not an easy album for anyone to top, but Simz is clearly dead-set on doing just that. Its followup Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is twice as long, and even more ambitious, with a genre-fluid approach to rap, funk, soul, jazz, R&B, rock, Afro-fusionism, and more, fleshed out by string sections, choirs, interludes, and other majestic-sounding embellishments. As gigantic as GREY Area felt, Sometimes I Might Be Introvert somehow manages to make it feel small in comparison.
Simz co-produced the album with her frequent collaborator Inflo, and their distinct approach to hip hop is intact, with organic, hard-hitting instrumentation fueling these songs rather than the computerized beats that the genre tends to favor. Simz matches the thrilling musicianship with a vocal delivery that would stop your favorite rapper in their tracks, and lyricism that's just as show-stopping. Throughout these songs, she questions the idea of artists feeling pressured to leave a legacy, but whether or not that’s actually important to her, a swinging-for-the-fences album like this is bound to leave her with one. She tackles the current political climate, exploring the racism and sexism and other forms of injustice that plague it, and she also looks inwards and contrasts her socially conscious songs with deeply personal ones. Her lyricism is just as multi-faceted and impossible to pigeonhole as her instrumentation; the whole thing is a journey, one that's unpredictable at every turn. It has the makings of a magnum opus, but knowing Little Simz, she'll probably figure out a way to top it next time.
Drake - Certified Lover Boy
The last few Drake full-lengths have seemed disappointing, because it felt like he was coasting after putting out three consecutive generation-defining masterpieces in the early/mid 2010s (Take Care, Nothing Was the Same, and If You're Reading This It's Too Late), rather than continuously trying to top himself. But no matter how much anyone wanted to declare that Drake had peaked, he continued to leave a massive impact. A year hasn't passed without at least one ubiquitous Drake song; even if his albums aren't the grand statements they once were, he hasn't lost the ability to write songs that infiltrate pop culture and stay there for a long time. As much as Drake's been called "overrated," it seems possible that we've begun to underrate him.
As prolific as Drake has been the past few years, he hasn't put out a proper album in over three years, his longest break between albums yet. And with the new Certified Lover Boy, it at least seems like he's trying to make another grand statement. The album's been in the making for two years, but was released with no prior singles, and it doesn't tack on any recent loosies that already became hits like his last couple albums did. Presumably, the other songs that came out in the past two years were deemed unfit for this album's vision. As for what that vision is, it largely hones in Drake's more somber side, with the pitched-up soul samples and introspective-yet-still-boastful melancholy that recalls the less radio-friendly side of the Take Care/NWTS era. "I've been losing friends and finding peace," Drake raps on the Travis Scott-featuring "Fair Trade," and it's a line that reflects the tone of much of this album: wistful yet content.
Clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, Certified Lover Boy is not without its skippable moments (did the world really need another interpolation of "I'm Too Sexy"?), but it starts strong and ends strong. It opens with "Champagne Poetry," a classic Drake-style stream-of-consciousness opener that finds him rapping over a pitched-up sample of The Beatles' "Michelle," and it comes off like a touching homage to the group that he's always seen himself in competition with, a reminder that his self-imposed rivalry with them is also based on love. It's one of Drake's more tender songs, and the album is front-loaded with others that follow suit ("Papi's Home," "In The Bible" with Lil Durk and Giveon," "Love All" with Jay-Z, the aforementioned "Fair Trade").
In the album's mid-section, Drake continues to embrace his role as a curator, handing lead vocals over to rising neo-soul singer Yebba for "Yebba's Heartbreak," letting Project Pat carry the Southern rap homage "Knife Talk," and continuing to help popularize Afrobeats in America with the Tems-featuring "Fountains." The album's highest-quality fan service for longtime listeners comes in the form of "You Only Live Twice" ft. Lil Wayne and Rick Ross, which feels like a sequel to Take Care standouts "The Motto" (ft. Wayne) and "Lord Knows" (ft. Ross), with a title that explicitly recalls the former and an imitation Just Blaze beat that sounds inspired by the latter. Late-career sequels can be destined to flop, but this one works. One of CLB's best songs is its very last, "The Remorse," a reflection on the people who helped him get to where he is in the vein of IYRTITL's late-album highlight "You & the 6." It sends the album off on a sentimental note, just like it began.
Jhay Cortez - Timelezz
Universal Music Latino
Jhay Cortez has been a staple of the Latin trap movement for the past few years, but after appearing on Bad Bunny's "Dakiti" last fall, he's been on his way to becoming the genre's latest superstar. Jhay is just as responsible for the power of that crossover hit as Bad Bunny, and Jhay brings that same power to his sophomore album Timelezz. Largely a reggaetón album, Timelezz also flirts with thumping dance music (the Skrillex-aided "En Mi Cuarto"), moody trap ("Nos Matamos," "Los Bandoleros"), acoustic guitar-fueled balladry ("Eternamente"), and other genre experiments like the trap-meets-marching-band-horns of the Myke Towers-assisted "Los Bo," and Jhay Cortez shows off the ability to hop between various styles of music seamlessly. Whether he's crooning or adopting rap-like cadences, his performances are show-stopping, and he's really come out with a memorable batch of songs. It remains to be seen if Jhay will achieve the same level of crossover success from Timelezz that he did from appearing on "Dakiti," but there's no doubt that Jhay already has the ability to appeal to a wide array of listeners.
Iron Maiden - Senjutsu
Because traditional heavy metal reached mass popularity in the late '70s and 1980s, it's long sounded much more dated than the obscurer metal subgenres that came shortly afterwards. Black and death metal began in the '80s too, but trad metal is forever tied to that decade, because its sound and its fashion were all over the radio and television, and because its bombast was swiftly replaced on those platforms by plain-clothed punk and grunge bands in the '90s. The veterans who survived that era exist to play their decades-old classics on tour, and even the best new bands who revive that style come off exceedingly retro. There's always been one major exception to this rule, though, and that's Iron Maiden.
Iron Maiden refuse to be seen as a nostalgia act. They're known to do tours that primarily feature songs off newer albums, and those newer albums are often well-received by fans and critics alike. Maiden's '80s run is nearly untouchable, but you could still never call them an "'80s band." They're a lifer band who've kept the same members for decades and released new albums every few years, and their '80s records are often rivaled by ones that came out much later. Their latest entry is the new double album Senjutsu, and it's yet another triumph.
With the band's shredding triple-guitar attack and Bruce Dicksinson's howled vocals, Senjutsu has plenty of moments that recall Maiden's '80s era on the surface, but even when they're at their most nostalgic, Iron Maiden sound like a hungry, inspired band. They didn't write a batch of easily-digestible, familiar-sounding songs so the crowds have something to nod along to in between "2 Minutes to Midnight" and "Run to the Hills"; these songs sound determined to become crowdpleasers of their own. With only two tracks under six minutes, the sprawling, immersive album seems geared towards those who are on the Maiden journey for life, not those who casually know a few big hits, and that's a big part of what's made Maiden so consistently rewarding in recent years. Not only are the band themselves lifers, but they make music that would still excite the lifer fans too. Senjutsu leans heavily on Maiden's prog side, with twists and turns that earn the songs their lengthy runtimes, and the band still knows how to shake things up. This album in particular balances out the metallic shredding with a hefty amount of acoustic guitar and moments that recall the pre-Maiden era of rock. There's a little bit of Fairport Convention in the folk-blues riffs of lead single "The Writing On The Wall," and a few of the more somber moments channel '70s Pink Floyd. Senjutsu sounds unmistakably like Iron Maiden, but it also sounds like Iron Maiden are finding new ways to be Iron Maiden, and that's an exciting and unusual thing for a band 17 albums and 40+ years into their career.
Jail Socks - Coming Down
Counter Intuitive Records
Charlotte, NC emo band Jail Socks showed off a good deal of promise on their early EPs, but they've severely leveled up for their debut LP Coming Down, which already feels like one of the most significant debuts within emo's emerging fifth wave. Throughout the album's 11 songs, Jail Socks trek through throat-shredding melodic hardcore, bright power pop, riffy pop punk, noodly '90s emo, yearning balladry, confessional acoustic emo, and more, connecting all kinds of dots from throughout the genre's past quarter-century. Its approach is similar to last year's heavy hitters from Stay Inside and Record Setter, with a near-studious understanding of emo's history and a fresh perspective that has its sights set on the genre's future. Coming Down's crisp production gives it a leg up on everything Jail Socks released previously, the band's already-tight musicianship is even tighter, and these are the best and most immediate songs they've written yet. No matter how much Jail Socks trek through various subgenres or mathematic fretwork, they never lose sight of a good chorus.
Common Sage - It Lives and It Breathes
If you're looking a new album that channels the darker, post-hardcore side of emo, the latest from New York's Common Sage is not to miss. It's their second album (and first with Stay Inside's Chris Johns on guitar and bass), and it recalls mid 2000s albums like Prepare to Be Wrong, Vheissu, A City by the Light Divided, and Devil and God, albums where some of the biggest emo bands in the world branched out from the popular pop punk-friendly version of the genre into more hauntingly experimental territory. It's been a minute since I've heard a new album in this vein, and Common Sage really know how to do it without sounding like pale imitation. Band leader Julian Rosen really knows how to sing, and he also knows how to raise his voice to a roar, giving these songs the soaring and aggressive hooks they deserve. The raw production keeps things modest, but there's not an ounce of restraint in the songwriting. Common Sage probably won't get as big as their major label forebears, but they're determined to sound gigantic.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
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