Five Notable Releases of the Week (7/15/16)
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
At the beginning of this year, Chicago's Dreezy put out the Jeremih collab "Body." It's picked up a lot of steam all year, it's her biggest song without competition, and it's one of the year's best rap/R&B singles. "Body" appears on No Hard Feelings, Dreezy's debut album, and even if she hasn't had another true hit yet, No Hard Feelings makes it clear that she's not destined for one hit wonder status. The whole album's very cohesive, with a storyline running through it that's amplified by the skits. The production is very of the moment but it's not tied down to any particular sound. Southside is here, the Atlanta trap producer behind many of Future's best songs, as is West Coast production great Terrace Martin, whose most recent major success is heavily contributing to Kendrick Lamar albums. The guest appearances are also solid -- in addition to Jeremih, there's Wale, auto-tuner-turned-Real-Singer T-Pain, and the newly-free Gucci Mane. It's a cast that's big enough to attract newcomers to Dreezy's album, but not overwhelming enough to distract from her vision. She's got a style that alternates between rapping and singing, and she's mastered both. The album can sound soft and sensual but it can also sound hard as fuck. It's also just fun to blast from start to finish, and it's the kind of album that feels just a little shorter every time.
With Brand New's fifth album apparently forthcoming, and great new singles actually coming out, it may seem frustrating that their latest release is just reworked versions of three songs that initially leaked as demos in 2006. But this is Brand New we're talking about, the Radiohead of emo, and this quick EP is an essential addition to their catalog. Just as Radiohead fans around the globe collectively freaked out when their rarity "True Love Waits" appeared in a finished form on this year's A Moon Shaped Pool, the new versions of "Brother's Song," "Missing You" and "1996" feel like a triumphant win for Brand New fans. It makes sense that they'd do this -- these songs entered their live sets in recent years and now we can listen at home to the way the band plays them -- and these recordings fully breathe new life into the songs. "Brother's Song," which was an acoustic solo song on the demo version, excels in its full-band version, with clean lead guitar embellishments that truly add a lot to the song. "Missing You" ditches its synth intro from the demo version for guitars, and it's overall a louder, sharper take. As is "1996," which also doubles as more proof that Jesse Lacey is still as big a Morrissey fan as he ever was. Like with other "lost" albums that get finished later on, 3 Demos, Reworked makes you wonder if these songs had to come out like this. They're in line with the darker sounds of Devil and God and Daisy, but they have the more unassuming production of the recent "I Am A Nightmare" single. They may have choruses we've been singing for a decade, but they distinctly sound like the Brand New of 2016. Considering the band is more revered than ever, that's a very good thing.
When British singer Michael Kiwanuka first hit the scene, his talent was undeniable but he also felt a little safe. He had ties to the Mumford & Sons-affiliated Communion Records and a pleasant folky quality to match. He toured with Adele, and his debut album Home Again was sold at the same Starbucks locations that sold hers. Now over four years later he's back with his sophomore album, Love & Hate, and he's anything but safe. Going by the tracklist alone, you can tell this is a more ambitious work. The album opens with the ten-plus minute "Cold Little Heart," and two other tracks pass the seven-minute mark. It's moodier, sexier, in a Marvin Gaye kind of way. The album is fleshed out by lush vocal harmonies, and the instrumentation is expertly arranged. Michael does break out the acoustic guitar, but he's also got grittier electric solos and a lot of other cool sounds. "Black Man in a White World" is powered by handclaps and a boldly soulful chorus. "Place I Belong" dips its toes into psychedelia. It's not so confrontational that he'll turn off many old fans, but it feels like enough of a noticeable progression to be gaining new ones.
LA's -(16)- have been churning out killer sludge since the early '90s. They've broken up, reunited, and had several member changes, but nothing can stop their fury. For Lifespan of a Moth, their third album since reuniting, founding vocalist Cris Jeru and guitarist/vocalist Bobby Ferry are joined by a new rhythm section, and the new guys are definitely bringing a strong backbone with them. With vocals that are distorted and full of despair, and riffs that will please any of the heavy music fans among us, Lifespan of a Moth is pretty undeniable stuff. It's the kind of thing that could've easily come out in the early '90s when the band started, but still sounds new and exciting today. Our pals at Invisible Oranges called it their best album since reforming. Like they've been before, this is on the punk/noise side of the sludge spectrum, with a sound that probably appeals to fans of the Melvins and Unsane as much as it appeals to more extreme metalheads. Especially with no lack of new sludge bands popping up, it's always nice to get more quality tunes from some guys who mastered the sound decades ago.
Abra first caused a stir with last year's Rose on Awful Records, the label best known for in-house producer / weirdo rapper Father. The album could arguably fall under the "alt-R&B" umbrella, but it separated itself from the overload of stuff in that world with its genuinely avant/experimental edge. Now Abra is on the larger True Panther label and back with a new release, the Princess EP. The new EP is a bit more on the accessible side, and definitely has bigger production, but her talent remains clear. The lead single "Crybaby" is the obvious highlight, but all six songs are great. They're catchy, groovy, and there's a real '80s pop vibe running through these songs, especially in the big drums. There's a little Madonna/Michael Jackson, but there's some modern rap in there too. And especially in the case of "Thinking of U," there's some late '90s/early '00s R&B. If that combination makes you think this is kinda like Grimes, you're not too far off. And like Grimes, everything you hear on this EP was written, produced and performed by Abra herself. She's clearly a promising talent, and this EP already has me excited for what comes next.