Notable Releases of the Week (1/14)
Usually it's not until late January that the major players of the music world start dropping new albums, but last week already brought The Weeknd's new album, and this week is loaded with some of the most anticipated albums of the year by some of the most widely-loved artists around. I highlight seven new albums below, which feels like a lot for this time of year, and all of them are well worth your time.
On top of those, Bill tackles Molly Nilsson and Garcia Peoples in Indie Basement, and more honorable mentions include Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Bonobo (ft. Jamila Woods, Kadhja Bonet, Joji & more), Mizmor, Orlando Weeks (The Maccabees), Fuss, Wiegedood, Fit For An Autopsy, Bliss Fields, Grace Cummings, Kota The Friend, DJ Muggs & Rigz, Jim Jones, Slim Thug, Panoram, the Cat Power covers LP (available on gold vinyl), the Broken Social Scene B-sides & rarities comp, the Anna Von Hausswolff live album, the first Side Out EP in 20 years, the Lilblackkids (Georgia Anne Muldrow and Keith Rice) EP, the Hope Conspiracy expanded reissue of Death Knows Your Name, part one of the Bill Fay reissue, the expanded Sun June album, and the Dull Mourning EP.
Read on for this week's Notable Releases. What's your favorite release of the week?
Earl Sweatshirt - SICK!
It's been fascinating to watch Earl Sweatshirt continue to evolve in the decade-plus since he released his instant-classic debut mixtape as a 16-year-old. His early fame has allowed him to maintain visibility within rap's mainstream (and remain on a major label) the entire time, but Earl hasn't made music that sounds anything like "mainstream rap" since at least 2013's Doris, and even that album still feels left of the dial. His unique position in the rap world has made him an ambassador for the underground, and he continues to find exciting new artists to collaborate with and new sounds to experiment with. On 2018's excellent Some Rap Songs, Earl helped shine a light on the hazy, psychedelic sounds that NYC artists like Navy Blue, Standing on the Corner, and MIKE had been (and still are) making, while more recently he's developed a collaborative relationship with a darker, murkier NYC duo: Armand Hammer (aka billy woods and ELUCID). Earl appeared on their last two albums, and they appear on "Tabula Rasa" off Earl's new LP SICK!. And just as you could feel the influence of artists like Navy Blue and MIKE on Some Rap Songs, you can hear how Armand Hammer's deceptively subtle sound has impacted SICK!.
Elsewhere on SICK!, there's beats from frequent Earl and Armand Hammer producer The Alchemist, a verse from ZelooperZ of Danny Brown's Bruiser Brigade crew and four songs produced by frequent Bruiser Brigade beatmaker Black Noi$e (Danny Brown of course being another rapper who blurs the line between underground and mainstream, and an Earl collaborator from back in the day), and beats by Navy Blue (as Ancestors), Samiyam, Alexander Spit, and more. From that diverse list alone, you get the sense that you can't pin SICK! down as one specific style or subgenre of rap, and Earl really seems to be fusing all the various influences he's developed over time, not jumping from one sound to the next.
The way Earl channels all of this music through his own is very Bowie-like -- Navy Blue and MIKE and Armand Hammer his Lou Reed and Iggy Pop and Marc Bolan -- and like Bowie, Earl is more than an ambassador for under-appreciated artists; he's also a trail-blazing, visionary artist in his own right too. That comes through constantly on SICK!, which is yet another display of deep, complex, abstract rapping over a well-chosen backdrop of psychedelic beats, and one that sounds nothing like any of Earl's previous projects. Compared to the blurry, mind-bending Some Rap Songs and the following year's Feet of Clay, SICK! is a clearer, more direct rap album, but still more abstract than the music Earl was making on I Don't Like Shit, I Don't Go Outside and earlier. He crams so many personal details into these songs, and without a lyric sheet, you're probably not gonna absorb it all on first listen. It's an album that's full of many layers, and though it only clocks in at 24 minutes, it demands a lot of your time and attention if you're hoping to unpack all of it. Earl's not giving you easily digestible, radio-friendly singles; he's inviting you on a journey that's unlike just about anything else the current rap world has to offer. As with his previous albums, the ride is consistently rewarding.
FKA twigs - Caprisongs
The word "mixtape" has lost a lot of its original meaning, but still, it feels notable that FKA twigs refers to her followup to 2019's excellent Magdalene as a "mixtape," not an album. It's still a towering 17-track collection made with top-tier producers (El Guincho, Koreless, Arca, Mike Dean, P2J, Psymun, Sega Bodega, and more) and big-name guests (The Weeknd, Pa Salieu, Jorja Smith, Daniel Caesar, Shygirl, Rema, Unknown T, and more), but it does make sense if twigs considers it a lower-stakes release than the eventual "proper" followup to Magdalene. After making a sprawling, cohesive opus like Magdalene, it'd be understandable if twigs wanted to just put out a bunch of songs rather than jump right into making another Grand Statement, and that's what Caprisongs feels like: a bunch of songs. They're really good songs, but they're not necessarily tied together in any kind of greater, conceptual way. Caprisongs also feels more influenced by hip hop -- where mixtapes are most common -- than the Bjork-esque art pop of Magdalene. It features trap beats, rappers, a little rapping from twigs herself, and it finds The Weeknd returning to his R&B days after mostly avoiding that sound on his own new album. It's got other stuff too, like dancehall ("Papi Bones" ft. Shygirl), Afrobeats ("Jealousy" ft. Rema), skittering electronics ("Pamplemousse" and "Which Way" ft. Dystopia), ethereal art pop ("Minds of Men"), spoken word interludes, and more. Twigs may have intended Caprisongs to feel small for her standards, but it still feels big for almost everyone else's.
Cordae - From A Bird's Eye View
When Cordae (formerly known as YBN Cordae) stepped away from the YBN crew to make his own mark with his 2019 debut album The Lost Boy, it felt like Cordae was determined to prove himself as an old soul, a classicist, a rapper with bars that hearkened back to the boom bap era and an artist with a vision for capital-A albums, not a Gen Z artist with viral YouTube drops like his former groupmate YBN Nahmir. The Lost Boy is a great album, even if sometimes it sounds like Cordae is trying a little too hard to write a Great Album. Its followup From A Bird's Eye View sounds looser, freer, more confident, and simply better.
Cordae's influences on From A Bird's Eye View still feel easy to pick out -- you can hear shades of Kendrick Lamar (whose "Poetic Justice" is interpolated on the album), Nas (who was originally set to appear on the album), J. Cole, Anderson .Paak -- but even if Cordae is still finding his own voice, he's also getting better and better at knockout punchlines, in-the-pocket bars, memorable hooks, beat selection, and in-depth lyricism. Throughout the album, Cordae proves to be just as effective when he's telling in-depth stories about his youth ("C Carter") or the untimely death of a friend ("Momma's Hood") as he is when he's dishing out one-liners that boast about his fame ("Last night I was texting Jack Dorsey/That's the perks you get for being super dope") and his art ("This ain't rap music, this straight literature") or explaining why he dropped the YBN from his name ("I had no other choice, we ain't own the shit"). He also makes seamless transitions between an array of different styles, from the To Pimp A Butterfly-esque jazz-rap of "Jean-Michel" to the '70s funk revival of "Want From Me" to the minor-key trap of "Today" (ft. Gunna) to the no-nonsense rap of the Hit-Boy-produced "Sinister" (ft. Lil Wayne) to the neo-soul ballad "Chronicles" (ft. H.E.R. and Lil Durk). Cordae also pads the album with features from his forebears, from genuinely great Lil Wayne and Freddie Gibbs verses to a much-too-long Eminem verse, which serve as reminders that Cordae can hold his own next to the artists he looks up to. (There's also a Stevie Wonder contribution, presumably the instrumental at the end of "Champagne Glasses," but having his name on the album at all feels like a power move, no matter how minor the actual feature is.) And for all the sonic comparisons to other rappers that you can make listening to From A Bird's Eye View, perhaps the artist he's most conceptually similar to is J. Cole. Like Cole, what Cordae sometimes lacks in originality he makes up for in hard work. His goal is to reach greatness, and he's dead set on pushing himself as far as he can go to get there.
Foxtails - fawn
As the latest wave of screamo was taking shape, Connecticut's Foxtails cemented themselves as one of the genre's most unique new bands with 2019's querida hija, a raw, chaotic album that owes as much to '90s screamo as it does to '80s art punk. For its followup fawn, Foxtails have taken a huge leap and made a record that tops its already-great predecessor by a mile. One of the big changes is the addition of violinist Jared Schmidt, who gives Foxtails a climactic, string-laden sound that puts them more in the lineage of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor and Dirty Three than of Ebullition Records-style screamo. And it's not just the strings that push this album into new territory for Foxtails. These 12 tracks are the most expansive, developed songs the band have written yet, and Megan Cadena-Fernandez has become an even more commanding frontperson in the two years since the last album. I can't think of many other vocalists that remind me of Kim Gordon and La Dispute in the same song, and Megan's delivery and lyrics on this album are among the most powerful I've heard in modern screamo. With such an abundance of new bands channelling similar influences, some of the screamo revival stuff can admittedly sometimes start to blur, but Foxtails have always stood out from the pack, and with fawn, they've made an album that not only stands out, it pushes the genre to new heights.
Underoath - Voyeurist
It's only been four years since Underoath last released an album (2018's Erase Me), half as long as the gap between 2010's Disambiguation and that album, but a lot's changed within the music scene in those four years. The style of metalcore that Underoath helped invent with classics like Define the Great Line has inspired an exciting new wave of bands that have found their footing since Erase Me's release (like SeeYouSpaceCowboy, whose excellent 2021 album features Underoath drummer/vocalist Aaron Gillespie), and it's hard not to wonder if the renewed interest in metalcore inspired Underoath's new album Voyeurist, because it's home to some of the best music the band has released since their 2000s heyday.
Kicking off with "Damn Excuses," one of the band's heaviest tracks since Lost in the Sound of Separation, it's clear off the bat that Underoath are back with a vengeance, and they cover a lot of ground from there. Voyeurist has everything from the festival-sized stomper "Hallelujah" to the ambient pop of "(No Oasis)" to a song featuring scream-rapper Ghostemane to all kinds of exciting, unpredictable twists on metalcore. Underoath have been incorporating electronic, trip-hop, and industrial elements into their music for years, and Voyeurist continues down that path; it engages with the sound that Underoath developed in the 2000s but it's more interested in innovation than nostalgia. Prime examples of this come at the end of the album, where Underoath stuffed three of the record's best songs. "We're All Gonna Die" is the closest thing Voyeurist has to 2000s revival, and it's a metalcore anthem that sounds like it could've been a hit for the band back then, but that song is immediately offset by "Numb," which takes They're Only Chasing Safety's poppy-meets-heavy approach in ethereal, futuristic new directions. And one of the album's most uniquely stunning songs is closer "Pneumonia," a climactic seven-minute trek through downtempo art pop and post-rock that doesn't incorporate anything resembling metal until about the five-minute mark. Underoath may have started the album off with a reminder of how hard they can rage, but they ended it with some of their most experimental music to date.
Pick up the Underoath album on coke bottle green vinyl.
Chastity - Suffer Summer
Deathwish Inc/Dine Alone
After hopping on the punk/grunge/shoegaze train with his 2018 Captured Tracks-released debut LP Death Lust, Chastity (aka Brandon Williams) signed to Converge frontman J. Bannon's Deathwish inc label, linked up with PUP's Stefan Babcock and Alexisonfire/City and Colour's Dallas Green, and conceived Suffer Summer, a big step up from his debut. Some of the same influences as Death Lust are still here, but Suffer Summer is less hazy/noisy than its predecessor and more focused on bigger, cleaner songs that bring Brandon's voice to the forefront and really pop. It's also a more varied album, with soaring power pop ("Dying To Live," "Smiling"), breezy indie rock ("Somersault"), radio-friendly pop punk ("Pummeling"), Pumpkins-y grunge ("Overstimulate"), string-laden indie folk ("Vicious Circle"), revved-up indie-emo ("Real World"), and more. Brandon makes all of it his own, channelling these familiar sounds into something that rarely feels like imitation.
Mikau - Abandonware EP
Anyone who lived through the crunkcore/electronicore era knows that combining abrasive metalcore with trashy electronic pop is not a new idea, but Mikau -- who share a member with Infant Island and whose split with p.s.you'redead was one of 2021's best punk EPs -- feel less like a revival of the Myspace era and more like a new and improved version of it. Their metalcore elements are in line with the tasteful sounds of current trailblazers like SeeYouSpaceCowboy and Wristmeetrazor, and their pop side feels most spiritually similar to the hyperpop of 100 gecs or the industrial electropop of Black Dresses. Like all four of those bands, Mikau are unabashedly over-the-top and bombastic, and if it ever seems a little too ridiculous, Mikau are surely in on it. They don't take themselves too seriously, but they are serious about what they do, and that's what makes this EP so effective. It's got crisp production, razor-sharp riffs, and hooks that suck you in on first listen.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.
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