Notable Releases of the Week (9/27)
This has been a whirlwind of a week in lots of ways, and it's also an insanely stacked week for new music. I picked nine albums that I highlighted below, and that's not even counting the Sturgill Simpson album that I assume will be on lots of year-end lists this year (but truthfully is not my thing at all, though others at BV feel differently), the intriguing new Tegan & Sara album, the hugely anticipated Opeth album (which you can read Langdon Hickman's review of at Invisible Oranges), the Freezing Cold album (which will probably get some more attention now that drummer Angie Boylan is also in Sleater-Kinney), the first Telefon Tel Aviv album in 10 years, or the .gif from god album that I do talk a little bit more about below.
Even more honorable mentions: Moon Duo, Girl Band, Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds, The Monochrome Set, Pencey Sloe, 65daysofstatic, Firebreather, Alessandro Cortini, Laurie Anderson/Tenzin Choegya/Jesse Paris Smith, Temples, Michael Nau, Skatune Network, the Skullshitter & Bleeding Out split, and the Sporting Life EP.
Also out this week The Replacements' box set (which we're giving away a copy of). And in case you haven't been following along, the Kanye West album was supposed to come out today but instead it was delayed for the zillionth time.
Check out my nine picks for this week's Notable Releases below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Everywhere We Looked Was Burning is Emel Mathlouthi's first album sung in English, but the Tunisian artist already has a storied past. Her music was banned in her home country in the late 2000s during the rule of Ben Ali “because she sang about liberty and corruption," and soon afterwards, one of her songs ("My World Is Free") became an anthem for protesters during the Arab Spring uprising in 2010. She moved to New York a few years ago and her career started to catch on here more after she released her 2017 album Ensen, which was her first release for a US label (Partisan Records), and now that she has made her first album in English, she will presumably gain an even larger American audience, and with music as good as the songs on Everywhere We Looked Was Burning, she really deserves it. She said she was inspired to make an English-language album after discovering the “essential imagery” of poets Rainer Maria Rilke, T.S. Eliot, and John Ashbury, and “thinking back to how music in English was so important to [her] growing up.” For English speakers, this will of course be her most accessible album yet, but that isn't the only reason this album might be her next breakthrough. On a pure songwriting level, these really are some of her most breathtaking songs yet.
Emel recently struck up a collaborative relationship with Steve Moore of synthwave duo Zombi -- she lent her voice to Steve's recent album Beloved Exile and he produced some of Everywhere We Looked Was Burning -- and their styles complement each other well, as you can hear on both of their new albums. Steve Moore is known for dark, proggy soundscapes, and Emel's music has always had a dark edge to it too, especially on this album. (The album was also co-produced by Ryan Seaton, whose work with bands like The Body makes him the perfect fit too.) Not to sound too hyperbolic, but Everywhere is one of those albums where each song sounds like its own mini masterpiece. Emel's voice is truly a treasure, and the way these songs tend to build from minimal, atmospheric beginnings to explosive climaxes is nothing short of stunning. Her wide vocal range and off-kilter approach to pop music has gained her comparisons to anyone from Kate Bush to Dead Can Dance (the latter of whom she recently cited as a longtime influence), but even more so than her previous music, Everywhere We Looked Was Burning makes me think there isn't really anyone who sounds quite like Emel, and I don't say that kind of thing lightly. She's as much of an original as any of the art pop greats of the past, and Everywhere We Looked Was Burning is one of the most special, unique albums I've heard all year.
DaBaby has been one of 2019's fastest rising rappers, and for good reason. He can legitimately rap in that late '90s / early '00s kinda way, but he also figured out how to become a force on modern rap radio, making him the kind of rapper that old heads and new heads can easily agree on. But he doesn't give detailed explanations in his music about how he bridges that gap (sorry, J Cole); he just bridges it by simply existing. And not only can he rap, he has a way of writing hooks that just roll off his tongue and quickly drill their way into the heads of the rap community at large. When I first heard his breakout 2019 single "Walker Texas Ranger," I wondered if he'd end up becoming a one hit wonder. A few months later, that turned out to not even be his biggest song. "Suge" off his Interscope debut Baby On Baby became not just his definitive hit, but one of the biggest rap songs in America. You can't turn on Hot 97 without hearing it like twice an hour, and it always stands out from the more sing-rap type stuff that the radio tends to play. It feels like a genuinely organic and unexpected thing that "Suge" is such a hit, and it's no fluke. If you want more where "Suge" (and "Walker Texas Ranger") came from, just listen to the rest of Baby On Baby. The whole thing is stacked with potential hits.
Now, just a few months later, DaBaby is back with his second album of 2019, Kirk, and I've only heard it twice this morning, but it already feels like he's done it once again, and I don't think his reign will be ending any time soon. It opens with "Intro," the only track released ahead of time, which is a personal, introspective opener and not the kind of thing you'd expect as a lead single. It's great, and it's great to hear a different side of him, but after "Intro," DaBaby launches into 12 more of the kinds of bangers that made him a star. Even with just a couple listens, these songs are already starting to stick -- he has not at all lost his ability to sneak hooks into even the parts that don't really count as "hooks." He had Offset on Baby On Baby, but Kirk has the entire Migos crew (on "Raw Shit"), plus other big-name guests like Nicki Minaj, Chance the Rapper, and Kevin Gates, all of whom brought their A game to this album. "iPhone" with Nicki (who probably shouldn't retire if she can still rap and sing as well as she does on this song) sounds destined to be DaBaby's next hit, but I wouldn't be surprised if anything else on this album becomes the hit instead, and I think it's safe to say that something will. Two albums in one year can sometimes be a lot for fans digest in the fast-paced, short-attention-span era that we live in, but when you keep them to lean, 13-song tracklists with no filler, and write songs this good, it's no trouble at all. I had my doubts about such a quick followup, but I won't be surprised if I end up thinking Kirk is even better than Baby On Baby by year's end.
Back in 2017, the wordpress blog You Don't Need Maps published a prescient article titled "On the Subject of Sass," which talked about post-hardcore bands like The Blood Brothers and The Locust who "started writing songs with handclaps and vaguely danceable beats, while maintaining a spastic edge," and influenced everyone from dance-punk bands like Hot Hot Heat, !!!, and The Rapture to post-hardcore bands like The Fall of Troy and Circa Survive to add a little sass to their music. And at the end of the article, the writer (correctly) predicted that sassy screamo was about to have a revival, and two of the bands in that article have anticipated new albums out today, .gif from god (approximation_of_a_human on Prosthetic) and SeeYouSpaceCowboy (The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds on Pure Noise). I like both albums a lot, but this week is stacked with new music and I'm just one person who can't review every single new album, so .gif from god gets a very honorable mention and the rest of this review is about SeeYouSpaceCowboy, which -- just by a hair -- is my favorite of the two.
SeeYouSpaceCowboy come from sass epicenter San Diego and even call themselves "sasscore," but while some of their earlier work may have fit neatly into this highly specific subgenre, their proper debut album The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds totally defies it. They are still reviving a handful of sounds on this album, but they don't seem like a band interested in being pigeonholed into a "revival" of anything, especially not of any one thing. "Art made by queer individuals has always had boundaries of what you can and can’t do," guitarist Jesse Price told Revolver earlier this year. "We always wanted to push past that and not live in any specific world. We didn’t want to hide behind cryptic, artsy writing anymore. This record is unapologetically direct." And that is all very clear when you listen to this LP.
Singer Connie Sgabossa addresses heavy, personal topics like suicide, mental illness, and addiction all throughout this album, and, sonically, it's all over the place in the best way. There is still some of the chaos and some of the mathcore signifiers that you might expect from this band (and genre) at this point, but there's so much more. SeeYouSpaceCowboy work in everything from bludgeoning metalcore breakdowns to adenoidal emo to beautiful, climactic post-rock. It's the kind of album that starts off purely physical with in-your-face head-bangers like "Armed With Their Teeth," but it really reveals greater depths towards the end with more cerebral cuts like the instrumental "No Words, No Compensating Lies" and the multi-layered scream/sung "Dissertation Of An Idle Voice." Their band name might seem a little silly, and they might openly embrace styles of music that were once deemed "uncool," but The Correlation Between Entrance And Exit Wounds is a passionate, dead serious album, and it's cooler than anyone who would suggest otherwise. If you lived through late '90s and early '00s post-hardcore, there are some sounds on this album that will be very familiar, but this doesn't feel retro at all. It feels like the future.
The Comet Is Coming is the most space-rock-oriented project of all the bands that modern-day jazz saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings is in, and their March 2019 album Trust In The Lifeforce Of The Deep Mystery remains one of the year's finest genre-defying jazz LPs. They're now following it with the mini-album The Afterlife, which is intended as a companion piece to Lifeforce, and if "mini album" makes you think this would somehow be less epic or less crucial than the proper full-length, think again. It may be a little shorter, but it's just as stunning. Like Lifeforce, The Afterlife is just as much a psychedelic rock album as it is a jazz album, and Dan Leavers' synths make it just as rooted in modern UK electronic music as Shabaka's sax makes it rooted in modern UK jazz. Save for contributions from poet Joshua Idehen on the first song, it's entirely instrumental, but The Comet Is Coming don't need lyrics to keep you hooked for the entirety of this record. It's as mind-bendingly trippy and trance-inducing as you'd hope for from this trio (and from that artwork). It's the perfect accompaniment to an album that was already great on its own, but -- paired with this mini LP -- feels even more vital now.
Back in 2016, Brooklyn rapper Young M.A broke out with the single "OOOUUU," which was the kind of hard-edged, braggadocio banger that's been associated with New York rap for decades. It quickly made her a rising star, but time kept passing and still no debut album came to capitalize on the success of "OOOUUU" and push M.A even more towards fame. Now, over three years later -- which, in the internet era, feels like a lifetime -- Young M.A is finally here with her debut album. It kinda feels like too much time has passed for this album to feel as genuinely exciting as it would have around the time "OOOUUU" first dropped, but don't let that deter you from listening. There's still a lot to like about Herstory in the Making. "OOOUUU" had the potential to turn Young M.A into a very mainstream rapper, but she sticks to her roots throughout all of this album. No big name guests, hardly any big name producers (a third of the album was produced by NY Bangers, whose U-Dub produced "OOOUUUU"), just Young M.A doing what she does best. The first half of the album has a lot of songs that are cut from the same cloth as "OOOUUU," but as it progresses, M.A shows off a deeper, more sentimental side. She talks a lot about romance and relationships with a tenderness that was entirely absent on "OOOUUU" and her other songs like it, and it shows off more of a depth than you might have expected if you only knew the hit. She's clearly not just a skilled rapper but a multi-faceted artist and lyricist, and I wouldn't be surprised if her next album continues to dig even deeper. Hopefully it won't take as long for her to release!
Worcester, MA's High Command get lumped in with the crossover/thrash revival, but one listen to their debut album Beyond the Wall of Desolation will prove that doesn't do them justice at all. The band's own description is "five friends coming together to create the sonic equivalent of a barbarian horde," and that's a little more on the money. They're definitely thrash, and I guess they're technically revivalists, but they don't sound like they're imitating past thrash bands so much as they sound like they're using thrash as a vessel to put out the most ass-kicking songs they can think up. I hear bits of everything from early Venom to Kill 'Em All to Reign In Blood, but Beyond the Wall of Desolation never really sounds like just one of those things at a time, and it never stays in one place for long. High Command play thrash like they invented it, and this record is full of such unbridled fury that they'll have you believing they invented it too.
AC Newman, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, and the rest of Canadian indie rock collective The New Pornographers are back with their eighth album, following 2017's very good Whiteout Conditions. Like that album, this one is also without Dan Bejar, but Whiteout Conditions made up for Dan's absence with a slew of instantly-memorable indie power pop songs and this new one is cut from a similar cloth. There might not be anything as immediate as Whiteout Conditions' super catchy title track or its lead single "High Ticket Attractions," but Morse Code is still the kind of warm, welcoming album that feels like home for anyone who still has an affinity for early 2000s indie rock. And even if it's not totally new ground for this band or a new instant classic, it's still a treat to get an album this enjoyable from a band this beloved, especially when you consider a lot of their peers are either broken up or dramatically losing their touch.
NJ emo vets The Early November have always seemed to exist just on the fringes of popular trends, and always did things their own way, no matter how unexpected or misunderstood their creative choices were. Their initial run as a band in the early/mid 2000s produced just two albums: their 2003 debut The Room's Too Cold was grouped with other popular emo bands of the time but really sounded more directly indebted to the genre's more underground '90s era than most of The Early November's peers, and once they got big, they ditched emo entirely and made The Mother, the Mechanic, and the Path, an ambitious, genre-defying triple album that took more notes from The Beatles than from The Get Up Kids. They came back in the 2010s, just as the "emo revival" was happening, though The Early November never seemed to latch onto that too much either. For the past few years, they've kind of just been in their own lane, making emo-ish alternative rock records that don't really infiltrate the emo or alternative rock zeitgeist but are pretty damn good. Their latest is Lilac, which is sort of the toned-down response to 2015's Imbue. That album saw The Early November exploring their soaring, atmospheric side, and getting kinda heavy in the process. Lilac is still soaring and atmospheric, but it's much more focused on lighter, more delicate music. It's perhaps the most purely gorgeous sounding record in the band's discography, and it's a record that'll probably get the M-word tossed at them: "mature." The Early November already have other "mature" sounding records, but even more so than those, this one fits in with the "adult emo" albums that The Get Up Kids and American Football released this year. It may not get the same level of critical acclaim as those albums, but that would just be the latest example of this band being ever so slightly on the fringe of a trend, and ever so slightly misunderstood.
Texas' Creeping Death first caught my attention as "band named after a Metallica song popping up on a lot of cool shows," and they've continued to quickly rise, ink a deal with a big record label, and land even more major tours than ever, like their recent run with Inter Arma and their upcoming trek with labelmates High On Fire and fellow Texans Power Trip. With that tour brewing, Creeping Death have now finally unleashed their debut full-length album, Wretched Illusions, and it proves they've been worth the hype this whole time. Like a few other deservedly buzzed-about current metal bands (like Gatecreeper and Fuming Mouth), Creeping Death are one part OG death metal, one part hardcore, but certainly not "deathcore" or even "metalcore." Death came from thrash which came from hardcore, and bands like Creeping Death seem to be re-connecting those dots. In a way, it's kinda fitting that they're named after Metallica, who were huge hardcore fans and certainly influential on early death metal. And though it is admittedly so easy to get caught up in discussing genre when talking about this stuff, it's not really something you'll be thinking about when you listen to Wretched Illusions. The record fuses hardcore and death metal so seamlessly that it rarely feels like you're listening to one already-defined type of music or another. Creeping Death clearly dig the classics, but they spit their influences back out in a way that feels genuinely fresh. And every song on this album is such a ripper, that you'll be banging your head too much to think about any of this boring technical stuff anyway.