Five Notable Releases of the Week (4/28)
This week just so happens to be a week with new releases from a lot of beloved veteran artists. Four of my five picks fit that description, and in addition to those, this week brings us new albums by Willie Nelson, Mark Lanegan, Mary J Blige, Juliana Hatfield, post-Bedhead band The New Year's first album in 9 years, Life of Agony, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Mark Mulcahy, The Cranberries, and indie rock supergroup BNQT (members of Band of Horses, Midlake, Franz Ferdinand, Grandaddy and Travis). (Not to mention the new Sylvan Esso album, which doesn’t fit the above description but is worth hearing.)
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Feist - PleasureInterscope
It's been a decade since Feist's only US hit, nearly two decades since her first album, and she's writing the most interesting music of her career right now. Her breakthrough 2004 album Let It Die — which followed her contributions to Broken Social Scene’s You Forgot It In People -- and its even more successful followup, 2007's The Reminder, established her as indie rock musician with a true knack for pop music, or maybe the other way around. They're great examples of indie/pop crossover, and that's still the music Feist is best known for, but it doesn't tell her whole story. On 2011's Metals, the followup to The Reminder, Feist ditched pop for her darkest album yet. Metals showed that, no matter what level of fame she reached, Feist's heart was in challenging the listener. And it wasn't a fluke. Pleasure is even darker and more challenging than its predecessor, and it's rawer than anything she's done before.
Recorded with longtime collaborators Mocky and Renaud LeTang, the two modes that Feist mostly stays in on Pleasure are rough, heavy blues and somber, hushed folk. If you can picture an album that seamlessly jumps back and forth between early PJ Harvey and early Leonard Cohen, Pleasure is sort of like that -- but even that description doesn't do it justice. The attention to detail is so high and every song is its own monster.
Moments of "Wish I Didn't Miss You" are embellished by tripped-out, hazy, vibrato-ing vocal effects, and that song has one of the album's most heartbreaking lyrics ("I felt some certainty you must have died, because how could I live if you're still alive... I wish I didn't miss you"). On "Get Not High, Get Not Low," her percussion section works in a chaotic-yet-organized clangor to an otherwise quiet song. On "Any Party and "A Man Is Not His Song," Feist is joined by a chorus of backup singers who sound like they might actually be at a campfire, rather than in a recording studio. (And if you've heard that Feist samples her pals Mastodon on this album, it's at the end of "A Man Is Not HIs Song." Her song abruptly fades out into Mastodon's "High Road" like it was done by a radio DJ who's short on time.) The backup singers on this album are often as important as Feist herself, whose voice is as unmistakable on Pleasure as it is on her biggest songs. It's campfire singalongs one minute, and then on "Not Running," Feist is joined by chanting group vocalists who sooner recall a cheerleading squad.
The song with the highest wow-factor may be the Jarvis Cocker collaboration "Century." The first half of the song is characteristic of Pleasure, and then it switches over to Jarvis sounding as creepy as he did on "I Spy." Finally, Feist comes back in wailing as backup singers shout the song title, and eventually everything cuts off "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" style. It's a song with the power to knock you out every time, and it's expertly sequenced with the delicate "Baby Be Simple" coming right after it, the calm after the storm. It's a highly remarkable moment on an album that's full of them.
Gorillaz - HumanzParlophone
My full review of Humanz, the first Gorillaz album since 2010, is HERE. Here's an excerpt:
Vince Staples, who, for my money, is one of the best young rappers around, kicks the album off with a bang on "Ascension." As on many of his best songs, he's rapping about the racial injustice in America that our current White House Administration is perpetuating on a weekly basis. In the futuristic fantasy world of a Gorillaz album, "Ascension" is some real shit. (Damon apparently told his collaborators to imagine a future where Trump won the election, before that actually happened, but no one else goes in like Vince does.) On "Let Me Out," soul legend Mavis Staples sounds as timeless as ever and Pusha T delivers some of the album's rawest verses. On "Submission," Kelela offers up a solid dose of alt-pop and Danny Brown aids the song with his wacky-as-ever flow. Damon Albarn excels as a producer throughout Humanz, but by taking a backseat as a vocalist, the project plays out more like a playlist than an album (maybe that's just Damon staying up to date).
On paper, that makes Humanz a little more like Demon Days and Gorillaz than its direct predecessors. The problem with Humanz, then, is it lacks a clear hit. Gorillaz and Demon Days are carried by songs like "Clint Eastwood" and "Feel Good Inc," songs where idiosyncratic rappers like Del tha Funky Homosapien and De La Soul paired multisyllabic rhymes with Damon's hazy, addictive choruses. De La Soul reprise their role on Humanz, on "Momentz," a song that acts more as an eccentric nugget than a could-be hit.
Read the rest of the review HERE.
Young M.A - Herstory EPM.A Music / 3D
I caught Young M.A at Irving Plaza last night, the night her debut EP Herstory dropped. Here's an excerpt about the EP from my writeup:
Herstory follows the rapid rise M.A has been on since giving New York its rap song of the summer last year with "OOOUUU." "OOOUUU" appears as a bonus track on Herstory, and if you had any fear that she'd be a one hit wonder, Herstory should put those fears to rest. Like her Irving Plaza set, her EP opens with "M.A (Intro)," which spends its entire two minutes talking about how far she's already come, and ends with "Fuck everybody else, it's all about M.A now." You need to have some serious conviction to pull that line off on your first release, and M.A's got it. She sounds like she's ready to take over the rap world on that song and I don't know who's about to tell her otherwise.
As "M.A (Intro)" reminds you with its little Biggie reference, M.A came up on old school New York rap and she's not about to call B.I.G. "overrated" or refuse to rap over a DJ Premier beat. That said, it's been a minute since I've heard a rapper rep New York's most classic era this hard and not come off as throwback. M.A is totally in the now. "OOOUUU" stays true to its hometown's history, but you heard it blasting out of every bar and car window last summer because of its originality too.
Read the rest HERE.
Thurston Moore - Rock n Roll ConsciousnessCaroline International
When Sonic Youth were still a band, Thurston Moore's solo albums usually had him exploring sounds that he didn't focus on in his main band. But the further we get from Sonic Youth's existence, the more Thurston's solo music seems geared towards songs that could be on Sonic Youth albums. It'll never be the same as hearing Thurston, Kim Gordon, Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley all collide at once (though Thurston, Steve, MBV's Deb Googe, and guitarist James Sedwards are all on this album, which is not a bad team at all), but plenty of moments on Rock n Roll Consciousness come pretty damn close. My favorite is "Cusp," which is led by a building, climactic guitar pattern that's some of the most interesting guitar work of Thurston's post-SY career. In true SY fashion, instead of reaching an explosive peak, it evolves into dissonant, droning territory. The majority of the guitar work on Rock n Roll Consciousness excels in the same way Sonic Youth excelled three decades earlier. Thurston and his bandmates seemed to build up serious knowledge of all the guitar-based rock that came before them, and instead of trying to fit into a pre-established lineage of guitar heroes, they tore it all down. When it comes to Thurston Moore, the norm is to expect the unexpected. That makes the most truly unexpected part of Rock n Roll Consciousness the parts where Thurston and his band actually do kinda sound like classic rock (or at least like Dinosaur Jr). On the album's last three songs, they rip solos that hearken back to rock's jammy, psychedelic era. On "Aphrodite," they're practically in Hendrix territory. (Lee's always been a Deadhead, but Thurston doesn't tend to play like this.) By weaving that kind of more familiar and nostalgic playing into SY's always-abrasive style, Thurston manages to keep us on our toes all these years later.
Mew - VisualsPlay It Again Sam
Since 2005's And the Glass Handed Kites, Mew have been mastering a rarely-pulled-off mix of dream pop and progressive rock. The latter's complex musicianship is often unwelcome in the former's world, and at the same time, your average prog band can't display the same level of indie rock-style restraint that Mew does. The scarcity of music like this makes it all the more exciting every time Mew drops a new album. Even if Mew have never topped their classic, less proggy 2003 album Frengers, they've never allowed themselves to release something that isn't high quality. Visuals is their first album since original guitarist Bo Madsen left the band, and Bo is missed, but the band's sound remains unchanged. If the "narrative" surrounding an album matters to you, Visuals may seem less significant than 2017's more propped-up releases. It would be an unlikely entry point to Mew's music (but not an ineffective one), and it's probably going to mostly end up in the hands of die-hards. If so, those die-hards should be very pleased with this one. It does what Mew do best, from delicate pop gems like lead single "Carry Me to Safety" to borderline metal crushers like the thick-riffed "Candy Pieces All Smeared Out." For such a unique band, it's a treat to get such consistently well-executed albums. If you happen to be reading this and you're new to Mew or stopped keeping up with them, maybe give Visuals a shot. It may end up being more rewarding than you'd thought.