Five Notable Releases of the Week (4/1/16)
The first quarter of 2016 is officially over, and April is kicking off with another huge batch of good albums. Major records released this week include Andrew Bird, Explosions in the Sky, The Last Shadow Puppets, Mogwai, Moderat, Pet Shop Boys, Weezer and still more. I love the debut album from Drake associates dvsn, but I wrote about that here so I didn't include it in this week's 'Notable Releases.'
Check out the five I did pick, below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Black Mountain - IV (Jagjaguwar)
There's never a lack of riff-heavy bands in the Zeppelin/Sabbath tradition -- pretty much the entire stoner metal subgenre refuses to deviate from this -- but it's a rare thing when those bands pay attention to much else besides the riff. Don't get me wrong, Black Mountain have serious riffs, but they're concerned with massive choruses, great harmonies, keyboard solos, and dynamic shifts that have little concern for the hard rock formula. These things are all in full effect on their fourth album, IV. On IV's astounding eight-and-a-half minute opening track "Mothers Of The Sun," the riff is a cathartic release when it comes, but most of the song is a quiet drum-less dirge with the power in Amber Webber and Stephen McBean's voices. It's easy to have fun with this kind of stuff but hard to not sound dated. And it's not like IV goes for many sounds that didn't exist by the end of the '70s, but it often combines them in ways that feel new. The riff in "Constellations" is swaggering bar rock, but once those addictive keyboards come in it doesn't sound like many bar rock bands I know. The acoustic "Line Them All Up" with Amber's soaring voice has them sounding more like Stevie Nicks than Zeppelin. Space rock, doom metal, and tribaly folk meet on another eight-plus minute track, "(Over And Over) The Chain." And the album closes with yet another lengthy one, the nine-minute progged-out "Space To Bakersfield" which shows an equal love of Pink Floyd and wah pedals. It's worth remembering that Zeppelin had folk songs, Sabbath used synths, and both of them wrote songs strong enough to become real hits. Black Mountain clearly understand there's more to this stuff than pentatonic scales and full stacks, and four albums in they still have plenty to say.
Yeasayer - Amen & Goodbye (Mute)
Yeasayer weren't the first band to bring '60s psychedelic pop and folk into modern-day indie rock, but that sound was having a true moment when their great 2007 debut All Hour Cymbals came out, and that album is still a defining record of that era. Animal Collective and Grizzly Bear were on their way to becoming top-tier indie bands, MGMT had put out Oracular Spectacular that same month. Something was definitely happening, and Yeasayer set themselves apart by having truly great singers and truly great harmonies, traits that a lot of indie-psych bands lacked. After Animal Collective went synthpop with Merriweather Post Pavillion, Yeasayer did the same with Odd Blood, and then they embraced indie rock's newfound love of R&B for that album's followup, Fragrant World. It felt like a trend hop, too far removed from the sound they were uniquely good at, and it ended up being pretty forgettable. Now they're back four years later (which in blog years is like a decade), and it's probably the first time there's no buzz or expectation preceding their new record. Enter Amen & Goodbye, Yeasayer's most human-sounding record since their debut and their first album ever to exist entirely outside of the current zeitgeist.
It's not a completely unpredictable record for Yeasayer. It's still got Beatles and Bowie influences, and it's got certain hints of all three of their other albums, but you'd be deeply misguided to ever accuse Yeasayer of making the same record twice. Lead single "I Am Chemistry" is up there with any of Yeasayer's best songs. It's a mini-epic that starts out as head-nodding art rock, then brings in their falsetto "ahh"s, and eventually a tension-building synth passage that transitions into a gorgeous acoustic guitar/piano bridge sung by Suzzy Roche. Elsewhere on the album, they bring back the Eastern-tinged influence of their debut on the trippy "Half Asleep," their dancey side excels on the funky "Dead Sea Scrolls," and they offer up futuristic beat-driven psychedelia on "Gerson's Whistle." The album kicks off with an atmospheric intro that has them at their most British Invasion-sounding. The LP's sprinkled with more ambient interludes throughout, and it closes with one too. They may not be as buzzy as they were in 2007, but it's nice to hear they're still as ambitious.
Operators - Blue Wave (Last Gang)
Some of the most exciting news of the year if you're an indie rock fan is that Wolf Parade are back, but that isn't stopping both of the band's co-frontmen from making other music too. Spencer Krug has a new Moonface album coming, and today Dan Boeckner returns with the debut LP from his band Operators. I'm looking forward to all of it, but as a member of #TeamDan I'm happy to say that Blue Wave is the best thing he's done since the last Handsome Furs album. It's not a million miles away from that record, with his big Boeckner hooks, ultra-cool style, and what are basically punk songs written with synthesizers. It's kind of another vision of what Springsteen aping Suicide could've sounded like. Whether it's the synthy stuff on this record and Handsome Furs or a song like Wolf Parade's "Modern World," there's something in the way Dan crafts a melody that's always unmistakably his work yet never too predictable. Blue Wave feels fresh, but it also quickly feels like a record you've owned for years.
Japanese Breakfast - Psychopomp (Yellow K)
There's a good chance your introduction to Michelle Zauner's music was her sorta-mathy indie-punk band Little Big League, but the official debut album from her solo project Japanese Breakfast is the best thing she's done yet. It's not much at all like LBL's sound, instead pulling from the sounds of Fleetwood Mac and the Cocteau Twins and coming out with ethereal dream pop. Michelle's voice sounds stronger than ever here, her melodies stick instantly, and you can still tell she came up playing in punk bands. There's a certain energy and raw emotion to these songs that have more in common with the scene Little Big League came from than, like, Wild Nothing or something. It's a short record, with just nine songs and only one that hits four minutes, which suits it well. It's easy to let this thing play on repeat without getting bored, and the real standouts -- like "The Woman That Loves You" and "Everybody Wants To Love You" -- will sneak up on you every time.
Charles Bradley - Changes (Daptone)
Charles Bradley is a rare artist who started releasing albums in his 60s, making the kind of music he loved as a teenager and gaining a true fanbase while doing so. Changes is his third and it's another winner. Like on its two predecessors, Charles basically never has any sounds that feel like they would've come out much later than 1972, but his delivery is so genuine that they feel more like forgotten classics than revivalism. The title track is a cover of the Black Sabbath song of the same name, and he manages to make it sound like early Motown without doing much to the melody or pacing of the original. It's quite a feat, and it's not the album's only major accomplishment. The bold, funky "Ain't It A Sin" is an early highlight, and he takes a welcome dip into the political psychedelic soul era with "Change for the World." Really the whole thing sounds good though, and it's the kind of album you can just throw on whenever and let it play.