Five Notable Releases of the Week (5/27/16)
Last week, I took a break from discussing five separate albums to break down the five and a half hour Grateful Dead tribute album, but now back to our regularly scheduled programming. It's been a crazy month for great new albums, and now we're heading into Memorial Day Weekend with another big batch of them. There are far more than five notable albums out this week, including Gold Panda, PUP, The Monkees and even artists who don't share names with animals, like Beth Orton (co-produced by a member of Fuck Buttons), Holy Fuck (not to be confused with Fuck Buttons), Sonny & the Sunsets (produced by Merrill of tUnE-yArDs), Kristin Kontrol (aka Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls), Vinnie Caruana (of The Movielife), Cranberries/Smiths offshoot D.A.R.K., Big Thief, Daniel Romano, Withered, Yumi Zouma, Muscle & Marrow, Outer Spaces, ABC, and still more.
I chose five other albums this week, and you can check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The Hotelier have spent years putting on passionate live performances that attract equally passionate crowds who yell every word right back at them. It's the kind of strong band/fan relationship that can really only happen organically. Rolling Stone never called them the Coolest Young Band, they've never been the token small punk band on Coachella. But if you've seen them, you know they're able to connect with their audiences in ways that many bands who have advantages like those are not. They have two albums behind them, their relatively straightforward emo/pop punk debut It Never Goes Out and their 2014 breakthrough Home, Like Noplace Is There, and the just-released Goodness is easily the best thing they've ever done. Home experimented with a handful of styles, from screamo ("Life In Drag") to non-straightforward pop punk ("The Scope Of All Of This Rebuilding") to rollicking folk punk ("In Framing") to slower alternative rock (a few other songs), but Goodness has them landing on a sound that's more cohesive and harder to pin down. It's also their first capital-A Album, interspersed with art-folk interludes (with GPS coordinates as titles) and featuring multiple songs that segue into the next.
Goodness has a lighter, warmer sound than its predecessors, one that's well-suited to the nature imagery in the album artwork, but they haven't abandoned the kind of cathartic rock that has translated so well at their live shows. Especially with those interludes, the album kind of sounds like late-period Piebald going through a Feels-era Animal Collective phase. Or something like that. It's full of highly specific imagery (like "The icons cluttering your bureau are eyeing me as I walk in" or "Inside your room there's 40 few remaining figures of new moons"), and recurring themes. After a spoken word intro, the first track of music ends with "The goodness fades and we begin there," and on the final song "Goodness" returns, only this time it's "washing away until I don't even cringe at the thought of you." The album's also loaded with the kind of satisfying moments that separate good bands from great ones. There's the moment when the full band finally kicks in on "Goodness Pt. 2." There's the part at the end of "Piano Player" where the backup vocal turns into the lead vocal on the "I don't know if I know love no more" line. There's the part in the guitar/vocal ballad "Opening Mail For My Grandmother" where for just a second, a backgrounded gang vocal shouts "I'm coming for you." It's truly chilling. But the peak of the moments like these is recent single "Soft Animal," the most ball-your-fists-and-scream rock song of 2016 thus far. "MAKE ME FEEL ALIVE, MAKE BELIEVE THAT I DON'T HAVE TO DIE," Christian Holden shouts at the toppest of lungs. That's no doubt how many people will say this very album makes them feel.
Since The Hotelier's initial breakthrough, they've become one of the leading bands of the whole "emo revival," but Goodness joins a group of albums, including TWIABP's Harmlessness and Foxing's Dealer, ushering in a new type of post-emo that's too concerned with progression to be a "revival" of anything. These albums don't sound like Cap'n Jazz or Braid, and they sure as hell don't sound like Taking Back Sunday. It's "emo" because it's emotional, punk-rooted rock music that fans connect to, but it's not a retread of anything and it doesn't carry any of the negative baggage often associated with emo's most embarrassing era. The whole "What We Talk About When We Talk About Emo" conversation is getting as boring as the "Are Deafheaven Really Metal?" conversation -- and I think that the majority of people who do like or would like this music truly don't care. The Hotelier made one of 2016's best rock albums, all I can recommend is that you tune out all the outside noise and just listen to it.
The last album we heard from Jeremy Bolm was the third LP from his devastating post-hardcore band Touche Amore, Is Survived By, an album that grappled with mortality and the uncertainty of the legacy you'll one day leave behind. This year he's tackling something much different on the debut album from his band Hesitation Wounds, the most overtly political work he's put out yet. Hesitation Wounds are something of a supergroup -- with The Hope Conspiracy guitarist Neeraj Kane, former Trap Them bassist Stephen “Scuba” LaCour, and former Against Me!/current Slipknot drummer Jay Weinberg (Max's son) -- and they're a much more metallic band than Touche Amore. TA's last album was often as beautiful-sounding as hardcore gets, but Awake For Everything is sludgy, dark and desolate. Both bands get fast, but TA drummer Elliot Babin doesn't rock that double kick pedal in the thunderous way Jay Weinberg does, and Jeremy sounds more pissed off here than he's sounded since "WeHateFredPhelps.com."
The first moment it becomes abundantly clear that you're listening to an angry, political work is on the third track, "Hands Up." It's the same name as a 2014 Vince Staples song, and they're both songs that rail against police brutality. "Another dead body / And we throw our hands up / I'm ashamed of my skin / Enough is enough," Jeremy snarls over a pummeling, bass-heavy backbone. On "Guthrie," Jeremy takes lines from Woody's "This Land Is Your Land" and kicks it up about a thousand notches. That song is already often misinterpreted as a pro-America song, but no one will make that mistake with "Guthrie": "This is the land of opportunity, this is the land of the free, this is the land made for you and me… it’s all bullshit.”
His messages are clear and in-your-face without being too preachy, and the band's volume-up-to-eleven backdrop is the perfect setting for these lyrics. "All We Know" opens with something closer to Deafheaven than Touche Amore before evolving into mile-a-minute d-beat. "Ends (Pt. 1)" works around a dissonant metalcore riff that wouldn't feel out of place on a Snapcase or Converge album. Opening track "Operatic" is about as classic-sounding metallic hardcore as you're likely to get on any record this year. Hesitation Wounds make room for one calmer moment, "Away," which mostly favors brooding speak-sung vocals and sounds like a sludge metal re-imagination of early goth and deathrock. Otherwise, this is heavy, impassioned music that never wavers from full-on attack mode.
SAVAK formed just about a year ago, but their members have been in notable bands for years, some for decades even. They've got Sohrab Habibion and Greg Simpson of the recently-departed Obits (the former also of Edsel), James Canty (The Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists), Matt Schulz (Enon, Holy Fuck), and Benjamin Van Dyke (Silent Majority, Will Oldham); and as you might guess from a lineup like that, they pull from a variety of punk and post-punk influences. They're never really content to stay within one sound though. The album has upbeat danceable stuff but slower psychedelic parts, straight-up hard rock riffs but brainier guitar workouts, speak-shouted vocals but big anthemic choruses. It shouldn't be a surprise that you're getting good tunes with a lineup like that, but it's a little surprising how much diversity they pack into such a short album. This thing flies by and just about every song has a hook that doesn't take long to get planted in your head. Sometimes it feels easy to overlook a band with an "ex-members of" list like this one and just stick to their more classic bands, but SAVAK is no tossed-off side project. These songs have real staying power.
UK producer Lone (aka Matt Cutler) has been churning out consistently great, intricate electronic music for just about a decade now, arguably peaking with 2012's Galaxy Garden. Its followup, 2014's Reality Testing, was a quieter record, but Levitate feels like something of a return to Galaxy Garden. Like on that album, he marries hard-edged breakbeats to delicate synth-work and beautiful melodies, coming out with something that's part rave culture, part headphone material. I haven't heard any of Levitate played in a club yet -- or while speeding around in a car in LA, which Matt was apparently doing when he got the inspiration for the album's energetic approach -- but this record sounds great playing in my small apartment. Not only do his melodies always hit the spot, but the variety of textures he's using make this a great sounding record. There's an element of '90s nostalgia here but the production doesn't sound dated, and it doesn't exactly sound of the moment either. It's kind of in that weird retro-futuristic realm that never goes out of style.
It's not really a secret that among music fans who tend to focus on comparatively obscure music, popular music ends up entering its own form of obscurity. If, like me, you mostly surround yourself with indie rock fans (online and IRL), this column is probably the zillionth time you've heard about that new Hotelier album this week. But I've seen a lot less talk about Flume, who is much, MUCH more popular. The Australian electronic musician also known as Harley Streten was granted the second biggest font on the Coachella poster this year, he has a gigantic stadium show coming up in NYC, and the album's lead single "Never Be Like You" (ft. Kai) already entered the US Billboard Hot 100. Skin isn't a masterpiece, but it's a good album that deserves to be heard by people who don't normally listen to big-name DJs. It's sort of a form of centrist electronic music; it's never as nuanced as that Lone album (or the recent Kaytranada or The Range albums), but it never reaches the lowest common denominator bombast of Steve Aoki or something either, and it should appeal to fans of both. And it's not without its surprises (not all good ones). Beck (who's like, Beck) somehow makes "Tiny Cities" sound like... Maroon 5. But pop singer Tove Lo (who's more memorable for her NSFW stage antics than her songs) actually provides one of the album's stronger hooks on "Say It."
Most of the guest appearances here are strong, and they're really what make the record. Little Dragon, AlunaGeorge, MNDR, the aforementioned Kai, and Kučka offer up earwormy alt-pop hooks. The latter sings on "Smoke And Retribution," but the real star of that song (and the whole album) is Vince Staples. We already knew fellow rising rapper Vic Mensa (who's on "Lose It") sounds right at home over EDM beats, but this is new ground for Vince Staples and he manages to fit into Flume's world without losing his own unique flair. The album gets a dose of golden era rap from Raekwon on "You Know," which has a rap-sung hook from the Kanye-approved Allan Kingdom. Even if Flume is often overshadowed by his guests, he does take some time to shine as a producer. The glitchy instrumental "Wall Fuck" bangs.