Five Notable Releases of the Week (8/19)
So this week there ACTUALLY IS a new Frank Ocean album! It dropped too recently for me to spend enough time with it for this week's picks, but we'll probably be talking more about it soon. Frank aside, this week was pretty stacked. Factory Floor, Musk, Chris Staples, Roosevelt, Carl Broemel, Sam Coomes, and Tobacco are just a few of the albums that could've ended up in this week's picks. I settled on five others though -- check out my picks below.
What was your favorite release of the week?
Since he hit the scene just a few years ago, it was instantly clear that Ryley Walker was a student of the rediscovered original psychedelic folk era, and of guitar-led jazz. It didn't hurt that he was a great player -- in fact he's one of the most skilled axe wielders to emerge in indie rock (umbrella term) this decade -- or that he had a sweet-sounding voice and an addictive personality. If you've seen him live, you know his stage banter is as entertaining as the music itself. His latest album, Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, does nothing to mess with this formula, and it doesn't need to. These eight songs are right up there with his best previous work. For someone with a sound that's both familiar and pretty in style right now, Ryley remains a distinct artist. It's tempting to group with him '70s-inspired songwriters like Father John Misty, Matthew E. White and Tobias Jesso Jr., but those guys are all making music that would've found its way onto FM radio. Ryley's records sound like the ones that might've taken you years to find. He's also mentioned in the same breath as indie guitar heroes Steve Gunn and William Tyler, but they don't have the same knack for writing a pop song that Ryley does. That same strong personality he brings to his stage banter helps set his songs apart too. Lyrically, the album is highly specific and very visual. That's also true for Father John Misty, but while FJM usually sounds like his tongue is firmly in his cheek, Ryley seems a bit more sincere. More humble too -- this sounds like music that's only meant for the people who took the time to seek it out. It's not a record that's gonna take over the world, but it's one with the potential to feel really special to anyone who engages with it.
Gonjasufi emerged as a Flying Lotus collaborator with an exciting new take on psychedelic soul, but it wouldn't really be fair to tie Callus, his first release since 2012, down to "soul." It's definitely psychedelic though. It's got 19 songs, many of which are just one or two minutes, acting more like small pieces of a larger album-length collage than typical songs. The album's often covered in fuzz and distortion, but not in a lo-fi sense. It merges those obscured sounds with much clearer ones. Synths and drum machines meet garage rock guitars. Creepy hallucinogenic sounds pop up, like on "Poltergeist," which is kind of like The Velvet Underground's "Venus In Furs" on even more drugs. Synthpunk shows up, like on "Krishna Punk," which is kind of like Suicide covering Santigold. The sitar-led "Greasemonkey" is some of the best raga rock released this year. "Elephant Man" sounds as creepy as the David Lynch film it shares a name with. Sometimes, like on "Vinaigrette," Gonjasufi's kinda rapping. Nothing about the album is easy listening, but it's not weird for the sake of being weird either. "Psychedelic" seems to get thrown around more and more, but if you're looking for something that's truly a trip, check this out.
It's felt like a long three years since Big Eyes released the still-great Almost Famous, and in that time main member Kait Eldridge moved back to Brooklyn (where she moved to Seattle from) and cemented Big Eyes as one of NYC's best local punk bands. This band really feel due for a bigger break, and whether or not Stake My Claim will actually get them one, it's certainly good enough too. Big Eyes recall punk OGs from the Ramones to The Runaways, with the former's knack for sugary power pop and the latter's knack for a riffy hard rock edge. On this album especially, those riffs become one of the band's biggest sells. (Just listen to the solos on "Giving It Up For Good.") There isn't exactly a lack of bands that you can describe as "power pop with Thin Lizzy solos" lately, but Big Eyes really nail it in a way that others don't. You don't feel any sense of irony in their classic rock side, but you don't sense cheese either. They're a dead-serious punk band with an arsenal of hooks and real-deal guitar chops. It's hard to go wrong with that.
For whatever reason, the term "folk punk" really scares people (even more than "emo," though maybe not as much as "ska"). AJJ (who recently shortened their name from Andrew Jackson Jihad) got their start as a folk punk band, but I wouldn't use that description to talk about The Bible 2. So if somehow genre tags have kept you away from this band, let this album be the thing that welcomes you in. It still has hints of folk and hints of punk, but mostly it's just a quirky rock record with an addictive singer that sounds built to win people over. It was produced by John Congleton, who has become a go-to guy for creative rock bands (Cloud Nothings, Swans, St. Vincent, Angel Olsen, etc), and frontman Sean Bonnette has the kind of wordy, nasally voice that fans of John K. Samson to John Darnielle will feel right at home with. It's the kind of music that certain fans of '90s and '00s indie rock will always picture when you say "indie rock." It's ambitious yet DIY-minded, catchy yet not made for the radio. If you're nodding your head and thinking "that's me," press play:
There are a lot of arguments right now over what's "real" country. Is it the bands who dress up like it's still 1944 and record with a washboard? Is it in fact those guys with the pickup trucks and red solo cups? Is it someone like Chris Stapleton who's kinda right in between? I don't know if naming her album Real was any way for Lydia to take a stance on this matter, but I sure wouldn't mind if "real country" sounded like this. Lydia's the kind of country badass whose boots are made for kicking your door in. She makes "country rock" for a generation whose rock knowledge came from the grunge and popular-punk era. This thing's got distorted palm-muted power chords, but it's also got lap steel and that Southern twang in Lydia's voice. (She's from Ohio, but let's not get caught up in specifics.) All that said, this isn't some raw cowpunk record or anything easier. The album's just got just the right amount of polish, and the choruses have a true pop sensibility. It's pretty much the best of both worlds (pop and outlaw), without really committing to either one.