Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/16)
It's a pretty huge week for new albums. All five of my picks this week are pretty major and/or highly anticipated albums, and that's not even counting Lorde, 2 Chainz, Young Thug, The Drums, Beth Ditto, Chief Keef or Tombs, which are all also worth a listen.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
My full review of Crack-Up, Fleet Foxes' long-awaited and highly-anticipated third album, is HERE. Here's an excerpt:
Crack-Up picks up right where Helplessness Blues, and particularly "The Shrine / An Argument," left off. It opens with a three-part song ("I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar"). That's followed by a track ("Cassius") that segues right into another track ("Naiads, Cassadies") with the tracklist written out like a Grateful Dead setlist (only using a hyphen instead of an arrow). Two songs later is lead single "Third of May / Odaigahara," another two-parter that's nearly nine minutes long. If their debut is their pop album and Helplessness Blues is their more traditional folk album, this is their prog album. With the help of a string quartet on some songs, they near Renaissance territory. The arrangements on Crack-Up are among the most ambitious of Fleet Foxes' career. They clearly weren't content to repeat any previous ideas. If Fleet Foxes were going to come back, they were going to take a giant step forward.
Read the rest HERE.
"I've heard enough of the white man's blues, I've sang enough about myself," Jason Isbell sings on "Hope the High Road," one of many highlights on his new album The Nashville Sound. It follows two sorrowful, intimate-sounding solo albums, Southeastern (2013) and Something More Than Free (2015), where Isbell tended to put personal troubles in the forefront. It's not that he's not sad anymore on The Nashville Sound, his first album recorded with backing band The 400 Unit since the pre-Southeastern days, it's just that this time he's not looking inward. "Last year was a son of a bitch for nearly everyone we know," he sings in that same verse. As Isbell acknowledges in another song on this album, he's a white man living in a white man's world. His problems look pretty insignificant compared to the problems of anybody who isn't a white man, especially in a time where the US elected a president who wants to make things even tougher for non-white men. The song, which possibly echoes Michael Kiwanuka's 2016 song "Black Man In A White World" (Isbell is a fan), has Isbell confronting the harsh reality of his baby daughter's future: "I thought this world could be hers one day, but her mama knew better". (Her mama, by the way, is the very talented Amanda Shires, who sings with Jason all over this album.) The same song has him confronting his past self for letting racist jokes slide. And the conclusion he comes to in the chorus: "There's no such thing as someone else's war." Jason Isbell knows that we're in this together, and he's trying to use his power to do some good.
The Nashville Sound doesn't only have political lyrics, but in today's America, those parts are easy to latch onto and they're a major selling point of the album. Isbell sings loudly and clearly on this album, probably because he wants every single word to drill its way into your brain. It works, and it doesn't hurt that the songs are so damn catchy and replayable. I've only had the album for about a week so I hesitate to overhype it, but I can't think of another rock record I've played on repeat in 2017 as much as this one. "Cumberland Gap," a tribute to the working class, is up there with "24 Frames" as one of the most addictive songs he's ever written. "Anxiety," with its crushing riff that has some serious "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" vibes, is a rare song on the album that seems to echo the personal struggles of The Nashville Sound's two predecessors, but it's too relatable to be reduced to that. "Anxiety, how do you always get the best of me? [...] Why am I never where I'm supposed to be? [...] I'm wide awake and I'm in pain," he sings. It's such a universal account of such a personal thing.
Jason Isbell's ability to make such welcoming songs out of such tough topics is part of what makes him such a consistently fine songwriter. Southeastern and Something More Than Free were something of a late-career breakthrough for Isbell, who's been a solo artist for a decade and was a Drive-By Trucker before that. They did well commercially and critically, and the latter won him a Grammy. Coming off a period like that can put a lot of pressure on a songwriter, but going by how naturally confident he sounds on The Nashville Sound, it doesn't seem to have negatively affected Jason Isbell. He and talented producer Dave Cobb (who also did Southeastern and Something More Than Free) fit driving rock, rollicking twang, quiet acoustic songs, and that aforementioned dose of doom on "Anxiety" into a neat 10-song, 40-minute album without an ounce of fat or self-indulgence. Tying the economical song structures and the powerful lyrics together is that biting album title, The Nashville Sound. Isbell is a clear student of traditional American songwriting, but traditional America is the very thing he's attacking with these songs.
While Andre 3000 remains elusive, his OutKast partner Big Boi has had quite the active career since kicking this decade off with his first proper solo album, Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty. He's now on his third solo LP (and fourth release counting his collaboration with Phantogram) and he still sounds fresh. There's a slight bit of modern trap influence on Boomiverse, but really it's classic Big Boi. It's actually so impressive how little his flow has changed since OutKast's classic '90s records. He still sounds like the coolest dude in the world when he raps, still sounds like he's having fun, and he still knows how to twist and turn his words in a way that blows away his competition. Just listening to him rap is a thrill.
Big Boi has as close a collaborative relationship with Killer Mike as ever, and Mike's become a much bigger deal since the last Big Boi solo album thanks to Run the Jewels. He's on three songs on Boomiverse, and he shows up in top form on all of them, making this album all the more worth it. The most fun of those three songs is "Kill Jill," an all-Atlanta posse cut which also has murderous rhymes from Jeezy. He's got another one of those with the hardass "In the South" featuring Gucci Mane and UGK's Pimp C. On a less Southern note, Big Boi's got Snoop Dogg channeling the G-Funk era on "Get Wit It" and delivering one of his more unfuckwithable verses of late. Like most Big Boi albums, there's some less serious stuff too, like the joyous piano pop of "All Night" and the silly "Chocolate." Still, a little filler doesn't do much damage to Boomiverse. At 12 songs in 45 minutes, it's his shortest solo album by a longshot and the filler is kept to a minimum anyway. Not even an Adam Levine feature can bring it down.
The 2010s shoegaze revival is as prevalent as ever, and Ride are the last of the "big three" shoegaze bands to return with their first new album since the '90s. It began back in 2013 with the MBV album, continued earlier this year with Slowdive, and today we get Weather Diaries. All three of these bands have their own distinct identities, and the reunions have really reinforced this. Ride's recent live shows -- which are the most straightforwardly rocking of the three -- remind you that they're really just a psychedelic rock band. They don't have the studio-obsessed perfectionist approach of My Bloody Valentine or the climactic post-rock builds of Slowdive. They're into writing good choruses and rocking out, and this comes across on Weather Diaries.
The album starts off strong. "Lannoy Point" is a hazy, hypnotic opener that sounds like classic Ride. That's immediately followed by lead single "Charm Assault," which really drives home the "good choruses and rocking out" thing. A little later on is "Home Is A Feeling," the most traditionally shoegaze song on Weather Diaries and the one that Nowhere fans may get most excited about. Those songs can hold a candle to Ride's classics and Ride's peers, and they destroy plenty of the imitation bands coming out today. Yet while Weather Diaries reminds you of the areas Ride excel in more than MBV and Slowdive, it also reminds you of the more negative differences between those three bands. m b v was the followup to the most classic shoegaze album ever and Slowdive was the followup to the only marginally less classic Pygmalion. Both bands quit after rock-solid, nearly flawless discographies, and they managed to remain outsider bands all this time. Ride got a little sucked into alt-rock's increasingly mainstream tendencies in the mid-'90s and they haven't entirely shed that on Weather Diaries. "All I Want" sounds like buzz-bin rocktronica that belongs back in 1998, and "Lateral Alice" is a Kinks/grunge mashup that sounds like a Britpop band itching for a big hit. Even if the album's a bit uneven, the highs are high and if Weather Diaries gives Ride a reason to keep playing those killer live shows then I can't complain.
I'll always have Kevin Morby and Woods' 2016 albums linked together in my head. Not just because Kevin used to be a member of Woods, but also because both albums saw each artist upgrading to the warmest production of their careers, showing a lot of ambition, and using a lot of horns. Both were also among the BV staff's favorites of 2016. Both also quickly followed those albums with 2017 albums. Woods came out of the gate first with Love Is Love, an album that musically picked up where its predecessor left off. Kevin, on the other hand, is doing something different. The warm folk rock of Singing Saw often sounded like it had come out of the woods, but Kevin is calling City Music a "love letter to New York" and it really sounds like one. His delivery is closer to Lou Reed's deadpan this time around. He pays clear tribute to the Ramones (and also Jim Carroll) on "1234," a song that namedrops all four original Ramones and sounds like an homage to the band's girl-group-inspired punk. The title track is full of lead guitars that owe plenty of debt to Television. Singing Saw was something of a breakthrough for Kevin, but it's pretty clear that he has no intention of repeating himself. This quick followup is a reminder that he's never been a one-trick pony. That said, if you're hoping for more of Singing Saw's folky magic, there is some of it here. He hasn't ditched his acoustic guitar entirely and a few songs would fit just fine on City Music's predecessor ("Crybaby," "Caught In My Eye," "Night Time").