It's officially December. Just one month left in this crazy year (and it doesn't seem like next year is gonna be any better). As the year comes to a close, be sure to keep up with our ongoing Best Music of 2017 coverage, but it's not time to exclusively look back just yet. There's still new music coming out, and this week has some pretty major new albums.
The year coming to a close also means holiday music. We've been posting new holiday music here, like DMX's official cover of "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."
Check out my picks for this week's Notable Releases below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It's hard to call a post-hardcore album unexpected in a year that has already seen the first At the Drive In album in 17 years and the first Quicksand album in 22 years, but I really wasn't sure if we'd ever get Glassjaw's third album. They put out the Coloring Book EP in 2011 and a few non-album singles before that, but a full-length followup to 2002's classic Worship & Tribute started to feel like a myth. They had been talking about it for about a decade, and the lineup changes they kept going through didn't make it seem any more likely. But lo and behold, there's just a month left of 2017 and Glassjaw have finally dropped the album. And it's really good.
Similar to Quicksand and ATDI, Glassjaw are mostly sticking to their classic sound. For Glassjaw, that means crushingly heavy guitar tones, a bulldozing and complex rhythm section, some off-kilter dissonant parts, some atmospheric parts, and a highly melodic chorus here and there. Like in the old days, they have one foot in NYHC and one in Deftones-y alt-metal, plus plenty of other weirdness going on in between. And he's got countless imitators, but there still really isn't anyone with a voice like Daryl Palumbo. He bounces between aggressive screams and soaring clean vocals with ease, and his timbre sounds as eccentric today as it does on the early albums. It's also great to hear how well he can still front a heavy band like Glassjaw after exploring lighter projects over the years (most recently the synthpop band Color Film).
When Worship and Tribute came out, nu metal was nearing the end of its popularity and emo-pop was about to have its biggest mainstream breakthrough. Glassjaw were always too smart for the former and too aggressive and experimental for the latter, but they benefited from having enough in common with both sounds to win over fans of both. Those types of music don't have the mainstream representation that they had back then, but that might be slowly changing (Code Orange, who also have crossover appeal with both nu metal and emo, just landed on Rolling Stone's year-end list and picked up a Grammy nom), and if you go to these types of shows, you'll run into thousands of people who would love to be able to turn on the radio and hear a band like this. I don't know if ALT 92.3 is gonna start playing Material Control, but the album is certainly good enough to be the new post-hardcore album that rock fans rally behind. And even if it just ends up in the hands of diehards, that's still gonna be a pretty big deal. As I witnessed when I saw Glassjaw in NYC earlier this month, their cult following hasn't weakened one bit.
It didn't take long for Miguel to ditch the lukewarm, radio-ready sounds of his 2010 debut and become one of the defining artists of the indie/R&B crossover with the Art Dealer Chic mixtapes and the now-probably-classic Kaleidoscope Dream, a perfectly named mix of psychedelia, soul, R&B, funk, pop, rock and more that was all tied together by Miguel's impressive pipes. Not content to repeat himself, he followed Kaleidoscope Dream with the more difficult Wildheart, and he's once again reinventing himself on this year's War & Leisure. Musically, it's more accessible than Wildheart, and lyrically, it takes on politics more than Miguel ever has before -- an understandable move in times like these. That's clearer than ever on album closer "Now," where Miguel opens up crooning, "CEO of the free world now, build your walls up high and wide," and in the chorus asks, "Is that the look of freedom now?" But the sex-and-love-fueled Miguel that we know and love shows up again and again on this album, making War & Leisure another perfectly titled Miguel album. A few other new tricks: "Caramelo Duro" is Miguel's first song sung mostly in Spanish, and he has more guest rappers on this album than he's ever had before (there are three). He teams up again with J Cole on "Come Through and Chill," and though the pair fail to recreate the magic of "Power Trip," they generally sound good together, and Cole only sounds a little awkward when he compares a girl he's been seeing to Colin Kaepernick kneeling (war and leisure I suppose). Travis Scott shows up on "Sky Walker" and doesn't really add or take away much from the song. Rick Ross sounds perfect on opener "Criminal" though; his booming voice and Miguel's syrupy R&B work so well together (and Ross' own Kaepernick reference isn't as awkward as Cole's). Still, the star of the show is Miguel, who continues to prove how effective his psych/soul/rock/etc style and soaring voice still are. Frank Ocean, Solange, and the other indie/R&B A-listers have gotten where they are by continuing to carve out a unique space for themselves in the genre, and Miguel is no exception. He's the guy you can count on to blend synth-funk production and lively guitars in a way that would make Prince proud, and his hooks are effortlessly catchy in a way that you don't hear every day. The songs don't seem geared to get stuck in your head the way, like, Taylor Swift songs do, but you'll be humming along to the album by the second or third listen.
After cutting his teeth as a songwriter for some pretty major artists, Chris Stapleton released his debut solo album, Traveller, in 2015, and he quickly became one of the most loved musicians in pop country and outsider/outlaw country alike. Two years later he's back with a two-part followup, From A Room, volume 1 of which was released in May and volume 2 of which is out today. He could've easily used his mainstream approval to go in an even more pop direction, but fortunately, From A Room is even less radio-ready than Traveller. Volume 1 had one cover and Volume 2 has two, Kevin Welch's "Millionaire" and the Homer Banks/Lester Snell-penned "Friendship," leaving seven originals, including some of the best songs Chris has ever written. My personal favorite is the '70s-style folk rock of "Scarecrow in the Garden," and another highlight is the bluesy hard rock of "Midnight Train To Memphis." Traveller at least shared a little in common with pop country, but From A Room: Volume 2 is closer to The Allman Brothers, Neil Young (who also has a new album out today), and Tom Petty (who Chris was fortunate enough to tour with this year before Petty passed away). And an obvious comparison is of course Willie Nelson, who had both country and rock cred in the '70s (and who Chris covered on From A Room: Volume 1 and has collaborated with). Even if comparisons like those exist, it's increasingly clear that Chris Stapleton brings his own unique approach to these songs. His voice is clean but it has just the right amount of grit, and you could say the same about the sound of the record. Like Traveller, the two From A Room volumes were recorded with the highly talented Dave Cobb, who has helped Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson achieve a similar type of rock/country crossover. They sound clear as day, but never polished. Between Chris' distinct voice and excellent songwriting, Dave Cobb's excellent production, and the quick running time, Vol 2 is an instantly enjoyable album and so easy to play again and again. It takes a truly great artist to follow one of the biggest breakthroughs in recent memory with something that might be even more appealing, and Chris Stapleton has done it.
Of all the rock icons that are five decades into their career, few have released worthy music as consistently and frequently as Neil Young has. He's put out some wacky experiments over the years, but for the most part, he stays true to his trademark folk rock and he can still bang out songs that have the same appeal as his classic material. Neil's stuff with Promise of the Real (featuring Willie Nelson’s son Lukas) is admittedly my least favorite music of his lately, and The Visitor is his second album with PotR. I like the meanings behind the unsubtle protest songs of both albums, the execution just gets a little a silly. I could do without the parts when he sounds like a caricature yelling "move those animals out of here!" on "Fly By Night Deal," or when the actually-carnival-music-sounding "Carnival" goes on for eight minutes," or when he brings in a 56-piece orchestra to add unnecessary bombast to "Children of Destiny." But when he offers up some classic Neil Young-style folk songs like "Forever," "Change of Heart," and the album's best song "Almost Always," it's an instant reminder that you're listening to the same man that wrote Harvest. He revisits Crazy Horse hard rock a bit on "Stand Tall," and that one's also notable for advocating for women's rights and the LGBTQ community in a more effective way than some of the more face-value protest songs on the album. It's not a perfect album, but the moments that work make The Visitor worth it for longtime fans.