Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/3)
Four of my five picks this week are by long-running indie rock bands/solo musicians, a few of which have run in the same circles for years. (The two closest ones are Minus the Bear and Cursive's Tim Kasher, who have toured and collaborated over the years.) It's probably just a coincidence that these albums all drop the same day, but it's fun to point out (and exciting news for longtime fans). The fifth pick, though, is a debut album from a young singer/songwriter that I suspect/hope we'll be hearing more from for years to come.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Holly Macve's Golden Eagle is the kind of highly accomplished debut album that you only come across a few times a year. She's a 21-year-old folk singer but her soul is as old as the blues records in her mother's record collection that Holly says inspired her as a child. For a very modern comparison, she reminds me of a mix of Angel Olsen and Margo Price. She's got Angel's knack for combining deadpan, Leonard Cohen-style folk with a high-and-lonesome yodel, and Margo's knack for throwing in just the right amount of country twang. (Holly was born in Ireland and raised in Yorkshire, but she can really nail the vocal stylings of American folk music.) But also like both of those artists, it's clear already that Holly can make an old style her own. She knows just when to throw in an unexpected melodic turn, and also knows when to keep things familiar-sounding. My taste tends to gravitate towards the bare-bones loner folk of the early '70s, so "The Corner of My Mind" is the song I can't stay away from. But if you're more into trad-blues, there's "Heartbreak Blues." If you're into poppier, more upbeat stuff, there's "No One Has the Answers." Holly's clearly a student of several varieties of folk, country and blues, and Golden Eagle proves that she's already mastered quite a few of them.
Minus the Bear are pretty tough to categorize. They're basically a math rock band, but they write danceable pop songs. There's a little emo in their DNA, and a little metal and a little prog too. And singer Jake Snider has a low, unassuming voice that's not stereotypical of any of those styles. Their first two EPs and first two full-lengths are classic material at this point, and none of the albums they've made after those are bad albums. Some are better than others though, and VOIDS is one of the the better ones. It's their first album in a decade to come out on Suicide Squeeze, home of their most classic material, and it's their first with producer Sam Bell. Most of their albums are with the highly-talented metal producer Matt Bayles, but working with Sam gives them a chance to open up their sound in new ways. Sam usually records poppier bands than Matt Bayles does, and VOIDS really pops.
Traces of all the styles MTB have experimented with show up on VOIDS, and if there's one thing that ties these songs together, it's the big choruses. The MTB album that VOIDS shares most in common with is 2010's OMNI, and not just because both have all-caps one-word titles. OMNI is Minus the Bear's party-music album. It came out around the time indie-dance stuff like Passion Pit and MGMT was huge, and if you slipped an OMNI song on between those bands at parties, nobody batted an eye. A lot of songs on VOIDS would be just as effective. There are slow songs too, and as always with this band, even the party songs are more contemplative than hedonistic.
Between fronting Cursive and The Good Life, putting out solo albums, and his various other projects, Tim Kasher's been making music for over two decades now. His distinct voice and songwriting style remain intact on No Resolution, his latest solo album and first for Cursive's newly-launched label, 15 Passenger. Whether you're a longtime fan or still unexposed to Tim's charm, No Resolution is a fine way to indulge in it. Tim is no stranger to string and horn arrangements (what would The Ugly Organ be without cello or Happy Hollow without horns?), though he's never made an album as orchestral as this one. If it ever sounds like you're listening to a film score, that's intentional. Tim plans on using the album to soundtrack his upcoming directorial debut of the same name. It's also, as you may expect, a concept album. His announcement for the album noted that the story revolves around "an engaged couple on the brink of a break up" (which brings back some memories of Domestica). It includes musical and lyrical reprises throughout, and the whole album really does play out like a film. Not to mention Tim's a great storyteller, and this is an album where the words pull you in above anything else.
Indie rock vets Grandaddy released four albums in the '90s and '00s before calling it quits after 2006's Just Like the Fambly Cat. They reunited in 2012 and now they're finally back with their first album in over a decade. Grandaddy signed to super-producer Danger Mouse's 30th Century Records to release it, though main member Jason Lytle stuck to his role as his own producer (he's produced every Grandaddy record). As BV's Bill Pearis wrote in his writeup of the LP:
"Grandaddy‘s comeback album, Last Place, [...] finds Jason Lytle and crew picking up right where they left off over a decade ago. The band’s easygoing style, fuzzy guitars, arpeggiating synths and Lytle’s world weary vocals, is ageless and Lytle’s lyrical themes of alienation in a world of creeping urban development and technological advances, seem more pertinent than ever. It’s welcome return for fans and doesn’t make a bad entry point for the uninitiated."
One thing I'd add is that if you're worried at all about the death of indie rock as we know it, this album is one that you need. It stays true to the '90s/'00s version of the genre, and sounds as fresh as Grandaddy's more classic albums.
Yoni Wolf has a voice like no one else. It's sort of somewhere between singing and speaking, it's a little nasally but not in an overbearing way, and he can craft melodies that are accessible without ever being predictable. Sometimes he sorta raps too, though he's not really doing that on Moh Lhean, the fifth WHY? album and first since 2012. This one's about as "pop" as WHY? ever get, from start to finish. (It's their own, very eccentric version of pop, but these are very catchy songs.) The album's got a couple exciting guests. mewithoutYou singer Aaron Weiss, whose own voice is about as unparalleled as Yoni's, lends vocals to "Proactive Evolution." Indie/hip hop/jazz band Son Lux contribute to "The Barely Blur." Both of those artists fit naturally into WHY?'s weird world, and help make Moh Lhean a success.