Five Notable Releases of the Week (11/4)
We're just days away from Election Day and it feels like at least two of the albums I picked this week came out today on purpose (one of them definitely did). Times like these are scary, but they also often result in a lot of great music and that's been true all year. This week is of course no exception.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Back in 2013, Mazzy Star put out their first album since the '90s, which had them in great form and showed they could easily compete in real time with Beach House, Marissa Nadler and the other dreamy modern artists they influenced. Now singer Hope Sandoval returns with her first full-length since that album, Until the Hunter, the first album with her Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions project (which also includes My Bloody Valentine's Colm Ó Cíosóig) in seven years. Once again, she reminds you how many artists she's paved the way for while sounding as relevant as those artists. The 9-minute opener "Into the Trees" kind of beats Lana Del Rey's Honeymoon at its own game. This time she's even got two modern artists on the album: Mariee Sioux and Kurt Vile. Mariee has opened for Mazzy Star on tour and is clearly influenced by Hope, and while Kurt Vile's sound is rather different, they manage to find the perfect middle ground of their styles for their duet on "Let Me Get There." As you'd expect from Hope, the album is somewhere between folk and dream pop, always haunting, and very psychedelic. Hope's voice sounds just like it did in the '90s, but the songs don't feel dated to that decade. If you didn't know any better, you might mistake parts of the album for a lost '60s psych-folk LP and other parts for a brand new band. That's not really surprising at all -- Hope and Colm's new playlist of the music they've been listening to includes '60s cult folk hero (and past collaborator) Bert Jansch as well as new, underground artists like Ora Cogan and Daydream Machine. The Warm Inventions are Beach House fans too. That contrast between having one foot in the very old and one in the very new is part of why Hope's music remains so essential. Like Mazzy Star's comeback album, Until the Hunter feels classic and fresh at the same time.
There's no clear distinction between what's alt-pop or alt-R&B and what's just pop or R&B -- especially when Beyonce, Rihanna, and Justin Timberlake have all made full albums that sound like the former. You could never really call those artists "alt," and you really can't call Tinashe that either. She was a major label artist since her debut single (the Schoolboy Q-featuring, DJ Mustard-produced hit "2 On"), and she does very mainstream things. She's currently planning a Britney Spears collaboration and has an upcoming tour with Maroon 5. Still, the album that single ended up on, her 2014 debut LP Aquarius, was edgier and more uncompromising than a handful of artists who are marketed as alternative. She's only gone further in that direction since its release. Last year, she self-released the Amethyst mixtape/EP, which felt even less geared towards the radio, and now she finally returns with a new full length, Nightride. Some people have been calling Nightride a mixtape, because it follows over a year of hype for her sophomore album Joyride and rumors of label troubles, but I'm not sure what makes a 15-song original project that's eight bucks on iTunes and released via RCA Records a mixtape. It also features three of the singles that at first appeared to be part of the Joyride rollout -- "Company," "Ride of Your Life," and "Party Favors" (though this version doesn't feature Young Thug) -- and Tinashe's statement makes it seem like Nightride and Joyride are just two sides of the same coin. Call it whatever you want, Nightride is a surefire winner for Tinashe.
Nightride digs even deeper into the world of dark, minimal, downtempo R&B than Aquarius did. There were rumors that Joyride's title track was given to Rihanna, and this whole album is like the darkest parts of ANTI. The difference between Aquarius singles "2 On" and "All Hands on Deck" and the Nightride songs is like "Don't Stop The Music" compared to "Yeah I Said It." Maybe the decision to do two projects was that these songs were more fitting for an album called Nightride than one called Joyride. (The cover art fits perfectly too.) These are songs that sound like they're meant to be heard no earlier than 3 AM. There are a lot of moods here -- sensual, stoned, daring -- but "joyous" isn't one of them. One of the two songs here produced by Future collaborator Metro Boomin, "Sacrifices," starts out kind of sounding like Tinashe doing her own take on Future's recent post-pop, drug-fueled era, and then she brings in her blaring falsetto to concede, "It's not my M.O. to fall in love, but fucking around with me is dangerous." In hindsight, "2 On" seems frivolous.
If you're familiar with Lee Fields' music, you're probably familiar with his backstory too. He's a soul singer that's been active since his 1969 debut single, and in more recent years there's been a renewed interest in him -- if not a bigger interest than ever before -- and it's for his new music. He's been pretty prolific and consistently great since 2009's My World, and Special Night continues this. It rarely sounds like music that would've come out much later than the early '70s, but Lee Fields isn't reviving anything, he's just playing the music he's played and loved his whole life. As with the likeminded Charles Bradley, the songs are convincing and passionate enough that they're as worth hearing as the oldies. They sound instantly familiar in a comforting way, not in a way where they feel redundant.
Lee Fields has written political music before, and given the political climate we're currently in, you may expect those types of songs, but Special Night is mostly a love (and sex) album. The most major exception is "Make The World" (with its refrain of "We can make the world better if we come together"), which sounds like a 1970 Norman Whitfield composition, and there's some crossover between the two topics like on "Where Is The Love," where "love" isn't talking about romantic love. But more often than not, romance wins out. Two of Special Night's best songs are its opening title track, where "special night" refers to how "every night is a special night when I'm with you," and "Lover Man," where the title is decidedly self-explanatory. Because "Make The World" is so fired up and this album drops four days before Election Day, it's hard not to keep going back to the political thing. But maybe Lee is trying to say that in times like these, a soulful, comforting love-positive album is what we all need.
Unlike Lee Fields, My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James is not taking the love-positive approach this election season. His new solo album Eternally Even is about the world we're all currently living in, and it's angry. "Most of what I think about right now is how so many things in the world are SO fucked up- our political system is broken and corrupt…our earth is being destroyed by climate change…people are not treating each other with equality and respect… and I think- are we going to make it?," Jim said when he announced the album. He also pointed out that one of the singles, "Here In Spirit," was written as a direct response to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.
Jim co-produced the album with Blake Mills, and, interestingly enough, it's often pulling from that same classic soul/funk world that Lee Fields got his start in. But while Lee stays true to the original soul era, Jim James messes with it a lot. He modernizes it, and adds a hefty dose of psychedelia. Eternally Even is kind of to soul what MMJ albums often are to Southern rock. It's tempting to look at protest music this strong-minded as words first, music second. But it's clearly a musically ambitious album and an enjoyable one to listen to. If the issues he's tackling get solved -- and let's hope they do -- Eternally Even should still remain a gripping album.
Last year, ex-Working For A Nuclear Free City guitarist Gary McClure released his self-titled debut album as American Wrestlers, which kind of sounded like a lo-fi bedroom-pop solo artist with ambitions of being Phoenix. It had some truly promising moments but also some duds. The consistently-stronger Goodbye Terrible Youth is Gary's first with a band and a proper studio, and it turns out those might have been the two things he needed most. Sometimes he still sings a little like Thomas Mars, but the songs are tighter and more focused. And, as we were reminded by Cloud Nothings and Car Seat Headrest and again by Goodbye Terrible Youth, if you wanna make rock music that actually rocks, you need a band. American Wrestlers had the hooks, but it lacked the power that this album has. The songs on Goodbye Terrible Youth have loud, crunchy guitars, a powerful drummer -- they make you want to see American Wrestlers live. Only the closing acoustic track "Real People" has any remnants that American Wrestlers was once a solo project. Being tacked on at the end, it feels like an added bonus, though. It never holds the album back. If Goodbye Terrible Youth suffers at all, it's a lack of diversity and a lack of any real standout songs (there's no individual song as strong as "There's No One Crying Over Me Either"). Still, it's a fun record, a clear progression from its predecessor, and it feels exciting to see where this band goes next.