Notable Releases of the Week (3/13)
With things getting crazier by the minute -- basically everything is cancelled due to coronavirus, not to mention the debates/polls -- it almost seems impossible to think about anything else. But at the same time, sometimes you really do need an escape from all the mass anxiety, and the several worthy albums out today provide a great vessel for escapism... especially if you're staying at home permanently and need something to do.
I highlight ten new albums below, but first, some honorable mentions: The Flaming Lips + Deap Vally, White Stones (mem Opeth), Blueface, two Curren$y projects, Fred the Godson, Yumi Zouma, Mundy's Bay, The Bombpops, JFDR, Ruin Lust, Peter Bjorn and John, Nudie Mag, The Boomtown Rats (first album in 36 years), Porches, the Chika EP, the Mike Crain (Dead Cross, Retox, Cunts) solo EP, the Big Freedia EP, the Koyo (mem SeeYouSpaceCowboy, Typecaste, etc) EP, the Bartees Strange (mostly) National covers EP, the Dungen live album, and Blanck Mass' score for Calm With Horses.
Check out my ten picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Huntsmen - Mandala of Fear
Last year, Greta Van Fleet's inexplicable fame caused many people say "at least they're an actual rock band who play their instruments," so I wrote an article pointing out that there are plenty of current '70s-style hard rock bands who play their own instruments, most of which are a lot better than Greta Van Fleet, just a lot less famous. Huntsmen probably should've been in that article.
Their 2018 debut album American Scrap is a killer mix of '70s-style hard rock, prog rock, and folk rock with modern-day sludge metal, which, if you trace it back far enough, has roots in all that stuff in the first place. For its new followup, Mandala of Fear -- a double album -- they're navigating the same terrain, but they're doing everything bigger and better. This time around, Aimee Bueno -- who sang guest vocals on American Scrap's closing track -- is a full time member, and her contributions give Huntsmen a lot more range, allowing them to work in more complex vocal harmonies and just pull off more stuff in general. The album is produced better (it was helmed by fellow Chicago musician Sanford Parker, who knows how to make bands sound gargantuan), and Huntsmen have just gotten better at everything they do. The heavy parts are heavier, the folky parts are prettier, the hooks are catchier, and the prog parts are more sprawling. You can feel like you're listening to a lost record by Yes or Pink Floyd or Jethro Tull at any given moment, and at the drop of a hat, you'll think your speaker glitched and started playing Mastodon or High On Fire. It's not actually that jarring though; Huntsmen combine all this stuff in a way that sounds natural. They aren't the first band to combine classic rock radio and more extreme strands of metal (and they probably won't be the last), but they do it very well and they have no trouble standing out in an often-crowded metal scene. And even more so than some of the other bands like this, Huntsmen really have the potential to win over rock fans who don't usually listen to metal. This is highly accessible music -- most of the '70s bands it sounds like are still popular and still on the radio today, and in a just world, Huntsmen would be that popular too.
Porridge Radio - Every Bad
UK band Porridge Radio's new album (and Secretly Canadian debut) is a huge leap forward from its already-very-good 2016 predecessor Rice, Pasta And Other Fillers and way harder to pigeonhole. That album could pretty easily be described as "post-punk"; this one's maybe "post-punk-adjacent" but it's so much more than that too and it's just a great, impassioned rock record. Bill's got a much longer review of it HERE.
Code Orange - Underneath
Underneath is the most accessible album Code Orange have released yet, and it's one of their gnarliest and most experimental. You can read my full review of it HERE.
Human Impact - Human Impact
Last year came the bummer news that Unsane frontman Chris Spencer left the band after 30 years (effectively ending the band), but it was immediately revealed that he'd instead be dedicating his time to a new band, Human Impact, whose lineup also includes Jim Coleman (Cop Shoot Cop), Phil Puleo (Cop Shoot Cop, Swans), and Chris Provdica (Swans). Just knowing Chris had new music on the way was exciting, but it'd be understandable if you were a little hesitant about Human Impact. Unsane had a consistent lineup since 1994 and their last album (2017's Sterilize) was genuinely great. Obviously Chris had a ton of chemistry with Dave Curran and Vinnie Signorelli, and Human Impact could have been destined to forever be known as "Chris Spencer's other band."
Fortunately, that is not at all what happened. Human Impact doesn't feel like an "other band"; going by the sound of their debut album, Chris sounds totally reinvigorated as a singer and songwriter and the hype for the singles has been tangible. Sterilize was a great record in general, not just for a band nearly three decades in their career, but Human Impact's self-titled debut is the freshest sounding thing Chris has done in a while. It's not a million miles away from the music Unsane made, so longtime fans should be happy with it, but it is something clearly different. Chris is screaming less and shouting more, and instead of big sludgy riffs like Unsane, Human Impact has a more psychedelic, more industrial-tinged vibe. In other words, you can very much tell that there are members of Swans and Cop Shoot Cop in the band. (Two of the tracks were also recorded by Swans/Cop Shoot Cop/Sonic Youth collaborator Martin Bisi.) Jim Coleman said "our approach is humble, there’s room for input from everybody," and you do get the vibe just from listening that this was a very collaborative record. Parts of each members' past bands are heard, and it all comes together in a way that's both instantly familiar and strikingly new.
Four Tet - Sixteen Oceans
Four Tet remains so good at making dance music sound shimmering and devastatingly beautiful. When we included 2010's There Is Love In You among our favorite albums of the 2010s, we mentioned it was just one of many great records that Four Tet released during the decade, and Sixteen Oceans -- his first proper full-length in three years -- picks right up where his seemingly never-ending hot streak left off. Almost all the melodies on this one sound like water droplets gently hitting glass on a brisk day. It's the kinda thing that sounds so painstakingly gorgeous, it'd stop you right in your tracks if the beats weren't simultaneously keeping you up and moving. Four Tet has done it again.
Hilary Woods - Birthmarks
Hilary Woods' 2018 debut album Coil positioned her as a very promising dark, metal-adjacent singer/songwriter who could easily appeal to fans of stuff like Chelsea Wolfe, Emma Ruth Rundle, and Marissa Nadler, and fans of those artists will probably like Birthmarks too, but this one further finds Hilary exploring her own lane. Coil was made with James Kelly of Altar of Plagues and WIFE and it shares James' knack for metal-friendly electronic music, but Birthmarks was made with veteran noise musician Lasse Marhaug, and the two of them used field recordings, synths, cello, and saxophone to create a much more eerie, crackling record than Hilary's debut. Coil almost sounds like pop music compared to how experimental Birthmarks is, but like Coil, these are still singer/songwriter type songs at their core. Between both albums, Hilary proves that no matter what the style is, she’s got substance.
Ultraísta - Sister
Back in 2012, Ultraísta — the band of Radiohead/Thom Yorke collaborator Nigel Godrich, drummer Joey Waronker (who’s also in Thom Yorke’s band Atoms for Peace with Nigel, and played with Beck, Walt Mink, and more), and vocalist Laura Bettinson (FEMME, lau.ra) — released their very good self-titled debut album, and though they didn't mean to put the band on hold for so long, unexpected roadblocks got in the way and they're only now releasing their sophomore album eight years later. As on their first album (which predated the Atoms for Peace album), Sister really reminds you how crucial Nigel Godrich (and Joey Waronker, for that matter) is to Thom Yorke's sound. In fact, Sister may actually scratch the Radiohead itch even more than some of the actual Radiohead member's side projects. Sister also stands tall on its own, similar enough to Nigel's collaborations with Thom Yorke to appeal to Thom's fanbase but different enough to register as an essential project of its own. Laura Bettison is an even more compelling singer on Sister than she was on Ultraísta's already-great debut, and she drives these songs as much as Nigel does and helps separate them from Nigel's other work. It may have taken eight years and some major roadblocks, but Ultraísta made it out alive and they're even more a force of their own than they were the first time around.
Lil Uzi Vert - Eternal Atake (Deluxe) - LUV vs. The World 2
To be totally honest, I was never really a Lil Uzi Vert fan. He just struck me as yet another imitator in the increasingly over-crowded world of Atlanta-obsessed rappers (Uzi is from Philly), but he surprise-dropped Eternal Atake mid-day last Friday and it is nearly impossible to deny. Uzi snapped on that record. I didn't know he had it in him.
Keeping the momentum going, he just released what he’s calling a “deluxe” edition of Eternal Atake, which is actually an entire new 14-song album, LUV vs. The World 2 (the sequel to 2016’s Lil Uzi Vert vs. The World), packaged with Eternal Atake. On the first listen of this one, I'm already getting that same feeling I got from the first listen of Eternal Atake. Uzi clearly struck some kind of creative goldmine and we should be very happy about that. Unlike Eternal Atake (whose only guest is Syd), this one's got a handful of big guests (Future, Young Thug, 21 Savage, Chief Keef, Young Nudy, Lil Durk, NAV), but Uzi doesn't overly rely on them. He's really come into his own as a guy who can remain the star of the show for a full album, and he just did it twice in one week.
Dogleg - Melee
Last year, Michigan emo-punks Dogleg signed to Triple Crown and released their first single for the label, "Fox," along with a video made from footage of the band's rowdy live show, and "Fox" almost instantly took the music internet by storm. If you hadn't already seen them live, it was clear from the "Fox" video that Dogleg had built up a fairly strong following over the years, and that they're an airtight live band who can put on shows that are built for stagediving into a sea of constantly-moving bodies. The song itself was a catchy, throat-shredding emo-punk rager and it stirred up buzz not just in the niche emo corners of the music internet but pretty much across the board (and it became a very rare emo song to be awarded Best New Track by Pitchfork). Needless to say, anticipation for Melee has been high, and I'm not sure if I can think of any emo band from the last ten years whose debut album was this highly anticipated.
Melee is now here, and it's packed to the gills with more emo-punk ragers just like "Fox." They keep things loud, fast, and stagedivable, and they pile on the catchy, poppy hooks but sing them with just enough grit in their voices to avoid the "pop punk" label. It's undeniably fun music, and Dogleg have got the spirit and the chops to deliver this kind of stuff exactly how you expect it to be delivered, but if you're looking for something a little deeper or a little more original, Melee leaves much to be desired. Faint echoes of second-wave emo are here (at least two songs borrow the off-key wailing of Cap'n Jazz's "Little League"), but these songs sound more directly indebted to "emo revival" era bands like Joyce Manor, PUP, and Title Fight. It's a revival of a revival, and this time it's reviving a not-so-distant past. Those bands' songs are fun too, but they repurposed old sounds in ways that felt fresh, and their lyrics had a sense of nuance and self-reflection that I'm not hearing yet with Dogleg. The catharsis of those beer-and-sweat-soaked shows means more when the songs make you look at yourself in the mirror or consider a new perspective, something you don't get from tossed-off lines like "Hey I'm late, I couldn't wake up before noon / I know to some that's kind of early, but for me it's nothing new" or "Get drunk with your friends and stay at home / I don't care if I'm the one that stays alone." The thrill also starts to wear off when eight of the ten songs more or less sound like "Fox." Save for the slower-paced emo of "Cannonball" and the hints of post-rock in "Ender" (the two last songs), Dogleg really threw all their eggs in one basket, and Melee might've worked better if it incorporated and fleshed out some of the band's more interesting ideas from their early EPs. Their best song might still be "Prince Is Little" from 2016's Remember Alderaan? EP, which kinda sounds like Silent Alarm-era Bloc Party meets '90s American post-hardcore, and I would've liked to have seen them further explore that more genre-blurring side of them. As Melee's last two songs suggest that potential is still there, I'm already curious to see where this band goes next.
Jay Electronica - A Written Testimony
The world is about to collapse, and yet, as if by some miracle, Jay Electronica has released his debut album. I've only listened once this morning and I don’t wanna rush judgement on an album so long-awaited that it went from “highly anticipated” to “probably not even happening,” but so far I think it's really good! It's a lean ten tracks with no filler, some running themes throughout, tons of guest rapping from Jay-Z, and Jay Electron is in fine form.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.