Notable Releases of the Week (3/11)
It's another very busy week in the music world, with SXSW right around the corner (BrooklynVegan will be there, come hang!) and so many new albums. I highlight nine below, and Bill talks about more in Indie Basement, including The Boo Radleys (first in over 20 years), Widowspeak, Bodega, and Junk Drawer.
On top of all that, honorable mentions: Alex Cameron, Ghost, Warfare, Hoodoo Gurus, Tanya Tagaq, Pink Siifu, Lil Durk, Young Guv, Trey Anastasio, Drunk Uncle, Jeremy Ivey, Rex Orange County, Disassembler (This Will Destroy You, Christopher Tignor), A. Billi Free & The Lasso, Dave East, Bun B & Cory Mo, Maia Friedman (Dirty Projectors), Sparkling (prod. Hot Chip), The Von Tramps, Ramesh (Voxtrot), War On Heaven, Star Party, E-L-R, Jeremiah Chiu & Marta Sofia Honer, NappyNappa, Baby Stone Gorillas, Clams Casino & Ryota Nozaki, Tribal Gaze, the Kali EP, the Mariah the Scientist EP, the So Much Hope, Buried EP, the Orion Sun EP, the Thin / The Wind in the Trees split, the Wednesday covers album, the Franz Ferdinand comp, the Sonic Youth rarities album, and the PJ Harvey Hope Six Demolition Project demos.
Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?
Jenny Hval - Classic Objects
Jenny Hval announced Classic Objects -- her first album for 4AD following a run of albums on Sacred Bones -- back in January, and here's what the press release said about it:
Classic Objects is Hval’s version of a pop album. Every song has a verse and a chorus. There are interchangeable moments of complexity, interesting melodies throughout, and a feeling of elevation and clarity in the choruses. Heba Kadry mixed it to sound as though it’s played through “a stereo in a mysterious room.”
"Pop album" and a jump to a bigger label might seem like an attempt to reach a bigger audience, which this album very well may do, but Jenny Hval hasn't strayed too far from her roots or watered down her sound. This album is indeed poppy, but it's also deeply weird, and it still feels small and intimate -- it's not like Jenny is trying to cater to festival crowds or anything. In fact, she was inspired by the exact opposite of that; these songs came to her during lockdown, when she had no crowds to perform for. She says the album writing process can be summed up with a lyric from her song "Jupiter": "Sometimes art is more real, more evil, just lonelier, just so lonely." It's a "pop" album where the themes aren't dancing or singalongs or community, but loneliness. If that seems almost contradictory to the very essence of pop music, well, Jenny Hval is a master of contradictions.
Drug Church - Hygiene
As far as modern punk figures go, Patrick Kindlon is about as charismatic and outspoken as they come. Between his roles fronting the bands Drug Church and Self Defense Family, co-hosting the Axe to Grind podcast, and his various other endeavors, Patrick never holds back from being exactly who he wants to be. As a frontman, he's sneering and observational, funny and dead-serious, and he comes off so enigmatic that it's almost hard to picture him writing pop songs. And yet, that's exactly what he does with Drug Church, a punk band whose songs are so catchy and anthemic that they often sound like they could be one of the biggest bands in the world. They sounded that way on 2018's Cheer, and they've done it again on Hygiene, an album that might be even better than its predecessor. The two albums are cut from a similar cloth, but Drug Church have had a few years to further perfect the formula, and they've done just that. Patrick sings with a gritty rasp, and sometimes his singing is more like talking, but every time he goes for a crowd-pleasing hook, he delivers. The rest of the band is the same way. The album has moments that veer towards the arty, off-kilter side of post-hardcore, but it's completely unafraid of embracing big, loud, swing-for-the-fences stadium punk. In a way, Drug Church kind of feel like In Utero-era Nirvana; they're too self-conscious to write pop songs, but they just can't help themselves.
Shenseea - Alpha
Shenseea has become one of dancehall's biggest new crossover stars since releasing her US breakthrough single (and Interscope debut) "Blessed" (ft. Tyga) in 2019, and now -- after putting out several more singles and appearing on Kanye West's Donda -- she finally releases her debut album Alpha. The album features "Blessed" and a few other recent singles, though most of the music she put out over the past few years turned out to be non-album singles. So, much of Alpha is entirely new, and it very much makes good on the promise of "Blessed." Shenseea reunites with "Blessed" guest Tyga on opening track "Target," and she also brings in US rappers Megan Thee Stallion, 21 Savage, and Offset, alongside two of the biggest Jamaican crossover stars of all time (Sean Paul and Beenie Man), and those guests add a lot to the album's crossover appeal. Production-wise, Shenseea follows suit, roping in staples of both Jamaican music (Rvssian, Chimney Records) and American hip hop (London On Da Track, Murda Beatz), and coming out with a musical backdrop that bridges the gap between both worlds. And guests aside, Shenseea herself has mastered American rap ("R U That") and R&B ("Deserve It") just as much as she's mastered Jamaican dancehall. A handful of songs sound like hits (some already are), the deeper cuts are just as thrilling, and Shenseea already sounds like a seasoned pro with a sound she can call her own.
Fly Anakin - Frank
Richmond rapper Fly Anakin is calling Frank his debut album, but he's no rookie. He's been a staple of underground for years, with projects dating back almost a decade (including his recent album and EP with Pink Siifu), and be brings all of that experience to Frank, which feels like some of Anakin's best work yet. It's got some of the warmest, richest production he's ever rapped over -- coming from Madlib, Evidence, Foisey, Lastnamedavid, Anakin himself, and others -- and his delivery and lyricism is at its sharpest. He packs his songs with so many wordy, dizzying rhyme schemes and the production leans trippy and psychedelic, but calling this "abstract" rap would be doing it a disservice. Anakin never uses tongue-twisting wordplay just for the sake of it. He's got something to say, and this album makes that clear, whether he's talking about the impact that Black art has had on all popular culture ("Black Be the Source"), paying tribute to a fallen legend ("Sean Price"), or diving into the depths of his own mind ("Poisonous Primates"). On the surface, it's the kind of chilled-out album you can throw on and zone out to, but its many layers run deep.
Glacier Veins - Lunar Reflection
Glacier Veins' mix of dream pop and pop punk on their 2020 debut LP The World You Want To See resulted in one of that year's best punk albums, and with its anticipated followup Lunar Reflection, it's clear that the Portland band are dead set on pushing the envelope even further. Instead of going further down the radio-friendly path of World standouts "Feel Better Now" or "Everything Glows," the new album dives deeper into the band's experimental, atmospheric side, and the result is an even more ambitious followup. Lead single "Cover Me" is probably the closest this album comes to straight-up pop punk, but elsewhere, it goes in all kinds of different directions. Breezy acoustic guitars fuel songs like "Embers" and "Spiral Through," while Failure-style heavy shoegaze informs a song like "Here and There" and "Where Does It Go" recalls the proggy/shreddy side of Circa Survive. Singer/guitarist Malia Endres' anthemic, forefronted vocals keep things accessible, but Glacier Veins never sound cliché or predictable. Like the debut, there's still an element of mid 2000s nostalgia on this LP, but Glacier Veins are continuously moving away from sounding like a product of their influences, and sounding more and more like themselves.
Maneka - Dark Matters
Devin McKnight's music career first took off as the guitarist of Grass Is Green and Speedy Ortiz, but with Maneka, he's writing and singing his own songs. He's admitted that he wasn't fully confident in doing that on his 2019 debut album Devin, but with its followup Dark Matters, he's finally made the record that he always wanted to make. He channels a lot of the same loud, guitar-fueled indie rock that he did in his 2010s bands, but he also works in murky rap, two straight-up jazz songs (with Nnamdi), and more, and he blends everything seamlessly. "I wanted to introduce the idea of indie rock fused with gaudy bejeweled blackness," he said of the album. Lyrically, he took inspiration from the stories about race in America that have been hidden or forgotten over the years, and that plays into the album title, which Devin says was inspired by watching a film on dark matter. "With dark matter, it’s there but it’s not: Just like our history with race," he says. "A lot of people are aware of its existence, but you can't touch it. You can't smell it. But it's among us. America has this really dark energy. How has it been this fucked up for this long and no one's done anything about it?" He explores that question in various ways throughout the album, sometimes explicitly, like on "The Glow Up," and sometimes more metaphorically, like on "Winner's Circle," which imagines a version of history where Beethoven was Black. It's an album that's full of purpose, on both a musical and lyrical level, and it both demands and deserves to be heard.
Ho99o9 - Skin
Travis Barker has been at the center of so much of the emo-rap/hip hop-adjacent pop punk revival thing, but if you've been hoping for him to latch on to some punk/rap crossover that's a little harder, look no further than the latest album from Ho99o9 (pronounced "horror"). After drumming for the duo on a Bad Brains cover during a 2020 livestream, Travis now fully produced their new album Skin and he's releasing it on his label DTA Records. Alongside Travis, it features Texas rap legend Bun B, Corey Taylor of Slipknot (who Ho99o9 are touring with), spoken word/alt-rap great Saul Williams, and Soundcloud rapper Jasiah, and Skin is the kind of borderless album where all of these disparate artists make sense. There are straight-up punk songs, straight-up rap songs, rap songs that feel like punk songs and vice versa, and everything in between. It's Ho99o9's most aggressive, most experimental, and most fully fleshed-out release to date.
Pick up a copy on limited-to-200 violet vinyl.
Benny the Butcher - Tana Talk 4
Benny the Butcher remains extremely prolific, and today he returns with the fourth installment of his Tana Talk series, the sequel to 2018's Tana Talk 3, which is widely considered one of Benny's best projects and one of his first major breakthroughs. The Griselda rapper has continued to infiltrate the mainstream without watering down his gritty sound, and Tana Talk 4 might be his biggest mainstream breakthrough yet, thanks to its collaboration with J. Cole ("Johnny P's Caddy"), which became Benny's most-streamed song on Spotify in just a few weeks. And as anyone who's heard that song knows, it's not Benny catering to the radio, but Cole doing his best to assimilate into the Griselda sound. The rest of Tana Talk 4 follows suit, finding Benny doing what he does best over production from frequent collaborators The Alchemist, Daringer, and Beat Butcha. Another big-name guest appearance comes from Diddy (on a spinoff of Biggie's "Ten Crack Commandments"), but the other guests are all within Benny's usual inner circle, including Boldy James, Stove God Cooks, 38 Spesh, and Benny's Griselda teammates Westside Gunn and Conway the Machine. Tana Talk 4 doesn't fix what ain't broke, but Benny still has the urgency, energy, and hunger that he had when he was trying to get the world to pay attention. Now that they are, Tana Talk 4 reminds you that nothing can slow him down.
Elzhi & Georgia Anne Muldrow - Zhigeist
"Does anybody make music anymore like Biggie at 24 and Nas in '94?" asks Elzhi on "King Shit." Regardless of how you personally might answer that question, it gives you a good idea of where Elzhi is coming from on Zhigeist, the former Slum Village member's new collaborative album with Georgia Anne Muldrow. It's been over a decade since Elzhi put out his own version of Illmatic, and Elzhi's own early releases are now even older than Illmatic was then, but the Detroit rapper's heart still lies in that mid '90s era of New York rap. On Zhigeist, he never caters to modern trends or does anything besides make the music that he himself would want to hear, and he sounds as fresh and energized today as he ever has. And what makes the album go past your typical boom bap revival is the involvement of Georgia Anne Muldrow. She provides Elzhi with lively, funk/soul/jazz-derived production and her own soaring hooks. It makes for what might be his richest sounding solo album yet.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or scroll down for previous weeks.
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