Notable Releases of the Week (8/30)
Labor Day Weekend is upon us, and if you'd to spend the long weekend listening to tons of great new albums, you're in luck. The holiday hasn't slowed down the album release schedule at all. If anything, this is one of the most stacked release weeks in a while. I picked seven albums to highlight below, and there are tons of other worthy new albums beyond those. Plus, today is the physical release date for the new Bon Iver album, so you can finally go get it on vinyl.
Before I get to my picks, here are this week's several honorable mentions: Velvet Negroni, Pharmakon, Black Belt Eagle Scout, SiR, Bonnie 'Prince' Billy + Bryce Dessner + Eighth Blackbird, Ezra Furman, Cliterati, Common, YACHT, !!!, The Futureheads, The Alchemist, Dump Him, Mean Jeans, Ledge (ex-Weekend Nachos), Drag Them Down (mem Agoraphobic Nosebleed), Eyes of the Lord (mem 100 Demons, Twitching Tongues, God's Hate), Witch Vomit, Polemicist, Boy Scouts, Entombed AD, Gary Wilson + R. Stevie Moore, Jesse Malin, Joell Ortiz, the guest-filled Sheryl Crow album, the Four Tet EP, the surprise one-week-early release of the Future Teens album, and the surprise SECT (mem Cursed, Earth Crisis, Catharsis, Fall Out Boy, etc) album.
Read on for my seven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Joan Shelley has been one of folk music's underrated treasures for a few years now, and if you're still sleeping on her, I hope Like The River Loves The Sea wakes you up because this album is too good to be ignored. It follows her 2017 Jeff Tweedy-produced self-titled album, and this even better followup reminds you that Joan doesn't need a big-name producer to come out with breathtaking folk songs. All she needs is her old-soul songwriting and her heavenly voice to stop you right in your tracks. (This album was made with the talented but less famous co-producer James Elkington, and it also features longtime Joan Shelley guitarist Nathan Salsburg, string players Þórdís Gerður Jónsdóttir and Sigrún Kristbjörg Jónsdóttir, and contributions from Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Maiden Radio.) As with Joan's earlier work, the songs on Like The River Loves The Sea sound like they could have come out in the early 1970s, and there's a striking familiarity to them, like somehow you've known them all your life even though you're positive that you haven't. But even more so than its predecessors, Like The River feels entirely fresh. It induces nostalgia without seeming retro or revivalist or like an imitation of any other artist. Like The River is an album that stands tall next to classic albums from legends like Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny, and sounds pretty great next to modern artists like Weyes Blood and Big Thief too. It's not everyday that an artist comes along who you can say that about, so it's worth celebrating when it really does happen.
Tool's long-awaited fifth album sees them in more meditative, atmospheric territory than ever before, and almost never sounding like anything you'd call "metal." They've never made an entire album like this, but it also sounds distinctly like no other band but Tool. You can read my full review of it here.
Whitney's great 2016 debut Light Upon the Lake wasn't the first modern-day indie rock album to embrace the oft-maligned sounds of '70s soft rock, but it did it in a more instantly enjoyable way than a lot of the band's peers, and the songs on that album have held up exceptionally well over time. They're now back three years later with a followup, which continues in a very similar vein, but Whitney have packed enough great hooks into this album to make them feel new and exciting all over again. Bill's got a longer review in Bill's Indie Basement, so head there to read more.
Prison On A Hill, the third full-length from the constantly-evolving Boston rock band Somos, will sadly always be tied to tragedy. Two months before its planned release came the sudden, devastating news that the band's 28-year-old guitarist Phil Haggerty had passed away. As a way to raise money for Phil's funeral expenses, the album was given a download-only release for one week only, and today Somos have chosen to officially release the album ahead of its planned October 11 release date. When you listen to vocalist/bassist Michael Fiorentino's wise-beyond-his-years lyrics that often tackle life and death head on, it can become easy to start reading into Prison On A Hill as a collection of songs inspired by the band's loss, though they of course couldn't have seen this coming. Phil's death can make some of Michael's lines sound eerily prescient, and it can often be hard to listen to, but I can also say to some degree of certainty that listening to these songs is exactly what Phil would want us to do. "He poured his heart and soul into this record, and was so proud of what we made together. Give it a spin for Phil," the band wrote when they first gave the album its early release. And it's very clear from listening to Prison On A Hill that all four members of Somos put their heart and soul into this record. It's another massive step forward for this band who have never stayed in the same place for very long. Not only is it so powerful thematically, it sees Somos continuing to push the envelope sonically too. After starting out as a relatively straightforward indie rock/emo band, Somos' great 2016 sophomore album First Day Back saw them incorporating elements of the sort of downtempo R&B that's dominated the past decade of both underground and overground music. This time around, Somos are embracing '80s synthpop and new wave, and while they're far from the first indie rock band to go in that direction, they've done it in a way that doesn't really sound like many other bands. They channel anything from the bouncy synths of a-ha ("Absent and Lost") to the tropical pop of stuff like "Africa" and "Down Under" ("My Way To You") to the atmospheric arena rock of U2 ("Young Believers"), and they blend it all in with the driving guitars and passionate hooks of emo and pop punk. It's kind of a more down to earth version of Angels & Airwaves, and I mean that as a compliment. If you sample this album with one song, I recommend "Iron Heel," which is Prison On A Hill's most immediately satisfying moment of pure pop, but as they did on First Day Back, Somos have really crafted an album that succeeds from start to finish. It's full of little surprises, and it's a treat to hear those surprises reveal themselves as the album goes on.
Jeremy Bolm has spent the last decade proving himself as one of the most commanding vocalists in modern hardcore, and though Touche Amore is still his best-known band, Hesitation Wounds have become a unique force of their own, and totally transcend any stigmas or stereotypes of a "side project." Hesitation Wounds' 2016, 6131-released debut Awake For Everything positioned them as a more overtly political band than Touche Amore, and -- thanks in part to the metallic hardcore pedigree of bassist Stephen LaCour (ex-Trap Them) and guitarist Neeraj Kane (The Hope Conspiracy) -- a heavier one too. Those things are still both true on the band's Deathwish debut, Chicanery, and the differences between Hesitation Wounds and Touche Amore are even more pronounced at this point than they were in 2016. Touche Amore have continued to become a more melodic, cleaner sound band, and Hesitation Wounds sound even tougher and grittier than they did on their debut. Chicanery is their first album with new drummer Thomas Cantwell (Gouge Away, Axis), who replaces Jay Weinberg (who's currently busy with Slipknot), and though Weinberg is a beast, Cantwell gives them a grindier edge than they had on their debut. His gut-busting attack fits perfectly with Kane's crisp, heavy guitar work that runs the gamut from high-speed hardcore to atmospheric post-metal, and it makes for a darker, more menacing backdrop than we've really ever heard Jeremy Bolm bark over. Again, this is not Touche Amore and it's not just something to tide you over while you wait for a followup to Stage Four. Hesitation Wounds is a totally different ballgame, and with Chicanery, they've made a fierce hardcore album that rivals the members' more established bands.
Portrayal of Guilt's debut album Let Pain Be Your Guide came out in mid November, but it left enough of an instant impact for us to name it one of the best punk albums of 2018 a month and a half later. They went on to have a consistently great 2019 (including recent North American tours with Skeletonwitch and Harms Way/Jesus Piece, and an upcoming Europe tour with Touche Amore/Deafheaven), and now they're keeping the momentum going with this pulverizing EP. Like on the full-length, less is more for Portrayal of Guilt; most songs on this EP are under two minutes, yet they achieve so much in that time. It's probably safe to call Portrayal of Guilt a screamo band, but they bring in elements of noise, death metal, post-rock, grindcore, powerviolence and more, and they blend it all together in a way that sounds natural and not overly ambitious. There's no lack of modern bands who keep screamo (as it was defined in the '90s) alive, but Portrayal of Guilt bring a fresher approach to the genre than most.