Five Notable Releases of the Week (4/7)
Before I get to this week's new albums, there is a new song out this week that deserves all the attention it can get. Feist released "Century," the second single off her followup to 2011's Metals, and it is one hell of a song. It features Pulp's Jarvis Cocker, and it dives even further into the rawer, darker territory she explored on Metals. "You thought that was a hard left?," Feist's producer Mocky said to the NY Times in reference to Metals. "No, no, that wasn’t a hard left at all. This is a hard left." The rest of this album can't come soon enough.
Now to the albums. This week is loaded, so here are some honorable mentions: Father John Misty, Arca, The Obsessed's first album in over two decades, and Guided by Voices (Robert Pollard's 100th album).
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Next week, we're getting that Kendrick Lamar album.
Unlike the other four albums I picked this week, I didn't hear a note of Joey Bada$$'s new album until it dropped last night at midnight, so it feels worth mentioning that this is very much a first-impression review. And my first impression is that Joey is finally moving on from his role as an impressionist of '90s rap. This is a guy whose first mixtape was titled 1999, who searched high and low for producers who could mimic DJ Premier beats until he was finally granted an actual DJ Premier beat. From the get-go, Joey was hanging with futuristic weirdo rappers like Flatbush Zombies and A$AP Mob, despite always staying true to his roots. It worked because he got so damn good at what he did. New rappers pop up all the time who pledge their allegiance to golden age hip hop, but few master it as much (or get as popular) as Joey Bada$$.
Still, Joey was gonna have to move on at some point or his shtick was gonna get old, and it sounds like All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ is his moving-on moment. It's not a gigantic departure -- he's still dropping Nas references, he's still got a couple songs produced by (frequent collaborator and fellow golden age true believer) Statik Selektah, and one of those songs makes great use out of a Styles P verse. Joey's not writing Migos songs all of a sudden or something, but he doesn't sound tied down to the music of a past era. The sung hooks are catchier and more modern than ever. The production is lush, a little closer to Take Care-era Drake than to boom bap. The majority of the production is handled by members of Joey's Pro Era crew, and two Pro Era members also show up for one of hip hop's long-honored traditions that truly never gets old -- the posse cut. Joey joins Pro Era's Kirk Knight and Nyck Caution plus Flatbush Zombies' Meechy Darko on "Ring the Alarm," one of the album's most thrilling songs.
As you'd expect from an album called All-Amerikkkan Bada$$ released in the Trump era, Joey gets political here. On "Land of the Free," he says "Donald Trump is not equipped to take this country over," and later in the album, on the Schoolboy Q-featuring "Rockabye Baby," he raps, "If you got the guts, scream, 'Fuck Donald Trump!'" He talks about racial injustice, cop shootings, freedom (or lack thereof), and on closing track "Amerikkkan Idol," he really goes all in. "It is time to rebel, better yet, raise hell. I just want everyone to be cautious about how they go about it. Because this is all a part of the government's plan they been plotting. Literally begging for this to happen, so they can kill us off, using uprising and rebellion as the excuse in a timely fashion."
Whiteout Conditions is The New Pornographers' followup to 2014's Brill Bruisers, an album BrooklynVegan named one of the best albums of 2014. Writing about it then, Bill said, "If you’d told me in January that both New Pornographers and Spoon would be in my Top 20, I wouldn’t believe it." It's true that The New Pornographers may seem like a band whose prime would be behind them. Now-classic albums like Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema are practically synonymous with the phrase "early/mid 2000s indie rock," and The New Pornographers haven't made any Age of Adz or Reflektor-style changes to fit in with indie's shifting landscape. But if you like The New Pornos just the way they are, then Whiteout Conditions passes with flying stars. Yes, the one major downside is no Dan Bejar (whose band Destroyer is surprisingly more relevant now than in the early 2000s, since we're talking about the relevance of indie rock bands), but Carl Newman, Neko Case, Kathryn Calder, and the rest of the crew load this thing with hit after hit. Other than the more polished recordings, these songs don't differ too much from the early records and the band's spirits are just as high. The choruses stay in your head for days, the replay value is very high, and the members sound like they're really gelling on this one. For fans of indie rock as we once knew it, this album just feels so right.
As you may have heard by now, Michelle Branch's new album was produced by Patrick Carney of The Black Keys, and, as a result, it's gotten comparisons (including by us) to the latest Nelly Furtado and Vanessa Carlton albums. All three artists had alternative-ish pop hits around the same time, and all three have recently "gone indie" in terms of their collaborators and less commercial sound. But there's one major difference between Hopeless Romantic and those other two artists' latest albums. While Vanessa and Nelly put out increasingly less successful albums over the years before embracing the indie world, Michelle stopped making albums all together. Hopeless Romantic is her first album in 14 years*, the followup to 2003's Hotel Paper, which birthed genuine hits like "Are You Happy Now?" and "Breathe." Even if Michelle wasn’t taking a hipper approach this time around, there’d still be major anticipation for this one.
Working with a member of The Black Keys, Michelle does channel a bit of that band's bluesy rock on Hopeless Romantic, though she's also got some shiny synths and bass lines that could've fit on the last Tame Impala album (an album Michelle is a fan of). It's not easy to pigeonhole this album into one genre, but the songs certainly have a unifying vibe. They're relaxed, shiny (without being overproduced), and a lot more subtle than Michelle's early hits. And if you've been waiting 14 years to see where Michelle Branch would go next, this album should live up to your presumably-high expectations. My guess is a lot of Michelle Branch fans first heard her when they were young, when "Everywhere" was enough of an alternative to the usual stuff on pop radio at the time -- especially if you hadn't been exposed to like, the Pixies. Let's say that was you, and your taste gravitated more and more towards indie/alternative rock over the years -- maybe now you're into Mitski, Angel Olsen, and Waxahatchee, all of whom Michelle Branch publicly rides for -- then Hopeless Romantic is exactly the album you'd want her to make now. It's not quirky or eccentric enough to alienate her more pop-minded fans, and it eschews any type of radio-baiting choruses that might turn off an indie rock fan. It's just good songwriting; any music fan can appreciate that.
*She did put out an album with her pop-country duo The Wreckers after Hotel Paper and a solo EP in 2010, but this is her first full length solo album in 14 years.
It's still kinda crazy to think about the turn Future Islands' career took. After years in the underground, they released a massive, instant-classic indie rock single with "Seasons (Waiting On You)," and proceeded to blow the fuck up. Sure, the Letterman appearance probably helped, but this song endured because of how damn catchy it is. The Letterman performance almost definitely taught them to recognize their own value (and their potential as a meme) though. They’re finally back with the followup to Singles (home of “Seasons”), and this time around they sound like they know they’ve got hit-making potential. Everything seems meant to be a little more approachable, a little more consistent. It's the Tim to their Let It Be, the Bossanova to their Doolittle, the Goo to their Daydream Nation. For the most part, those albums aren't considered as "classic" as their predecessors, but they can be a little easier to listen to. I'm most likely jumping the gun by making these comparisons -- it's highly possible that I'm either majorly overselling it or majorly underselling it -- but at this point in time, that's the vibe I get. It may not have another "Here Comes Your Man," but it's at least got a few "Allison"s.
Both live and on record, Converge can often be one of the most punishing bands around. A typical Converge show has Jacob Bannon turning the audience into a war zone as Kurt Ballou remains in nonstop shred mode and Nate Newton and Ben Koller beat the living shit out of their instruments. Even if you've never seen them, it doesn't take more than a listen to their biggest song to realize this might be the case. But Converge have a soft side, as they've showed off with the highly melodic "Coral Blue," the Steve Von Til-fronted noir folk of "Cruel Bloom," and their Blood Moon ensemble. Not to mention J Bannon has toned things down over the years with side projects like Irons and Supermachiner. For his debut solo album as Wear Your Wounds, J once again explores his softer side.
One of the heaviest moments on the album comes on its opening eponymous track. It's a slice of melodic doom, but even that song is hardly more metallic than anything on (Blood Moon ensemble member) Chelsea Wolfe's last album. From that point on, J gets even softer, exploring post-rock and slowcore and keeping his vocals hushed. For a guy who spends most days screaming his goddamn vocal cords off, it's always a nice treat to hear him in this mode. J isn't Sinatra, but his clean-singing voice is pretty damn cool. A lot of hardcore bands go for a pop punk thing when they start singing, but he has a lower, gothier vibe going on. He's also backed by an ace band: Kurt Ballou, Mike McKenzie (The Red Chord, Stomach Earth, Unraveller), Chris Maggio (Sleigh Bells, Trap Them, Coliseum), and Sean Martin (Hatebreed, Cage, Kid Cudi, Twitching Tongues). The music here tends to be simple and sparse, but when they go for something trickier -- like the spastic rhythm section on "Best Cry of Your Life" -- J's highly skilled collaborators come in handy.