Five Notable Releases of the Week (9/7)
August had some truly great music, but the quantity of albums that came out last month was on the relatively lighter side. Now September -- and, for all intents and purposes, Fall -- is here, and that has already changed in a huge way. There are so many notable albums out this week that you could probably spend the whole month just listening to albums that came out this week. And not just a lot, but really big ones. We've got new albums from two of the most famous Pauls in rock (McCartney and Simon, that is). We've got big-deal comebacks like the first album in 20 years from indie/emo vets Pohgoh, and the surprise-released, first album in six years from crust punk greats Tragedy. There's new albums from other established acts like Eric Bachmann (of Archers of Loaf), Say Hi, Mirah, Clutch, Satan, JEFF the Brotherhood, ADULT., Arabrot, the Waxahatchee EP, the surprise Single Mothers album, and, in case you're curious about a new Lenny Kravitz album, that's out today too. And there's cool stuff from much newer, rising acts like the YBN crew, Sylvan LaCue, Mothers, Sauna Youth, Shannen Moser, and the new G Perico EP.
* Wipes sweat from forehead *
Check out the five I picked below. What was your favorite release of this very fruitful week?
Chicago rapper Joey Purp had a pretty significant breakthrough with 2016's iiiDrops, and though he stayed active with live shows and guest appearances since then, he kept his career a little quieter than you might have expected from a buzzy internet-era rapper. Apparently, he spent that time honing his already-established sound and experimenting with tons of new ones, or at least that's what it seems like from listening to QUARTERTHING. The followup to iiiDrops tops its predecessor in every possible way, and takes Purp's sound in all kinds of different directions over the course of its 14 tracks without ever losing focus. The album opens with "24k Gold/Sanctified," a rich-sounding dose of the kind of gospel rap that Purp's longtime collaborator Chance the Rapper made on Coloring Book (and it features Coloring Book contributor Jabari Rayford aka Jack Red, along with R&B singer Ravyn Lenae). It's a towering song, and a hell of a way to open an album, but it's not at all indicative of what's to come. Purp immediately follows it with "Godbody pt. 2," which takes you back to a pre-SoundCloud era of rap with its triumphant, soulful production (by DJ Khalil), breathtaking throwback bars from Purp, and a guest verse by an actual rap veteran, RZA. Purp is in similar territory on the next song, "Hallelujah," and then by track four, "Elastic," everything changes. On this song and a handful of the songs that follow, Purp branches away from the usual sounds of Chicago's rap scene and experiments with his hometown's long history of house and other underground electronic music. Purp's not the only modern-day rapper mixing inventive rhymes with heady dance music (Vince Staples' last album comes to mind as a close comparison), but there really isn't much else out there right now that sounds like "Elastic" or "Aw Sh*t!" and "Look At My Wrist," and as good as iiiDrops could be, you could never really say nothing else sounded like it. QUARTERTHING eventually transitions back to more familiar rap sounds, like the auto-tuned, slowed-down trap of "Karl Malone" and more soulful throwback stuff like "Lebron James," before ending with a 30-second spoken word/a cappella track performed by GZA. The album nails a balance between innovation and nostalgia, between letting your ambitions run wild and staying focused. And it's not everyday that music this unique is also this fun to listen to.
Though first known mostly for experimental electronic music, Yves Tumor showed off more of a pop side and more of their own voice on "The Feeling When You Walk Away" from 2016's Serpent Music, released on the PAN label, and Tumor explores those things more deeply on Safe In the Hands of Love, Tumor's first album for larger label Warp. There's something endlessly appealing about experimental musicians embracing pop, especially when they nail a balance between the challenging sounds of their earlier work and more accessible music. And that's exactly what Yves Tumor has done with Safe In the Hands of Love. This was not a move towards "pop" for commercial gain -- you don't write something like the noisy, ominous, spoken word-fueled "Hope In Suffering (Escaping Oblivion & Overcoming Powerlessness)" (which features Oxhy and Puce Mary) or the industrial noise punk of "Let the Lioness In You Flow Freely" when you're trying to connect with mainstream audiences. Yves Tumor seems like the type of artist who thrives off challenging themselves, and making the transition from mood music to (relatively) traditional songwriting is absolutely a challenge. It takes true talent to pull an album like this off, and Yves Tumor has it. Tumor eases you into the new sound, starting the album off with the instrumental, jazzy electronics of "Faith In Nothing Except In Salvation." Tumor builds towards the poppier sound with the Croatian Amor-featuring "Economy of Freedom," which starts out with eerie and noisy synths and gradually turns into an atmospheric pop song. Tumor is right on the cusp of diving head first into pop on "Honesty," which marries '80s hip hop drums to backgrounded, psychedelic singing. And then Tumor jumps right into the deep end. "Noid" puts the vocals right in the forefront, and they sound as big as the song's stadium-ready percussion. The James K collaboration "Licking An Orchid" does the same, and ends up sounding almost like a cross between LCD Soundsystem and Yeasayer. "Lifetime" goes even deeper, with lively drums, horns, and some of Tumor's most emotive singing yet. Later on the album, Tumor rivals it with "Recognizing The Enemy," where the singer wails over a strummed guitar and nears bedroom pop territory. That one's back to back with another pop experiment, "All The Love We Have Now," which sounds kinda like early Neon Indian. Lyrically, the album is as powerful and as diverse as it is sonically. Tumor's lyrics range from internal struggle ("Recognizing the Enemy") to sex and romance ("Licking An Orchid") to police brutality ("Noid"), and beyond. And no matter what topic Tumor is singing about, it's handled in a way that's subtle and poetic but quickly resonates with the listener. Safe In the Hands of Love is still brainy like Yves Tumor's earlier music, but more than any of Tumor's past releases, this one aims straight for the heart.
It's not every day that a band makes a pivotal leap on an album two decades into their career -- especially a punk band or a band working in the even stricter confines of punk subgenre grindcore -- but Pig Destroyer have done just that. They spent the bulk of the '00s perfecting one of the most gruesomely effective approaches to modern grindcore around, and, after a five-year gap between albums, they pushed that sound to its limits on 2012's Book Burner. Now, after an even longer gap and the addition of a bassist for the first time in Pig Destroyer's career, the band have pushed far past the limits of grindcore and made an album that doesn't fit neatly into any specific subgenre. There's still a hefty helping of grind on this album, so longtime fans shouldn't fear that Pig Destroyer have totally abandoned what made them great, but more low end isn't the only new part of PD's sound. Head Cage often sees them working with slower (than grindcore) tempos, making room for metalcore riffage, treks through sludge, and a stronger sense of slightly more traditional songcraft. It's also got the cleanest production of any Pig Destroyer album, and that plus the addition of bass really makes these songs pop out at you in a way PD songs haven't really done before. Heavy bands going in cleaner, more accessible directions often means pissing off some old fans, but Head Cage is an album that seems primed to welcome newcomers without disappointing Pig Destroyer's previously existing fanbase. They certainly haven't forgot where they came from; these 12 songs still rank among the most brutal music released this year, and frontman JR Hayes' worldview is as dark as ever. Head Cage isn't a massive departure, it's simply the most refined and most expansive version of Pig Destroyer that we've heard yet.
It's been six years since the last Spiritualized album, 2012's very good Sweet Heart Sweet Light, and And Nothing Hurt was very much worth the wait. Even more so than its predecessor, And Nothing Hurt hearkens back to the classic Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space and further refines that sound. This album is full of grand, swelling baroque pop ballads like Ladies and Gentlemen's title track, and they often sound even grander than that song. If you miss when The Flaming Lips were making records like The Soft Bulletin, current-day Spiritualized has got you covered. As always, Jason Pierce (who is now operating Spiritualized as a solo project) wears his influences on his sleeve (it's probably not a coincidence that "I'm Your Man" and "Let's Dance" share titles with Leonard Cohen and David Bowie songs, respectively), but he always finds ways to twist those influences into something that sounds like no other band. As he's done before, he finds moments on And Nothing Hurt to extend his '60s worship from baroque pop into garagey Velvet Underground territory, as on "On the Sunshine" and "The Morning After." The latter builds to a spastic free-jazz freakout, and it's one of the most appealing songs on the album, but mostly And Nothing Hurt is at its best when it's offering up those grand ballads, and there are plenty of those. The album's first two tracks ("A Perfect Miracle" and "I'm Your Man") were also its first two singles, and this is one of those albums where it really feels like almost any song could've been the single. It starts on a high, and it never really drops much lower from there.
The Primals are a new supergroup featuring John Henry (frontman of DC metalcore/melodeath vets Darkest Hour), Chad Fjerstad (former bassist of Illinois metalcore band Dead To Fall) and Andrew Black (drummer of now-defunct Boston punks The Explosion), and if you thought they might sound a little something like their other bands, you guessed wrong. It's hardly a metal album at all. Instead, The Primals gives these musicians a chance to dive into stuff like '90s Foo Fighters and the poppy sides of Nirvana and Torche. (If you put "Everlong," "Sappy," and "Kicking" in a blender, it would probably come out sounding like half the songs on this album.) The made the record with John Reis (of Drive Like Jehu, Hot Snakes, Rocket From the Crypt, etc) producing, and he helps the trio get that modest, fuzzed-out sound that you need for this kind of thing (compared to the thicker, more polished sound that Darkest Hour are known for). It's not the craziest thing in the world that the dude who fronts Darkest Hour is also into music like this, but you may be surprised at how much of a natural he is at it. He only screams a few times on the record, and when he does, it's more of a grungy roar compared to the growls and barks he favors in Darkest Hour. His singing voice is excellent, and he really knows his way around a hook. This is the kind of catchy, melodic rock that you could be singing along to by your second or third listen.