Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/7)
It's officially October which means Fall Albums and this week's picks include one that's perfect for the changing leaves. It also includes one of my very favorite albums of 2016, an album that immediately refutes anyone saying that no one makes vital rock music anymore.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Joyce Manor's fourth album Cody is the rare record that manages to retain most of what fans already love about the band — and Joyce Manor have some pretty diehard fans — while exploring new ground. It’s the best album yet by a band that already proved themselves. And it may very well be the best rock album of 2016 released thus far. I wrote a lot more about it HERE. I really can't recommend this one enough.
As far as non-shitty folk music is concerned, Angel Olsen might be the biggest breakthrough artist since the Bon Iver/Fleet Foxes era. Whenever an individual artist starts representing a sound like this, their influence spreads far and wide. And Angel's brand of deadpanned '60s-psych-folk meets Roy Orbison meets '90s-indie-rock has been picked up on by a handful of newer artists. It's there in Mothers, in the last Mitski album (her new one is really its own beast and she's about as big as Angel herself now), and in Australia's recent Polyvinyl signee Julia Jacklin. Julia's namedropped Angel as a key influence, and you can especially hear it in the timbre of her voice. Also like Angel, she's got the mid-tempo folk rock songs ("Pool Party," "Leadlight"), the real bare-bones ones ("Elizabeth," "L.A. Dream"), and the fuzzed-out rockers ("Coming of Age").
So this stuff may all sound familiar, but Julia does it really well. And if you're more a straight-up folk fan, Don't Let The Kids Win is a more straight-up folk album than the new Angel Olsen or Mitski records. Personally, I have a huge place in my heart for the very haunting, bare songs that don't need any studio tricks or accompaniment, and Don't Let The Kids Win has one that kills me every time. "L.A. Dream" is just Julia and her guitar, and it's the kind of song you just know can silence a room. Most of the song is very quiet, but Julia gets just a little louder before dropping the song's title -- "loving you ain't easy, babe, it's just an L.A. Dreeeeaaaaaaam -- and then quiets right back down again. it's such a simple thing, but it can really knock you out.
I'm probably more of an "album person" than a "singles person," but I've been paying attention to individual singles more and more lately. There's a real power to a great single. Phantogram, who I've never been more than a casual fan of, put out one of my favorite singles in recent memory with "You Don't Get Me High Anymore." It's a dark, rough-around-the-edges synthpop banger with a chorus that's really hard to resist humming along to. Like all great singles do, it stops me in my tracks when I'm in public and not expecting it to come on.
"You Don't Get Me High Anymore" appears on Phantogram's new album Three, which has a handful of songs that come close to that song's star power. "Funeral Pyre" is a fairly solid opener. "You Don't Get Me High Anymore" is bookended by the tribal-y "Same Old Blues" and the ballad-y "Cruel World," which complement it well. Later on in the album, "Run Run Blood" is witchy pop that finds a middle ground between Zola Jesus, hip hop, and "Toxic." Besides "Run Run Blood" though, the album is top-heavy. Compared to Sarah Barthel's arena-ready voice, the songs with Josh Carter singing come off like filler. He's much more prominent on the LPs hit-or-miss second half, leading duds like "Barking Dog" and "Answer." Phantogram may have a foot in the rap world, but they shouldn't really attempt rapping themselves, as they do on "You're Mine." As closer "Calling All" proves, they shouldn't really attempt reggae either. The lows may get pretty low here, but the highs are high. Sometimes an album sticks with you because it has a clear concept, an ebb and flow, and consistency throughout. Other times it sticks with you just because it's front-loaded with bangers.
BROOKZILL! is one of the year's more unique supergroups, and there's truly a lot of talent here. The group includes Prince Paul and Don Newkirk, who both worked closely with De La Soul during their prime era, and Ladybug Mecca of fellow (and reunited) New York alternative hip hop legends Digable Planets. The idea came to be during Prince Paul's trip to Brazil a decade ago, where he met BROOKZILL!'s fourth member, Rodrigo Brandão. The group's name is a play on "Brooklyn meets Brazil," and that just about sums of the sound of this album. The style of New York rap that Paul, Don and Ladybug pioneered is all over this, but there are just as many sounds that are native to Brazil. "I saw very early on the connection between the Afro-Brazilian experience and hip-hop," Brandão told Rolling Stone. That connection couldn't be clearer than it is on this album.
Sometimes the sounds are separate, like "Mad Dog in Yoruba" which is much more of a Brazilian-sounding song, or the Del the Funky Homosapien-featuring "Maralém," which is much more of a golden age hip hop-sounding song. But often the styles blend together seamlessly, like "Todos Os Terreiros," which is in Portuguese but otherwise sounds like a lost Native Tongues classic. The group's name doesn't just nail their sound; the album title, Throwback to the Future, does too. These songs do mostly sound like the kind of rap that came out between 1989 and 1994, but they also sound entirely in the now. Maybe that's because the influence of that sound can be heard today in Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Or maybe it's because, like Ladybug told Bandcamp, "We’re not defined by time and space. We just go with the flow."
GOAT have been described on this website by Bill as "Sweden’s premier voodoo disco psych band" and "Sweden’s #1 psychedelic afrobeat freakout band." Even if you're not familiar with GOAT, you can imagine all the freaky tribal dances that have gone down to their music. Their third album Requiem is still cut from the same Eastern-inspired psychedelic cloth, but GOAT have mellowed out a bit this time around. The band calls it their "folk" album, and that's pretty on point. There's a lot more usage of acoustic guitars, and these songs are more built for sitting around a campfire than dancing around a bonfire. It still sounds like a cartoonish acid trip, but it's a really gorgeous record (and "gorgeous" is not exactly a word I would use to describe the first two). Among many other instruments, the album makes great use of flute, which has always paired well with somber psych-folk.
I'm not sure what the weather is like over in Sweden right now, but here in New York, leaves are changing colors and temperatures are getting brisker, and Requiem is one of this year's true Fall Albums. It's perfect for when you're lying around on a Sunday, letting the October breeze come through your windows, or walking around a park with your headphones on. Or if you're squeezing in a few more outdoor dinner parties before winter, Requiem is a great soundtrack for those too (especially if your guests are all on acid). It's the first time I'd call a GOAT album relaxing, but that doesn't mean there's not still a lot going on. Most songs are layered with tons of instruments to the point where I'm not even sure where every sound I'm hearing actually comes from. GOAT are still a complex, challenging, enigmatic band, they've just found a way to be a pleasant one too.