Notable Releases of the Week (9/13)
Hey all, I'm in Chicago for Riot Fest today (stay tuned for coverage!) so I'm gonna make this quick and get right to the new albums. I picked five that I highlighted below; Rob reviewed the new Charli XCX album here; and Bill reviewed Gruff Rhys, Metronomy, Belle & Sebastian, Pernice Brothers, and the Stereolab reissues in Bill's Indie Basement.
And here are even more notable albums out this week: Pixies, Jenny Hval, Korn, Subhumans, Conway, Avoid One Thing, Devendra Banhart, Cockroach Clan, Nightfell, Kazu (of Blonde Redhead), Alex Cameron, Mike Patton & Jean-Claude Vannier, Haunter, Cloud Rat, Big Scenic Nowhere, HarborLights, Jeremy Ivey, Warish, Eye Flys, Twin Peaks, (Sandy) Alex G, and the Save Face/Graduating Life split. The new Indian Summer compilation on Numero Group is out today too.
Read on for my five picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
JPEGMAFIA has had one of the most thrilling rises in hip hop over the past year and a half or so. Ever since releasing his sleeper-hit album Veteran in the very beginning of 2018, he continued to be omnipresent and unstoppable, by proving his energetic live show was just as appealing as his experimental recordings, and by releasing a handful of great singles and collaborations with an eclectic variety of artists that includes HEALTH, Flume, Denzel Curry, Injury Reserve, Tkay Maidza, Ho99o9, Channel Tres, and more, and it's soon to include Danny Brown too. So, needless to say, his new album All My Heroes Are Cornballs comes with a serious amount of anticipation, much more than the slow-rising Veteran came with at first. And Peggy has no trouble delivering. The singer/rapper/producer's new album can at times recall the soulful, collage-like production of recent Earl Sweatshirt and MIKE albums, Brockhampton's art-rap, Frank Ocean's psychedelic soul, or Danny Brown and Denzel Curry's punk-friendly mosh rap, but it overall never really sounds like any of those things. "When it's all said and done, I hope people listen to this and know that I went into this thing wanting to make the most me thing I could," Peggy recently told Billboard, and that's exactly what it sounds like he did. Cornballs will appeal to fans of other recent left-of-the-dial rap, but it's in a lane of its own, not just within hip hop but within music in general. And for such genuinely weird music, it's pretty easy to listen to. Veteran felt more overtly outré, but Cornballs sees Peggy getting really good at balancing the experimental with the accessible. That's not to say that he's trying to cash in on his recent success and make a radio-rap album. If anything, it's the opposite. He has repeatedly described the album as a "disappointment," because he thinks it might not be the album his fans were expecting or hoping for. Whether or not he's sort of trolling, he's definitely selling himself short. I think this is exactly the album his fans want, and I think it'll make him a lot of new fans too.
On their first two albums, Atlanta's Microwave were an emo-leaning alternative rock band who owed a lot to home state heroes Manchester Orchestra, but hadn't really found a sound they could call their own. But on their third album and first for Pure Noise Records, Death Is A Warm Blanket, that all changes. Pure Noise is a label that's often known for hardcore and metalcore, and with Death Is A Warm Blanket, Microwave don't sound out of place on Pure Noise at all. This time around, they're citing bands like Fear Before the March of Flames and The Chariot as influences, and they've come out with what is by far their heaviest album. It turns out vocalist Nathan Hardy not only has a great Andy Hull-like quiver, but also a guttural scream, and Microwave also approached Death Is A Warm Blanket with an arsenal of riffs that rival plenty of their new metallic labelmates. They might be new to this heavier sound, but they're already pros at it. If anything, it suits them even better than their old sound. Death Is A Warm Blanket is a firm declaration of "this is who we are now." It's a bold, confident new introduction to an already-established band, and it's not everyday that you see a band drastically reshape their sound and get heavier in the process. (Though there are a few other recent examples, like Cloud Nothings' Attack on Memory, Citizen's Everybody Is Going to Heaven, and Arctic Monkeys' Humbug, and if you like any or all of those albums, you're probably going to like this one too.) And Death Is A Warm Blanket isn't Microwave's best album yet just because it's heavier. Stylistic preference is a matter of taste, but the depth of the songwriting and the sonic diversity are undeniably stronger on Death Is A Warm Blanket than either of its predecessors, regardless of what your favorite genre of music is. Along with The Chariot and Fear Before, Microwave also cited a diverse list of influences for the new album that spanned from Sneaker Pimps to Gorillaz to Nine Inch Nails to Kanye, and you can tell that Death Is A Warm Blanket aspires to be something that transcends genre. It doesn't come off like Microwave just set out to make a metal record; there's just as much of a focus on atmosphere, quietness, and other elements that make it more than just "the heavy record." These are, point blank, the best songs Microwave have ever written, and if you like loud rock music of any kind, you should be listening to them.
Sampa The Great was born in Zambia and raised in Botswana before first moving to California, and then Australia, and eventually back home to Zambia. "I became the diaspora, which was a perspective I had sympathised with but didn’t think I’d have myself," she told The Guardian. "I didn’t expect to be the displaced one." As she traveled the world, furthered her career, and picked up co-signs from major artists like Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar, the music industry tried to put her in a box, listeners started to see her as someone she herself didn't identify with, and it made her step back from music for a bit. But now, two years after her last mixtape (2017's Birds and the BEE9), she's back with a newfound confidence, a new sense of self, and her first proper album, the breathtaking The Return. On it, she manages to fuse the music and cultures of just about all the places she's lived. There's traditional South African folk, tribal music, and slang, along with Afrobeat, American hip hop, jazz, soul, funk, R&B, spoken word, and more. It's a true melting pot of an album, and like any melting pot, the different flavors don't feel scattered; they feel like necessary ingredients of one unique whole. "I've managed to create home within myself. When I'm not at home, I'm still home," she tells NPR. She's not a diaspora anymore; she has figured out how to be at home wherever she is, and she's become an even better singer, rapper, and songwriter in the process.
Acoustic guitar has always suited Chelsea Wolfe well. She prominently featured it on one of her earliest breakthroughs, 2010's The Grime and the Glow, which was closer to Grouper-esque ambient folk than to the rock and metal-adjacent albums Chelsea is most famous for, and she returned to it for 2012's Unknown Rooms: A Collection of Acoustic Songs, a great album in its own right, even if it felt a bit more like a "side project" compared to her more ambitious full-band albums. It's also her weapon of choice on the new Birth of Violence, only this time, you would never say she was dialing anything back. Birth of Violence feels just as fleshed-out and complete as her last three albums, and the greater emphasis on acoustic guitar is just as welcome as it was every other time Chelsea relied heavily on the instrument. On paper, this might seem like a "return to form" or a combination of "old" Chelsea Wolfe with "new" Chelsea Wolfe, but neither of those things are really the case. Birth of Violence feels like a step forward. The earthy, folky sound of the acoustic guitar has always made for a wonderful contrast with Chelsea's otherworldly voice, and that is very much the case on these songs, but while The Grime and the Glow and Unknown Rooms felt like small, tucked-away gems, Birth of Violence feels grand and majestic. Every Chelsea Wolfe album has been slightly different from the last, and great in its own way, and Birth of Violence is no exception. It feels like the next chapter of her consistently compelling story, and one that continues to live in its own world, the same world Chelsea began building on The Grime and the Glow. Nine years and seven albums later, that world is just as alluring as ever.
Philly's Crypt Sermon had one of the more buzzed-about trad-doom debuts in recent memory with 2015's Out of the Garden, but instead of quickly capitalizing on that buzz, they stayed quiet for a while, and are now just finally releasing a followup album four and a half years later. And it was worth the wait, because The Ruins of Fading Light is far and away a better album than its predecessor. There's still plenty of Candlemass worship at play on Ruins, but similar to what Pallbearer did when they made the leap from their 2012 debut Sorrow and Extinction to 2014's Foundations of Burden, Crypt Sermon have now figured out how to bring epicus doomicus metallicus into the 21st century and turn it into something that feels new and familiar at the same time. As much as vocalist Brooks Wilson's howl can often feel directly inspired by Candlemass and their ilk, his shouted hooks can bear a striking resemblance to Chester Bennington, posing the question: what if Linkin Park played doom metal? (The answer, it turns out, is that it would sound pretty good!) Comparisons to other bands aside, though, what makes The Ruins of Fading Light stand out from the masses of trad-doom revival albums -- including Crypt Sermon's own debut -- is how memorable the songs are. Ruins isn't just about rehashing old doom riffs, it's about writing genuinely catchy choruses that stick in your head long after the album's finished playing. As such a strictly-defined genre, doom bands can often back themselves into a corner that's not easy to get out of, but Crypt Sermon sound like a band who wants to leave their mark not just on a specific subgenre but on heavy rock music in general.