Five Notable Releases of the Week (2/2)
Can you believe it's February already? It still feels like the New Year just started. As usual, first weekend of February means the Super Bowl, and Justin Timberlake is playing the Super Bowl Halftime Show this year, his first time performing at it since you know what. (Last weekend the Grammys and this weekend the Super Bowl Halftime Show. The two best back to back weekends of music on national television! ...or something like that.) Justin Timberlake is performing just two days after releasing his new album Man of the Woods, which has already gotten some mixed reception (more on that below). For more on the Super Bowl (from a music perspective), go HERE.
JT's album may be the biggest album out this week but it's not the best -- that would either be the new Hookworms or the debut from Ex Hex/Flesh Wounds offshoot Bat Fangs. Those albums and more make up my picks for Notable Releases this week. Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Hookworms' first two albums, Pearl Mystic and The Hum, came out a year apart, and their third album Microshift comes nearly four years after its predecessor. It also almost didn't happen at all, after some setbacks including frontman MJ's studio getting destroyed in a flood. But Hookworms are back and the wait was totally worth it; Microshift is their biggest leap as a band yet. The first two records showed off a knack for motorik, drony psych and MJ's spirited, often shouted vocals. They aren't inaccessible, and they certainly don't lack energy, but Hookworms have never written real-deal pop songs like they did for Microshift. Big, bold synths are in the forefront, and MJ shows off that he can really sing in a traditional sense. It's still psychedelic, underground-minded music, and some of the songs are still cut from the same cloth as the earlier albums (like the krauty "Opener" and the noisy "Boxing Day"), but most of Microshift is swinging for the fences in a way that Hookworms never have before. The first three songs, "Negative Space," "Static Resistance," and "Ullswater," have MJ belting like he's writing these songs to be played in arenas, and they've got a synth-rock bounce that recalls prime-era LCD Soundsystem and The Rapture. In the early/mid 2000s, those were true underground bands that threatened to overtake the mainstream, and that's what Hookworms sound like now -- even if it's less likely for an indie rock band to do that in 2018's musical climate. Elsewhere on Microshift, Hookworms combine their newfound pop smarts with the droning ambience of their early records on "The Soft Season," and they beat present-day Animal Collective at their own game with the sparkly psych-pop of "Each Time We Pass." It's understandable (but not deserved) that Hookworms went a little overlooked outside of niche psych circles in the past, but if you like alternative pop music and you're not listening to Microshift, you owe it to yourself to change that.
Betsy Wright has led a fruitful career that's included playing in The Fire Tapes, Chain & the Gang, Childballads, and more, but she really came into the modern-day indie rock spotlight as the bassist, backup singer, and sometimes songwriter of Ex Hex, the band formed in 2013 by indie vet Mary Timony. Betsy was always the one adding an extra jolt of energy to Ex Hex's live shows, and she quickly became as integral to Ex Hex's appeal as Mary Timony. Now Betsy is leading her own new band, Bat Fangs, and their self-titled debut album is just as instantly appealing as Ex Hex's debut was. Betsy is backed by Laura King, who also drums in Flesh Wounds and has played in Superchunk frontman Mac MacCaughan's backing band (Superchunk is touring with Bat Fangs this year and they also have a close relationship with Ex Hex), and the two bonded over a shared love of glam, power pop, and hair metal, similar influences to the ones you hear in Ex Hex. The album is nine songs long, and every single song is a pure sugar rush of swaggering riffs, soaring solos, and Betsy's indie rock-style voice that keeps Bat Fangs from actually sounding like VH1 Classic. It's a great mix, the perfect balance between cheesy nostalgia and modern day cool. Bat Fangs recently made a playlist that features stuff like Judas Priest and Poison as well as The Breeders and Superchunk, and if you're into all four of those bands, Bat Fangs is for you. The influence of the latter two keeps them from going into full-on bombast territory, while the influence of the former two lets them abandon their inhibitions in a way that self-conscious indie rock bands often fail to do. Bat Fangs make those two sounds work so naturally together -- and without a hint of irony -- that you forget these types of music were once at odds with each other.
Rhye appeared in 2012 with a few excellent singles that quickly gained buzz and caused a lot of people to wonder who was behind the then-mysterious project. It turned out to be Michael Milosh (who previously recorded as Milosh) and Robin Hannibal (of Quadron), and when they released their debut album Woman the following year, it had no trouble living up to the promise of the early singles. After that, Rhye would do some touring here and there, but never got around to making a new album until now, five years later. If you thought all that time away would change their sound up, it didn't. Blood picks up right where Woman left off, with the same type of downtempo production, smooth vocals, and "Sade meets The xx" comparisons. The songs still sound as gorgeous as the ones on their debut, but it's a little disappointing to wait this long for a followup and not get any type of progression from the last album. Still, there's no denying that Rhye have their own sound and it's not every day that an artist comes along with something this unmistakable and this rich-sounding.
Open Here is the followup to Commontime, one of our favorite albums of 2016, and comparing it to its predecessor, Field Music's David Brewis said, "Where Commontime felt like a distillation of all of the elements that make up Field Music, this feels like an expansion, as if we’re pushing in every direction at once to see how far we can go." That's a good way to describe Open Here, but it doesn't necessarily work in Field Music's favor. On Commontime, all of the many sounds that make up Field Music's DNA (Talking Heads, Discipline-era King Crimson, XTC, Beatles, etc) came together in a way where you could pick out the influences but it sounded distinctly like Field Music. On Open Here, the influences are pulled apart more to the point where certain songs sound exactly like other bands. For example, "Count It Up" is a dead ringer for early '80s Talking Heads, and the title track is strikingly similar to mid-'60s string-laden Paul McCartney ballads. To their credit, Field Music's ambition and musicianship are both still off the charts, and they still try to fit more ideas into this one album than some bands attempt in a whole career. With flutes, horns, strings, tight vocal harmonies and wildly complex rhythms all meticulously arranged, Open Here is stunning on a technical level. It just proves that, if there's a point where Field Music's ambition starts to boil over, this might be it.
My full review of review of Justin Timberlake's new "modern Americana with 808s" album Man of the Woods is HERE. Read an excerpt:
It's true what Justin said, Man of the Woods is not a country album -- it actually sounds a lot more like classic Justin Timberlake than you might expect from the title, the trailer, and the Chris Stapleton feature -- but it is more concerned with Americana, roots music, and guitars than he ever has been before. And for someone like me who didn't really hop on the JT bandwagon until he started writing songs like "LoveStoned," that's just not what I want from Justin and I'm not really sure he's even that good at it. But I get what he's trying to do and sometimes it works out better than I thought it would. He opens the album with "Filthy," which is one of Man of the Woods' best songs. It opens with a neo-funk rock intro that sounds somewhere between Anderson .Paak and Pharrell (Pharrell actually didn't have a hand in this song, but for the first time in JT's career, almost every song on the album was co-written and co-produced by The Neptunes), and then it goes into a thick, dirty Timbaland/Danja bassline that would've worked on any previous Justin Timberlake album. From "Filthy," Justin kinda eases you in to his "modern Americana with 808s" approach. Second track "Midnight Summer Jam" starts out as another groovy, classic-JT style song, and eventually it mixes in bluesy harmonica in a way that works out shockingly well. He goes even deeper into Americana but still retains a little of his classic sound with the likable blues rock of "Sauce," and then the subsequent title track is where he goes off the deep end. It's the album's first truly bad song, one that attempts to combine folk and pop but ends up sounding like the Steve Miller Band.
Read the rest HERE.