Notable Releases of the Week (3/15)
Greetings from Austin! We're in the midst of SXSW craziness as we speak, and if you're down here too come hang with us at our free day party at Mohawk today (with Amanda Palmer, Laura Jane Grace, Strand of Oaks, and more) and at our Saturday night show at Scoot Inn (with Trail of Dead, Charly Bliss, and more).
Before I get to this week's eight picks, some honorable mentions: The Brian Jonestown Massacre, Oozing Wound, Matmos, Elizabeth Colour Wheel, Low Life, The Faint, Light Conductor (members of The Besnard Lakes and Young Galaxy), The Cinematic Orchestra, Teenage Bottlerocket, Chief Keef & Zaytoven, and Dexter Story.
Read on for my eight picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Karen O and Danger Mouse met each other as far back as 2005, and legend has it that the idea to collaborate came from Karen drunk-dialing Danger Mouse in 2008, but it didn't come to fruition until now. The result of their collaboration is not just a meeting of two very talented minds, but also the first album Karen has written since giving birth. Yeah Yeah Yeahs went on hiatus after touring behind their 2013 album Mosquito, then Karen released her stripped-back 2014 solo album Crush Songs (which was actually recorded about seven years earlier), and then about two years after Karen gave birth, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs reissued their classic debut album Fever To Tell and reunited for shows in support of the reissue. YYYs are still playing shows this year too, but it was this Danger Mouse collab that finally got Karen writing again, and it sounds like it was a really freeing experience. "Danger Mouse and I wrote this music purely out of artistic exploration and the spirit of collaboration," Karen said. "It’s the first music I’ve written since the rite of passage of bringing a life into the world. Having a kid was like communing with the grander scheme of nature, the cycles of life, the transformative power of the mother. These themes felt timeless, yet more topical than ever in the modern world, so cut off and abstracted from its origins."
You can definitely feel those themes coming through (and, as her YYYs bandmate Nick Zinner -- who also played on this album -- observed, the theme of "being a woman in the age of Trump") on this album, especially on its best song "Woman." "Woman" isn't really like anything else on the album. It's the song that sounds most like it could be a Yeah Yeah Yeahs song, a stomping anthem with Karen bringing her voice the kind of distorted yell she brought it to on Fever to Tell. It's forceful and powerful and so simple yet so effective. "I'm a woman, what you see!" is all Karen yells in the chorus, and it's all she needs to make for the album's strongest hook.
Most of the album is more cinematic and psychedelic than "Woman" though. It's got Nancy Sinatra Bond Theme vibes with sweeping strings and dramatic builds. It's not the first time that Danger Mouse made an album that sounds like it could soundtrack a film, and his arrangements are as lush as ever (and very much in the realm of trademark Danger Mouse). The nine-minute title track which opens the record (and which was the lead single) sets the stage perfectly. It's not easy to open your album with a nine-minute song, but Karen O and Danger Mouse earn every second of that lengthy piece, and they couldn't have picked a better song on Lux Prima to introduce the album's vibe with. That psychedelic, cinematic sound continues on most songs, and the duo find interesting ways to toy with it. "Turn The Light" sees them adding in chiming acoustic guitars before giving the song a jazz-pop twist, "Leopard's Tongue" gives their sound kind of a mid-'60s rock kick, and closer "Nox Lumina" brings in glitchy electronic pop and another of the album's catchiest hooks. My personal favorite twist on the album though is penultimate song "Reveries." It starts out with Karen doing her best impression of crackly '70s bedroom folk (and she's really good at it!), and by the end Danger Mouse coats the song in his film score-esque strings. Its an even more of an outlier on this album than "Woman," and its placement near the end of the album is very effective. Just when you think you've got Lux Prima figured it out, Karen O and Danger Mouse hit you with their most unpredictable song yet.
The Comet Is Coming is one of the many projects of current-day UK jazz leader Shabaka Hutchings (who also leads Sons of Kemet and Shabaka and the Ancestors), and it's his most spacey and psychedelic. Their sophomore album (and first for the legendary Impulse! Records) comes out today, and features Kate Tempest on a song. I posted a longer review of the album earlier this week and you can read that HERE.
What do you do when over half your band members leave including your singer, and you lose the record label deal you had just signed a year earlier? In Noisem's case, you make the filthiest record of your career.
Noisem were on a high after releasing their killer 2015 album Blossoming Decay (which many people including myself named one of the best metal albums of that year), and it led to them inking a deal with Relapse. Then vocalist Tyler Carnes, bassist Billy Carnes, and guitarist Yago Ventura parted the band “due to quite a few points of contention," the Relapse deal ended before Noisem ever released any music with them, and the band stayed relatively quiet while they worked on Cease To Exist and ended up signing to another venerable metal label, 20 Buck Spin. Usually I'm skeptical when bands move forward with a different lead vocalist, but current Noisem vocalist Ben Anft has a lot of history with the band (he was already their vocalist once before when they were called Necropsy and still in high school), and it's a little easier to switch singers when your vocals are all unintelligible screams anyway. Anft doesn't sound much like Tyler Carnes though. Carnes had more of a death-y hardcore bark that worked well with Noisem's crossover thrash leanings, while Anft's shrieks are dripping with venom, and they're the perfect fit for this more chaotic record. Noisem records have always whipped by, but Cease to Exist puts the pedal to the metal in a way this band never has before. The first time I heard it, I listened to it four times in a row, and I probably would've gone for a fifth if life's other commitments didn't get in the way. This thing whips serious ass, and it feels like a peak in this band's already-ass-whipping discography. If only all band drama could result in something this good.
There aren't many modern bands as steeped in hardcore cred as Baltimore's Angel Du$t. Their awesomely-named 2016 sophomore album Rock the Fuck On Forever has deservedly been hailed as one of the finest hardcore albums of late, and when they're not busy with Angel Du$t, singer Justice Tripp fronts Trapped Under Ice while drummer Daniel Fang and guitarists Brendan Yates and Pat McCrory play in Turnstile (and the four of them — including bassist Jeff Caffey — play in other punk bands as well). Following in the footsteps of Turnstile who signed to major rock/metal label Roadrunner last year (and released one of our top 10 favorite albums of 2018), Angel Du$t have now also joined the ranks of Korn and Slipknot on Roadrunner, and their highly anticipated followup to Rock The Fuck On Forever is out on the label now. And there's almost nothing hardcore about it.
Make no mistake, though. This is not an example of a major label stepping in and changing a band's sound -- I doubt Roadrunner would ask a band to tone down the heaviness and I even more doubt that these guys would let anybody tell them what to do. This is an example of a group of musicians who have been playing in hardcore bands for a long time and want to stretch their wings. On Pretty Buff, they embrace acoustic guitars and the jangly sounds of bands like The dB's, Violent Femmes, and R.E.M., and in some ways it's even more punk than making another punk record. Punk is supposed to be about not conforming, and Angel Du$t have definitely not conformed to anything on Pretty Buff. It's probably not the record that their mosh-loving fans wanted, and it's probably not the record that's going to bring them to Korn/Slipknot levels of fame either. It's totally out of left field, which is what makes it so badass. And it doesn't sound like much other jangle pop out there either. As much as Angel Du$t embrace these softer sounds, their rhythm section can't help but play like a driving punk band, they can't help but pile on layers of clattering percussion, and Justice can't help but sing with a punk sneer. Real Estate and Mac DeMarco this is not.
And it's that clash of the band's roots and the new direction that makes Pretty Buff so exciting. They make a huge leap from their punk roots but can't (or won't) fully escape them, and the result is an album that doesn't sound like many other punk bands or like many other jangle pop bands. It reminds me of songs like Ramones' "Don't Come Close" or Husker Du's "Green Eyes," songs where aggressive bands attempted something more tender and landed on a thrilling middle ground. Those songs were anomalies on their respective albums, but Pretty Buff is a full album of songs like those songs. It's the album for when you still wanna rock the fuck on forever, but maybe just need to tone it down for a second.
Maxo is only 23 but his mind is old. The rising LA rapper (not to be confused with rising Houston rapper Maxo Kream, NYC electronic artist Maxo, or anyone else) started his rap career just a few short years ago, but he already raps with the kind of wise, world-weary delivery that some artists don't develop until they've been at it for twice as long. He's a skilled rapper in the way "skilled rapper" was defined two and a half decades ago, and he's clearly a student of the classics. The last song on his Def Jam debut Lil Big Man is an ode to his West Coast rap forefather DJ Quik (titled "Quiktoldme"), and the hook on that song references Quik's classic "Dollaz + Sense," a song that came out the year before Maxo was born. Lil Big Man will probably appeal to people who listen to '90s West Coast rap, but it's not really a "throwback." The production is warm and crisp in an entirely modern way -- the source material is still classic jazz and soul but this isn't boom bap or G-Funk. Take recent single "In My Penny's" -- with its atmospheric bass and snares that sound like a drawer snapping shut, it's closer to something Flying Lotus might make than to DJ Quik. And when Maxo raps, it's clear that he's got an ear for the classics as well as an ear for what works today. He reminds me of guys like Joey Bada$$ or Saba or good kid, m.A.A.d city-era Kendrick. He raps his ass off, he tells introspective stories and tackles some heavy topics, and his words and delivery are both sharp. Lil Big Man doesn't have any immediate bangers, but it's full of songs that will have you leaning in and listening closely to Maxo's every word.
Wanna feel old? The Bouncing Souls are turning 30 this year. And to celebrate, they're putting out a book, going on an extensive anniversary tour, and releasing this new six-song EP. They recorded it with the great modern-day punk producer Will Yip, and Yip helps the Souls capture the feel of their most-loved records and bring their classic sound into the now. The Bouncing Souls have never really changed things up too drastically, but the six songs on Crucial Moments hit a little harder than their records have in a while. Singles like "Crucial Moments" and "Favorite Everything" are especially hooky, while "1989" is the closest they've come to their melodic hardcore roots in a while. The EP is still overall basically what you'd expect at this point, but it's no small feat that they're still going and still making songs that feel this fresh.
Pavement frontman Stephen Malkmus has finally released his long-in-the-works electronic album, and though he does indeed make use of synthesizers and drum machines, he's still got a fair share of guitars on the record. Read a full review in Bill's Indie Basement.