The main event today is clearly Kendrick Lamar's new album, it'd be understandable if you didn't listen to anything else. Still, there's other stuff out today worth checking out too, in case you do need more than just Kendrick in your life. (Though it is admittedly a very slow week... which should be extra nice for Kendrick's first-week sales.)
My favorites this week also include a new (indie) pop album, an ambient folk album, a black metal album, and some club-ready dance music.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
There's a good argument to be made that Sweden's Little Dragon were ahead of their time. The style of electronic indie pop that they've been making for over a decade can be heard in tons of newer artists that fill festival lineups around the country. Little Dragon don't come off as elder statesmen, though -- they come off as contemporaries. They get bigger and bigger, their new albums always deliver, and they collaborate with a number of newer festival-crowd-pleasing electronic musicians, like SBTRKT, Odesza, Kaytranada, and Flume (not to mention they appear on recent albums by the forever-relevant Gorillaz and Big Boi). Season High, Little Dragon's latest triumph, is continued proof of how timeless this band can be. On a song like album opener "Celebrate," they're delivering a modern update on '80s Michael Jackson. On the thumping "Sweet," they're giving Disclosure a run for their money. On "Don't Cry," they're making atmospheric R&B that wouldn't be out of place on a new Drake/Rihanna collab. These are all sounds that are everywhere right now, and Little Dragon does them with such craft, with so much attention to detail, and without ever sounding like anyone other than themselves.
The biggest folk music phase of my life happened around 2008, and it was due in no small part to that year's Fleet Foxes and Tallest Man on Earth albums, and the Bon Iver album from the year prior (which Jagjaguwar reissued in '08). Those were my Big Three, and they set me off on a hunt for anybody who was considered a "similar artist." One of those was Irish folk singer Fionn Regan, who at the time had just one album, 2006's The End of History. (I'm actually almost positive I first heard his music on a Bella Union label sampler called White Winter Hymnals, which of course was named after a Fleet Foxes song and also included a different Fleet Foxes song.) Fionn followed that album with 2010's rock-inspired The Shadow of an Empire, which made me quickly lose interest in him and kinda forget about his music. Interestingly enough, the very thing that finally brought him back into my consciousness was Bon Iver. Bon Iver sampled "Abacus" off The End of History on "00000 Million" off last year's excellent 22, A Million, and he later performed the song live with Fionn in Berlin. Just a few months later, Fionn announced a new album, his first in half a decade.
The Meetings of the Waters isn't so much a return to Fionn's early days, but arguably a more interesting version of it. Listening back to The End of History now, sometimes it sounds a little too straightforward and a little too peppy. The Meetings of the Waters is more melancholic and atmospheric, more actually similar to For Emma, Forever Ago than The End of History was. This didn't happen all of a sudden though. It turns out The Shadow of an Empire was a fluke -- the two albums that came after it both stay true to his mellow folk sound. The most recent, 2012's The Bunkhouse Vol. 1: Anchor Black Tattoo, was recorded by himself in his home studio and it's the most stripped-down album he's ever made. The Bunkhouse kind of feels like a palate-cleansing album, a necessary move before he could make The Meetings of the Waters. This new one is somber, but it's not exactly minimal. And it's his most lush-sounding music yet. When he does do a full-band song like "Book of the Moon," it's more artful than the more standard rock of The Shadow of an Empire (or, as on "Babushka-Yai Ya," more chaotic). Fionn also experiments with ambient music. On the one-minute interlude "愛 Ai" and the 12-minute closer "常に愛 Tsuneni Ai," he nears Brian Eno territory, and other songs like "Up Into the Rafters" have Fionn combining ambience with his folk sensibilities. As Meetings proves, he's got the ability to do both of these sounds well.
Colorado's Nightbringer have become staples of US black metal, though they rarely sound like what you might picture when you hear the phrase "US black metal." It often implies a noticeable influence of post-rock or shoegaze, which Nightbringer appear to have virtually no interest in. Nightbringer pull more from Emperor's brand of epic, symphonic black metal, and they do it pretty damn well. The drumming on Terra Damnata is furious but nuanced, blast beat after blast beat without ever sounding messy. The guitars just wail, with leads that are closer in spirit to classical-minded prog than to your average USBM band. And the vocals can either be blood-curling screams of pure evil, or monstrous bellows. Made even more epic by the polished production of frequent collaborator Dave Otero (who also works with Cobalt, Cattle Decapitation, and more), Terra Damnata never fails to be a total beast of an album.
The announcement for Actress' 2014 album Ghettoville was accompanied by a statement that fueled speculation over whether or not it would be his last. Thankfully, it was not actually his last and today he returns with a followup, AZD. The UK electronic musician described the album's recent single "Dancing in the Smoke" as "that moment in the club, in the side room which is less habituated where the music is more diffused from the main club, smoked out and disorientating," and that's honestly a good description for what most of AZD sounds like. Actress is making real-deal dance music, but it's always minimal, hazy, and often does in fact sound like it's coming from the other room. It goes nowhere near the bombast of EDM-festival DJs, while also avoiding the "songwriter" electronic music that many of his peers have embraced in recent years. Actress may tour with Animal Collective, but his music still caters to club-goers.
My first-impressions review of this album is up and here's an excerpt:
At this point, every Kendrick Lamar album is an event. When DAMN. hit the web a little early last night, there was an onslaught of tweeters jumping to call it another classic (and just a few haters) before it was even officially available anywhere. That’s not too surprising; DAMN. is one of the most immediate things Kendrick has ever done. Every song slaps you in the face on first listen. Kendrick’s delivery remains unparalleled by anyone in the game right now. The production is hot, the rhymes are hotter, and early listens already reveal a few lyrical mic drops.
...One thing is clear off the bat — this is nothing like To Pimp A Butterfly.
Read the rest HERE.