Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/12)
Compared to the onslaught of new albums that came out last week, this week is much slower. So, in addition to the new stuff out today, maybe you wanna catch up on one of the many worthy albums that came out last Friday like Sheck Wes or Fucked Up or Author & Punisher or one of the many others.
As for the stuff out this week, a few honorable mentions: Ella Mai, Quavo, the semi-surprise Usher and Zaytoven album (with features by Future and Gunna), Basement, Matthew Dear, Elvis Costello, Colter Wall, Calvin Johnson (produced by Patrick Carney and featuring Michelle Branch on several songs), John Grant, Primitive Weapons, and The Dodos.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
After graduating from his lo-fi roots and releasing his breakthrough 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo, Kurt Vile cracked open his sound for 2013's sprawling, sedative Wakin On A Pretty Daze, before returning to more traditional song structures and exploring new sounds (like jaunty piano) on 2015's b’lieve i’m going down. The latter had some of his best songs yet (like "Pretty Pimpin"), but sometimes its whimsical side went a little too off the deep end and simplistic piano didn't work the same wonders for Kurt as his distinct, spellbinding guitar work. Three long years later (and with a collaborative album with Courtney Barnett under his belt), Kurt is back holding his axe, and he's made Bottle It In, which sort of acts as a spiritual sequel to Wakin On A Pretty Daze. Like that album, it's full of songs that near or pass the ten-minute mark, and even when the songs lock into a repetitive groove, they don't feel extra lengthy. Each minute of Kurt's gently fiery arpeggios and lazy drawl are worth it, as these are songs that suck you in their world and make you want to stay there. "I've always had a soft spot for repetition," Kurt sings on Bottle It In highlight "One Trick Ponies," and it's a line that could double as the album's mission statement.
Kurt toys with his sound a few times on Bottle It In, like with background synths or by tossing in a banjo or a harmonica, but for the most part, he spends this nearly-80-minute long-player making breezy, patient folk rock in his time-tested, unique style. Save for the more rockin' album opener "Loading Zones," he mostly stays away from the bigger-sounding choruses of Smoke Ring and b'lieve in favor of a more laid-back, meandering approach to songwriting, but that's not a bad thing. The songwriting on Bottle It In is some of Kurt's strongest. The songs are sneakily addictive; even if they don't feel monumental at first, you may find yourself humming them later. One of the finest examples is "Bassackwards," which starts at point A and just kind of treks along in a forward motion until it fades away almost ten minutes later. On this album, Kurt sort of writes songs the way jam bands often play live -- the song will have a familiar hook to return to but as it goes on, it takes on a life of its own. It may not be in-the-moment improvisation that you're hearing on Bottle It In, but it's still a psychedelic living organism of a song that actually gets more captivating as it goes on. The progression Kurt makes on this album from his earlier material is more subtle than the ones he made on the other albums he released this decade, but this is an album that sounds at peace with that. It's Kurt Vile doing what he does best, and doing it really, really well.
When St. Vincent was mixing her great 2017 album MASSEDUCTION, she and pianist Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman) (one of the many guest musicians on the album) recorded another version of the album, just the two of them, with just piano and vocals. The two of them have also performed live this way a few times, and now they're releasing that album (under the similar title MassEducation). "We neither rehearsed nor spoke about how to approach any song, but rather played two to three live takes, picked the best one and trusted in the feeling of the moment. It was fast, intuitive … raw," Annie Clark said, and that's exactly how it sounds. These aren't fleshed-out re-imaginings like "Fast Slow Disco" was; they just kinda sound like two musicians running through some songs with a microphone in the room, recording whatever happens and running with it. Given how obsessed over and meticulously arranged MASSEDUCTION sounds, it's cool to hear the songs in this very primitive form, and it reminds you that at the core of St. Vincent's multi-layered art pop is always a song that succeeds without all the fancy stuff. (The only one that doesn't really succeed without the fancy stuff is the first half of "Pills" -- that kind of song really needs the frenzied arrangement it has on MASSEDUCTION.) It's no surprise that ballads like "Slow Disco" and "Happy Birthday, Johnny" work well in this format, as the MASSEDUCTION versions aren't drastically different, but you may be surprised to hear how breathtaking songs like "Fear the Future" and "Young Lover" sound performed like this. Another difference between MassEducation and MASSEDUCTION is the track order, and that's a more significant difference than you might expect. On MASSEDUCTION, opener "Hang On Me" sounds very introductory, like the album hasn't fully kicked in yet. But that song closes MassEducation, and it's a more powerful, emotionally resonant song in this stripped-down form, and a hell of a way to close an album. Projects like this can often function only as curios for diehards and completists, but MassEducation is more worthy and universally appealing than that. You may already know these songs, but in this form, they take on a totally new life.
John Rossiter formed Young Jesus in Chicago nearly a decade ago, and at one point the band almost broke up, but then Rossiter relocated to LA, put together a new Young Jesus lineup, and has been on the rise ever since. With the now-solidified lineup of Rossiter, keyboardist Eric Shevrin, bassist Marcel Borbon, and drummer Kern Haug, they made 2017's very solid S/T, which gained them the attention of Saddle Creek, who signed them and re-released the album earlier this year. That same lineup quickly made their second album together (and Young Jesus' fourth overall), The Whole Thing Is Just There, which is their first recorded for Saddle Creek and some of their best work yet. A lot of modern bands get compared to "'90s indie rock," which Young Jesus also sound like, but there aren't many bands today making music like this. They tend to make long songs (most songs on this album are around the six or seven minute mark, and album closer "Gulf" is twenty minutes), and the '90s indie rock they sound like is stuff like the eccentric, stretched-out jams on Built to Spill's Perfect From Now On, Sonic Youth's noise excursions on A Thousand Leaves, or Slint's rough-around-the-edges post/math rock on Spiderland. The album goes off into dissonant, jazzy, improvisational territory (and current drummer Kern Haug is the perfect guy to handle stuff like this), or aggressive post-hardcore with Rossiter bringing his voice to a scratchy roar. But there are also tender singer/songwriter moments that are just as effective as the louder and noisier stuff. Whatever mode he's working in, Rossiter's songwriting is always full of passion, and he's increasingly becoming one of those singers with a very distinct voice. They may sound like the '90s, but once you dive into Young Jesus' catalog, you'd never mistake them for anyone else.
Maryn Jones has made a lot of great music over the past few years, as the singer of All Dogs, as a member of Saintseneca, as a collaborator of Radiator Hospital, and as a solo artist under the name Yowler. Yowler is her main focus at the moment, and her new sophomore album Black Dog In My Path sees her covering a lot more ground than she did on her 2015 singer/songwriter-ish debut The Offer. There are still plenty of gentle (and very effective) bedroom folk songs on this new album, but there's also "Where Is My Light?," which actually gets kinda heavy, the atmospheric/ambient pop of "Aldebaran," the rickety synthpop of "WTFK," and other sounds in the mix. Always leading the way is Maryn's fantastic set of pipes, which has always been her most powerful weapon, but her songwriting is really taking a step forward on this LP too. That's maybe most clear on the aforementioned "Where Is My Light?". It's not just that the song is heavier than Maryn's music usually is, it's also that the song is so fleshed-out and multi-faceted and feels so massive. It has the weight of sludgy shoegaze, the delicacy of dream pop, and all this really interesting layering going on with her voice that makes her sound even more powerful than usual. It'll be exciting to hear if Maryn dives deeper into this kinda stuff on her next LP, but Black Dog also reminds you that her songs can be just as impactful with nothing more than an acoustic guitar. "Sorrow" and album closer "Spirits & Sprites," which both fit that description, are -- in their own way -- some of her most gripping songs.
Anna St. Louis' new album was co-produced by Kevin Morby and King Tuff, who both also play on it, and it's out as a split release on both Woodsist and Morby's Mare Records. We premiered a stream of the album earlier this week. Here's an excerpt of my writeup:
It hearkens back to ’70s Laurel Canyon folk and does a lot of justice to that era (for more recent comparisons: Angel Olsen and Jessica Pratt fans should take note). Anna has an old soul, and a wiser, more seasoned sounding voice than you’d expect from an artist as new to the game as her. Her music mainly falls under the folk umbrella, but there’s also hints of country twang, the weight of blues, and more modern, atmospheric layering. It’s gorgeous stuff.
You can read more HERE.