It's another Bandcamp Friday, which means Bandcamp is waiving their cut of sales from midnight to midnight Pacific to help support artists during this tour-less year, so if you're picking up new music today, do it at Bandcamp if you can. I used Bandcamp embeds when applicable for this week's Notable Releases, and we also have a roundup of today's special/exclusive Bandcamp releases that you can check out. Browse our Bandcamp tag for even more.
I highlight five albums below, but first, some honorable mentions: Roisin Murphy (which Bill reviewed), YG, Smoke DZA, Flee Lord, Alchemist, Sumac, Enslaved, Anaal Nathrakh, 21 Savage & Metro Boomin, BLACKPINK, Drive-By Truckers, Field Medic, Shamir, Sa-Roc, Eartheater, Death Valley Girls, Corey Taylor, Hello Forever, Loraine James, Brave The Cold (mem Napalm Death, Megadeth), Willie The Kid, Horse Meat Disco, Scintii, Amiensus, All Souls, Elvis Perkins, the Dirty Projectors EP, Deerhoof's not-your-average covers album, the Dolly Parton Christmas album, the Crass box set, and the Bob Mould box set.
Read on for my five picks. What's your favorite release of the week?
Laura Jane Grace - Stay Alive
Against Me! had originally planned to make a new record this year -- which would be their first since 2016's Shape Shift With Me and first since Laura Jane Grace & the Devouring Mothers' 2018 debut Bought to Rot -- but you-know-what got in the way, and Laura ended up stuck at home with a batch of new songs and no band to record them with. "As I started to get my bearings, I just came to the realization that waiting was going to kill the record and kill the songs," she said. "I spent two years working on all these songs, and the idea of throwing them away didn’t sit well with me. But then I was like, ‘What am I waiting for?’ All I have to do is adjust my scope."
Adjust her scope she did, and she ended up heading to Chicago's Electrical Audio studio with the one and only Steve Albini at the boards, and recording 14 new songs on her own, with just her voice and acoustic guitar and sometimes a drum machine and a little distortion. It's the rawest thing Laura's released in years, and it's filled with both a sense of urgency to get these songs out while they're fresh, and a sense of exhaustion. It's an album that could've only happened during a pandemic -- and it's at times lyrically inspired by living through one -- and it's such an honest reflection of life in 2020. Years from now, when your kids and grandkids wanna know what this hellish year was like, Stay Alive will serve as a historical document of it. It's a product of both the physical limitations and the anxiety of quarantining and social distancing, and the "fuck it!" attitude that comes with trying your best to move forward when your whole world's been turned upside down. It's also a fantastic collection of songs, and it's great to hear Laura make a new album that recalls the vibe of Against Me!'s classic 2001 acoustic EP. Her songwriting and perspective have clearly progressed throughout the past two decades, so it's not a nostalgic move to recreate Against Me!'s acoustic days. But even beyond the instrumentation, what Stay Alive shares with those early days is the mindset that it doesn't matter if these aren't the best-sounding or most fleshed-out recordings. The words and the melodies needed to come out, even if it wasn't gonna be perfect, and in cases like this, the imperfection is only part of the appeal.
Westside Gunn - Who Made The Sunshine
It's been a really weird, bad year for a lot of reasons, but there have been upsides and one of those upsides is the unstoppable machine that the Griselda crew have turned into. When you get a creative spark, you've gotta just run with it, and this team (Westside Gunn, Conway the Machine, Benny the Butcher, and new recruits Boldy James and Armani Caesar) have been running with it all year, churning out over a dozen total projects thus far between the five of them. Gunn has especially had a spark -- his April album Pray For Paris is one of the year's best albums and his July mixtape Flygod Is An Awesome God 2 ain't half bad either -- and now he releases his third full-length of the year and Shady Records debut, Who Made The Sunshine. Of all the Griselda members, Gunn is the real visionary. Some of the other members are technically better rappers, but Gunn sees the bigger picture -- the artwork, the sequencing, the segues, the overall experience of an album from start to finish. Sometimes that means turning the spotlight over to guest rappers, as he did on Pray For Paris and does even more so on Who Made The Sunshine, but that's not meant to take away from his talent or anything. Right now, Gunn reminds me a little of Kanye West circa College Dropout; he knows how to craft a classic album, whatever it takes, and WMTS is yet another contender.
Gunn has his moments where he leaves you hanging on his every word, like on "Goodnight," but even when someone else is rapping, the album never strays from the unmistakable Westside Gunn sound. All throughout, the album sticks to the crackling, hazy backdrop that Griselda fans have come to know and love -- crafted largely by producers Daringer and Beat Butcha, with contributions from Alchemist, Conductor Williams, and Just Blaze --and Gunn made sure all of his guests were in top form on this. Conway and Benny both deliver top-tier verses on "The Butcher and The Blade." Boldy James does the same on "All Praises," which also features a better Jadakiss verse than almost anything on this year's Jadakiss album. The eight-minute "Frank Murphy" cypher (with Stove God Cooks, Flee Lord, Estee Nack, ElCamino and Smoke DZA) has one of the strongest DZA verses in a while, and reminds you that he's way too underrated. (DZA also has his own new album out today, which also includes a Jadakiss verse, and that's worth checking out too.) Black Thought, Armani Caesar, Busta Rhymes, and singer Keisha Plum are great as always too. The most surprising guest, though, is Slick Rick, who's on not one but two songs, and whose cool, relaxed storytelling sounds as good over Daringer & Beat Butcha beats in 2020 as it did over Bomb Squad beats three decades ago. Slick Rick started having a bit of a resurgence in recent years, with verses on Mariah Carey and Snoop Dogg songs, but leave it to Westside Gunn to bring out the very best of him on a gritty, street-friendly album.
Westside Gunn also appears on the new Alchemist album that's out today.
Jonsi - Shiver
The Sigur Ros leader's first solo album in 10 years features Robyn and Cocteau Twins' Liz Fraser, and it's a fantastic album that's unlike anything else he's done. You can read my full review of it here.
Bartees Strange - Live Forever
Bartees Strange's great debut album doesn't defy genre so much as it rejects the concept of it completely. It crosses barriers between indie/art rock, post-hardcore/emo, abrasive noise-rap, R&B, dance beats, bedroom folk, and more. You can read my full review of it and a discussion with Bartees about his influences here.
Kurt Vile - Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep)
Kurt Vile began recording the songs on Speed, Sound, Lonely KV (ep) three and a half years ago, in between the sessions for 2015's b'lieve I'm goin down... and 2018's Bottle It In, and he completed it earlier this year with the help of Matt Sweeney (Chavez) and various veteran Nashville session musicians. It's got two new lovely originals, "Dandelions" and "Pearls," plus a cover of "Gone Girl," which Jack Clement wrote for Johnny Cash in 1978, and covers of two John Prine songs: 1986's "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" and 1979's "How Lucky," the latter of which features Prine himself and is one of the late legend's final recordings. As Matt Sweeney writes in his essay accompanying the album, the story of this EP began when Kurt recorded the "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness" cover back in 2016 at Nashville's Butcher Shoppe, the studio John Prine started with Jack Clement protégé David “Fergie” Ferguson. Ferg showed Prine the cover, and eventually introduced Kurt to Prine, who told him that he liked the cover ("I knew Ferg had showed him that recording, but it was wild to hear him acknowledge it to say the least," said Kurt). Three years later, Kurt returned to The Butcher Shoppe to finish up the recordings he had started there in 2016, and this time Prine himself was present and ended up joining Kurt on the "How Lucky" cover. So this EP isn't a collection of "outtakes" from recent albums or anything; it's its own project, recorded at a specific studio with specific musicians, and infused with the spirits of two late legends. And though it's 60% cover songs, it's distinctly the work of Kurt Vile, who has such a way with both singing and guitar playing that even cover songs feel original in his hands.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.