Notable Releases of the Week (4/10)
Another nerve-wracking week has gone by. In the past few days, we were forced to say goodbye to Hal Willner, John Prine, and 25-year-old rapper Chynna amidst all the rest of the shittiness of daily life in 2020. It can feel a little weird to just go on with our lives, but at the same time, we could all use a little normalcy (and music) right now, so here are my seven picks for this week's Notable Releases.
Before I get to them, some honorable mentions: Jackie Lynn (Circuit des Yeux + Bitchin Bajas), Local H's Steve Albini-recorded LP, Kool Keith x Thetan, The Dream Syndicate, Azusa (ex-Dillinger Escape Plan, Extol, Sea + Air), Serengeti / Kenny Segal, Hamilton Leithauser (The Walkmen), Drain, Pokey LaFarge, STRFKR, Flat Worms, ADULT., SAVAK, Eerie Gates (Wild Pink), Vasudeva, Midwife, Gerry Cinnamon, Once and Future Band, Long Neck, Trace Mountains, Active Child, Like Rats, Caustic Wound, Calligram, Metal Church, Dark Sky Burial (Napalm Death), the dianacrawls EP, the Aesop Rock EP, the Anxious Arms EP, and the Joan Shelley live album.
Read on for my seven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Stay Inside - Viewing
"Everything's a copy that I'm copying," one of Stay Inside's singers shouts on the opening track to their first full-length album, Viewing. I don't know if they're necessarily talking about their music, but it's a pretty self-aware and slightly self-deprecating statement regardless, and it's fun to imagine they are. Viewing sounds like the last three decades of emo rolled up into one album, from the early '90s pioneers to the bands who brought emo to the mainstream in the early 2000s to the "emo revival" bands of the 2010s. At this point in the genre's history, it's unavoidably true: everything is a copy that Stay Inside are copying. But I can't tell you how long it's been since I heard an album that sounds this steeped in emo's time-tested traditions and this fresh.
On Viewing, Stay Inside pretty much do it all. They've got the loose, Midwestern-style sounds, the tougher East Coast post-hardcore sounds, and some straight-up screamo. They've got sprawling, post-rocky parts. They've got the token acoustic closer (which, token or not, is one of the album's best songs). They've got the kind of polished production and scream/sung dual vocals that make them sound like they'd be the biggest breakout band of 2003, but they avoid the more negative traits of mainstream emo and still sound more closely tied to the indie/underground-centric '90s and '10s waves. They sound like they're playing to the people in the nosebleeds even if bands that sound like this in 2020 are more likely playing in the backs of bars, and they bare it all emotionally in the process. It's always a risk to put yourself out there and make a record this heartfelt and this vulnerable, but the risk is so worth it when it results in cathartic, life-affirming music like Viewing.
The Strokes - The New Abnormal
The Strokes' first album in seven years has arrived, and you can read my full review of it here.
Laura Marling - Song For Our Daughter
Laura Marling's followup to 2017's Semper Femina was originally supposed to come out later this year, but while several artists are delaying albums due to COVID-19, Laura pushed the release of hers up because of it. "I saw no reason to hold back on something that, at the very least, might entertain, and at its best, provide some sense of union... I want you to have it," she says. As the title implies, this one was inspired by Laura's own daughter -- "how would I guide my daughter, arm her and prepare her for life and all of its nuance?" It was also produced mostly by Laura herself (with some assistance from longtime collaborators Ethan Johns and Dom Monks), and even more so than Semper Femina, it finds Laura returning to the warmer, earthier sounds of her earlier material. Laura does say the album was partially inspired by "the fragmentary, nonsensical experience of trauma" too, but still, there's something comforting about it. It feels nostalgic and lived-in and whenever I put it on, it provides some escapism from all the shittiness of daily life. I know a lot of the delayed album releases are happening because artists want to be able to promote them on tour, so we should not take it for granted that Laura was gracious enough to put this out in the world at a time when we need it most.
Rotting Out - Ronin
San Pedro's Rotting Out were staples of the late 2000s / early 2010s hardcore scene, but they broke up in 2015 and, the following year, vocalist Walter Delgado served an 18-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to charges of possession of marijuana (around 700lbs of it in his vehicle). But, thankfully, Walter is a free man again, Rotting Out are an active band again, and they've got a new record that fucking rips. Not only is Walter not the type to glorify street life, he's the type to say "fuck you" to people who do, especially when they haven't actually lived it. So of course you can feel the effects of Walter doing time on this record, but in a way that's often reflective, and even more often angry. Walter's got one of those barks where he sounds pissed off no matter what the lyrics are, and it goes very well with the band's fast, in-your-face, little-to-no frills punk songs. With almost every song around or under the two-minute mark, this record whips by and sounds like a pure adrenaline rush the whole time. It doesn't sound a hell of a lot different than the album they made seven years ago, but it's hotter and crisper and the band sounds rejuvenated. And besides, when you've got a no-bullshit formula that works as well as Rotting Out's, you don't need to reinvent yourself every time.
Pink Siifu - NEGRO
Pink Siifu continues to make a name for himself in the rap underground (and if he keeps doing things like appearing alongside Rivers Cuomo on an Avalanches song, maybe he'll start to make a name for himself outside of the underground too), and he stays highly prolific, with at least one project or another every year since 2015. NEGRO is his first proper solo album since 2018's great ensley, though, and it's a much different album than ensley. That album has an experimental side but it's still a rap album in the traditional sense, but there's nothing traditional about NEGRO. It's one big, dense sound collage that brings free jazz, noisy punk, spoken word, and rap music together, and Siifu tells DJ Booth that working with producer Slauson Malone was part of the influence for that. "When we wanna go in on a DJ mix, that’s how Slauson’s albums be sounding," he says. It does sound as much like a DJ mix as an album, and Siifu stuffs in as many ideas lyrically as he does musically. "The album is definitely about the frustration of the Black perspective," he said in that same DJ Booth interview. "I feel like I conveyed all our problems on this record. I sat on it and added more shit, on some light at the end of the tunnel type shit, because I wanted it to be dark and light at times." There's so much to unpack on this, and it's probably going to take a lot of listens to do so. But it only takes one listen to hear how intense and ambitious it is, and how it sounds like almost none of Siifu's older music or his peers.
You can purchase NEGRO at Bandcamp (but it isn't streaming right now).
Sparta - Trust The River
Back in 2017, At the Drive In finally released their first album since their era-defining 2000 album Relationship of Command, In•ter a•li•a. It's a good record, but it was missing something, literally: Jim Ward. Jim's backing screams were a very key part of what made At the Drive In's classic material so good, and that only became even clearer when ATDI broke up and Jim started fronting his own band, Sparta (who initially also included ATDI's Paul Hinojos and Tony Hajjar). Sparta had also gone away for a while after their 2006 album Threes, but now they're back too, with their first album in 14 years, Trust the River. Jim made this one with longtime Sparta bassist Matt Miller, guitarist Gabriel Gonzalez (who was briefly a live member of Sparta in 2003 and officially joined the band in 2017), and new drummer Cully Symington (whose killer drumming you may know from his work with Cursive, Okkervil River, Beach Slang, and others), and musician/producer David Garza lent a helping hand as well. First single "Graveyard Luck" came out all the way back in 2017, so Sparta have clearly been putting this together for a while, and it was worth the wait.
There have been Sparta songs in the past that count as ballads, but Jim really started to explore a gentler side with his post-Sparta, alt-country-ish project Sleepercar, and he brings some of that to Sparta's new album with songs like the acoustic guitar and string-laden "Spirit," the piano ballad "Dead End Signs," and the sprawling, heartland balladry of closer "No One Can Be Nowhere." But if you were hoping a new Sparta album would mean more hard-hitting post-hardcore songs from Jim Ward, don't worry, Trust The River has plenty of those too. It opens especially strong, with the one-two punch of "Class Blue" and "Cat Scream" that'll bring you right back to the classic Sparta era, and the aforementioned "Graveyard Luck" is a real ripper too. They've also got some songs, like "Believe," "Miracle," and "Empty Houses," that kind of occupy the middle ground between the harder stuff and the gentler stuff. A little bit of the Sparta you know and love, along with a little bit of something new, is not at all a bad place for a reunion album to be.
Ultimate Fakebook - The Preserving Machine
Sonic Ritual Recordings
Manhattan, Kansas emo/punk/power popsters Ultimate Fakebook hailed from the same general area and musical style as The Anniversary and The Get Up Kids, and they had a big, loud, Weezer-y sound that made it seem like they wouldn't remain in the niche Midwest emo scene for long. A major label did eventually take notice (Epic/Sony), but it didn't last. UFB retreated to the Louisville indie label Initial Records, released one more album (2002's Open Up and Say Awesome) and EP (2003's Before We Spark), and then broke up before they could leave the mark they always had the potential to leave. Well, maybe they never became the next Weezer or Jimmy Eat World, but they've remained heroes in the underground, and now -- after a few reunions and a 2010 compilation of songs they had recorded back in the day -- they're finally back with their first album of new material in 16 years. They basically pick up where they left off, and I'd they even sound a little more energized than they did on Before We Spark. Once again, they sound like they should be dominating rock radio circa 2001 with a batch of songs that would fit very nicely next to Bleed American and Green Album. And just in case you thought the nostalgia wasn't intentional, the album comes with this disclaimer:
Before continuing, please take time to familiarize yourself with at least some of the below terms and phrases:
VHS tapes. iMacs. Neil Hamburger. Manhattan KS! "Mr. Show." Air guitar. "I Get Wet." “Across the Universe." Superdrag. The decline of the American empire. “Dinosaurs and dresses, princesses and weapons." Children. MTV and "motherfucking MP3s.” Manhattan KS! 1982. “Spring Breakers.” Hope. Paella. Despair. "The Rain Song." Melvins. KISS "Alive" and "Alive II." Virtual amps, virtual bands, MIDI and USB drives. Manhattan KS! "Smell the Glove." "Freaks and Geeks." Beatles or Stones? Manhattan KS!
If reading that list just made you very nostalgic, you're gonna wanna hear this album. Other than the McCartney-esque piano ballad "Juliet's Fools" and the AOR epic "Fake ID," the whole record is big, loud, Y2K-style punky power pop songs, and they sound pretty damn great in the year 2020 too. This was a record worth coming back for.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.