Five Notable Releases of the Week (5/4)
It was a big announcement week in the NYC Free Outdoor Summer Concert world. In case you missed it, the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn! Festival in Prospect Park, BAM R&B Fest at MetroTech Commons, and Good Morning America concerts at Central Park SummerStage all revealed their 2018 lineups in the past few days. (And if you missed it before that, the free SummerStage shows were already announced a few weeks ago.) Also: more Jawbreaker shows!
As for new albums out this week, there are a bunch. And first, some honorable mentions: Rae Sremmurd, DJ Koze (ft. Roisin Murphy, Jose Gonzalez, Lambchop's Kurt Wagner, a Bon Iver sample, and more), D.O.A., Eleanor Friedberger, Cut Worms, Venetian Snares & Daniel Lanois, Frank Turner, Black Moth Super Rainbow, Horse Feathers, Jack Ladder, FAN (aka Dodos singer Meric Long), Gaz Coombes (of Supergrass), Iceage, Yonatan Gat, and the Amber Mark EP.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Leon Bridges came out swinging on his 2015 debut album Coming Home, which revived '60s soul with so much conviction that at times it rivaled the classics it was influenced by, But Leon has made it clear that he's not against modern music. He sings on a song by EDM duo ODESZA and he's reportedly appearing on rapper DeJ Loaf's long-awaited debut album. And though he doesn't exactly sound modern on his new sophomore album Good Thing, he does branch out from the sound of Coming Home in many ways, proving that he refuses to be tied down to one sound. "Forgive You" kind of sounds like if Drake's "Hold On, We're Going Home" was written for a classic Motown artist, "Bad Bad News" has the kind of jammy, psychedelic rock influence that crept into soul music in the early '70s, and "You Don't Know" dives fully into upbeat '80s radio pop. So Leon is still an imitator, but he has drastically expanded the palette of sounds that he's imitating, and he's finding new and interesting ways to combine those sounds. The jump from Coming Home to Good Thing is a similar jump to the one that fellow soul revivalist (and fellow Big Little Lies soundtrack contributor) Michael Kiwanuka made from Home Again to Love & Hate. Both artists used their sophomore albums to prove they could move beyond the "revival" tag, and make increasingly sophisticated music. That Leon is doing so on such a huge mainstream level -- he's touring with Harry Styles, just about sold out two headlining Radio City shows, and he's playing Good Morning America -- is even more impressive.
Jon Hopkins has been at it for nearly two decades, but 2013's Immunity felt like a new beginning. It was a monumental album for Hopkins' career, and it remains one of the finest crossover electronic albums in recent memory. So it's a big deal that now, five years later, he's finally following it with a new album. Singularity is cut from a similar cloth as Immunity, with Hopkins still approaching his music as both a house music producer and a classically trained composer. It has moments that sound built for the club, and moments that sound like his collaborator Brian Eno's ambient work. And like Immunity, the album is at its best when those two worlds collide, like on the nearly-12-minute album highlight "Luminous Beings," where there's a thumping beat in the background but layers of gorgeous melodies up front. Hopkins' melodic work is really what makes this album stand out from similar albums. He crafts these intricate instrumentals that can inspire you to zone out, or get caught up in a catchy hook, or simply leave you in awe of their beauty. He simultaneously rivals the work of Sigur Ros, Philip Glass, and Four Tet, and Singularity should have no trouble appealing to fans of all three.
It's easy to take a long-running and consistently-great artist like Damien Jurado for granted, but with basically every new album, he reminds you just how special he really is, and The Horizon Just Laughed is no exception. It's his first album since completing his Richard Swift-produced trilogy with 2016's Visions of Us on the Land and it's his first self-produced album ever. Going by the self-production, the bare bones lead single "Over Rainbows and Rainier," and the fact that this is being touted as a "more personal" album for Damien, I thought he might be abandoning the ambitious arrangements he had on Visions of Us on the Land, but that isn't the case at all. The album's got a few other stripped-down folk songs, all of which Damien excels at, but Horizon doesn't shy away from the big, string-laden arrangements that he used on Visions and in the past. Having the mix of both sounds works to Damien's advantage, and he sequences the album in such a way where you never get too much of the same thing at once. It reminds you that Damien is still an expert at both filling a room with sound and playing so quietly that you can hear a pin drop, and his commanding, ever-confident voice ties the two sides of this album together seamlessly. The Horizon Just Laughed is clearly the work of a seasoned songwriter -- Damien has been doing this for over two decades at this point -- yet he still manages to keep his sound fresh. If this was another artist's debut, it'd be one hell of a promising artist and certainly (or at least hopefully) not taken for granted. Damien Jurado's sound is timeless, and The Horizon Just Laughed is proof that his creativity is far from stale.
Thou have always been a metal band that have been easy for rock fans to latch on to. They've done an entire Nirvana cover set and released an entire EP of Black Sabbath covers, and their own sound has enough in common with both of those bands that you don't have to be into extreme metal to get what Thou are doing. But The House Primordial, their long-talked-about and surprise-released followup to 2014's Heathen, is some of the most extreme music that Thou have ever made. Nearly every other song on The House Primordial is some type of noise or ambient passage. It can be pretty, like the post-rocky "The Sword Without A Hilt," but usually it's harsh and dissonant. The album opens with the atonal hiss of "Wisdom In The Open Air," which segues into the noise-sludge of "Premonition," which sounds closer to Pharmakon than to bands you can hear on rock radio. The static-y "Prideful Dementia And Impulsive Mayhem" recalls Sonic Youth at their most alienating, and "Birthright" sounds like Justin Broadrick's ambient music. When Thou do go for riffs, like on "Occulting Light" and album closer "Malignant Horror," they rock as hard as ever but they remain in the same antagonistic mode they're in on the noise songs. With its occasional acoustic guitar, strings, and clean vocals, Heathen made it seem like Thou were on their way towards prettier sounds, but The House Primordial is a complete change of course. There isn't a single pretty thing about it.
You certainly can't accuse Belly of coming back just to relive their past. Dove is their first album in 23 years, and it really doesn't sound much like their two '90s albums (1993's Star and 1995's King) at all. It does sound very '90s though. While Belly singer Tanya Donelly's former band The Breeders reclaimed their status as an influential indie rock band with their own comeback album this year, Belly's Dove often doesn't sound very indie rock. It's the most pop record (in a '90s way) that they've ever written. There are the more indie rock-leaning songs, like the shoegazy lead single "Shiny One," which turned out to be something of a red herring, but Dove more often brings back memories of stuff like Our Time in Eden-era 10,000 Maniacs or self-titled Sheryl Crow. The record is full of big strummy acoustic guitars, big choruses, and Tanya Donelly's soaring, '90s-radio-ready hooks. While The Breeders' new album is likely resonating with fans of the young indie rock bands they've been playing shows with this year, like Speedy Ortiz and Screaming Females, maybe Belly's new album will catch on with fans of '90s pop rock revivalists Haim. It might not be what you expected from a Belly reunion, but credit is due for making a comeback with the goal of trying something new.