I'm still making my way through the extremely dense, complex, and complicated Kendrick Lamar album, but there are also a lot of new albums out this week worth talking about, so let's talk about those. I highlight 11 below, and Bill tackles more in Bill's Indie Basement, including Porridge Radio, METZ offshoot Weird Nightmare, Cola (ex-Ought), and more.
On top of all that, honorable mentions: Flume, Mavis Staples & Levon Helm, Craig Finn, Dreezy, Hodgy, Blut Aus Nord, Uffie (first in 12 years), Everything Everything, John Doe (of X), fanclubwallet, Spice (Ceremony), Pond, SOAK, Zach Bryan, Banditos, Vieux Farka Touré, Mary Lattimore & Paul Sukeena, Daniel Villarreal, Joe Sullivan, Jordana, David Grubbs & Jan St Werner, Dean Spunt & John Wiese, Steve Earle & the Dukes, The Loyal Seas (Tanya Donelly), Matmos, Jo Schornikow, Alex Izenberg, Final (Justin Broadrick), Tess Parks, Bog Body, Delta Spirit, Luminous Vault, Joe Rainey, Tourist, Grant-Lee Phillips, Liz Lamere, Gronibard, Zora, Sadistic Ritual, Yotam Ben-Horin (Useless ID), LaMacchia (Candiria), Semantics, D Bloc, Predatory Light, Brackish, Nate Bergman, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Charlie Hickey, Laney Jones, OSLO, Marina Herlop, the No Trigger EP, the Haleek Maul EP, the Street Sects EP, the Buckshot EP, the Battlesex EP, the anxioushum EP, the Lou Tides (ex-TEEN) EP, and Geoff Barrow and Ben Salisbury's Men score.
Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?
Lykke Li - EYEYE
Play It Again Sam/Crush Music
Lykke Li's last album, 2018's so sad so sexy, embraced a more upbeat and hip hop/R&B-inspired sound than usual, but for its followup, she's headed in the total opposite direction. The album reunites her with longtime collaborator Björn Yttling, who she hadn't worked with since 2014's I Never Learn, and it's largely made up of mournful ballads that are closer in spirit to her earlier albums, but she's never made music this raw and intimate before. The whole album was recorded in her bedroom, often in real time as she was writing the songs, and she forced herself to use no clicktracks, no headphones, no digital instruments, and only a $70 handheld drum mic for her vocals, which contributes to its unpolished, crackling sound. The DIY recordings were later mixed by Shawn Everett (The War On Drugs, The Killers, Big Thief), and it still has the gorgeously rich sound that all of her records do, but still, it achieves Lykke Li's goal of having "the intimacy of listening to a voice memo on a macro dose of LSD," as she has put it. It's a treat to hear Lykke Li follow her most pop album yet with her least pop album yet, and even more of a treat that the stripped-back approach doesn't mean it feels any less monumental than her previous albums. Lykke Li has a voice and a songwriting style capable of sweeping you off your feet, and EYEYE proves she can still do that even without all the usual embellishments.
Harry Styles - Harry's House
I've been rooting for Harry Styles. The former One Directioner is about as famous as a pop star can get, but he clearly seems invested in the "indie" world when he has absolutely no financial or commercial reason to be, and I think that's kinda cool. After doing classic rock on cosplay on his 2017 debut solo album, he went in an ever-so-slightly psychedelic pop direction on 2019's more tasteful Fine Line, and since then he's headlined Coachella and booked a slew of diverse, indie-friendly artists to open for him, including Mitski, Jenny Lewis, Orville Peck, Wet Leg, Blood Orange, Jessie Ware, Koffee, Wolf Alice, Arlo Parks and more. Whatever his reasons, he's using his gigantic platform to prop up some very cool stuff. He kept the "cool kid" vibe going with the first single from his third album Harry's House, "As It Was," a subtly effective, new wavey song that a lot of people have compared to a-ha's "Take On Me." Even Arcade Fire liked it enough to cover it.
"As It Was" was co-written with Tyler Johnson and Kid Harpoon, the latter of whom was signed to indie label Young Turks as a solo artist in the 2000s and who has also co-written for pop-friendly indie faves like Florence + the Machine, Jessie Ware, and Haim. Johnson and Kid Harpoon also produced all of Harry's House and co-wrote almost every other song on it, but even with their continued involvement, "As It Was" turned out to be a red herring. It's the most snappy, fashionable song on an album that largely varies between cheesy disco revival and sleepy ballads. The closest Harry's House otherwise comes to Harry walking the walk is "Cinema," a cool slice of alt-funk that nods at Harry's tourmate and collaborator Blood Orange (though it's not the song that features Blood Orange's Dev Hynes on cello; that would be "Matilda"). Harry may get to headline Coachella and hang with the indie kids, but he still makes albums the way pop music was made in the CD era, padded with filler as all the attention goes towards a couple world-conquering singles. But even on that front, Harry's House falls flat. So far "As It Was" is the only song to be released as a single from Harry's House, and I don't even hear one other song that sounds like it could have the same type of chart presence. (But it's Harry Styles we're talking about, so I'll probably be proven wrong.) Harry might use his platform for good, but he's not the only artist blurring the lines between pop and indie, and many of his peers are making album-length artistic triumphs that run circles around Harry's House in terms of creativity. Any time a former boy band star goes solo and aims for cred and acclaim, people are gonna compare them to Justin Timberlake, but the world is a much different place now than it was when FutureSex/LoveSounds came out. A-list pop stars release critically acclaimed albums all the time; Harry is gonna have to seriously step it up if he wants to get on their level.
Cave In - Heavy Pendulum
Cave In's 2019 album Final Transmission was the bittersweet end of an era. Bassist Caleb Scofield passed away at age 39 during the making of the album, and the album featured his last-ever recordings with the band. As Caleb would surely want, Cave In pushed forward, and Heavy Pendulum marks the beginning of a brand new era. It's their first album for Relapse, first with new bassist/backing vocalist Nate Newton of Converge -- a perfectly-suited replacement who Caleb had played with for years in Old Man Gloom (who also continued on as a band, with Cave In frontman Stephen Brodsky taking over for Caleb) -- and their first produced by Nate's Converge bandmate Kurt Ballou since their 1998 debut LP Until Your Heart Stops. They also just sound totally refreshed, with a more revved-up, in-your-face sound than they've had in a while. And though Final Transmission was their last album with Caleb, his influence is felt on this one too. Brodsky told Decibel that opening track "New Reality" is about Caleb, and also features a riff he wrote before his passing, and the lyrics to the song "Amaranthine" were written by Caleb too. "There were many points where we considered how Caleb might approach something," Brodsky added, "and with all that, I think his spirit is very much alive on this album."
"New Reality," which was also the lead single, is one of the most immediate, instantly-satisfying songs Cave In have released, probably ever, and there's plenty more of that energy throughout Heavy Pendulum. It's got other ragers like "Floating Skulls" and "Amaranthine," ten-ton sludge riffs on songs like "Blood Spiller" and "Waiting For Love," slower-paced psychedelia ("Nightmare Eyes"), towering post-metal ("Blinded By A Blaze"), and a title track that kinda sounds like Alice In Chains. And then there's closing track "Wavering Angel," a 12-minute epic that starts out in gentle acoustic territory before gradually morphing into one of the heaviest songs on the record. It's like if Pink Floyd's '70s lineup would've stuck around long enough to get really into sludge metal, and it should come as no surprise that Cave In know exactly how to deliver on that concept. The sheer professionalism of Heavy Pendulum never lets you forget that this is a band fueled by 25 years of history, but it truly sounds like a fresh start.
Shabaka - Afrikan Culture
As the leader of Sons Of Kemet, The Comet Is Coming, and Shabaka and The Ancestors, saxophonist/composer Shabaka Hutchings has cemented himself at the forefront of the UK jazz renaissance, and now he's got a fourth project: a solo project, simply known as Shabaka. His first release is the eight-song Afrikan Culture EP, which finds Shabaka trading his sax in for various wind instruments and coming out with the most ambient, ethereal music he's released yet. Shabaka says the album "was made around the idea of meditation and what it means for me to still my own mind and accept the music which comes to the surface" and that he used "a new technique of creating that [he has] been experimenting with in layering many flutes together to create a forest of sound where melodies and rhythms float in space and emerge in glimpses." That description should give you a good idea of what to expect from Afrikan Culture, which is meditative without ever feeling like background music. It's calming, but it engulfs you just as much as the busier-sounding music he makes with his other groups.
Ravyn Lenae - Hypnos
R&B singer Ravyn Lenae hails from the same thriving Chicago hip hop scene as artists like Noname, Smino, Saba, Joey Purp, and Mick Jenkins -- all of whom she's collaborated with -- and by the time of her third EP, 2018's Crush, she also found a new creative partner in Steve Lacy of The Internet, who executive produced that EP and sang on two of its songs. Now she has finally put out her first full-length album, Hypnos, and it feels like the culmination of everything she's done so far. Production was largely split between Steve Lacy and Chicago musicians Luke Titus and Phoelix (who both also contributed to Noname's instant-classic Room 25), and there are some other standout producers on there like Kaytranada and Sango. Steve Lacy once again does guest vocals (on "Skin Tight"), as do Smino ("3D"), "Deep End" hitmaker Fousheé ("Mercury"), and Mereba of Spillage Village ("Where I'm From"). The album largely follows the atmospheric, lightly psychedelic, downtempo R&B carved out by artists like SZA, Tinashe, and the self-titled Beyoncé album, and Ravyn's got exactly the right soaring voice and lush production style to pull it off. The whole album sounds gorgeous, and there are a handful of songs that pop out on early listens. A full-length album has been a long time coming for Ravyn, and Hypnos was worth the wait.
Static Dress - Rouge Carpet Disaster
Just about every trend/subgenre comes back around eventually, even -- or perhaps especially -- the much-maligned ones, and you may have noticed that right now we're in the middle of a serious mid 2000s Myspace/Hot Topic/scene revival. The original era did indeed produce a lot of stuff that's aged like milk, but there was some genuinely cool stuff happening back then, and Static Dress are here to remind you that you can love that stuff without an ounce of irony. A string of extremely good singles was followed in December of 2021 with their debut project, Prologue... (a 9-song, 15-minute EP that soundtracked the band's own original comic book), and now they've just put out their first full-length album, Rouge Carpet Disaster. Throughout the record, they tap directly back into stuff like They're Only Chasing Safety-era Underoath, Saosin, and The Bled, and there's a hint of Deftones in there too. If you lived through the mid 2000s, it comes off like a rush of nostalgia, but as with their peers in bands like SeeYouSpaceCowboy and Wristmeetrazor, Static Dress bring something new to the table. Rouge Carpet Disaster is an even stronger album than some of the stuff it constantly gets compared to. Again, not all of that mid 2000s stuff has aged well; sometimes you revisit it and it doesn't sound nearly as good as you remember. Rouge Carpet Disaster sounds like the way you want to remember it.
Matt Koziol - Wildhorse
The New Jersey-born Matt Koziol originally moved to Nashville to pursue a career as a songwriter for other artists, and he went on to collaborate with John Paul White, Joy Oladokun, Jimmie Allen, Charlie Worsham, Caroline Spence, and more, but now he's putting out his own album, Wildhorse. Throughout its ten songs, he channels an array of country, folk, and Southern and heartland rock influences, recalling anything from Springsteen and Petty to Isbell and Stapleton, and developing his own sound in the process. Propulsive anthems like "House to Build A Home" and "Loving You Loving Me" sit next to somber, melancholic songs like the title track and light, breezy songs like "Before We Break It," and it all sounds great. It's no surprise that Matt started out as a professional songwriter, given how concise and well-crafted these songs are, but he's got a uniquely great voice too, and that's part of what sets him apart from his influences. He sounds like someone who's studied decades of American musical traditions, but he knows how to subtly shake up those traditions too.
Mutually Assured Destruction - Ascension
Mutually Assured Destruction are firmly planted within the hardcore scene, a scene that frontman Ace Stallings is also deeply involved in as a show booker, record label owner, podcast host, journalist, and vocalist of other bands like Sentinel and the now-defunct Break Away, but make no mistake, Mutually Assured Destruction's debut full-length Ascension is a metal record. It makes me think of things like Cliff-era Metallica, early Danzig, Corrosion of Conformity, Life of Agony, Alice In Chains, and even Lamb of God, whose frontman Randy Blythe does guest vocals on the killer lead single "Spirit Liberation," a song Ace said was written to sound like LOG even before Randy got involved. Ace has a bellowing voice that gives M.A.D. the same anthemic feel as those aforementioned bands, and Ascension is chock full of riffs, from bluesy Southern metal to high-speed thrash to slowed-down doom. There's also the heavily acoustic "Haint Blue," which sounds like a cross between a mid '80s Metallica ballad and Alice In Chains Unplugged. M.A.D.'s no-frills production style reminds you that they come from the hardcore scene, but they know that if you're gonna make big, bellowing metal songs, you need to sound, well, BIG. And Ascension sounds tremendous.
Come To Grief - When The World Dies
Grief formed in Boston 1991 by members of the great crust punk/D-beat band Disrupt, and they took a more slowed-down approach that resulted in some of the most important sludge albums of the '90s, like 1994's Come To Grief. They broke up in 2001, and did a few brief reunions since then, but in the mid 2010s, guitarist Terry Savastano began leading a new version of the band under the name Come To Grief, also featuring former Grief drummer Chuck Conlon along with new lead vocalist Jonathan Hebert. First they began performing classic Grief material at shows, but then a few EPs of original material followed, and now they're releasing their first full-length album, When the World Dies. The album was recorded with another longtime staple of the Boston hardcore scene, Converge's Kurt Ballou, and Ballou's bandmate Jacob Bannon does guest vocals on two songs ("Life's Curse" and "Bludgeon the Soul"). It's not always a good thing when these types of offshoot bands start putting out new material, but When The World Dies is genuinely cool stuff and not just a re-creation of what Grief did in the '90s. It's still in the same sludgy ballpark, but this album has a fresh, modern sound and Hebert's harsh shrieks give it a much different feel than vocalist Jeff Hayward gave Grief. Come To Grief may have started out as a version of Grief, but at this point they're really just their own band, and this album proves it.
Boldy James & Real Bad Man - Killing Nothing
Real Bad Man
Boldy James' extremely prolific 2020 included four full-length projects, the most talked-about ones being his Alchemist-produced The Price of Tea In China and his Sterling Toles-produced jazz-rap album Manger On McNichols. But at the very tail-end of that year, he also dropped the underrated Real Bad Boldy, an album entirely produced by clothing designers, production team, and record label Real Bad Man. Boldy's first project of 2022, Killing Nothing, reunites him with RBM. Like on Real Bad Boldy, RBM's production gives classic boom bap a hypnotic update, which is the perfect backdrop for Boldy's cold, hardened storytelling. Though he's been at it for over a decade, these past few years have really cemented Boldy as one of the best '90s-style lyricists around, and virtually everything he touches is top-tier, this project included. Guest appearances come from CRIMEAPPLE, Knowledge the Pirate, Rome Streetz, and Stove God Cooks, the latter two of which both appear on "Open Door." As a triple threat of today's best boom bap revivalists, that song is a clear standout, but it's just one of many things to like about Killing Nothing.
Be Well - Hello Sun
After fronting Battery in the '90s, Brian McTernan turned his attention towards production -- and went on to work with Snapcase, Drowningman, Piebald, Cave In, Darkest Hour, The Movielife, Strike Anywhere, Fairweather, Hot Water Music, Bane, Thrice, Circa Survive, and many others -- but after about two decades without releasing his own music, Brian launched the new band Be Well with some of his past collaborators (members of Fairweather, Darkest Hour, and Bane) and released the very good debut LP The Weight and the Cost on Equal Vision in 2020. The album featured some of his most personal songwriting to date, and it didn't stop there; Be Well have now released a second record, Hello Sun, and it sounds even tighter and sharper than the songs on their debut. I recently interviewed Brian, alongside Andy Norton from Praise (whose new album Brian worked on), and you can read that for more about Be Well here.
Read Bill's Indie Basement for more new album reviews, including Porridge Radio, Weird Nightmare, Cola, and more.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or scroll down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.
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