Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/1)
Two albums out today that are probably going to be a big deal in the indie world are the new Father John Misty and the new Oneohtrix Point Never, but neither are really up my alley personally. So, not dissing them or anything, but I picked a few other things to highlight instead. Other honorable mentions: Neko Case, Ghost, Tancred, and Joan of Arc.
Meanwhile, festival season continues, and this weekend is NYC's Governors Ball. Whether you're going or streaming it live, be sure to check out our list of acts we're excited to see. Barcelona's Primavera Sound is also already underway, and you can stream that live too.
And lastly, it's officially June now and if you wanna catch up on music you may have missed over the past month, listen to our 40 songs we like from May 2018 playlist.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
After reuniting a few years earlier, the legendary and often-elusive Mazzy Star finally returned in 2013 with their first new album since the '90s, Seasons Of Your Day, which stood tall next to their classics. Then they went quiet again, and singer Hope Sandoval re-activated the Warm Inventions for their first new album in 7 years, and now Mazzy Star is back once again! Of the four songs on their new Still EP, only two are technically "new," but it's still a very worthy listen. "That Way Again" has been played live for years, but this is its first official, studio-recorded release, and it sounds fantastic in this finished form. Aiding Hope's voice and the gently-strummed acoustic guitar is some slide guitar that gives it a nice alt-country twang that wasn't always there on previous versions, and given that this song hadn't yet been released with studio production, it's a good thing that it's still produced with that haunting quality that Mazzy Star had back in the '90s. The other not-exactly-new song is even less new: the "ascension version" of "So Tonight That I Might See," the lengthy track that closed out Mazzy Star's 1993 album of the same name. But this new version really is worthwhile. They really hone in on the '60s psychedelic rock influence on this version, with the lead guitars going off into outer space even more than they did on the original. As for the new ones, "Still" is a two-minute dream-folk nugget that sounds like classic Mazzy Star, and "Quiet, The Winter Harbour" is a piano ballad that shows off their cleaner side. Since it's just four songs, it's nice that each one is noticeably different from the rest, and each one really stands on its own as a powerful song. With this short EP alone, Mazzy Star remind you that they could never be pigenholed. They were always part dream pop, part slowcore, part folk, part alt-country, part psychedelic rock, and more, and all of that is here in fine form.
Laura Marling has been busy supporting last year's Semper Femina and Mike Lindsay has been busy with the return of his band Tunng, whose first album in five years is coming later this year, but in between they found time to make a collaborative album together as LUMP. They say that Mike had put together most of the music on his own and invited Laura in once he decided he needed a lyricist and vocalist, and perhaps for that reason, LUMP is miles away from the folk music that Laura Marling makes on her own. There are songs like "May I Be The Light," "Rolling Thunder," and "Shake Your Shelter" that aren't far removed from Tunng's own folktronica vibe, there's the psych-rock-leaning "Curse of the Contemporary," the krauty synthpop of "Hand Hold Hero," and "Late To The Flight" which almost sounds like a Mount Eerie song. And as it turns out, Laura Marling has just as much a knack for all these sounds as she does for folk. Sometimes she brings her trademark sound into the mix, like on "Hand Hold Hero" where she puts a rustic Americana vocal delivery over Mike Lindsay's pulsing synths and it somehow works perfectly, but the really exciting moments are when Laura is outside of her usual comfort zone. Opening track "Late To The Flight" is a real highlight, and it's thrilling to hear the words dripping out of her mouth in the Phil Elverum sort of way that they do on that song. Lead single "Curse of the Contemporary" is another standout, and maybe it's just because the hook of "If you should be bored in California" keeps making me think of "If you're going to San Francisco," but it sounds like the kind of thing you could've heard at Monterey Pop Fest and Laura's wavering falsetto on this one is perfect for it. No word yet if LUMP will continue after this album or if it's just a one-off thing that Laura and Mike did in their spare time, but either way, LUMP is no tossed-off side project or anything like that. This is something new and very well crafted for both artists involved.
In the time since Maps & Atlases last released an album, 2012's solid Beware and Be Grateful, guitarist Erin Elders left to form the band Wedding Dress with Bobby Burg of Joan of Arc (who, as mentioned above, also have a new album out today), and frontman Dave Davison started playing solo shows and working on what he assumed would be a solo album. Eventually he brought in his Maps & Atlases bandmates Chris Hainley (drums) and Shiraz Dada (bass) to play on it, and it became Lightlessness Is Nothing New, the first Maps & Atlases album in six years. It partially picks up where they left off, but it's also a clear step forward. On Beware and Be Grateful and its 2010 predecessor Perch Patchwork, Maps & Atlases slightly toned down the frantic math rock of their earlier records and started writing real-deal pop songs, but still with a noodly twist. It turned out that Dave Davison had just as much a knack for sweetly sung hooks as for complex guitar playing, and combining those two talents was the best thing that Maps & Atlases ever did. They're still generally working in the math-pop realm of those last two albums on Lightlessness, but they're also bringing in more synths and coming out with their most danceable album yet. There's some stuff on this album that kinda sounds like that second Battles album with the guest vocalists, and that's pretty new for Maps & Atlases. Though it's a happy sounding record, it lyrically takes on one of the most depressing topics that Dave has ever had to write about: the loss of his father. Dave told us how on the song "Ringing Bell" when he sings "I thought you still might need my shoes / somehow I’d like to still believe / that they might be of some use," he's talking about how death disorients you, how when the people who picked his father up insisted he wouldn't need shoes, Dave still felt that somehow there was a need for it. This attention to detail, this way of not just singing about grief but about the tiny things you obsess over when you're reckoning with the fact that you've lost someone forever, is what makes these songs have such a strong impact. It's been over a decade since Maps & Atlases' breakthrough EP Tree, Swallows, Houses which inspired a cult following of indie rock kids to get frighteningly good at their instruments. On an emotional level, this new album could just be as much of an inspiration.
The psychedelic folk of the late '60s and early '70s has long popped up within modern music in interesting ways. Fleet Foxes combined it with sunshine pop, Grouper combined it with drone, Angel Olsen combined it with indie rock, the list goes on. And we can now add to that list Juliana Daugherty, a singer/songwriter from Charlottesville, VA who combines psych-folk with minimal electronic music. It's most clear on "Player," the opening track off her debut album Light and her best song yet, which has Juliana singing in fluttery Laurel Canyon folk mode over a down-strummed guitar and a beat that sounds like it could've been plucked from an Aphex Twin song. It's the only song like it on Light, but elsewhere on the album, Juliana makes similar moves, like with the rattling, percussive title track and a few other songs that are filled with electronic atmosphere. She's also got a handful of songs that channel '60s/'70s psych-folk in a more traditional way, and though they're less unique than songs like "Player," they're still effective. Juliana does a lot of justice to her influences, and her powerful voice and wise-beyond-her-years lyricism makes even her most bare-bones songs gripping. If she keeps exploring the sound of "Player," though, she could be on her way to making something very distinct.
The name of this column is "Notable Releases" and Kanye's new album is nothing if not notable. Is it good? Uh, it's not the total disaster that we were all afraid it'd be, but I don't know if it's good. Considering the album rollout involved Kanye praising Trump, posting a picture of himself in a MAGA hat, and saying "slavery was a choice," one bright side is he only brings up his eyebrow-raising opinions on the actual album a few times. He brings the slavery thing back up again, he appears to defend Russell Simmons against his several rape accusations, and he opens the album telling someone over and over that he has thought about killing them ("and I think about killing myself, and I love myself way more than I love you," he adds), seemingly suggesting that -- like his Trump praise -- he's doing it in the name of free speech. "Just say it out loud to see how it feels." Those are already the moments that are making the news (understandably so), and they certainly distract from the music, but it's not really the main focus of the album. He's got songs where he gets sentimental about his wife and kids, and perhaps the most noticeable thing is how often he talks about his mental health. Ye often plays out like a therapy session, and it's not always comfortable to hear.
But the worst about Ye isn't that Kanye is ruffling feathers -- he's been doing that for most of his career. The worst part is that for the first time in his career, he isn't doing anything new. The jump between every previous Kanye album has been massive. Whether or not you liked the music, you couldn't deny that Kanye was doing something new. On Ye, every single song sounds like a The Life of Pablo b-side. Almost all of the production sounds like the kind of atmospheric minimal stuff he was doing on "FML" and "Wolves," and the songs sound even more unfinished than the TLOP songs did. Whenever it sounds like he's got a great idea, he doesn't follow through. He sticks mostly to a stream of consciousness delivery, failing to ever fit any real hooks into the music. Eschewing pop music norms is nothing new for Kanye, and he's been great it at before, but these aren't "difficult" or "challenging" songs; they're just songs that kinda fall flat. Kanye reminded everyone on the great new Pusha T album that he can still make the sample-heavy beats he built his career on, and that those beats can still be absolutely breathtaking. It was a method of production he's used since the early days, but he made it feel new and refreshing. It's confusing that he couldn't do the same for his own album. At least it's only 23 minutes long.