Notable Releases of the Week (2/9)
It continues to be the year of the farewell tour. Joining Elton John, Slayer and Lynyrd Skynyrd with farewell tour announcements this past week were Paul Simon and Kenny Rogers and Ozzy Osbourne. Bummer to see all these legendary artists say goodbye (assuming these truly are their final tours), but as they say, when one band breaks up, another reunites. (They say that, right?) And revealed this week... Spice Girls reunion tour!!!!!!!!
There is some really cool new music out this week, including some high profile releases (MGMT and the Black Panther soundtrack), and some excellent stuff on the fringes too. A few honorable mentions: the great Brigid Mae Power album (that I wrote more about here), Fu Manchu, Tool/Mastodon supergroup The Legend of the Seagullmen, Franz Ferdinand, Brian Fallon of The Gaslight Anthem (who are back and playing The '59 Sound in full on tour), Son Lux, and Ezra Furman.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
The record label that ruled 2017 was Top Dawg Entertainment. They put out the two best albums of the year -- Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. and SZA's Ctrl -- and so far 2018 is looking like something of a victory lap year for them. The label's whole roster is going on tour together for the first time ever, and TDE CEO Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith curated the soundtrack to Marvel's new Black Panther film, along with the label's flagship artist, Kendrick Lamar. Five of TDE's artists are on the album, along with some of their very talented friends, and it's a way to keep their roster in the spotlight as they prepare for this tour. It's especially a way to keep Kendrick in the spotlight; he's a co-writer and performer on every song, and a co-producer on several. He's got proper verses on five songs, but even when he doesn't, he offers up a hook or a bridge or a backing vocal. And his touch is felt on every song -- it truly sounds like a cohesive album from Kendrick Lamar's world, not a compilation. When James Blake shows up to croon at the end of "Bloody Waters," it flows seamlessly into "King's Dead," which also features James Blake. Radio and chart dominators like Future, Travis Scott, and Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd, who normally have a strong and unique presence, manage to adapt their sounds to fit Kendrick's vision. Rising Bay Area group SOB x RBE, who recently dropped a promising G-Funk-reviving single off their own debut album, sound even better over futuristic production from frequent Kendrick collaborators DJ Dahi and Sounwave. The only non-Kendrick Lamar artist who really pulls the album in his own direction is Vince Staples, whose "Opps" features the same kind of dance production and spoken word (performed by Kendrick) that was all over Vince's great 2017 album, Big Fish Theory. ("Opps" is a way more subdued song than the Kendrick/Vince collaboration on Big Fish Theory, "Yeah Right," and both are great in their own ways.)
Pretty much everyone brings their A game (even artists who I wasn't previously sold on like Khalid), but Kendrick is truly the star. He kicks the album off with a solo joint, the title track, and rattles off about how he's the king of his city, his country, his homeland, the culture, the ocean, his enemies, etc, etc, etc, and he sounds so convincing during all of it that it's hard to ever feel like he's exaggerating. Even when he's surrounded by great verses, like the ones from Jay Rock and Future on "King's Dead," he bodies all of his collaborators. (That song is also doubling as the lead single off the next Jay Rock album, so stay tuned for that.) That said, there are plenty of ear-perking moments from other artists. Schoolboy Q slaughters "X" and throws some friendly competition at his Black Hippy pal when he yells "not even Kendrick can humble me!" in a nod to Kendrick's first No. 1 song. Anderson .Paak, who previously crossed paths with Kendrick on Dr. Dre's Compton album, reminds you how perfectly his style melds with Kendrick's on "Bloody Waters" and makes you wonder why they don't collaborate more. (Maybe it's because they can be so similar.) Zacari, who is currently all over the radio thanks to "LOVE." being DAMN.'s latest hit, continues to prove himself as a fine R&B singer on "Redemption." The ever-rising British soul singer Jorja Smith sounds amazing with Kendrick (even better than she does with Drake, if there was any doubt). And the verse on the album that I found most awe-inspiring came from a rapper that I hadn't ever heard of, Reason, who stops you in your tracks with wisdom about street life in LA and unjust treatment of blacks by police and the judicial system.
When Kendrick announced that he was “co-curating” this album and that it was a soundtrack for a popular movie, you (like me) might not have expected all this. As untitled unmastered proved, even Kendrick’s throwaways are better than most rapper’s real albums, but these aren’t throwaways. This is a complete-sounding album in a way that movie soundtracks rarely are.
Alela Diane has been one of the brightest talents in somber, bare-bones folk since the mid-2000s. After some raw-sounding beginnings, she had a brief stint on Rough Trade Records that led to a more polished sound, and after leaving that label she returned to her stripped-down roots. She's never gotten the popularity that she deserves compared to similar artists like Sharon Van Etten (who opened for Alela early in her career) or Angel Olsen (who was compared to Alela in early reviews), but those who do know her clearly respect her art. Her newest LP is Cusp, which finds an appealing middle ground between her more polished sounds and her rawer ones. The songs are usually either led by a gently picked acoustic guitar or a melancholic piano, and she brings in beautiful string arrangements, some full-band rock arrangements, a bit of flute ("Threshold"), and a bit of psychedelia too ("Yellow Gold"). The sounds of Cusp clearly stand out against the rest of Alela's discography, though it's still in the same general ballpark, musically. But lyrically, she has never written an album like this one. Cusp is her first album since becoming a mother, and the songs touch on how her life and her perspective on life have changed because of it. That monumental life event has made for some very powerful lyrics. On "Never Easy," Alela addresses her own mother and sings about how she never truly realized how much her mother loved her until she had a daughter of her own. The tough-but-true conclusion to it all comes in the chorus, where Alela sings, "It's never been easy for you and I." On "Ether & Wood," Alela sings to her child and reminisces about feeling her kick in the womb. It's a shivers-inducing moment on what might also be the album's strongest song. "Ether & Wood" leaves behind the Laurel Canyon-esque folk for a piano ballad so anthemic it sounds like it could fill a stadium. Songs this moving are reminders that, while many of us music fans tend to favor newness and youth, there's really something to be said for letting an artist grow and progress on their own terms. Cusp is Alela Diane's seventh album in a 15-year career, and there's probably no way she could've written something this uniquely special beforehand.
Chicago psychedelic metal band The Atlas Moth are back with Coma Noir, their first album for Prosthetic after two on Profound Lore, and their first with an outside producer: their highly talented Chicago neighbor Sanford Parker (who's worked with zillions of good bands). Musically, it's a change for The Atlas Moth too. Previous albums had been in the post-metal/atmospheric sludge world, but Coma Noir is real-deal, chugging, brutal metal in a way that The Atlas Moth have never really been before. It's sort of similar to the progression that Deafheaven made on New Bermuda, where they injected their atmospheric, post-rocky sound with more traditional metal signifiers. Like New Bermuda, Coma Noir totally works and the combination of sounds makes for some of The Atlas Moth's most instantly thrilling music yet. They may have toned down the post-metal side, but they haven't toned down their psychedelic side at all, and the trippiness and the heaviness go very well together. For an example of this, look no further than the opening title track, which has rapid-fire chugs and early '70s-style prog-psych happening all at once to great effect. The way space-rock synths meet Mastodon/Baroness-style sludge on "Galactic Brain" and "The Streets of Bombay" is similarly effective, and album closer "Chloroform" is basically a metallic take on jammy '60s acid rock. The shrieking noise at the end comes courtesy of saxophone by Bruce Lamont, whose noisy, avant-garde approach to the instrument is in fine form on this song. On top of all that, The Atlas Moth's layered vocal approach has never been better. With two lead vocalists and two backup vocalists, they offer up harsh shrieks, precise clean singing, throaty bellows, and some of the in-between, and it all comes together a bit more smoothly on Coma Noir than it has in the past. Coma Noir should change your mind if you thought you had The Atlas Moth pegged at this point in their career.
Like past tourmates Code Orange, Harms Way were a Deathwish-signed hardcore band who moved to a huge metal label (in Harms Way's case, Metal Blade) and their first album for said label brings in more elements of nu metal and mainstream metalcore than ever before. It's not that no one saw this coming. 2015's Rust was a little more nu than what you'd expect from Deathwish, but Harms Way are really going all in with Posthuman, which keeps its riffs tuned low and its bass drums sounding like machine guns. And with the nu metal revival going in an "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," direction, hardcore bands like Harms Way and Code Orange are good entry points for the nu metal skeptics among us. They've got the slam-your-head-against-a-wall thrill of the genre without embracing too much of the silliness or the frat culture. Also like Code Orange -- and perhaps even more so -- Harms Way are continuing to dive further into industrial with Posthuman. Various parts of the album see Harms Way taking a break from the chugging for distorted synths, effected drums, and effected vocals that give Posthuman a real experimental edge. The industrial influence pops up a few times, but it's at its most prominent on penultimate track "The Gift," which is basically an homage to Godflesh's electronic noise side (the band have cited Godflesh as an influence for years, but they've never embraced this side of them to this extent). They're really starting to master a sound that's fist-clenching on impact and thought-provoking on further listens, and that's no easy feat.
My full review of Little Dark Age is HERE. Read an excerpt:
...they're back nearly five years later with Little Dark Age, a fantastic album which might have a chance of uniting the Oracular Spectacular fans and the Congratulations/self-titled ones. There's still nothing even close to "Kids," "Electric Feel," or "Time To Pretend," and the vibe is still heavily psychedelic, but Little Dark Age has some of the catchiest and most danceable songs of MGMT's career outside of those three singles. They've got a heavier '80s new wave/synthpop influence than ever before, which blends nicely with their now-trademark psych sound. Sometimes they veer towards the hazy, nostalgic pop of guys like John Maus and Ariel Pink (the latter of whom contributes to this album), and -- though they surely influenced the subgenre -- some of Little Dark Age is the closest that MGMT have ever come to chillwave. It's a really fun record, and one that still honors MGMT's outsider influences. It's the kind of album that MGMT always seemed destined to make.
Read the rest HERE.