Five Notable Releases of the Week (9/15)
It's a very busy weekend in the music world, with Chicago's stacked Riot Fest (Jawbreaker reunion included), NYC's The Meadows, and Hudson, NY's more boutique Basilica Soundscape festival, not to mention the Juggalo march in DC and dueling Roger Waters and Paul McCartney shows in the NYC-area on Friday night.
There's plenty of good music out too, including the five albums listed below and some honorable mentions like the new Hope Sandoval EP (acoustic Kurt Vile guest appearance included), Hot Water Music, Big Brave, and Rostam.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Over the course of her career as Myrkur, Amalie Bruun -- the Danish black metal musician with an indie pop past -- proved she could make brutal black metal in the spirit of Ulver and Mayhem (whose members contributed to her debut LP), but also gorgeous post-rock and traditional Scandinavian folk. On this year's Mareridt, those sounds come together more seamlessly than ever. Previously she'd have a black metal part here, a folk part there, and a dream pop part somewhere else, but on Mareridt she's often blending those sounds to a point where they defy easy categorization. After kicking the album off with its title track, an atmospheric intro inspired by ancient chants, Myrkur gets right into it with lead single "Måneblôt," perhaps the finest example of her multifaceted sound. It sounds like traditional black metal for less than 30 seconds, before she brings in delicate, airy vocals that are more Mazzy Star than Mayhem, all while keeping the BM blastbeats pummeling along. Then enters a soaring melodic guitar riff, then a taste-test of the chorus, and then everything cuts out so acoustic Scandinavian folk instrumentation can take over. All of a sudden, it's a repeat of the intro, and then, finally, the chorus fully explodes. It's this triumphant, uplifting sound that truly finds a meeting ground between black metal, dream pop, and folk. You can say it was precedented by Ulver, but Ulver never really sounded like this. Myrkur brings these disparate sounds together in a way that feels truly original. And that's just one song.
The boundary-crossing continues on the next song, "The Serpent," which instead of blasty black metal, sort of marries a Neurosis-style chug to soaring, atmospheric pop. If part of the reason Myrkur kept her identity a mystery at first was to hide her indie pop past, that no longer seems like a concern of hers. Mareridt embraces Myrkur's knack for pop music more than any previous release, and it's a good look. A dream/sludge blend like "The Serpent" finds Myrkur sounding like a kindred spirit of Chelsea Wolfe, so it's a perfect pairing when Chelsea shows up to harmonize with Myrkur on "Funeral." (If you get the deluxe version of Mareridt, Chelsea is also on bonus track "Kvindelil.") Over even slower sludge than "The Serpent," "Funeral" sees Myrkur and Chelsea singing in such warped harmony that it's never really clear who's taking the lead. They overlap with each other in such an ever-changing way that it creates a truly psychedelic effect.
Myrkur's folk-dream-metal is also at a high on "Elleskudt" and "Ulvinde." Like "Måneblôt" and "The Serpent," the hooks on these two rank among the catchiest rock songs released in 2017. It's a cliche, but the language of music is universal. Myrkur sings in multiple languages on Mareridt, but you don't need to know what she's singing to be impacted by the power of how she's singing it. Her melodies on these songs creep into your brain and scratch that itch that undeniable pop songs always seem to scratch. There have been a lot of metal albums released this year that are as brutal as Mareridt, but not many with such rich, melodic songcraft.
In some ways, I would hesitate to call Mareridt a "metal album" in the traditional sense anyway (and it's certainly not a black metal album). If genre purists take issue with Deafheaven, they may be even more turned off by songs like the Tori Amos-sounding "Crown" or the atmospheric interpretation of traditional Nordic folk song "De Tre Piker." But that's sort of the point. Mareridt doesn't sound like it's supposed to appeal to genre purists. it was produced by Randall Dunn, a master of helping artists bring contrasting sounds together. He's worked with ever-so-slightly-metal folk singer Marissa Nadler, Zeppelin-meets-indie-rockers Black Mountain, freak folk maniacs Akron/Family, ambient black metallers Wolves in the Throne Room, and truly genre-defying bands like Boris and Kayo Dot. If you like those bands, there's no way you're a genre purist, and there's probably a very good chance you'll like Mareridt.
A lot has changed for Gainesville trio Hundred Waters since the release of their last album, 2014's The Moon Rang Like A Bell. Most notably, the festival that they present and curate, FORM Arcosanti, has turned into a pretty major fest. This year's lineup had such big names as Solange, James Blake, Father John Misty, and their OWSLA label boss Skrillex. While becoming big-name festival promoters, they stayed pretty quiet on the musical side. Some new stuff and some remixes came out in the past three years, but nothing major until now. Three years is a pretty long time -- especially in the fast-paced internet era -- but there's a good argument to be made for taking your time when the results are as good as Communicating. It's not drastically different than The Moon Rang Like A Bell, but it sounds more refined, more confident, and maybe even more instantly satisfying. Hundred Waters' mix of electronic music and acoustic music feels more natural than ever. They have songs that are heavier on the former, like the disco-y "Wave To Anchor," and songs that are heavier on the latter, like the piano ballad "Parade," but most songs blend electronic and acoustic sounds to the point where neither one stands out more than the other. Nicole Miglis is also a stronger singer than ever, really giving these songs an added boost. It might be their most accessible album yet, but it's not necessarily more poppy than their first two. Communicating has an off-kilter, experimental side that's always brilliantly clashing with their growing knack for addictive melodies.
While there's nothing quite like Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Steve Shelley making an album together, we have gotten tons of music from all four members since the band broke up, and much of it scratches a very similar itch. Thurston's latest album (with Steve on drums) sounds like songs he would've written for Sonic Youth, and Kim's recent solo single rocks pretty hard too (especially compared to her experimental post-SY project Body/Head). Lee's new album Electric Trim (also recorded with Steve) is perhaps the furthest his recent solo music has sounded from Sonic Youth, but it's also a very strong album in its own right. He dives deeper into the '60s psychedelia that he's always loved, and he finds himself in R.E.M. territory on a handful of Electric Trim songs too. The great singer/songwriter Sharon Van Etten duets with Lee on "Last Looks," and she also does backup vocals on five other songs. As you might guess, this is a softer album for Lee -- there's certainly nothing like "Eric's Trip" -- but it's still unmistakably the work of no other musician. Electric Trim has some of the darkest, trippiest songs of Lee's career, and the bold, rich production really adds to it. Lee's sort of always been the George Harrison of Sonic Youth -- the one with less songs on each album and some of the weirdest ideas. And much like George's solo career, Lee's is letting us see a very strong side of him that was never fully explored in his iconic band.
It's been a decade since folk rockers Deer Tick released their debut album (2007's War Elephant), four years since their last album (2013's Negativity), and now they're back with not one but two new albums on the same day. Don't call it a double album though; Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 are two distinct releases and they both show off different sides of Deer Tick. Vol. 1 is the more acoustic, folky side, the side that longtime Deer Tick fans may love the best, and Vol. 2 is the rockin' side, the side that inspired Deer Tick to do several Replacements covers and form a Nirvana cover band. ("It's A Whale" rivals the new Brand New album for most Nirvana-sounding music of 2017.) Putting out a massive release like this is a very classic rock move, and -- aside from the parts of these albums that actually sound like classic rock -- another very classic rock thing about it is how confident Deer Tick are about hopping between sounds. That was more common in rock 50 years ago than it is today, and you won't hear too many other records this year going from that aforementioned Nirvana homage to the intimate folk of "End of the World" to the sax-fueled, rock n' roll of "Mr. Nothing Gets Worse," to the country rockin' "End of the World," to the Neil Young-ish, harmonica-aided "Hope Is Big," to the Paul Westerberg-ian "Jumpstarting," to maybe some Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers worship on "Tiny Fortunes." It could come off sounding scatterbrained, but Deer Tick manage to make it feel natural.
LA-via-Chicago rapper Open Mike Eagle has emerged as one of the more consistently solid underground rappers of late, and this year's Brick Body Kids Still Daydream is his latest triumph. He's got a style that's chill and laid back, but with a surprisingly intricate delivery. And while the rapping itself is never in your face, Mike's lyrics certainly are. Mike gets introspective and admits "I die in all of my dreams" on the hook to "(How Could Anybody) Feel At Home," and he gets political on "Happy Wasteland Day," which is tempting to read as a Trump song, due to lines like "When the king is a garage person, I might wanna lay down and die." In that same song, he begs "Can the people get one day without violence? One day without fear?" in the hook, and the second verse has scenes that take place at a protest rally. He keeps it going on the next song, "Daydreaming in the Projects," a soulful ode to "the ghetto children solving problems in the projects around the world." Mike knows how to shake things up musically too. His usual vibe is chilled-out rap with neo-soul hooks, but then there's "TLDR (Smithing)," a song you can actually sorta dance to. For a record that feels so personal, it makes sense that there are only two guest spots, and Mike picks them wisely. Fellow underground rap staple Has-Lo shows up on the penultimate track "95 Radios," and the Don Giovanni-signed Sammus steals the show for a second with her verse on "Hymnal." Those guests are picked because they suit Mike's vision, not because they help him sell records, and their appearances help remind you just how strong and anti-commercial Mike's vision is.