We're two weeks away from Christmas Eve, and most of the music world is in year-end mode, with Album of the Year lists galore, but this is still a fairly major release week. I highlight seven new releases below, Bill talks about the Bill Callahan & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy covers album and more in Indie Basement, and honorable mentions include Jeff Parker, Big Boi & Sleepy Brown, Rick Ross, Alicia Keys, Tor Lundvall, Malignant Altar, Dark Sky Burial (Napalm Death), Worst Party Ever, Hotboii, Drakeo the Ruler, Wiz Khalifa & Cardo Got Wings, Pi'erre Bourne & TM88, Nicole Atkins, Vado, Dead Best (mem Atom and His Package, AM/FM), Delay, OT The Real & DJ Green Lantern, Lizard Music, Mondaze, Funeral, Teen Daze, the Moses Sumney live album, The National's Cyrano soundtrack, the Fleet Foxes live album (recorded at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn), the Green Day BBC Sessions album (we've got it on vinyl), the Boneflower / Lang split, the Jlin EP, the Rio da Yung OG EP, the A Boogie Wit Da Hoodie EP, and the San Fermin collaborations comp (ft. Wye Oak, Wild Pink, Thao Nguyen, Nico Muhly & more).

Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?

Neil Young
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Neil Young & Crazy Horse - Barn
Reprise

Neil Young remains just as prolific now as he was in his early '70s heyday, and between new albums, "lost" albums, live albums, and other archival releases, it is not easy to keep up with his output. And not everything he puts out today is on par with his classic material, but Barn -- his new album with Crazy Horse, following 2019's Colorado -- has some of his strongest late-career material. "Song of the Seasons," "They Might Be Lost," and "Tumblin’ Thru the Years" are raw, folky songs that sound like they could be lost gems of Neil's early '70s era, and you could say the same about "Don't Forget Love," the gorgeous piano ballad that closes the album. But the most stunning song of all is "Welcome Back," an eight-and-a-half minute dirge that sounds like "Down by the River" by way of On the Beach. Neil's been considered a predecessor to both grunge and slowcore, and this song fits in neatly with both. The album also has some of the overly preachy stuff that Neil embraced in more recent years ("Canerican"), and a few of the rockers sound a bit dated, but the overall vibe of Barn is appealing even on the more skippable songs. True to its title, the album was recorded in a barn, and it sounds as raw and live and spontaneous as Crazy Horse sound at their legendary live shows. It's not often that you hear classic rock superstars making music this primitive 50+ years into their career, but Neil Young remains in a league of his own.

Pick up Barn on vinyl in regular and deluxe format.

AeonStation_Observatory_coverart
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Aeon Station - Observatory
Sub Pop

It's been over 18 years since The Wrens released The Meadowlands, and about eight years since The Wrens submitted a now-abandoned followup to Sub Pop, and co-frontman Kevin Whelan got tired of waiting. He took five songs that he wrote for the album, plus five others, and has now released them as Observatory, the debut album by his new project Aeon Station. The album features drums by Wrens drummer Jerry MacDonald, plus some contributions from Kevin's brother/Wrens bandmate Greg Whelan (so every Wren except Charles Bissell plays on it), but Kevin wrote and recorded most of it himself. It's not exactly a new Wrens album, but it's pretty damn close, and it captures a lot of the same charm that The Meadowlands offered. That album was a big leap forward for The Wrens, more spacious and expansive than anything they'd released prior, and Observatory picks up where the progression of that album left off. Like The Meadowlands, these are grand, sweeping songs with beautiful, soaring melodies, but still delivered with the humble approach of '90s indie rock. Kevin's voice hasn't aged a bit, and it's as distinct as it was on those classic Wrens albums, and though this is technically a solo project, Jerry MacDonald is the album's secret weapon. He remains a hard-hitting, tasteful drummer, and he really helps elevate the songs he played on. In some ways, the existence of Aeon Station is bittersweet, because it means there's still no Wrens album, but Kevin recently told us that he still hopes a new Wrens album happens, and until then, these songs really do scratch the same itch.

Juice WRLD
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Juice WRLD - Fighting Demons
Grade A/Interscope

It's easy to get cynical about labels putting out multiple posthumous albums for an artist in quick succession. It often seems like a way to profit off of an artist's death, and they're often forced to turn half-finished demos into complete songs in a way that the artist most likely never would have done. Some musicians take four or five years to put out the followup album they envision; it seems unlikely that artists would agree they had 50 tracks in their vault ready for public consumption, and yet, that's become an increasingly common number of posthumous songs to be released directly in the aftermath of artists' death. 50 is about the number of songs now released posthumously by Juice WRLD, who tragically died of a drug overdose on December 8, 2019 at age 21. The 25-song Legends Never Die came out last year, and now, two days after the two-year anniversary of his death, comes the 18-song Fighting Demons. (The accompanying documentary Juice WRLD: Into the Abyss also comes to HBO on December 16.) And what's immediately evident about Fighting Demons, is how much it really does feel like a complete album. It's interspersed with a few spoken word interludes -- two by Juice WRLD, one by Eminem talking about recovering from drug addiction -- and it features a few guest appearances (Justin Bieber, Polo G, Trippie Redd, Suga of BTS), at least one of which was confirmed to be added posthumously, but the majority of these songs were fully fleshed out by Juice WRLD himself before he passed. They sound as complete as the biggest hits he put out during his lifetime, with several standout lyrics and an onslaught of enduring hooks. With multiple lyrical references to death and drugs, it's often an eerie album to listen to, but it's also an honest portrayal of this talented, trailblazing artist who clearly was fighting some demons during his lifetime. The impact of the emo-rap sound that Juice WRLD helped pioneer has only increased after his death, with a whole mainstream pop punk revival currently underway that can be directly traced back to Juice WRLD's early material. Fighting Demons is cut from that same addictive cloth, with a production style that pulls from Atlanta trap (courtesy of Metro Boomin, Take A Daytrip, T-Minus, and more) and emotive, strained singing that's clearly rooted in the emo/pop punk explosion of the mid 2000s. It's a sound that's been fully embraced by both the hip hop community and the emo community, and Juice WRLD truly blurred the lines between both worlds. Fighting Demons is both a great emo album and a great rap album, and it's kind of amazing to think he recorded all these songs no less than two years ago and they all still sound so innovative today.

Mach-Hommy
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Mach-Hommy - Balens Cho (Hot Candles)
self-released

Mach-Hommy already released one of the year's best rap albums with Pray For Haiti, which was executive produced by Westside Gunn and released on his Griselda Records label, and now he wraps up the year with a new self-released album, Balens Cho (Hot Candles). Largely co-produced by Mach-Hommy himself and Nicholas Craven (alongside contributions from Griselda associate Conductor Williams, billy woods associate Messiah Musik, and the late Ras G) and featuring live sax by jazz musician Sam Gendel and piano by Forte, it's an overall more lush sounding album than its predecessor, and with just two guest rappers (Tha God Fahim and AA Rashid), it feels a little more insular too. Like on Pray For Haiti, Mach-Hommy's Haitian heritage is a recurring theme throughout Mach's lyrics, and the record is interspersed with soundbite interludes that play off the theme as well. As with any Mach-Hommy album, though, Balens Cho is never just about one thing. Mach is a master of double entendre, wordplay, and mystique, and even when his song meanings aren't immediately discernible (or Google-able), his delivery is always laser-focused.

Michael Hurley
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Michael Hurley - The Time of the Foxgloves
No Quarter

Michael Hurley got his start in the legendary Greenwich Village folk scene of the 1960s and '70s, and though he's less of a household name today than onetime peers like Bob Dylan, he's built up a cult following amongst fans and players of lo-fi, indie, and outsider music. Such artists as Cat Power, Yo La Tengo, Cass McCombs, and Hiss Golden Messenger have covered his songs, and his praises have been sung by Will Oldham, Devendra Banhart, Lucinda Williams, Son Volt, and countless others. If you're unfamiliar with classic albums like 1971's Armchair Boogie or 1976's Have Moicy! (with The Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones) but you're into any kind of folk or freak folk or lo-fi singer/songwriter type music, it's very worth changing that. And Michael not only put out classics 50 years ago; he also remained active and prolific over the years, and today brings his latest album, The Time of the Foxgloves. Michael's put out various home recordings over the past decade or so, but this is first studio album in 12 years. Nathan Salsburg, who would know what he's talking about, calls it "the most varied, hi-fi Snock album heard in a while; arguably since 1988's Watertower." (For the uninitiated, Snock is Michael Hurley's nickname.) "Hi-fi" is of course relative; Foxgloves still sounds totally raw and bare-bones, without an ounce of studio polish, but it's crystal clear. It puts Michael Hurley's still-timeless songwriting in the forefront, without anything getting in its way, and it's also propped up by some wonderful embellishments. Betsy Nichols, Josephine Foster, Lindsay Clark, and Kati Claborn provide lovely harmonies, and a slew of other musicians also help flesh out the songs with organ, violin, slide guitar, xylophone, and more. It feels big compared to his recent lo-fi albums, but it still sounds intimate. Even over half a century into his career, Michael Hurley still feels like a well-kept secret.

Tierra Whack Pop
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Tierra Whack - Pop?
Interscope

Last week, Tierra Whack released the three-song EP Rap?, and today she followed it with another new three-song EP, Pop?. As the titles suggest, Rap? saw Tierra taking a more traditional approach to rap than usual, and Pop? finds her leaning into her poppiest side, but still in the unique way that only Tierra Whack could. And it may just be three songs, but from the bouncy, dancey "Body of Water" to the funk-infused "Lazy" to the countrified "Dolly," it covers a lot of musical ground.

Scenario A
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Scenario A - Tired Device
Middle-Man

If you're into the current wave of screamo, you should not miss this just-released album by Scenario A, who are a brand new band with some very familiar faces: Closer's Ryann Slauson, Coma Regalia's Shawn Decker, and Lord Snow's Steph Maldonado (who also plays in Plague Walker with Shawn). The 10-song LP dropped today on Middle-Man Records, and it's a very appealing fusion of harsh, shrieked screamo and upbeat, catchy post-hardcore. It's super raw, but there are some really bright guitar melodies coming through, and more so than the members' other bands, this is music to dance to.

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Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.

For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.

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