Notable Releases of the Week (2/22)
February is a big month for televised events in the entertainment world, and with the Grammys and the Super Bowl behind us, it's now time for the Oscars this Sunday. There's a little crossover between the Oscars and the Grammys. Kacey Musgraves (who won Album of the Year at the Grammys) is presenting an award at the Oscars this year. Lady Gaga, who performed her massive A Star Is Born hit at the Grammys and took home a few awards for it, will perform it again at the Oscars (with Bradley Cooper this time), and it won't be surprising if A Star Is Born takes home more awards. And like the Grammys, Kendrick Lamar and SZA (who are nominated for Original Song) are not playing. Unlike the Grammys, Queen (with Adam Lambert) will perform, as Queen biopic Bohemian Rhapsody is up for a few awards, including Best Picture (against A Star Is Born, Black Panther, and more). Who do you think will win?
Meanwhile, there's a lot of worthy music out today. Before I get to this week's eight picks, here are some honorable mentions: Gary Clark Jr, Kehlani, Overkill, Sleaford Mods, The Claypool Lennon Delirium, The Gloaming, Lil Pump, Dead Witches (ex-Electric Wizard), Nakhane, Nasheim, Smif-N-Wessun, O.R.k. (mem King Crimson, Porcupine Tree), R. Stevie Moore, Half Japanese, Matthew Logan Vasquez, Adia Victoria, Susanna, the Diplo EP, and the Boundaries EP, and the Thom Yorke EP with Suspiria bonus material.
Check out my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Australia's Julia Jacklin put out her debut album Don't Let the Kids Win in 2016 via Polyvinyl, and it was a solid collection of mostly folk songs that earned her more than a few Angel Olsen comparisons, but it's clear now that Julia was far from reaching her full potential at the time. Last year, her band Phantastic Ferniture released their self-titled debut album on Polyvinyl, which showed Julia diving deeper into the indie rock direction that she only hinted at on Don't Let The Kids Win, and it suited her even better than the folk songs. Now she's back with her second solo album, Crushing, which is easily the best thing she's done yet. It's got the folk of Don't Let the Kids Win, the indie rock of Phantastic Ferniture, and then some. It's also got her sharpest lyricism yet, and that's no small part of why this album is so effective. Julia nails a mix of poetic delivery and purposeful songwriting that you don't hear everyday. The words roll off her tongue and make for endlessly catchy hooks, but they really mean something. "I don't want to be touched all the time / I raise my body up to be mine," she sings on the first hook of the standout "Head Alone," and later in the song she raises her voice for an even bigger hook and howls, "So I'll say it till he understands! You can love somebody without using your hands!" It's the kind of thing that could turn into an anthem for the #MeToo era, and it's sure as hell catchy enough to be.
There are cutting one liners like "I'm not a good woman when you're around" on "Body." There are keen insights like when Julia ponders a breakup on "Don't Know How to Keep Loving You" and her mind wanders to "I want your mother to stay friends with mine." There are conversational, imagery-fueled moments that drop you right into the action like the opening of "When The Family Flies In" when Julia sings, "I was sitting in my Corolla, talking to you while my friends drank inside. There was a silence, weak telephone reception. Doesn't complement a dark state of mind." She writes the kind of words that you can really find yourself getting lost in, and it helps that they come with such an appealing and diverse musical palette. "Head Alone" and a couple others ("Pressure To Party," "You Were Right") are cathartic indie rock anthems, while "Body" sees Julia heading into ethereal, atmospheric territory and "When The Family Flies In" sees her successfully trying her hand at a somber piano ballad. And there's still enough of the folk music that she initially built her career on, from the swaying Neil Young-ish folk rock of "Don't Know How To Keep Loving You" to quiet, bare-bones acoustic songs like "Convention" and "Comfort." The songs on her debut could blur together and feel repetitive at times, but that never happens on Crushing. Crushing only has one less song than its predecessor but it feels a lot shorter. It flies by, and it's got so much raw emotion and so many good hooks that it drills its way into your brain, and claws at your subconscious until you hit replay.
Mazy Fly is the second album by SPELLLING (aka Chrystia Cabral) and first for Sacred Bones, and it's easy to see why it's been picking up some buzz. Mazy Fly is like a collage of various experimental electronic pop sounds. It can remind you of anything from Bjork to Grimes to ANOHNI to Kelela to U.S. Girls."Hard to Please" (which the album has two versions of) kinda reminds me of Little Dragon. But it never sounds like one specific thing for too long, and the album has all kinds of psychedelic tendencies that keeps it feeling weird. It's very modern, but there's also hints of everything from whimsical '60s psych-pop to '70s soul to gothy '80s synthpop. Chrystia is also a hell of a vocalist. She can sing a good pop hook when she needs to, but she can also be truly operatic in a weird, warped way. There's so much going on which makes Mazy Fly a lot to unpack at once, but repeated listens reveal the many treasures buried within.
Black Sabbath pioneered doom metal as we know it in the early '70s, but Candlemass are one of the bands that helped establish the genre as a going concern after Sabbath went in other directions and the NWOBHM started gaining popularity. Their 1986 debut album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus became a classic of post-Sabbath doom, and it helped give the subgenre "epic doom metal" its name. Original vocalist Johan Längqvist parted ways with Candlemass soon after that album, and guitarist Mats "Mappe" Björkman and bassist Leif Edling kept Candlemass alive for decades, with various lead vocalists coming and going and a few short hiatuses in between. Now, over thirty years later, they've reunited with Längqvist and made their second album with him ever. And adding to the number of legendary doom musicians on this album, Black Sabbath's Tony Iommi lends a shredding solo to the song "Astorolus – The Great Octopus." It all makes The Door to Doom the most anticipated Candlemass album in a while, and The Door to Doom does a pretty fine job of living up to the hype. Primary songwriter Leif Edling is a true lifer at this point, and he has probably noticed how influential his band has become, as The Door to Doom has a crisp, modern sound that stays true to the band's roots while all sounding like a contemporary of current doom bands like Pallbearer, Khemmis, Spirit Adrift, and Crypt Sermon. Admittedly, Längqvist's voice feels a bit affected by age and his singing sounds a bit more dated than the rest of the record, but I find myself warming up to it quickly and ultimately the strong songwriting keeps The Door to Doom afloat. It's packed with killer riffs, and it's no small feat that a band can sound this badass and this relevant over three decades into their career. It doesn't top Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, but if this Candlemass comeback helps introduce the band to younger doom fans who might not have otherwise heard them (or if the Tony Iommi feature helps introduce them to people who know "Iron Man" from the radio), then The Door to Doom has done its job.
There are a few recurring themes in this week's Notable Releases. One is that, in the same way Candlemass returned to reclaim their status as an influential and still-relevant band in the doom metal genre, The Chocolate Watchband have returned to do just that for psychedelic garage rock. Currently popular acts like Ty Segall and King Gizzard wouldn't exist without the influence of The Chocolate Watchband and their peers, and the Watchband waste no time proving that their new music rivals the modern bands they've influenced. "Secret Rendezvous," the first track on The Chocolate Watchband's first album in 19 years, opens with a slithery guitar riff that kicks as much ass as just about any garage rock riff to come out in recent memory. When longtime lead vocalist David Aguilar starts singing, he proves he hasn't lost his snarl one bit. From there, This Is My Voice explores tripped-out, raga-inspired psychedelia ("Judgement Day," "Bombay Pipeline"), swaggering, Bo Diddley Beat garage rock ("Take A Ride"), whimsical psych-pop ("Bed"), psych-folk (a cover of Bob Dylan's "Desolation Row"), and more, and they include nods to their fellow OG psych peers with faithful covers of The Seeds' "I Can't Seem To Make You Mine" and The Music Machine's "Talk Talk." As with Candlemass, This Is My Voice sounds a bit more greyed than The Chocolate Watchband's classics (like their timeless 1967 debut No Way Out), but it's pretty impressive how solid it does sound. And, with lyrical themes that take on Trump-era America, it's not entirely stuck in the past. Also, as The Chocolate Watchband's first album in 19 years, This Is My Voice not only brings the Watchband into the era of Ty Segall and King Gizzard, it also reminds you that this band were pioneers of the last garage rock moment too. Their last album Get Away came out in 2000, just before Jack White and his peers made garage rock more popular than it had ever been, and records like No Way Out were a clear predecessor to that movement too. None of it would have happened had bands like The Chocolate Watchband not paved the way, and it feels truly triumphant that they're still banging out psych/garage burners over 50 years later.
Tim Kinsella has fronted a handful of bands over the years, including Cap'n Jazz, Owls, Joan of Arc, and more, and his latest project Good Fuck (a collaboration with his partner Jenny Pulse) is closest in spirit to Joan of Arc. Good Fuck favor abrasive synths while Joan of Arc are still mostly a guitar-oriented band, but both bands bring the idea of "challenging" or "difficult" music to a new level. Sometimes it feels like Joan of Arc are just seeing how weird they can be before people finally turn off their records or walk out of their shows, and they seem content with weeding out anyone who can't stand it. Joan of Arc are a serious band, but their music also sort of asks you to get in on their inside jokes or get out. Good Fuck's debut album is kind of like that too. It's not super avant-garde or anything, but it's the opposite of easy-listening. It tests your patience with a collection of songs that are like part synthpop, part theater, part nails on a chalkboard. Those wanting Tim to make another Cap'n Jazz record may wanna turn away now, but if you're ready to enter the weird world of Good Fuck, stop reading about it and dig right in.
Hate Force is the new-ish band from James Pligge, frontman of the bone-crushing metalcore band Harms Way, along with Drew Brown of the now-defunct powerviolence band Weekend Nachos and Like Rats, and Todd Nief (also of Like Rats). They may have a hardcore pedigree, but Hate Force sees these guys trying their hand at death metal and they're pretty good at it. They've got blasts of whiplash-inducing old school death metal, as well as some more groove-oriented stuff, and they keep things nice and raw. It's not super lo-fi, but there isn't a drop of studio polish on this thing. And while you may be more used to hearing Pligge bark his head off, he's not half bad at death growls either. He sounds convincingly like an actual beast, which basically makes him the ideal frontman for this type of thing. My favorite parts are when they really lock into an irresistible groove, like in the beginning of "Death Sentence" or about halfway through "Traitors," but the whole thing is pretty solid. Hate Force aren't as inventive at their genre as Harms Way are at theirs, but it's cool to hear Pligge find new ways to achieve brutality, and Hate Force is indeed brutal.
I mentioned in the Chocolate Watchband blurb that there are a few recurring themes in this week's Notable Releases. Here are two more. Like Hate Force, Pounder is a metal supergroup from musicians who usually play much different types of heavy music. And like Candlemass, their new album sounds like a metal album that could've come out 30 years ago. They're lead by Matt Harvey, who's a legend in the death/gore world thanks to Exhumed, Gruesome, and more, and they also feature Alejandro Corredor (of grindcore band Nausea LA) and Tom Draper (who recently joined veteran death metal band Carcass). And though Harvey is normally known for brutality and filth, Pounder gives him a chance to indulge in the poppier, cheesier metal sounds that even the most br00tal kids have a soft spot for. Pounder is an homage to NWOBHM, speed metal, hair metal, and other metal subgenres that dominated the Sunset Strip in the '80s. There's even a power ballad ("Long Time No Love"), and it's REALLY cheesy, but if you've read this far, somewhere deep inside of you there's a soft spot for cheesy power ballads and you know it. Pounder doesn't do anything new, but they sound self-aware enough to know this is just for fun, and it is fun to hear a legend like Matt Harvey go all in and make a full record like this. It'd probably be even more fun to see 'em live (and they're known to do stuff like Def Leppard and Riot covers at their shows, which should make them even more fun). It's the kind of thing where you can't think too hard about it. You just gotta hit play and give in to your cheesiest hair metal desires.
The Bandcamp above will have the full stream very soon. Meanwhile, you can listen at Decibel.
Migos albums and Migos solo albums have all generally sounded the same since Migos established the sound that made them famous, but Offset's solo debut -- the final Migos solo debut out of the gate -- seems to at least somewhat try to change that. There really aren't any radio-baiting singles on this thing. Father of 4 is a slower, sadder sounding album than you might expect from a member of Migos, and it goes for some "mature" moves, like opening with an intro from Dungeon Family spoken word vet Big Rube and including a throwback soul hook from Cee-Lo Green (though he probably would've been smart to choose someone else for that). Given the title of the album and Offset's highly publicized separation and reconciliation with the mother of one of his four children, Cardi B, it seems like this might be Offset's "I need to be a better father/husband" album, and though I haven't made out all the lyrics yet, a few of the lines seem to tackle that concept head-on. The more somber tone suits this approach well, but like most Migos-related albums, the songs still sound too similar to each other for Father of 4 to earn its lengthy running time. The one time things do get shaken up is when Cardi B herself comes in for a vicious verse on a shit-talking song about people who will "do anything for clout" (called "Clout"). She doesn't use her appearance to address any of the recent drama with Offset, but she also doesn't really have to. She just pops up to remind you that she's still unstoppable, and that Offset is lucky to have her.