Five Notable Releases of the Week (1/12)
Musically speaking, 2018 is already off to a pretty huge start. The festival announcements have been coming in like crazy, including Coachella, Governors Ball, Bonnaroo, Boston Calling, Firefly, Shaky Knees, and The National's inaugural Homecoming festival, and with those lineup announcements comes the returns of The Distillers, The Gaslight Anthem, and Arctic Monkeys. Not to mention Jawbreaker are playing more shows. Who else is excited???
New music is coming right along too. Last week had a surprise Jeff Rosenstock album on Polyvinyl that I can't recommend enough, and this week has more worthy music. We still aren't in full onslaught-of-new-albums mode yet (that starts next week), so I included one great album this week that came out last Friday that I haven't gotten a chance to talk about yet.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
It's weird to think that we've become so accustomed to streaming services that a vinyl-only release feels like an oddity, but such is life in 2018. Yes, you do need to buy the 12" to hear Panda Bear's new A Day With The Homies EP, and yes, this does feel like more of a casual project than Panda Bear's more widely-released albums. When he announced the album, he wrote a statement saying that "the songs aren't lyrically linear" and that they are "without frills or much embellishment." He also added, "It's not often anymore I find something specific to my life that feels worthwhile setting to song for others to consume. It's a tough sell convincing myself that my own troubles warrant as much attention as those we all share." So there really is a sense that this project is a little more of a private gem, and made for the fans who are diehard enough to shell out the $16.99 to get a copy you can hold in your hands. That all said, A Day With The Homies should be rewarding to anyone who does pick it up. It's kind of a first for Panda Bear. He has two other EPs, but both were tied to the release of (and featured songs from) 2015's Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. This is the first time he's presented an EP as a full project (though Animal Collective have done it many times), and each side of the EP brings something different to the table. Side A has "Flight" and "Part of the Math." The former is most typical of Panda Bear's usual Brian-Wilson-for-the-digital-age approach, while the seven-and-a-half minute "Part of the Math" is the most avant- of all the songs on this EP, with hardly any of his pop side at all. Side B has three more songs, "Shepard Tone," "Nod To The Folks," and "Sunset," which kind of find the middle ground between the first two songs. The whole EP is some of his most lo-fi material since the early days, but still with the confidence in his voice that he developed on 2007's Person Pitch. There's nothing as immediate as the songs on that album or its two followups, but immediacy doesn't seem like the point of A Day With The Homies. As a solo artist and a member of Animal Collective, Panda Bear has accomplished a lot and for a few years he even changed the face of indie pop music. With A Day With The Homies, he's able to settle down and relax.
After starting his solo career as a revivalist of '70s-style outlaw country, Daniel Romano began taking his sound in new directions on 2015's If I’ve Only One Time Askin'. That continued on 2016's Mosey and 2017's Modern Pressure, both of which brought in psychedelia and string arrangements and all kinds of ambitious sounds that were far from his roots. After releasing some of the most fleshed-out music of his career, Daniel Romano stripped things way back in 2018 with the surprise self-release of two albums, Nerveless and Human Touch. Production-wise, he hasn't made music this raw since his first few records, and sound-wise, he's really never made music like this. Human Touch is a drum-less acoustic album, with embellishments mostly coming in the form of some gorgeous vocal harmonies, and it's much closer to the Dylan/Neil Young folk realm than to the country music of Daniel's early acoustic material. Nerveless does bring in a full band, but instead of the big-sounding arrangements of his last few records, Nerveless is really just an indie rock record. (Daniel Romano has had indie rock connections for a while and was associated with members of Eric's Trip and Constantines early on.) Considering the stripped-down sound, the lack of label and promotion, and the fact that Daniel says these albums will only be on Bandcamp until his Canadian tour ends on February 11, it seems possible that these albums are more of a "side" thing and not the "proper" followup to Modern Pressure. But either way, they deserve to be heard, and Daniel's songwriting is arguably even more appealing when presented this way, especially if you're a fan of traditional indie rock. His music has never been as pretty or as intimate as the hushed folk of Human Touch, and the rocker inside of him has never fully come out to the forefront the way it does on Nerveless. Given how prolific he has been lately, it's nice that he continues to change his sound up, and it's impressive how much of a natural he is no matter what style of music he plays. Releasing two albums at once may sound like a lot in our short-attention-span times, but Nerveless and Human Touch are like two sides of a coin and they're both essential when it comes to showing the full appeal of Daniel Romano's artistry thus far.
Kyle Morton's Portland, OR-based chamber pop collective Typhoon are back with their first album in nearly five years (their first since 2013's White Lighter), and they're just as ambitious as they were when we last heard from them. They've shied away from the horn arrangements this time in favor of more string arrangements and guitar-based songs, but it's still heavily arranged indie rock in the vein of mid-2000s records like Sufjan's Illinoise and Arcade Fire's Funeral (and vocally like Bright Eyes -- Kyle Morton is often a dead ringer for Conor Oberst). It's a 68-minute album divided into four parts, and it's a fictional concept album about a man who loses his memory but also a comment on the state of the world today. So yeah, ambitious. Maybe even a little overambitious, but fortunately, Kyle and his band really know how to pull this kind of thing off. It's good timing for an album like this too -- coming off of 2017's 2000s-style indie rock comeback, a lot of people have been in the mood for this kind of music lately, and those people will likely find that Offerings does it really well. And what really sets it apart from its peers is that it's such a dark album. Music like this tends to be uplifting -- and previous Typhoon albums would fit that description -- but Offerings favors minor-key chord progressions and moody atmospheres that work perfectly with its pained lyrical themes. It may take a lot of influence from the music of a decade and a half ago, but it is an album for the dark times of today.
When people talk about Betty Davis, one thing that always seems to come up is how she was ahead of her time. NPR headlined a 2009 article "Betty Davis: A 'Nasty Gal' Ahead Of Her Time" (the same article that critic Meredith Ochs called her "Sly Stone, Mick Jagger and The Jimi Hendrix Experience all rolled into one woman"). It's frequently been noted that Betty's uncompromising style influenced Madonna, OutKast and Prince. She is famously known for introducing her then-husband Miles Davis to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone in the late '60s and, as a result, influencing the direction of Bitches Brew. She's also been sampled by a handful of notable rappers. Now, almost a decade after that NPR article, Light in the Attic is reissuing 1975's Nasty Gal -- largely considered Betty Davis' defining moment -- on vinyl, and Betty is still as prescient as ever. The reissue comes right in the middle of the Trump era, where "nasty woman" has been reclaimed as a statement of pride after Trump used it as an insult against the person who could have been our first woman president. The way Betty Davis swaggers and screams "I ain't nothin' but a nasty gal now! I said you said I was a bitch now, didn't ya didn't ya?" feels as defiant and empowering in the face of Trump as it must have felt four decades ago.
The theme of "Nasty Gal" resonates especially strongly in this political climate, and the sounds and images of the album are timeless too. The hard funk of Nasty Gal simultaneously sounds like a product of the '70s and like something that could get a lot of attention today. The undying love for this kind of music is the reason artists like Mavis Staples and Lee Fields, or the late Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley, could enjoy successful careers in recent times. For an even more modern comparison, Nasty Gal could believably pass as the new Janelle Monae album. "F.U.N.K." is an ode to Betty's heroes (including but not limited to Jimi Hendrix, Sly Stone, Stevie Wonder, Tina Turner, Al Green, Isaac Hayes, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Funkadelic), all of whom are still recognized as important artists today, and all of whom Betty Davis deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as. Closer "The Lone Ranger" gets trippy with the kind of psychedelic soul that never goes out of style. "You and I" is about her then-ex-husband Miles Davis, who -- in a proto-Rumours moment -- co-wrote the song and provides trumpet on it. Nasty Gal is a classic from start to finish, and making the LP reissue even more worth your while is that it comes with a booklet featuring rare photos, full lyrics, and new liner notes. It's also timed with the release of a new documentary on Betty.
This came out last Friday but I was catching up on stuff released over the holidays that day, and today is on the slower side when it comes to new albums, and Ephorize is too good to ignore, so I'm gonna talk about it now. If you know anything about CupcakKe (the rap moniker of Elizabeth Eden Harris), you probably know she's over-the-top raunchy and more than a little jokey. It's the kind of thing that might seem like it could become a shtick that gets old fast, but Ephorize proves that CupcakKe is the real deal and that she's here to stay. The album was expertly produced, with a musical backdrop that's both very rich-sounding and very diverse. The beats avoid sounding like typical rap radio and sometimes they don't sound like rap beats at all -- in addition to booming, bassy hip hop, Ephorize pulls from dance music, piano pop, Latin pop, and more. CupcakKe also continues to prove that she can really rap, and that she's no one trick pony when it comes to lyrics. The raunch is all still there, though she maybe slightly tones it down on Ephorize compared to her earlier material in that there's nothing as unsubtle as song titles like "Best Dick Sucker," "Deepthroat," and "Cumshot" (the closest is probably "Spoiled Milk Titties"). But arguably more impactful than the raunch are songs like the LGBT pride anthem "Crayons" ("Boy on boy, girl on girl / Like who the fuck you like, fuck the world") and "Self Interview," which battles sexist double standards, questions societal norms, and is self-aware in doing so ("most people already skipped this song 'cause it ain't about sex and killing"). Her more pensive side only makes the X-rated stuff even more powerful, and, coupled with her skilled delivery, puts a handful of rappers who are perceived to be "more serious" to shame. Once Ephorize makes the impact that it seems destined to make, it should be abundantly clear that CupcakKe means business.