Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/5)
This is one of the most stacked release days of the year so far. I highly recommend the five albums I picked today (see below), and I also recommend the new Author & Punisher, Sheck Wes, Fucked Up, Cursive, High On Fire, Mozzy, Molly Burch, Madeline Kenney, Petite Noir, David Nance Group, Swearin', Kristin Hersh, Ghostface Killah, T.I., Tokyo Police Club, GABI, Dave East & Styles P, Nathan Bowles, the AlunaGeorge EP, The Natvral EP (aka Kip Berman from The Pains of Being Pure at Heart's new solo project), and the Pip Blom EP.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of this very stacked week?
Matthew Houck's Phosphorescent project had a bigger breakthrough than ever with 2013's Muchacho, which introduced electronics and other new sounds into Phosphorescent's music and was home to one of the finest indie rock songs in recent memory, "Song For Zula." That song has a real timeless quality to it, and it also turned out to be a little prescient. Its atmospheric, electronic-tinged Americana came a few years before The War On Drugs helped bring that kind of music into the indie rock zeitgeist, and even now that it's pretty common to hear indie bands making music like this, there's still no band that does it quite like Phosphorescent did on "Song For Zula." So that, plus the fact that Houck waited five years to release a followup album, means there's a lot riding on C'est La Vie. And while it may not have an individual song as earth-shattering as "Song For Zula," it actually feels a little more consistently strong than Muchacho. Just one listen through C'est La Vie takes the pressure right off and makes that five-year gap feel like nothing.
C'est La Vie still sees Phosphorescent finding ways to make classic Americana sound more atmospheric or more modern or more psychedelic, so it'll still fit pretty well in the indie-heartland-rock trendpieces. But part of what makes it such an exciting album is how much it doesn't sound like the mass of bands making music like this right now. It doesn't sound much like Muchacho either; it sees Phosphorescent once again reinventing his sound while staying true to enough of the things that made his music so beloved in the first place. The album is bookended by two psychedelic instrumentals, "Black Moon / Silver Waves" and "Black Waves / Silver Moon," and they aren't filler or anything; they really add to how much C'Est La Vie flows like a cohesive album. And for the most part, the seven songs in between all manage to be distinctly different beasts, without any individual song wavering from the album's vision. After the first instrumental, Phosphorescent eases you in with the calming, sorta-title track "C’est La Vie No. 2." It's got a similar '50s-ballad-meets-21st-century-bounce to "Song For Zula," but sounds more aged, more tired, and wiser. From there, C'est La Vie travels from the Paul Simon stomp of "New Birth In New England," to the modernized blues ballad "There From Here," to two different types of atmospheric takes on alt-country: the hopeful "My Beautiful Boy" and the more melancholic, tear-in-my-beer country of "These Rocks." And right in the dead center of all that, the album gets really interesting. Its true centerpiece is the eight-minute "Around The Horn," where Phosphorescent takes what could've been a standard Americana song and turns it into a motorik, droney psych jam. You can really lose yourself in it, and when you're finally able to come up for air, C'est La Vie hits you with its strangest song of all, "Christmas Down Under." At its core, it's that kind of classic American rock ballad that you could've pictured Tom Petty writing, but Matthew Houck really shakes it up. It's a song where pedal steel shares space with vocoder vocals, and where a rugged Crazy Horse-style guitar solo finds its way into the otherwise pristine mix. It shouldn't work, but somehow, it's one of the best songs on the LP.
It's fascinating to see how Phosphorescent made so many disparate sounds come together so cohesively, but these songs aren't just fascinating -- they're genuinely enjoyable. The experimental tendencies wouldn't be successful if the songwriting wasn't so substantial. Matthew Houck is truly one of those naturals, a Petty or a Springsteen -- one of those songwriters who can feel so down to earth even when they're being deeper than that. (And this album, which muses on themes like existentialism and fatherhood, gets very deep.) That comes across almost effortlessly on C'est La Vie, though nothing on the album actually sounds effortless. The level of care that you can tell went into this album is astounding.
Cat Power (aka Chan Marshall) has never made a bad album, and her shifts in direction like the soul-inspired 2006 album The Greatest and the electronic-leaning 2012 album Sun have all been great looks for her. So this isn't a diss at those albums, but the best version of Cat Power is the intimate, stripped-back version, which makes it very exciting that Cat Power's Wanderer is her first album like that in 15 years. It's not really a "return to form" though -- Cat Power has never made an album that sounds quite like this one. On paper, there are some things that make it seem like it would be a pop album -- one song has auto-tune ("Horizon"), one features Lana Del Rey ("Woman"), and one is a Rihanna cover ("Stay"). But even those songs fit the earthy, folky vibe of this album. For the most part, Wanderer sees Chan switching between acoustic guitar and bare-bones piano, and no matter how quiet and minimal the instrumentation gets, her soaring voice -- which is as breathtaking now as it was on her mid-'90s classics -- is always a massive presence. One of the especially good examples of this is "Black." Over nothing but some simple acoustic guitar chords, Chan layers two slightly different, highly emotive vocal performances on top of each other while revealing a captivating sense of storytelling. On that song and most others on Wanderer, she makes it look so easy, so simple, like anyone could do it. But not anyone can do what Chan Marshall does. There's a reason her music has been so highly regarded for over twenty years, and why each new thing she does feels as relevant as the last. She's got a voice and a songwriting style that's truly her own, and she's clearly got plenty more to say with it. These days she takes much longer breaks between albums than she used to, but each time she makes a new one she reminds us how lucky we are to have her around. With her successful return to a grippingly sparse sound on Wanderer, we might even be just a little luckier than usual.
Adrianne Lenker was an active solo artist before Big Thief formed, and since Big Thief are a folky band fronted by a powerful presence like Adrianne, it's easy to sometimes think of Big Thief as the continuation of her solo work. But as Big Thief progress, it becomes clearer and clearer that that isn't the case. Their material has become increasingly "band" oriented and each member of Big Thief really brings their own unique vibe to the table. So, while Big Thief are still very a much a current concern, it makes sense that Adrianne would feel a need to make another solo album as well. The songs on abyskiss don't sound like they would be Big Thief songs. They sound like very intimate, very delicate, very personal songs that are best heard performed by an individual with their acoustic guitar. And it's clear from listening to abysskiss that Adrianne's songwriting has come a long way from her last solo album, 2013's Hours Were The Birds (which Saddle Creek is now set to re-release in November, along with a-sides and b-sides, a compilation of Adrianne Lenker and her Big Thief bandmate Buck Meek's pre-Big Thief collaborations).
Save for the drum-less indie rock of "out of your mind," which is a little rougher around the edges than the rest of abysskiss (and a definite highlight), the songs on this album really require nothing more than Adrianne and her gently picked acoustic guitar to stop you in their tracks. Sometimes songs sound like they have faint percussion, but it might just be Adrianne's foot tapping or her hand hitting her guitar. That's how up close and personal these songs sound. abysskiss feels like an album that could've been recorded straight through in one take without much or any excess studio work. It's about as real as it gets, and it proves Adrianne is a commanding artist on the strength of songwriting alone, with no frills or anything added. Adrianne has long cited both Joni Mitchell and Billie Holiday as influences, and abysskiss sort of finds the exact middle ground between those two artists, and then strips it down to something even more bare. For a modern comparison, this album reminds me a lot of the last Jessica Pratt album, another album with mostly just acoustic guitar and vocals that's highly captivating and endlessly replayable. But even with whatever comparisons do exist, Adrianne Lenker has gotten to the point where she truly has her own sound, and abyskiss may be the strongest example of this yet.
From the beginning, Windhand positioned themselves as the latest in a long lineage of fuzzed-out stoner doom that was of course influenced by Black Sabbath but more directly influenced by bands like Electric Wizard, who really honed in that one aspect of Sabbath's sound and brought it into the 1990s and 2000s. But there was always something more to Windhand stirring beneath the fuzz. There was a strong melodic grunge element and a strong '60s psych element, both trying to fight their way through. (Not that grunge was ever very different than stoner metal, and not that stoner metal would exist without '60s psych, but they are nonetheless three distinctly different genres of music.) On Eternal Return, Windhand's fourth and best album yet, those elements come through louder and clearer than ever. It's their most melodic release, and their most psychedelic release, and they do it without losing the fuzzed-out doom riffage that made them so satisfying in the first place. Most songs on this album still take that trademark Windhand approach of finding a deceptively simple chord progression, and sorta seesawing between chords rather than making traditional shifts from one chord to the next. It's a hypnotic approach, and it makes these seven or eight or eleven minute songs feel like half their actual length. But even with all the weighty riffage and psychedelia, Eternal Return remains one of the catchiest albums of 2018 in any rock subgenre -- be it metal, punk, indie rock, or beyond. It's their second album in a row with Seattle grunge legend Jack Endino producing, and even more so than their last album, they pull off that grunge style blend of roaring, heavy guitars and true pop appeal. And like on their last couple albums, they continue to work in the psych-folk influence of singer Dorthia Cottrell's solo career, and that side of them continues to strengthen as well. "Pilgrim's Rest" is one of their finest folk nuggets to date, and they really shake up that side of them with closer "Feather," a 13-and-a-half minute prog/folk/metal epic. Stoner doom is a genre that isn't easy to break ground in, but songs like "Feather" prove that Windhand have figured out a way.
I interviewed mewithoutYou's Aaron Weiss and reviewed their fantastic new album [Untitled] HERE. You can read an excerpt:
...the LP is home to mewithoutYou's heaviest music yet. [A→B] Life was heavy, but [Untitled] is heavy in a much different way. There are parts of album opener "9:27a.m., 7/29" and "Another Head for Hydra" and "New Wine, New Skins" that instrumentally recall the noisy post-hardcore of The Jesus Lizard or the metallic heft of Quicksand, but in a way that sounds forward-thinking rather than revivalist. "Wendy & Betsy" sounds tense and chaotic and warped, like Unwound heard through a lens of swirling psychedelia. Lead single (and my personal favorite song) "Julia (or, ‘Holy to the LORD’ on the Bells of Horses)" sees mewithoutYou putting their own distinctive spin on Hum-style sludgy shoegaze, and taking melodic twists and turns that are both unexpected and highly satisfying. Throughout all of those songs and a few others, frontman Aaron Weiss brings his voice to a more piercing scream than he ever has before -- not so much his trademark, spoken word-inspired shout, but something much more guttural and throat-shredding. "I can speculate and say that from my perspective there was a fair amount of turmoil within and surrounding the band this time around," Aaron tells us of the more aggressive direction.
You can read more HERE.