Notable Releases of the Week (4/24)
Quarantine continues and I continue to be grateful for all the solace music provides during these times. In addition to the increasing amount of livestreams, the new albums keep coming too, and I picked six for this week's Notable Releases.
Before I get to those, some honorable mentions: the very good first album in 29 years from hard rock/heavy metal legends Cirith Ungol, Willie Nelson (his 70th album!), Lucinda Williams, Alice Bag, Rufus Wainwright, Moor Jewelry (Moor Mother + Mental Jewelry), Brendan Benson, Plague Walker, RVG, BC Camplight, Talking Book (mem Faith No More), Other Lives, Braids, Default Genders, 999, Fivio Foreign, YoungBoy Never Broke Again, Trouble, Lorenzo Senni, Hazel English, Harkin, Onyx Collective, Ian Chang, Tom Misch & Yussef Dayes, JG Thirlwell & Simon Steensland, Klein, John Carroll Kirby, The Homeless Gospel Choir, The Doors' Robby Krieger, Katatonia, Helfro, Auroch, On Sight, the Malevolence EP, the King Gizzard live album/film, the Sylvan Esso live album/film, the expanded reissue of Mobb Deep's The Infamous, and this week's two contenders for album I'm most scared to listen to: Mark Kozelek's spoken word album and Danzig Sings Elvis.
Read on for my six picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Quelle Chris & Chris Keys - Innocent Country 2
Mello Music Group
Quelle Chris remains one of underground rap's most prolific and consistently great voices. He's put out at least one project a year for quite some time now (his latest was 2019's very solid Guns), and 2020 brings Innocent Country 2 with producer Chris Keys, the sequel to the duo's 2015 album Innocent Country. Almost every guest from the first Innocent Country is on this new one too (Cavalier, Denmark Vessey, Big Sen, Fresh Daily), but this time the duo also roped in some exciting bigger names like Earl Sweatshirt, Tune-Yards' Merrill Garbus, and Homeboy Sandman, as well as some other underground rap figures who are having a moment right now like Pink Siifu and Billy Woods. The new album also sounds bigger and brighter than the first one. Chris Keys' warm, jazz-inspired production sounds as lively as walking into a jazz club, and that's at least partially because Chris played and recorded the instruments himself. And Quelle Chris is an increasingly commanding rapper, who sounds even more effortlessly great than he did five years ago. He's often the star of the show, but he's also a good team player, and one of the best parts of this album is how communal it sounds. The guests don't just show up, spit their verse, and leave -- more often than not, you're hearing a group of voices swirl together, making for an ambitious, genre-defying album that really goes beyond the standard barriers of rap music.
X - ALPHABETLAND
X's classic debut album Los Angeles turns 40 this weekend, and the band would be playing an anniversary show in LA if you-know-what didn't happen, but instead, the punk legends surprise-released this album, which is their first in 27 years and first with the original lineup in 35 years! It includes last year's "Delta 88 Nightmare" / "Cyrano de Berger’s Back" single, which were both songs X wrote back in the day but recorded recently ("Delta 88 Nightmare" dates all the way back to the Los Angeles sessions), but the other nine songs were all newly-written and those songs sound like classic X too. There's no mistaking Exene Cervenka/John Doe harmonies for any other band, and it's really not everyday that you hear a four-decade-old punk band making new music that captures the spirit of their classic material like this. The recording quality is as modest as it was on Los Angeles, and the band really sound fired-up on this record. I'll admit I had my doubts, given how long it's been since they made music, but I guess sometimes it just takes writing the right songs to get the wheels turning for a comeback, and these were definitely the right songs.
Smino - She Already Decided
Midwest rapper Smino has been working on a followup to his great 2018 album Noir, which he seemed to imply is on pause due to coronavirus, but in the meantime he released this 16-song mixtape that he made while self-isolating at home. "I made dis sh*t at the krib fr tryna stay sane and inspired as much as I can mane," he said. The line between "mixtape" and "album" is pretty blurry these days, but She Already Decided really feels like a mixtape. As Smino says, it's "REAL FREE MUSIC. AINT NUN PERFECT ALL UNMASTERED N ROUGH RAW WTF EVER for y'all." It's also got some songs that wouldn't be on a proper album like freestyles over Roddy Ricch's "The Box," Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage," and Baby Keem's "Orange Soda"; and a remix of Noir standout "Klink" by veteran crooner T-Pain (who Smino toured with in 2017); but there's also a lot of genuinely great songs on this thing. As ever, Smino tends to favor warm, jazz/soul-inspired production ("O'HighO" makes especially good use of psychedelic soul), and his delivery tends to hop seamlessly between rapping and singing or fuses the two entirely. It's pretty damn impressive for something he quickly put together at home, and if these are songs that aren't making his new album, I can't wait to hear what does.
Elder - Omens
There was a time in Elder's career where you could accurately refer to them as a doom metal band, but at this point they're really just a progressive/psychedelic rock band, and on Omens they prove to be an increasingly great one. They've been heading in this direction for a while (2017's Reflections of a Floating World was very proggy) but Omens -- Elder's first with new guitarist Michael Risberg, new drummer Georg Eder, and guest musician Fabio Cuomo on Rhodes piano and synthesizers -- is the band's most twisting, turning, sprawling record yet. The shortest song on this record is nine minutes long, and Elder really let their songs unravel over time. Like the best '70s prog bands, these songs often start to really hit around the seven or eight minute mark, when you're fully immersed in what they're doing and then Elder make an unexpected left turn or take things skyrocketing into outer space. This is not an album for the fast-paced, short-attention-span world we often find ourselves in, but if you turn off your screens, sit back, and blast this one, it'll be very worth it.
Barishi - Old Smoke
Season of Mist
Vermont metal band Barishi's last album was 2016's killer Blood From the Lion's Mouth, and after that album came out, their lead vocalist Sascha Simms parted ways with the band. "I’m still surprised we weren’t dropped [from Season of Mist] after losing a charismatic frontman like Sascha," says guitarist Graham Brooks, but it's not hard to see why their label would have no interest in dropping them after listening to their new album Old Smoke. Brooks has taken over vocal duties, and not only is he perfectly suited to do so, but Barishi have taken their sound in exciting new directions too. Without a member whose sole job is vocals, the trio ended up writing some of their longest songs yet, with sprawling instrumental passages that really allow them to spread their wings as instrumentalists. Brooks has more of a death-ier growl than Simms did, so Barishi are a little heavier now too. The last album shared some musical DNA with the proggy sludge of Baroness, but this new one more closely resembles the death/sludge/psych of Inter Arma. And like both of those bands, Barishi continue to write songs that are bone-crushingly heavy but also accessible to non-metalheads, all while refusing to set limits for themselves and boldly trekking through new territory.
Ulcerate - Stare Into Death and Be Still
Debemur Morti Productions
If you read about metal on the internet, you've probably noticed that -- more so than most genres (besides maybe electronic music) -- fans, musicians, and critics tend to classify stuff into super specific subgenres (and fight about it a lot too). It's tempting to use those phrases to explain how something sounds -- because, you know, you gotta explain when something isn't death metal, it's brutal death metal -- but for some bands, it just doesn't work. New Zealand's Ulcerate are one of those bands. They're the square peg to just about every subgenre's round hole. Their sound has elements of various styles of death metal, but also the atmosphere of post-metal, the weight and pace of sludge, the song structures of prog, and so much more happening all at once. For Ulcerate, it's easier to talk about the mood they create than what genre they are. When I listen to Stare Into Death and Be Still, Ulcerate's great sixth album in an already-great discography, I'm not really thinking about other bands or specific styles of music -- I'm just thinking about how dark and intense and overwhelming it is. It sounds as ominous as the swirling blacks and greys on the album artwork look, and even if it didn't come with that visual accompaniment, it would paint a picture in your mind of total desolation. It's a long album that can be grueling to listen to, but if you let yourself, you can really get lost in it.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.