Five Notable Releases of the Week (11/10)
Though it continues to be a shitty year, we were instilled with some hope this week when a year of Trump led to "groundbreaking wins" for Democrats, including Danica Roem, who is not only Virginia's first openly transgender elected official, and not only the replacement for a guy who called himself Virginia's "chief homophobe," but also a thrash metal singer. (And Danica wasn't the only musician in heavy music to win an election this week.) Here's to hoping things continue to look up.
As for new music, this week is a good one, with the release of the first Quicksand album in 22 years, one of the most pleasantly surprising musical developments of the year. Check out my picks (Quicksand and four others) below. What was your favorite release of the week?
As frontman of Quicksand and guitarist/songwriter of Gorilla Biscuits, Walter Schreifels puts on some of the best rock shows you can see today, even if the material performed at those shows is decades old. That's what made it so exciting last year when he released his great debut album with his band Vanishing Life, his first aggressive rock album in years, and proved that he could still excel at that kind of music in the studio too. When I wrote about it in my top punk albums of 2016 list, I said one of its songs ("Pretty Ruined") could even pass as a lost Quicksand song, though it was disappointing we wouldn't get to see Quicksand play a new song like that as part of their super-tight live show in a bigger venue or festival. Well, that's all different now, as Quicksand have finally unleashed 12 new songs into the world, their first batch of new music since 1995.
Interiors may come 22 years after 1995's Manic Compression, but as far as its thunderous riffs and Walter's soaring vocals go, it sounds mostly like it also could've been that album's followup in 1997. That's not a bad thing at all, especially with the large amount of active bands that take clear influence from Quicksand -- from still-popular acts like Thursday, Glassjaw, and Deftones (the latter of which have counted Quicksand's Sergio Vega as a member since 2009) to newer acts like Title Fight, Balance & Composure, and Superheaven. And there is a modern touch. It was co-produced by Will Yip (who frequently works with Title Fight, Balance & Composure, and Superheaven, and who previously collaborated with Walter Schreifels on Title Fight's 2011 album Shed), and Yip manages to put a contemporary twist on Quicksand's sound without changing any of their signature traits. If you're a fan of the bands Will Yip usually works with and you're unfamiliar with Quicksand, Interiors may just sound like the perfect album to add to your collection of Will Yip-produced post-hardcore. Plus, Schreifels sings the line "New phone, who is this?" on "Feels Like A Weight Has Been Lifted." No one would've done that in 1997!
But in all seriousness, Interiors rips and it's far from one of those legacy-ruining reunion albums. In its own way, Interiors could be as essential to 2017 as Slip and Manic Compression were to the early/mid '90s. They aren't breaking ground this time around, but Quicksand have been touring a lot lately, and both the band and their fans have got to be itching for a larger variety of material at these shows, especially when that material fits in seamlessly with the classics. Interiors is also the kind of album that could simultaneously satisfy longtime fans and act as the perfect introduction for new ones. If you've got an affinity for the kind of post-hardcore that Quicksand were helping pioneer in the '90s, and newer music just isn't connecting with you as strongly as it used to, Interiors might be exactly the kind of album you wish more bands were making today. And if this is your first time hearing Quicksand, it'll be a smooth transition when you get to the first two albums.
It seems very likely that this will be a lot of people's first Quicksand album, because Quicksand aren't really acting like a legacy band. They're playing the same festivals as the young bands they influenced, touring with young bands, and they're now signed to the same label (Epitaph Records) as a huge chunk of the best modern punk and post-hardcore bands around (like Touche Amore, Pianos Become the Teeth, Joyce Manor, The Menzingers, TWIABP, and Defeater). Quicksand are positioning themselves in a way that makes it possible for them to be as relevant today as they were over 20 years ago, and it doesn't hurt that they sound so inspired on the new album. Walter's voice hasn't lost any of the power that it had on those classic records, the rhythm section is still bulldozing, and all of the many riffs on Interiors are worth treasuring. A great Quicksand song usually comes with a memorable riff, and it's impressive how quickly memorable the riffs on new songs like "Illuminant," "Under the Screw," and the title track have already become. (It's also impressive how killer and essential Sergio's basslines are to most of these new songs.) Interiors also takes the time to not just focus on Quicksand's aggressive side but their atmospheric side as well. Quicksand's influence may be strongest on heavier music, but their most recent tour was with shoegaze band No Joy and it's easy to see how Interiors would resonate with shoegaze fans as well. Just like their live shows are just great rock shows, Interiors is just a great rock record.
Angel Olsen's career has gotten a serious boost since the release of last year's great My Woman, which we named the #1 album of 2016, but she has been putting out quality music since she started out as a bare-bones folk singer back on her 2010 debut EP. As something of a victory lap, she's putting out the Phases compilation, which collects rarities, covers, and non-album tracks from throughout her career, plus some previously unreleased material. It's great to get this so soon after My Woman, especially for anyone who hasn't yet been exposed to Angel's earlier works. Phases not only is essential for completists, but it works as a great primer for her entire career. We get home-recorded demos "How Many Disasters" and "Sans" which recall her quiet, lo-fi, early recordings. We get the full-band "Sweet Dreams," the standout single that she released a year before Burn Your Fire For No Witness that really helped prepare her fans for the more rock-oriented songs on that album. (The b-side of "Sweet Dreams," "California," is also here.) We get "Special," an unreleased song from the My Woman sessions, and "Fly On Your Wall," released this year for Our First 100 Days, both of which really remind you how far she has come. Her covers of Bruce Springsteen's "Tougher Than The Rest," Roky Erickson's "For You," and Hoyt Axton's "Endless Road" are all done in her stripped-down folk style, and it shows how Angel can take the work of three very different songwriters and translate them all into her unique style. In addition to all of those, Phases has Burn Your Fire For No Witness bonus tracks "All Right Now," "Only With You," and "May As Well," which recall the quieter songs from that album like "Unfucktheworld" and "White Fire" and are just as worth hearing. Even if most of these songs did exist in one place or another, it's nice to have them all at once, presented in a well-sequenced track order. The result is a disc that's as worth owning as her proper albums are.
Kamaiyah won us over last year with her instantly great debut mixtape A Good Night in the Ghetto, and she since got a deal with Interscope, who will release her proper debut album at some point. Presumably it will feature her two latest singles, "Build You Up" and the super-fun "Successful." Unfortunately, her album is delayed due to sample clearances, but Kamaiyah wanted to tide her patient fans over so she surprised us this week with the 10-song mixtape Before I Wake. For the most part, it's full of songs that do what she does best: ridiculously catchy flows that fall somewhere between rapping and singing, and a synth-fueled, modern update on bouncy G-Funk production. It's such a fun combination of sounds, and Kamaiyah keeps each song interesting enough that Before I Wake zips by as quickly as A Good Night in the Ghetto does. Though the new mixtape is cut from the same cloth as its predecessor, it doesn't feel like a mirror image of it. Kamaiyah is still boasting and having a great time, but there's a slightly more somber tone this time around, especially on inward-looking songs like "Me Against Myself" and "Therapy." Compared to the expensive-sounding production of recent single "Successful," you do in fact get the vibe that Before I Wake was made on Kamaiyah's own time and not on Interscope's big budget. Given how effortlessly great it sounds, it's got my hopes even higher for her proper debut.
After releasing a self-titled EP last year, Atlanta's Cloak are now putting out their debut album, To Venomous Depths, which is also their first release on trusty metal label Season of Mist. The EP hinted at their vision, but To Venomous Depths is a far more accomplished project, and impressively so for a debut. On it, they blend harsh black metal vocals with the histrionics of arena-ready classic rock, a mix that's gained the band comparisons to Watain, Tribulation, Satyricon, and Dissection’s final album Reinkaos. If you dig that stuff, there's a good chance you're gonna dig Cloak too. Across To Venomous Depths' nine tracks, they've got a ton of riffs that are genuinely Guitar Hero-worthy and genuinely catchy, and those riffs are worked into well-structured, well-produced, memorable songs. The middle ground they find between metal and rock is exciting, especially in 2017 when misinformed "rock is dead" thinkpieces are all too easy to come by. If you're looking for a rock band that can really shred, you're looking for Cloak, especially if you want something a little more hard-hitting than, say, buzz band Greta Van Fleet. Cloak have familiar aspects to their sound, but they're never wearing one particular influence on their sleeves. Their process of melding various sounds together and not sounding like they're trying to do too much at once is one that lesser bands might not figure out until their third or fourth album. With Cloak coming out of the gate this strong, it's even more exciting to think about where they might be just a few years down the line.
LA-via-Olympia band Gun Outfit have been especially prolific since debuting almost ten years ago, and their sound continues to evolve. From their lo-fi indie rock roots, to more of a psychedelic alt-country sound, they've now arrived at Out of Range, which has their country influence shining clearer than ever. For a modern comparison, co-frontperson Dylan Sharp kinda reminds me more of Kevin Morby on this album than he usually does, and his harmonies and overlapping vocals with Carrie Keith are as pretty as ever. The album also has a nice mix by Chris Cohen and it's the band's first LP with Henry Barnes (Man Is the Bastard, Amps for Christ) as an official member. He contributes dulcimer, bouzouki, fiddle, slide guitar, and his homemade "sibanjar," which really does a lot to flesh out Gun Outfit's sound. For a great example, check out "The 101," which sure sounds like it uses that "sibanjar" and which has Carrie Keith pulling expertly from traditional folk. Carrie shines again on "Three Words," a dose of psychedelic, country-ish slowcore that could pass for a Mazzy Star b-side. It's the little moments like these that stray from the more typical style of Out of Range that really show how much the band is capable of.