Notable Releases of the Week (6/26)
It's been another very busy week with a lot of new music, so I'm gonna cut right to the chase. I highlight 11 new albums below and Bill highlights another 10 in Bill's Indie Basement, including Pottery, Khruangbin, Einstürzende Neubauten, Art Feynman, Special Interest, Mikal Cronin, the new Redd Kross reissues, and more.
On top of all that, some honorable mentions: Haim, Wino (The Obsessed, Saint Vitus), IDK, Mountain Time (Mineral's Chris Simpson), Nadine Shah, Second Arrows (Deadguy, ex-Every Time I Die, etc), Paysage d'Hiver, Nana Grizol, Jessie Ware, Bad Moves, Carlos Niño & Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, Derrick Hodge (Robert Glasper's band, R+R=NOW, etc), Soccer96 (mem The Comet Is Coming), Lantern, Pyrrhon, THÆTAS, Voidceremony, GELD, Den-Mate, the Thirty Nights of Violence EP, the Dirty Projectors EP, the 6LACK EP, the We Were Promised Jetpacks EP, the Glorious (Employed to Serve, Renounced) EP, the Japandroids live album, the Jason Isbell live album of the last 400 Unit show before lockdown, Mantar's '90s covers album, Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia's ambient solo album, and the late Chester Bennington's pre-Linkin Park band Grey Daze.
Read on for my 11 picks, and don't forget to check out Bill's Indie Basement for a whole lot more. What was your favorite release of the week?
The Rentals - Q36
Before Weezer released Pinkerton -- the initially-misunderstood album that eventually became rightfully recognized as the band's masterpiece -- they were working on Songs From the Black Hole, a space-themed science fiction rock opera with guest vocals by Rachel Haden and Joan Wasser that was eventually abandoned, with some songs ending up on Pinkerton, others surfacing over the years, and others still in the vault or unfinished. Just judging by what does exist of it, it's one of the great "lost" albums in rock history, and Weezer never attempted anything like it since. The post-Pinkerton, Matt Sharp-less version of the band has almost never neared the heights of the band's classic '90s era, though Matt Sharp's band The Rentals have. Their 2014 reunion album Lost In Alphaville (released on Polyvinyl) was the album that those of us who wanted another Blue Album were waiting for, and with the self-released Q36 -- The Rentals' first new album in six years -- they just may have made their Songs From the Black Hole.
The Rentals' lineup is now Matt Sharp with Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner and The Killers drummer Ronnie Vanucci, and they made this album with frequent Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann as mixing engineer and guest vocal contributions from The Gentle Assassins Choir, School of Seven Bells' Alejandra Deheza, and others. Fridmann especially is a perfect fit for Q36; Lost In Alphaville sounded like crunchy, punchy, power-poppy '90s Rentals but Q36 is a soaring, adventurous psychedelic pop album that sounds like Matt Sharp's very own Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. And, lyrically, it's a space-themed science fiction concept album. Each of the 16 songs on this double album tells its own story -- with inspiration coming from real-life occurrences like Apollo 11 ("Forgotten Astronaut") and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster ("Great Big Blue"), as well as hypothetical, apocalyptic scenarios that fall under "science fiction" but aren't so impossible to imagine these days -- and Matt chose to introduce these stories to the world by releasing one song at a time over the past few months. Together, the 16 songs of Q36 make something that genuinely earns the term "epic." It's by far the most ambitious music that Matt Sharp has ever released, and he pulls it off. The Rentals' first reunion album proved they could still churn out quality versions of the music they made in the '90s, but I don't know who could've predicted Matt would return six years later with a star-studded lineup and an album that is both literally and figuratively out of this world. This is the kind of album that music nerds dream up when they're shooting the breeze about hypothetical supergroups and album concepts that will never exist. But I promise you're not dreaming, Q36 really does exist, and it's as great as it sounds like it'd be.
Hum - Inlet
Hum's first album in 22 years goes beyond the average expectations of a reunion album and pushes Hum's sound in new directions left and right. It cements their legacy further than ever before, and it just might turn out to be their masterpiece. You can read my full review here.
Arca - KiCk i
Between her own albums/mixtapes and her production work for Kanye West, Bjork, FKA twigs, Kelela, and others, Arca has proven herself as one of our generation's truly innovative musicians. And with her new album KiCk i, she fuses together the experimental pop she makes on her own and the more collaborative (and usually slightly more accessible) work she does with other artists. It's Arca's first album with high profile guests -- including Bjork, Rosalía, SOPHIE, and Shygirl -- and their presences really add a lot. Arca has no trouble carrying the album as a vocalist, but when stars like Bjork and Rosalía show up, they really help take Arca's music to new, exciting places. Production-wise, KiCk i is as thrilling as Arca's music always is. It's bold and experimental and pulls from all different genres and eras and regions and languages, all while always sounding like the future.
MIKE - Weight of the World
MIKE continues to be one of the leading voices in the current New York rap underground, and he also remains highly prolific. He doesn't change his sound up much -- Weight of the World still finds him delivering plainspoken raps over what sounds like old jazz and soul samples played on warped, melting wax -- but he remains consistently good at it and every project he's put out over the last few years has been worth hearing. This one is no exception. MIKE's as good a producer as he is a rapper (he produced most of this album himself under his DJ Blackpower guise), and he continues to have a strong artistic vision. His albums are almost never about individual songs, many of which are very short; they're about the whole psychedelic experience achieved when you listen start to finish. Weight of the World does have one clear standout moment though -- the Earl Sweatshirt guest verse on closing track "Allstar" -- and it makes sense that MIKE makes you wait 'til the end for it. Earl may attract some new fans to this album, but MIKE would've created a cohesive, masterful work with or without him.
Iron Wigs - Your Birthday's Cancelled
Mello Music Group
Iron Wigs is a new rap group made up of three familiar faces: Vic Spencer of Chicago's SaveMoney collective, veteran Chicago rapper Verbal Kent, and UK rapper/producer SonnyJim. Vic Spencer and SonnyJim already have two collaborative albums together, the first of which has a song featuring Verbal Kent, and Iron Wigs use those albums as a launching point but this project covers ground that the Spencer For Higher albums only hinted at. Those albums both flirted with jazz-rap, but the production on Your Birthday's Cancelled makes you feel like you're dropped right into a smoky jazz club; there's as much an emphasis on mesmerizing horn solos as there is on rapping. And as hazy as the production often is, it's contrasted by the bold, forceful aggression of the rhymes. These three all come from different eras and walks of life, but they've got a real chemistry and the excellent cast of guests -- CRIMEAPPLE, Quelle Chris, and Roc Marciano -- all fit right into the mix too.
Buju Banton - Upside Down 2020
Kingston, Jamaica icon Buju Banton has been a force within reggae and dancehall for the past three decades, and he helped bring those genres to wider audiences thanks to collaborations with rappers (Terror Squad), punk bands (Rancid), and more. He's stayed active and relevant over the years -- his last album, 2010's Before the Dawn, won the Grammy for Best Reggae Album -- but his career was put on hold when he was sentenced to 10 years after being convicted for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine. Buju was released in late 2018, and quickly signed to Jay-Z's Roc Nation and started making music again, including a contribution to DJ Khaled's Bad Boys For Life soundtrack, an appearance on the dvsn & Ty Dolla $ign single "Dangerous City," and now his first album in ten years, Upside Down 2020.
"We, who have been the political football of many, the economic underdog nations, say no!," writes Buju of his new album. "No more to this upside down system. This one sided view of justice and all the other issues affecting us as a people." Buju had apparently been writing songs during his incarceration and had an album's worth of material written upon his release, so it's probably safe to assume that Buju would've been singing about these topics regardless, but the theme of Upside Down 2020 feels even more urgent given the widespread protests against the justice system that we've been seeing every day for the past month. (And even before that, "Upside Down 2020" would have been the perfect name for this year.) Not only is it lyrically relevant; it sounds musically fresh too. There's a whole reggae/dancehall revival that started taking off in the time since Buju was incarcerated -- with Protoje, Chronixx, Jah9, Popcaan, Koffee, and more -- and Upside Down 2020 sounds as modern and forward-thinking as anything in the current revival. It doesn't feature any artists from the genre's new wave (the only reggae guest is Stephen Marley), but it does feature some modern hip hop artists that help it fit in with current music: Pharrell, John Legend, and UK rapper Stefflon Don who graces the album with one of its standout verses. The guests help, but Buju doesn't rely on them. His singing and songwriting are as strong as ever.
Becca Mancari - The Greatest Part
A lot of people were introduced to Becca Mancari as a member of Bermuda Triangle alongside Brittany Howard, but Becca had also released her debut solo album Good Woman right around the same time Bermuda Triangle put out their first single, and Good Woman proved Becca was a worthwhile artist in her own right. It's one of the past few years' true gems; an alt-country record with an indie rock edge and truly timeless songwriting. For its followup The Greatest Part, Becca signed to Captured Tracks -- an indie pop label who at this point are probably best known for signing Mac DeMarco -- and she produced it with Paramore drummer Zac Farro, who also makes Tame Impala-esque psych-pop as Halfnoise. (Plus, there's backing vocals on "First Time" and "I'm Sorry" by Julien Baker.) The Greatest Part is probably the first album to ever make "Captured Tracks," "country," and "Paramore" one degree of separation from each other, and you can hear the center point of that unique venn diagram in the sound of these songs as much as you can see it on paper. Zac's influence is felt in the psych-pop guitar work that pops up from time to time, and much more so than Good Woman, this album has an indie/dream pop side that sounds right at home on Captured Tracks. Becca hasn't abandoned her folk/country roots, though, and the fusion of all of these sounds makes for an album that breaks down even more musical boundaries than Good Woman did. The sounds that Becca experiments with on this album are new, but what hasn't changed is how impactful her songwriting and delivery is. She still has a knack for wrapping powerful storytelling in warm melodies, and delivering each word in a way that captures your attention and doesn't let it go.
Becca also does a livestreamed release show for this album today (6/26) at 7:30 PM ET with her band, Julien Baker, and Natalie Prass. Info here.
Remo Drive - A Portrait of an Ugly Man
Not many bands in the current emo scene have undergone an evolution as swift and drastic as Remo Drive. Their 2017 debut album Greatest Hits was a fairly standard indie/emo/pop punk record, but the shimmering chords and classic power pop influences of its underrated 2019 followup album Natural, Everyday Degradation showed Remo Drive quickly making a leap from their scrappy roots. When that album came out, I compared it to the jump Saves The Day made from Through Being Cool to Stay What You Are, and their just-released third album A Portrait of an Ugly Man just might be their In Reverie. Natural, Everyday Degradation hinted at "classic" sounds, but Portrait does a deep dive into your parents' record collection, fusing elements of classic rock, desert rock, and Spaghetti Western scores and coming out with songs that sound wise beyond their years. It's not just an improvement upon the band's earlier work because it's stylistically more "mature" though; as they explore different genres of music, Remo Drive are also getting better at everything they do. They're better songwriters than ever, and they're better producers too -- like last year's Natural, Everyday Degradation companion EP Natural, Everyday Extended Play, they produced Portrait themselves. And as much as the "dad rock" influences on this one are clear, Remo Drive still sound like the lively, youthful band that they always were. With the classic rock worship meeting the band's emo roots, Portrait sounds a little like prime-era Okkervil River, and if you like that band, you should not overlook this one.
Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin - Stygian Bough Volume I
Seattle doom metal greats Bell Witch (Dylan Desmond and Jesse Shreibman) have collaborated with dark folk musician Aerial Ruin (Erik Moggridge) on all of their albums, so what exactly makes "Bell Witch & Aerial Ruin" different than Bell Witch? Well, for one, they say all five songs on this album were written collaboratively as a trio, which isn't the case with Bell Witch. But even if you didn't know that, there's a clear difference just from listening: Stygian Bough Volume I isn't metal. Moggridge helped bring a slowcore/folk side to Bell Witch's doom metal, but Stygian Bough Volume I is almost the exact opposite; it's a slowcore/folk album with the occasional foray into doom. It has its heavy moments, but it's overall no more metal than, say, Mount Eerie's Ocean Roar. And it should probably come as no surprise that Bell Witch and Aerial Ruin do a fine job pulling a record like this off. They know just how to capture the haunting, brooding mood that this kind of music needs, and even with two songs that cross the 19-minute mark and one that's nearly 13, Stygian Bough Volume I always keeps you hooked and never drags.
Mansions - Big Bad
Bad Timing Records
Seattle indie rock duo Mansions are back with their first album in seven years, and it's their most atmospheric and somber album yet. Their style has changed, but the emotion at the core of Chris Browder's songwriting has not. You can read more about this album (and see a list of songs that influenced it) here.
Kemba - The World Is Watching EP
Bronx rapper Kemba has been putting out a string of great singles this year, and this week he followed them with the new EP The World Is Watching. It's exactly eight minutes and 46 seconds long in honor of George Floyd, and all four songs directly take on police brutality and killings, the systemic racism that enables them, the nationwide protests, the news' portrayal of these incidents, and more, and Kemba does this in a way that's genuinely powerful. You can read more about the EP here.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.
For ways to help out in the fight against racism and police brutality, here are some resources.