This is an exceptionally busy week for new albums. I picked eleven that I highlighted below, and there were a handful of runner ups. Some honorable mentions include Craig Finn, The Mountain Goats, The Cranberries, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Guided by Voices, Lord Dying, Dub Trio, Vaura, Spotlights, Local Natives, PAWS, Soak, Cokie the Clown (aka NOFX's Fat Mike), Matt Martians (of The Internet), Pure Bathing Culture, Trade Wind, Josh Ritter, and Foxygen.
*wipes sweat from forehead*
Read on for the eleven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Some of ScHoolboy Q's best individual songs are among his poppiest, like "Hands on the Wheel," "Collard Greens," and "THat Part," but when it comes to making full albums, he's at his best when he's focusing on cold, dark, street-smart raps. That was very clear on his great 2016 album Blank Face LP (especially compared to its more bloated and overproduced predecessor Oxymoron), and it's good news that he's got plenty more songs like this on Blank Face's new followup, CrasH Talk. The album's not without its skippable songs, or its songs where Q's guests steer the album off course or get a little too overbearing -- like when Travis Scott turns "CHopstix" into generic radio rap, or the Ty Dolla $ign and YG-featuring G-Funk ballad "Lies," which kind of just sounds like it should've been a Ty Dolla $ign and YG song -- but for the most part Q is in control and delivering vicious banger after vicious banger. The album opens and closes on great notes, coming out of the gate swinging with the hard-edged one-two punch of "Gang Gang" and "Tales," and wrapping things up with the ode to hip hop "Attention." And the album's got plenty of peaks in between, like the raw, short-but-sweet "Numb Numb Juice," the Kendrick-aided, instantly crowd-pleasing "5200," the deep, tragedy-battling "Black Folk," the warped, Kid Cudi-featuring "Dangerous," the cold-hearted "Die Wit Em," and the head-nodding, throwback-sounding "CrasH." It's way too soon to know for sure how it'll stack up against the rest of Q's discography in the long run, but there's already a lot to like about CrasH Talk on early listens and it seems like the kind of album that'll be worth spending a lot more time with.
New Zealand's Aldous Harding follows her 2017 album Party (one of our favorites of that year) with another great album, Designer. Like Party, Aldous worked with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish on Designer, and it's another great mix of art rock and folk with Aldous' distinct voice leading the way. Bill wrote a much longer review and you can read that HERE.
Marissa Nadler and Stephen Brodsky (Cave In, Mutoid Man, etc) are such a perfect musical pair that it's almost surprising to think they hadn't collaborated before now. Marissa has spent her career making dark folk music that tends to connect with metal listeners, and Brodsky has spent his making metal that tends to connect with more general rock fans, and Droneflower basically sounds like the point in the road where their two paths would naturally meet. There are songs like "Dead West" that sound like classic Marissa Nadler, but then there's also more metallic stuff like "For the Sun" and Nadler's ethereal voice is perfect for that too. There's also stuff that feels different for both artists involved, like the dusty blues of "Watch the Time." Along with the originals, the album includes covers of Guns N' Roses and Morphine, and they're both songs that are somewhat atypical for those bands but fit well within the world of Marissa Nadler and Stephen Brodsky. They do GNR's "Estranged" and Morphine's "In Spite of Me" (with Morphine saxophonist Dana Colley playing on the song). They didn't just tack two covers on though; while they keep the vocal melodies on both faithful enough to the original for you to realize what song they're covering, they otherwise do the song in a way that's so distinctly in the style of this album. They're true re-interpretations and crucial parts of the overall world that is Droneflower.
It's a great week for metal/non-metal crossover albums with both the aforementioned Marissa Nadler/Stephen Brodsky album and this new one from Helms Alee. Helms Alee have always straddled the line between metal and "regular rock" (and also a lot of other things), but Noctiluca is their most widely accessible album yet. They made it with producer Sam Bell, who's worked with Bloc Party, R.E.M., Minus the Bear, and others, and like those three acts are, Helms Alee on this album are just a solid, unique rock band. They've still got some of the heavy stuff you'd expect like "Beat Up" and "Play Dead," which pair towering sludge riffs with a dual-vocal attack that bounces between a sludge-style roar and more punkish shout. (All three members of Helms Alee sing and it makes for a lot of welcome diversity in the vocals.) But more often, Noctiluca delivers hypnotic alt-rock like the great album opener "Interachnid" and deeper cut "Spider Jar," or slow-burning psychedelia like with the three lengthy tracks in the album's mid-section ("Be Rad Tomorrow," "Lay Waste, Child," and "Illegal Guardian"), or like penultimate track "Pandemic" which almost goes into Pink Floyd-ish prog/psych territory. Noctiluca is really just a great rock album, regardless of what subgenre you prefer to call it, and there aren't many rock albums quite like this one coming out today.
Kevin Abstract's last album was 2016's American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story, and in the time since then he got very, very famous as a member of Brockhampton. Now he's back with another solo album, and whether you've been waiting for this since American Boyfriend or coming to it via his work with Brockhampton (or both), it should scratch the itch you're expecting it to. Brockhampton quickly evolved from a reckless, youthful collective to a well-oiled art rap machine, and Kevin seems almost effortlessly skilled at pulling off ambitious, artistic triumphs at this point in his career. Production from Brockhampton's inventive in-house producer Romil Hemnani and go-to alt-pop guy Jack Antonoff probably didn't hurt either. ARIZONA BABY sees him navigating freely between atmospheric indie-soul ("Baby Boy"), energetic art pop ("Joy Ride"), psychedelic rap ("Boyer"), alt-R&B ("Mississippi") and the kind of tell-all, introspective raps that'll stop you in your tracks no matter what you're doing ("Corpus Christi," "Crumble"). Not that Kevin doesn't get personal in Brockhampton, but he's called the songs on this album "too personal / self indulgent to put on a group album," and it doesn't take long to realize just how personal and powerful these songs are. It's a proper album, not a mixtape, but Kevin has said that he doesn't care about streaming or sales or if you listen to a leak, he just wants you to hear it. Even if you didn't know that, you can sort of feel it from listening. Brockhampton's last album Iridescence sounded like it was carefully constructed to be a hit (and it debuted at number one), but ARIZONA BABY just sounds like some thoughts and ideas Kevin had to get out in the world. Because he's so on top of his game right now, it'll probably be a hit anyway.
It's not necessarily fair to say that Rico Nasty's rise was slow, but any relative rap newcomer dropping an LP the same day as Nas and one day before a collaborative Beyonce/Jay-Z album would have trouble getting that album to take off instantly, and that was the case with Rico Nasty's breakthrough album Nasty. By the end of 2018, it was clear that Nasty was one of the year's best in any genre, and Rico has only been more unstoppable since its release. She's become instantly recognizable, and any time she's guested on a track or released a new single since Nasty it's felt like a big deal. So, needless to say, her first new project since Nasty, Anger Management, is a big deal. The whole eight-song (and one skit) project was produced by her frequent collaborator Kenny Beats, who's been on a roll of his own lately (having also produced Vince Staples' great 2018 album FM! and great songs by JPEGMAFIA, Key!, ALLBLACK, and more), and the two of them are a great, inseparable pair. (Just hearing Rico scream "Kennnnnnnny!" is enough to get you hyped for whatever song is about to play.) Almost the whole project finds Rico in punky shout-rap mode, and that's the mode she makes some of her most appealing, unique, and refreshingly modern-sounding music in. Only on the last two songs ("Sell Out" and "Again") does she break out her singing voice, and even on those songs she sounds pretty punk. An early standout is "Hatin," if only because it sees her using the beat from Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder" and borrowing some of his flow and it's fun to hear her turn a classic into something that's new and entirely her own, but really there's not a weak moment on Anger Management. It's just more proof that Rico's reign is not ending anytime soon.
Just off the strength of their early singles and EPs, Ezra Collective became one of the leaders of the current London jazz renaissance, and now they've finally released their first full-length album, which may also be the best thing I've heard from them yet. It's one of those albums that offers up a little bit of everything they do, and Ezra Collective do a lot. It opens on a chill, psychedelic note, and from there it explores everything from '60s-style post-bop to reggae to funk to Latin and Afrobeat sounds, and beyond. For non-jazz listeners looking for an easy entry point, the song with neo-soul singer Jorja Smith and the song with rapper Loyle Carner are basically accessible enough to be on hip hop radio. And once you immerse yourself in the album from there, it's easier than you might think to get lost in Ezra Collective's rich, genre-hopping sound.
Last month when I was in Austin for SXSW, Japanese punks Otoboke Beaver put on one of the very best sets I saw all week. They were truly wild and confrontational in the way a great punk band should be, flailing their bodies around on stage, stagediving a bunch of times, and often looking truly menacing. But they also had a fun, bouncy side that you don't always get from punk bands who rage this hard but take themselves a little too seriously. Though they've toured the UK and Japan, the only US shows I'm aware of them ever playing are SXSW 2017, Coachella 2018 and SXSW 2019, but if you ever get a chance to see them, I can't recommend it enough. A lot of times bands with a craaaaazzzzzzy live show just can't seem to capture that same kind of energy in the studio, but Otoboke Beaver are not one of those bands. Their new album ITEKOMA HITS is thrilling in many of the same ways their live show is, and it's relentless for its entire 26-and-a-half minute running time. A big chunk of these songs were already on EPs and other releases that date back to 2016, but they still sound seamless in the context of this album. Everything whips by, and if the album ever slows down for a second, it's only to throw in a good, quirky hook and then come roaring right back in. The songs bleed right into the next, but the album doesn't ever really become a blur. The individual tracks become quickly memorable after just a few listens.
Drone metal greats Sunn O))) are releasing two Steve Albini-recorded albums this year, the just-released Life Metal and the "more meditative" Pyroclasts, which is expected this fall. Life Metal starts off on a more accessible note, with sometimes-live-Sunn O)))-collaborator and former Múm member Hildur Guðnadóttir providing stunning lead vocals on album opener “Between Sleipnir’s Breaths,” and the rest of the hour-and-nine-minute-long album is on the ambient, droning side that Sunn O))) have been perfecting over the course of their 20-year career. Read Langdon Hickman's much longer review at Invisible Oranges.
Your Old Droog surprise-released this album last Friday and I didn't catch it until after I had already published last week's Notable Releases, but I'd be remiss not to talk more about this one. It's the followup to Packs, which was one of our favorite albums of 2017, and it's cut from a very similar cloth as that album, but the songs are so instantly memorable that you can't really call it a repeat of its predecessor. If you're unfamiliar with Droog, he's gotten a lot of comparisons to Nas and MF Doom (the latter of whom is on "RST" on this new album), but by now he's really developed a style that's instantly recognizable as his own. He's increasingly good at funny/interesting references, and this album is littered with them, from name-dropping rock stars to rapping about the halal carts that line the streets of New York where Droog grew up. Aside from Doom, other guest appearances come from Droog's old pal Wiki (who reunites with his former Secret Circle groupmate on "Smores"), New York rap lifer Roc Marciano, and Mach-Hommy (who also executive produced the album). Droog, his beats, and his guests are all within the world of classic-style New York rap, and it's one of those albums that true believers will swear by but that will probably never break in the current mainstream. That's fine though. Rap is in a great place right now, a place where forward-thinkers like the above-mentioned Kevin Abstract can co-exist with classicists like Droog, and we listeners get the benefit of nodding along to both of them.