Notable Releases of the Week (5/17)
Hey all, Andrew here. I'm on vacation for the next couple of weeks so Notable Releases will be slightly shorter, and unfortunately there's a few albums I wasn't able to hear ahead of time (which are included based on anticipation but not reviewed). With that said, let's get right to this week's eight picks.
Some honorable mentions: Saint Vitus, the Interpol EP, the Wu-Tang Clan EP, Carly Rae Jepsen, Operators, Haunt, Josephine Wiggs (ex-Breeders), Rammstein, Fujiya & Miyagi, Olden Yolk, Seba Kaapstad, Glassing, Dommengang, Valborg, and the Zomby EP.
Read on for my eight picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
slowthai has been referred to as the British answer to NYC's Wiki more than once, and it's not hard to see why. They've both got weird, wacky flows and they both make music that's inseparable from the cities they live in. But while Wiki was in awe of New York City on his great 2017 album No Mountains In Manhattan, slowthai uses his debut album to dive into his dissatisfaction with the place he calls home (as the title Nothing Great About Britain gives away). It's an angry album, and you can hear it not just in the words but in slowthai's pissed-off delivery, which can recall anything from his country's history of grime to its history of punk (he references both Dizzee Rascal and Sid Vicious in the album's lyrics). Sometimes even the music on this album can sound punk, like on the Mura Masa-aided "Doorman," but mostly it fits neatly within the realm of modern UK hip hop, with ominous, electronic beats that perfectly suit slowthai's ire. At 11 tracks with no filler, it's a concise, consistently compelling album, and it's not everyday you hear a debut as conceptually and sonically cohesive as this. One of the few guests on the album is long-running grime great Skepta on "Inglorious," and it's kind of a passing of the torch moment. Grime has been having a real moment lately, and Nothing Great About Britain proves slowthai is one of the genre's brightest new hopes.
"The National is not five dudes," Matt Berninger said, along with the announcement of this new album. "The doors have been wide open in terms of people coming in. It’s a big community." If you've been following along with The National's career since around the time of Boxer, it'd be easy to attest to that. National albums have lots of input and contributions from their talented friends and family, and it really does feel like there's a long list of musicians who count as honorary National members. For this album, though, the process was more collaborative than ever. The band says that producer Mike Mills (who also directed the band's new film of the same name) was more closely involved with the creative process and made the band rethink their approach to songwriting more than any outside collaborator in the past, and The National also brought in an impressive cast of guest vocalists -- including Sharon Van Etten, Gail Ann Dorsey, Lisa Hannigan, Mina Tindle, Kate Stables (This Is The Hit), Eve Owen, and the Brooklyn Youth Chorus -- whose voices are often featured just as prominently as Matt's. It seems like the band really let up on their idea of how albums should be made, and ended up having a much more relaxed approach in the process. It worked out, as I Am Easy To Find is the band's most accessible album in a while. It follows 2017's very good Sleep Well Beast, which was a deeply personal album about Matt's marriage with Carin Besser (who co-wrote a lot of the album's lyrics) and perhaps the saddest album in the band's catalog (which is full of sad albums). In comparison, I Am Easy To Find sounds lighter and brighter, like a weight has been lifted from The National's shoulders. Sleep Well Beast felt like an intentional attempt to break the mold of the previous few National albums by bringing in curveballs like electronic drums, synthpop, classic rock solos, and raging garage rock; but I Am Easy To Find sounds like the band is almost effortlessly starting a new chapter. It is unmistakably The National, but it feels like they hit refresh on their career and just let things fall into place. They've already put out a few albums that will go down as classics, they've successfully navigated all the usual hurdles of a band's career. Now they're 20 years and eight albums in, and watching them continue to subtly reinvent themselves never ceases to be a thrill.
Tyler, the Creator first emerged as the leader of Odd Future, who seemed to instantly change the face of rap music at the beginning of this decade with their youthful, rowdy, no-fucks-given attitude and their startlingly original songs. As the years passed, Tyler made some so/so records, but 2017's Flower Boy was a big comeback for him. It positioned him almost as an elder statesman (it's hard to believe enough time for that has passed, but he's now considered an influence on newer acts like Brockhampton), and it had some of his best songs in years and a maturity to it that you might not have expected from Tyler back at the turn of the '10s. Now he's back with a followup to Flower Boy, and I wasn't able to hear this one before writing this, but the high anticipation is enough to warrant its inclusion.
Read our first impression review HERE.
Megan Thee Stallion wasn't yet a star when she released her 2018 album Tina Snow, but the album had a steady rise and by the time its single "Big Ole Freak" became a sleeper hit, it was obvious that Megan was on her way to becoming one of the best new rappers around. She followed the album earlier this year with the new single "Sex Talk," and now that song and 13 others make up her new album Fever. "Sex Talk" was an admittedly less exciting single than "Big Ole Freak," but if it made you fear that Megan was going to be a one hit wonder, fear not. Most of Fever has her sounding bigger, better, and more intense than most of Tina Snow does. By the time you get to "Sex Talk" (which is track 12), its comparatively calmer tone is actually a nice break from the mostly in-your-face album. I don't know if there's a standout as monumental as "Big Ole Freak," but there are a handful of songs that sound ready to be just about as crowdpleasing, including but not limited to the very hooky "Weak Azz Bitch," "Dance," "Ratchet," "Hood Rat Shit," and "Cash Shit," the latter of which has a show-stealing verse from another recent breakout, DaBaby. The only other guest appearance comes from veteran rapper Juicy J, whose group Three 6 Mafia is one of Megan's biggest influences. And hearing them on the same song makes it clearer than ever that she's quickly reaching the same heights as her heroes.
Arizona experimental rap trio Injury Reserve have EPs, mixtapes, and singles dating back to 2013, and they've already built a following for themselves. I witnessed it myself when I caught their great live show at SXSW and they had plenty of fans in the room who came ready to yell the words and mosh, even at 3 PM on a Thursday. They're now signed to Loma Vista (Denzel Curry, St. Vincent, Marilyn Manson) and releasing their proper debut album, and it offers up everything that's been great about Injury Reserve in the past and more. The album will definitely appeal to the types of rap fans who listen to stuff like Death Grips and Run The Jewels, but Injury Reserve never sound exactly like those groups or anything. Producer Parkey Corey provides inventive production that ranges from heady electronic music to abrasive industrial, and rappers Ritchie With a T and Stepa J. Groggs navigate his beats with rhymes that show off an equal amount of love for punky SoundCloud rap and classic hip hop. You can see that in the album's choice of guest rappers too, which range from alternative-minded acts like Rico Nasty, JPEGMAFIA, and Cakes Da Killa to a classicist like Freddie Gibbs. All of those guests fit perfectly into Injury Reserve's world, and that's no small feat, especially for a debut album.
Australian indie rocker Alex Lahey's 2017 debut album I Love You Like A Brother cracked our year-end list that year, and in the time since, she's played increasingly bigger venues and toured with bands like Jimmy Eat World. Maybe experiences like those inspired her sophomore album The Best of Luck Club, because these are the biggest-sounding, best-produced songs she's released by far. It's not overproduced or anything, but it sounds like Alex is ready to shed the "indie rock" label and move onto something like "alternative rock" or even "pop punk." The choruses pile on walls of distorted guitars, the vocal harmonies are tighter and more complex than ever, and Alex even plays sax on the album! It's the kind of record that sounds like it could've produced a hit or two in the mid-'90s, sandwiched on radio playlists somewhere between Weezer and No Doubt. It probably won't score her any hits in 2019, but if it did, it would be deserved. Alex has very much paid her dues and she's writing the most confident, polished songs of her career.
Full of Hell formed a decade ago and have gradually been rising since, thanks not just to their own material but to collaborations with metal genre-benders The Body and noise legend Merzbow. They ended up inking a deal with Relapse over a year ago, and now their first album for the label is here. For the most part, they haven't changed their sound much, just sharpened it. And the more atmospheric production (courtesy once again of Converge's Kurt Ballou, who also worked on 2017's Trumpeting Ecstasy) helps push Full of Hell's music forward too. The album's got 11 songs that clock in at under 25 minutes, and the bulk of them stay true to Full of Hell's knack for whiplash-inducing subgenres like deathgrind and powerviolence. Most songs don't make it to the two-minute mark because music like this has no need for added frills. When Full of Hell do stray from their usual formula, though, they make some of their most exciting music. The album's highlight is the nearly-seven minute "Armory of Obsidian Glass," which brings in guest vocals from Lingua Ignota and sees Full of Hell successfully dipping their toes into expansive post-metal. Their long-standing love of noise comes through on the power electronics dirge of "Rainbow Coil," and again on the sludgy "Angels Gather Here," which sounds more like Godflesh -- who like the above-mentioned Merzbow is an artist at least one member of the band considers personally life-changing -- than Justin Broadrick of Godflesh's remix of another Weeping Choir song, "Thundering Hammers." Even when Full of Hell slow it down, they sound as harsh and confrontational as they do on the fast songs. If you're looking for music with even the slightest hint of beauty, look elsewhere.
Across the five mostly-lengthy tracks of their latest album, Iowa trio Aseethe trek through lumbering doom metal passages with a real knack for experimentation and a punk spirit (and sometimes sound). "All of us come from more of the hardcore punk background," guitarist/vocalist Brian Barr told Invisible Oranges in a recent interview. And speaking about the post-hardcore sounding highlight "No Realm," Barr added, "Probably the one band that is a constant thread between all three of us is Fugazi. We were joking when we were writing it and demoing that song, we were like, 'What is this? What is this song?' We finally decided it was Doomgazi!" "Doomgazi" sounds intriguing on paper, and Throes lives up to that description. It's a doom album through and through, but it's clear that Aseethe haven't lost sight of their punk background, and that makes for a thrilling clash that separates Aseethe from the doom bands who stick to the same Sabbath and Candlemass influences. It's a lively new take on a genre that often favors traditionalism, and some of Aseethe's finest work yet.