Five Notable Releases of the Week (6/2)
It's hard to believe it's June already, isn't it? If you're in NYC, the first weekend of June means Governors Ball, one of three major music festivals that this city currently hosts. Thankfully it's finally getting warm around here. Hopefully the rain holds out too. If you're going to GovBall, don't miss Tool's headlining set on Sunday. They're on something of a comeback tour, and their set at Boston Calling last weekend was quite the spectacle.
The biggest music news of this week is that Arcade Fire finally announced an album (and a tour that hits MSG). Did you hear the disco-y title track? What do you think?
As for the albums out this week, there are plenty. Some honorable mentions: Saint Etienne (who we recently interviewed), Amber Coffman, Dan Auerbach, Omar Souleyman, Peaking Lights, Roger Waters (that Klaus reviewed), Flogging Molly, Chastity Belt, Ikonika. And those are all in addition to the five albums I picked this week.
Check out my picks below (one of which is by an artist who also appears as a guest on another one of this week's picks). What was your favorite release of the week?
As the singer of Foxing, Conor Murphy has released some of the most gorgeous post-rock in recent memory. A followup to 2015's excellent Dealer is hopefully coming soon, but first, Conor is releasing his debut solo album as Smidley. It's noticeably different music than Foxing, and, in its own way, just as strong. The album’s lead singles showed that Conor can also make high-energy indie rock, in addition to the slower-paced music he makes with Foxing. "No One Likes You," "Fuck This," "Dead Retrievers," "Hell," and "Power Word Kill" are bright, driving songs that really rock and have a dose of artiness too. Made with Cameron Boucher (Sorority Noise), Eric Slick (Dr Dog, Lithuania), Ben Walsh (Tigers Jaw), and producer Joe Reinhart (of Hop Along), Conor has just the right group of friends to help him deliver these songs with the punch they deserve. And driving everything home is that voice. Conor's emerging as one of today's strongest and most distinct indie rock singers, and Smidley is even more proof of this. There's another side to Smidley too. The album is nearly as heavy on personal acoustic songs that resonate just as much as the rockers. "It Doesn't Tear Me Up" and "Milkshake" are heartstring-pullers as effective as early Bright Eyes. The climactic "Nothing'll" starts out like one of those songs and ends up as something much more crushing. That's even more true of album closer "Under The Table," which nears Brand New or Manchester Orchestra territory and I might even call it "epic." It's a hell of a way to end the record.
Elder's Lore was one of my favorite metal albums of 2015, though it was really more progressive/hard rock than metal (think UFO, Budgie, Deep Purple, etc). For Reflections of a Floating World, Elder are diving even further into prog. Like the new Pallbearer album, it's still heavy and doomy, but it's less about instant headbang-worthy satisfaction, and more about taking you on thought-provoking journeys. It's one guitar riff after another after another after another, with so many twists and turns along the way (if you mourn the absence of "guitars" in modern music, you need this record). The shortest song on the album is still nearly nine minutes, and most are over ten. The band sounds like they're really deep in their own heads on Reflections, and the album will likely put you in that same mindset. It's an album that requires patience, and requires being played loudly. If you give it those two things, it'll be very rewarding.
Mutoid Man, the power trio of singer/guitarist Stephen Brodsky (of Cave In), drummer Ben Koller (of Converge), and bassist Nick Cageao, are back with their third release -- following 2013's Helium Head EP and 2015's Bleeder LP -- and it may very well be their best yet. With a lineup like this one, it's obvious that Mutoid Man are bringing loads of talent to the table, but they never knocked me off my feet the way they do on War Moans. These guys really sound like they're having fun, and War Moans has them trekking through all the various styles of punk and metal that they hold so dearly. It kicks off with the Motorhead-style charge of "Melt Your Mind" (with a guest guitar solo by former Megadeth member and famous shredder Marty Friedman). The sludge of "Kiss of Death" rivals prime-era High on Fire and Mastodon. "Headrush" gives a D-beat backdrop to Brodsky's soaring, clean vocals. "Irons In The Fire" is a dose of classic heavy metal that sorta puts the Converge/Cave In twist on Priest and Maiden. The title track isn't a million miles away from Metallica territory. And that's just the half of it. No matter what mode they're in, Brodsky has riffs for days and Koller is just as much of a nut behind the kit as he is in Converge. Because it's those two guys, they'll find moments for little splashes of mathcore, even on their most accessible songs. It’s a beast of a record.
In 2015, UK singer/songwriter Marika Hackman put out her excellent debut album, We Slept At Last, which is a gorgeous debut of haunting folk. She's since signed to Sub Pop for its followup, I'm Not Your Man, and Marika is making noticeably different music this time around. She recorded this one with The Big Moon as her backing band, and together they made a record filled with crunchy, grungy indie rock. The transition Marika makes on this album is a bit like the one Angel Olsen made on Burn Your Fire for No Witness and Mitski made on Bury Me at Makeout Creek. Like those two artists, Marika transitions to driving rock without abandoning the delicacy of her softer material. Her haunting delivery makes rock songs like "Boyfriend" and "Time's Been Reckless" stand out from the pack of today's grungy indie rock bands. And she's got still a handful of softer songs on I'm Not Your Man. "Violet," "Cigarette," "Apple Tree," and "I'd Rather Be With Them" are as arresting as anything on her debut.
You can't accuse alt-J of making the same album twice. Their 2012 debut album An Awesome Wave is the kind of distinct-sounding, all-hits debut that you don't come across every day, and it understandably caused a lot of excitement. That excitement may have died down a bit, but the band have stayed ambitious, refusing to repeat themselves. 2014's This Is All Yours was the "difficult sophomore album," which -- other than "Left Hand Free" -- favored taking artistic risk-taking over potential hits. Relaxer doesn't even have one song that sounds like an attempt at a hit, and it's also a shorter, consistently-stronger album than This Is All Yours. It's eight songs, which is really all you need for a great rock album (just ask Japandroids), and the band really made sure that each song differs from the one before it. If you're expecting something as immediate as "Breezeblocks," you may be disappointed, but alt-J find plenty of other ways to hold your attention on Relaxer. "In Cold Blood" is one of the album's most upbeat songs and it gets pretty damn climactic at the end. "Hit Me Like That Snare" starts out as alt-J's weird version of a swaggering garage rock song and it ends with what sounds like a group of friends drunkenly singing off-key while one sloppily plays guitar. It's the least meticulous, least rehearsed-sounding thing alt-J have ever done. "Last Year" is a beautiful folk-pop song featuring a duet with Marika Hackman (who shares a producer with alt-J and whose new album is also out today; see above), and Marika lends the album a show-stopping performance. Relaxer somehow manages, in 2017, to include a version of "House of the Rising Sun" that's actually a unique take and an effective one. It's based on the Animals/Dylan version, but alt-J take it into Radiohead-like, ambient, freeform territory. And to make sure they go out on a high note, alt-J end Relaxer with "Pleader," an orchestral song with a choir that could be seen as too self-serious or bombastic if alt-J didn't sell it as well as they do.