Notable Releases of the Week (10/13)
It's been another weird week in the world, one where both the music world and the regular world can't seem to stop talking about Eminem dissing Trump in a freestyle. On a more local level here in New York, the real injustice-fighting rap hero of the week is Princess Nokia, aka the person who threw the soup in the racist subway rider's face. Bless her.
What was your favorite release of the week?
Even before we heard a note of this album, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile seemed like the perfect pair. Both have a style that pulls equally from '90s slacker rock and '60s psychedelic folk, and both are two of the few traditionally indie rock artists to make it big in the mid-2010s. It turns out that their styles blend together as naturally as they seemed like they would, and contributions on the album from Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three, Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint, and Aussie icon Mick Harvey don't hurt either. They didn't make some superstar Watch the Throne style collaboration though; they kinda just sound like two friends hanging out and singing together, which -- come to think of it -- is probably exactly what we should have expected from these two masters of lazy-Sunday rock. Of the nine songs, two are covers (Belly's "Untogether" and "Fear Is Like A Forest" by Courtney's partner Jen Cloher) and two have them taking on each other's songs: Kurt does "Outta the Woodwork" from Courtney's 2013 EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose (with backing vocals by Courtney) and Courtney does a solo version of "Peeping Tomboy" from Kurt's 2011 album Smoke Ring For My Halo. That leaves just an EP's worth of originals, three of which are duets ("Over Everything," "Let It Go," "Continental Breakfast"), one of which is sung by Kurt with harmonies by Courtney ("Blue Cheese"), and one of which is sung entirely by Courtney ("On Script"). So, again, it's a casual affair, but it's an enjoyable casual affair to listen to. Kurt and Courtney are easy on the ears no matter what they're doing, and it's fun to hear their styles interact with one another. The breezy guitar of "Continental Breakfast" is trademark Vile, and Courtney has no trouble making it work with her trademark deadpan wit and atypical rhymes ("I cherish my intercontinental friendships / We talk it over continental breakfast / In a hotel in East bumble-wherever"). On his version of "Outta the Woodwork," KV throws in some jammy Violators-style guitar, but then borrows Courtney's cadences entirely to sing the song. Each have strong personalities that come through on the album, but sometimes one will adapt to the other's style so naturally that the duo will really sound like kindred spirits, destined to finally collaborate.
As our '60s-era rock stars age, we've seen a lot of them (like Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones) resort to covering and reinterpreting the work of others, leading us to wonder if their days as creative songwriters will always be behind them. Robert Plant seemed like he was falling into that category in the late '00s and early '10s, until he made a massive comeback in the songwriting department with 2014's Lullaby And… The Ceaseless Roar. It was his first album made with his backing band The Sensational Space Shifters (featuring members of his Strange Sensation band, including Portishead and Massive Attack associates John Baggott and Billy Fuller) and his first for Nonesuch Records (where he's on a diverse roster that includes modern folk artists like Fleet Foxes and Conor Oberst, whose fans should dig the stuff that Plant is doing these days). Carry Fire is the followup to Lullaby, and it's even more proof that Plant remains a creative and interesting songwriter, nearly 50 years after the world was introduced to "Good Times, Bad Times." It includes just one cover, Ersel Hickey's oft-covered 1958 song "Bluebirds over the Mountain" (which, on Carry Fire, is a lovely duet with The Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde), and it's otherwise a collection of originals that blend Plant's old soul with modern, unpredictable sounds.
If you're coming into this as a Zeppelin fan and haven't really kept up with Plant in recent years, expect more "The Battle of Evermore" and less "Black Dog." Lately, Plant's interests seem to be psychedelic folk, African rhythms, and melodies from the Eastern hemisphere, with just a bit of his long-beloved blues remaining. His band plays instruments from all over the world, including t'bal, bendir, oud, and djembe; and they also work in electronics and gorgeous string arrangements. See "The May Queen," "Dance With You Tonight," and especially the title track for great examples of Plant's Western folk music blending with sounds from other corners of the globe; see "Season's Song" and "A Way With Words" for some of his prettiest string-laden balladry; and though he never gets "Immigrant Song" heavy, see "New World..." and "Bones of Saints" for some raw, distorted, blues riffage. No matter which of those approaches he's taking, he's usually got a faint electronic atmosphere in the background keeping things retro-futuristic. A lot of credit should go to how well Plant gels with the Sensational Space Shifters, and how their playing pushes him to not fall back into repeating music he's made before. But of course credit is also due to Plant's vision as a producer and the great shape he's kept his voice in. He can't hit the super high notes that he hit in his Zeppelin days anymore, but his current range has a similar charm to his early years and he's still unmistakably Robert Plant. First on Lullaby and now once again on Carry Fire, he's figured out a sound that suits him as he nears 70; he doesn't try to relive his youth but he refuses to settle down.
The Lillingtons were associates of both The Queers and Screeching Weasel in the '90s (and signed to Ben Weasel's Lookout! Records imprint Panic Button Records), and like both of those bands, they made the kind of zippy pop punk that owed a lot of debt to the Ramones. (If you've never checked out their 1999 album Death by Television, it's one of the classics of Ramonesy '90s punk.) Riot Fest helped coax them out of retirement in 2013, and, after this year's Project 313 EP, they're finally back with their first full-length album in 11 years. Project 313 sounded pretty much exactly like their classic material, but with Stella Sapiente, they're doing something noticeably different. Rather than rehashing the same sound they were doing two decades ago, they're working in darker, heavier territory than they ever have before.
They eased us in with first single "Insect Nightmares," which is really the only song on the album that uses speedy, Ramonesy downstrums, but does so in a darker, more minor-key way. For the rest of the album, their raw, punk spirit and Kody Templeman's pop-punk vocal delivery remains intact but they dug into elements of thrash metal and gothy post-punk. "London Fog" has a guitar solo lifted straight out of '80s thrash, and closing track "Drawing Down the Stars" has a pulverizing main riff that pulls from the same era. "Zodiac" gets a little metallic too; it's almost a '90s-punk take on NWOBHM. The gothy post-punk stuff pops up on "Cult of Dagon," "The Walker," "Night Visions," and "Villagers," the latter of which has an intro that sounds like a darker, revved up "Take On Me." Millions of bands have imitated '80s goth rock and post-punk since that decade ended, but The Lillingtons put a new spin on it by sticking to their '90s punk roots. The songs kind of sound like if blink-182 had done their Robert Smith collaboration in the manner that they recorded Dude Ranch (there's a definite Cure-ish vibe to "The Walker"). It's a pretty rare thing for a band to come back with their first album in over a decade and make their most adventurous music yet, but The Lillingtons have done it.
When the world was first introduced to dvsn, it was a mysterious project. All we knew was that Drake producer Nineteen85 (who's behind "Hotline Bling" and "Hold On, We're Going Home") was somehow involved. Later on, dvsn was revealed to be the duo of Nineteen85 (real name Anthony Paul Jefferies) and singer Daniel Daley, and their 2016 debut album Sept. 5th lived up to all the hype that surrounded it. dvsn are quickly back just a year and a half later with a followup album, Morning After, which picks up right where Sept. 5th left off. There's a strong enough similarity to Drake's R&B side that suggests Nineteen85 either has a big part in Drake's songwriting or borrows a lot of his ideas (or a little of both), but it's also different enough that fans of one would benefit from listening to the other. Unlike Drake, Daniel Daley is a smooth crooner, and he brings a more impressive range to the table than most others on the OVO team. There's also a slight gospel touch to Morning After, with massive harmonies aiding Daniel Daley at times. And like on Sept. 5th and on Drake's biggest hits, Nineteen85 remains a forward-thinking beatmaker, always favoring intricate minimalism and slowed-down rhythms over something that caters to the radio. That said, this kind of music is still a lot more widespread than it was in the Take Care days, but dvsn just do it so well that they deserve to be heard.
My full review of St. Vincent's fifth and best album MASSEDUCTION is HERE. Read an excerpt:
She introduced the world to MASSEDUCTION the perfect way -- by releasing a song that bore almost no resemblance to her previous work, "New York." On it, her crazy guitar playing is nowhere in sight. Instead, it's a piano ballad (with piano performed by the very talented Doveman) and raw, honest lyrics like "you're the only motherfucker in the city who can handle me" in the forefront. Annie's lyricism has always been sharp, but it's never opened up like this. "New York" is one of the most powerful songs released this year, and it's not the only song on MASSEDUCTION of its kind. "Happy Birthday, Johnny," another Doveman collaboration, proves that the knack for confessional balladry that St. Vincent showed on "New York" was no fluke. Its chorus of “Happy birthday, Johnny, wherever you are” could make it seem like a less deep song than “New York,” until you consider the hyper-specific scenes that Annie sets when the song begins: “Remember one Christmas, I gave you Jim Carroll? Intended it as a cautionary tale. You said you saw yourself inside there, dog-eared it like a how-to manual.” Both songs show St. Vincent taking on the kind of classic ballad that's existed in pop for over half a century, and somehow never sounding predictable.
It's a thrill to hear Annie excelling at sounds she hasn't tackled before, but it's still a St. Vincent album and there is still plenty of material in her trademark style...
Read the rest HERE.