Five Notable Releases of the Week (4/21)
The music world is about to have a very busy weekend, which includes Coachella round 2 AND Record Store Day. In addition to the zillions of RSD exclusive titles coming out tomorrow (April 22), a handful of worthy albums dropped today (maybe pick one up while you're record shopping tomorrow). I didn't include any RSD exclusives in this week's Notable Releases, just albums with a standard release this week. But check out our list of 17 2017 Record Store Day releases we'd actually like to own. And if you're in NYC, browse our guide to RSD in-store performances, special events (and free beer). If you're unsure where to shop, we've also highlighted 10 Brooklyn Record Stores that you may not know about.
With Coachella, new videos, and more, this week has still been all about last week's killer Kendrick Lamar album. If you're planning to pick it up while you're out record shopping this weekend, you'll have to stick to a CD copy. Vinyl is coming though. Pre-orders are up on Kendrick's website and they're expected to ship in July.
Lastly, before I get to my five picks, a few honorable mentions: The first Gas album in 17 years, Hot Chip member Joe Goddard's solo LP Electric Lines, and crossover thrash revivalists Foreseen's Grave Danger.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
A veteran of '90s indie rock, Tara Jane O'Neil went solo at the beginning of the 21st century and she's been mastering a sort of noisy, avant-garde take on folk music since then. Her new self-titled album is actually some of her least noisy and avant-garde work yet, and the more straightforward sound suits her just as well. Tara Jane O'Neil isn't accessible per se; it's still a Tara Jane O'Neil album which means it's still for true believers of underground music. It's a gorgeous album, but one that's rooted in hushed, bare-bones outsider folk. It takes patience, and it's best consumed when you're alone and not multi-tasking. There are some hints of outsider folk legend Sibylle Baier's Colour Green, some hints of latter-day Mount Eerie. Like those albums, Tara Jane O'Neil can really stop you in your tracks when you dedicate your time to it.
Woods really made one hell of an album last year with City Sun Eater in the River of Light, one of our favorites of 2016. It was a far cry from the lo-fi albums of their early days, with high quality production, horns, keyboards, bits of soul, reggae, and more. Now the prolific band is already back with a followup, the six-song (but 31-minute) Love Is Love, and it dives even deeper into the sounds explored on City Sun. The production is even cleaner, the horns cut through the mix even more sharply, and Jeremy Earl is an even more commanding frontman. The leap Woods made on City Sun Eater in the River of Light was unexpected. Love Is Love may be less of a surprise than its predecessor, but the familiarity this time around makes it arguably more immediate. By refining the City Sun style on Love Is Love, these songs feel like an old friend, something you can always rely on. In the world we're currently living in, that's a nice thing to have (and yes, if it wasn't obvious from the title, this album at least partially reacts to the 2016 election). The album does offer one surprise, the nine-and-a-half minute instrumental centerpiece "Spring Is In The Air," which goes on a journey from Eastern-tinged psychedelia to jammed-out jazz fusion. If you've ever heard anyone say Woods are kind of a jam band, songs like this are why.
I get really picky when it comes to modern bands reviving '60s psychedelic rock. It's a great sound, don't get me wrong, but too often the revival bands don't offer anything beyond imitation and it's not enough to hold my interest. That all said, The Black Angels are a band who have really figured out how to take that sound and make it their own. A handful of Black Angels songs could pass for hidden treasures from the Summer of Love, and they hold a serious candle to many of the bands who influenced them. So it's always good news when we get a new Black Angels record, and Death Song is an especially great one. There are some firsts here. It's the band's first album for Partisan Records, and also their first with the super talented indie rock producer Phil Ek (whose work you know from great albums by Built to Spill, The Shins, Band of Horses, Fleet Foxes, and more). It's also clear from just seconds into the album that The Black Angels aren't limiting themselves to '60s worship on Death Song -- album opener "Currency" begins with a riff that sounds like Sonic Youth. (It's a move that's more Heron Oblivion than Tame Impala, which may mean something to like 9 psych nerds out there.) The Phil Ek contributions are noticeable -- Death Song has the best production of any Black Angels album by a longshot -- but it's really the songwriting that drives this thing home. Singer Alex Maas' voice is stronger than ever, and he's got serious hooks built into the band's tripped-out sound. "Tripped-out" is no overstatement here either (and I don't just mean because of the amazing cover art). The "psychedelic" tag can get thrown around pretty loosely, but The Black Angels really know how to zone you out and Death Song does this time and time again.
Talk of a Kinks reunion has been going on for quite some time now, and Ray Davies' 2015 performance with his brother Dave (their first time on stage together in nearly 20 years) made that look like even more of a reality. Still no word, sadly, but Ray is now back with his first solo album in a decade. It's called Americana, and the backing band on the album is Americana band The Jayhawks, though that's somewhat misleading. Ray hasn't exactly gone country on us or anything -- in fact, certain songs (like "The Deal") sound right out of The Kinks' late '60s/early '70s era. Ray doesn't sound like the youthful rocker he was on "All Day and All of the Night" (though he does slyly reference that song all throughout Americana's "The Man Upstairs"), but he doesn't sound like an "old" artist either. "A Long Drive Home to Tarzana" has some Waterloo Sunset-esque harmonies, which should please longtime fans, and Ray's duet with The Jayhawks' Karen Grotberg on "Message from the Road" is particularly lively. As for the album's title, it comes across more in the lyrical themes than in the music (though a few twangy moments do pop up). Ray sings about America, but still sounds unmistakably like the guy that half of Britpop modeled their bands after.
As a member of The Soft Boys and as a solo artist, Robyn Hitchcock has been responsible for some of the most iconic alternative music ever. Admittedly, there's still plenty of it that I've yet to hear so I'm not 100% sure how Robyn Hitchcock, his 22nd solo album, stacks up against the rest of his discography. But it's at least clear that this is a very worthy album, and it's not a million miles away from classics like Black Snake Diamond Role (an album Robyn revisited this year to perform in full with Yo La Tengo). It's a cool coincidence that it comes out the same day as the Ray Davies album. Both musicians are unmistakably British (in the same sort of whimsical, psychedelic way), and Robyn's album also has a hint of Americana. He recorded it in Nashville with co-producer Brendan Benson of The Raconteurs, and got some contributions from the very American-sounding Gillian Welch, Grant-Lee Phillips, and Wilco's Pat Sansone (plus Robyn's partner Emma Swift, who is from Australia but does play country music). But, like the Ray Davies album, the twang comes in the form of little embellishments (like the slide guitar on "1970 In Aspic" or "Sayonara Judge"). The distinctly-British pop side is much stronger, like on "Mad Shelley's Letterbox" or "Raymond and The Wires," songs that -- like Robyn's most classic material -- put a new twist on the British Invasion's acid-induced era.