It's been a rollercoaster of a week in the music world, including the very sad death of Cardiacs frontman Tim Smith, a true musical innovator who remains severely under-appreciated. If you haven't, you can read my retrospective on Cardiacs' A Little Man and a House and the Whole World Window, and tributes by members of Faith No More, Blur, Porcupine Tree, Voivod, Pinback, and more.

We're also still mourning SNFU frontman Chi Pig, who passed away last week, and whose heartbreaking final song was released this week. There's also a crowdfunding campaign to help get a mural up of him in his hometown of Edmonton that you can contribute to if you'd like.

We also published a couple mid-year articles this week: 5 great albums from 2020 you may have missed and Freddie Gibbs, Griselda, Boldy James, Alchemist & the new-old sound of rap in 2020.

As for this week's new albums, there are a lot of good ones. I highlight eight below, Bill reviews Flower's first album in 30 years and Ultravox offshoot John Foxx and the Maths in Bill's Indie Basement, and here's more honorable mentions: Shirley Collins, Jon Hassell, William Basinski's new project Sparkle Division, Katie Dey, Devendra Banhart, Thomas Bartlett (aka Doveman), Sada Baby, Cambatta, Logic, Curren$y & Harry Fraud, Flo Milli, Spirit Possession (mem Mastery, Ulthar), Valkyrie, Jessy Lanza, Jess Cornelius, Gaerea, Luke Jenner (The Rapture), the Lupe Fiasco + Kaelin Ellis EP, the Skullcrusher EP, and the expanded Mortality Rate reissue.

Read on for my eight picks. What was your favorite release of the week?

Courtney Marie Andrews - Old Flowers
Fat Possum

"Feels like I've gone crazy/Like the women in my family usually do," Courtney Marie Andrews sings in a frank, resilient delivery on "It Must Be Someone Else's Fault," and it makes for one of the most show-stopping, honest moments on her new album Old Flowers, an all-around great album that's full of honesty. "Old Flowers is about heartbreak. There are a million records and songs about that, but I did not lie when writing these songs," Courtney says. "It’s about being afraid to be vulnerable after you’ve been hurt. It’s about a woman who is alone, but okay with that, if it means truth."

As Courtney herself said, songs about heartbreak are nothing new, but Courtney does it without ever falling victim to cliches. The songwriting on this album clearly comes straight from the heart, and the earthy tone of the music feels just as authentic as the lyricism. Courtney made the album with frequent Big Thief producer Andrew Sarlo, Big Thief drummer James Krivchenia, and Big Thief collaborator (and Twain member) Matthew Davidson, so it's easy to draw comparisons to Big Thief, and like much of that band's work, Old Flowers is indie rock-friendly Americana that sounds modest but crystal clear. "We agreed to prioritize making this record as cathartic and minimal as possible—focusing on Courtney’s voice and her intention behind the songs," Andrew Sarlo said, and that comes across. Old Flowers is more stripped-back than Courtney's music has been in a while -- or maybe ever -- and all-around more somber too, and this more minimal approach suits her even better than her more fleshed-out last album did.

Boldy James & Sterling Toles - Manger on McNichols
Sector 7-G Recordings

Boldy James is already on a roll this year with his excellent Alchemist-produced album The Price of Tea In China and standout verses on both Westside Gunn albums, and he recently revealed that he signed to Griselda Records and will have Westside Gunn executive producing his next project. But before that, Boldy and producer/composer Sterling Toles finally released their long-in-the-works collaborative album Manger on McNichols. Boldy recorded the bulk of his vocals between 2007 and 2010, and at the time Sterling Toles' production was "pretty much chopped samples and drums." Over the years, Sterling fleshed the recordings out with a live jazz band, and he added guest vocals to the song "Welcome to 76" by a then-little-known artist named Deja, who you now know as DeJ Loaf.

In 2018, Boldy helped Sterling finish the album, and now it's finally here. It's jazz-rap that's one part real-deal jazz and one part real-deal rap, not just beats sourced from jazz records. The music is alive and improvisational, and Boldy's raps fall right into the pocket. It's a whole different beast than The Price of Tea In China, and great in its own way.

Taylor Swift - folklore
Republic

Taylor Swift's surprise new album was largely produced by The National's Aaron Dessner, and it features other members of The National, Bon Iver, and several other musicians from The National's musical community. Taylor's big pivot to indie? Read our first-impressions review for more.

The Acacia Strain - Slow Decay
Rise

In very late 2019 (the day after Christmas), The Acacia Strain surprise-released a new album, It Comes In Waves, and it found the long-running band exploring a more doomy, atmospheric side than usual. (It also came out on the smaller Closed Casket Activities, rather than their usual label Rise Records.) Guitarist Devin Shidaker recently told MetalSucks that the surprise release was done in part because the album was so different for The Acacia Strain, and they didn't want fans to have any preconceived notions going into it, and it seemed to work out for them. It Comes In Waves was received well, and deservingly so. It found a veteran band reinventing themselves and proving that their creative juices are flowing as much or more than ever.

Less than a year later, The Acacia Strain have followed that album with Slow Decay, and this one got an unconventional release too. The band have been releasing it as a series of two-song singles over the course of the past few months; eight of the ten songs were already out before today, so if you've been following along, you've already heard most of it. Slow Decay is out on the band's usual label Rise Records and it's a little more "typical" of The Acacia Strain, but also if this band have proved anything over the years, it's that they're never really typical of anything and they continue to reinvent themselves. They've spent years fusing together hardcore, death metal, sludge metal, and more in increasingly interesting ways, and Slow Decay is no exception. This one features guest vocals from members of three cool newer hardcore bands (Mortality Rate's Jess Nyx, Jesus Piece's Aaron Heard, Left Behind's Zach Hatfield, plus sung vocals by Courtney LaPlante of Spiritbox/Iwrestledabearonce), and Slow Decay sounds as fresh within the current hardcore scene as those bands do. It's a more forceful album than It Comes In Waves, but sometimes the atmospheric side of that album sneaks into this one too. It's a genuinely inventive take on metallic hardcore without abandoning the traits that longtime Acacia Strain fans know and love, and for a band nearly 20 years into their career, that's a pretty impressive feat.

Kamaal Williams - Wu Hen
Black Focus

UK jazz keyboardist and electronic musician Kamaal Williams put out one of the most beloved and acclaimed modern-day jazz albums with his 2016 collaboration with drummer Yussef Dayes, Black Focus, and after parting ways with Yussef, Kamaal proved to be just as worthy on his own with his excellent 2018 debut solo album The Return. He stayed busy since then and in 2019 released a DJ-Kicks mix that featured new music by his long-running electronic project Henry Wu, and now he's back with his second proper album as Kamaal Williams, Wu Hen. Like The Return and Black Focus, Wu Hen blends and defies several genres, including not just jazz but also hip hop, various forms of electronic music, funk, R&B, and more. At times it's chilled-out and sounds like a smoky jazz club, and at other times it churns out pounding beats and sounds like a 3 AM dancefloor. And there's plenty of the in-between, from the sputtering groove of "One More Time" to the radio-friendly R&B of the Lauren Faith-featuring "Hold On." There's still enough classic-style jazz on Wu Hen to refer to it as a jazz album, but it's a jazz album that finds kinship with artists like Flying Lotus and Thundercat, not traditional acoustic jazz combos. And like both of those artists do, it won't be surprising if Wu Hen attracts fans who listen to all kinds of different music. It's got a little something for everyone, without ever sounding scatterbrained or unfocused.

Gulch - Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
Closed Casket Activities

The Santa Cruz/San Jose hardcore scene is thriving right now, thanks to killer bands like Drain, Hands of God, Sunami, and Gulch, all of whom share members and/or frequently gig together, and the latest must-hear release to come out of that scene is Gulch's Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress. Casually blurring the lines between punk, thrash, and metalcore, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress is rager after rager, with eight songs, six of which are under two minutes. Not until closing song "Sin In My Heart" -- a brooding, three-and-a-half minute fusion of indie, sludge, and screamo -- do Gulch even consider slowing down. Other than that song, this record is purely whiplash-inducing, and vocalist Elliot Morrow sounds like he swallowed knives before recording. There's been a lot of punk/metal crossover in this realm lately, but don't let this record get lost in the shuffle. It's too purely vicious to be ignored.

Bedsore - Hypnagogic Hallucinations
20 Buck Spin

Rome death metallers Bedsore caught the attention of the trusty 20 Buck Spin label with their 2018 demo, and this week they unleashed their first full-length on that label, Hypnagogic Hallucinations. Death metal with an atmospheric, psychedelic edge has been having a moment lately, and if you've found yourself digging stuff like Horrendous, Blood Incantation, Tomb Mold, and Morbus Chron/Sweven, you probably wanna feast your ears on Bedsore too. They're rooted ini Leprosy-era Death and other OSDM, but they incorporate Goblin/Carpenter-esque synths and take things into psych, prog, post-rock, and blackened territory too. It's a trippy, modern twist on a familiar sound, and just one album and a two-song demo into their career, Bedsore are already pros at it.

Thin - Dawn
Twelve Gauge

NYC math-grinders Mary Todd are no more, but guitarist/vocalist Ashley Levine is now fronting a new band, Thin, who released their debut album Dawn back in April. It started stirring up buzz within the heavy music underground, and it caught the attention of Twelve Gauge Records, who signed the band and re-released Dawn this week. If you haven't heard it yet, you should change that now. It's even more chaotic and intense than Mary Todd was; it's like Botch, Cattle Decapitation, Pig Destroyer, and Discordance Axis in a blender, and it manages to induce nostalgia for the late '90s / early 2000s while still feeling fresh. As an added bonus, Michael Centrone (Through the Discipline, Dehumanized) shows up for guest vocals on "Maiden Name."

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