Five Notable Releases of the Week (1/13): The xx, Flaming Lips & more
It's the second week of 2017 but the first major release week, and what a way to kick off a new year with new albums from The xx and The Flaming Lips. Do they live up to expectations? Head below to listen and find out, and to check out three other cool records out this week.
What was your favorite release of the week?
If you've heard anything about The xx's third album or listened to any of the singles or watched their SNL performance, you probably already figured this out: The xx are really going for it on I See You in a way they never have before. It's not a pop move necessarily, but Romy Madley Croft and Oliver Sim are belting their voices on every song and Jamie xx's production continues to move closer and closer to the dance-music world. When Coexist was criticized, it was usually accused of being a retread of their instant-classic debut. You might not love I See You as much as xx, but you won't be calling it a retread.
While it sounds bigger in every way, it doesn't lose The xx's unique touch, which has inspired passionate fandom and proven to be very influential. James Blake, who helped create a blueprint for a huge amount of today's pop music, has said they opened up the doors for his own sound. Pitchfork recently dedicated a whole article to music that borrows from The xx. If you see them live, that passionate fandom comes across clearly. Even on this album, they remain musically "indie" but their shows have the kind of singalongs you expect at pop concerts. My guess is the singalongs are only going to be more intense now that the words are more in the forefront than ever before, and still designed to drill their way into your brain.
The Flaming Lips have yet to do anything as accessible as they did during their Soft Bulletin / Yoshimi peak era, but their recent output has shown that their experimental side is still in great shape. The sprawling, ambitious Embryonic and the paranoid head trip The Terror proved that The Lips hadn't lost the ability to be unpredictable. Oczy Mlody is a weird record, and it's always cool to see a band 30+ years into their career refusing to straighten out their sound, but it doesn't offer much in the way of surprises. It's a batch of songs that more or less stick to the sounds we already knew The Flaming Lips were capable of. It's also a quiet album (especially compared to its predecessor), and never really jumps out and grabs you. Maybe that means it's a grower and it requires more patience than I could give it in the short time I've had it. Maybe it's because the band seems more interested in manipulating sound effects than writing melodies. Oczy Mlody does have a lot of cool stuff, but from a band who's set the bar as high as The Flaming Lips have, we're left wanting more.
A lot of modern emo bands got into the genre during its mainstream boom in the 2000s and then checked out its classic '90s era later on, resulting in a wave of bands worshipping Mike and Tim Kinsella who weren't even in grade school when Cap'n Jazz came out. A lot of these bands aim to distance themselves from the '00s boom, but Dryjacket is a band that openly embraces both eras. In my writeup of For Posterity single "Two Toasters," I said it sounded like Motion City Soundtrack taking on American Football's mathy rhythms melancholic trumpets, and that's a pretty apt description of most songs on this album. (For what it's worth, Motion City Soundtrack already honored their fair share of '90s influences, but also nobody on Polyvinyl or Jade Tree had anything as poppy or polished as MCS' Mark Hoppus-produced breakthrough.) It's a pretty exciting mix, especially for anyone who appreciates both of those waves of emo. If you dig the intricacies of the '90s, and the pop smarts of the '00s, you'll be happy to hear that Dryjacket give you both. It may not be an album that's gonna convert any emo skeptics, but it could be a good gateway for Warped Tour kids who haven't explored the genre's headier side yet (Dryjacket did just tour with Yellowcard). For the rest of us, For Posterity is just a lot of fun.
Black Anvil have been staples of New York black metal for a while now, and their fourth album As Was, the followup to 2014's Hail Death, is a noticeable step forward. They're using even more clean vocals than on Hail Death, they have cleaner production, cleaner guitars, and they take the songs in all kinds of new directions. It's not typical black metal by any means; it's often closer to progressive rock. It's already gotten a few comparisons to latter-day Enslaved, and while As Was might not be that polished, that comparison is a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The clean singing is soaring and majestic, the guitars are often there for atmosphere rather than riffs. (Though at the end of "Nothing," there's a guitar solo ripped right from the book of Swedish melodeath.) The raw, thrashy black metal of Black Anvil's early years, however, is almost never to be found. That's probably going to upset some old fans, but it also has potential to win over plenty of new ones. Back when the radio played heavy rock music, a song off this album could've been in rotation without anyone batting an eye. I don't mean that in a bad way -- it's still artfully crafted music with a lot of attention to detail and plenty of genuine brutality; it's just that this time you can sing along. And with the vocals recorded so clearly, it's nice to hear that Black Anvil's lyrics appear to be getting a little personal on this one.
UK producer Bonobo has been at it for over 15 years but he remains very popular and very in line with current trends. You can figure out the latter just by looking at the guests on Migration. Among them is Rhye singer Michael Milosh and Hundred Waters singer Nicole Miglis, two of the more creative minds in the recent wave of indie-electronic-pop. There's also Nick Murphy (fka Chet Faker), who I don't particularly care for but who's certainly popular and sounds alright here. (The fourth and final guest is Brooklyn Gnawa music group Innov Gnawa.) The guests add a lot to Migration, but Bonobo's production, which is smooth, atmospheric, and addictive, is still the star. One of the best songs is lead single "Kerala," which samples Brandy but is otherwise wordless, and it's got major replay value. Those who live in NYC can catch Bonobo DJing Output quite frequently, and Bonobo's said that he tested out Migration material at those sets and had the dancefloor in mind for some of them. But mostly, Migration is a chilled-out, mood-setting album that feels more built for the bedroom than for the club.