Notable Releases of the Week (4/3)
Another week in quarantine has gone by, and if there's any silver lining at all to any of this, it's all the music that artists are unearthing from their vaults to keep us occupied during these crazy times. Most of the albums I wrote about this week were always scheduled to come out this week, but two of them are surprise-released demo albums that might still be stowed away on hard drives if not for all this insanity.
I wrote about ten of this week's new albums below, but first, some honorable mentions: tētēma (aka Mike Patton + Anthony Pateras), Everything Is Recorded, Yaeji, Purity Ring, Empress Of, Maserati, M. Ward, Anna Burch, James Elkington, Charmer, Warm Digits (ft. The Lovely Eggs, Emma Pollock, Maximo Park's Paul Smith & Rozi Plain), The Lovely Eggs, CMON, Unconditional Arms, Wilma Archer (ft. MF DOOM, Samuel T. Herring, Sudan Archives & Laura Groves), John Carroll Kirby, Peel Dream Magazine, Ellis, Melkbelly, TOPS, Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs, Violent Soho, The Frogs' never-before-released first studio recording, and the Alex the Astronaut EP.
Also, the first quarter of 2020 just ended, and because a lot of major album releases are getting delayed and we need music now more than ever, the BV staff recently posted a list of our 25 favorite albums of 2020 so far, so check those out if you haven't already.
Read on for my ten picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Thundercat - It Is What It Is
Bass wiz turned soul/funk/jazz auteur Thundercat's last LP (2017's Drunk) was a lengthy, immersive, heavily jazz-inspired album that was worth the time but did require a lot of patience. For this year's It Is What It Is, Thundercat has made something much more immediate. There's still plenty of modern, innovative jazz, but this is much more of a bouncy, catchy soul/funk LP that sort of fuses together '90s G-Funk with the '70s funk records that G-Funk used as source material. Funk veteran Steve Arrington of Slave, whose music was frequently sampled in G-Funk, is one of the many impressive guests on this album -- alongside Ty Dolla $ign, Childish Gambino, Lil B, Kamasi Washington, Steve Lacy, BADBADNOTGOOD, Louis Cole, Zack Fox, and executive producer Flying Lotus -- and the Arrington-featuring lead single ("Black Qualls") was the perfect song for Thundercat to introduce this LP with. That's the only one featuring an actual funk legend, but it's one of many songs on It Is What It Is that find Thundercat rivaling the legendary funk music of that era. It's the most flat-out fun Thundercat LP, and for all its big-name guests, It Is What It Is might be the most that Thundercat's own voice has ever stolen the show.
Yves Tumor - Heaven To A Tortured Mind
WVRM - Colony Collapse
Had coronavirus not gotten in the way, South Carolina grinders WVRM would have opened Napalm Death's North American tour alongside Belgian death metal vets Aborted and Brooklyn metal staples Tombs. They're the only band on that run who aren't long established, but it's no surprise to hear that Napalm Death wanted them on the tour. 2020 is shaping up to be a big breakthrough year for WVRM, who stirred up some buzz with their first two albums and early EPs, but who are now part of the great Prosthetic Records family and reaching new fans all over the world. They also sound like they're clearly inspired by the type of death-y, sludgy, punky grindcore that Napalm Death helped pioneer, and Colony Collapse breathes new life into the genre. As with Napalm Death's music, there's a real clarity to these songs that you don't always hear in grindcore, but not at the sacrifice of being as brutal as possible. WVRM know how to change things up, slow things down, and look outside the genre like on the noise-inspired title track, but this is still a grindcore album and most of these songs clock in at, around, or under the one-minute mark. Here's to hoping that tour with Napalm Death still happens, 'cause seeing these two bands live together (plus Aborted and Tombs) sounds like one hell of a night. But until then, bask in the glory that is Colony Collapse.
Testament - Titans of Creation
In any normal year, I'd talk about how Berkeley thrash lifers Testament remain one of the greatest live bands around in any genre of music. The band -- who still have Chuck Billy, Alex Skolnick, and Eric Peterson from the classic lineup and two other members (Gene Hoglan and Steve DiGiorgio) who were already legendary musicians due to time in other bands like Death and Dark Angel before first joining Testament over 20 years ago -- haven't changed up their musical approach in a very long time, but that's totally fine when songs like "Into The Pit" and "Over The Wall" and "The New Order" haven't aged one bit and you're basically guaranteed to hear them played to perfection at any Testament show. And the newer albums tend to sound at least a little bit like those songs, with recordings that are as tight as the band's current live show. So even if Testament don't write classic albums anymore, their recent material is always a good time and worth at least a few spins.
But this year, I'm more grateful than ever for this new Testament album. Not only have Testament -- like all bands -- been forced to stop touring, but at least two members were diagnosed with coronavirus after a tour that also affected members of Death Angel and Exodus/Slayer: frontman Chuck Billy (who thankfully says he's recovering) and bassist Steve DiGiorgio. So it feels like a reality check that we should never take these guys or their music for granted. This new album is also currently the only way to experience present-day Testament, and like their last album (2016's Brotherhood of the Snake), it's full of crisp, tough, hard-hitting thrash songs played with extreme precision. It doesn't really break any new ground for the band, but it still sounds great for what it is. You can feel the heat of their amps on your skin, the blow of their kick drum in your gut... what more do you want?
Rod Wave - Pray 4 Love
Rod Wave is back with a followup to 2019's great Ghetto Gospel, his breakthrough album and first since Baton Rouge rapper Kevin Gates took Rod under his wing. Rod sort of sounded like the soul singer version of Kevin Gates, and especially with Gates executive producing Ghetto Gospel and rapping on two songs on it, it was hard to listen to Rod Wave and not make the Kevin Gates comparison. On this year's followup Pray 4 Love, though, Rod seems to be leaving the nest a bit. Not Kevin Gates or any other well-known guest rapper appears (the only guest is ATR Son Son, and most Google results about ATR Son Son are just about the song on this album), and Rod takes his sound in a few new directions on this one. Ghetto Gospel saw Rod pulling from brash, raspy Southern soul, but Pray 4 Love sounds more sentimental and R&B-tinged. He still sings with rap-like cadences, but he's definitely more of a singer than a rapper and it sounds like he has widened his singing range even more since his last album. And as on Ghetto Gospel, Rod is a "sing-rapper" without sounding anything like the modern-day, auto-tune-heavy artists you probably think of when you hear the term "sing-rapper." His music does fit in with what's on the radio but he's got an old soul, and he seems intent on paving his own path. So far, I'd say he's doing a pretty fine job.
Andy Hull (Manchester Orchestra) - Who Is Your Humble? (Demos 2006-2007) & Born Of You (Demos 2008-2010)
By the time Manchester Orchestra released their now-classic "proper" debut album, 2006's I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, the band and main member Andy Hull had already built up an impressive back catalog of demo albums and EPs that lacked the professional production of Virgin but did not fail to show how powerful a songwriter Andy (who was still in his teens) already was. Even after Virgin came out, Andy remained prolific and highly consistent, released two albums with his solo project Right Away, Great Captain! before putting out the next Manchester Orchestra album (Mean Everything To Nothing) in 2009 and then collaborating with Kevin Devine on the first Bad Books album the following year. Almost everything Andy touched turned to gold during that era, so it's very exciting that he has unearthed two full albums of solo demos that he recorded around that time: Who Is Your Humble? (Demos 2006-2007 & Born Of You (Demos 2008-2010). Even on first listen, these sound like songs I've known my whole life, because they have that unmistakable songwriting style that Andy was developing at the time. They also may be stripped-back solo recordings, but they otherwise sound a lot more like a finished product than you might expect from the word "demos." And though Andy had started writing pretty heavy full-band rock songs by Mean Everything To Nothing, these songs are all in the hushed, intimate style of Manchester songs like "I Can Feel Your Pain" or "Girl With Broken Wings," and I'll never tire of hearing Andy Hull songs like those.
Dylan Baldi (Cloud Nothings) - Enemy At Home
Here's another self-released album of solo demos, though these are much more "demo-y" and much more unfinished than the Andy Hull ones, but there's still a lot to like about this. The songs on Enemy At Home were intended to be a solo release by Cloud Nothings frontman Dylan Baldi on Cursive frontman Tim Kasher's 15 Passenger label, but Dylan "ended up scrapping it" and the recordings "never got past their current very lo-fi state." Still, even on these rough, unfinished recordings, you can hear the seeds being planted for what could have been a really cool album and what -- to some degree -- already is. The recording quality isn't really any rawer than Turning On, the home-recorded 2009 album that quickly gained Cloud Nothings blog buzz and landed them a deal with Carpark, so longtime Cloud Nothings fans are already used to hearing Dylan's work like this. But songwriting-wise, these songs are mostly closer to the darker, more mature tone of recent Cloud Nothings. They were probably never meant to be heard by the public this way, and if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic, maybe we still wouldn't have heard them. But Dylan was kind enough to give fans these ten songs to listen to while stuck at home, and it's exciting to get a taste of all this material none of us even knew he was sitting on. Hopefully one day he revisits some of this stuff -- a lot of these ideas could be turned into really great songs.
Download Enemy At Home for free here.
NNAMDÏ - BRAT
We live in a post-genre world where it's almost more weird if your music doesn't incorporate influence from outside of your primary style of music than if it does, but it's still not every day than an artist takes this concept to as much of an extreme as NNAMDÏ (fka Nnamdi Ogbonnaya) does. His new album BRAT pulls from whispery bedroom folk, in-your-face hip hop, math rock, art pop, psychedelic R&B, twisted electronic music that ranges from ethereal synths to booming bass, and more. Some songs are driven entirely by synthesizers and drum machines, others by a rock band, and there are string and horn sections too. The one time Nnamdi hands the mic over to a guest, it's Julia Steiner of indie-punk band Ratboys. "All over the place" isn't the half of it. There's no doubt that it's ambitious, but does it actually work? Well, that's a resounding yes.
Sonagi / Obroa-skai / Indisposed / Coma Regalia - The Cold Promise of Uncertainty
Here’s a new four-way split from four very killer screamo bands: 소나기 aka Sonagi (a new-ish band featuring Ryan Slausson of Brooklyn’s Closer who make their recorded debut on this split), Edmonton’s Obroa-skai, Chicago’s Indisposed, and Indiana’s Coma Regalia (who count Tom Schlatter as a member on this recording). It’s called The Cold Promise of Uncertainty, it’s out now on Middle-Man Records, and it’s very cool stuff all around. Each bands’ contributions are a little different -- Sonagi’s are more desperate and melodic, Obroa-Skai’s are more raw and in your face, Indisposed’s one song is more atmospheric, post-rocky, and longer than any other track on this (at five and a half minutes), and Coma Regalia’s veer a little more in a hard-hitting punk/hardcore direction -- but they all go together very well. The whole thing is a gem from start to finish, and it won’t take you very long to listen to it that way.
Conway the Machine & The Alchemist - LULU EP
LULU came out earlier in the week (Monday, 3/30), and I wrote about it in my list of the 8 best rap albums of March 2020.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.