Five Notable Releases of the Week (1/19)
We're now three weeks into the new year, and this is officially the first week that's loaded with worthy new albums. Before I get to my picks, some honorable mentions: the second of three Belle & Sebastian EPs, Porches, Half Japanese, They Might Be Giants, The Go! Team, Xylouris White, Glen Hansard, and Super Whatevr.
In addition to my five picks, I also published a review of Fleetwood Mac's reissue of their pivotal 1975 s/t LP earlier today (essential live recordings included), and an excerpt of that review can be found beneath this week's picks.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life is Tune-Yards' fourth album, but there's a few firsts associated with it. It's their first album as a duo, with main member Merrill Garbus bringing in frequent collaborator Nate Brenner as an official member for this one. It's a bit more toned down aesthetically, with the album cover and accompanying videos and press photos not quite as colorful as Tune-Yards has been in the past. And, as is the case with a lot of artists lately, it's Tune-Yards' most overtly political album. It's an album that examines intersectional feminism, and the song that will likely continue to get people talking is "Colonizer," where Merrill looks at the balance between contributing to a conversation about race and acknowledging your own white privilege. "A lot of my feeling about growing up white in this country is about not knowing how to talk about whiteness. I think that’s part of how white supremacy works," Merrill told The New York Times. The topics of the album may not go down easy, but the sound of the music does. I Can Feel... is as endlessly catchy as anything Tune-Yards has ever done, and it still finds that perfect middle ground between quirk and accessibility. It's got polyrhythmic dance beats, groovy basslines, and nods to The Jackson 5 ("ABC 123") and Billy Joel (the way she sings "Heart attack ack ack ack" on "Heart Attack"), all with Merrill's chameleonic voice in the forefront. It's a new chapter for the Tune-Yards story, and so far, it's suiting them well.
Swedish folk group First Aid Kit, led by sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, are back with Ruins, their fourth album, first album in four years, and second for a major label. After doing two albums with Bright Eyes collaborator Mike Mogis, they made Ruins with producer Tucker Martine (known for work with The Decemberists, My Morning Jacket, Modest Mouse, and others), and they brought in REM’s Peter Buck, Wilco’s, Glenn Kotche, and Midlake’s McKenzie Smith to play on the record (plus some very rich-sounding string arrangements). As ever, the sisters' harmonies sound gorgeous, and their gifts as songwriters remain untouched. The songs on Ruins quickly sound like songs you've known your whole life, and they beg for repeated listens. It's got a nice mix of traditional-sounding folk/country songs like "Postcard," "To Live A Life," and the title track; huge-sounding pop/rock songs like "Rebel Heart" and "It's A Shame"; and songs that find a middle ground between those two things like "Distant Star" and "Hem of Her Dress." The songs are easy to listen to, but they aren't simple. It's the complex arrangements, and the depth and darkness in the Söderberg sisters' songwriting that makes Ruins a cut above the rest.
UK trio Shopping's third album is still cut from the same minimal post-punk cloth as their first two, channelling classic bands like Delta 5, The Raincoats, and Au Pairs. But even if they aren't reinventing the wheel, they're getting better and better at spinning it, and The Official Body has some of their most easily enjoyable music yet. The production is clearer than ever but still as bare-bones as you want for this kind of music (they made it with Orange Juice frontman Edwyn Collins), and their songwriting and musicianship is sharper than ever. The Official Body has some of their brightest, catchiest songs, including synth/bass-heavy jams "Wild Child," "Discover," and "New Values" that make Shopping seem poised for a breakthrough outside of post-punk circles. ("Wild Child" especially sounds like the kind of song that could've been a minor hit when bands like Bloc Party and The Rapture were taking off.) Shopping also continue to lyrically be a band of our time, even if the music sounds three and a half decades old. The songs tend to tackle the political and social issues that the world is facing in the wake of Brexit and Trump, and Shopping battle those issues not just in their words, but also by offering a break from the widespread unease with a danceable album that elicits pure joy.
TDE is coming off of an excellent 2017, which saw the release of Kendrick Lamar's DAMN. and SZA's Ctrl, our two favorite albums of the year, and their first release of 2018 is SiR's November. Along with SZA and Lance Skiiiwalker, SiR is one of a few recent R&B signees for the label, and November proves not only that SiR has a different approach to the genre than his labelmates, but that he has no trouble switching up his own style from song to song. The first proper song on the album is the warped, psychedelic neo-soul of "That's Alright," and he immediately follows it with "Something Foreign," a warm-sounding soul-jazz piano ballad with a guest verse from SiR's labelmate Schoolboy Q. He brings in some Robert Glasper-style jazz-hop on "Something New," he's basically rapping on "Never Home," and he offers the kind of sex and love-fueled R&B that fans of his upcoming tourmate Miguel should dig on "I Need Your Love." His sound is usually smooth, but never too smooth, and he knows how to dirty it up when he needs to like on the filthy auto-tune fest "I Know." Clocking in at under 33 minutes, November still feels like part of the leadup to SiR's big moment, especially considering how ambitious TDE tends to get with its releases. Still, it already shows a guy who can blend R&B, neo-soul, psychedelia, jazz, and rap, who can mix new sounds with old ones, and sound instantly impressive while doing so. If SiR does have a huge breakthrough on the horizon, he certainly sounds ready for it.
Harlem rapper Dave East is a true student of the hip hop that came out of the city that birthed him. He tells you himself on Paranoid 2's "What Made Me," an ode to (mostly) New York rappers including Jay-Z, Nas, N.O.R.E., DMX, The LOX, 50 Cent, Biggie, Mase. M.O.P., Big Pun, and Fabolous. You can often hear elements of those rappers coming through in East's own music, and he's gone on to collaborate with a handful of them since his breakthrough in 2015. He's the kind of guy that '90s hip hop heads could easily latch onto, and he's gotten increasingly good at that sort of sound. But he's not content to just be a throwback rapper. On Paranoia 2, he continues the approach he began on last year's Paranoia of finding a balance between carrying the torch for his heroes and not getting too stuck in the past. On "I Found Keisha," he proves himself to be a gripping storyteller who can leave you hanging on to every word. On songs like "Prosper," "Powder," and "I Can Not," he offers up fast-talking tough-guy rap. On "Thank You," he injects his boasts with a little humor, thanking his haters for getting him where he is today ("Know you doing something right when they hate you"). And he can get a little sentimental too, like on "Corey," a song addressed to a distant friend. He's clearly the kind of guy who cares about his bars the way his forebears did, but Paranoia 2 doesn't totally shy away from modern sounds. He gets a hook from rising R&B star Tory Lanez on "Woke Up" that sounds built for contemporary radio, and auto-tune lover Bino Rideaux lends a Future-soundalike hook to "Maintain." Even on those songs, East's verses are executed with precision and attention to detail. East is considering the two Paranoia projects as precursors to his proper debut album for Def Jam, an album which could really end up making some widespread impact if he continues to find ways to blend radio-ready hooks with real-deal bars.
My full review is HERE. Read an excerpt:
Fleetwood Mac came about after Mick Fleetwood, John McVie, and Christine McVie were looking for a replacement for guitarist/vocalist Bob Welch, and they happened upon Lindsey Buckingham. Buckingham agreed on the terms that his girlfriend and musical partner Stevie Nicks join the band, and Fleetwood Mac would quickly prove that that was the best thing that ever happened to the band. Stevie Nicks wrote and sang lead on two songs on Fleetwood Mac, "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," both of which remain two of the most iconic songs not just in Fleetwood Mac's discography but in all of modern pop music. As someone who grew up in the '90s, I'm admittedly a little tired of "Landslide" because of all the overplayed covers (like by The Smashing Pumpkins and the Dixie Chicks, who both had hits with the song), but "Rhiannon" still sounds like it could've come out yesterday. The endlessly-worshipped gypsy woman that Stevie Nicks became is all there on that one song. The mysterious woman protagonist in the lyrics, the haunting minor-key chord progression, Stevie's soaring, unmistakable voice -- all the elements that would define Stevie Nicks' best songs for years to come are there. Not to mention Stevie, Christine, and Lindsey's three-part harmonies in the chorus, the very harmonies that would become a trademark of the band's sound.
Read the rest HERE.