Five Notable Releases of the Week (2/23)
It's been a busy and exciting week in the music world. In case you missed any of it, Radiohead announced a tour (including three nights at MSG), Arcade Fire are playing SNL with Bill Hader hosting, Courtney Barnett and Julien Baker are playing Prospect Park together, Melvins released a Butthole Surfers/James Gang medley from their new Butthole Surfers-referencing album Pinkus Abortion Technician featuring Butthole Surfers' Jeff Pinkus on bass (say that five times fast), and there were new Hop Along and Speedy Ortiz songs released too. Early next week, Jawbreaker will finally play NYC for the first time since the '90s. What a time to be alive.
And, as always, new albums. This week is not nearly as stacked quantity-wise as last week, but there is some very high quality music out today, including one of my personal favorite albums of 2018 so far, the new Turnstile album. (I also used this lighter week as a chance to catch up on one of the albums I had to skip last week.) There are also two reissues/re-releases worth noting today, in addition to my picks for Notable Releases. Jazz-rap greats Digable Planets are reissuing their classic 1993 debut Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space) for its 25th anniversary on Light in the Attic, and promising indie rockers Young Jesus are re-releasing last year's S/T on their new label home, Saddle Creek.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
There seems to be a trend lately of the mainstream world snatching up underground hardcore bands that are more than ready for crossover success. Code Orange moved to the Warner-owned Roadrunner Records for last year's Forever, which picked up nods from the Grammys and Rolling Stone's year-end list. As mentioned in this column two weeks ago, Harms Way moved to the not-technically-major-but-still-huge Metal Blade Records, and I wondered if their nu metal-ish Posthuman could experience similar success to Forever. Another band I'm wondering that about is Turnstile, who, like Code Orange, are now on Roadrunner. Turnstile, along with related bands Trapped Under Ice and Angel Du$t, already established themselves as leaders of the modern hardcore scene, and their increasingly accessible sound makes them the perfect contender to be the next band to really blow up while still keeping one foot planted in the scene that birthed them. This moment in hardcore sort of reminds me of a smaller-scale version of the late '90s/early '00s pop punk boom, when bands like blink-182, AFI and Alkaline Trio went from being raw-sounding punk bands to bands that were capable of releasing true radio/MTV hits. Only instead of Jerry Finn (rest in peace) producing everyone, this time it's Will Yip, who first teamed with Turnstile for their pivotal 2016 EP Move Thru Me and now again for TIME & SPACE (which, true story, also has co-production by Diplo on one song, "Right To Be").
Make no mistake, Turnstile are still the same pulverizing band that they were on their 2015 debut LP Nonstop Feeling and early EPs, but they've sharpened their sound, learned to really sing, and gotten better at reaching outside of hardcore and incorporating other elements into their crushing sound. Turnstile have touched on more accessible music before, like on Nonstop Feeling's "Blue By You" and Move Thru Me's "Come Back For More" (which reappears on this album), but TIME & SPACE bests anything they've done and should be more effective at reeling in new listeners. Turnstile waste no time introducing you to their new sound -- lead single/opening track "Real Thing" comes equipped with a Headbanger's Ball riff, scream-sung hooks for days, and psychedelic vocal harmonies and lead guitar. It's one of the most fun and most interesting rock songs of the year, and -- like a lot of songs on TIME & SPACE -- it gets the job done in under two minutes. From there, Turnstile never let up on their trek through innovative, fist-clenching hardcore. "Big Smile" starts off like a traditional '80s hardcore song, until it brings in a Chuck Berry riff and trippy '90s alt-metal vocals towards the end. "Generator" is a floor-punching crusher in its first half, and its second half dips its toes in hazy shoegaze-ish territory before tearing into a scorching thrash/NWOBHM solo (during which the aggression is balanced out by peppy handclaps). "I Don't Wanna Be Blind" imagines what it might've sounded like if mid-'90s Fugazi started taking cues from Helmet instead of from ambience and noise. "High Pressure" is another dose of breakneck-speed hardcore, but it works in a hammering piano riff like the one John Cale played on "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and it finds time for leads that would've made South of Heaven-era Slayer proud. "Moon" puts pounding riffage against entirely clean vocals (including harmonies from Sheer Mag singer Tina Halladay) and it sounds like it would've done just fine on alt-rock radio in the '90s.
On virtually every song, Turnstile are stringing two or three styles of rock music together, and it always works. They've figured out how to bridge the gap between singalongs, mosh fuel, and weirdo trippy shit in a way that Nonstop Feeling only hinted at. You can still make comparisons to other bands, but TIME & SPACE sounds less like a collection of influences and more like a contender for the shape of punk to come.
If you've listened to Screaming Females before, you know what to expect. Marissa Paternoster offers up a roaring, unmistakable voice and some of the most shredding indie rock guitar solos you'll ever get this side of Dinosaur Jr (who Screaming Females have played with many times), and King Mike and Jarrett Dougherty's rhythm section holds it all together. Their records have a raw, bare-bones sound with little or no overdubs, so each members' crucial contributions can always be heard. They've been doing it for over a decade, and they still deliver every time. Their seventh album, All At Once, is their second consecutive album with producer Matt Bayles, who's best known for working with Minus the Bear and metal bands like Mastodon and Isis, and Bayles really does a good job of making Screaming Females albums sound as powerful as their live show. When Marissa howls or shreds, you feel like you're right there in the room with her. The same is true for Mike's memorable basslines and the crack of Jarrett's snare. The band's musicianship and their wise choice of a producer are important, but All At Once really succeeds because -- as always -- Screaming Females have written a killer batch of songs. Though they've been doing this for so long and not really changing their sound up much, they still sound fresh. That's probably due in part to the fact that Screaming Females were a little ahead of their time for the first few albums. They were doing the indie rock/punk crossover thing for years before that became the dominant sound of young guitar-oriented bands, and they're still doing it just as well or better than plenty of similar bands who have gotten kinda famous in the past few years. But Screaming Females don't seem like the type to care about fame or trends or anything like that. As All At Once reinforces, no matter what goes on around them, Screaming Females are just going to stay in their own lane and keep grinding.
I can't possibly claim to be an expert on Tuareg music, but like a lot of other Americans, I've been completely won over by Tinariwen, who are one of the biggest Tuareg crossover bands on these shores thanks in part to being on ANTI- Records, playing Coachella, collaborating with Kurt Vile and Mark Lanegan, and being praised by David Byrne and Iggy Pop. Thanks to Tinariwen, I've also been pointed in the direction of their proteges Imarhan. Imarhan frontman Sadam has toured as a member of Tinariwen, their new album Temet was made with help from Tinariwen’s Eyadou Ag Leche and Tinariwen producer Patrick Votan, and they've also got some Kurt Vile connections. (Like Tinariwen, they're also on a label that releases English-language rock music.) Temet is the followup to their 2016 self-titled debut, and no matter what language you speak, you should be able to instantly register Temet as an excellent rock album. (Imarhan sing in the Tamashek language.) It's very similar to what English speakers call "psychedelic rock," with groovy polyrhythms, fuzzed-out, slithering lead guitar, and hypnotizing vocal harmonies. I could never tell you a word they're singing, but the whole album is a real joy to listen to again and again. And you can't sit still while this thing is on; the grooves are too powerful.
Kendrick Lamar's Black Panther: The Album was loaded with tons of his famous friends, but it also had a few promising smaller names that he presumably believes in, and one of the best ones was Vallejo rap group SOB x RBE (aka Yhoung T.O., Slimmy B, DaBoii, and Lul G). With Black Panther (and this week's announcement that they're opening the Post Malone/21 Savage tour) likely putting the group more in the spotlight than ever, it's the perfect time for them to drop their official debut.
When modern-day rappers do throwbacks, it's usually to rap's mid-'90s period, but SOB x RBE take it back even further. They open the album with "Carpoolin," which has shouted rhymes and face-slapping beats that sound like a trip back to N.W.A.'s 1988 debut. Later on, the album's got a track called "Paid In Full" which is another homage to that same decade of rap music and not just because of its title. It's exciting since this kind of thing isn't revived as often as like, The Chronic or Illmatic, but what really makes it exciting is how seamlessly SOB x RBE flow between this kind of music and a very modern sound. In addition to throwing it back three decades, the same damn album has songs like "Anti-Social," "Lifestyle," "Stuck Up," "No Discussion," "Trust Me," and "List," where SOB x RBE channel the kind of melodic, auto-tuned rap that dominates the radio in the Drake/Future/Migos era. It's quite a jump to make, going straight from rap's developmental period to an extremely modern sound, skipping most of the in-between and somehow coming out with a totally cohesive album. Some of the best songs come when SOB x RBE combine their knack for the complex rhyming of yesteryear with modern-sounding production and hooks, which they do particularly well on "Can't," "On Me," and "Back to Back." No matter what style they're working in, SOB x RBE aways sound like they're having the time of their lives and that's part of what makes this album so fun to listen to. When a new artist can bring both talent and enthusiasm to the table like this, they deserve to not go ignored.
Since last week was so stacked (in addition to my five picks, I had 17 honorable mentions) and this week's list of releases is so scant in comparison, I want to shine a light on this Nipsey Hussle album from last week that's too good to get lost in the shuffle. Nipsey has had solid mixtapes, singles, and guest appearances (notably including YG's "Fuck Donald Trump") under his belt for years, so it doesn't feel too crazy that he named his proper debut album Victory Lap, since it's far from his first success. That said, it does feel far more accomplished than his mixtapes, and it makes sense that he waited until he had music like this to release a proper debut. Victory Lap opens with its title track, which has a melancholic backdrop fueled by Stacy Barthe interpolating the "Mean Streets" line from Arctic Monkeys' "Knee Socks," and a stream-of-consciousness address from Nipsey. It's the kind of song that tends to open up Big Statement (and big money) major label rap albums, so Nipsey probably knows that he's setting the bar high with an introduction like this. And Victory Lap delivers. After the introspective intro, Nipsey jumps right into two of the album's most fun songs: the threatening shit-talk of "Rap N****s" and the YG-featuring G-Funk revival of "Last Time That I Checc'd," which sounds like it could've been made for YG's great Still Brazy and rivals most of the best songs on that album. The tough-guy songs like those are where Nipsey excels most, and he does it again and again on this album ("Hussle & Motivate," "Succa Proof," "Grinding All My Life," and "Million While You Young" are highlights). He really flexes his muscles on "Dedication," where he goes verse for verse with his LA neighbor Kendrick Lamar and has no trouble rising to the occasion. He finds other ways to succeed too, though, like when he gets introspective over the laid-back psychedelia of "Blue Laces" or when he dives into auto-tuned Drake territory with the Marsha Ambrosius collab "Real Big." At 16 songs (bonus track included) that clock in at over an hour, Victory Lap could probably use a bit more of an editing job, but the highs are high and the album is sequenced well enough that there are bangers waiting around every corner.