Notable Releases of the Week (3/27)
Things feel crazier with each week, and with no end in sight, this whole situation just feels scarier and more depressing everyday. More than ever, we need music (or television) to lose ourselves in, and thankfully tons of musicians are doing livestreams, there are tons of live videos from all throughout music history we can watch and rewatch, and there's still a lot of great new music coming out. (There are also a handful of albums whose releases are getting delayed due to COVID-19, like the debut album by Fugazi offshoot Coriky that was supposed to come out today but has been postponed until further notice, but thankfully plenty of others still arrived as planned.)
I picked seven new albums out this week that I highlight below, and here are a bunch of honorable mentions: Nine Inch Nails, Daniel Avery + Alessandro Cortini, Sufjan Stevens & Lowell Brams, Little Dragon, Pearl Jam, Brian Fallon (of The Gaslight Anthem), Sorry, Margaret Glaspy, Knxwledge, The Chats, The Orb, Temple of Void, Milk Teeth, Basia Bulat, WuW, FACS, Nap Eyes, Windy & Carl, Activity, Deeper, Lizzy Farrall, Warp Chamber, Three Knee Deep, Solothus, PARTYNEXTDOOR, Nerve Saw, Moon Destroys (ex-Torche, Royal Thunder), Omega Infinity, Magic Sword, the Ruins of Beverast/Mourning Beloveth split, the Dirty Projectors EP, and the Candlemass EP.
Read on for my seven picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Waxahatchee - Saint Cloud
Waxahatchee (aka Katie Crutchfield) has come a very long way from the hushed, intimate lo-fi folk of her 2012 debut album American Weekend, and every album has been different from the last. 2013's Cerulean Salt kept things lo-fi and scrappy but injected a little bit of louder, indie rock (and we named that one one of the best albums of the 2010s), 2015's Ivy Tripp really went for broke with the most fleshed-out music of her career, and 2017's Out in the Storm went for hard-hitting, '90s-style indie rock. This time around, Katie's pulling from folk and country, but not in the way her first two albums were folky. Her early material was folky in the way early Bright Eyes and Rilo Kiley were; this is her Cassadaga or her Under the Blacklight, a warm, well-produced, big-sounding album that's rooted in the long-running tradition of Americana. It's perhaps no coincidence that this is the album she wrote after penning a 20th anniversary essay on Lucinda Williams' alt-country classic Car Wheels On A Gravel Road and covering Lucinda's music at her shows at an increasingly frequent rate. Like Lucinda's music, Saint Cloud is earthy, weathered, and country-tinged but too universally appealing to get stuck in the "country" niche. She also made this one with a team of musicians who are no strangers to these types of sounds: it was produced by Megafaun’s Brad Cook and her backing band featured two members of Bonny Doon, Nick Kinsey of Kevin Morby’s band, and Josh Kaufman (whose band Bonny Light Horseman released another of 2020's warmest folk rock albums). Lucinda Williams comparisons aside, though, this is unmistakably a Waxahatchee album. When Katie Crutchfield sings, you know immediately who you're listening to. Saint Cloud scratches that same unique itch that her early albums did, even if -- as is always the case -- it sounds like no previous Waxahatchee album on the surface.
Nicolas Jaar - Cenizas
Nicolas Jaar remains highly prolific -- he just released an album under his Against All Logic moniker last month -- but it's been four years since he put out an album under his own name (2016's great Sirens), and the work he makes as Nicolas Jaar has had a distinctly different appeal than his other material as far back as his 2011 breakthrough album Space Is Only Noise, which we called the 52nd best album of the 2010s. Cenizas is no exception, but it's also a noticeably different album for Jaar. His solo material has never exactly been dance music, but it's often a lot more beat-driven than Cenizas, which goes long stretches without any percussion at all. It's overall his most somber and most eerie solo album. It probably qualifies as "ambient" but the sinister vibe is more Nick Cave than Brian Eno. As with most music released under Nicolas Jaar's own name, standout moments come when Jaar -- who remains as good of a singer/songwriter as he is a producer -- uses his own voice, but Cenizas doesn't rely solely on these moments. Often, it sucks you in with little more than a thin, crackling layer of atmosphere.
Childish Gambino - 3.15.20
I was in the "Donald Glover's a great comedian/actor, not a great musician" camp for a while, but he's remained determined to prove himself as a musician, each album has been a noticeable leap from the last, and by 2016's acclaimed, psychedelic soul/R&B-inspired "Awaken, My Love!", it felt silly to keep fighting it. Childish Gambino had become a pretty good (and extremely popular) musician, and there was nothing his critics were gonna do about it. His 2018 single/video "This Is America" was even better (and still probably the best thing he's done musically), and now he's back with a new, possibly final Childish Gambino album, 3.15.20, which is also the first Childish Gambino album that I went into with a little anticipation. I still kinda think that, as a musician, Glover is more of a great imitator of other trailblazing artists than a trailblazer himself, but he does a pretty damn good job imitating and 3.15.20 is a well-crafted, easily-enjoyable album. Kanye and Frank Ocean sound like influences on a lot of these songs, which are some of his weirdest yet. ("Algorythm" is one of the most delightfully weird songs he's ever written, and probably the best one on this album.) Like "Awaken, My Love!", this is mostly an R&B/soul album, and Glover seems to excel more in this realm than when he's making rap music. The best part, though, is the production, which comes primarily from Glover himself, his frequent collaborator Ludwig Göransson (who also does a lot of film score work, including the score to Black Panther), and Kendrick Lamar/Drake collaborator DJ Dahi. It's very much a mood-setting album, more about the overall vibe it creates than any particular Childish Gambino vocal or lyric. (It's fitting that it barely has album artwork and most songs are untitled.) It's not an album I ever thought he'd make back when he did Camp, and it's not even an album I thought he'd make after he did "Awaken, My Love!". If this really is the last Childish Gambino album, he ended things on a good note.
The Suicide Machines - Revolution Spring
Fat Wreck Chords
The Suicide Machines' last album was 2005's War Profiteering Is Killing Us All, an angry political punk record released in direct opposition to the George W. Bush era and the Iraq War, so when they announced that they'd finally release music for the first time in 15 years with an even worse president in office, it seemed very much like the right time for more political anger from The Suicide Machines. However, the first new song they chose to release was "Awkward Always," a bright, upbeat ska-punk song that sounded more like their classic 1996 debut than where they had last left off. It also found the band sounding super refreshed and re-energized and it's one of the best punk singles of the year so far from any band, old or new, ska or not. Now the whole album is here, and it's actually kind of the exact middle ground between the debut and War Profiteering. It's got the rawer punk aesthetic of the debut and some more where the bright, upbeat ska-punk of "Awkward Always" came from, but it turns out that song was sort of a red herring. A large chunk of Revolution Spring does indeed find The Suicide Machines in pissed-off punk mode, taking on the sad state of the world. It's a good balance -- an anti-police brutality song like "Bully in Blue" sounds cathartic in an era where police brutality is still all over the news, but also sometimes when things are this bad, the escapism of the fun songs goes a long way.
Vanessa Carlton - Love Is An Art
As a young person getting into alternative music in the early 2000s, Vanessa Carlton had a unique appeal as far as the music on the radio and MTV went. She was definitely pop, but she was clearly different than the real bubblegummy stuff and sounded like she had at least some of the previous decade's alternative rock in her musical DNA. Fast forward 13 years and Vanessa released Liberman (2015), an indie-style album on an indie rock label that helped cement Vanessa's legacy as an alternative artist at heart who got scooped up by the pop world and was now finally making music completely on her own terms. Five years after Liberman, she's back with another album -- this one produced by frequent Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann -- and this one's even better. It proves that not only was Liberman no fluke, but that it was just the beginning. Love Is An Art is an atmospheric, sometimes lightly psychedelic, art rock-leaning album and it's the most musically adventurous thing Vanessa has released yet. If she was a new artist, she could seem like the next Soccer Mommy or something, but in reality she's someone who most likely influenced Soccer Mommy and is now making much more creative music than the bulk of her 2002-era peers are in 2020.
Half Waif - The Caretaker
Half Waif (aka Nandi Rose Plunkett) has long felt like a well-kept secret, but maybe that's about to change, as she keeps getting bigger and bigger. Her last album, 2018's Lavender, was released on Cascine, which at the time was the biggest label she'd been on yet, and now for its followup she made the jump to ANTI-, which makes her labelmates with such artists as Mavis Staples, Glen Hansard, and Deafheaven. Hopefully that helps put her in front of a larger and more diverse audience than ever, because The Caretaker deserves it. It's a massive-sounding art pop album that recalls anything from Kate Bush to Kid A, and it's bursting at the seams with big hooks and limitless ambition. Her synth-fueled music can often sound as fleshed out as a many-membered orchestra, but Half Waif remains a true solo auteur. She's as good a producer as she is a singer/songwriter, and going by The Caretaker, it sounds like she's only getting better at all of it.
Wake - Devouring Ruin
Wake's Twitter handle is @wakegrind, so I think even they'd agree it's fair to say they are primarily considered a grindcore band, but the term "grindcore" does not prepare you for how much of a grand, sweeping album Devouring Ruin is. Sometimes it's grind, but it's also death metal, black metal, static-y noise, soaring post-rock/post-metal, and more. The Calgary band have been staples in the metal scene for about a decade, but Devouring Ruin has more crossover appeal than Wake ever had in the past. It nails the heavy/beautiful divide as well as Deafheaven or Inter Arma or Cult of Luna, and if there's any justice in this world Wake will one day be as big as those bands too. (Even the gorgeous pastel-colored album artwork screams "non-metalheads might like this too!" a la the pink hue of Sunbather.) Wake aren't "selling out" or anything though; they're still as brutal as they ever were, they're just doing tons of other stuff at once too.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.