Notable Releases of the Week (4/5)
The news that's been weighing down the music world this week is the sudden and tragic death of rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed outside of his clothing store in LA on Monday. (A suspect, Eric Holder, has been charged with his murder.) Nipsey left a huge impact on the rap world with his music and on the world at large with his activism. It's no surprise that countless tributes to him poured in, from musicians like Kendrick Lamar, Drake, Rihanna, Beyonce, Snoop Dogg, and Killer Mike; to athletes like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Colin Kaepernick; to actress/writer Issa Rae; and beyond. Nipsey was a true great, and he'll be missed. If you haven't revisited it already, listen to Victory Lap today in his honor.
As for this week's new music, I picked six albums to highlight, but first, a few honorable mentions: Shana Cleveland (of La Luz), Priests, The Drums, and Patio (all four of which Bill reviewed for Bill's Indie Basement today), plus Big Eyes, Ioanna Gika, Bryce Dessner, Prins Thomas, Martha, the Miss Eaves EP, and the 1349 EP.
Read on for my six picks. What was your favorite release of the week?
Natalie Mering has always been an old soul. The 30-year-old "didn't really bite the bullet" on embracing the internet until she was 24 years old, and her music as Weyes Blood has always sounded like it could have come straight out of the early 1970s. That's still mostly true on Titanic Rising -- her first album for Sub Pop and her best and most ambitious yet -- but more than ever, Natalie set no boundaries for herself on this album. It's still full of sounds that recall the early-'70s folk rock of anyone from Joni Mitchell to George Harrison, but if she wants to break from classic sounds for a song like "Movies," a futuristic-sounding ode to cinema full of bubbling modern-day synths, she will. And that song works naturally in the context of Titanic Rising, a lush album full of jangly acoustic guitars, percussive pianos, and soaring string arrangements. Weyes Blood has never made music this fleshed-out and this pristine-sounding, and she's also never written songs this good. The melodies on songs like "Andromeda," "Everyday," "Something to Believe," and "Wild Time" are among the most memorable of her career. And even when Titanic Rising sounds like it could be a lost album from 1971, the songs are so strong that they rival many of the actual albums from 1971. This kind of stuff never seems to go out of style, and sometimes all it takes are great songs like these to remind you of that.
Since solidifying their current lineup, Philly punk trio Control Top have been honing an intense live show and now they're finally releasing their debut album, over a year after releasing its lead single "Type A." "Type A" kicks off the new record, and it stays on a high from there, delivering a nonstop barrage of songs that all sound like they could have been the single. Control Top defy genre on nearly every song, pulling from fidgety '80s post-punk, raging '90s hardcore, Sonic Youth-y noise rock, and more, and blending them in a way that's entirely their own. And they're one of those bands where every member is crucial to the equation. Singer/bassist Ali Carter can go from melodic singing to a piercing shout to a roaring scream, and it's clear on first listen that her words are full of bold confidence and deep meaning. Drummer Alex Lichtenauer (who also played in the HIRS collective and co-runs Get Better Records) is a pounding, precise player, and they give this album exactly the kind of rock-hard backbone it needs. And guitarist Al Creedon (who also played in Bleeding Rainbow and recorded and mixed this album with Jeff Zeigler) can go from stabbing post-punk riffs to down-strummed punk to feral riffage to creating noise-rock symphonies. If it sounds bigger than you'd expect from a band with just one guitar, that's because of the unique approach Al and Ali take to the way the guitar parts and the basslines complement each other. "I’ve seen so many bands that have two guitars and a bass essentially playing the same thing. It’s a missed opportunity," Al explains. "I try to think about the guitar and bass as one 10-string instrument when I write. Like Minutemen and Mission of Burma, I want each part to fit together like a puzzle piece." Really, everything this band does fits together like a puzzle piece. They've got a unique, winning formula, and they've used it to write an album that's simultaneously thoughtful, powerful, and catchy as all hell.
"I’ve never let myself be this exposed before, but this whole album is about facing who you are and fighting your way toward self-acceptance," says Aly Spaltro of her first Lady Lamb album in four years. Lyrically, it's her most personal album yet, and musically, it's the most remarkable album she's made yet. Lady Lamb's last album, 2015's After, was an album you could accurately call "indie rock," but Even In The Tremor never fits neatly into one genre. There's still plenty of indie rock on it, and Aly hasn't ditched her distorted guitar, but it's a synthier record than she made last time. There's some Kate Bush-esque art pop, some early Arcade Fire chamber pop, some folk music, some piano ballads, and more, and usually more than one of these sounds shows up in any given song. With the help of producer Erin Tonkon (who worked alongside Tony Visconti on David Bowie's Blackstar), multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Lazar Davis, and drummer Jeremy Gustin (of Star Rover and Delicate Steve’s band), Aly really went for it on this album, and the results are tremendous.
Vancouver trio Wormwitch made an instant impact with their 2017 debut album Strike Mortal Soil, which was a whiplash-inducing mix of black metal, thrash, and punk. Two years and lots of tours under their belts later, they're back with their sophomore album Heaven That Dwells Within which sounds bigger -- and more metal -- in every way. Heaven That Dwells Within is still an album with the power to unite punk and metal fans like Wormwitch's debut was, but Wormwitch sound way more evil this time around. The black metal parts are more blackened, and the thrash parts are thrashier. If Deafheaven makes black metal for My Bloody Valentine fans, then this is like black metal for Slayer fans. Heaven That Dwells Within expands Wormwitch's sound in other directions too. The clean moments (as on the first half of "Dancing In The Ashes") are more howling and epic, falling somewhere between Metallica ballads and Baroness. Wormwitch also just sound like a tighter, more polished band on this album. It reminds me of the jump that Power Trip took from their great debut album to their even better sophomore album Nightmare Logic, and like that band, Wormwitch take time-tested styles of heavy metal and make them sound fresh.
"I wanted to assure people that regardless of how humdrum things are today, love keeps everything fresh," Lee Fields told Rolling Stone of It Rains Love, his new collection of love songs that comes exactly 50 years into his storied career. In case you aren't already familiar with that story, a quick recap is that he released his first single in 1969 but he really started taking off in the 21st century after teaming with producer Leon Michels and backing band The Expressions. His recent albums have all sounded like they could have come straight from the era of early '70s soul, and Lee does it in such a genuine, thrilling way, proving that this music is still timeless. Now, half a century on from the release of that first single, Lee is back with a new album (once again produced by Leon Michels and backed by The Expressions), and it's yet another batch of could-be classics. It only takes a few listens to feel like you've known these songs your whole life; Lee not only remembers exactly how to tap into the music of the early '70s, he can craft hooks that stick with you the way classic Marvin Gaye or Al Green hooks did.