Five Notable Releases of the Week (5/6/16)
What a week for new tunes. There's been a new Radiohead single and a new Justin Timberlake single, and last night we surprisingly got a new James Blake album. That album is very good and you should definitely listen to it, but I'm gonna wait for next week to talk about it in this column. I wanna spend more time with it, and I already had five killer albums picked for this week that I'm too excited about to part with.
Check out my five picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
White Lung’s last album, 2014’s Deep Fantasy, was my favorite album of that year and I’ve called this band the best punk band of the current decade. So I had pretty high expectations for Paradise, but White Lung have knocked it out of the park once again. What makes White Lung such a great punk band is that they push the boundaries of the genre without sacrificing what makes it so specifically thrilling. They incorporate guitar playing that's as complex as a prog band and choruses that are as massive as an arena band, and still manage to stick to the loud/fast/short formula. Plenty of Paradise has that trademark White Lung style intact. It opens with two classic-White Lung rippers, "Dead Weight" and "Narcoleptic." "Kiss Me When I Bleed" and the closing title track are as defiant and whiplash-inducing as any of the best songs on their early albums. The power chord chug of "Demented" and the sludgy "Vegas" have the band at their most metallic. And guitarist Kenneth William still finds plenty of time to let his fingers fly, like on "I Beg You." But other moments have the band covering entirely new ground. "Below" is one of the band's slowest songs yet -- singer Mish Barber-Way calls it her "Stevie-Nicks-meets-Celine Dion ballad" -- with clean effected guitars that that actually warrant being called "pretty." Lead single "Hungry," on the other hand, is the band's poppiest song to date and one that might've made it on the radio during alt-rock's glory days. It's basically everything you want from this band and more.
As Mish explains in an interview with Annie Clark, another major thing setting this album apart from its predecessors is that Mish was happy while she wrote it. "I am content in my life, which is really bad for writing songs," she says. It's true that it'd be hard to imagine a happy White Lung album, but instead Mish looked outside of herself and wrote songs from the perspective of "famous serial killers," songs "based on news stories [she] felt deserved more attention." As much as we want our musical heroes to achieve happiness IRL, it's easy to (selfishly) get scared of how they'll sound once they do. But these songs are as menacing as Mish's personal ones.
The wildly talented Antony Hegarty hasn't released an album since the 2010 Antony and the Johnsons album, Swanlights, and now she's back with a new name, a new group of collaborators, and a very new sound. Like her past collaborator Bjork did on last year's Vulnicura, she enlisted in the assistance of a couple forward-thinking underground producers (specifically one who also contributed to Kanye West's Yeezus) to reshape her sound into something that's entirely of the moment but still impossible to mistake for any other artist. Those producers, Oneohtrix Point Never and Hudson Mohawke (the one who worked on Yeezus), have both worked with ANOHNI prior to this album, but the full-length collaboration is a bolder statement than any of their previous one-offs. It's also arguably the best thing either producer has ever done. HudMo and OPN create a backdrop that's dark at times but pretty at others, huge and towering at times but barely there at others. But it's ANOHNI's voice and lyrics, that switch between the personal and the political at the drop of a hat, that make this album truly like nothing else. The two singles/opening tracks, "Drone Bomb Me" and "4 Degrees," are about a girl whose family was killed in a drone bomb attack and climate change, respectively, and ANOHNI manages to turn these topics into perfect pop songs. On the next song, "Watch Me," the song's protagonist sings to a person who protects her from child molesters. If it's jarring because you're not used to hearing pop music address "child molesters" so bluntly, that's the point. ANOHNI instills fear and empathy in you at once, and sounds gorgeous doing so. On the heartbreaking and unsubtle "I Don't Love You Anymore," it's hard to make it through the song without letting your emotions well up at least a little. It's one of the most powerful albums released this year, and a massively reinvigorated sound for an artist who had already established herself as one of the greats.
Speaking of musicians who worked on Vulnicura, The Haxan Cloak (who co-produced that Bjork album and also produced The Body's I Shall Die Here, HEALTH's Death Magic, and his own solo material) produced the fantastic debut album from LUH. LUH is the duo of Ellery James Robert and Ebony Hoorn, the former of whom once fronted WU LYF whose sole album, 2011's Go Tell Fire to the Mountain, remains one of the more eccentric indie rock records in recent memory. Ellery's peculiar rasp is no small part of what makes that album so eccentric, and he brings all of that same flair to Spiritual Songs for Lovers to Sing. Paired with The Haxan Cloak, who's one of a few musicians finding ways to work industrial music into today's indie, Ellery often sounds even more compelling. It's an interesting coincidence that this comes out the same day as the ANOHNI album, because both actually hit a very similar spot. Both are albums from singular vocalists delivering passionate, heartfelt singing over pounding, forward-thinking production. Both demand your close attention and they have the ability to stop you in your tracks if you aren't giving it.
Like WU LYF's album did, Spiritual Songs quickly establishes itself a sound but it even more quickly deviates from it. "$ORO" is a swamp of auto-tune that sounds more like Yeezus than most rap does. "Loyalty" is a mostly-drumless ballad that spends its second half wallowing in weepy string arrangements. The band's eponymous song "Lost Under Heaven" (that's what LUH stands for) is Ellery and Ebony's unique vision of what shoegaze could've sounded like. The album is full of memorable moments, but possibly the most memorable is the anthemic penultimate track "Laments," where Ellery and Ebony repeatedly belt "To the powers of old, to the powers be / You fucked up this world, but you won't fuck with me."
Montreal producer Kaytranada has been at it for all of the current decade, and 99.9% is his first full length for his new label home XL Recordings. He loads the LP with so many guest vocalists that it risks sounding more like a compilation than a cohesive album, but Kaytranda gives it such a good flow that it does sound like a unified piece of work. The opening song ("Track Uno") wastes no time setting the mood for what this album is going to be: warm soul and rubbery funk with one foot in the genre's '60s/'70s heyday and another in the now. And his collaborators, which all seem chosen as an artistic decision rather than to have a big name on the record (cough, Disclosure ft. Lorde, cough), bring their own flavor to the songs but mostly feel like parts of 99.9%'s whole. It's clear by song two that this isn't just an electronic album, with Karriem Riggins filling out the chilled-out neo-soul of "Bus Ride" with live drums. Kaytranada's fellow Canadians BADBADNOTGOOD take the live instrumentation even further by bringing their distinct brand of jazz-hop to "Weight Off." AlunaGeorge's Aluna Francis gifts "Together" with a sugary alt-R&B hook. Little Brother/The Foreign Exchange's Phonte brings his molasses-smooth croon to "One Too Many." Swedish electronic pop greats Little Dragon still manage to sound like no one else when they show up on closing track "Bullets." The album's two best moments, though, come from two people who seem like they're about to blow up in a very major way. The first is Chicago rapper Vic Mensa (who's already collaborated with Kanye, Skrillex, Chance the Rapper and more), who gives "Drive Me Crazy" the album's most show-stopping verses. Like a fellow rising rapper whose name begins with V (Vince Staples), Vic can "rap" in the traditional sense without sounding anything like the golden era. "Drive Me Crazy" could only come out now, but it sounds nothing like Drake's emo-rap, Atlanta auto-tuned trap, or any other major trend. The other standout guest is Anderson .Paak, whose own music is about as diverse as this album, with bits of rap, soul, funk, rock, and more all over his recent Malibu. He brings basically all of it to "Glowed Up," which starts out relatively safe for Anderson and Kay's standards. But about halfway through, complex rhythms enter as Anderson retreats from his usual delivery to an airy coo.
Swiss duo Klaus Johann Grobe's second album Spagat Der Liebe is a funky, psychedelic groove machine, powered by expert basslines and a love for krautrock and Stereolab. I could say more, but Bill recently wrote this one up and he really says it best:
Don’t let song titles like “Geschichten aus erster Hand,” “Springen wie damals” and “Liebe am Strand” scare you — they may sing in German but Klaus Johann Grobe speak the international language of groovy. The basslines this band lay down are consistently awesome, with precision rhythms that propel things along, and lithely funky keyboards. I jokingly called their sound "tropikrautia" which I think is about as good a made-up one word way to describe what they do as I can think of. The new album dips into disco ("Rosen des Abschieds"), and features the closest they’ve ever come to a pop song ("Ohne Mich"), plus more than a few of their patented motorik zoomers. My favorite song in the LP is probably the flute-crazy "Liebe am Strand" but the whole thing is terrific.