Notable Releases of the Week (5/27)
It's the start of Memorial Day Weekend, which means summer is unofficially here, and which maybe means barbecues and/or an extra day off. Nothing goes better with summer barbecues than music, so luckily there's plenty of that this week. I highlight seven new releases below, and Bill talks about Stars, Liam Gallagher, Just Mustard, Dehd, Slang, and more in Bill's Indie Basement.
For more, this week's honorable mentions include Your Old Droog, HAAi (ft. Romy of The xx, Alexis Taylor, Jon Hopkins & more), The Frightnrs, Bruce Hornsby (ft. Erza Koenig, Danielle Haim & more), Brian Jackson, Enact, Snuffed, Rosie Carney, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Emile Mosseri, Jeshi, Sean Paul, Doldrum, Millyz, Bishop Nehru, Tate McRae, Biitchseat, First Hate, Def Leppard, Besvärjelsen, Sauna (Greys, Weaves, Fake Palms), Trillmatic & Conway the Machine, Bottled Up, Bread Pilot, Sofie Birch, Rip Room, Holocausto Canibal, Alfie Templeman, Blue Heron, UMI, Altair, Total Slacker, Julia Reidy, The World Without Parking Lots, the Mournful Congregation EP, the Rick Hyde EP, the Hovvdy EP, the Public Opinion EP, the CodeName: Rocky EP, the Kamaiyah EP, the Morbideity EP, the Demersal / Piet Onthel / Letterbombs / Vientre split, the Sacred Bones covers comp, the Top Gun: Maverick soundtrack, MONO's soundtrack for My Story, The Buraku Story, the Smoke Or Fire rarities comp, the unearthed Lowlife album, the expanded edition of Eminem's The Eminem Show, and the expanded, guest-filled Bright Eyes reissues (ft. Phoebe Bridgers, Waxahatchee & more).
Read on for my picks. What's your favorite release of the week?
Wilco - Cruel Country
When Wilco released their 1995 debut album A.M., they were still treading the same alt-country waters as the members' former band Uncle Tupelo, but those influences faded into the backdrop over time, as Wilco became more of an indie/art rock band with an Americana tinge. But for their new double album Cruel Country, Wilco sound more like a straight-up country band than they have since A.M., and they're fully embracing the descriptor more than ever. "We’ve never been particularly comfortable with accepting that definition of the music we make," Jeff Tweedy said in the lengthy statement that accompanied the announcement of this album. "With this album though, I’ll tell you what, Wilco is digging in and calling it Country." Like a lot of recent albums, the direction on this one was inspired by the impact of the pandemic. Once they were finally able to get in a room together and play like the old days, they desired to make something more stripped-back, organic, and direct, and country and folk songs are what started pouring out. Keeping with that theme, they recorded almost the entire album live, with just a handful of overdubs, something Jeff Tweedy says the band hadn't done since 2007's Sky Blue Sky.
The sharp turn towards country and folk and the approach to recording makes this the loosest, freest sounding music they've made in a long time, and it doesn't really sound like any other Wilco album, not even A.M. (which, it's probably worth noting, was made with an almost entirely different lineup than the current version of Wilco). But it doesn't come off like some genre exercise; it still sounds like Wilco, and these are still songs that would've fit naturally in just about any era of Wilco's career. It also sometimes sounds a little like Workingman's Dead/American Beauty-era Grateful Dead, and like those albums, it finds a band that can be known for complex, eccentric arrangements getting back to the basics of American music. There's also -- as you may have guessed -- a double meaning to the album title. It's not just that Wilco are embracing country music, it's also that they wrote these songs during a state of American unrest, and they're responding to that with this album too.
"More than any other genre, Country music, to me, a white kid from middle-class middle America, has always been the ideal place to comment on what most troubles my mind—which for more than a little while now has been the country where I was born, these United States," Jeff said. "And because it is the country I love, and because it’s Country music that I love, I feel a responsibility to investigate their mirrored problematic natures." Even if he didn't say it, it'd be clear from listening to the album. "There is no middle when the other side would rather kill than compromise," he sings on "Hints." And later, on album closer "The Plains," he laments, "It's hard to watch nothing change." He also adds, on the title track, "I love my country, stupid and cruel," which comes off like a reminder that criticizing your country doesn't mean you hate your country. It often just means that you want to take this flawed thing that you love and make it better.
JER - Bothered / Unbothered
Bad Time Records
I've said this before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but you just cannot talk about all the renewed interest in ska without talking about Jeremy Hunter. As the person behind the popular Skatune Network project, they've released countless amazing ska covers of non-ska songs that have helped bridge the gap between ska and other less-maligned genres of music, and they've also built up a huge, supportive social media following, on which they constantly drop knowledge about ska's rich history and hype up new ska bands. They're also a hugely prolific musician, who's been in We Are The Union since 2018's Self Care, played in Jeff Rosenstock's Ska Dream band, and has contributed to tons of other records. On top of all that, Jeremy started releasing original solo material as JER in 2020, and now the first JER album is here. And as you'd hope from a person that's been leading an entire renaissance, it's one of the freshest, most unique and flat-out best ska albums you'll hear this year.
Jer has absorbed ska's history from its origins in Jamaica to the UK's 2 Tone movement to the US ska-punk boom and beyond, and that all comes through in Bothered / Unbothered, as does the influence of a lot of other styles of music. (Check out Jer's inspo playlist for an idea of all the various influences.) It's got no lack of super fun, bright, upbeat ska-punk, and similar to the last We Are The Union album, the "punk" side owes more to current indie-punk and emo bands like PUP, Title Fight, and The Wonder Years than it does to '90s ska-punk. There's also "Decolonize Yr Mind," which bridges the gap between '60s rocksteady and '90s hip hop, the slow-burning indie rock of "Maybe...," the hyperpop-style auto-tune of "Nobody Can Dull My Sparkle," and a rippin' indie-ska-punk cover of Jimmy Cliff's classic "You Can Get It If You Really Want" that fully connects the dots between ska's origins and its future. And throughout all of that, Jer -- a non-binary person of color -- sings about nationwide issues through an entirely personal lens. Ska's been stereotyped in America as goofy and unserious music, but in reality, ska is some of the most purposeful and political music of the last half-century, and also some of the most fun-as-hell to listen to. On one hand, Bothered / Unbothered reminds you of all of this history, and on the other, it's shaping ska's future.
Pick up the JER album on limited yellow vinyl (or as part of a limited bundle with other ska records) here.
700 Bliss - Nothing to Declare
It's hard to think of many musicians who remain as prolific across multiple styles of music as Camae Ayewa does. Last year, she released the great abstract rap album Black Encyclopedia Of The Air as Moor Mother and the great free jazz/spoken word album Open The Gates as a member of Irreversible Entanglements, and now she's doing something entirely different with 700 Bliss, her duo with producer DJ Haram. It kind of qualifies as a rap album, but DJ Haram's production owes more to underground club beats than hip hop beats, and even within the context of niche electronic music, it manages to be noisier, more experimental, and more flat-out fun than several of the duo's peers. Its unique cast of guests ranges from art pop artist Lafawndah to R&B singer Orion Sun to Alli Logout of post-punk band Special Interest to beatmaker Ase Manual to Palestinian DJ Muqata'a to author M Téllez, and all of those artists' various specialties fit perfectly within 700 Bliss' niche-yet-vast world. Like she does in Irreversible Entanglements, Camae often repeats lines like mantras, drilling them into your head even on the most avant-garde songs. But while that group's songs are long, sprawling, and free, 700 Bliss' songs are concise and claustrophobic. Like just about all the music Camae makes, Nothing to Declare is magnetic even when it's pushing you out of your comfort zone.
Maria BC - Hyaline
Maria BC is an Ohio-born artist who was living in Brooklyn until recently moving to Oakland, and they began releasing music under this moniker during the pandemic, with a single in 2021 and the Devil's Rain EP and another single the following year. For Devil's Rain, Maria recorded the entire thing alone in their bedroom, not wanting to disturb any roommates or neighbors, which caused Maria -- who is a classically trained mezzo-soprano vocalist -- to make something more quiet and intimate than they were used to. "Normally I belt when I sing," they said at the time. "It constrained the melodies I could write, knowing I would need to be singing quietly, and it meant I couldn’t rely on certain old tricks to craft an arc." Their debut album Hyaline was also recorded in their Brooklyn apartment, though with a little more freedom this time, and it also features audio samples from Prospect Park and organ played by Maria's dad at his church in Ohio. It's a little bigger and cleaner sounding than Devil's Rain and the early singles, but Maria kept that intimacy intact. They've been compared multiple times to Grouper, whose ambient folk was also the first thing that came to mind when I heard this album, but Maria's music sounds a little less tucked-away than Grouper's. Where Grouper might favor noise and atmosphere, Maria shows off a little more of a traditional folk singer vibe, and their classical training comes through in the album's rich harmonies. It feels like there's a constant tug-of-war between the minimalism Maria desires and the maximalism they're capable of, and that's what makes these songs so quietly thrilling.
The Bruce Lee Band - One Step Forward. Two Steps Back.
Asian Man Records
Ska, punk, indie, and DIY lifer Mike Park is back with a new album from the current iteration of The Bruce Lee Band, which also includes Jeff Rosenstock, Dan Potthast (MU330), and Kevin Higuchi. Following in the footsteps of last year's Division in the Heartland EP, it's a fired-up album that directly responds to the state of American society and politics. Like on the last few Bruce Lee Band albums, they offer up a unique approach to ska-punk that's a little more mid-tempo and relaxed than the rowdier '90s stuff, and they flirt with traditional rocksteady, dub, and more too. In true ska fashion, it's an album that makes you dance as much as it makes you think. Read more about the album -- including Mike Park's track-by-track breakdown -- here.
bigLOVE - Crusaders of Joy
Last year, UK metalcore staples Employed To Serve released their killer new LP Conquering, and now band members Justine Jones and Sammy Urwin have explored some different musical ground with the debut LP by their new side project bigLOVE. They cite Thou, Jesu, and Crowbar as influences, and those come through in this album, which is sludgier, noisier, more spacious, and often even harsher than their main band. Its first single was the six-minute closer "Forever Intimate," the shortest song on the four-track, 33-minute album, and as great as that song is on its own, it could never prepare you for how vast and immersive Crusaders of Joy is as a whole.
Simulakra - The Infection Spreads
Simulakra emerged out of the Delaware hardcore scene (with members who also play in Foreign Hands, Vicious Embrace, Gridiron, and more) in 2019 with a demo and an EP, and now they've just released their first full-length album, The Infection Spreads, via DAZE. It was produced by and mixed by Wyatt Oberholzer of Chemical Fix, Drowse, and Fixation, and the vocals were tracked by Brandon Watkins of Year of the Knife, whose Tyler Mullen also lends his voice to the punishing closing track "Follow the Flies." The LP offers up 10 songs that clock in at 21 minutes, and it finds the band bringing a totally fresh approach to dark, heavy, '90s-style metallic hardcore. It's the perfect vessel for the bleak subject matter of the album, which vocalist Dom Pabon says "has an overall theme of sickness and plague. It essentially tells the story of a government telling the mass population that they have things under control when that’s not the case, and it’s only getting worse and worse." Read more here.
Read Bill's Indie Basement for more new album reviews, including Stars, Liam Gallagher, Just Mustard, Dehd, Slang, and more.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or scroll down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the 'Upcoming Releases' each week on Invisible Oranges.
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