2016 has been a rough year for music and this week has been yet another of the absolute roughest. It’s been to tough to think about new music at all since Prince’s passing, and it’s totally understandable if you’d rather listen to one of his 39 albums than anything new right now.
But time keeps on moving forward (even if Prince didn’t believe in time) and every Friday means new albums so let’s talk about some. The new Greys album is really good but we just published a big feature on them, so I picked five others for this.
Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
As you surely know, Wire were initially around for a brief period in the late ’70s, when they made three of the best and most influential post and post-punk records ever released. They’ve regrouped and broken up and regrouped again, and remained prolific and consistently solid over their 40-year career. If you heard last year’s very good self-titled album, you know they don’t exactly sound like they did on Pink Flag anymore, and their quick followup Nocturnal Koreans is even further away from that sound. It’s short record, with eight songs that clock in at just 26 minutes, and it’s an arty, experimental album with slower atmospheric songs, synthesizers, and a greater emphasis on subtle beauty than driving attack. It’s not like Wire haven’t toyed with music like this before — plenty of Chairs Missing is in a more experimental realm like this one and they introduced electronic music to their sound in the late ’80s — but it feels like a modern record, not a veteran band rehashing the sounds they became most famous for.
When the A$AP Mob first emerged, A$AP Rocky was the only member getting any real attention, but Ferg eventually found himself creeping into the spotlight too with his still-great debut album, 2013’s Trap Lord. The solid Ferg Forever mixtape followed that and now he’s back with his second official album, Always Strive and Prosper. It’s often a rewarding record, but also a flawed one. It reminds me of the major label rap records that were coming out in the early ’00s that felt designed to please every type of listener, but rarely ended up working as a cohesive album. Like those albums often were, this is stuffed with skits that do little more than add to the running time. It’s got the obligatory pop song (the EDM-ish “Strive” feat. Missy Elliott), which sounds dated already, the token ballad with the Chris Brown hook (“I Love You”), and just some weird stuff like the Skrillex/Crystal Caines collab “Hungry Ham.” Still, there are plenty of moments that make it a worthwhile album. “New Level” (feat. Future) is already a regular in DJ sets and it’s the perfect kind of banger to have around with the Song of the Summer debates coming up soon. “Uzi Gang” is a real standout and it’s a great way to showcase rising rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who sounds just about ready to have his own moment. The harder-edged A$AP Ferg is the version of Ferg that shines the most, and he’s in fine form on the A$AP Mob and Rick Ross collabs, “Yammy Gang” and “Swipe Life,” respectively. And, Big Sean remains one of the most unpredictable rappers in the game. Just a few months ago he was in competition with J Cole for the single worst part of Jeremih’s new album, and on Always Strive and Prosper he actually makes one of the record’s most memorable guest appearance (“World Is Mine”). There’s enough good stuff here to make the album a solid addition to Ferg’s catalog, but it’ll be nice to hear what he can achieve with a little more quality control and a clearer vision.
This technically came out in the UK (and everywhere digitally) last week, but 1) I didn’t realize 4/22 was only the US release until now, and 2) this week is less stacked than last week so it’s a good time to discuss it now. Lush are one of a handful of OG shoegaze bands to reunite in recent years, and like My Bloody Valentine and Swervedriver, they’re in it for new music too. There are probably more shoegaze bands now than ever, but sometimes it’s hard to make a case for all the revivalists when the pioneers still have creative juice left in them. These four songs — their first new songs in two decades — are up a similar alley to their classic material, a return to form after heading in a more Britpop direction on their final album Lovelife. (Going by recent setlists, the live shows are mostly ignoring that album too.) And since this sound is arguably more popular than ever, Lush sound as relevant in 2016 as they did in the ’90s. It’s a short, enjoyable listen but if there’s one true highlight it’s gotta be “Burnham Beeches.” It’s the EP’s poppiest song (but it’s still hazier than the stuff on Lovelife), with plenty of catchy “doo doo doo doo” and “ba da ba ba” refrains, and a horn (or a synth mimicking a horn?) line that gets stuck in your head instantly.
It feels pretty safe to say that Dalek were ahead of their time. The industrial rap group were real outliers during their initial run as a band — they were more associated with metal than rap but couldn’t fully fit in with either. They’re now back from hiatus with their first album since 2009, and the world’s caught up with them in a bit. In a time where Yeezus, Death Grips and Run the Jewels are all major cultural touchstones, Dalek’s dark aggressive rap doesn’t feel so out of step. Still, it manages to feel wholly unique. Some of the album, like “Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left),” you could imagine coming from RTJ or Death Grips, but on the album’s excellent second half, they don’t sound much like anyone else right now. The melodic instrumental “6dB” nears trip-hop or post-rock territory, “Control” splices reverbed-out spoken word clips with with psychedelic atmosphere and sloganeering raps, and closing track “It Just Is” warps that type of atmosphere even more.
Let’s get this out of the way first: don’t come to Mean Jeans if you’re looking for originality. Like The Spits and The Queers and a ton of other bands before them, Mean Jeans basically take the Ramones’ formula, add a little bit of their own flair, and then deliver short and fast power pop/punk songs. But Mean Jeans’ songs (and live shows) are fun, and sometimes that’s all you need for music like this. They have more complex guitar solos than the Ramones and a different sense of humor (one song is called “4 Coors Meal”), but mostly their M.O. is just keeping that band’s timeless sound alive. To do it though, you need to be able to write real hooks, and Mean Jeans certainly are. The Ramones aren’t just one of the most beloved punk bands in the world because they were loud and fast; they always made sure a true pop song was hiding behind all the noise. Mean Jeans do this too, and they’ve got the “oh oh ohs” and the harmonies to back it up. Some of the music I picked this week is thinking music (Dalek, Wire), but Mean Jeans are the exact opposite. Don’t think at all. Just put this on and blast it.