Five Notable Releases of the Week (3/17)
A lot of the music industry and a ton of bands are currently in Austin for SXSW, like us -- BrooklynVegan and Sound on Sound Fest are in the midst of a three-day Lost Weekend at Cheer Up Charlies. If you're in town, stop by today or tomorrow.
Meanwhile, even if you're not in Austin this week, there's still plenty going on music-wise. A handful of good records are out today and I picked five to highlight. Check out my picks below. What was your favorite release of the week?
Woe are one of the better US black metal bands around, and Hope Attrition is as good an example of this as any. While the most popular USBM bands tend to favor the genre's post-rock and shoegaze side, Woe have hardcore roots and they stay true to them. They're also just widely appealing (as far as extreme metal goes) in general. They don't shy away from clean production or from melodies that get stuck in your head. And Hope Attrition has the cleanest production of any Woe record yet. They sound sharp and clear on this record, and not at the expense of aggression. If anything, what makes Woe stand out amongst their peers is just how aggressive they are. They're accessible but not pretty. This is knuckle-whitening, teeth-clenching stuff. Woe leader Chris Grigg sticks to screamed vocals on this record -- and man does he have one hell of a scream -- but he brings in Brooks Wilson of the great doom band Crypt Sermon to add clean vocals to "The Din of the Mourning." Brooks comes in shortly after a section where the band briefly abandons black metal and goes full-on D-beat. It's the kind of genre hopping you get from, say, Inter Arma, who Woe open for in Brooklyn later this month. Not that they sound too alike, but if you spun Inter Arma's great Paradise Gallows a lot last year, you need Hope Attrition in your life too.
Having started out making jangly indie pop, Real Estate have slowly inched further and further into neo-Grateful Dead territory, and In Mind is their deepest dive into that territory yet. It follows frontman Martin Courtney's '70s-folk-inspired solo debut Many Moons -- not to mention Alex Bleeker has always made hippie stuff with his solo project -- and you can hear the sounds of those other projects creeping into In Mind. Second track "Serve The Song" even starts out with some fuzzed-out wah guitar on top of their usual clean jangle. In Mind is also the band's first album with Julian Lynch as a full-time member, and first without Matt Mondanile who left to focus on Ducktails. These are all notable changes, but they're subtle. Real Estate are progressing and maturing, but the core of their sound remains intact -- they sound as patient and laid-back as ever.
On Sorority Noise's last full-length, Joy Departed (on Topshelf Records), they had one song that'll probably go down in history as some kind of classic, "Using." It's a song where singer Cam Boucher confronts his struggles with mental health and addiction, and if you've seen kids lose their minds to it at Sorority Noise shows, you know what this song means to people. It's not every day that a band can connect with their audience the way Sorority Noise does. SN's quick rise landed them a deal with Triple Crown Records, the same label that launched Brand New, and they made their new record You’re Not As _____ As You Think with Brand New producer Mike Sapone. Those connections make more sense than ever for Sorority Noise, as You're Not As... is the closest they've ever come to sounding like Jesse Lacey & co. They've got the cathartic, scream-sung choruses, the heavier-than-heavy (and religious) lyrical topics, and they use a few other of that band's tricks. The slow-burning, atmospheric "First Letter From St. Sean" has Devil and God vibes and "Leave The Fan On sounds like something straight off Deja Entendu. They avoid sounding like copycats though, as Cam's stories are too personal and too heartbreaking for that. On "First Letter From St. Sean," he sings, "When your best friend dies, and your next friend dies, and your best friend's friend takes his life / You can spend six months on your own / Because there's no one left to talk to." It's not that Brand New never sang about losing all their friends, but this hits in a different way. Sorority Noise are also closely tied to a few other great modern emo bands, and you can hear them feeding off each other in exciting ways. They sing of showing (or not showing) up to loved ones funerals like The Hotelier, they hypothesize about what's going on in heaven like The Wonder Years, and they offer up frank lyrics with a nasally, conversational delivery like Modern Baseball. Those bands all have landmark records of today's emo scene, and You’re Not As _____ As You Think just might be poised to be one too.
Last year, Conor Oberst released the excellent album Ruminations, though it almost wasn't an album at all. He set out to record an album with The Felice Brothers and drummer Jim Keltner as his backing band, but he was encouraged by friends that his solo demos were the album he needed to release. Lo and behold, Ruminations, one of the most special records Conor ever put out. Still, he went ahead and recorded those same ten songs -- and seven others -- with The Felice Brothers and Jim Keltner (and a bunch of exciting guests) and the results became Salutations. With more of a fleshed-out folk rock vibe, Salutations sounds even more like Harvest-era Neil Young than Ruminations sometimes did. It's entertaining to hear the full-band versions of the Ruminations songs, and to consider that Conor originally planned to only release them this way. In hindsight, you can see how a song like "A Little Uncanny" was always meant to have a backing band. But others, like "Next of Kin," were more powerful as solo recordings. Things can start to feel a little redundant if you've already listened to Ruminations a lot, but the seven songs that weren't on that album still make Salutations worth it. And considering Conor's already proven to have longevity, something tells me time will treat both of these albums very well.
We can probably thank Nelly for putting St. Louis rap on the map in a major, mainstream way, but it still feels like an underdog city. Smino reps it hard, though, So hard, in fact, that he ignored the international Friday release date just to drop his debut album blkswn on 3/14 (314 is STL's area code). He loves his hometown, but he's also a kindred spirit with the rap scene that's thriving in the nearby Chicago. A handful of Chicago artists appear on blkswn, like Noname, Ravyn Lenae, and theMIND. And, like Chance the Rapper's Coloring Book, blkswn is a very communal, collaborative album. Even on the songs with no guests credited, there's a group of singers fleshing out Smino's own voice, which is usually somewhere between singing and rapping. He delivers his sweet-as-honey flow over downtempo, atmospheric production, which comes courtesy of Monte Booker on all but two tracks. The sound is something that's not easy to pigeonhole. He's got hints of '70s soul, '90s rap, and futuristic R&B. Smino and Monte manage to meld all those sounds into something that's entirely their own.