Five Notable Releases of the Week (10/6)
This column is supposed to be devoted to highlighting new albums, but it's hard to just talk about new albums when the music world (and the world at large) suffered a week like this past week. It's scary and depressing to see a person do what someone did at a music festival in Las Vegas, and it's disturbing to see the way the president handles (or just ignores) issues like these (and Puerto Rico). (It was heartening to see Las Vegas residents lining up to donate blood to the victims the next morning though, and to hear all the stories of people who risked their lives to save others on that horrible night.) Our thoughts and prayers do go out to the victims and their friends and families, but we know that's not enough. If "we're not going to talk about [American's gun violence problem] today" then when are we? Something has to be done. This shouldn't be normal.
Check out my five picks of this week below. Some honorable mentions: Marilyn Manson (we hope you're doing okay, Marilyn!), The Weather Station, Citizen, Mister Heavenly, Liam Gallagher, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. What was your favorite release of the week?
Not that many artists arrive as fully formed on a debut EP as Melbourne's Alex Lahey did on last year's B-Grade University. It's five could-be hit songs of driving, melodic, traditional-style indie rock with sharp lyricism full of humor, wit, and a more sentimental side. It's such a near-perfect debut that you might've feared she wouldn't be able to replicate it, but fear not. Her debut album is finally here (on new label home Dead Oceans) and it's full of songs that hit as hard as the ones on her EP. Like B-Grade University, so many of these songs have hit potential. The singalong choruses of "Every Day's The Weekend" and "I Haven't Been Taking Care of Myself" (the former with a "whoa-oh whoa-oh whoa-oh-oh" and the latter with a "doo-da-da doo-da-da doo-da-da ooh-whaaaaoww!" that don't hurt the singalongability) feel built for rock radio. The title track is some of the finest shouty, CBGB-ready pop punk this side of Lookout! Records' demise. "Perth Traumatic Stress Disorder" puts Alex's humor and sadness over a repetitive major-key melody that makes for one of this year's most grin-inducing breakup songs. "I Want U" could be a swaying, '60s girl-group ballad if Alex's rhythm section wasn't giving it a sturdy indie rock backbone. "Lotto In Reverse" is the album's darkest song (and my personal favorite), with a creepy verse that leads into an explosive chorus that suits the anger and regret in Alex's voice ("I shouldn't have come over just so you could have your way with me"). More well-executed "whoa"s come in on "Awkward Exchange," and more quality balladry is delivered with "Backpack" and "There's No Money," the latter of which is the softest song and closes the album out on a heartfelt note. The whole thing is just ten songs that whip by in 36 minutes, varied enough that it never drags but cohesive enough that if you like one song you're bound to like them all.
R&B and indie rock have been crossing paths for all of the current decade, and the past year or so has sort of seen R&B take over indie rock as the favored medium for experimental pop. If indie rock's genuinely-weird-music-with-true-pop-appeal era peaked in 2009 with Merriweather Post Pavilion, Veckatimest and Bitte Orca, R&B's answers to those albums just might be Blond, A Seat at the Table and Ctrl (or something like that). The latest album to add some weight to this trend is Take Me Apart, the long-awaited debut LP by Kelela (who also sings on A Seat at the Table). Kelela was introduced to the world as a guest singer on albums by hip indie beatmakers (Daedelus in 2011 and Teengirl Fantasy in 2012) before she started releasing her own music and adding in a more traditionally R&B vibe. And even as her croon inches closer and closer to '90s R&B, she continues to work with the Fade to Mind/Night Slugs producers who helmed her 2013 debut mixtape like Jam City, Bok Bok, and Kingdom, all three of whom have beats all over Take Me Apart. She's also got Bjork collaborator Arca and Vampire Weekend producer Ariel Rechtshaid on several tracks, and a handful of songs co-written with The xx's Romy Madley Croft. (It's also appropriate that the album is on Warp, home of classic albums by Aphex Twin and Boards of Canada.) It becomes futile to try to draw lines between indie, IDM, and R&B. These musicians all play on each other's records and they're in the process of creating something very new that doesn't succumb to traditional genre boundaries. And to go back to the first point, this really is genuinely weird music. There are moments on "Frontline," the title track, and "Blue Light" (which is perhaps the album's best song) that are built more for highbrow art consumers than for pop radio. But there's also a song like lead single "LMK," a light push for a potential partner to just be straight with her ("It ain't that deep either way / No one's tryna settle down / All you gotta do is let me know"). In delivery and subject matter, it's one of Kelela's closest songs to traditional R&B, and it sounds like it could tear up the charts if it had the chance. The ability to fuse accessible sounds with alienating ones has been a time-honored thing in pop music for the last half a century. What's so impressive about Kelela is that she manages to do it in a way that sounds so distinctly new, even compared to some of her most talented peers.
A lot of people were introduced to Angel Deradoorian's talents when she played as a member of Dirty Projectors and Avey Tare's band, but her debut album as Deradoorian, 2015's The Expanding Flower Planet, proved that her own psychedelic pop was even more otherworldly sounding than that of her previous collaborators. (She did release a very good but more low-key-sounding EP in 2009 too.) She follows it this year with the mini-LP Eternal Recurrence, which is a collaboration with Ben Greenberg of industrial noise duo Uniform and a major left turn from The Expanding Flower Planet, but awe-inspiring in its own way. Of the six very different songs, highlights include "Return-Transcend," an eight-minute drone with Deradoorian's hypnotic, trippy vocals blending in beautifully with the swirling backdrop. There's "Mountainside," a gorgeous dose of piano-led folk music with fluttering flutes and haunting harmonies. There's "Love Arise" and "Nia In The Dark," both different takes on ambient pop of the Julia Holter/Julianna Barwick variety. And there's the short, two-and-a-half minute avant-garde sound collage "Ausar Temple." But the song I go back to most is closer "Mirrorman." It's the song where Deradoorian really lets her voice soar the most, with a dark, cutting delivery that keeps reminding me of late '60s / early '70s era Grace Slick. (I should note that Grace is one of my favorite singers ever and if I'm comparing anyone to her, it is not faint praise.) There is a lot of modern music that recalls the original psychedelic era, but it's been a while since a modern psych song stopped me in my tracks the way "Mirrorman" did.
Atlanta's Blis signed to Sargent House a couple years ago off the strength of 2015's Starting Fires in my Parents House EP, and they're finally releasing their debut album, No One Loves You. With a sound that falls somewhere between grunge and emo, and lyrics that have a complicated relationship with religion, there are comparisons to made to Blis' Atlanta neighbors Manchester Orchestra and M.O.'s pals Brand New, and fans of both of those bands should find a lot to like about No One Loves You. Blis really don't hold back on turning up to 11 and delivering cathartic scream-sung choruses that would've been all over KROQ and Headbanger's Ball in the '90s, but No One Loves You isn't just your standard alt-rock fare. There's a real nuance to these songs, with intricate guitar work and layering that pulls from classic Pacific Northwest indie rock.
Singer Aaron Gossett also has a lot of tough life experiences to sing about, making this record very personal, conflicted, powerful, and often difficult to hear. He's a non-religious black man in a long term relationship with a white woman who comes from a very religious Christian family, who would not accept their relationship. He has a child with her, and was forced to fight with her family for two years just to be able to have a relationship with his son (the three of them now finally live together). This comes out on the album again and again. On the crushing "Stale Smoke," Aaron sings, "Your dad is a pastor and I am the last thing he'd want for you," only to later add, "Nine months / time's up / yeah I'm fucked / I'm a dad now." On the more delicate, quiet-loud approach of "Lost Boy," Aaron sounds sadder, asking "Can I just hold my little boy while he sleeps?" before admitting, "I don't want to lose him to your god." Aaron touches on this stuff on nearly every song, explicitly addressing religion, sex, pregnancy, and his complicated experiences with fatherhood with brutal honesty. He's drawing from such super specific, personal experiences that the album could read as a diary set to music, but it also reads as Trump-era art. The discrimination and the religious biases that informed this album are some of the same ones that are at the center of country-wide debates every day. No One Loves You might tell just one person's story but the sentiment behind it is much more widespread than that.
My review of Wolf Parade's first album in seven years is HERE. Read an excerpt:
Cry Cry Cry really has just about every kind of song you'd want from a great Wolf Parade album. "You're Dreaming" is one of Dan Boeckner's finest driving, Springsteenian rockers, with a two-word chorus that reminds you how much Dan can excel when he takes a less-is-more approach. "Valley Boy" is Spencer Krug's most singalong-ready song on the album, and it comes with one of his tongue-twister choruses: "Are you still a lover boy? / Are you still on the cover or / Did you become a valley boy out there?" They don't have anything as colossal as the proggy At Mount Zoomer closer "Kissing The Beehive," but they do a great job flaunting their prog tendencies on "Baby Blue," which has Arlen providing the same kind of hypnotic backbone that "Beehive" has. The horn jabs make for a nice touch too. The slowed-down second half of "Weaponized" also has a little climactic jamming in there, and it's not exactly what you'd expect from the song's first half, which has Dan's late '70s post-punk worship in fine form. On "Who Are Ya," Spencer's quirk is at a high, and he takes Wolf Parade closer to whimsical '60s psych-pop territory than they've ever been before. When those dizzying keyboards come in, it'll take you right back to the Summer of Love.
Read the rest HERE.