New This Week: J Mascis, Wytches, Opeth and More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 08.26.14 in Features

As we near the end of summer, the New Release dormancy gradually begins to fade and New This Week returns to its regular weekly schedule. Today, everything from spry pop R&B to doomy electro-reggae to bright, gleaming power pop. In other words: Something for everyone.

New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers: A carefree blast of no-ballads-allowed optimism after a relatively subdued period in the band’s history. Sam Adams says:

Its title’s ostensible toughness notwithstanding, Brill Bruisers is an unabashedly rococo record, with a song called “Dancehall Domine” followed a few minutes later with one that repeats the phrase “unfolded into madrigals” (Newman balances out his ornate, often-obscure lyrics with a panoply of nonsense syllables: At last, fans of “ooh,” “oh-oh” and “bo-ba-ba-bo” can claim common ground.) It’s an easy album to listen to but a hard one to hear, so besotted with studio experimentation that it risks favoring the frosting over the cake. Fortunately, the listens it takes to drill through the fondant are invariably pleasant ones, and not bruising in the slightest.

Ty Segall, Manipulator: If Ty Segall took a little more time to make records, would they be better? This one confirms the answer is yes. Sam Lefebvre says:

There are intermittent rave-ups (notably the wily, unhinged “It’s Over”), but Manipulator‘s lean grooves carry the most rewarding songs. “The Clock” is alternately galloping and expansive as Segall ponders time, while wet synth tones and a tough mid-tempo beat reflect the menacing character alluded to in “The Connection Man.” “Mister Main” inverts Segall’s conventional instrumentation with busily syncopated drums and restrained guitars, only to disrupt its own reverie with a lone, resonant piano chord halfway through. Perhaps owing to newfound confidence, Segall is more inclined than ever to request our careful attention. Manipulator‘s details are fine rewards.

Cymbals Eat Guitars, LOSE: The band’s finest moment. John Everhart says:

Despite the gravitas and frequent allusions to the sudden, tragic death of D’Agostino’s great friend and musical collaborator Benjamin High in 2007, LOSE is anything but a wallowing pity party. It’s an ode to the emotionally redemptive power of following one’s creative impulses, one’s calling. This is finely exemplified in the fervent rave-up “XR.” Like a stentorian cousin to Neutral Milk’s “Holland 1945,” cross-pollinated with Neil Young’s Tonight’s the Night, the track has D’Agostino musing, “I raise a toast to the rock ‘n’ roll ghost.” In the context of the song, the ghost is a youthful belief in the galvanizing possibilities of music, a sentiment embodied with élan throughout this superb album.

Cold Specks, Neuroplasticity: Doom soul, in spades. Britt Robson says:

Most of the music is heavier than her first record, a midnight-blue, brutish pop-rock soundtrack to the forests in horror films. Meanwhile, Spx is staking out her fears, plaints and grim narratives with an unshakeable intensity. On “Absisto,” the lead single, Spx announces that “a fury unseen chips away in me,” warning that “all the screams of the past will come crawling out to get you.” And on the closer, “A Season of Doubt,” set off by bleats from jazz trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, she sings, “We move like wolves in the dead of night/ and we dance like ghosts deprived of flight.”

Ariana Grande, My Everything: The former Nickelodeon star’s latest is a blur of insipid lyrics and forgettable hooks over maximalist, cluttered beats. Madeleine Holden says:

My Everything looked set to be a compelling follow-up: The lead single, “Problem,” is prime pop music, a jubilant breakup jam with catchy saxophone loops and a husky-whispered hook (“I got one less problem without ya”; a message for teen girls to absorb to their cores). “Problem” showcases a powerful, takes-no-shit attitude that Grande spends the rest of the album diluting, dribbling out lines like “I know, I know, I know she gives you everything/ but I got nothing here without you” on meek win-him-back tracks like “One Last Time.” Grande aims for heartbreaker and sexy-vixen poses throughout the album, but she ultimately sounds most at home as a pining ex.

The Wytches, Annabel Dream Reader: The U.K. band’s gloomily psychedelic debut is drowning in emotion. Beverly Bryan says:

It’s all highly stylized in an almost Tim Burtonish way, yet frontman Kristian Bell comes across plainly confessional when he sings on “Part-Time Model,” “I must admit I felt a little sick, I think I swallowed too much pride.” The whole album, built on Bell’s lurid surf riffs, could be a rock opera set in the mind of a sensitive young man driven to delirious nervous collapse by whiskey and women. On songs like “Fragile Male for Sale,” Bell sounds as wigged out as Jack White and as wounded as Conor Oberst, his guitar wailing and moaning as he sings complaints like “you sit there and watch as my dignity collapses.”

Cassie Ramone, The Time Has Come: Ex-Vivian Girl Cassie Ramone returns with an album under her own name. Unlike the rocketing, rickety guitar-pop of her former band, The Time Has Come comes stocked with echo-drenched acoustics and Ramone’s melancholy vocals. The sonic touchstones here are Marine Girls and the Softies, lounging on the line between indiepop and folk.

J Mascis, Tied to a Star: Intimate and alluring, like an old friend telling you about his troubles. Grayson Haver Currin says:

Quiet emotional candor provides the thread through Tied to a Star, the mostly acoustic follow-up to 2011′s sweet and approachable Several Shades of Why. “Feels have gotten me insecure,” he sings during the first verse of the opening track, his voice wavering over a twinkling riff; it’s the album’s thesis, a recapitulation of the same psychological unease that makes many of these 10 tunes intimate and alluring.

Merchandise, After the End: The compromise of making a pop record leaves a lamentable lack of energy. Ilya Zinger says:

After the End, the band’s first full-length for legendary indie 4AD, functions largely as power-pop and maintains a level of existential dread and abstraction. On songs like “True Moment” the guitar melodies loom large, the drums sound like they’re filling an arena and Cox’s voice is resonant, but his words let darkness creep in: “Composed with the cruelty of kindness/ Her arms outstretched, her lips ajar/ I’d have her arrested but she has no hands.”

The Bug, Angels & Devils: Playing spiritedly with heavenly and hellish poles. Andy Battaglia says:

The first half starts off comparatively quiet and reserved. “Void” slinks into a suspicious crouch, with gristly atmospheric ambience and vocals by Liz Harris that cast her, much like she sounds in Grouper, as a kind of murky phantom. “Falls” follows with vocals by Inga Copeland (formerly of the out-there aural art project Hype Williams), and “Pandi” is even more spacious and mysterious, with a beatless series of overdriven organ sounds. Then, beginning with “The One,” Angels & Devils reveals its more fiery side. Flowdan’s rapping, aligned with London grime, sounds antic and cracked over blasts of noise and machine-gun beats, and the intensity doesn’t let up from there.

Brad Paisley, Moonshine in the Trunk Guaranteed to secure his reign as king of minivan country. Phil Freeman says:

Like Yankovic’s Mandatory Fun, Moonshine in the Trunk is more genially witty than hilarious. And his band is as impressive as Yankovic’s; they seamlessly blend guitar virtuosity (Paisley assays blues, country and some metallic shredding straight off a late-’80s Judas Priest album), emotive violin, explosive drums and bursts of crowd-shouted backing vocals. His love songs (“Perfect Storm,” “Cover Girl,” “You Shouldn’t Have To”) are still less interesting than his comedy or his yay-America material, but Moonshine is as perfectly sequenced as a political rally, carrying the listener along its 51-minute journey from beer-drinking to romance to testifying without a single speed bump along the way, unless the clunky dialog between Paisley and Carrie Underwood about the virtues of Chik-Fil-A’s menu, on “High Life,” bugs you.

Rustie, Green Language: The Glaswegian producer shows off a new set of powers. Anupa Mistry says:

Rustie is a singular musician. He’s transcended SoundCloud-god status and outwitted the hype machine by steering clear of consumptive remixes, reinventing musical trends and incorporating analog synths and samples of live instruments into his music. Green Language is a sonic ferment in which Rustie dabbles in a variety of styles — airless DJ Mustard-style “ratchet” rap, crystalline Night Slugs synths, ruthless gabber.

The Rentals, Lost in Alphaville: A nostalgia-filled return after 15 years. Megan Seling says:

It’s been 15 years since the Rentals released a full-length. Matt Sharp’s post-Weezer project held so many hearts hostage with their fantastic 1995 debut, Return of the Rentals, that many fans stuck by the band’s side for the less-than-great follow-up, Seven More Minutes. Now the Rentals are finally returning, and although they may never outlive the expectations set by their beloved debut, they at least seem at peace with it: Lost in Alphaville might as well be called Return of the Return of the Rentals.

David Childers, Serpents of Reformation: Collection of spare, ramshackle gospel songs that at times recalls the primitive brutality of Tom Waits, at other times sounds like a revival meeting ’round the campfire. Odd and singular and RECOMMENDED

The Abigails, Tundra: Speaking of country — the Abigails are the outliers in the Burger Records catalog, skewing country where most of the rest of the label favors punk. As you might expect, the band brings some of that DIY ethos to bear here; the songs are proudly unpolished, with the focus on gravel-bucket vocals.

Dry the River, Alarms in the Heart: This band was hotly-tipped to breakout into major mainstream success a few weeks back. It didn’t quite happen, but on Alarms in the Heart suggests it might not be too late. It’s stocked full of sprawling, anthemic, country-flavored rock songs, bleeding hearts proudly and prominently pinned to the bandmembers’ sleeves.

Gemma Ray, Milk For Your Motors: Moody, slow-moving gaslight pop songs that sound a bit like what might happen if Dum Dum Girls edged a little more to the mainstream. Elements of the darker side of ’50s pop balladry abound, and Ray sounds like a nightclub singer at a ramshackle cabaret, catering to the weepy 3am crowd.

Robyn Hitchcock, The Man Upstairs: Hitchcock balances beautiful, moody originals with a clutch of cover songs, working in a mostly minimal, acoustic environment. His album-opening cover of the Psychedelic Furs “The Ghost in You” is gorgeous and haunting, and finds new pathos in a familiar song.

Liturgy, Renihilation: Reissue of debut record from NY quasi-black-metal outfit Liturgy, timed to coincide with the band’s reunion with linchpin drummer Greg Fox. The buzz around this band — coupled with a handful of personal setbacks — all but stalled their momentum and clouded their music; Renihilation offers the opportunity to rediscover what got people so excited in the first place. RECOMMENDED

Luca Lozano, Isolation Distorts and Lunate, Far Shores: More wonderful weirdness from Not Not Fun sister label 100% Silk. Isolation Distorts is full of dark-hued techno songs ideal for the dancefloor at your upcoming Halloween party, while Far Shores is a little more experimental. There’s the occasional straightforward dance number here, but they’re counterbalanced by moody, filmy ambient music full of odd tones and textures. Both are RECOMMENDED

Music Blues, Things Haven’t Gone Well: They’re not the flashiest label around, but the music Thrill Jockey has been issuing over the course of the last year could stand toe-to-toe with anything they released during their Tortoise heyday. Music Blues is a crusher: pounding, slow-moving, dirge-like instrumental doom with guitars that hit like a caveman’s club. RECOMMENDED

Mndsgn, Yawn Zen: Enough beatific substance to wrap your mind around, even in its minimalism. Nate Patrin says:

Yawn Zen rides on shaky, crackly mid-fidelity sound; seesaw-momentum melody; and occasional moments of deliberately flat, almost dazed-sounding vocals molded into something distinctly meditative. This is a beat record where kaleidoscopic keyboards pump deep pulses even when they hover drumless in the air, where moments that sound like cluttered chaos in (like the Jean-Jacques Perrey-style synth burbles in “Frugality”) resolve into calm order. The gently creeping, skyward-staring highlight “Exchanging” is scarcely more than a looped guitar, warmly shivering chimes, and Mndsgn’s own voice multitracked into astral-travel harmony.

Shovels and Rope, Swimmin’ Time: Tales of guilt-ridden ne’er-do-wells balanced with jaunty vocals and gallows humor. Jim Farber says:

On their second effort, this Americana duo, who are also married, balance tales of guilt-ridden ne’er-do-wells with jaunty vocals and gallows humor. “I’ll try not to be the monster of the millennium,” they sing in “Coping Mechanism.” “I’m going to lose my arm/ before I pull out the rabbit,” they joke in “Ohio.” The latter may be a murder ballad, but it’s delivered with a Tom-Waits-like wink.

Basement Jaxx, Junto: The first time this ordinarily restless duo has dared to be dull. Barry Walters says:

BJ’s fifth full-fledged album isn’t all duds and fragments. “Summer Dem” proves they can still fuse contemporary R&B with classic club grooves with results that here recall early-’80s boogie anthems. But Junto more often bunts where the pair typically knock it out of the park. “Mermaid of Salinas” fuses a wistful bossa nova melody — steamy flamenco guitar strumming that recalls their own “Rendez-Vu” — and other jaunty elements that never congeal; the stately Sam Smith-like ballad “Love is at Your Side” offers more whoosh-y studio effects than melodic development. Given that Disclosure has finally made classy U.K. house a mainstream U.S. commodity, Basement Jaxx’s latest should be so much sharper. It’s the first time this ordinarily restless duo has dared to be dull.

Opeth, Pale Communion: The band’s finest in at least a decade. Ryan Reed says:

“River” is a windows-down, major-key classic-rocker — perfectly suited for the second side of a Boston LP; “Elysian Woes” finds Akerfeldt crooning gloriously about “bearing his scars” over 12-strings and Mellotron; “Goblin” (inspired by the Italian ’70s prog band of the same name) is a wicked fusion-rock jam that sounds like Mahavishnu. But the album’s mightiest peak is also Opeth’s biggest stylistic departure: “Faith in Others,” a mournful closer built on twinkling guitar lines and (how dare they?) orchestrations. With its ballad-like falsetto crooning, it’s clearly the least “metal” song in the band’s catalog — in that light, it’s both a musical and moral victory.

Bitchin’ Bajas, Bitchin’ Bajas: Balancing studio tricks with musicians performing in the moment. Ned Raggett says:

The band takes clear inspiration from heart-of-the-’70s groups like Ash Ra Tempel, who jettisoned rock ‘n’ roll for synthesizer explorations supplemented by other instruments. There’s an intriguing tension between the song titles and the songs themselves: “Orgone” is named after Wilhelm Reich’s purported sexual energy source, but rather than coming across like early porn sleaze, it feels like a deep cut from last year’s I Am the Center overview of early New Age music, full of contemplative, intimate serenity.

Battle Trance, Palace of Wind: A showcase for the sheer physicality of massed saxophones. Richard Gehr says:

Situated somewhere between Colin Stetson’s one-man bass-sax attack and Bang On A Can composer Michael Gordon’s recent minimalist composition Rushes for six bassoons, Palace is a showcase for the sheer physicality of massed saxophones. They initially ascend from a barely audible state to a fiercely repetitive crescendo. Four become one, and then they splinter into separate entities again as long, slow passages gradually become chordal backdrops for emotional soloing. A lively fanfare eventually erupts, arpeggios billow softly skyward, and a thrilling, almost overpowering trilling hijacks your attention until all that is solid slowly melts back into the void.