This week is a long one, with tons of great new releases, in just about every genre.
The Afghan Whigs, Do to the Beast: On their first new record in 16 years, the Afghan Whigs banish nostalgia and push defiantly forward. Maura Johnston says:
To expect Do to the Beast to sound like the band picked up where it left off is unrealistic. Guitarist Rick McCollum, whose skittering riffs defined the sound of the Whigs’ peaks as much as Dulli’s weary bombast, is absent. 21st-century innovations in R&B have altered the band’s musical outlook. Tracks like “It Kills” (which features a gorgeous cello counterpoint and backing vocals by the elusive yet monstrously talented Van Hunt) and “Can Rova” represent expansions of the band’s palette that weren’t even hinted at on the waning notes of 1965. Dulli’s voice sounds different, more willing to venture out of its comfort zone; on the tense “I Am Fire” his come-ons are light as air, yet they still hang ominously.
The Both, The Both: Aimee Mann and Ted Leo’s The Both feels like a partnership that was always meant to happen. Sam Adams says:
It’s not simply a matter of each pulling the other in their direction, although Mann certainly benefits from Leo’s adrenaline surplus, and her harmony vocals remind him to write the accompanying melodies. Writing together, however they manage the details, creates a spirited looseness and a sense of play. Witness “Milwaukee’s” reference to a bronze statue of the Fonz, or “Volunteers of America’s” Jefferson Airplane-tweaking title. There are handclaps, “yeah yeah yeahs” and a Thin Lizzy cover for good measure. It’s a pleasure to hear Mann’s bouncing bass high in the mix, falling into line with Leo’s jangle-fuzz guitar, their voices meshing without losing what makes each distinct.
Jessica Lea Mayfield, Make My Head Sing…: Jessica Lea Mayfield strays from her folky roots, singing like an angel with the Devil in her rearview mirror. Kim Kelly says:
Her easy juxtaposition of sinister and sweet recalls the haunting tones of Black Mare, but there’s also a pronounced grunge influence, from the blatant In Utero riff on “Pure Stuff” to the bottom-heavy groove and sickly-sweet Courtney Love purr on “Anything You Want.” Save for the chilling lament of “Party Drugs” or post-rock trills on “Unknown Big Secret,” the ghostly minimalism of her lighter tracks makes for pleasant background music but ultimately doesn’t offer much to hold onto. Make My Head Sing… would’ve been better if she’d stuck with the heavy artillery and ditched the Chelsea Wolfe impression altogether. She’s at her best when she sinks a little lower.
Woods, With Light and With Love: The Brooklyn band starts to favor craftsmanship over serendipity. Steven Hyden says:
With Light is settled and straightforward, no more so than on the gently chugging “Moving to the Left,” which could pass for a Decemberists song. The record’s best moments boast a palpable confidence and sense of perspective; the gorgeous steel guitar on “Shepherd” recalls those early-’70s CSN records about embracing the comforts of adulthood after the tumult of youth.
Pharoahe Monch, PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder: It would’ve been sufficient for this to be merely solid, but instead it’s deeper and more conceptual. Nate Patrin says:
Whether his experiences come from mental health struggles (“Losing My Mind”), drug addiction (“Broken Again”), the dignity-sapping downward spiral of economic uncertainty (“Time2″), or the overarching corruption of contemporary society (“Eht Dnarg Noisulli”), they are unified by Monch’s attention to detail, where even the knotty metaphors and pop-culture-joke tangents fit the puzzle. His internal-rhyming brilliance has made him a secret-weapon influence on everyone from Eminem to Earl Sweatshirt, and PTSD serves as a gripping reminder of what the father of countless styles can do when nothing holds him back.
Slint, Spiderland Deluxe Reissue: If you haven’t yet read Joe Gross’s excellent piece on this record’s impact and importance, I’d like to suggest you do so immediately. It’s hard to hear now, so many years later, but this album reinvented indie rock — and did so in such a dramatic fashion that it was rejected when it was initially released. It was only in the years that followed that its true scope and ambition was revealed. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Nas, Illmatic XX: What more can be said about one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time? If, somehow, you have not heard this masterpiece yet, you should remedy that immediately. Twenty years old this year (and celebrated with a string of full-album performances), Illmatic represents a high point in hip-hop storytelling. Nas’s writing throughout is sharp and rich and evocative, and the production is grainy and gripping. This edition is rounded out with a bonus disc of remixes, B-Sides, alternate singles & etc., and is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Chet Faker, Built on Glass: Sounding less awake and fully realized than on his earlier work. Barry Walters says:
The process of writing, recording and playing nearly every note on Built on Glass, his first full-length album, may have dragged Faker out of his bedroom, but he actually sounds less awake and fully realized than on his earlier work: There’s nothing as effective as the oscillating electric piano on “Diggity” and little as catchy as his Flume collaboration. This is PBR&B without the inspiration of a Weeknd or Frank Ocean — a wash of narcoleptic synths and stumbling beats with no momentum.
Triptykon, Melana Chasmata: Thomas G. Fischer’s latest uses elements of black metal, without any of the clichés. Jon Wiederhorn says:
There are no endless blast beats or rapidly picked trills, and even the vocals aren’t all screamed or roared. You can still hear those unmistakable grunts and “ooh!”s that became Celtic Frost trademarks, but Melana Chasmata folds in Bauhaus-era goth, touches of industrial, and morose melodies reminiscent of The Swans. As difficult as Melana Chasmata sometimes is to listen to, it’s even harder to turn away from.
Rodney Crowell, Tarpaper Sky: Arguably his best since 2003. John Morthland says:
Working with guitarist/co-producer Steuart Smith and other veterans of his 1988 landmark Diamonds and Dirt, Crowell comes up with a spare, reflective set that continues to resonate well after it has finished playing. It opens with the folk-rocking “The Long Journey Home,” a rambling man’s reflection of a life spent sowing wild oats, and ends with the summing-up of “Oh, What a Beautiful World,” a haunting ballad that alternates between melancholy and adulatory.
Lockah, Yahoo or the Highway: Using his music to explore and expand upon the intersections between hip-hop and electronic music. Abby Garnett says:
Banks’s pop vision is at once unassuming and exacting, with straightforward, repetitive harmonic progressions providing a foundation for minutely chopped-up beats and see-sawing synth lines. “If Loving U Is Wrong, I Don’t Want To Be Wrong” nods to INOJ’s classic “Love You Down” before expanding into a lush landscape that hovers somewhere between kitschy homage and highbrow reinterpretation. Banks’s sharp mixing allows him to tackle a gamut of sounds, from the glitchy, discordant syncopation on “Ayyo Tricknology” to the upward-spiraling “Heartless Monster.”
The Choir, Shadow Weaver: I continue to be impressed with how prolific this band is. Sixteenth (!) record from Nashville psych-pop band finds them continuing to de-emphasize the swirling clouds of sound that defined their masterpiece Circle Slide in favor of more straightforward guitar pop a la Death Cab for Cutie. Couldn’t find audio or video for this, but wanted to give it a shout nonetheless.
The Bevis Frond, High in a Flat: Compilation of tracks recorded by British psych act from 1988 – 91. The highlight here is the title track, which was only ever released as a limited-edition single with Bucketfull of Brains magazine. There’s a bit of Roky Erikson on the Bevis’s grizzled riffs and spiral-eyed melodies, offset by moments of true beauty, like the jangly “Lights Are Changing.”
Dalhous, Visibility is a Trap: New EP from the UK’s Dalhous on the great Blackest Ever Black label arrives in advance of a full-length later in the year. On this one, Alex Ander and Marc Dall tends toward the ambient, creating marvelously moody tone poems that are blue in color and black in mood. RECOMMENDED
Stoneburner, Life Drawing: Unholy sophomore effort from Portland doomers wastes no time with niceties. This is an hour of anvil-heavy sludge rock, with thundering guitars and rhythms that shake the earth like giants’ footsteps.
Impetuous Ritual, Unholy Congregation Of Hypocritical Ambivalence: This Aussie outfit, who share some members with the wonderfully weird Portal, specialize in marvelously oppressive black metal. The whole thing sounds as if it were recorded on an old cassette deck. The guitars are so distorted they’re almost straight static, and the vocals are just ghoulish growls. Truly warped, wonderful black metal.
Odonis Odonis, Hard Boiled Soft Boiled: Out of control chaos rock that smothers any and all hooks in buckets of black noise. I’m impressed with how uninterested in accessibility this is. Songs like “Breathing Hard” have great, gloomy melodies, but everything is cranked well into the red, making it feel ear-punishing and powerful. Those who like their music to feel like a kick in the solar plexus, this is for you. RECOMMENDED
The Library is on Fire, Halcyon & Surrounding Areas: Junk-fi indie rock outift occasionally recalls Guided by Voices in their no-frills approach to production and their high-wattage melodies, but Library is bolder than GBV ever were, a little less afraid of grabbign a good chorus by the horns and riding it for all its worth. Fans with a soft spot for big hooks but an aversion to high-gloss production, this one’s for you.
The Admiral Sir Cloudesly Shovell, Check ‘Em Before You Wreck ‘Em: Trash rock outfit on Rise Above, a label typically known for punishing slabs of doom. This is mostly blue jean motorcycle rock, though — there are some doom tunings, but the vast majority of this record is best suited to downing pints at some dark pub on a Wednesday, shooting pool and looking for people to fight.
Ron Morelli, Periscope Blues: New EP from L.I.E.S. mainmain Morelli is more abstract than his delightfully oppressive Spit. Sounds appear in twitching, electronic squiggles, sometimes they just rattle like big digital compressors, other times they blink like control panels. Tonally, though, it’s of a piece with the kind of brilliantly bleak music Morelli is slowly becoming known for.
Opera Mort, Dédales: Aggressively outre electronic music on the Alter label, operated by terrific noisenik Helm. This is about as ruthless as his work — tweaked, distorted voices wriggle over percussion that sounds like coins being dropped down a drainpipe. Heat-warped synths buckle and groan for three solid minutes. Pinprick squiggles of sound light up and vanish. This is hypnotic and unnerving and RECOMMENDED.