New This Week: Drake, Mazzy Star, Kings of Leon & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 09.25.13 in Spotlights

Better late than never? Right out of the gate: we had some issues on our tech side that delayed a lot of these releases, which is why you’re getting this roundup today instead of yesterday. We appreciate your patience. And since we’re already a day late, I won’t waste any more time in the preamble.

Drake, Nothing Was The Same: Oh, Drake. Drake, Drake, Drake. Beloved and loathed in equal amounts. So sad! So conflicted! Drake is one man, but he contains multitudes. You can figure out where you stand in the Great Drake Debate (Note to self: “Drakegate”?) of 2013 today. I liked Take Care a whole lot. I’ll stop there. Instead, I turn you over to Nick Murray, who says:

Nothing is something like rap’s version of Jordan’s Hall of Fame induction speech, the point where our hero stands at the top of his profession but still checks the kids who dissed him in high school and girls who turned a shoulder shortly thereafter. Where on “Tuscan Leather,” he’s “rich enough that I don’t have to tell ‘em that I’m rich,” on lead single “Started From the Bottom” (my mom’s favorite rap song since “Day ‘N’ Nite,” incidentally), he brags that “just a reminder to myself/ I wear every single chain even when in the house.”

Nirvana, In Utero – 20th Anniversary Remaster: And now, one of the greatest records of the last 20 years. Seriously, how great is this record? How earsplitting and angry and acrid and confrontational, even to this day? There are like 100 versions of the riessue naturally, because that’s the way things go these days: a single disc remaster, a deluxe edition that has the remaster, the controversially scrapped Steve Albini mixes at the end of the first disc, and a “2013 mix” of the album that sweetens things up a little (inspired, Krist Novoselic said, by the recent Doors reissues, which at long last justifies the existence of the Doors). Then there’s a Super Deluxe edition that features all of the above plus more B-Sides and the audio of the MTV Live & Loud special that aired around its release. IN OTHER WORDS, FANATICS, YOU DON’T HAVE A REAL COMPLAINT. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one you want most. Maura Johnston, who wrote this excellent Six Degrees of the album, says:

“Teenage angst has paid off well; now I’m bored and old,” Cobain drawls as the record opens; he had turned 26 during the album’s recording sessions. This slyly-expressed weariness defines much of In Utero; Cobain’s screeched “Get awayyy!” as Dave Grohl bashes behind him on the grimacing “Scentless Apprentice” could have been directed at any number of people lusting after his newfound fame, while the defiantly downcast “Rape Me” is a wide-eyed challenge for people to do their worst to one another, from the repurposed “Smells Like Teen Spirit” riff on down.

Deer Tick, Negativity: Speaking of Nirvana! Rhode Island band Deer Tick has a pretty good on-again/off-again side gig playing as Deervana, a Nirvana cover band that is like 300,000 times better than you’re even thinking. I’ve seen them twice, the most recent time being a few weeks ago when they played In Utero from start to finish, and it was amazing. This is what I mean right here. On their own, though, Deer Tick are great, the kind of whiskey-pickled country music that kicks and bucks. Their latest finds them calming down a bit, polishing up their ambling sound without losing any of the grit.

Mazzy Star, Seasons Of Your Day: And, hey, while we’re at it, there’s a new Mazzy Star record out today that way more people than I expected are excited about. The thing about Mazzy Star is that they are secretly one of the most influential bands on indie rock of the last 15 or so years — way, way more than the usual roster of bands that gets cited. So that should cheer up Hope Sandoval for like 6 seconds, maybe. Aww, I’m just kidding, gloomy! We love ya! Andrew Perry says:

Time often seems to stand still. The magic of old lights up every track, but there’s plenty on Seasons Of Your Day that furthers the Mazzy brief. The album glides into “In the Kingdom” on near-church-y organ riff, Sandoval imagining taking “a train into the city,” drifting out on an easy rhythm exquisitely coloured by Roback’s sublime, reverb-heavy electric twang.

Elton John, The Diving Board: Let’s just keep right on rolling with the comebacks with the latest from Sir Elton, produced by T Bone Burnett, who is kind of the Rick Rubin for people who don’t want their records to sound like they were recorded in a pitch-black airlock after being force-read the complete works of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. John’s voice is ragged but his classical piano work hasn’t been better. If you do nothing else with your day, you must read Barry Walters‘ stunning, no-note-left-unturned Icon piece on Sir Elton. It’s damn near perfect. Take that, Solzhenitsyn. Of the new record, Barry says:

As its artwork and song titles like “My Quicksand” suggest, this is Elton at his most serious, like the world-weary elements of Blue Moves without comic relief, or The Big Picture without synths. Continuing the T Bone Burnett alliance that began with 2010′s The Union, Elton generates beaucoup ballads here but few pop tunes: His keyboard melodies are consistently far more finessed than what he’s singing. His voice is at its most ragged, but his classical piano work has rarely been better, and there’s little to distract from those facts.

Kings of Leon, Mechanical Bull: Here’s a thing: I’m not overly mad at the Kings of Leon. In the course of my career as a rock critic, I’ve seen them live about 10 times, and those songs, little by little, won me over. The last time I saw them, they took the stage to Scott Walker’s “The Electrician.” Of the new one — their first after a long-ish hiatus — Ryan Reed says:

The make-or-break moment on Kings of Leon’s sixth LP is “Walk a Mile,” a grandiose, slow-burning arena-rock anthem built on lonely guitar twang, a ghostly choir, and pizzicato strings. Depending on what kind of fan you are, it’s either the band’s syrupy tipping point — or their maximalist masterpiece. Really, it’s both. They’re no longer the scrappy backwoods teens they started as, and their evolution has been subtle but substantive: They’ve embellished their sound with bits of fractured art-rock and honest-to-gosh country. But with Mechanical Bull, they’ve managed to synthesize all these elements in ways that feel fresh and vibrant.

CHVRCHES, The Bones of What You Believe: I am pretty on board with this band! Triumphant, starry-eyed electropop sweetened by Lauren Mayberry’s caramel vocals. If you caught the Knife on their way out of Anchorman 2 when they were still laughing about all the good parts and you asked them to write a song, this is how it might turn out. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Icona Pop, This Is Icona Pop: I am going to assume that you’ve already heard breakout hit “I Love It” on account of you have ears and this is the 21st Century. The rest of the record seeks to match that single’s cheeky exuberance; there’s lots of hot pink synth streaks, top-of-lungs choruses, four-on-the-floor fist-punk bass beats and an overall sense of exuberance and giddiness.

Jesu, Everyday I Get Closer to the Light from Which I Came: For a band known for their ominous drones and suffocating sounds, the latest from Justin Broadrick draws on unusual inspiration: his experiences as a first time parent. Then again, the last Sunn O))) record featured a guest spot by Teddy Ruxpin, so what do I know? This one is RECOMMENDED Jon Wiederhorn says:

The new album strikes a balance between the sprawling epics of old and the organic shoegazer rock of Jesu’s last couple of records. Motivated, perhaps, by a near-complete lack of sleep, Broadrick crafted, surreal, multi-layered songs that abound with ethereal sounds, yet hold together as concrete, multi-dimensional tracks. “Homesick” expresses the duality of being away from loved ones with a monochromatic drum machine beat, a droning down-tuned riff and a simple, celestial guitar line.

The Proctors, Everlasting Light: It’s possible that I haven’t been paying the closest attention, but it feels like it’s been a long, long time since there was a release by Shelflife Records. I was pretty obsessed with this label a while back — cotton candy C86-style twee pop, with a roster full of bands that emphasize pouty, vaguely Anglophilic melody lines. The Proctors are no different — heartsick choruses sit at the center of these spun-sugar jangle-pop songs. Sarah Records R.I.P.

Frankie Rose, Herein Wild: We love Frankie Rose, man. Her latest picks up, sonically, where the outstanding Interstellar left off, but it’s a little more earthy and moody and toothy where the former was drifting and ethereal. Annie Zaleski says:

Herein Wild feels like a logical progression from Rose’s past work. Like Interstellar, the record contains plenty of lush, keyboard-gilded indie-pop — highlighted by the lilting Sarah Records homages “Sorrow” and “Into Blue” and the burbling, Stereolab-like “Question Reason” — and textures influenced by the Cure’s bleakest early days (the frantic drums and deep-cutting bass line of “The Depths,” cyclone-like synth spirals on “Minor Times”). The difference is that Herein Wild‘s more deliberate approach adds gravitas to Rose’s longing and melancholy, and lightness to her more optimistic moments.

Fresh & Onlys, Soothsayer: It’s a testament to how prolific the Fresh & Onlys are that the fact that they haven’t released a record since last year makes it seem like they’ve been away forever. This is a short one — just six songs to tide us over until the next full batch of F&O jams. I could not find a track from this to embed basically anywhere. I tried. Lord knows I tried.

The Shondes, The Garden: The latest from Brooklyn band combines big, gleaming anthemic hooks with rushing violins and tense, nervy guitars. There’s a heft to these songs that commands attention — a confidence and a sense of purpose. Imagine a tougher take on the Pretenders or a less-melodramatic Amanda Palmer or Patti Smith at her best and you’re getting close. Huge hooks, delivered with gusto.

Tanya Morgan, Rubber Souls: AWESOME. First new Tanya Morgan record in a long, long time. I was in love with Brooklynati, but feels like a lifetime since that one came out. It’s been a long time, Tanya Morgan. You shouldn’t have left us. Nate Patrin says:

On Rubber Souls Tanya Morgan merge that spirit with a neo-soul vibe a decade ahead of their more direct lyrical influences. That live-band sound, provided by producer 6th Sense and a cast of sharp session players, switches things up ably — deep slow-ride bass murmurs and airy guitar strums on “The Day I,” mellow g-funk synth bounce on “Never Too Much,” funkadelic dark-alley foot-chase tension on “Pick It Up,” and snapping-tight snares throughout.

Ha Ha Tonka, Lessons: Big, booming, triumphant, kinda roots-rocky but honestly kinda just rocky outing from this four-piece would fit pretty comfortably alongside the aforementioned Kings of Leon outing (which, as we’ve covered already, I consider a compliment). The songs have drive and pulse and push and are richly-layered and rally around the kind of choruses that get stuck in your head before they’re even finished.

Oh Land, Wishbone: Eerie, fizzy synth-based pop music that’s bright and quirky. There’s a little bit of Ellie Goulding here, but it’s a shade darker and more forbidding than that; twitching guitars tiptoe through braille-book keyboards for smoky pop that’s strangely alluring.

Night Beats, Night Beats: I got way, way into the album this band made for Trouble in Mind back in 2011, and it doesn’t sound like they’ve lost a thing. What you’ve got here is some dark, doomy jangle-psych: bug-eyed acid-freakout vocals, booming tom-tom percussion and wavy, miragelike guitars. If you went to a party in the late ’60s at someone’s loft and there was a band playing at the front of the room while someone projected an educational movie about space over top of them, this is what that band would sound like. Probably someone would be idly banging a tambourine. This one is RECOMMENDED. Burger Records is putting out the cassette, because of course they are.

Golden Animals, Hear Eye Go: On that same label, the Reverberation Appreciation Society, come Golden Animals, who have the same kind of wall-of-echo approach as Night Beats, but they’re doomier and spookier. I’d compare them to the Doors, but how many times can one man mention the Doors in 2013? Besides, this is better: starker and spookier and with more translucence. RECOMMENDED

Georgia Anne Muldrow as Jyoti, Denderah: Georgia Anne Muldrow’s outer-space psych-jazz odysseys have been fascinating to me for a while now. Usually she sings, making the whole thing feel that much weirder and more psychedelic. This one is just instrumental, but that will suffice. This is more traditional than her usual left-field offerings, but still worth a listen.

TRAAMS, Grin: TRAAMS are a British band with a fondness for scuzz and snarl and tension. The songs on their debut are coiled knots, ragged guitars seething and hissing and vocalist Stu Hopkins wailing desperately above them. It’s a panicked, clawing record, one where the songs quake and tremble as if they’ve just witnessed something awful and violent. RECOMMENDED

National Wake, Walk in Africa: 1979-81: This is awesome. Here’s the deal: National Wake were formed in South Africa in 1978 and drew not only from the local polyrhythmic traditional music, but also from super spiky UK post-punk like Gang of Four and early Wire. The result is gloriously kinetic music, beats that ping-pong around like super bounce balls in a concrete shed, vocals that are snarling while still being defiantly melodic. Only 700 copies of this album were ever released before it was withdrawn under government pressure. It is a lost classic, ripe for rediscovery. It’s also HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Au Revoir Simone, Move in Spectrums: Alongside the Oh Land and the CHVRCHES, Au Revoir Simone are the OG’s of the wistful, synthy game. This one is less mysterious than their earlier outings, more rooted in confident pop melodies and forthright choruses — the sound of someone yanking back the black curtains and letting the sun pour in.

Girls Against Boys, The Ghost List EP: This is a new Girls Against Boys EP! You know what that means: lots of stomach-turning, grimy instrumentation (“Fade Out” knicks Suicide’s “Ghost Rider” like M.I.A. did before them) with a lot of dead-pan non-linear lyrics so that the end result is something like The Hold Steady reading every third word of a William Gibson novel while some infernal punk band grinds away behind them. If you have never heard a Girls Against Boys song, this might not be the place to start (also I do not recognize the world in which you live) but long time fans will be psyched.

Totally Slow, Totally Slow: Revved-up pop-punk from this North Carolina band that lands somewhere between Japandroids and Knapsack, with a healthy dash of early ’00s mall punk for good measure. That’s not a dis, even though it sounds like one. There’s just the tiniest bit of polish, but a whole lotta gruff. Which, coincidentally, is the tagline to the new series of romance/hardboiled detective novels I’m working on, The Adventures of Louie Casanova.

Touche Amore, Is Survived By: Freaked-out screamo with throat-ruining vocals and peak-and-collapse dynamic. Suddenly, all of the kids are discovering late ’90s emo at once, man. This is the next big revival. You heard it here first. And you heard it everywhere like 15 years ago.

Heaven’s Gate, Transmuting: Spike the fangs-bared fury of hard rock with the ether-huffing wooze of shoegaze and you get Heaven’s Gate, a band of fantastic ferocity and terrifying volume. There’s a kind of goth doominess to the proceedings, but what it has above all else is a kind of unshakable violence. It’s RECOMMENDED

Allen Toussaint, Songbook: Two gigs at New York’s Joe’s Pub are captured here. Britt Robson says:

Toussaint’s dignified yet unpretentious personal style extends to his music. Crooning, melisma and smooth shifts in rhythm are deployed sparingly but to maximum effect in his vocals, so that even the quasi-novelty tunes he turned into hits with Lee Dorsey nearly 50 years ago (“Holy Cow,” “Working In A Coal Mine”) don’t clash with his versions of poignant ballads he minted for Irma Thomas (“It’s Raining”), Etta James (“With You In Mind”) and Esther Phillips (“Sweet Touch of Love”). And his piano work — a silkier variation on Professor Longhair’s second-line style — epitomizes New Orleans funk-and-roll, especially on a glorious medley of “Certain Girl,” “Mother-in-Law,” “Fortune Teller” and “Working in a Coal Mine,” and his instrumental take on the classic “St. James Infirmary.”

Various Artists, Rough Guide to Voodoo: I repped for these Rough Guides here in last week’s installment, and I continue to do so this week. They’re really good! This one first and foremost dispels the notion of Voodoo as some weird cult thing as depicted in movies of yore; rather, it’s simply a Hatian tribal religion with its own songs and chants and music. This compilation concentrates on the influence of that music both in Africa and America (there’s a Dr. John song, for example). A fascinating study.

Sting, The Last Ship: Sting has, apparently, had a pretty severe case of writer’s block for the last few years. Alas, all good things must come to an end.