And just like that, the long, slow crawl of the summer release schedule ends and we have a million new records dumped in our laps. It might take weeks to sort through the best of this week’s releases, but in the meantime…
Nine Inch Nails, Hesitation Marks: Trent Reznor’s Indian Summer, complete with Grammys and Oscars, continues with the major-label backed return to form record, the strongest effort to bear the NIN name in years. Andrew Parks says:
The Second Coming of Trent Reznor shouldn’t be the least bit surprising. And yet, Hesitation Marks exceeds even the loftiest expectations by signaling Reznor’s sober sally years with some of his most subtle but satisfying work to date. It’s as if he was sharpening his sample banks and synth lines with How to Destroy Angels, only to emerge with material that alludes to everything from death-disco (the groove-locked guitars of “All Time Low”) to acid-techno (the snake-like leads of “Copy of A”) to Reznor’s own impressive oeuvre (the rubber-bullet beats that hammer “Came Back Haunted” home).
Neko Case, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You: Neko Case can do no wrong. She’s back with a Fiona Apple-length album title and a fine LP. Stephen Deusner says:
Neko Case has spent the last 15 years perfecting both a dark strain of alt-country and a lyrical style that rejects songwriting conventions in order to build up wholly new personal mythologies. As her songs have grown moodier and more cinematic, Case has become less willing to state anything outright, instead finding ever more circuitous routes around her subjects. Hers is a defiantly impressionistic style, both withholding and revealing, and it reaches a peak on her latest album.
Okkervil River, The Silver Gymnasium: Will Sheff and Co.’s latest is a master class on pop writing as narrative. eMusic editor-in-chief Joe Keyes says:
A dog-eared novelization of Will Sheff’s teenage years in Meridian, New Hampshire (the lyrics are even written out in paragraphs instead of verses), Gymnasium is full of the classic literary symbols of lost innocence: falling autumn leaves, broken bones, crashed cars too big for their drivers. In a way, the album’s subject matter mirrors the group’s own musical evolution. They began as gangly, fumbling youth, prizing emotional immediacy over lyrical precision, but Sheff has steadily transformed the group into a well read, nattily-attired adjunct professor with a fondness for sidecars and a deep, fanatic knowledge of Richard Brautigan.
Chelsea Wolfe, Pain is Beauty: Chelsea Wolfe goes beyond creepy on her second studio album. Ashley Melzer says:
Building her sound from layers of droning synths, crisp percussion and hypnotic strings, Wolfe harnesses a dark glamour, not too far removed from the sort of misty, doom-laden orchestral power rock of ’80s fantasy films like Ladyhawke or Labyrinth. The Warden” threads an ethereal melody over the industrial drive of programmed beats, juxtaposing expansive beauty with violence and gloom.
Volcano Choir, Repave: The second effort from Volcano Choir is sturdier and something more like Justin Vernon’s other project. Brian Howe says:
The music, alternately pastoral and explosive, cosmic and martial, shapes itself into sturdy structures from delicately trembling parts. Hints of digital manipulation stand out with detailed clarity. After a Straussian overture, “Tiderays” embarks on a winding guitar odyssey in the manner of Broken Social Scene, while “Acetate” and other tracks recall the majestic gloom of Grizzly Bear. Usually singing in his underutilized natural voice, which is low and gruff and sounds, especially on “Dancepack,” like Wolf Parade’s Dan Boeckner, Justin Vernon sparingly breaks into the vaporous falsetto on which he made his name.
Forest Swords, Engravings: The latest from English electronic producer Matthew Barnes. Andy Battaglia says:
Forest Swords suggests a series of answers to a riddle that may have never been posed but proves worth pondering nonetheless: What would reggae sound like if, in terms of overall vibe and tone, it sounded nothing like reggae at all? Forest Swords is aligned with dub, in all its ethereal, abstracted, echo-effected glory, but on Engravings, the first Forest Swords album after an auspicious EP in 2010, the genre’s tenets are treated with a different ear and a different sort of hand on the controls.
The 1975, The 1975 - I have been waiting curiously for this record to come out ever since this band was called The Slowdown in 2010 and only had one song, the incredible, Jimmy Eat World-worthy anthem “Sex.” This album has been in long, painful, major-label gestation, and they’ve arrived on the other hand a hugely keyboard-sweetened, starched-stiff 80s dance-rock outfit, about as Top 40-ready as you can sound and still be a rock band these days. I’m not mad. I AM furious at the slower, re-recorded version of “Sex” on here, which is vastly inferior to the original.
Califone, Stitches: Staying close to their concept-album format on their first LP in four years. Hilary Saunders says:
A number of religious themes pervade Stitches, marked by titles like, “Magdalene,” “moonbath.brainsalt.a.holy.fool” and “Moses.” Stitches alternates between acoustic and electronic — sometimes within songs — and Rutili moves past nontraditional instrumentation (like the recurring use of tablas), toward almost an anthropological soundtrack.
Jonathan Rado, Law and Order: One of the dudes from Foxygen already has a solo record, which Matthew Fritch says is more challenging than his band’s output:
The reductive assessment of Law and Order is that it’s simply louder and less baroque than Foxygen, but at the album’s corners — the punishing, bratty distortion of “I Wanna Feel It Now!!!,” the final track “Pot of Gold” and its ridiculous aping of Human League — it’s more challenging, too, and way more fun than Foxygen’s occasionally predictable ’60s/’70s rock groove.
Holograms, Forever: The Swedish quartet builds on their influences on their second LP. Annie Zaleski says:
Keyboards are more prevalent in the mix, from the corrugated synths humming through “Luminous” to the frantic chords dominating “Rush,” while frontman Andreas Lagerström’s reverb-coated vocals are fraught with desperation. And although Lagerström isn’t always easy to understand as he howls his way through the straightforward punk throttle “Meditations” and early Cure-influenced strum “Flesh and Bone,” the urgency in his voice is unmistakable.
Gorguts, Colored Sands: The Canadian technical death metal band returns with their first album in a dozen years. Catherine P. Lewis says:
Colored Sands is a fierce addition to Gorguts’ dissonant sound. Instead of just unleashing an unholy terror of disjointed technical riffs, the quartet builds songs that meld riffs together, with space to breathe in between. The album’s longest track, the nine-minute “Absconders,” tweaks tempos as the group shifts from one heavy groove to the next, while the title track grows to a howl from an atmospheric groan.
John Wizards, John Wizards: African and Western, traditional and modern, mashed together in a way that defies separation.
As the music project of John Withers — in conjunction with Rwandan vocalist Emmanuel Nzaramba — John Wizards dials back the cacophonous density, aggressive BPMs and neon-bright synths of their contemporaries. On their debut, they instead meld together the languid, leisurely sounds of everything from reggae to R&B slow jams.
Dave Holland & Prism, Prism: A collaboration between Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks, Eric Harland and Craig Taborn. Britt Robson says:
All four musicians individuate and coalesce in bold, dramatic, prismatic fashion. Each member contributes at least two songs, and the composer sets the tone. Drummer Eric Harland provides a gospel-soul drum-and-organ groove on “Choir,” and the gorgeous closing ballad, “Breathe,” which is a vehicle for pianist Craig Taborn. But Harland also excels at the sort brittle-beat carpet-bombing that catapulted Billy Cobham to fame.
TV Ghost, Disconnect - Vapor trails of post-punk guitar, quietly chanted and a generally sepuchral tone to this In The Red release by TV Ghost, who have toned down their earlier freneticism into something spooky and coolly remote.
Vasaeleth, All Uproarious Darkness – Sulfurous-evil belching vocals, thudding drums, and a series of death-metal gas-bursts that never quite go past four minutes. A heaving, visceral, straight-up gross death metal experience, which is the classical kind.
Vattnet Viskar, Sky Swallower - Brutally beautiful, windswept blackened doom metal from an exciting new band from New Hampshire. Like watching time-lapse footage of a flower blooming superimposed over that scene from Carrie.
Grooms, Infinity Caller - Grooms are a solid-to-excellent indie guitar-rock band, and their best and most satisfying stuff usually has that chalk-dust whiff of amateur guitar heroism that you could find in such abundance in the Pacific Northwest in the ’90s. Infinity Caller finds them sounding like them, which is good.
M.I.A., “Come Walk With Me” - This new M.I.A. single sounds horrible to me, guys. Horrible. Lord knows Maya knows her crafty way around some trolling, but this single sounds like getting sprayed in your mouth with Aquanet.
Paul McCartney, “New” - Paul McCartney’s solo career is doomed to never receive its full measure of respect. McCartney fans have made peace with this. And, one assumes, so has McCartney. It seems to be the price he has paid for being in the Beatles. Which, you know, fair enough. But he has written a lot of piercingly wonderful McCartney music, especially in the last fifteen or so years, that has almost no reputation at all. This new song feels like something he tossed off in about half an hour, a happy little paean to his “Penny Lane”-era dancehall bounce.
Chet Faker, “Melt” ft. Kilo Kish - Part of me wishes no one had ever released music commercially under the moniker “Chet Faker”; that same part of me wishes even less that it was stumbling, blunted, and harmonically interesting enough to make me type about them. But here we are in, and this song is good.