A big batch of new releases this week, with something to satisfy nearly every musical taste. If you can’t find something you like between this roundup and Dave Sumner’s soon-coming jazz roundup, chances are you’re not looking hard enough. Here we go!
Crystal Castles, (III): Another hyper-compress blast of deeply danceable bad feelings. Andrew Parks writes:
Crystal Castles remain as vinegary and vicious as ever on (III), a pressure-cooked LP that melds the mercurial mood swings of singer Alice Glass with Ethan Kath’s volcanic builds, lumbering bass lines, heat-seeking synths and shifty breakdowns that suck the listener into a black hole of absolute despair. That’s the thing about Crystal Castles – the more successful they get, the more miserable they seem to become. And not in a woe-is-me, we-sure-miss-playing-basement-shows sort of way either … . Like the most genuine hardcore music of the Reagan era, (III) is a battle cry that can’t be contained, only this time it’s being presented through a web of whiplashed loops and barbed wire beats.
Brian Eno, Lux: As Andrew Parks hilariously puts it in his eMusic review: “Well, it’s abouty goddamn time.” After years of resume-padding work, Eno returns with what Parks dubs Music For Airports! Part Deux. Here’s more:
The album stretches four wide-span tracks over 76 minimal, slow-moving minutes, which makes sense when you consider they were originally written for an Italian art installation where a sound system randomly played sustained chords, phantom voices and the plink, plop and plunk of a disembodied piano depending on where you walked within the gallery space. Being trapped on the moon or inside the glass cage of a snow globe must feel, and sound, a lot like this.
Sufjan Stevens, Silver & Gold: Sufjan returns with another entry in his lovely, generous series of Christmas-themed seasonal records. Like the other volumes, it’s a mix of quirky takes on carols and originals. Pat Rapa did a Harpers Index-style breakdown of each of the five new volumes here — I wasn’t kidding when I called this series “generous” — to give you the aerial view. Read the whole thing here — it’s worth it — and here’s the synopsis:
. By now, you should know the drill: Every year he gathers some musical friends and stitches together an EP to send out to loved ones. Some of the songs are standards, lovingly rendered. Some are standards, flipped into rock songs or spooky ballads. A lot of Stevens’s holiday tunes are originals, either sincere in their cheer or absurd, moody or baffling. (“Christmas Unicorn” is all of these.) Stevens’s last five holiday EPs are finally collected in the new Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas Vols. 6-10, a collection that’s as upbeat and earnest as it is completely bonkers.
Clinic, Free Reign: The long-running Liverpudlian noise-rock/post-punk outfit return. Andrew Parks writes:
Now seven albums and nearly 15 years into a career that never quite caught fire here in the States, the main constant in Clinic’s sound is their love of melancholic melodicas and cobweb-encrusted organs. So while the Liverpool-based quartet still slip their surgical masks on every night, their trend-skirting brand of psych-pop revivalism got decidedly slower on their last LP (2010â€²s aptly-titled Bubblegum) and considerably looser this time around.Free Reign is just that – a dead-eyed journey down a rabbit hole that never seems to end.
Soundgarden, King Animal: These guys were one of my favorite bands once. I’m unsure if this constitutes an embarrassing revelation at the moment or not. I still think both Superunknown and Badmotorfinger are pretty unfuckwithable. Here’s Bill Murphy with his take on their first new studio record since Down on the Upside:
No one else can really deliver the Seattle stock-and-trade of sinewy groove-metal (“By Crooked Steps”), quasi-orchestral narcotic fugues (“Bones of Birds”) and phantasmagorical, endlessly unfolding campfire jams (“Black Saturday”), and that’s really why Soundgarden’s long absence has left such a gaping hole in what passes for heartfelt hard rock these days. The restless passion is still there, coursing through Kim Thayil’s sitar-like guitar drones on “A Thousand Days Before” or living in the diamond-hard Sabbath riffs of “Eyelids Mouth.” Best of all, Cornell hasn’t lost his defiant scream; he hits it at will on the floor-shaking “Non-State Actor,” and all suddenly seems right with the world.
Deftones, Koi No Yokan: The most underrated band! Stay tuned for our Skeptics’ Guide to Deftones, in which we will make the case that its early association with the “nu-metal” moment in pop history has forever done a disservice to one of the best Cure-influenced hard rock bands of the last ten years. Here’s Bill Murphy on their latest:
The music here is actually harder, tighter, tougher and more dynamic than 2010â€²s Diamond Eyes, which, besides bearing the thumbprint of producer Nick Raskulinecz (Foo Fighters, Rush, Alice in Chains et al), also introduced Quicksand bassist Sergio Vega to the fold. Where Diamond Eyes felt bogged down by a heavy sense of soul-searching, Koi No Yokan is the work of a band that’s stepping into the light again. Raskulinecz’s penchant for sculpting sound is front-and-center, particularly on “Rosemary,” where guitarist Stephen Carpenter cops Floyd-like delays in a tip of the hat to David Gilmour, and in the otherworldly psychscape that opens “Goon Squad.”
The Weeknd, Trilogy: Breakout R&B stars The Weeknd compile their acclaimed first three mixtapes into one massive Trilogy for their official major-label debut. Barry Walters, in this gem of a review, calls the music “30 songs almost solely devoted to conjuring up the hallucinatory sights, sounds and spirit of psychotropic sport-fucking binges, as well as their ensuing physical and emotional fallout,” and only gets on a roll from there:
Over the course of nearly 160 minutes, Abel Tesfaye consumes enough weed, coke, X, booze and cough medicine cocktails to kill a small army while boning enough strippers, pole dancers, groupies and slumming debutantes to breed a new one … If he had ordinary lyrical talents or sang with the machoness his control-fixated mentality implies, or set his tales of conquest and vice to generic beats, the Weeknd would be little more than aural porn. But Tesfaye is a finely detailed storyteller with an eerie, ethereal voice that suggests Michael Jackson’s wounded inner child, and his multi-instrumentalist producers Doc McKinney (formerly half of Esthero) and Illangelo create a suitably soporific netherworld soundtrack that mixes rhythm-box R&B with slo-mo indie-rock, muted metal, and blunted EDM.
How To Destroy Angels EP: Trent Reznor’s suitably creepy How To Destroy Angels project, a collaboration with his wife Mariqueen Mandig, Atticus Ross and Rob Sheridan, merges his industrial past with the more diaphanous soundtrack work of his more recent years. Annie Zaleski writes:
Ominous restraint marks the sparse, folk-inspired “Ice age,” which revolves around a thrumming acoustic guitar loop and Maandig’s unadorned vocals, while the equally spare “The sleep of reason produces monsters” is a mostly-instrumental lullaby with gentle, bubbling keyboards. In contrast, other songs onAn omen are dense and complex. On the despairing “On the wing,” Maandig and Reznor’s murmured vocals share time with muffled piano and fat electronic beats which resemble splotchy raindrops; “Speaking in tongues” grafts sharp, plucked tones to chanting vocals and haywire electronic effects; and “Keep it together” is a brooding number with perforated digital beats Joy Division-esque background guitars.
The Babies, Our House on the Hill: Cassie Ramone of the Vivian Girls and Kevin Morby of the Woods reunite for their plaintive lovely lo-fi indie-pop takes on youth and disappointment. Matthew Fritch writes:
These are songs about youth and struggle and isolation, concepts that would seem to garner little sympathy in Greenpoint and Williamsburg, but take on outsized significance wherever the remaining Duckies of the world live and fight in the decades after twee-pop and zines. With a tempo-swerving electric-guitar strum worthy of the Wedding Present and a cocky desperation inherited from Comet Gain, Morby spends opening track “Alligator” detailing exactly how to short-arm life: no job, no girlfriend and no prospects. Call it artless, or jam your fists deeper into your pockets and walk on with this album at your back.
Holly Herndon, Movement: I love this record. Herndon is an MFA graduate in Electronic Composition who spent her teenage years DJing in Berlin, and Movement, her debut on RVNG, feels like sound installation has taken up camp inside your skull. Good for: dancing, curling up in tight ball underneath desk, both.
Lust For Youth, Growing Seeds: Dark, forensic, deeply minimalist synth jams from Sacred Bones. Here’s our own J. Edward Keyes with more:
The debut from the Gothenberg act Lust for Youth – essentially the alias of one Hannes Norvide – feels like it’s set deep inside some ice cave in the outer reaches of the uninhabited arctic. The synths are as chilly and rigid as stalactites, and Norvide’s voice – a crude, teenage-Robert Smith holler – bounces up from somewhere deep, dark and unseen. The minimalism is as much a pragmatic matter as an aesthetic one: Norvide recorded the album in his bedroom on borrowed equipment, and the record doesn’t waste time with unnecessary flourishes. The songs are built on fat, steel-cold synth bars and usually consist of little more than a drum track and a single melody line. Sonically, it rivals the primitivism of early minimalists like The Normal, but it feels bleaker and more nihilistic. That such relentlessly despondent sounds were inspired by, to quote Norvide directly, “new love,” feels like some philosophy major’s perverse joke.
Roc Marciano, Reloaded: Roughed-up NYC revivalist rap from a rapper who isn’t so much mourning a lost world in rap as refusing to leave it. Here’s, um, me, with more:
Roc Marciano makes rap that you know well already, even as you’re hearing it for the first time: His music exists to remind what NYC rap sounds like in the idealized bubble of your memory, and he’s frighteningly good at it. He’s so good, in fact, that after awhile you forget that his music is a kind of Civil War reenactment, one in which Swizz Beatz plays General Sherman and the Battle of Five Forks is the moment he started fooling with a Casio. Marciano’s rap world exists before all of that, a vanished kingdom of urban despair, gnarled street slang, and unglamorous night shifts conducted out in front of public housing … The album is so absorbing, and so rigorous in its channeling of her’on-gray-sky gloom of the era it rightfully belongs to, that after awhile, timelines dissolve and you’re just left with Marciano and his ghosts.
Lee Perry, The Sound Doctor: The always-excellent Pressure Sounds label brings us a batch of songs Perry recorded at his legendary studio between 1972 and ’78. Not as dubby as you might expect — this is rather a really terrific batch of sunny reggae songs, solid, bright-eyed and bouncing.
Christina Aguilera, Loutus: You know, I’m just gonna be honest here — I was always kinda pulling for Christina. Of all of the pop stars of her generation, she was by far the best singer, and she seemed to have a canniness and self-possession that others did not. I even kind of quietly admired — if I didn’t exactly enjoy — Bionic, on which she paired with people like Kathleen Hanna, Ladytron and Sia. Well, that album kind of tanked, so Lotus is a bit of a retreat. It sounds fine, if unsurprising.
Green Day, Dos!: Oh, Green Day. Second installment of a planned trilogy from long-running punk band seems like maybe overkill? And there’s a third one coming? The songs are scaled back after the high-rock-opera of their last few outings, there’s just a lot of them. Fanfare dimmed a bit after Billy Joe’s public meltdown, but I still have a soft spot for this band, and they write unbelievably hooky songs. It’s just maybe this time they wrote too many of them.
Guided By Voices, The Bears for Lunch: SPEAKING OF WRITING TOO MANY SONGS. Come on, guys. This is the third GBV record of 2012, proving definitively that maybe there is such a thing as too much of something good. I dunno. Maybe I’m just whining. This sounds like GBV. You’ll be into it.
Punch Brothers, Ahoy!: The Punch Brothers are the new band helmed by Chris Thile of Nickel Creek. The songs here swing from tense and melodic to frenzied boot-stompers perfect for some kind of amphetamine square dance. Also, Thile is kind of a whiz on mandolin.
Ex-Cult, Ex-Cult: More goodies from the great folks at Goner Records! This Memphis band, formerly known as Sex Cult, bring trashy, thrashy rock and roll that occasionally nods toward the kind of locked-groove, dead-eyed punk of early Wire.
9th Wonder and Buckshot, The Solution: These two indie-rap stalwarts keep making their patented brand of Chicken Soup For the Old-School Rap Fan’s Soul. You know what to expect: pillowy soul beats, gruff rhymes.
Jozef Van Wissem & Jim Jarmusch, The Mystery of Heaven: Celebrated director teams up with celebrated lute player. The result is a dark, meditative album where clanging guitar noise provides an eerie backdrop for genuinely beautiful lute melodies from Van Wissem.
9th Wonder & Murs, The Final Adventure: Another one from 9th Wonder! As the title implies, this is his last pairing with California rapper Murs, and that’s a shame — 9th Wonder’s dusky, throwback production style is the perfect complement to Murs’s deep-set, tough-punch delivery.
Sonic Youth, Smart Bar Chicago 1985: Beware — the sound quality on this 1985 set from SY is dodgy at best. It sounds like maybe it was recorded with a small hand-held cassette recorder? But die-hard fans will find much to enjoy in this feral set from the on-hiatus band.
The Rolling Stones, Grrr: This is a hits collection from the Stones with a pair of new songs.
Tyvek, On Triple Beams: Yay, Tyvek! Rowdy, nasty, no-fi garage from these Detroit rubbish-rousers. This is minimal punk at its best — scrappy riffs and hollered vocals and choruses that are more sketches than hooks. What’s not to love?
School of Seven Bells, Put Your Sad Down: Unfortunately-titled new EP from School of Seven Bells is brighter and dancier than they’ve been in the past. I’m getting some Cure Mixed Up-type vibes from this — bubbling percussion, thumping synths and airy, breathy vocals.
Sharon Van Etten, Tramp Deluxe Edition: Expanded version of Van Etten’s masterful breakthrough Tramp gets augmented with demo versions of all of the songs that are sparer and spookier than the finished cuts.
Social Studies, Developer: This band has come along way from the reeling twee-ish sounds of their debut. This one is darker and moodier — almost like The National in tone, but leavened by the yelping vocals of frontwoman Natalia Rogovin. There’s a definite sense of darkness and melancholy at work here that is strangely alluring.
Bobby Bare, Darker Than Light: The first Bobby Bare record in about ten years! His voice sounds as rich and robust as ever, and the arrangements are quiet and restrained — which only foreground’s his big, powerful baritone. This is a mix of standards and newer songs, and it’s sure to satisfy longtime fans.
Gifts from Enola, A Healthy Fear: Fangs-bared assault from these post-punkers that slashes everything in sight. No moody atmospherics here — this is full of slashing guitars and jet-powered propulsion, with dreamy, spacey vocals gliding between the bars like galactic mist.
Bush Tetras, Happy: 1997 album from these post-punkers finally sees the light of day. Despite the fact that it’s 15 uears old, it still sounds nervy and edgy — a testament to the band’s forward thinking. Spindly guitars quiver and shake around Cynthia Sley’s sneering vocals.
Lana Del Rey, Born to Die: The Paradise Edition: Now there’s even more for you to hate! Inexplicably reviled pop sensation’s debut gets appended with a few extra songs. Maybe now that the buzz has died down, people can appreciate these sultry songs in a new light.
Tokyo String Quartet, Brahms: Quintets Op.34 & Op.115: The TSQ retackles these monumental works. Steve Holtje writes:
This is not the first time the Tokyo String Quartet has encountered these monumental works in its 44-year history; in 1987, they recorded a set for RCA with pianist Barry Douglas. The biggest difference in this set’s Piano Quintet is the sound, a vast improvement. Pianist Jon Nakamatsu, for his part, is perhaps a tad more lyrical than Douglas. It’s at least their third time in the studio with the Clarinet Quintet, the most famous being with Richard Stoltzman 19 years ago, and though half the TSQ’s membership has turned over since then, the interpretation hasn’t changed much; it’s become a bit more taut, with no loss in warmth of string tone. Clarinetist Jon Manasse has a bigger and darker sound than Stoltzman, which fits the music perfectly.
Bell Witch, Longing: Punishingly low funeral doom from this Seattle duo. What makes Bell Witch particularly unique is that the only instruments are bass and drums. Bass and drums! So you can imagine how bleak and boomy and doomy this sounds. The perfect soundtrack to the onrushing winter.