This is one of the busiest release weeks of the year so far (a good problem to have!), so I’m just gonna skip the intro talk and get right to the 12 (!) albums I highlight this week. And those aren’t even counting this week’s many big honorable mentions: Modest Mouse, The Mountain Goats, Darkthrone, Pom Pom Squad, Hiss Golden Messenger, John Grant, the first Iceburn album in over 20 years, Gaspard Augé (Justice), Lawrence Rothman (ft. Lucinda Williams, Amanda Shires, Caroline Rose & Katie Pruitt), Robert Fripp & The Grid, Lightning Bug, The HIRS Collective, Free Throw, Hellish Form, Matthew Dear, Split Single, Faye Webster, Helvetia (mem Duster), Cautious Clay, Drug Store Romeos, Rose City Band (Wooden Shjips, Moon Duo), SPELLLING, 2nd Grade, Stöner (ex-Kyuss), Flight Mode, Votto, Lustmord & Karin Park, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog, LoneLady, Deathchant, Cerebral Rot, The Marías, Squirrel Flower, Withered, UB40, Hurry, The JB Conspiracy, the Worlds Worst EP, the Kevin Devine EP, the Drug Church EP, the Wild Pink EP, and the Agent Mulder / Bad Acid Trip split.
Read on for my picks. What’s your favorite release of the week?
Backxwash – I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses
Ugly Hag Records
The highly prolific and fast-rising Canadian artist Backxwash follows her Polaris Prize-winning 2020 album God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It with I Lie Here Buried With My Rings and My Dresses, and the new album might be even more intense and confrontational than its predecessor. The album blurs the lines between rap, industrial, extreme metal and more, and it features a dream pop hook from Sad13, and it manages to seamlessly fuse elements of rap and rock without ever being “rap rock.” It’s easy to compare it to things like Death Grips and Yeezus and clipping (whose producers contributed to this album), but Backxwash is also a huge fan of bands like Liturgy and Code Orange, and not only did two Code Orange members contribute to this LP, but this is music that would appeal to fans of those bands too. It’s also a little bit like a rap version of Lingua Ignota; both artists make music inspired by pain and they sound like they’re either suffering from or inflicting pain while recording it. (When a fan tweeted out the idea of them collaborating, Backxwash said “I would love to get her on the next one!!!” and Lingua added, “We are gonna make something happen I feel it in me bones.”) It’s abrasive, visceral music and it leaves an impact that lingers even after the record stops.
Tyler, the Creator – Call Me If You Get Lost
Tyler, the Creator is back with a new album, and it takes the melodic experimentation of IGOR to new places while also bringing back Tyler, the Rapper. You can read my first-impressions review of the album here.
SAULT – NINE
Forever Living Originals
Mysterious collective SAULT released two of our favorite albums of 2020 with Untitled (Black Is) and Untitled (Rise), both of which are lengthy, intense, genre-less albums. Today they follow it with NINE, which is about half the length as Black Is, and which is only available for 99 days before SAULT remove it from digital platforms. (It’s a free download on their website, so grab it now while you can.) NINE may be shorter, but it’s no less of a triumph. It’s a seamless mix of ’70s funk & soul, post-punk, jazz, dub, Afrobeat, hip hop, psychedelic pop, and more, and it’s an album that’s both melancholic and direct, with a few moments of brightness peaking through. SAULT’s lineup is still somewhat mysterious, but we know the group’s producer is Little Simz/Michael Kiwanuka collaborator Inflo, whose production is as immersive with SAULT as it is with those artists. Kiwanuka was on Black Is and Simz is on NINE. Her voice not only fits in perfectly with SAULT’s musical world, it makes for a show-stopping moment on an album that’s full of them.
Lucy Dacus – Home Video
When Lucy Dacus sings, it always feels less like she’s performing and more like she’s speaking to you directly. Her tone is very casual — melodic but rarely belted, even on her loudest songs — and her lyrics feel ripped directly from memories and conversations that she may have actually had. That’s been true since day one, and on her third album Home Video, she’s better at it than ever. She’s also continuing to expand her sonic palette. The album does have some loud songs, like the anthemic heartland rock of opener “Hot & Heavy” and the distorted indie rock of “First Time,” but it also has very quiet ones, like the piano balladry of “Christine,” the bubbling ambient pop of “Thumbs,” and the campfire folk of “Going Going Gone,” which features harmonies from her boygenius bandmates Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, as well as Mitski. (Julien and Phoebe are also on “Please Stay.”) Then there’s the song that’s way out of left field, “Partner In Crime,” where Lucy sings in heavily manipulated auto-tune over a lumbering rock rhythm section. She calls the auto-tune a “happy accident,” done out of necessity after a vocal injury, but “it ended up influencing the arrangement and fitting with the meaning about disguising yourself to be more attractive.” It makes for a nice contrast that it’s back to back with “Going Going Gone” on the tracklist. The contrast really drives home the point that — no matter how organic or synthetic — Lucy Dacus will always sound like Lucy Dacus.
MIKE – Disco!
Since 2017, MIKE’s released at least one project a year and he just gets better and better with each one. On Disco!, he doesn’t stray too far from his now-trademark style — a hazy collage of samples (here entirely self-produced under his DJ Blackpower guise) and stream-of-consciousness rapping — he just continues to hone in on what makes him one of the kings of NYC’s underground, experimental rap scene. As a producer, MIKE’s done some of his finest work yet on Disco!, and he continues to grow as a rapper as well. MIKE’s subtle delivery can appear monotone at first, but it’s actually full of personality, especially on Disco!, which is one of his warmest and brightest albums yet. It’s still too psychedelic to ever qualify as party music, but it’s fun music, and you can tell MIKE had fun making it; sometimes, you can almost hear him laughing and smiling in the vocal booth. Still, it’s just as dense as his previous albums and still not “accessible” in the traditional sense. As ever, MIKE makes music for outsiders, and he remains increasingly good at it.
Amenra – De Doorn
Belgium’s Amenra have been at it for two decades, churning out towering, atmospheric, bone-crushing post-metal in the spirit of Neurosis, who took them on multiple tours and put their last two albums out on their Neurot Recordings label. Now though, Amenra are on Neurosis’ former home of Relapse Records, and their Relapse debut is their first full-length to break from their Mass series. It’s also their first sung entirely in Flemish, and their first to pair Colin H. van Eeckhout’s throat-shredding screams with the soaring clean vocals of Caro Tanghe of fellow Belgian band Oathbreaker. It’s an album of firsts, but it’s also classic Amenra. When they reach their heavy, sludgy climaxes, you feel it in your bones as much as you did on the Mass albums. It gives you more of what you want from this reliably great band, and it’s also impressive how fresh Amenra manage to sound from album to album. It’s not everyday a band two decades into their career still sounds this hungry.
Doja Cat – Planet Her
Doja Cat’s rise to the top has been truly fascinating. Seven years ago, she was a promising new artist stirring up buzz for her debut single “So High.” Then came the viral “bitch, i’m a cow” meme in 2018 — the same year she released her debut album Amala — that brought her widespread mainstream attention. For some artists, the meme song/video would be a brief 15 minutes of fame, but for Doja Cat, it’s now just a footnote of her career. 2019 brought the release of her sophomore album Hot Pink, an album that’s spent the past two years spawning some of the biggest singles in the world, including the No. 1 hit “Say So.” Between those songs, and recent guest appearances on songs by Saweetie, City Girls, Bebe Rexha, Ariana Grande, and more, Doja Cat’s unmistakable voice has been unavoidable all across the radio and TikTok and Spotify playlists and wherever else you hear mainstream music. Not even a series of controversies could slow her down.
Now she releases her third album, Planet Her, which offers up 14 new songs, two of which are already hits (“Kiss Me More” ft. SZA and “Need to Know”). In addition to SZA, the album features Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, Young Thug, and JID. Like Hot Pink, Planet Her weaves between rap, pop, and R&B, leaning most heavily on the latter two. I can’t predict if it will birth as many as hits as Hot Pink did, but the odds seem like they’re in Doja Cat’s favor. Every song is just as catchy as the last, and it seems like any one of them could be her next breakout song, especially the ones that pair her with megastars like Ariana and The Weeknd.
Bfb Da Packman – Fat N****s Need Love Too
The Lunch Crew Company
Bfb Da Packman was raised in Flint, Michigan, though he now lives in Houston, and he’s spent the past couple years establishing himself as one of the most ridiculous, unforgettable, and funny voices to come out of the thriving Michigan rap scene. Following buzzed-about singles like “Free Joe Exotic,” “Honey Pack,” and “Fun Time,” Packman now releases his proper debut album, featuring those songs and 15 other tracks. The album has guest appearances from fellow Michigan rappers like Sada Baby, Payroll Giovanni, and DDG (the latter of whom is on a newer remix of “Honey Pack,” which also features Atlanta’s Lil Yachty, who also put out his own mixtape showcasing the Michigan scene this year), as well as other big names like Wiz Khalifa, Coi Leray, Benny the Butcher, and Zack Fox. A few of them manage to steal the show (Benny, Coi, Sada), but for the most part it’s all ears on Packman, who proves he can sound as outrageous as he did on “Free Joe Exotic” for the length of an entire album. As you’d expect if you heard the singles, Packman spends a lot of the album just seeing how ridiculous his punchlines can be, but he also gets serious, talking about the Flint water crisis and making political references multiple times. It’s a good mix, and it suggests that Packman should have no trouble escaping whatever anyone tries to pigeonhole him into.
Maple Glider – To Enjoy is the Only Thing
Melbourne/Naarm-based artist Tori Zietsch had been making music with other projects for a few years before adopting the moniker Maple Glider and embracing the warm, folky sounds of the ’60s/’70s Laurel Canyon era. Her debut album as Maple Glider, To Enjoy is the Only Thing, is out now, and it feels like the work of a seasoned artist with an old soul. As soon as you click play, you’re greeted by Tori’s show-stopping voice. It’s hard not to be hooked, and if you are, you’ll find that Tori holds your attention for the length of the entire album. She’s far from the only artist to embrace this kind of music in recent years (Jessica Pratt, Joan Shelley, the earlier Angel Olsen and Weather Station releases, etc), but even with a sound that’s so nostalgic and familiar, To Enjoy is the Only Thing feels like the arrival of an artist with a bright future.
L’Rain – Fatigue
L’Rain, the moniker of Brooklyn musician Taja Cheek, follows her 2017 self-titled debut album with her second album and first for Mexican Summer, Fatigue. Like her debut, Fatigue totally breaks down barriers between genres, offering up an experimental blend of glitchy electronics, jazz, soul, art pop, and more, using a mix of found sound, organic instrumentation, synthesizers, and Taja’s own soaring voice. But Fatigue also improves upon its predecessor; it’s produced better, Taja’s voice is stronger and more in the forefront, and the songs pop out at you and stick with you more. It sits perfectly atop the fence between experimental and pop, sometimes leaning more in one direction than the other, but never fully jumping onto either side. It takes serious craft to toe that line as well as L’Rain does on Fatigue, an album that feels accessible and welcoming without ever sacrificing its complex innovation.
Hiatus Kaiyote – Mood Valiant
In the time since Australian soul/funk/psych band Hiatus Kaiyote last released an album (2015’s Choose Your Weapon), the group’s music was sampled by The Carters (Beyonce & Jay-Z), Kendrick Lamar, Anderson .Paak, Chance The Rapper, and Drake, the latter of whom also featured Hiatus Kaiyote singer Nai Palm on his album Scorpion. Also in that time, Nai battled and recovered from breast cancer, and now the band re-emerge with their third album and first for Brainfeeder/Ninja Tune, Mood Valiant. It’s not hard to see why so many hip hop giants wanted to sample their music; Hiatus Kaiyote tap into the sounds of the same ’70s psychedelic soul and funk records that rappers have been sampling since the late ’80s, and they do a ton of justice to that sound. Mood Valiant is no exception, and I might even say it sounds more modern than its predecessor, with an airy vocal delivery from Nai Palm that recalls the future-soul of an artist like Solange more so than it recalls the 1970s. It’s also an album that fits right in on Brainfeeder, a label that’s built on the kinds of gooey basslines that Hiatus Kaiyote’s Paul Bender offers up throughout Mood Valiant. And not that Hiatus Kaiyote didn’t already have a warm, lush sound, but the heavily-layered string and horn arrangements of Mood Valiant make this their most gorgeous, maximalist work yet.
Spitboy – Body Of Work (1990-1995)
When you look at the landscape of ’90s punk today, the playing field’s been leveled a bit. Still-popular megastars like blink-182, underground legends like Bikini Kill, and redemption stories like Jawbreaker now all headline the same festivals, and there are plenty of great, much-loved bands in between that continue to be discovered by new fans and influence today’s music. Still, there are some true gems that fall between the cracks, and one of those gems is Spitboy, a fiercely feminist punk band who frequented 924 Gilman and put out releases on Lookout!, Ebullition, and Allied Recordings (including a split with Los Crudos) whose fans and allies included members of Green Day, Operation Ivy, Fugazi, Neurosis, Citizen Fish, Alice Bag, and more. They don’t get the same recognition today that many of their popular peers do, but this new discography compilation from Don Giovanni Records aims to change that. Body Of Work (1990-1995) is the band’s first official full-discography compilation, and it features newly-remastered versions of all of their material and marks the first time that all of Spitboy’s music will be available on streaming services. It also features liner notes from one of the band’s biggest fans, Green Day frontman Billie Joe Armstrong. “They were one of those bands that were a prequel to what the future was becoming,” he wrote. “Feminism, human rights, animal rights, environmental protection, gender issues… Spitboy was singing about these issues 30 fucking years ago. I’m so grateful to have witnessed it.”
Spitboy’s music did indeed hint at — and perhaps helped inspire — the future of punk, and their music remains vital today. They took on those issues in a way that was pointed and powerful, and their songs had messages that carry just as much weight in 2021 as they did 25-30 years ago. Drummer, lyricist, and author of the memoir The Spitboy Rule: Tales of a Xicana in a Female Punk Band Michelle “Todd” Gonzales (who also played in Bitch Fight and Kamala and the Karnivores before Spitboy) became a professor, and she compared her two careers, saying “If Spitboy were a class, we’d be a gender studies class.” They’re a band where the message is always in the forefront, but it wasn’t just the messages, it was also how they delivered them. Adrienne Droogas’ shout was as ferocious as anything happening within punk and hardcore at the time, with just the right amount of melody to rope people in and make them listen to what Spitboy had to say, and the band’s music was dark, heavy, and angular in a way that rivaled what Fugazi and Jawbox and other post-hardcore bands were doing at the time, but still with the raw simplicity of punk intact. They existed within the same venn diagram as a lot of notable ’90s punk bands, but they never really sounded exactly like any of their peers. Spitboy carved out their own space within punk, and even all these years later, that space still belongs to them.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or keep scrolling down for previous weeks.
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