It’s another busy week for new music; I highlight eight new albums below, and Bill tackles even more in Bill’s Indie Basement, including Warpaint, Kikagaku Moyo, Belle & Sebastian, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Pink Mountaintops, The Stroppies, !!!, and more.
Plus, honorable mentions: Terror, Jack Harlow (ft. Drake, Justin Timberlake, Pharrell & Lil Wayne), Ella Mai, Flee Lord & Mephux, Leyla McCalla, Knucks, Glory Hunters, Otoboke Beaver, Ufomammut, Sadurn, Desire, Maria Chiara Argirò, Brennen Leigh, Aaron Raitiere, Suki Waterhouse, Sore Throat, The Builders and the Butchers, Midland, C Duncan, Tómarúm, Hater, Haunter, Sunflower Bean, Ibaraki (Trivium/Emperor offshoot ft. Gerard Way, Nergal), Yawners, Tzompantli, Brian Case (FACS, Disappears), cinchel, Kisskadee, Caterpillars, Stöner (ex-Kyuss), Cliffdiver, Skullshitter, Cosmic Putrefaction, Puppy, Method Man, Motor Sister (Anthrax, Armored Saint, etc), Sigrid, Silverstein, Simple Plan, the IDK & Kaytranada EP, the Bryan Ferry EP, the Anna Calvi EP, the Trauma Ray EP, the Deaf Club EP, the GILT EP, the Blunt Chunks EP, the Juliana Theory EP, the God Mother EP, the Warthog EP, the Glazed EP, the Piet Onthel EP, the Chamber EP, the Drowns EP, the Flight Mode EP, the Kate Stables (This Is The Kit) EP, the Black Crowes covers EP, the Flatland Cavalry acoustic sessions LP, the three Neil Young early ’70s live albums, the Graham Nash live album, the Red City Radio live album, the previously unreleased Karen Dalton record, the archival Norma Tanega record, the unearthed Saâda Bonaire record, and the new version of Jens Lekman‘s The Linden Trees Are Still in Blossom.
Read on for my picks. What’s your favorite release of the week?
Sharon Van Etten – We’ve Been Going About This All Wrong
Sharon Van Etten’s new album is the first of her career to be released without any pre-release singles, and this is exactly the kind of album that deserves to be heard as one grand statement. It’s dense, suspenseful, and overall darker than any album Sharon has ever released, and the music envelopes you in a way that her previous albums never did. Read my full review.
Arcade Fire – WE
WE sounds more like the Arcade Fire that made Funeral, Neon Bible, and The Suburbs than Arcade Fire have sounded in over a decade, but it feels less like a comeback and more like a rebirth. For the first time in a while, Arcade Fire sound like they’re being themselves, honing in on what they’ve always done best, and coming out with some of the most affecting music of their career. Read my full review.
Bad Bunny – Un Verano Sin Ti
After putting out three projects in 2020, Bad Bunny slowed down a bit in 2021, save for a few non-album tracks and collaborations, but now he’s back with his first album in 18 months, the 23-song Un Verano Sin Ti. Save for the inclusion of “Callaíta,” which came out as a single back in 2019, the album was released without any pre-release singles, and once again, Bad Bunny has offered up a sprawling, immersive album with so much to like about it. Plenty of songs recapture the Latin trap magic that Bad Bunny has become best known for, and there’s a lot of other stuff too. About a quarter of the way into “Después de la Playa,” he breaks out into lively mambo. The calm, acoustic “Yo No Soy Celoso” flirts with bossa nova. After a tribal-y intro, “El Apagón” does a 180 and turns into thumping house music. “Me Fui de Vacaciones” is full-blown reggae. “Tarot” reconnects Bad Bunny with Jhay Cortez, who aided him on his massive breakthrough song “Dákiti,” and fellow Urbano giant Rauw Alejandro lends starpower to “Party,” while the album also brings in The Marías to help Bad Bunny go synthpop on “Otro Atardecer,” Buscabulla for the Latin dream pop of “Andrea,” and Bomba Estéreo to add their art pop twist to “Ojitos Lindos.” He also tips his hat to his forebears with appearances from longer-running reggaeton artists Tony Dize and Chencho Corleone. The album earns its 82-minute running time by accomplishing so much, connecting the traditional to the futuristic, the alternative to the pop, and coming out with another collection that is sure to birth multiple blockbusters.
Ibeyi – Spell 31
Ibeyi, the duo of Afro-Cuban, French twins Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz, are back with their third album and first in five years, Spell 31. Working once again with producer (and XL label head) Richard Russell, Spell 31 offers up ten tracks of innovative electronic art pop that flirt with hip hop, Latin music, and more, and seamlessly defy genre. As always, activism is at the heart of their music, and Spell 31 was no doubt inspired by these past few years, but it also reminds you how long the fight for change has gone on without satisfying results. One of Spell 31‘s highlights is a re-imagining of Black Flag’s “Rise Above,” which reinvents every part of the song from scratch except its lyrics, and when Lisa-Kaindé and Naomi Díaz sing those words today, they sound as relevant and urgent as they ever have. UK artist BERWYN also raps an entirely original verse on the track that references George Floyd, even further updating the 1981 song for present-day concerns. He’s one of three great guests on this album, alongside Afrobeats-infused rapper Pa Salieu and soul singer Jorja Smith. Those artists are all very different, but with the vast amount of musical ground that Spell 31 covers, there’s space for all of them to fit right in.
Black Star – No Fear of Time
In 1998, Talib Kweli and Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey) released their debut album as Black Star, which took the jazzy, socially conscious style of hip hop that groups like De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Digable Planets pioneered earlier that decade and revitalized it for a new generation that was in need of an alternative to the shiny suit era. Since then, both rappers pursued solo careers, appearing on each other’s tracks every now and then but going in increasingly different directions over the years. Talib has remained highly prolific, while Yasiin Bey’s output has significantly slowed down during the past decade, and when he does release music, it isn’t very easy to get your hands on. He put out a collaboration with producer Ferrari Sheppard under the name December 99th in 2016 (which was a TIDAL exclusive but appears to be gone), and in 2019 he put out Negus in Natural Person, but the only way to hear it was if you went to the “listening installation” at the Brooklyn Museum that lasted for just 10 weeks. Now, 24 years after their debut, Black Star have released their second album, No Fear of Time. This one also isn’t a wide release — the only way to hear it is on the podcasting platform Luminary, which you have to be a paid subscriber to use — but it does feel like the most widely-anticipated release that either Yasiin Bey or Talib Kweli have put out in a while. It’s hard not to compare it to the A Tribe Called Quest reunion album, and like that album did, it finds Black Star leaning into their roles as elder statesmen, making hip hop the way they think it should be made, regardless of trends. But it also doesn’t really sound anything like the music they were making in the ’90s. It was entirely produced by Madlib, and that’s the biggest change here; Madlib’s experimental, futuristic production style makes No Fear of Time a far cry from the dusty boom bap of Mos Def & Talib Kweli Are Black Star. The album features two guests — likeminded rapper Black Thought and R&B singer (and frequent De La Soul collaborator) Yummy Bingham — and it’s actually very short, with nine songs clocking in at 33 minutes. It has moments that reignite the flame these two had 24 years ago, but it also has moments where they stumble or fall flat. It’s an exciting comeback regardless, but sometimes it’s a little more exciting in theory than in execution.
Listen to the full album on Luminary and stream one track below.
Soft Cell – *Happiness Not Included
Soft Cell are best known (at least in the US) for their 1981 synthpop cover of Gloria Jones’ 1964 soul song “Tainted Love,” but there’s so much more to them than that. Their entire debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, which features nine original songs alongside “Tainted Love,” is a stone cold synthpop classic, and the duo’s accompanying 1982 EP Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing helped pioneer the art of the extended dance remix. Two more albums followed before the group’s 1984 breakup, and plenty of other great songs appeared on those albums too. In the time since their breakup, vocalist Marc Almond led a prolific solo career (and sang on multiple Coil albums), until he and instrumentalist David Ball reunited Soft Cell in the early 2000s and put out their 2002 reunion album Cruelty Without Beauty. The reunion was short-lived, but — fast-forward to 2018 — they returned in 2018 with a two-song single and played their first show in 14 years, which they also said would be their last. That was the plan at least, but the 2018 reunion inspired the duo to keep going, and they’ve since continued to tour and wrote an entire new album, their first in 20 years, *Happiness Not Included. After 20 years apart and 41 years since releasing their most classic album, there’s a little rust to be shaken off on *Happiness Not Included, but it has its moments that totally recapture the charm of Soft Cell’s ’80s era, and Marc Almond still sings like nobody else in the world. Rather than trying to fit in with modern music, it remains loyal to ’80s production styles and ’80s themes (there’s a techno sci-fi vibe throughout), and the nostalgic vibe suits Soft Cell well. As influential as they are, nobody could ever really re-create the Soft Cell sound, so they may as well do what they do best.
Praise – All In A Dream
The last time DC/Baltimore-area melodic hardcore band Praise released music was 2016’s Leave It All Behind (React! Records), and in that time, drummer Daniel Fang helped bring a lot more attention to hardcore with his other band Turnstile and Praise linked up with the legendary hardcore label Revelation Records. Now they’ve just put out their first album for Rev, All In A Dream. They made the album with production help from Brian McTernan (Turnstile, Thrice, Hot Water Music, etc), and you can hear his influence on these songs, which are cleaner and catchier than anything Praise had written previously. The album’s not a drastic departure though; Praise’s music still pays homage to influences like Dag Nasty, Rites of Spring, Embrace, 7Seconds, and Husker Du (whose “Keep Hanging On” they cover on this album), and vocalist Andy Norton says that’s part of the point. He says part of the goal with Praise is to say, “These are all the bands that we love; we want you to love them too and check them out,” but also to take those things and create something they can call their own. With All In A Dream, they’ve absolutely done that.
Hans Gruber and the Die Hards – With A Vengeance
Ska Punk International
There’s a lot of cool stuff happening within ska-punk right now, and one great band that really stands out from the pack is Austin’s Hans Gruber and the Die Hards. Their new album is made up of 16 tracks that pull not just from a variety of ’90s ska-punk bands but also from various styles of Latin music, high-speed hardcore, riffy metal, theatrical showtunes, and all kinds of stuff that I can barely put my finger on. They have the anthemicism of the Bosstones, the aggression of the Voodoo Glow Skulls, the scrappiness of Catch 22, the chaos of the Blue Meanies, and the knack for political songwriting that ska bands have had since long before the genre boomed in America — not to mention a horn section that could rival any of the biggest ska bands. If you care about ska at all and want something weirder, heavier, and more purposeful than most of what you would’ve heard on MTV in the ’90s, you owe it to yourself to listen to With A Vengeance.
Read Bill’s Indie Basement for more new album reviews, including Warpaint, Kikagaku Moyo, Belle & Sebastian, and more.
Looking for more recent releases? Browse the Notable Releases archive or scroll down for previous weeks.
For even more metal, browse the ‘Upcoming Releases’ each week on Invisible Oranges.
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