Tuesday, March 22, 2016

First Listen: New Releases for March 18

What a strange week this one is.

Album of the Week:

Artist: Steven Page
Album: Heal Thyself Pt I: Instinct
Quick Description: Latest solo album from the ex-Barenaked Ladies singer/songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: Page always has a knack for a good melody, and this album is full of them.
Overall Thoughts: I'm not sure Page will ever be able to shake the hows of his split with BNL (a drug arrest, lawsuits on royalties, and so on), but while Page One from nearly six years ago made a pretty good effort, this album, which has a bunch of songs that bits and pieces of have been floating around for ages, is a pretty solid unit on a whole. Songs like "Manchild" and "Linda Ronstadt in the 70s" feel like classic Page, and the rest shows a continuing evolution. I expected to enjoy this, but I didn't think it would be quite this good, so it's definitely worth a spot in your rotation this week.
Recommendation: Best release of the week, you're almost guaranteed to find something you'll love.

Artist: Dog Chocolate
Album: Snack Fans
Quick Description: Noisy British punk rock.
Why You Should Listen: You miss mclusky.
Overall Thoughts: Ken wrote about them earlier this year, and I can't say he's wrong. Whatever you're expecting, throw it out the window before firing this one up. It has a lot of interesting moments throughout, and while I didn't love this, it absolutely has the sort of sharp punkish vibe that I don't hear enough of.
Recommendation: Might not be for everyone, but worth a spin.

Artist: Sean Watkins
Album: What to Fear
Quick Description: Nickel Creek guitarist's latest solo effort.
Why You Should Listen: Anything Nickel Creek-adjacent is worth the time, and this is maybe Watkins's best solo effort yet.
Overall Thoughts: I sometimes feel bad for Sean Watkins. His sister has a successful solo career, his bandmate Chris Thile has his hands in a dozen things, and he's the undeserved odd man out. I didn't love love his solo album from last year, but this one is more beautifully complex with a lot going for it. The title track sets the tone well, and the whole thing is a pleasant listen overall. I look forward to spending more time with this, but it's absolutely one of the better releases this week.
Recommendation: Worth a listen no matter what.

Artist: Underworld
Album: Barbara, Barbara, We Face a Shining Future
Quick Description: Sixth album (and first in six years) from the electronica legends.
Why You Should Listen: You're a big Underworld fan...
Overall Thoughts: ...because, truly, this isn't great. Underworld has some true classics, and they're generally at least on top of things, but this feels like a dated, plodding piece that doesn't quite work for me. In an era where there's a lot of interesting things happening in this genre, Underworld isn't updating itself the way, say, The Prodigy or Crystal Method or The Chemical Brothers have. Pretty disappointing.
Recommendation: Only if you're a huge fan.

Artist: Damien Jurado
Album: Visions of Us on the Land
Quick Description: New album from the singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: Damien Jurado sounds a lot different than many of the singer-songwriters out there.
Overall Thoughts: I'm not a huge fan of Jurado, but I've always found his music to be that sort of off-center thing that defies description even though it's pretty melodic and straightforward. No one else is quite like Damien Jurado, and this album feels a little bit like a step back for him. It's a little gritty, a little slow at times, and there's not a ton that's memorable from it on first listen. If you're new to Jurado, I'd throw Maraqopa out there first before this, but we'll see if this sticks with me on future listens.
Recommendation: Not a recommendation, but not terrible, either. Be wary.

Artist: Folly and the Hunter
Album: Awake
Quick Description: Radio-friendly folk-rock.
Why You Should Listen: This ever-popular genre explosion has been working for you.
Overall Thoughts: I listen to a lot of new music for this blog, and what's interesting/unfortunate about Folly and the Hunter is how similar it sounds to so much of what I've heard and featured up to this point. This is definitely becoming a genre of sorts all its own, and so many of these groups sound the same that Folly and the Hunter can't begin to break out of. You've heard this album before in a lot of different ways, and, unless this is the best thing you've ever listened to, you'll find nothing new or exciting here.
Recommendation: Skip it.

Artist: Bent Shapes
Album: Wolves of Want
Quick Description: Second album by the indie rock favorites.
Why You Should Listen: Bent Shapes does a fun style of indie rock that demands a listen.
Overall Thoughts: Ken saw Bent Shapes live last year, and we're both fans, so the new album was something I was excited to hear. While I didn't feel like it broke any new ground on first listen for them in comparison to their previous album, they didn't exactly have to. I'll need to spend more time with it to see if there are true highlights here like with their first album, but a good listen nonetheless.
Recommendation: A highlight of the week, check this one out.

Artist: Eliza Shaddad
Album: Run
Quick Description: Ethereal indie singer-songwriter EP.
Why You Should Listen: Another becoming-standard genre, this from a voice that may get some buzz.
Overall Thoughts: It's one thing for me to complain about the pseudo-adult-alternative stuff two entries earlier, but be okay with this, but... I'm okay with this. Shaddad has an interesting voice, the EP is drenched in great production, and songs like "Run" and "Wars" give a taste of what might be coming. It's a good listen, and worth 15 minutes of your time.
Recommendation: A solid, quick listen.

Artist: Winterpills
Album: Lovesongs
Quick Description: Latest album by the enigmatic indie rockers.
Why You Should Listen: Winterpills does some interesting stuff and it always feels like they're changing things around.
Overall Thoughts: This album feels a little more conceptual than their other stuff, perhaps, and the stark nature of a lot of these songs might be a turnoff, but this was definitely one of the more interesting releases of the week for me. I don't know how to describe this except that it's something that deserves a listen as some interesting indie rock.
Recommendation: A good listen, and worth a shot in a weird week.

Artist: Cullen Omari
Album: New Misery
Quick Description: Ex-Smith Westerns frontman goes solo.
Why You Should Listen: You're looking for some more straightforward stuff.
Overall Thoughts: I wasn't ever a big Smith Westerns fan, so I can't say how this might compare to his old band, but what I find interesting about this album is how it's trying for that retro thing that's so in right now, but still sounds more like The Killers at times anyway. It's a different album in that it's a pleasant listen and gives off a good, enjoyable listen, but I found it to be kind of forgettable by the time I was moving onto something else. This might resonate with some listeners, but it didn't work for me.
Recommendation: Give it a try, you'll know fast if it's for you.

Artist: The Bonnevilles
Album: Arrow Pierce My Heart
Quick Description: Awesome blues/garage rock.
Why You Should Listen: You wish old White Stripes were still a thing, but The Black Keys never do it for you.
Overall Thoughts: MAN, this is good. I kind of saved the best for last here because this was such a good listen, some just really nice, grungy guitar-based blues rock. I can't even say more about it except that it's an album I didn't know I wanted until I heard it, and it needs to get into your rotation as soon as possible.
Recommendation: One of the best of the week.

Also out this week, albums that I mostly couldn't get through. Some weeks I can do it, but wow, some of these...:

* Iggy Pop - Post Pop Depression (collaboration w/Josh Homme and others, it's...weird)
* Joell Ortiz - This is Hip Hop
* The Body - No One Deserves Happiness
* Soul Asylum - Change of Fortune (yes they still exist)
* James - Girl at the End of the World (these guys too)
* Primal Scream - Chaosmosis
* Baauer - Aa (the "Harlem Shake" guy)
* Grant-Lee Phillips - The Narrows

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