Tuesday, March 21, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for 17 March

An interesting release week.

Album of the Week:

Artist: Frances
Album: Things I've Never Said
Quick Description: Compelling singer-songwritery tunes.
Why You Should Listen: You like arresting music that surprises you.
Overall Thoughts: I went in blind on Frances for the most part – I feel like I heard a song once upon a time, but that’s neither here nor there. This album really surprised me, which is why it’s my pick for album of the week. Haunting is the wrong word, because I feel like there’s a connotation to that idea that goes with a darker tone or a more ethereal take on the music. It’s not traditional folk, but it’s not standard/modern singer-songwriter fare, either. On first listen? It just feels different. And immediate. And essential. It’s an album that didn’t want to be in the background and kept commanding my attention, which doesn’t happen a whole lot in this way. I truly loved this, and I look forward to spending more time with it to see where its staying power ultimately resides, but do not sleep on this album. It’s truly a special one.
Recommendation: Easily my favorite of the week.

Artist: Spoon
Album: Hot Thoughts
Quick Description: Latest from the indie rock stalwarts.
Why You Should Listen: You're a big fan, and/or you realize they have enough credentials at this point to give a shot no matter what.
Overall Thoughts: Everyone is all about this Spoon album, which is the most buzzworthy release of the week and one of the most anticipated releases of this quarter. Hot take coming in, though – this album is just kind of weird. The lead single didn’t grab me, and there’s a lot of strange, somewhat experimental stuff here. I haven’t read any interviews or anything about this release, so I don’t truly know what Spoon is trying to do here, but this is really just an album that doesn’t impress. While musically fascinating, it ultimately feels weird and disjointed. Hardcore fans might love this, and maybe 25 year old Jeff might like this, but this is such a weird change of direction that I’m not at all convinced it works.
Recommendation: Be really wary. Didn't love this one at all.

Artist: Nataly Dawn
Album: The Coldplay EP
Quick Description: Pomplamoose singer covers classic Coldplay.
Why You Should Listen: The quick description isn't enough?
Overall Thoughts: Half of Pomplamoose doing an EP of Coldplay covers? Sign me up. Coldplay’s first couple albums were truly legitimate affairs, and that’s where this EP smartly pulls from. Her take on these albums is solid, and her voice lends itself well to Chris Martin’s melodies on these songs. A solid listen with minimal investment time.
Recommendation: Worth your time.

Artist: Lindi Ortega
Album: 'Til the Going Gets Gone
Quick Description: Quick EP from an underrated act.
Why You Should Listen: If you don't know her already, you should introduce yourself here.
Overall Thoughts: Lindi Ortega is one of those sneaky great alt-country acts, and I’m as guilty as anyone else by not talking about her more. This is a short EP that serves as a great taste of what she offers and has some solid songs even though I don’t know if it’s necessarily representative of her overall work. Still, if you’ve been behind on what she offers on a whole, this is as good a moment as any to jump on board. Plenty of room on the bandwagon.
Recommendation: A solid listen this week.

Artist: Real Estate
Album: In Mind
Quick Description: Indie rockers sit in the 1960s/70s.
Why You Should Listen: You miss the Byrds/R.E.M./jangle pop in general.
Overall Thoughts: As a crazy R.E.M. fan, there are countless bands aping the sound that they appropriated and made famous. In Mind is the best recent listen I can remember that's tossing that sound out there. It's just such a pleasant, relaxing listen that it just evokes a lot of the sort of laid back music that it's in tribute to. This isn't going to blow your socks off, but it's not designed to do that. It's sort of that kind of album you picture on a pleasant spring day.
Recommendation: Nice listen overall.

Artist: CJ Ramone
Album: American Beauty
Quick Description: New solo album from the Ramone.
Why You Should Listen: I mean, you know what you're getting here, right?
Overall Thoughts: CJ Ramone, one of the secondary Ramones I guess, had one of my favorite songs of a few years ago, “Carry Me Away.” The new album continues having some of the similar punk sensibilities taken from his tenure with the Ramones and with his solo work. It’s not groundbreaking by any means, but it’s got that firm familiarity behind some solid songwriting. By no means is this an essential listen or terribly important in the punk canon, but you’ll find a good amount to like here nonetheless.
Recommendation: Solid poppy-punk effort.

Artist: Pinback
Album: Some Offcell Voices
Quick Description: Latest from the indie rock act.
Why You Should Listen: Pinback's been around for a long, long time.
Overall Thoughts: Pinback is a band I’ve been aware of for close to 15 years now, but I’ve never really gotten into them. This latest album is not what I expected from them, but I don’t know for sure whether it’s because it’s a shift or because they’ve always done the more quiet, introspective listen that this album appears to reflect. I didn’t love this, and I didn’t hate this, but in a week with a lot of interesting and important albums out, what was surprising to me was the complete lack of impact this album had on me by the time it was done. In an era where it’s easier than ever to get your music to the masses and it’s cheaper than ever to consume music, a band like Pinback needs a bigger splash than this.
Recommendation: It's fine, just doesn't stand out in a busy week.

Artist: Divisionists
Album: Daybreak
Quick Description: London-based indie act's debut.
Why You Should Listen: You like interesting music with tons of upside.
Overall Thoughts: Divisionists is a band we’ve spent some time with before, and this is their first full-length album. Calling this a mixed bag is not something I would necessarily do because of the negative connotations, because this is truly a solid album, but there are essentially two types of songs on here. Some of them are incredibly solid and compelling, and others feel like filler, and there’s no middle ground. Plenty of great albums have some songs that are merely okay, but the one flaw with Divisionists so far is just the size of the gap between the two. This should not dissuade you from checking out this album, though – when Divisionists is on, they are on, and that makes this album a great listen and one of the best of the week. It also speaks well to how bright their future is as a band, so get in on the ground floor.
Recommendation: A mandatory listen.

Artist: Your Old Droog
Album: Packs
Quick Description: Buzzworthy rap music.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoy 90s-style rap.
Overall Thoughts: Your Old Droog finally offers up an album after years of EPs and one-offs. I only learned of Your Old Droog after a podcast that explored the theory that Droog was actually Nas, but that’s long gone now and what we have now is a listen that evokes the best of that 1990s rap music while still feeling new and fresh. If Drake/Future is your speed these days, this might not excite you, but I have to say that this album caught me in just the right way and I’m absolutely looking forward to spending more time with it on a whole.
Recommendation: A great rap listen this week.

Artist: Zara Larsson
Album: So Good
Quick Description: New pop album from a European contest winner.
Why You Should Listen: You're looking for some pop to round out the week.
Overall Thoughts: Zara Larsson seeks to be the New Big Thing in pop music. I enjoyed this album, but I’m not sure she 100% succeeds at setting herself apart on first listen. There’s absolutely a lot to like here, but if you’re looking for a pop album that transcends a bit the way people like Tove Lo or Charli XCX try, this might not work for you. Still, if you’re into pop music, you owe yourself a listen on this.
Recommendation: Maybe worth it if you're at all interested.

Artist: Conor Oberst
Album: Salutations
Quick Description: Latest from the indie folkie.
Why You Should Listen: You're a fan and continue to be even after his recent output.
Overall Thoughts: Conor Oberst is fully and completely channeling Bob Dylan now. While I didn’t mind this album all that much, it’s frankly difficult to really take seriously in that context. His delivery and, often, the songwriting – his song about losing so many famous thinkers feels especially wrought – just feels far too derivative at this point for someone with his history. Granted, he’s had a struggle of sorts over recent years and that might be informing some of this, but there’s part of me that just wants Bright Eyes/”Four Winds” again.
Recommendation: Meh.

Also out this week:

* Depeche Mode - Spirit
* Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzalez - Room 29

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