Tuesday, June 20, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for June 16

This week was sneaky busy, but a lot of good music!

Album of the Week:

Artist: What Cheer? Brigade
Album: You Can't See Inside of Me
Quick Description: Marching band music for hipster adults.
Why You Should Listen: They may drive your spouse mad, but the musicianship and fun is top notch.
Overall Thoughts: Every so often, while listening to something for First Listen, my wife will provide commentary. What Cheer? Brigade are a bunch of punk types who also play brass instruments, so the result is a bit of a sassy, edgy marching band quality. It turned my wife off right quick, but I was into it. It’s reminiscent of a lot of what made Gogol Bordello so awesome when they had their breakthrough, and there’s just something special and exciting about this. While I don’t think this will make it high on my year end list, this is absolutely my favorite thing that I listened to this week, and is my album of the week because of it. I mean, they do a brass version of a Brain Eno song! It’s a great reminder of how much fun music should be, and how we don’t need to necessarily slot certain acts into a mandatory style.
Recommendation: You might not love this, but I did.

Artist: Fleet Foxes
Album: Crack-Up
Quick Description: Latest from the superstars of indie folk(?)
Why You Should Listen: Fleet Foxes might not be your jam, but this works really well.
Overall Thoughts: Fleet Foxes runs hot and cold for me. A band I've always liked but never loved, this album really resonated with me. A lot of solid stuff here to go on, and it might be their best since their debut. If you've pumped the brakes on them, check this out.
Recommendation: Surprisingly solid.

Artist: The Dustbowl Revival
Album: The Dustbowl Revival
Quick Description: Rootsy party music?
Why You Should Listen: The Dustbowl Revival is a sneaky good festival mainstay.
Overall Thoughts: The Dustbowl Revival makes party music for roots revivalists. I picture this band playing under tents where the cheap alcohol is flowing and there’s an abundance of hay or matted-down grass. It’s a silly perception, but one that carries through the bombastic, fun atmosphere of their music and this album in particular. I really dug this on a whole...
Recommendation: ...and you might as well.

Artist: Darren Hayman
Album: Thankful Villages, Volume II
Quick Description: Hefner singer's second collection of songs about British villages.
Why You Should Listen: Historically important, musically sound.
Overall Thoughts: Hefner’s Hayman continues his project visiting and writing songs about the British World War I “Thankful Villages.” As with the first volume, there’s absolutely a cultural link I’m missing here, but a lot of what makes Hayman such an interesting and successful songwriter continues to shine through on this album. He’s got at least one more volume planned, and it’s a project I’m glad exists.
Recommendation: Absolutely worth a listen.

Artist: Miranda Lee Richards
Album: Existential Beasts
Quick Description: Second album in as many years from the singer-songwriter.
Why You Should Listen: Surprisingly awesome.
Overall Thoughts: The 2016 album from Miranda Lee Richards caught me by surprise when it came out, and the fact that she has a follow-up nearly slipped by me as well. As much as I liked the first record, this one might be better! A more cohesive whole, feels a little better produced, and the end result is a solid listen that I’ll be coming back to a lot.
Recommendation: A favorite this week.

Artist: Sammy Brue
Album: I Am Nice
Quick Description: Debut album by an artist destined to become a favorite around these parts.
Why You Should Listen: A solid listen that shows a ton of promise.
Overall Thoughts: Sammy Brue is 15 years old. You’d never know it from listening to this album, because this feels so authentic and pure in its approach, and that’s probably why this works on its own. Knowing how young he is, it’s easy to kind of nitpick some choices and also easy to recognize that this is just the start of some really solid songwriting rather than the endpoint. For now, though, find some time to enjoy this. If he continues to put out work at this consistency, it’s a name we’re going to know for the next thirty-plus years.
Recommendation: A great listen, can't wait for more.

Artist: Sarah Jane Scouten
Album: When the Bloom Falls From the Rose
Quick Description: Pure rootsy country.
Why You Should Listen: This is the comfy blanket listen of the week.
Overall Thoughts: The surprise of the week is Sarah Jane Scouten, who reminds me a lot of an early Nora Jane Struthers in many regards. The album takes off early and ends up being a fun, albeit standard, rootsy folkish album. I really enjoyed it, and I’m hoping more listens will show it has some staying power to boot.
Recommendation: Give this a shot.

Artist: Moby and the Void Pacific Choir
Album: More Fast Songs About the Apocalypse
Quick Description: A surprise second release from Moby's uber-political rock effort.
Why You Should Listen: You enjoyed the first effort.
Overall Thoughts: Moby continues his work with the Void Pacific Choir, and the same urgency and sound shift for Moby is evident on this shorter record. This post-punk effort feels more like a collection of b-sides than some of the great listens of the first record, but it’s also a deliberately messy affair that requires a little more time to really register. I’ll give it that, but I still question whether this resonates with Moby fans, or post-punk fans, or what audiences it’s for at all.
Recommendation: A little iffy, but not a waste of time at all.

Artist: Alison Moyet
Album: Other
Quick Description: Chamber pop? Sure!
Why You Should Listen: This is the most interesting release of the week.
Overall Thoughts: Because we haven’t had our share of theatrical singer-songwriter efforts as of late, here is Alison Moyet providing a record that is lacking in a significant focus, but has so many high-quality moving parts that we can largely avoid criticizing it too much. What I wish it had in a standard, cohesive effort, it replaces in what is actually a pretty interesting listen on a whole, complete with some standout tracks and memorable moments. If you like ambitious pop records, this might be worth some of your time.
Recommendation: A solid listen.

Artist: Palehound
Album: A Place I'll Always Go
Quick Description: The hit sound of the moment with a band we love.
Why You Should Listen: This is right in the current wheelhouse.
Overall Thoughts: Palehound is a favorite here, and for good reason – they fit into a lot of the sound we love for acts like these, and considering the renaissance of sorts we’re experiencing in this genre, Palehound is hitting their stride at the right time. Is this as good as, say, the Diet Cig or Charly Bliss records this year? I don’t know yet, but it’s making a case for itself with this effort, one that feels both more mature and more urgent. I expected to like this, and I’m hoping that I find as much to love in it as I did in other albums like it this year.
Recommendation: Lots of fulfilled potential here.

Artist: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit
Album: The Nashville Sound
Quick Description: Isbell's first album with The 400 Unit in some time.
Why You Should Listen: It's Jason Isbell, come on.
Overall Thoughts: Jason Isbell has pretty much reached “institution” status at this point, and I think what makes him great, whether it’s solo or with the 400 Unit, is that he’s able to evoke a lot of gravity in his songs that other artists cannot. That weight can make listening to his albums a different experience on a whole, but that’s not bad – this latest album continues along the vein of the high-quality material we expect, and the addition of his backing band gives a slightly different tone to the proceedings.
Recommendation: Overall, a solid listen.

Artist: Lorde
Album: Melodrama
Quick Description: Long-anticipated second album from the pop singer.
Why You Should Listen: Lorde is absolutely one of the more interesting popsters going.
Overall Thoughts: I’m into “Green Light,” I (like everyone else) was into “Royals,” and so this album was definitely one I was looking forward to. I hate to say that it just did not connect for me in a meaningful way. Lorde is a talented songwriter, but we’re getting something that’s ambitious and different while lacking that interest piece to keep you hooked. Leading with “Green Light” didn’t help, as it means we hit the high water mark immediately. I’ll give this a little more time, but in a time with a lot of solid pop efforts available, this doesn’t appear to make the grade.
Recommendation: Give Katy Perry another listen instead.

Other releases of note:

* Portugal the Man – Woodstock: Still a weird band making a lot of good music. Not sure how I feel about this one.
* Hundredth – RARE: A dark metal band goes more shoegaze, and the results… well, you’ll either like this or you won’t.
* Ride – Weather Diaries: First album in a long time from this comeback act. It works, but probably doesn’t rate with their classics.
* Beth Ditto – Fake Sugar: I had high hopes for this, but it ends up being a bad pop album instead of channeling anything that resembles the best of The Gossip.
* Big Boi – BOOMIVERSE: Big Boi is really good at rap music, but not so good at keeping his sound current. Good for me, but not necessarily for those on, say, the Kendrick/Drake/Future trains.
* Dead Heavens - Whatever Witch You Are
* Jason Loewenstein - Spooky Action

EPs of note:

* Bernice – Puff: Fuzzy, airy singer-songwritery stuff. A good taste of what might be to come.
* Anya Marina – Serious Love: Latest EP from the increasingly-chameleonlike singer. Honestly a mixed bag, but the highs are very high.
* Frankmusik – Ss17: Frankmusik has been doing this sort of introspective pop for a while now, and I’m starting to lose a little interest, if I’m being frank (heh).
* Magic Shoppe – High Goodbye: Magic Shoppe channels their inner 1997-era Oasis with solid results.

Also out this week:

* Royal Blood - How Did We Get So Dark
* Hey Violet - From the Outside
* The Drums - Abysmal Thoughts
* The Cold Stares - Head Bent

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