Tuesday, June 13, 2017

First Listen: New Releases for June 9

A solid week.

Album of the Week:

Artist: The Secret Sisters
Album: You Don't Own Me Anymore
Quick Description: Long-awaited third album from the folkies.
Why You Should Listen: This is a gorgeous, amazing album.
Overall Thoughts: I won’t lie – the second Secret Sisters album didn’t grab me the way the first one did. This new album sounded promising given the early music that was released, and the whole album is a nice, familiar relief. I loved every aspect of this, which is why it’s my album of the week – it’s taken a few albums, but they’ve really perfected their sound. The harmonies are spot on, the music absolutely gorgeous. There is nothing negative I can say about this, and it’s an album that needs to be on your list for listening this week.
Recommendation: A must-listen, easily the best of the week.

Artist: Katy Perry
Album: Witness
Quick Description: Pop starlet's latest.
Why You Should Listen: It's not what you think.
Overall Thoughts: I was actually kind of excited when I heard that Taylor Swift, in the most petty pop star fashion imaginable, put all her music back on Spotify on the day that Katy Perry’s new album came out. They have some sort of feud going, I don’t pretend to know the details, but the end result is that they don’t get along to the point where at least one wants to sabotage the other’s career. So I had it all planned out – I hadn’t heard TayTay’s new album yet, so I’d do a fun tale-of-the-tape thing for yesterday for the two albums. The problem? 1984 is really dull and uninteresting. ESPECIALLY compared to Witness, which is a Katy Perry album that, at least for me, upended what I believe Katy Perry to be. It feels different and ambitious and feels like an attempt to break out of whatever it is she typically does. While 1984 is pop music distilled into its purest, glossy form, Witness feels like someone trying to spread their wings and get out of the polished stuff a bit. It’s a little long and doesn’t always work, but it’s something I found worth listening to. And sure, at the end of the day? I’ll take Carly Rae any day of the week. But if your entire vision of Katy Perry is one of really obnoxious pop star nonsense, this might change your mind without any visuals to go along with it.
Recommendation: Worth a listen.

Artist: Zephaniah Ohora & The 18 Wheelers
Album: This Highway
Quick Description: Great traditional country.
Why You Should Listen: This is a throwback like so many others, yet seems to do it so effortlessly.
Overall Thoughts: We cover a lot of this throwback country folk stuff here, and there’s a habit to make it all out to sound the same or that it’s not breaking ground. I think there’s a bit of a perception that it’s simple music at its core, and that anyone could do it. Zephaniah Ohora is great because, as far as I can tell, he makes the easy sound super difficult to perfect and then does a good job perfecting it. Toward the end of the album, Ohora presents a version of “Somethin’ Stupid” that immediately became a favorite version for me, and it really personifies how really great this record is. A great listen from start to finish.
Recommendation: This is so great, you need to listen to it.

Artist: SZA
Album: Ctrl
Quick Description: First proper album from the buzzworthy R&B singer.
Why You Should Listen: Her first release was really noteworthy.
Overall Thoughts: I really liked SZA’s debut mini-album, and I’ve been waiting for the next thing from her for some time. Unfortunately, this full-length does not feel nearly as unique and groundbreaking as her debut, and that’s a shame. It feels like rote soulful R&B, and in a busy week – and a busy genre, lately – this just doesn’t stand out. I really wanted more from this and it doesn’t deliver on a whole.
Recommendation: Skip this one.

Artist: Glen Campbell
Album: Adios
Quick Description: The country legend's final album.
Why You Should Listen: Glen Campbell deserves 40 more minutes of your time, even if this wasn't pretty solid.
Overall Thoughts: Listening to Glen Campbell these days is difficult. My mother is in the last late stages of Alzheimer’s, and knowing that Campbell is going through the same trajectory doesn’t make this farewell album any easier. Campbell always had a purity of sorts to his approach, and while his voice is wavering a little more on this album, this is a worthy, albeit sad, curtain call for the country legend.
Recommendation: Worth at least one listen.

Artist: Kronos Quartet
Album: Folk Songs
Quick Description: The contemporary classical act goes a little more modern.
Why You Should Listen: It's pretty and it has some of your favorites featured.
Overall Thoughts: Kronos Quartet is the classical instrumental go-to for the indie set, I feel, and their latest album is a series of collaborations with some of our favorites here. It’s musically interesting, it’s contextually exciting, and there are a lot of solid musical parts to this whole that make it a worthwhile endeavor. The Rhiannon Giddens stuff in particular is an attention-grabber at first listen, so definitely give this one a fair shot.
Recommendation: Absolutely a fun, interesting listen.

Artist: Rancid
Album: Trouble Maker
Quick Description: The latest from the punk rock royalty.
Why You Should Listen: I mean, it's Rancid. You have to ask?
Overall Thoughts: Rancid has been around forever, and this new record… well, it’s Rancid. I’m not sure what to expect in terms of anything new, but it’s that classic slice of punk rock that feels familiar. This won’t bring along any new fans, and there’s no “Time Bomb” or anything like that, but it’s a solid traditional punk record.
Recommendation: You know what you're getting here.

Artist: London Grammar
Album: Truth is a Beautiful Thing
Quick Description: Gorgeous light rock.
Why You Should Listen: No other group sounds like this.
Overall Thoughts: I see a lot of people refer to London Grammar as a purveyor of torch songs, and okay, sure. For me, they fill a niche hole that I didn't realize I wanted filled, and it just works. This new album has a seemingly fuller sound than their last, and it's just so, so pretty. You won't find anything else recently that does what London Grammar is doing here, and that alone is a reason to check them out.
Recommendation: A great listen.

Artist: Allie X
Album: ColleXion II
Quick Description: Indie pop with a mainstream bent.
Why You Should Listen: You like pop music but don't care to admit it.
Overall Thoughts: It's frankly strange to listen to this the same week as Katy Perry, given that Perry is trying new things while Allie X, instead of doing some stuff that made her interesting in the past, stays in her lane. I was obsessed with the initial mix of "Old Habits Die Hard," and the new take feels kind of sanitary and bland... a good take on this album on a whole, honestly. I wanted more than I got, and ultimately...
Recommendation: ...this was a disappointment.

Artist: Phoenix
Album: Ti Amo
Quick Description: Latest from the French indie favorites.
Why You Should Listen: They get a little weird?
Overall Thoughts: I think what's striking about this album is that it feels like a recent Ra Ra Riot record while still maintaining that purity that comes from what Phoenix does. They've never been a favorite of mine, but they know how to write a great indie rock song and this album is less about those and more about mixing it up a bit. I'm into it, moreso than anything since Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
Recommendation: Really solid listen.

Artist: Big Thief
Album: Capacity
Quick Description: Highly-anticipated sophomore effort from the indie act.
Why You Should Listen: You recognize "Masterpiece" as the song it is.
Overall Thoughts: I'll say two things about this album: 1) It's not what you think it is in that it doesn't sound completely like their first album, and there is not a song on here that's quite like the breakthrough "Masterpiece" was, and 2) this album is one of the best of the week, if not the year, because it's such a really gorgeous, well-crafted album from start to finish. I was taken aback by how quiet and seemingly introspective it was on first listen, and while I'm not sure it lands quite the way I expected after their first album, that doesn't matter. This album is simply great.
Recommendation: A high-quality, must-listen effort.

Artist: Sufjan Stevens, Nico Muhly, Bryce Dessner, James McAlister
Album: Planetarium
Quick Description: A concept album about the Solar System from some indie rockers and a classical composer.
Why You Should Listen: This is just weird enough to be fun, but still fun enough to not be too weird.
Overall Thoughts: Sufjan Stevens put out an ambitious, strange album called The Age of Adz however many years ago. An experiment in electronic sounds and such, it was probably a little divisive even though I was into it. This concept album absolutely has those touchstones throughout, but I don't mean to diminish the other efforts as well - Nico Muhly's influence is probably the clearest, where the way this is structured has a modern classical feel to it without being completely incomprehensible. I've written about "challenging" albums before, and this certainly qualifies, but not in a way where I feel it would be inaccessible to most listeners. It's weird, but it's wonderful.
Recommendation: Give this a shot.

Also out this week:

* Chuck Berry - CHUCK
* American Epic: The Collection

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