2017 September

Release Radar: Death From Above

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New releases continue to blossom as September wraps up – this has definitely been the biggest release month of the year.  New releases I will be checking out include (there are 10!) the 4th album from J Roddy Walston & the Business “Destroyers of the Soft Life” who are now based in Richmond after starting in Tennessee and time in Baltimore.  This legendary live band is hoping to capture some of that appeal on record  for this effort they have a new producer and spent much more time in the studio than previously.  North London indie rockers Wolf Alice have completed their always difficult second album “Visions of a Life”.  Innovative alt-metal S.F. band Primus who formed over 30 years ago are unleashing “The Desaturating Seven”, a concept album based on an Italian children’s book about color-eating goblins.  German retro psych-rockers Kadavar are sharing their 4th proper studio album “Rough Times”.  Switching over to pop, there are a number of releases this week but the only one I may check out is Miley Cyrus “Younger Now” since I’ve gained some respect for her from The Voice.  Indie rock vocalist Torres, with influences from Cat Power and PJ Harvey is dropping her third album “Three Futures” which is worth checking out.  Winnipeg punk rockers Propagandhi are getting some positive buzz for their 8th album “Victory Lap”.  Detroit indie rock band Protomartyr are presenting their fourth album “Relatives in Descent” – I haven’t been able to get into this band in the past but I will continue to make an effort with this new release since they are so highly regarded by many others.  The last two new releases are probably the most polarizing – violent noise rockers Unsane are unleashing album #10 titled “Sterilize” and saxophonist Kamasi Washington, one of the leading progressive jazz musicians/composers is sharing a new EP “Harmony of Difference”.
Death From Above, formerly Death From Above 1979, have just released their 3rd album “Outrage! Is Now”.  If you’re not familiar with the duo, they infuse elements of punk, rock and dance music into their heavily distorted bass and drums sound.  Jesse Keeler handles the bass/synth duties while Sebastian Grainger mans the drums and delivers the vocals.  When their debut album came out in 2004 their unique high-powered sound made an immediate mark on the music scene and help them nab opening slots for high profile bands like Nine Inch Nails and Queens of the Stone Age.  The following year the duo released a remix album and then called it quits – primarily due to musical differences.  Keeler went more to the dance side, with his more recognized project being MSTRKRFT and Grainger attempted a solo career.  Five years later near the end of 2010 they reconnected personally and then a few months later in 2011 they announced that the band had re-formed.   Their comeback started at Coachella that year and they began to play more concerts over the next few years.  In 2014 they released their second album, which charted in the top 40.  That brings us to a few weeks ago when the band dropped album #3 and also dropped the “1979” from their name (I guess the previous issue with using the name “Death From Above” has been resolved).
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I’ve been a fan of this band since day 1 and this new album is no exception.  I jotted down six tracks to possibly highlight and there are only 10 on the album, which shows a very high quality of songs.  In fact, there’s not a song I don’t like on the record.  These guys are all about giant hooks, big sounds and mostly urgent vocals.  There’s an occasional piano or horn thrown in the mix, but mostly just drums and bass generating the  catchy cacophony.  That’s what sets these guys apart, they have hooks imbedded in their noise which I find to be a great mix of poppy bombast.  Royal Blood owes a large part of their current success to Death From Above.  When an album has such an immediate impact, I worry that I will quickly grow tired of it.  So far that hasn’t been the case with “Outrage! Is Now”.  In fact, I’m probably liking it even more after repeated listening.   So it’s difficult to pick just three songs to highlight from the album.  So I’m going to take three right from the middle of the album, tracks 5,6 and 7.  That also says a lot when the songs placed in the middle of the album can hold their own.
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Never Swim Alone – This track hits me in a visceral way, that riff is just in your face.  Since this is easily the shortest song on the album, it ensures you don’t get tired of it before it ends.  There’s really not a whole lot to the song, beyond the riff and the propulsive beat that drives it along.
Moonlight – The little interlude at the end of “Never Swim Alone” allows this song to kick in with a bigger impact than it normally would have.  This track sort of jitters along precariously, like a Jenga tower that could fall at any second.  But it keeps pulling it back together before continuing along again.  Maybe that’s the appeal?  I hear a little bit of Muse in this track.
Statues – Big-time hooks in this track.  Maybe a little glam-rock elements.  The sound is HUGE on this one.

Release Radar: Sannhet – So Numb

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The onslaught of new releases continues this week – Sept. is crushing it!  While I’m not excited by this release, my curiosity will get the best of me hoping that the Foo Fighters change things up a bit with their new album “Concrete and Gold”, I have to respect Myrkur for attempting to play black metal as a solo female in a genre that is completely male-dominated so I’ll check out her second LP “Mareridt”, lo-fi pretty strange pop artist Ariel Pink has a new album “Dedicated to Bobby Jameson” which I plan to check out if only to see how well his drugs were working while recording this album, underground hip-hop duo The Cool Kids are releasing what they are calling their first LP (even though it’s their second) titled “Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe”, Rostam is releasing his first solo LP “Half-Light” after being a member of Vampire Weekend and collaborating with many other artists on their recent albums, Prophets of Rage, comprised of the instrumentalists in RATM and Chuck D. and B Real on the mic have released their first LP which is S/T, Austrian death/black metal band Belphegor are releasing their 11th album “Totenritual”, The Contortionist’s 4th progressive rock LP “Clairvoyant” is out today and finally just for the title alone I must mention the new release from technical/death metal band Gigan “Undulating Waves Of Rainbiotic Iridescence”.
I also must mention the passing of Grant Hart this week after a battle with cancer.  He’s most notable for his work with legendary band Husker Du as their drummer/songwriter/vocalist.  If you’re not familiar with Husker Du, then you have some homework to do over the weekend.
I’m assuming most of you haven’t heard the band I’m featuring this week – the three piece instrumental band out of Brooklyn who call themselves Sannhet.  It’s a little difficult to describe their atmospheric sound, but it’s a mix of post-metal, sludge and black metal that is more accessible once you remove the vocals.  Without the screaming, wailing or guttural vocals mixed in the sound, I think a lot of people who don’t normally listen to this type of music may find it intriguing.  Sannhet is composed of guitarist John Refano, bassist AJ Annunziata and drummer Christopher Todd.  They first formed in 2010 and made a name for themselves with their intense live sets – not only instrumentally but also visually.  They released their first album in 2013, followed by a couple of EP’s.  Their second album came out in 2015. 
Most recently (in August), they released their 3rd LP titled “So Numb”.  On this most recent release, the post-rock elements take on a larger influence while the black metal and sludge take a back seat.  They have evolved their sound to a point where it’s become their own and not stereotyped by any genres.  Sannhet’s music on their latest album provides a lot of emotional moments and is defined more by feelings or moods than the specific music they are playing.  This is some of the best instrumental music I’ve heard since the Russian Circles album “Guidance” they released last year.  I’ve included a few songs to check out below – unbelievable how few views the first two currently have.
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So Numb – The title track jumps right into things.  This is a more upbeat and faster tempo track.  Regano’s guitar provides the atmosphere on this song, while the drums and bass rumble along locked in together.  The song builds in intensity as it unfolds and then winds down a little in the middle before building back up again.  I hear some elements of Deafheaven.  My favorite part is near the end when a second guitar comes chugging in to help close it out.
Sleep Well – This track gives off a more anxious vibe, spurred mostly by the guitar.  The rhythm section provides a heavy beat which propels the song forward.  Don’t listen to this if you’re running late for something, it will only make the situation more manic. 
Way Out – This track actually got a promo video from their label, Profound Lore, so the views have actually reached 5 digits instead of 3.  Distorted bass drives this song forward, as the whole band is locked in tight.  Regano’s guitar almost takes on the sound of a synthesizer – a ton of atmospheric sound coming from his amps.  The band takes the song down almost to a standstill before breaking back out for a frantic ending.

Release Radar – Arcade Fire: Everything Now

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What an outstanding and eclectic collection of new releases this week!  What should be considered a legendary band, the under-appreciated Living Colour release their 6th studio album “Shade” today (this is the music I went to first to hear)San Francisco indie-rockers Deerhoof are presenting their 15th album in 20 years“Mountain Moves”, laughing at Deerhoof’s longevity, L.A. experimental synth band Sparks celebrate the 46thanniversary of their first album release with the new LP “Hippopotamus”, speaking of longevity, Neil Younghas a collection of solo acoustic recordings from ’76 out today with “Hitchhiker” (sounds great btw), laid back singer/songwriter Jack Johnson’s 7th album is out today “All the Light Above It Too”, one of my favorite two person bands Death From Above (now minus the “1979”) unleash their 3rd album “Outrage! Is Now”,Canadian indie noise-pop band Alvvays have upped their game on their sophomore album “Antisocialites” and last but not least The National attempt to inject a few welcomed raucous sounds into their 7th album “Sleep Well Beast” to hopefully ensure they don’t become solely featured as background music at hipster dinner parties. 
Ok, I’m featuring the latest album from Arcade Fire this week, “Everything Now”.  I hesitated, thinking this band is popular enough that everyone is probably familiar with them.  But in actuality, I’m guessing many of you may not have listened to much of this band.  And if you have, their sound has been changing quite a lot over their last few albums.  First formed back in 2003 in Montreal, Arcade Fire has evolved from indie rock royalty into mainstream popularity over the course of their 5 studio albums.  And that journey is one that is bound to leave some fans behind, since indie darlings finding commercial success is a sure way to cause some divisiveness.  The band has an interesting beginning – Win Butler (bandleader/singer) spotted Regine Chassagne singing jazz at an art exhibit.  He was charmed, they started a songwriting partnership and then a personal partnership (and eventually marriage).

They then recruited other members for their new band, including Win’s younger brother William.  Since the band members had many eclectic tastes, these different influences were incorporated into their music.  So you had bossa nova, punk, French chanson and pop influencing their sound.  You can hear elements of U2, David Bowie, Talking Heads and other influences.  After cutting an EP, they signed with Merge Records. 
The band unfortunately had a run of deaths unfold prior to recording their first LP – four members had relatives pass.  These deaths sparked their first album aptly titled “Funeral”.  “Funeral” blew-up from a critical perspective which also led to some commercial success.  Arcade Fire played Lollapalooza, Coachella and everywhere in between.
They made the Canadian cover of Time magazine and received a Grammy nomination for best alternative album.  They toured with U2 and counted David Bowie as one of their fans.  For their follow-up, they camped in a church outside of Montreal and recorded “Neon Bible”, which featured a pipe organ, military choir and a full orchestra. 
This album peaked at #2 on the charts and they continued to tour relentlessly.  They put on a great live show, so all of their touring definitely continued to grow their fan base.  Record #3, “The Suburbs”, with its themes of suburban sprawl, childhood memories and middle-class dreams led to #1 charting positions in the U.S. and U.K.  The band also earned many rewards, including a Grammy for album of the year.  They were now selling out shows all around the globe.  For album #4 (a double album), “Reflektor”, they brought on James Murphy (LCD Soundsystem) to produce.  This was more dance-oriented and brought in a lot of world music sounds.  After another ambitious world tour, that brings us to today and their most recent album “Everything Now”.
This album has been the least critically-received of any of their albums to date.  But I think that’s to be expected, given where the band is today.  Once you reach the level of popularity Arcade Fire is at, there are many people waiting to take you down.  Also, if you change your sound up, you always run the risk of people being disappointed because they liked your old sound better. 
Now the album isn’t getting completely panned, there are plenty of stellar reviews mixed in with the naysayers – there are just more naysayers than in the past.  Personally, I really enjoy this album. I understand what the band was trying to accomplish and I like the overlying themes of the album which are statements about today’s society. 
There are songs that reflect the demands for wanting everything right here, right now, wanting to be famous (or at least have a big social media presence) or life’s not worth living, not knowing what you want but wanting everything anyway, access to infinite content, and finding meaning in today’s world. 
The band brought in multiple producers including Thomas Bangalter (Daft Punk), Geoff Barrow (Portishead), Steve Mackey (Pulp) and longtime collaborator Markus Dravs.  The album definitely has a solid groove and danceability that is continued from “Reflektor”.  There is less of a world music influence and more of a disco vibe going on.  Maybe this is an element that turned some off?  Maybe it’s the themes the band is tackling – too big in scope?  Any critique on modern-day society is going to have its naysayers. 
At the end of the day, I think many critics just wanted something to complain about regarding Arcade Fire, because the band is too big now to meet everyone’s objectives.  If they were a new band and they released “Everything Now”, it would have created an unbelievable positive buzz in the music world.  But we all know that is not the case, and the resulting critiques are what they are.
At any rate, Arcade Fire have their 3rd #1 album and a solid addition to their catalog.  I say just enjoy the album for what it is – a solid piece of pop music making a statement about some of the themes going on in today’s society that can also be fun to dance to.  Here are 3 of my favorite songs from “Everything Now” that all appear at the beginning of the album. 
Everything Now – The lead track and single from the album, this song has a joyful sound.  I think this is a good example of some past elements of the band’s music evolving into their current sound.  Produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter, this song sounds great.  Listen to all of the different instruments that are incorporated throughout this track.
Signs of Life – You definitely hear the disco influence on this track.  Also produced by Daft Punk’s Thomas Bangalter.  I like the chorus on this song – “looking for signs of life every night, there’s no signs of life, so we’ll do it again”.  This song has a little bit darker feel, with the prominent bass and slightly ominous synths.  They may have been influenced by previous producer James Murphy on this song.  Nice handclaps at the beginning. 
Creature Comfort – The track rounds out the first 3 on the album (not counting the intro at the very beginning).  Interesting note, the album was recorded so the ending rolls right into the beginning intro.  So if you listen on repeat, there will be no break in the flow.  My favorite lyric “God just make me famous and if you can’t, just make it painless”.  I’m hearing a big Talking Heads influence on this track.  Chassagne’s background vocals are a great contrast.  Geoff Barrow from Portishead produced this track.  Interestingly I don’t hear Portishead at all, but I do like the production on the song.