Legendary 90s shoegaze band Slowdive has returned with their first new music since 1995’s Pygmalion. Although the group reformed in 2014 for some live performances, they have not released any new tracks until now.
I’ll admit, whenever an older band releases new music after long periods of inactivity, I’m usually not expecting much, but Slowdive has such a strong track record of excellent music that I was cautiously optimistic when I heard they had been in the studio.
“Star Roving” does not disappoint. While their last album had a more minimalist, ambient vibe to it, their newest track recalls the sound of their earlier releases with layers of fuzzy-sounding guitar and distorted vocals. The music in some places sounds reminiscent of the band’s old contemporaries Ride or Chapterhouse, although I was reminded on first listen of the more upbeat Yo La Tengo tracks. I had worried that any new music they put out would sound uninspired or derivative, as can sometimes happen with band reunions, but “Star Roving” shows the band hasn’t lost their songwriting abilities. Hopefully the quality of this track is reflective of any future music Slowdive may put out.
New music output is a fickle thing. There’s new music being released all over the world all the time, even now; however, sometimes there seems to a be a huge burst or lull in output. One of the most reliable of these boom/bust cycles is the early fall rise, and the subsequent December-January comedown. Artists release music in the early fall, anticipating an end-of-year list bump in sales or a possible Grammy nod, and then the music world generally calms down for a while, recharging itself.
The first month of 2016 saw a decent crop, however: Rihanna’s ANTI, Anderson .Paak’s Malibu, and of courseBlackstar all came out in the year’s first month. This year is yet very young, and yet we’ve already had some very high-profile releases in the indie world. The returns of The xx, The Flaming Lips, Run the Jewels, and even Dropkick Murphys have set 2017 off with a plethora of new tunes to try and wrap our brains around. And in the upcoming weeks, we’ll see a flood of new albums to sink our teeth into, seemingly from every genre under the sun. It’s a good time to be a music fan.
Some of the biggest names in music appear poised to release new projects this year, many of them under the ever-widening umbrella of the “indie” scene: Arcade Fire, Spoon, and The Shins have announced albums, and released accompanying singles as well. Tool have been hinting at something for a while (a long, long while) while. The Orwells have a new single. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard is putting out another goddamn album. Gorillaz are coming back! And in the near future, some very exciting releases should be expected. Here’s a few of my most anticipated:
Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick: Los Angeles-based weirdo rockers Cherry Glazerr haven’t released a full album in just over three years, and they seem hellbent on following up their debut record, 2014′s Haxel Princess, with something huge. Collaborating with some big-name producers (Joe Chiccarelli of The Strokes’ Angles and Carlos de la Garza of M83’s Junk), the band is looking to expand their sound and audience on Apocalipstick. Preceding singles include the riffy, groovy “Told You I’d Be With the Guys”, which promises a rock record that could be among the year’s best. Apocalipstick is out January 20 on Secretly Canadian.
Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound: Cloud Nothings have a lot to live up to with this project. The band rode the swell of support for 2012’s Attack on Memory and 2014’s Here and Nowhere Else through the departure of lead guitarist Joe Boyer, a collaborative album with Wavves, and a grueling tour schedule. But now they have to follow up two of the best lo-fi punk records of the decade, and we hope they can follow through on the promise of their two preceding records. Though lead single “Modern Act” disappointed me a little bit, follow-up “Internal World” brought much more to the table. This album, according to frontman Dylan Baldi, is supposed to be a bit more vocally interesting and less dark than Here and Nowhere Else, and I’m optimistic about where this focus will take the band. Life Without Sound is out on January 27 on Carpark Records.
Japandroids, Near to the Wild Heart of Life: Japandroids have been putting out some of the most life-affirming, shout-along music in recent memory, which really makes you wonder: can there really only be two of them? The guitar-and-drums duo get such huge sound out of their instruments that it seems hard to believe. Their most recent release was 2013’s Celebration Rock, a critically acclaimed release that included standout track “The House that Heaven Built”, and since then the black-clad rockers have undoubtedly been looking for a way to adequately follow up a triumph like that. Near to the Wild Heart of Life has to be damn good. The album’s first single is the title track, which comes out of nowhere, hitting you with a thick wall of drums and pure energy. It bodes well for a band whose MO has always been: “Hit ‘em fast, hit ‘em hard.” Near to the Wild Heart of Life is out on January 27 on ANTI-.
The Menzingers, After the Party: The Menzingers are a band that remind me of the do-or-die emotion of high school, and that’s not just because I got a little too into them in my sophomore year. The Philadelphia-based quartet can be counted on for some killer hooks and some incredibly interesting lyrics to boot. 2012’s On the Impossible Past is, in my very humble opinion, completely flawless; it’s a masterwork the whole way through, an emotional call to a time that we’ve either forgotten or never had in the first place. 2014’s Rented World was a bit more flawed, but it had some notable standouts: opener “I Don’t Want to be an Asshole Anymore”, for all its long-windedness, is one of the best things they’ve ever done, and follow-up “Bad Things” is hardly a slouch. Their latest record is preceded by singles that range from decent (“Bad Catholics”) to exceptional (“Lookers”), and I look forward to hearing singers Greg Barnett and Tom May bleeding their hearts out all over the damn thing. After the Party is out February 3 on Epitaph.
Dirty Projectors, Dirty Projectors: Ah, Dirty Projectors. The perfect bridge between Arcade Fire’s accessible anthems to Animal Collective’s unrelenting madness, this band has always occupied a weird place in the indie world: they’re not the weirdos AnCo are, but they’re not exactly a band to show your friend whose closest brush with the indie scene was when he accidentally walked by Sufjan Stevens’ set at Coachella this year. They’ve always been really good, but never have they fully scraped their way into mainstream consciousness. The closest they’ve come was 2012’s Swing Lo Magellan, an album that shivers and shakes but never falls down, and their new self-titled release hopes to deliver further on the promise of that record. If this record has anything near half as good as “About to Die” on it, you can catch me listening to it day and night. Dirty Projectors is out February 24 on Domino Records.
American Wrestlers is a relatively new band, having formed in Missouri in 2014. The band began as the solo act of Gary McClure, originally from Scotland, and a member of the British indie band Working For a Nuclear Free City. He initially released the band’s first album, self-titled American Wrestlers, for free on Bandcamp. After the band began gaining popularity on the internet, American Wrestlers was re-released by Fat Possum Records in 2015. Following this, McClure assembled a full band, with Bridgette Imperial on keyboard, Josh Van Hoorebeke on drums, and Ian Reitz on bass. They have a new album out, Goodbye Terrible Youth, just recently released on November 4th.
American Wrestlers’ music employs a classic indie rock sound that should be familiar to any fans of the genre. While their debut had a more lo-fi sound, as is typical of home recordings, with fuzzy, distorted guitar, their new album has a cleaner, bigger sound, with jangly guitars and catchy riffs. The band’s newer songs are faster and louder than those on American Wrestlers, as the band’s sound evolves, yet they retain the same quality songwriting that drew attention to them in the beginning. As their first album as a full band, Goodbye Terrible Youth shows a lot of promise, and hopefully marks the beginning of a strong career.
Recommended for fans of: Working For a Nuclear Free City, Yuck
Key tracks: “There’s No One Crying Over Me Either,” “Real People,” ”Give Up,” “I Can Do No Wrong”
As the first few seconds of Weyes Blood’s new album ring out, the ethereal piano perfectly sets up the rest of the album: while beautiful, the arpeggio puts us on edge, and as singer and writer Natalie Mering’s vocals come in, it is clear what kind of ride we’re in for. The album is a trip into the stratosphere, and its songs, the lengthy piano ballads, will make space seem like the perfect place to fall in love.
Front Row Seat to Earth is Mering’s first full-length album since 2014’s The Innocents, another solid effort from the Brooklyn singer, and Front Row picks up right where its predecessor left off. Piano, along with Mering’s quivering alto, take center stage for just about the entire album, pairing off nicely with some truly lovesick lyrics.
Take the album’s second song, the lurching “Used to Be”, which includes the chorus’ aching line, “Used to be the one/that knew me/saw through me”. Mering doesn’t hold back the sadness on this album; she lets it lead the way, wearing it like a badge of honor. On cuts like these, you really start to see shades of Sharon van Etten, another female singer-songwriter preoccupied with pain. And, like van Etten, Mering does a fantastic job of tastefully riding waves of sadness in these songs.
Acoustic ballad “Be Free” includes some truly enchanting harmonies, lifting the song into the same territory as Radiohead’s “How to Disappear Completely” as a song that doesn’t need to be any more than it is, and it works its melancholy magic to perfection. “Be Free” is a truly beautiful song, one of the most major-key songs on the album, and yet it never feels truly happy. It’s a nostalgic song, to be sure.
However, it’s on “Be Free” that I started to notice how long the songs are. This is a 45-minute album, but it only has nine songs on it, eight if you don’t count the two-minute instrumental outro. An album like this needs to give the listener a bit more room to breathe; it’s very easy to get lost in a song, like the six-and-a-half minute “Do You Need My Love”, making it hard to pay attention to the entire thing. The second half of the album tends to get weighed down by this problem. By the time we get there, we’re already worn out from listening.
That’s not to say these songs are bad, by the way. “Generation Why” starts very slowly, but its barren sound is a nice change from the overblown noise of “Do You Need My Love”. It’s vocals, also, echo some of Imogen Heap’s work in the best way possible. This trend continues on the almost entirely vocal “Can’t Go Home”, which is a nice track but really shows the signs of listener fatigue that gets this part of the album. Single “Seven Words” is a nice foray back into percussion; though Weyes Blood is almost always at her best when drums aren’t in the mix, we need them here, to keep the songs moving forward a little quicker. I love the soulful, beachy guitar solo in the middle of this track, bringing a nice swell of melody and color into the song. “Away Above”, the last track with vocals, is one of the best cuts on the album, with warm acoustic guitar and subtle percussion giving Mering a perfect backdrop to sing in front of.
This is a great album for those who are fans of music made out of great sadness. The album is haunting in every way, with special considerations going to Mering’s incredible vocal performance throughout the album, which perfectly showcases both her range and her greatest strengths. The album tends to drag a bit, so don’t expect to be particularly familiar with the last few songs until a few listens in. Any fans of Sharon van Etten and Sufjan Stevens will certainly enjoy this album, but it’s worth a listen for anybody.
Front Row Seat to Earth is available on Mexican Summer Records.
Swedish indie pop band The Radio Dept. is back with a new album Running Out of Love. The band, currently composed only of members Johan Duncansson and Martin Carlberg, has been embroiled in a legal battle with their record label Labrador, delaying new musical releases for several years. This marks the band’s first album since their successful 2010 release Clinging to a Scheme.
Although The Radio Dept. has often been characterized by their blend of dream pop and shoegaze inspired music, Running Out of Love represents a shift towards a more electronic style. Though the band has clearly shown an electronic influence in the past, this album takes that trend the furthest, moving towards a full synth-pop sound.
The upbeat, danceable feeling created by the synths and beat contrast with the somber mood of the album. Though there are still traces of the signature fuzzy and distorted sound typical of the band’s music, the general feeling of these tracks is much more cold than the warm and comfortable feeling of their past efforts. The lyrics, too, are much more solemn and politically charged than in the past. While many of us here in Seattle are preoccupied with American politics as the election grows closer, The Radio Dept. have focused on Swedish political issues in this album, and tackle what the band views as regression in Swedish society.
Opening track “Slobada Narodu,” takes it’s title from a famous anti-fascist slogan originating from WWII, meaning “power to the people.” It begins the album with impactful percussion, slowly building up to the second track, previously released single “Swedish Guns,” a critique of the Swedish arms industry. Other notable topics addressed on the album appear in tracks such as “We Got Game,” which criticizes the actions and biased motivation of the police, and “Occupied,” which details the band’s legal dispute with their label.
Although on first listen there may not seem to be any standout tracks on quite the same level as “Strange Things Will Happen” and “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done” from 2003’s Lesser Matters, or “Heaven’s on Fire” from Clinging to a Scheme, further listens reveal many strong moments on the album, such as the catchy “This Thing Was Bound to Happen,” or the danceable instrumental outro of “Committed to the Cause.” Running Out of Love may not be the band’s greatest work, but it nevertheless serves as another strong addition to their discography.
Listen to Running Out of Love here or listen to single “Swedish Guns” below: