Arctic Monkeys’ sixth album feels unmoored, while Tee Grizzley’s Activated sounds like the work of a budding superstar, and La Luz explores the textures of its tiki-bar sound on Floating Features. These, plus The Body and Mark Kozelek in this week’s notable new releases.
Also out today is Beach House’s 7—read our extended take on it right here.
Tee Grizzley, Activated
Barely a year since the release of My Moment (“I can’t take no breaks,” he raps in “Robbin”), Tee Grizzley takes a bold step forward with Activated. Where My Moment chronicled his life through his parole, Activated follows his breakout year. Grizzley flaunts his success—with assists from Chris Brown, Lil’ Yachty, Jeezy, and others—but with a sense of wonder at what he overcame to get it. His best moments are his most personal, like the album-opening title track where he raps, “I had to make it, I had to,” or in the standout “Robbin,” in which he mournfully reflects on fair-weather friends. Musically, Grizzley still favors the dramatic, often lacing piano with synthesizers and low-key beats, but Activated also has moments of overwhelming busy-ness when it could have used less. Still, when all of the elements hit, Activated feels like the work of a budding superstar.
RIYL: Lil Yachty. YoungBoy Never Broke Again. Rae Sremmurd.
Start here: “Robbin” qualifies as a ballad (echoes of Drake), but it’s not soft. Grizzley has some of the most pointed lyrics of Activated, and the song has some of the album’s best production flourishes, like channel-bouncing synthesizers and a knotty synth bass line. [Kyle Ryan]
Arctic Monkeys, Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino
[Domino Recording Company]
The Arctic Monkeys’ meditative sixth studio album unfolds like the soundtrack to a stylized movie set in a slightly futuristic parallel universe. Vocalist Alex Turner’s lively lyrics express skepticism about technology and politics (not to mention his own place in the world), and are tinted with a sci-fi aura. Accordingly, the record’s velvet-trimmed music feels slightly phase-shifted from the present day, thanks to loose arrangements, minimal drums, and an abundance of celestial textures: daubs of searing electric guitar, louche piano, creaky Wurlitzer, eerie Farfisa, and macabre harpsichord. Unfortunately, there are no obvious hooks on Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino, which is its major weakness: Although Turner cranks up the rakish charm, in the form of falsetto (“Golden Trunks”) and Morrissey-esque, clenched-jaw self-effacement (“She Looks Like Fun”), the album feels unmoored and even plodding due to a lack of structure.
RIYL: Blur’s later albums. Pulp’s darkest crevices. Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds. Morrissey’s approximations of the Rat Pack. Gothic jazz.
Start here: The slow-motion jazz croon of opener “Star Treatment” begins with a vivid scene that could be the start of a David Lynch film: “I just wanted to be one of The Strokes,” drawls Turner in a conspiratorial tone. “Now look at the mess you made me make, hitchhiking with a monogrammed suitcase.” [Annie Zaleski]
Every fiber of The Body is drenched in misery: an all-consuming despair perfectly communicated via squawks, rumbles, and nightmarish feedback. But a faint pop-music flicker illuminates the bottomless pit that this prolific art-metal duo has dug for itself, alone and in unholy collaboration. And on I Have Fought Against It, But I Can’t Any Longer, the band nurtures that glow, letting stray embers of electronica, opera, hip-hop, and reggae drift out of the darkness. Forgoing original instrumentation in favor of a dense collage of samples, The Body conjures an oddly catchy apocalypse on “Nothing Stirs” and “Off Script,” while guest vocalists like Uniform’s Michael Berdan—whose hate-choked bellow makes the NIN influence explicit—provide decipherable counterpoint to frontman Chip King’s slaughterhouse squeal. Evocatively titled for a line in Virginia Woolf’s suicide letter, it’s house music for the discotheque of the damned: a howl from the gutter that you can dance to.
RIYL: Godflesh. Sick beats and sickness. Satan’s club mix.
Start here: For a taste of Fought’s peculiar genre blend, cue up “An Urn,” which splices together Casio keyboard, shit-hot Rick Rubin-grade percussion, and a full-throated, show-stopping performance from a kindred spirit in feel-bad music, Kristin Hayter of Lingua Ignota. [A.A. Dowd]
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La Luz, Floating Features
California sounds good on surf-rock quartet La Luz, which moved from Olympia, Washington to Los Angeles in the three years between its second album, Weirdo Shrine, and its third, Floating Features. A subtle blend of retro musical styles throughout allows singer-guitarist Shana Cleveland and the rest of the band to explore the textures of their sound, with shades of velvety psychedelia, noirish surf guitar, shimmery dream pop, and fidgety girl-group angst. The lyrics, dominated by B-movie monsters and altered states of consciousness, give a darker edge to the music, like a fitful dream after falling asleep in a sunny meadow, while the slick production evokes the thatched straw walls and multicolored blowfish lamps of a tropical tiki bar. In fact, La Luz’s sound is a lot like a mai tai: Both sweet and strong, it goes down easy before knocking you flat.
RIYL: Dum Dum Girls. L.A. Witch. Shannon And The Clams. Quentin Tarantino soundtracks.
Start here: The heat exhaustion really starts to set in on “California Finally,” a song that wanders through a desert of woozy, keyboard-driven psychedelia and lo-fi fuzz in search of the cool, refreshing surf-rock reverb in Cleveland’s guitar solos. [Katie Rife]
Mark Kozelek, Mark Kozelek
It’s hard to describe what Mark Kozelek does these days as “songwriting.” It’s more like a form of podcasting, as he gathers a few times a year with friends—sometimes in his main band, Sun Kil Moon—and rambles about his daily life, punctuated by shout-outs to his sponsors, ESPN Classic and Panera Bread. Kozelek’s new self-titled solo album is more “fans only” than usual, with its minimal instrumental backing and repetitious observations about touring, aging, kitty cats, eating at restaurants, and how much he loves his girlfriend. The biggest musical development is that Kozelek is playing more with loops now and sometimes turning his own muttering voice into a background tone. Newcomers are unlikely to care much, but anyone who’s been following the man’s career since the Red House Painters should appreciate how he keeps looking for new ways to convert his very existence into art.
RIYL: Patti Smith. Leo Kottke. Marc Maron.
Start here: “The Mark Kozelek Museum” has everything a Kozelek song needs: a random memory of an old lover, a report on an Ariel Pink concert, concern about the state of the indie rock business, and disgust at the stench of European festival porta-potties (set to a loop of the word “diarrhea”). [Noel Murray]
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