Hardcore veterans Converge play to their strengths on The Dusk In Us, while Shamir’s Revelations is earnest and rewarding, if not as effervescent as Ratchet. These, plus Big K.R.I.T. and Sam Smith in the week’s notable new releases.
And in case you missed it, read this week’s review of Fever Ray’s Plunge right here.
Converge, The Dusk In Us
Following a formidable run of records that twisted punk and metal into ferocious new shapes, Converge’s ninth studio album—and first since 2012’s definitively eclectic All We Love We Leave Behind—finds the Boston hardcore veterans playing to their strengths, rather than refining or evolving them. From the angular melodrama of opener “A Single Tear” to the berserk percussive frenzy of “Arkhipov Calm” to the moody murder balladry of the title track (cut from the same breathy quiet-loud-quiet cloth as the Deftones’ “Change”), fans have heard these songs before. But the thing is, even Converge’s most familiar anthems have a caged-animal intensity and steel-trap precision that artists half as young would kill for; these titans have been so good for so long that they’re basically competing with themselves. The Dusk In Us can’t match the apocalyptic power of a classic like 2001’s Jane Doe, but when Converge takes a victory lap, it still does it at a mad sprint.
RIYL: Botch. Dillinger Escape Plan. Any of the countless metal and hardcore bands influenced by Converge, including the many that have entrusted mixing duties to axe man (and guitar-tone authority) Kurt Ballou.
Start here: “Under Duress” commences with a beefy, swaggering riff that recalls Pantera at its most pissed-off, before exploding into an anxious, bellowing racket. If this rager gets your heart pounding, there’s more where that came from. [A.A. Dowd]
Big K.R.I.T., 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time
There are few figures in recent hip-hop more immediately likable than Big K.R.I.T., the Southern rapper who combines the evangelical fervor of Killer Mike with the self-conscious moral introspection of J. Cole. He’s one of the few rappers/producers who’s equally skilled at both disciplines, effortlessly craning out post-Dungeon Family symphonies of car-rattling bass lines, trilling hi-hats, pitch-shifted soul, wailing guitars, and gospel breakdowns. The new double LP 4eva Is A Mighty Long Time is his most ambitious and amiable album in an ambitious and amiable discography, pummeling listeners with 90 minutes of massively detailed Southern rap. The tough, chest-beating first disc gives way to a second disc that’s just a little too fond of syrupy interludes. But as with his other releases, K.R.I.T.’s signature sincerity reigns supreme. When he’s locked in—as he is on the blazing, Curren$y-style blunt-burner “Aux Cord” or the low-key sex raps of “1999”—it’s a reminder that, while K.R.I.T. only does one thing, he’s really, really good at it.
RIYL: Dungeon Family. Curren$y. Pre-RTJ Killer Mike.
Start Here: K.R.I.T.’s kitchen-sink approach to production works beautifully on the massive “Big Bank,” which K.R.I.T.—ever reverent of his elders—caps off with a throwback T.I. verse. [Clayton Purdom]
Shamir broke through with his effervescent 2015 debut Ratchet, but the quieter, DIY rock of Revelations makes it clear that he’s not just about dazzling dance-pop. Since Ratchet, Shamir has parted ways with his label and management, been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and debated retiring from music altogether, and all of this strife fuels the earnest, rewarding Revelations, billed as a “sister record” to Shamir’s self-released Hope from last spring. The beats and looping horns may be gone, but Shamir’s soul, wit, and unmistakable timbre still anchor every song, threading catchy melodies through distorted guitar strings. Revelations thrives in that dissonance between its lo-fi production and Shamir’s striking falsetto, with tracks like “Her Story” impressively melding Motown and grunge influences. There’s a rawness to its exploration of queerness and Shamir’s attempts to reconcile happiness with mental illness, but throughout, Shamir’s resilient spirit radiates through the pain.
RIYL: Waxahatchee. Frankie Cosmos. The sounds of healing.
Start here: With its surfer chords, “Blooming” is Revelations’ most infectious song. [Cameron Scheetz]
Sam Smith, The Thrill Of It All
Sam Smith’s electrifying performance on Disclosure’s 2012 sleeper hit “Latch” stoked anticipation for his solo debut, In The Lonely Hour, two years later; unfortunately, the album delivered 32 minutes of uniformly bland, slow pop songs that felt both overproduced and undercooked. Nevertheless, Lonely Hour managed to break multiple chart records and earn Smith four Grammys, so it’s not surprising the 25-year-old crooner would double down on the formula for The Thrill Of It All. This time around, Smith has fully committed to modeling himself after fellow Brit belter Adele: From its polished retro-soul production to its black-and-white portrait cover, Thrill blatantly echoes 21 and 25. But those records, even while appealing to a broad audience, conveyed an emotional complexity and self-awareness that Smith just doesn’t seem to have yet. To date, the only real distinction of Smith’s music is his voice—and though he’s a talented singer, even that’s dulled by songs this predictably vanilla.
RIYL: Youthful longing. Loneliness. Melismata. Knowing exactly where songs are going.
Start here: “No Peace” stands out for singer Yebba’s appearance; her soulful rasp complements Smith well, and the two deliver a scorned-lover duet that almost has the sting of a Mary J. Blige jam. [Kelsey J. Waite]
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