The Saga Continues is the best Wu Tang-related effort since 2010’s Wu-Massacre, while Long Island punks Iron Chic channel the loss of their founding guitarist into an explosive third album. These plus Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, King Krule, and more in this week’s notable releases.
Wu-Tang, The Saga Continues
There was fair reason to be dubious about this record: Wu-Tang Clan’s last group effort was an embarrassment, and this seemed even more cobbled-together, with production handled by longtime associate Mathematics and merely “featuring” many rappers from the Clan. But surprise, surprise: It turns out to be the best Wu-related effort since 2010’s thin yet enjoyable Wu-Massacre. Mathematics has been intricately involved with the Wu since its inception—he designed the “W” logo—and he turns out to do a better RZA than the RZA these days, stitching together more than an hour of trilling violins, head-snap drums, and mawkish hooks. It’s the sort of low-investment play on nostalgia a crew this talented should’ve been able to assemble more regularly over the past decade or so, the rap equivalent of Eric Clapton firing off some blues covers. (“If What You Say Is True” even features a live-action recreation of one of the group’s most famous samples, which is somehow sort of charming.) Everyone acquits themselves admirably on the mic, whether it’s reliable old Raekwon or one of many no-names like, um, “Mzee Jones” (?). Most surprising of all is Redman, long a satellite member, who pitches in with a trio of live, limber verses. It’s low-stakes stuff, but if you’re enough of a Wu fan to read this far, you’ll be happy the saga continues—at least for now.
RIYL: Older, better Wu-Tang records.
Start here: “People Say” has verses from more Wu members than any other track, plus a typically fun Redman verse, and—as befits this album—a truly wack hook. [Clayton Purdom]
Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile, Lotta Sea Lice
You have to wonder if this collaboration started with the name: Kurt & Courtney is pretty irresistible, even if it comes with some serious baggage. Whatever the case, pairing Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile makes perfect musical sense, since each favors unflappable, laid-back guitar rock with half-sung, story-focused lyrics. Funnily enough, their similar deliveries actually complement each other nicely: They sound like opposite sides of the same chill coin. The best of this brief bunch is the sweet, trotting “Over Everything,” in which the singers trade lines about their everyday lives—it almost seems to have been written as it was sung, just the sound of two strummers hanging out on the porch. Most of Lotta Sea Lice follows suit, though “Fear Is Like A Forest” adds a bit of Neil Young fuzz and dramatic tension. Most of the songs here are new, though each honors the other with a cover as well: Vile does Barnett’s “Out Of The Woodwork” (renaming it “Outta The Woodwork”) and cheers it up a bit, while Barnett does a pretty faithful version of Vile’s gorgeous acoustic number “Peeping Tomboy.” It’s a lovefest in the best way, and a worthy addition to both of their catalogs.
RIYL: Courtney Barnett. Kurt Vile. Thinking about smoking weed but not actually doing it.
Start here: “Over Everything” will give you an idea of whether you’ll love this record in less than a minute. [Josh Modell]
Iron Chic, You Can’t Stay Here
For an album so anthemic, You Can’t Stay Here is almost relentlessly bleak. On top of the huge guitars and fist-pumping songs, frontman Jason Lubrano’s words radiate pain and grief compounded by the loss of founding guitarist Rob McAllister, who died suddenly in early 2016. All of that pain could make Iron Chic’s third album a slog, but the band’s tuneful, melodic punk never wallows—it explodes. You Can’t Stay Here is practically 40 straight minutes of catharsis, alternately resigned and defiant, all of it huge. Standout track “My Best Friend (Is A Nihilist)” nicely captures its best elements, turning despair into a sing-along: “It’s like driving a runaway hearse / And I can’t stop, I just make things worse / Come on and take the wheel from me / Put me out of my misery.” You Can’t Stay Here presents an album as coping strategy, and it succeeds magnificently.
RIYL: Jeff Rosenstock. Latterman. Hot Water Music. Samiam.
Start here: We talked about it in What Are You Listening To This Week?, and with good reason: “My Best Friend (Is A Nihilist)” stands out with its anthemic chorus and its beaten-down-but-ultimately-hopeful lyrics. [Kyle Ryan]
King Krule, The Ooz
The sophomore full-length from Archy “King Krule” Marshall certainly lives up to its title. The Ooz could easily refer to the album’s sound, a sopping mixture of downtempo hip-hop, lounge jazz, and punk that evokes grimy back alleys and head spaces. It’s also a constant thematic touchstone across the young South Londoner’s lyrics. Marshall’s songs remain deeply, sometimes uncomfortably personal. In the world and experiences he conjures, the ooze isn’t just slime on the streets; it’s the unwanted gunk that seeps into our beings: anger, depression, loneliness, and especially love in all its sticky awfulness.
But at a whopping 66 minutes, Marshall often falls into self-indulgence, reciting his angst-riddled poetry over the endless droning of muffled guitars and electronic atmospherics. On The Ooz’s best tracks—the film-noir heartbreak of “Czech One”; the roaring psychobilly of “Visual”—he’s able to focus the disparate elements of his music into something digestible but no less distinct or discomforting. All that aimlessness is certainly on brand for the hazy expanses Marshall so clearly wants to create, but like the seeping unctuousness for which the album is named, it threatens to engulf his more potent songs.
RIYL: Being freaked out in dark alleys. Upright bass. The idea of Tom Waits by way of James Blake.
Start here: “Dum Surfer” gives you King Krule at the height of his powers—a saxy, sleazy number that tells the story of one very rough night on the town. [Matt Gerardi]
William Patrick Corgan, Ogilala
What’s in a name? For Billy Corgan—whose shuffling of Smashing Pumpkins lineups might suggest otherwise—a name says a lot, which is why he’s opted for the suitably grown “William Patrick Corgan” on his second solo album. Ogilala similarly carries the weight of age: a collection of somber ballads recorded primarily on acoustic guitar or piano, it’s the barstool-bound, VH1 Storytellers album rockers tend to make in their more reflective years. Producer Rick Rubin (who practically invented this kind of thing) tastefully augments the proceedings with light arrangements of synth and strings, but mostly, it’s all about Corgan’s voice.
Corgan’s had success in this hushed arena before (“Disarm,” most of Adore), but rarely has so much depended on just his alluringly strained singing. Here Corgan slides from a broken coo to his old, familiar falsetto on the David Bowie tribute “Zowie”; leans heavy on an affected vibrato for the Bowie-by-way-of-Elton piano-pounder “Aeronaut”; lets it croak ever so slightly on the ruminative “Archer”; and even adopts a slight Nashville twang for the strummy “Mandarynne.” But no matter what he does to it, that voice is still unmistakably Billy, and while Ogilala gives it some genuine moments of quietly affecting beauty, after 11 beatless tracks laden with burdensome titles (“Amarinthe,” “Antietam,” “Shiloh,” “Half-Life Of An Autodidact”), yet light on memorable melodies or any lyrics that match the frankness of the setting, by album’s end, you long to hear it over a wall of guitars again.
RIYL: Smashing Pumpkins, but just the quiet filler tracks. When rockers suddenly realize they’re gonna die someday. “Well… Maybe he’ll do some old ones for the encore.”
Start here: It’s little surprise that Ogilala’s best song, “Processional,” features a reunion with James Iha of, yep, Smashing Pumpkins. [Sean O’Neal]
Melkbelly, Nothing Valley
With an infectious energy that shines through even the most plodding beats, the debut LP from Chicago’s Melkbelly is the kind of inspired noise-pop that similarly conquers 100 sound-alikes to lodge itself in the brain. Nothing Valley sounds like a long-lost indie-rock staple from the early ’90s, all squealing guitars and lo-fi production values, conveying an endearingly ramshackle punk vibe that belies its artful construction—a hyper-caffeinated Pavement with extra distortion pedals. Jittery start-stop art-pop nuggets sit alongside droning bass riffs, often fused to ferocious squalls of sound. Throughout it all is the minor-key melodicism found in the jangling licks and sing-song vocals of Miranda Winters, who sounds like nothing so much as a third Deal sister. (It’s no surprise that Melkbelly is currently on tour with The Breeders.) The music’s frenetic exuberance makes Melkbelly its own beast, agreeably loose and loud, and thoroughly accessible below its deceptive, no-wave exterior.
RIYL: Speedy Ortiz. The Breeders. Early Pavement. Deerhoof’s more punk-leaning songs.
Start here: While album opener “Off The Lot” isn’t the most representative—its Lightning Bolt-like propulsiveness suggests something far more hardcore than what follows—it does capture the album’s warped sense of catchy melody. [Alex McLevy]
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