Hot Snakes sound more aggressive than ever on Jericho Sirens, while Bishop Nehru’s Elevators gets a lift from skilled collaborators, and The Decemberists turn in their most divisive album yet. These, plus Mount Eerie’s follow-up to last year’s stunning A Crow Looked At Me in this week’s notable new releases.
And in case you missed it, read our review of Yo La Tengo’s There’s A Riot Going On, also released this week, right here.
Mount Eerie, Now Only
Any chance that Phil Elverum might be through using music to make sense of the tragedy that’s swallowed his life evaporates within the opening seconds of the new Mount Eerie album. He’s still “living in the blast zone” created by the loss of his wife, cartoonist Geneviève Castrée, whose death inspired the minimalist dirges on last year’s heart-wrenching A Crow Looked At Me. Now Only is just as devastatingly direct, but there are glimmers of catharsis—of light gleaming in tears, as Elverum puts it. Where Crow occupied a numb, purgatorial present tense, the new record leaps around like a wandering mind, to vivid anecdotes from the singer-songwriter’s past. Now Only also hesitantly reintroduces some sonic variety, augmenting Crow’s stark, plainspoken folk; in this context, the crunch of doom-metal guitar on “Distortion” sounds almost hopeful, to say nothing of the hint of humor—and the presence of an actual, ironically catchy chorus—on the title track. Elverum may spend the rest of his career grappling with his grief. It’s a tough, beautiful privilege to be invited along on that journey.
RIYL: Introspective folk. Staring into the abyss.
Start here: Though every bit as heartbreaking as the rest of the album, “Now Only” boasts very faint glimmers of Elverum’s more playful side: The faux-upbeat chorus (“People get cancer and die / People get hit by trucks and die”) finds him interrogating his own suffering, and a passage about how surreal it is to play these elegiac, highly personal “death songs” at music festivals includes some wonderfully details, like “leaning on Skrillex’s tour bus” and staying up all night jumping on beds with Weyes Blood and Father John Misty. [A.A. Dowd]
When Bishop Nehru was only 18, he released NehruvianDoom, a collaboration with underground icon MF DOOM. The record was spotty, but Nehru came out unscathed, a promising polyglot talent signing (and then bailing) from Nas’s label, then firing off spacy records like 2016’s MAGIC: 19 and last year’s Emperor Nehru’s New Groove, which is, yes, based on the bad Disney cartoon with David Spade. Nehru’s new Elevators is split evenly: the first half is all airy, high-flying collaborations with Kaytranada, and the second half reunites him with DOOM for more stomping, Saturday-morning-cartoon indie rap. Nothing here is revelatory, and DOOM is clearly firing off files labeled “beat.mp3” for the younger artist, but there’s too much talent for this not to all still sort of work, particularly on Kaytranada’s extraordinarily lush soundscapes. Nehru’s continued to grow as a rapper, too, here packing “Potassium” with the dizzying rhyme schemes and cornball references of his mentor, and landing some extremely NBA-Twitter punchlines like, “Wanted the top spot since a tot like taters / Double down on myself like I’m Dion Waiters.” You are either immediately sold on this album or turned off it by that excerpt; proceed accordingly.
RIYL: Underground rap comfort food. Cartoon samples. Actual MF DOOM albums.
Start here: Nehru tangoes with some compulsively listenable funk guitars on “Get Away,” a great example of his adroit wordplay and Kaytranada’s luminous work behind the boards. [Clayton Purdom]
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Hot Snakes, Jericho Sirens
Although Hot Snakes ostensibly broke up in 2005, nothing’s final in the 30-year Rick Froberg-John Reis partnership, so it wasn’t surprising when the band reunited for shows in 2011 or announced a new album last year. Nor is it surprising they haven’t lost a step. Hot Snakes’ jittery, slyly melodic strain of rock—which draws from punk, post-hardcore, and garage rock—is based on rock ’n’ roll fundamentals, and lends Hot Snakes a timelessness. Where 2004’s Audit In Progress was (relatively) restrained—Froberg wasn’t howling through every song—Jericho Sirens sounds more unstable and aggressive. Reis sought dissonance, according to press materials. Other Hot Snakes albums had tension and release, “but this one is mainly tension.” The palpable anxiety of “I Need A Doctor” opens the album, segueing into the dissonant dread of “Candid Cameras” and the ferocious 78 seconds of “Why Don’t It Sink In?” “Death Camp Fantasy” is a vintage Hot Snakes pounder, and Froberg howls like Brian Johnson in “Psychoactive.” It all works. Whenever Hot Snakes decide to get together, they will always be welcome.
RIYL: Hating on the deficiency of rock in contemporary pop music. The discographies of John Reis and Rick Froberg. Loud guitars and pounding drums.
Start here: “Death Camp Fantasy” hits a sweet spot of power and hooks, its palm-muted aggression giving way to a catchy chorus. [Kyle Ryan]
The Decemberists, I’ll Be Your Girl
After seven previous studio albums and nearly 20 years together as a band, The Decemberists turn in their most divisive catalog entry with album No. 8. On I’ll Be Your Girl, the Portland group adopts new-wave synths, glam-rock poses, and studio trickery that warps Colin Meloy’s voice, underlines keyboardist Jenny Conlee’s role as The Decemberists’ secret weapon, and steeps the album in smoke-machine-and-lasers atmosphere. The mood is grim even by past standards, overseen by Texan gore hound John Congleton and only occasionally punctuated by the likes of lovely little lullaby “Tripping Along”—the cheeriest number here pirouettes around the title “Everything Is Awful.” First single “Severed” is a thundering warning shot, and the eight-minute “Rusalka, Rusalka/Wild Rushes” argues that the band should get a do-over on 2009’s The Hazards Of Love with Congleton at the boards, but the sense of character and storytelling in those songs is missing elsewhere. I’ll Be Your Girl is a welcome sign of a veteran band eager to experiment, but it’s also the first Decemberists album where the sounds are more interesting than the songs.
RIYL: The parts of Roxy Music’s Avalon that you can’t make out to. Mid-career departures. Slavic mermaid myths.
Start here: “Severed” serves up the heaviness of The Decemberists’ prog-rock detours in a more compact form, with a sense of foreboding instilled by creepy-crawly synth arpeggios and sideways allusions to creeping American authoritarianism. [Erik Adams]
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