All Nerve is a strong, clear-eyed return from The Breeders; while Titus Andronicus embraces eclecticism on A Productive Cough; and oppositely, Camp Cope’s sophomore album lacks variety. These, plus Lucy Dacus, DJ Taye, and more in this week’s notable new releases.
Titus Andronicus, A Productive Cough
Even on its cacophonous debut, Titus Andronicus found a singular sound through the fusion of punk with the instruments and melody of pre-rock American music. A Productive Cough, though, is almost entirely devoid of the band’s guitar-driven grandiosity. Instead, mastermind Patrick Stickles has embraced those eclectic influences and concocted a punk gospel record, a collection of secular hymns for the modern world meant not to be sung in churches but shouted in bars by strangers coming together to confront the misery of everyday living. Politics seep in occasionally, most obviously on “Real Talk,” a raucous second-line sing-along, and on “Number One (In New York),” where Stickles invokes Trump’s ascension to set the stage for a thrilling, spittle-flinging rant about his own rocky relationship with being a performer. The rest of the album’s subjects are less dramatic, but the songs find charm in their universality, energy, and wit. That includes a gutsy cover of “Like A Rolling Stone,” which Stickles has rewritten in the first-person, turning Dylan’s classic into a self-deprecating confession that, like so many of the tracks on Cough, achieves its powerful sense of communion through blunt humility.
RIYL: Bruce Springsteen. The Band. That part in “Four Score And Seven” with all the horns.
Start here: It’s hard to deny the electricity coursing through Stickles’ “Number One (In New York)” rave, but Brooklyn-based singer Megg Farrell does her best to steal the show on “Crass Tattoo,” turning the story of Stickles getting a punk tattoo into a religious experience. [Matt Gerardi]
Lucy Dacus, Historian
Lucy Dacus has done a good job of keeping her rock-star ambitions under wraps—at least until now. Where the songs on her debut, No Burden, often moved in a straight line from beginning to end, every song on Historian swells toward a cathartic resolution. It’s felt on “Night Shift,” which unexpectedly explodes around the midway point and becomes a wall-rattling rock song, and almost every other track, from the R&B-indebted “Timefighter” to the horn-aided chorus of “Addictions.” Each song builds to a part that feels unnatural yet strangely welcome, showcasing Dacus’ knack for fronting a big-time rock band, and writing songs that would only feel appropriate blaring out of big speakers on huge stages. Historian stumbles occasionally, with some songs taking a while to get up the hill, but it’s rewarding because it carries such weight and commands such attention.
RIYL: Mitski. Torres. The National.
Start here: “Addictions” is the most simply pleasurable track, with a big chorus underscored by a complementary horn arrangement. [David Anthony]
The Breeders, All Nerve
After reuniting for the Last Splash 20th-anniversary tour in 2013, drummer Jim Macpherson and bassist Josephine Wiggs returned to the studio with Kim and Kelley Deal to record their first album together in 25 years. The result, All Nerve—The Breeders’ fifth LP and second with this lineup—radiates with the band’s excitement to be working together again. The Breeders are known for their dynamic, economical songs, and half here clock in under three minutes, with “All Nerve” and “Howl At The Summit” rivaling the quartet’s best. Kim Deal’s idiosyncratic songwriting remains central, as in the surreal “Nervous Mary” and the unnervingly beautiful “Walking With A Killer,” but the album’s biggest surprises are in its ventures into brooding goth rock (the awesome, Wiggs-led “MetaGoth,” based on a poem by her mother) and cosmic krautrock (a scorching cover of Amon Düül II’s “Archangel’s Thunderbird”). On the whole, All Nerve is a strong, clear-eyed return for Dayton, Ohio’s ’90s alt-rock icons. Let’s hope this lineup sticks it out and gives itself the time it deserved two decades ago.
RIYL: Other Breeders records. ’90s rock. Analog tape recordings, particularly by Steve Albini.
Start here: The barely two-minute “All Nerve” is a twisted love song that finds The Breeders in that sweet spot between the honeyed and the hostile—in other words, their element. [Kelsey J. Waite]
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Camp Cope, How To Socialise & Make Friends
It’s only been a few years since Australia’s Camp Cope put its first song to tape, but the trio has hit upon a winning formula, and it has everything to do with the powerhouse voice of guitarist Georgia “Maq” McDonald. Musically, the songs on sophomore album How To Socialise & Make Friends largely run together: simple, repetitive chord progressions gently rocking in the tradition of early TeenBeat Records bands, sprightly and ambling, but given distinction by Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich’s cool meandering bass lines. There are minor musical digressions—the country-esque “Sagan-Indiana”; the splashy, start-stop rhythm of “Animal & Real”; and the old-school acoustic folk of closer “I’ve Got You”—but overall the tracks struggle to stand apart from one another. Still, with such a dynamic and singular voice holding court over it all, the record is never less than passionate and affecting. From excoriating snide men talking down to women in music, to a harrowing struggle with assault, to deeply personal explorations of love and friendship, McDonald’s strong vocal range makes stirring manifestos of even the more ambiguous lyrical journeys.
RIYL: Unrest. Imagining Juliana Hatfield as a riot grrrl. A bitingly personal Billy Bragg.
Start here: The opening track—aptly called “The Opener”—is a withering takedown of shitty men both in and out of the music scene, and smartly evocative of the album as a whole. [Alex McLevy]
DJ Taye, Still Trippin’
The Chicago-based dance-music subgenre of footwork can be intimidating to newcomers, with its reliance on insistent polyrhythmic beats and vocal repetition. Fortunately, DJ Taye’s Still Trippin’ is one of the most tuneful and accessible examples of the genre. He modifies its more abrasive tendencies by using a rotating cast of rappers and singers (including himself) and cloudy, melodic synthesizer patterns. “The Matrixx” features virtuosic scratching from DJ Manny, while Fabi Reyna contributes live guitar and bass to “I Don’t Know.” There’s a sense of responsible hedonism on the album that seems grounded in the fatal overdose of Taye’s mentor, Teklife founder DJ Rashad, in 2014: DJ Taye endorses weed and mushrooms while celebrating sex but warns against abusing Xanax and synthetic hallucinogenic “research chemicals” on songs like “Trippin’,” “Anotha4,” and “Smokeout.” Still Trippin’ showcases Taye’s ability to structure an album so that it has a genuine sense of dynamics, even if individual songs mainly consist of stuttering beats and vocals.
RIYL: Jlin. DJ Rashad. Footwork compilations like Bangs & Works.
Start here: “Get It Jukin’,” a collaboration with Cool Kids rapper Chuck Inglish, serves up DJ Taye’s most melodic production, as he lays back and creates a hazy electronic backdrop for his guest. [Steve Erickson]
The Men, Drift
The Men have always been creative thieves, taking Ramones album titles and Spacemen 3 riffs and reclaiming them as their own. But for the bulk of the past decade, they’ve been playacting as Neil Young. They framed their seventh album, Drift, as a dramatic shift, led by the goth-tinged electro single “Maybe I’m Crazy.” But while Drift sounds ambitious on paper, it rarely is in practice. For the bulk of the album, The Men pick up acoustic guitars and do their best approximation of Lou Reed fronting The Band. There are charming moments, such as “Rose On Top Of The World” or the instrumental track “Sleep,” but the album never fully congeals. Where other records by The Men showed they could pull from someone else’s playbook and make something their own, Drift’s hodgepodge of styles ultimately makes The Men sound like they couldn’t settle on what they wanted to do.
RIYL: Neil Young. Lou Reed fronting the Eagles.
Start here: The instrumental pieces work a little better, with both “Sleep” and “Come To Me” making bolder statements than most anything else. [David Anthony]
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Black Times
Femi and Seun Kuti, sons of the legendary activist and Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti, just released albums with their respective bands one week apart from one another. But where Femi built a mellower, more optimistic album, his younger brother’s latest quakes with political outrage and confrontation. Leading the surviving members of his father’s band, Seun rails against government corruption and rallies revolutionaries past, present, and future. It’s a message that resonates beyond Nigeria’s borders, but erasing that point of origin would rob it of its identity and fly in the face of songs like “African Dreams,” Seun’s impassioned lament over the brain drain looting his country. For the most part, the music backs up his mood. It’s faster, tougher, and more blood-boiling than usual, but it’s still malleable, growing to a furious peak on “Corporate Public Control Department” or slowing to a mournful groove on “African Dreams.” Fittingly, the only time it really lets him down is when Carlos Santana’s unmistakable guitar tramples all over “Black Times,” dragging the arrangement too far from the roots Seun so righteously upholds.
RIYL: Afrobeat. Trumpet solos. Political furor.
Start here: “Corporate Public Control Department,” a reworked version of “Gimme My Vote Back” from the Struggle Sounds EP, is the album’s most viscerally thrilling protest jam, with Seun attacking Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari (and lying politicians everywhere) as the band careens toward a gloriously aggrieved finale. [Matt Gerardi]
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