Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Dinosaur Jr. shreds and Arooj Aftab stuns: 5 new releases we love

Dinosaur Jr. (photo: Cara Totman) and Arooj Aftab (photo: Diana Markosian)
Dinosaur Jr. (photo: Cara Totman) and Arooj Aftab (photo: Diana Markosian)
Image: The A.V. Club

There’s a lot of music out there. To help you cut through all the noise, every week The A.V. Club is rounding up A-Sides, five recent releases we think are worth your time. You can listen to these and more on our Spotify playlist, and if you like what you hear, we encourage you to purchase featured artists’ music directly at the links provided below. Unless otherwise noted, all releases are now available.

Advertisement

Dinosaur Jr., Sweep It Into Space

[Jagjaguwar]

You could probably count on one hand the number of guitarists with a distinctive enough sound to make them instantly recognizable in a lineup, and J Mascis is one of them. At this point—five albums into the band’s second phase with its original trio lineup—nobody goes into a new Dinosaur Jr. album expecting some reinvention of the sound. Still, there’s enough new creative reach on Sweep It Into Space to feel like a small evolution of the group’s sonic vocabulary. Sure, there are the expected shredders, awesome as ever (album opener “I Ain’t,” “I Expect It Always”), and the southern indie twang is back on a few, as well (along with some guest licks from co-producer Kurt Vile on “I Ran Away,” among others). But the tinkling mellotron lead of “Take It Back” feels new, and one of Lou Barlow’s requisite two tracks, “Garden,” is a revelation, almost approaching orchestral pop in its dense refrains and sparkling arrangements. Mascis has always earned the Neil Young comparisons in his vocal delivery, but the group’s looser, slightly slowed-down vibe here really draws it out. Who would’ve thought, back in the days of “Freak Scene,” that the members of Dinosaur Jr. would’ve slid into their role as elder statesmen of rock so excellently? [Alex McLevy]

Blood Lemon, Blood Lemon

[Self-released]

Emerging fully formed like Athena from the head of her father Zeus, Blood Lemon is ready to charge onto the field of musical battle. The headbanging imagery is wholly appropriate, given that this Boise three-piece plays political indie rock in the ’90s PNW mold, but with heavy instrumentation that lends their sound a thunderous hard-rock resonance. (Their self-titled debut was mastered by Mell Dettmer, who’s worked with Earth and Sunn O))).) Either way, the name of the game is guitars: Heavy psych guitar on single “Black-Capped Cry,” short, sharp guitar like an old-fashioned busy signal on album opener “Bruise,” full, crunchy guitar that grabs your attention in the opening notes of “Whistleblower.” Sometimes, Blood Lemon shifts between these musical modes within a single song; take “Burned,” which starts off as buzzy grunge pop you can bounce around the room to before guitarist Lisa Simpson takes off into a psychedelic solo midway through. If you have Sleater-Kinney filed next to Sleep in your record collection, Blood Lemon is a rock ’n’ roll hybrid you may not have considered, but will more than likely enjoy. [Katie Rife]

Arooj Aftab, Vulture Prince

 [New Amsterdam]

There’s a spare beauty that comes through in nearly every second of Prince Vulture, the second album from Pakistani-born (but New York-based) Arooj Aftab. The singer and composer fuses elements of traditional Pakistani music, jazz, classical, and more, yet that heady stew of influences combine to form a remarkably cohesive and singular musical style. Whether inventively reworking well-known Pakistani numbers like “Mohabbat,” new takes on live favorites (the Rumi poem “Last Night”), or wholly original songs (opener “Baghon Main,” the almost Bjork-like bustle of closer “Suroor”), her voice sails along, weaving in and out of the minimal arrangements like an intimate narrator recounting stories of loss, love, and growth. Inspired by “revisiting places I’ve called mine, places that don’t necessarily exist anymore,” as Aftab puts it, the album conjures visions of meditative release, the tracks ebbing and flowing with acoustic instrumentation and the soft thrum of the rhythms. It’s new age music in the best sense of the term: thoughtful and inspirational, fusing international aesthetics in a supple and quiet manner that brings out a mood of purgative introspection. The word “haunting” gets overused, but Aftab earns it in spades. [Alex McLevy]

Advertisement

Big Brave, Vital

[Southern Lord]

There are no big surprises on the fifth full-length from this bone-rattling Montreal three-piece. Each of the album’s five tracks follows the pattern established by prior hurricanes of sound like Ardor and A Gaze Among Them: an escalating apocalyptic stomp, growing louder and more intense by the minute, like darkened clouds creeping across the sky, until the guitar starts roaring like thunder. But if frontwoman Robin Wattie and her coconspirators in crunch aren’t quite reinventing their lumbering racket, they’re definitely refining it. Vital might be their grandest assault yet, at once sprawling and tight—and it plays exhilarating games of tension and release, such as the periodic pauses that arrive mid-downpour, dimming the cacophony to a hum (or even silence) before cranking the volume again. It’s the eye of the storm, an ominous passage of calm that only makes the storm itself more devastating. Or to put it in Spinal Tap terms: This one goes to 11, but it spends some productive time at the 3 end of the dial, too. [A.A. Dowd]

Advertisement

Tom Jones, Surrounded By Time

[EMI]

Eighty-year-old pop music legend Tom Jones returns with Surrounded By Time, an experimental exploration of some much-beloved songs—with certain takes more successful than others. The classic musing on the passage of time in “Windmills Of Your Mind” just seems more poignant given Jones’ current station in life (though he’s already lining up some live performances; get your underwear ready for tossing, everyone). Jones’ reinterpretation of Dylan’s “One More Cup Of Coffee” is a smoky, angsty revelation as he fearlessly faces off against “the valley below.” The Welsh native has always had excellent taste in music (as viewers of his variety show This Is Tom Jones can attest), so the sublime selections here aren’t too surprising, even when he noodles his way into 4AD territory in leadoff track “I Won’t Crumble,” swerves into psychedelia for the nine-minute “Lazarus Man,” or utilizes his signature vocals in a gospel-esque manner on The Waterboys’ “This Is The Sea.” What is a shock is how great those velvet pipes still sound after a career that spans six decades; he cheekily riffs on the multitude of those years in his version of Cat Stevens’ “Pop Star,” singing, “I’m going on my first gig,” somehow skirting time itself. [Gwen Ihnat]

Advertisement