One of my many regrets of late is totally sleeping on the 2015 self-titled debut by Algiers, an Atlanta band whose fusions of post-punk atmosphere, industrial churn, noise-rock scuzz, and gritty Motown soul is one of the most arresting sounds I’ve heard from a new group in years—like a more aggressive version of TV On The Radio’s apocalyptic doo-wop. 2017 promises to be the year we all make it up to them: The new The Underside Of Power is due on Matador June 23, at a time when the fiery polemics of frontman Franklin Fisher, unfortunately, couldn’t be timelier, and the first listen suggests he’s more than ready to lead the charge. In the video for the title track, Fisher walks through an underground bunker as vintage civil rights protest clips are spliced in, singing a hopeful message of resistance in a powerful voice reminiscent of The Four Tops’ Levi Stubbs and that pays lyrical tribute to Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Meanwhile, the rest of the band cranks out an urgent mashup of stomping R&B and ominous electric pulses reminiscent of Suicide. It’s a galvanizing and forward-looking sound, and it’s one I expect to hear a lot of this year.
Only someone with as much personality as Lady Leshurr could sell a hook as simple as repeating, “I got the juice,” and that’s part of the charm of “Juice,” the buoyant lead single released with last week’s Mode EP. The track sees the grime rapper slow down from the rapid-fire flow exemplified in her viral-hit “Queen’s Speech” series of videos, with sparse production letting the beat and her bars shine. She’s cheeky as ever, taking shots at haters with playful half-insults (“Ima do it big like ya pregnant forehead”) in her distinct Brummie accent, and the video especially captures the song’s vibrant spirit, with those kid dancers absolutely throwing it down. As May gets started, it’s still stupidly cold here in Chicago, but “Juice” makes me feel like it’s mid-July at the lakefront, the beaches and basketball courts all abuzz. I’ll be counting on Mode to get me through the last of this chill, and to tide me over until 2018, when Leshurr at long last drops her debut LP.
My never-ending search for the catchiest, trashiest trash rock recently led me to The Cavemen, who—as far as I can tell—are four dudes from New Zealand currently putting on raucous shows in bars and clubs around Europe. Their music is about as trashy as trashy gets: pure, juvenile id and idiocy pressed into nuggets of raw rock ’n’ roll. They have a couple of albums and singles already available on their Bandcamp page (I’d recommend the psycho-billy dirge of “Swamp Thing” and the blistering mania of “In Love With You”), but the song that caught my attention is “Dog On A Chain,” an early single from the band’s upcoming Death Row EP on Slovenly Recordings. It’s a far cleaner production than The Cavemen’s past releases, but it’s just as scuzzy and ridiculous at heart. Singer Paul Caveman (yep, they’re pulling the Ramones gimmick) trades lines with Florence D’Hay, an occasional Cavemen collaborator, who plays the part of the controlling, manipulative girlfriend to whom Paul is—wait for it—like a dog on a chain. Sure, it’s dumb as hell, but it’s also some of the most attention-grabbing and infectious garage rock I’ve heard in a while, with the interplay between D’Hay’s sweetness and Paul’s frantic yelping fueling this 95-second descent into total abandon.
2017 Year In Band Names contender Grim Streaker has been making waves in its Brooklyn hometown for the past year, though its sound is grittier and more unhinged than “popular in Brooklyn” might imply. “Guts” goes all-out after drummer Piyal Basu counts off: a two-minute blast of tuneful punk that nods to the early ’80s but would fit comfortably on a bill with White Lung or Perfect Pussy. A lot of that has to do with singer Amelia Bushnell, whose vocals sink a bit in the mix, giving them a distorted snarl that suits the lyrics about hating parents. (It’s “Guts” as in “I hate your guts.”) Grim Streaker’s upcoming four-song Girl Minority EP is equally ferocious and tuneful, but the curious will have to wait until June to find out for themselves.
Shabazz Palaces’ 2011 debut Black Up will go down as one of the great rap records of this decade, an endlessly enigmatic foray into the astral expanses of hip-hop. Its follow-up, 2014’s Lese Majesty, is an even more abstract affair, constantly phasing in and out like an alien emissary stuck in a malfunctioning teleporter. The duo, composed of former Digable Planets frontman Ishmael Butler and chameleonic multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire, have recently announced their third LP, which arrives with the extremely Shabazz Palaces title of Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star, as well as their most accessible single ever, the dusty, decidedly old-school “Shine A Light.” But even here, the duo can’t play it straight: The track sounds like it’s blasting in an empty ballroom, its muffled orchestra and cavernous low end like something off a Caretaker record. Butler’s got an incomparable way with words, here dropping lush life lines like “Defy critique high peaks comped suite” and “Lost friends I floss for them gloss gems” always delivered with implacable remove. As that otherworldly hook phases through one last time, he even tacitly acknowledges the conventionality of the track: “Shout out all the old heads, man, as time whispers in your ear.” Rarely does the past whisper so sweetly as it does here.