21 Savage, “Bank Account”
Last year’s Savage Mode, a nine-track collaboration between the young Atlanta rapper 21 Savage and producer-of-the-moment Metro Boomin, was about as clean and impressive as a rap record gets. Beneath a fog of ambient-horror beats, Savage rapped at an icy remove, refusing to moralize or glamorize his life. The new Issa Album—named after the meme of someone asking 21 why he has a cross on his forehead, to which he replied, indignantly, “Issa knife”—attempts to build on that success, produced in large part by Metro but featuring a handful of other producers, as well. The result is diluted and significantly less impressive, but still shows 21’s singular talent, particularly on “Bank Account,” produced, for a change, by 21 himself. He manages to transform the spidery menace of the beat into what counts, in this context, as something of a pop play, with long drawled bridges and an infectious hook (“I got one two three four five six seven eight Ms in my bank account,” then repeat). Issa Album is a minor effort from a still-fascinating talent, worth listening to for the moments, like “Bank Account,” when he suggests new sources of invention within his giallo style.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, “The Lord Of Lightning Vs. Balrog”
While 2016’s seamless, looping Nonagon Infinity might have been the band’s breakout, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s experiments with suites of interconnected songs go back to 2014’s I’m In Your Mind Fuzz. The recently released Murder Of The Universe is the third album in this strain of Gizzard’s vast discography and might be the most wild thing the band has ever produced: a concept album split into three vaguely related rock operas. All are campy fun, telling ridiculous fantasy/sci-fi stories with spoken-word narration and the band’s frantic, chugging psych-rock, but I’ve gravitated toward “The Lord Of Lightning Vs. Balrog,” the album’s second and most dramatic act. It’s steeped in the most ludicrous prog-rock absurdity imaginable, telling the tale of a Thor-like deity who accidentally creates a giant monster and has to battle it to the death. Each of the characters is introduced with their own lengthy track within the suite as it builds to their climactic battle. The pacing and tension is surprisingly effective, with the band laying down slow, ominous chants as it works its way back to the furious riffs that score the fight. And although they don’t add much, it’s a treat to hear the band include some references to the other albums in this unofficial trilogy, with both the “Nonagon Infinity” chant and that eternal I’m In Your Mind Fuzz bass line playing prominent roles.
Rainer Maria, “Suicides And Lazy Eyes”
Here’s something I haven’t said in almost a dozen years: The new Rainer Maria is really good. The New York-via-Madison trio ended its decade-long run after 2006’s Catastrophe Keeps Us Together, a fitting finale for a band that began as part of the thriving Midwestern emo scene but grew into something subtler and harder to categorize. Catastrophe found Rainer Maria at its most assured, so it was a bit disappointing the band didn’t continue making music. The upcoming S/T picks up that thread, and “Suicides And Lazy Eyes” is the album’s statement of purpose. Following the moody opener “Broke Open Love,” “Suicides And Lazy Eyes” kicks everything into gear: William Kuehn pounds his kit before the rest of the band joins in, a constant, buzzing distortion holding a single note for measure after measure. That could sound plodding, but “Suicides And Lazy Eyes” always feels like it’s going somewhere. Caithlin De Marrais’ voice is as strong as ever, and her lyrics just as sharp, boding well for the rest of S/T, due out August 18.
The Horrors, “Machine”
Much like I wrote about Liars last week, the evolution of The Horrors has become more a matter of gradients than great leaps. After jumping from spiky, Screamers-inspired punk to bleary, psychedelic-tinged new wave, the band settled into a comfortable, yet still reliably magical wheelhouse around 2011’s Skying, which felt like a shoegaze blur of big, Simple Minds-ish ’80s pop topped off with tasteful nods to krautrock and Madchester. Like Luminous before it, The Horrors’ simply titled fifth album, V (due September 22), offers just another tweak on that formula, even if press materials bill it as the band’s “most expansive and progressive.” That’s a bit of an oversell, but V is definitely a lot heavier and more swaggering than its occasionally middling predecessor, featuring some of the biggest, brawniest sounds from a group that’s learned how to work a studio like few others in the world. Lead single “Machine” maybe isn’t the best example of the album’s impeccable sense of layering, but it is certainly arresting: It’s built on a stomping industrial fuzz that evokes flashing strobe lights and early Nine Inch Nails, along with the sort of gothic grandeur plied by the band’s recent tourmates Depeche Mode. So it’s another mishmash of influences, in other words, but one impressively assembled by a group that’s managed to synthesize them into something consistently, darkly great. I’ll be playing this album a lot this year, especially in those colder autumn months.
Federale, “The Bad Batch”
People stumble across new music in all sorts of ways, but Portland-based septet Federale is the first band I discovered through a Twitter correction. Reviewing Ana Lily Amirpour’s new movie The Bad Batch, I mentioned what I thought was the theme song to the 1972 giallo film All The Colors Of The Dark—it really sounds like a relic of the era, to be fair—only to be told that the song actually came out in 2016, and the vocal interplay and instrumental sweep was not the result of a French chanteuse and an Italian film composer joining forces, but comes from Brian Jonestown Massacre bassist Collin Hegna’s obsession with spaghetti Westerns. Anchored by Hegna, Federale specializes in making soundtrack music for films that don’t exist yet, using pedal steel, trumpets, whistling, and all the other orchestral flourishes associated with Italian cinema of the ’60s and ’70s. On its new album, All The Colours Of The Dark, the band progresses into pop songwriting, giving you all the emotion of an Ennio Morricone instrumental track with the go-go appeal of a Lee Hazlewood/Nancy Sinatra duet.