Wild Nothing returns to glorious form on Indigo, while Danny Brown and the Bruiser Brigade Reign Supreme on their Twitch-only stream, and jazz improvisers Szun Waves conjure a bright New Hymn To Freedom. Plus: the latest from Thou, Troye Sivan, Big Red Machine, and Muncie Girls.
And read our featured review of Anna Calvi’s powerful third album, Hunter, also out today.
Wild Nothing, Indigo
Jack Tatum created Wild Nothing’s fourth full-length album, Indigo, in a meticulous fashion. After first crafting fleshed-out demos, he and a band recorded the music live; later, Tatum and producer Jorge Elbrecht added overdubs and other elements. Such attention to detail paid off: Indigo is a near-perfect distillation of oceanic dream-pop (“Bend”), The Cure’s spidery darkwave (“Flawed Translation”), and lush, early ’80s swoons (“Oscillation”), with the occasional humid synth-pop jam (the saxophone-aided “Partners In Motion”) thrown in for good measure. But despite the retro sheen, Indigo wears its nostalgia well: Tatum is an earnest and genuine vocalist who takes a conspiratorial tone while disclosing timeless narratives focused on romantic anguish and restless interior journeys. Emotionally rich and full of depth, Indigo is easily Wild Nothing’s best album to date.
RIYL: Moody ’80s new wave and college rock. John Hughes movie soundtracks. The Cure. The War On Drugs.
Start with: The tender, Sarah Records-reminiscent “Shallow Water,” which combines a gouging bassline, sighing vocals, and chiming guitars that are as beatific as a perfect sunrise. [Annie Zaleski]
No one would ever confuse the lurching, apocalyptically heavy metal of Thou for grunge. But these Baton Rouge bruisers are avowed Nirvana loyalists (they’ve covered a few of Kurt Cobain’s louder tantrums), and Magus, their first full-length solo album since 2014’s towering Heathen, teases out the tension between melody and abrasion, like a severely narcotized In Utero. Most of the songs ride thick currents of distortion, treading slowly through the Louisiana sludge. But as in the anthems of frequent collaborators and doom-minded kindred spirits The Body, moments of beauty bubble to the surface; building off a trio of stylistically disparate EPs released earlier this year, Thou finds room for some spare acoustic plucking and reverb-drenched riffage. Still, it’s frontman Bryan Funck’s bilious self-reflection that rescues Magus from its occasionally oppressive, repetitive crunch—even if his own introspection, delivered in a swamp-thing rasp, is a little harder to decipher than Cobain’s ever was.
RIYL: Gurgling tar pits. Self-loathing. Giant fucking buzzsaw riffs.
Start here: After more than eight seething minutes, opening behemoth “Inward” explodes into a brighter and almost infectious blast of guitar interplay, evoking the ’90s alternative rock the band worships. [A.A. Dowd]
“This shit isn’t coming out, it’s only for Twitch,” Danny Brown said last week while debuting the long-teased Bruiser Brigade collective LP, so here we are: reviewing a gaming stream for its original music. 2018 is weird. So, though, is Danny Brown, one of the most vivid lyricists in hip-hop and also one of its most abrasive stylists. Reign Supreme doesn’t disappoint in this regard, with fragmented samples pushed up into spastic, undance-able tempos, Brown caterwauling in triple time alongside a roster of likeminded rappers with names like ZelooperZ and Dopehead. But a strange thing happens halfway through, as the moody menace of “Mollywhop” gives way to the minimal clank of “Razor Blade”: You realize all of these dudes are going just as hard as Brown on the beats, pummeling the spaghetti-Western loop of “Dollar And A Dream” for three minutes before it coughs up some drums. ZelooperZ may be a poor man’s Danny, but that’s still a rich-ass rapper, the pair of them forming a livewire core contrasted by Fat Ray’s heavy-lidded flow, Dopehead’s musical cadences, Kash Tha Kushman’s surgical precision.
RIYL: Good A$AP mob stuff. Fractured early-’00s hip-hop. Persona 5.
Start here: “Razor Blade” goes down easier than a lot of the other stuff here, with Brown rapping at his lowest register, almost evoking Method Man. [Clayton Purdom]
Big Red Machine, Big Red Machine
Ever since Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Aaron Dessner (The National) released “Big Red Machine” for 2009 compilation album Dark Was The Night, it was clear the two work well together. Big Red Machine is a testament to their individual interests in glitchy improv and emotive delivery. Both play off one another with ease here, the kind of workflow that encourages experimentation (“Air Stryp”) without losing sight of intimacy (“People Lullaby”). But the collaboration sounds best when Dessner’s instrumental framework grounds Vernon, whose lyrics flit between touristy Yelp reviews (“We met up at the High Line — great park!”) and pithy rally cries (“Well, we better not fuck this up”), and hidden contributors like Richard Reed Parry and Jan St. Werner join in. With much to toy with, Vernon and Dessner create an unhurried warmth that makes a song like “Forest Green” so moving and gives Big Red Machine the feeling of a soft rainbow light cast from a crystal in the sun.
RIYL: Gayngs, Volcano Choir, The Books, talking about production methods and modified gear.
Start here: “Forest Green,” a crisp indie rock song on ketamine with buried synths and arguably perfect production. [Nina Corcoran]
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Szun Waves, New Hymn To Freedom
If the phrase “live improvised music” sounds as dry as the dust kicked off an old hacky-sack, do Szun Waves ever have a surprise for you. New Hymn To Freedom, the English trio’s second album, is a remarkably lucid 45 minutes of spontaneous composition, a civilization of sound and emotion conjured from nothing more than the in-the-moment interplay between keyboardist Luke Abbott, saxophonist Jack Wylie, and drummer Lawrence Pike. These songs bloom slowly, with Abbott spinning spangled webs of modular synth over Pike’s splashy, cymbal-heavy playing while Wylie lays a plaintive foundation. Seen from one angle, New Hymn is a new take on spiritual jazz, with Abbott playing like Pharoah Sanders with a Buchla. Turn it slightly and it becomes a West Coast new-age symphony colored with amber light. Turn it again and it’s a gorgeous piece of percussive ambient experimentation. Whichever facet you encounter first, New Hymn shines like a rough-cut gem.
RIYL: Alice Coltrane. Laraaji. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith. Astral traveling.
Start Here: Szun Waves hit “High Szun” at full speed, with Pike sending Abbott and Wiley on an ecstatic chase that sounds something like Terry Riley covering Liars’ Wixiw. [Marty Sartini Garner]
Troye Sivan, Bloom
Earlier this year, Australian songwriting phenom Troye Sivan announced his sophomore album, Bloom, with a grand gesture: the explosive seduction “My! My! My!” a minimalist electro sugar rush. The rest of the full-length is far more nuanced, a smart sonic decision that reaps dividends: Bloom is a deeply romantic, deeply personal collection of songs that establishes Sivan as a fiercely talented pop chameleon. “The Good Side” is feathery indie-folk dominated by delicate acoustic guitar; the title track is a sleek and danceable ’80s homage; and highlight “Postcard” is a heartbroken piano ballad. Although Bloom does become a bit sluggish near the end, the collection rebounds with album-closer “Animal.” The sparse song takes cues from the Prince “Purple Rain” school of ballads, and leaves plenty of space in the arrangements between pops of piano, synth wobbles, and splashes of guitar. Appropriately, Bloom’s beauty and gifts reveal themselves gradually over time.
RIYL: Non-cookie-cutter contemporary pop. ’80s synth-pop. Weekend dance parties.
Start here: “Dance To This” is a percolating Pet Shop Boys-esque slice of synth-pop featuring a dynamic vocal appearance from Ariana Grande. [Annie Zaleski]
Muncie Girls, Fixed Ideals
Fixed Ideals, the sophomore album from Exeter’s Muncie Girls, is definitely a grower, but it’s built for longevity. Which is to say, the catchiest of these songs convey the pop-punk group’s expert knack for earworm hooks fused to meaningful sing-along lyrics, and even after the subtler tunes catch on, those initial addictions don’t weaken. Barn-burning tracks like “Fig Tree” and “Locked Up” evoke the appeal of their near-perfect debut, but there are clear attempts to push the musical envelope, especially in the record’s middle section: From the Pearl Jam groove of “Falling Down” to the Belinda Carlisle pep of “Isn’t Life Funny” to the Duran Duran-meets-shoegaze rhythms of “Bubble Bath” (complete with bubbly sound effects), the band is stretching their format. The only downside is a sense of fussiness that suffuses some of the more heavily produced tracks, a slightly stultifying vibe that saps a bit of urgency and vitality from the songs, making them feel too precious, as though the music was hermetically sealed to prevent anything too loose or raw from breaking free. Still, it’s another set of engaging and mostly excellent songs from one of the U.K.’s most compelling rock trios, and well worth the time.
RIYL: The Get-Up Kids. Veruca Salt. ’80s-influenced pop-punk. Smart and sassy lyrics.
Start here: “Picture Of Health” is already a classic Muncie Girls jam. [Alex McLevy]
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