New Music Friday - November 10, 2017
Here's our latest roundup of the best new music of the week! Want to skip straight to the good stuff? Here's our playlist of every album on this list.
Following a live reunion tour in 2013, post-hardcore heroes Quicksand return with their first new material in 22 years. Late-'90s false restarts and abandoned recording sessions ensured the band's two long-players, Slip and Manic Compression, remained enshrined and unsullied by potential later career nosedives. While the prospect of a new record was an exciting one for fans of the band, with it they risked their legacy of all-killer, no-filler.
Savage Young Dü
For years, the conventional wisdom on Hüsker Dü was that the great Minnesota punk band started out sloppy and monolithic but in time grew into one of the finest and most imaginative acts to emerge from the hardcore movement. After all, a comparison of their debut album, the muddy 1981 live document Land Speed Record, and their first EP for SST Records, 1983's Metal Circus, would suggest that their skills as performers and songwriters grew by leaps and bounds in two years.
While there is a certain degree of truth to that, Numero Group's 2017 box set Savage Young Dü offers a valuable corrective to this narrative: yes, Hüsker Dü went through a remarkable evolution in their early years, but they were honestly remarkable right out of the box.
Assembled with the cooperation of the band and featuring plentiful rare and unreleased recordings from the archives of superfans Paul Hilcoff and Terry Katzman, Savage Young Dü delivers the secret history of Hüsker Dü's formative years, including their very first demo tape (recorded in May 1979, the same month they played their first show) and early rehearsal recordings, live tracks from their early Minneapolis performances and first national tours, soundcheck tapes where they worked out material new to their sets, and the lion's share of their pre-SST releases. (SST opted not to license material for this set.)
While early tracks like "Do You Remember?," "Picture of You," and "The Truth Hurts" lack the grace of their best material, they reveal this band already had a knack for songwriting that was not shared by many of its peers, and rarities such as "Insects Rule the World" and "You're Too Obtuse" document a playful sense of humor. With their debut single, "Statues" b/w "Amusement," the psychedelic side of their personality begins to emerge, even as the tunes gain speed and muscle.
While nothing from Land Speed Record makes the cut, a live set that includes most of the same material recorded just a few weeks later does appear here, and in terms of fidelity and performance it's a major improvement on their debut. The "In a Free Land" single and first studio LP Everything Falls Apart find Hüsker Dü learning how to make their music work in the recording studio, and the live stuff from 1981 and 1982 is breathlessly tight, furious, and exciting.
At this time, Hüsker Dü were not yet the band that would record the touchstone albums Zen Arcade and New Day Rising, but Savage Young Dü leaves no doubt that all the ingredients that made those albums great were there; they simply needed time to ferment. And even if they had collapsed before signing with SST and breaking out of the hardcore underground, these tapes are proof they were among the finest and most original groups to come from that very fertile scene.
Even for longtime fans, Savage Young Dü is revelatory, charting a young band's progress as it achieved its potential for greatness.
We Can Die Happy
As if releasing the excellent mid-fi pop gem Yours Conditionally wasn't enough, Tennis came back in 2017 with a five-song EP that improves on the songs and sound of the album. We Can Die Happy finds the duo cleaning up their sound just a bit, while writing some incredibly hooky choruses and alternately filling up and breaking every heart in their path along the way.
The pop songs are ultra poppy, chiming and bubbling like sunshine on a crappy day. "No Exit" grooves along like Fleetwood Mac on a good day or HAIM on their best day ever, "Born to Be Needed" swings and sways like vintage Dusty Springfield, and the magical "Diamond Rings" conjures up the Dwight Twilley Band and lets Alaina Moore show off a wide range of rockabilly yelps as the guitars twang and reverb echoes around her.
The sad songs are deep blue: "I Miss That Feeling" tries to hide the sadness behind a sweeping mix and some almost jaunty piano, while on the other hand, "Building God" drapes itself in all the feels and sports a truly aching chorus that finds Moore pleading "I can change/I can change/I can change" as the backing vocals and keys swirl around her.
The five songs go past in a blink, leaving listeners wanting more from a band that's at the top of their talents, marrying lovely songs with beguiling arrangements and crafting some of the best pop music around.
Kids in Love
With roughly half the number of songs found on his 2016 debut LP, Kygo's sophomore effort, Kids in Love, actually ends up being a more satisfying and enjoyable experience now that he's learned to trim the fat. Clocking in at less than half an hour, the eight-song collection feels more like an EP and is a focused dose of sunshine that avoids much of the homogeneity of his overstuffed Cloud Nine, trading tropical cool for warm emotion.
Of course, there are nods to his earlier work, like the breezy "I See You" with the gruff vocals of Billy Raffoul and the big pop moment of "Stranger Things," which features OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder. However, much of Kids in Love finds Kygo taking stylistic steps outside his comfort zone, which pays off during the impeccable middle stretch.
American singer Wrabel brings a Sam Smith-style soul to the soaring "With You," while Boston outfit the Night Game carry the title track into the festival stratosphere with a giant singalong anthem that would fit nicely in an open-air set by Avicii or Swedish House Mafia. Above all stands highlight "Riding Shotgun," a collaboration with Oliver Nelson that benefits from the light vocals of Bonnie McKee, who comes off as a cross-generational mix between Demi Lovato and Kylie Minogue.
Kids in Love brims with feeling and maintains its momentum throughout, providing an extremely uplifting and empowering mix that is a proper and gratifying evolutionary step for Kygo.