New Music Friday - November 3, 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.
The Dusk in Us
Nearly six years in the making, the Massachusetts metalcore/punk legends' ninth studio LP serves up a punitive barrage of sonic exclamation points. Nervy, brainy, bold, and uncompromising, The Dusk in Us doesn't deviate much from the Converge playbook, and why should it? For over two decades the band has been administering lethal slabs of fractured and frenzied punk metal without a dip in quality, and with the same seasoned crew no less. Catharsis has always been the band's m.o., and the 13-track set doesn't disappoint, delivering lacerating waves of compartmentalized brutality with the kind of left-field, knotty precision that has come to define the group's post-Jane Doe career.
The band and frontman Jacob Bannon are essentially symbiotic at this point; undulating beasts of sound and fury that leave everything on the studio floor. Nowhere is that more apparent than on the combustive opener, "A Single Tear," a four-minute detonation of conflicting twists and turns that eventually come together like mismatched doll parts. That inclination toward constantly tearing down and rebuilding rhythms and melodies reaches its apex on the melodic, slow-burning, and unusually epic title cut, which serves as the album's midpoint/halftime show, and suggests how Converge might have approached Radiohead's OK Computer. Singles "I Can Tell You About Pain" and "Under Duress" impress as well, with the former living up to its moniker via Bannon's apoplectic delivery, and the latter distributing the kind of aural assault usually relegated to driving gunmen out of their boarded-up homes, but to be fair, it's all good. At this point in their story arc, Bannon, Kurt Ballou, Nate Newton, and Ben Koller really don't have anything to prove, which makes it all the more impressive that they haven't let up on trying to do just that.
Wild & Reckless
Described by frontman Eric Earley as both a companion to and extension of their acclaimed 2008 release Furr, Wild & Reckless was born out of Blitzen Trapper's rock opera of the same name, which debuted in their hometown of Portland, Oregon in 2016. A nostalgia-driven cautionary tale of corruption, drugs, heartbreak, and science fiction -- think Bonnie and Clyde meets Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas -- the 12-track set includes seven songs from the musical and five new numbers, all of which brood, shimmy, pine, and shake with the distinctive backwoods Laurel Canyon vibe that became the band's forte upon the release of 2011's American Goldwing.
That penchant for mounting classic rock tropes onto a country-folk foundation gets the occasional deviation -- the airy "No Man's Land" and the orchestral "Forever" definitely lean toward the musical theater side of the band's oeuvre -- but for the most part, Wild & Reckless eschews the group's more experimental works like Wild Mountain Nation and Destroyer of the Void. Still, Earley remains an engaging vocalist and lyricist, and it's easy to get swept up in all of the weird roadside Americana imagery, even if it's not often clear where the narrative is going. Blitzen Trapper have always been at their best when the rubber meets the road, so to speak, and highway-ready anthems like "Rebel," "Stolen Hearts," "Dance with Me," and the soaring title cut don't disappoint, delivering a perfect blend of pathos and Pacific Northwest wanderlust, which incidentally is exactly what made Furr so compelling.
Trouble No More: The Bootleg Series Volume 13
Bob Dylan converted to Christianity in 1979. Like many who have been born again, Dylan spoke and sang solely of his faith for a brief period -- roughly half a year, beginning in November of 1979 and ending in May of 1980. Facing a fan base who were generally furious at his newfound religion, Dylan started to thread some oldies into his set lists but he didn't leave gospel behind until he released Infidels in 1983.
Once he returned to secular music, he didn't abandon all the songs that he wrote during this period -- and it's also unclear what became of his faith, as he stopped speaking of it in concrete terms in public -- yet these three years remained one of Dylan's least understood phases, possibly because the studio albums he released between 1979 and 1981 were cocooned in studio gloss. Trouble No More, the 13th installment of The Bootleg Series, attempts to right the record by collecting a wealth of live material from this period, supplementing these cuts with unreleased studio tracks, including a few songs that have never seen the light of day.
Whether it's appreciated in its lavish eight-CD/single-DVD box set or its judiciously edited double-disc companion, Trouble No More performs the same function: it illuminates the passion driving this music. Unlike Another Self Portrait, this Bootleg Series installment offers a different perspective of a maligned phase, but it doesn't provide a jolting revelation, not even with several unveiled Dylan originals in tow. A few of these songs would've enhanced either Saved or Shot of Love - in particular, "Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody" feels robust as it dodges confession - but the execution matters more than the content. Dylan did write a handful of classics during this time but the tunes tend to be overshadowed by the ragged, soulful performances, where the songs - both major and minor - get reshaped on-stage and in the studio. The band impresses - this music, which sounded so slick on the released records, has grit, swing and soul -- but they're only following their leader, who is chasing a muse that may still remain elusive to his audience.
...in particular, "Ain't Gonna Go to Hell for Anybody" feels robust as it dodges confession - but the execution matters more than the content. Dylan did write a handful of classics during this time but the tunes tend to be overshadowed by the ragged, soulful performances, where the songs - both major and minor - get reshaped on-stage and in the studio.
Dylan may not articulate his conversion in words -- these are among his stiffest lyrics, allowing no room for ambiguity yet still bearing some playfulness -- but Trouble No More, more than Saved or even the fine Slow Train Coming, is buoyed by the music. Whether he's singing a slight song, easing into testimony, or leaning into a blues, Dylan seems engaged, even on the verge of rapture, an excitement that carries through the full live shows from 1980 and 1981 on the Deluxe Edition, where he reworks his old tunes -- "Maggie's Farm" is driven by a wild, twisting riff -- in hopes that they open the door to his new thing. Few appreciated his trip at the time, but years later it feels compelling, possibly because it's allowed to be messy and soulful within the parameters of The Bootleg Series.
Red Pill Blues
Set aside the unforced error of the title Red Pill Blues, an allusion to The Matrix that has also been co-opted by Men's Right Activists -- a group whose combative sensibility is the polar opposite of the perpetually smooth Maroon 5. Set aside, too, the album cover, where the group -- who now number seven -- are all decked out with Snapchat filters, a gambit that suggests the group is a bit too sensitive about their veteran status. Taken on its own musical terms, Red Pill Blues is a sleek, assured affair, one that sustains a seductive neon-streaked mood from beginning to end. Embracing their essential identity as a blue-eyed soul band, Maroon 5 update their sound through a bevy of producers, spearheaded by executive producer J Kash.
Unlike its 2014 predecessor V, a generally fine album undercut by a slight brittleness in the Max Martin production and a desperation highlighted by the vulgarity of added single "This Summer," Red Pill Blues glides easily -- so easily that the extent of its EDM-inspired digital collage production isn't immediately apparent. One of the reasons the modern sheen doesn't blind is that every track pushes the groove front and center, but behind the rhythm there are strong song foundations. As such, Red Pill Blues doesn't play like a collective rhythmic and melodic hook in search of an ear: each cut unfolds with its own internal logic, with the different textures playing nicely off each other. Everything comes to a head on "Closure," an extended 11-minute smooth-funk jam that throws all the album's strict structure out the window. Its presence not only draws attention to how Maroon 5 can vamp, it also highlights the discipline behind the rest of Red Pill Blues.