New Music Friday - October 20, 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.
All American Made
Margo Price cut her 2016 debut, Midwest Farmer's Daughter, on her own dime, hawking everything she and her husband had to record the album at Sun Studio. Its rawness grabbed the attention of Third Man Records, who released the record unadorned. Critics and a cult of fans also found the rough edges appealing, but that ragged immediacy also suggested Price was more of a traditionalist than she actually was, a situation she remedies with 2017's All American Made.
Written and recorded in the aftermath of Donald J. Trump's November 2016 election, All American Made doesn't disguise Price's liberal politics -- "Pay Gap" addresses gender inequality among salaries, the title track is a stark bit of protest that reaches its boil thanks to sampled news clips -- which is a shift from the personal vignettes of her debut, and she broadens her musical range, too. Price is particularly drawn to laid-back slow, going so far as to set "Cocaine Cowboys" to a lackadaisical funk beat. She hasn't abandoned country -- the album opens with the rockabilly of "Don't Say It," which is quickly countered by the barroom swing of "Weakness," while Willie Nelson later swings by to sing on "Learning to Lose" -- which means All American Made winds up drawing an expansive portrait of American roots music, one that touches on R&B, Tex-Mex, girl group pop, spacy indie rock, and even Glen Campbell's trippiest moments.
Price isn't a dilettante; these disparate styles are unified by a musical and lyrical aesthetic that views American life not only as a continuum, but a place where the past and present, rural and urban are in constant dialogue. Despite some deservedly hard edges, it's this vision of an open-hearted, open-bordered U.S.A. that gives All American Made its lasting power.
More than a year after his group, One Direction, went on hiatus, Irish singer/songwriter Niall Horan became the third 1D member to release a solo studio full-length. Whereas Zayn Malik took his R&B talents into the bedroom and Harry Styles modeled himself after iconic rock frontmen of old, Horan went in a decidedly safer, center-lane direction on the yearning Flicker. Paying homage to classic rock influences like Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Dire Straits, Horan contemporized those bands' sounds with pop flair, resulting in an immensely soothing and enjoyable record that fits nicely alongside those of Ed Sheeran and Shawn Mendes.
Featuring production by Greg Kurstin (Adele, Sia), Julian Bunetta, and Mike Needle and Jamie Scott (One Direction), the mostly wholesome and wide-eyed Flicker bounces between youthful love songs -- including the surprisingly naughty single "Slow Hands" -- and relatable heartbreak laments. With simple, straightforward lyrics, the concise set of ten tracks is effective and hits the proper emotional notes. On "Too Much to Ask," a sad Horan reflects "My shadow's dancing without you for the first time," while on the standout title track, he repeats "Please don't leave" to a departed love. These tracks are emotional, surely, but against the backdrop of such delicate production, they are spared from becoming too self-indulgent and depressing. Elsewhere, the bass thrum and guitar work of Fleetwood Mac enliven Flicker, like on the "Dreams"-esque opener "On the Loose," the comforting "You and Me," and the lush "Since We're Alone," which also benefits from a faint "Sultans of Swing" influence. Without a weak song in the batch, Flicker is consistently full of highlights, including "Seeing Blind," a rousing duet with American country singer Maren Morris.
One Directioners will no doubt relish every moment of Flicker, but for casual fans potentially wary of the boy band stigma, they can rest assured knowing that Horan has taken a big first step into musical maturity, with his own voice and deep well of emotion.
Fever To Tell (Deluxe Edition)
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs
On their EPs, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs grew considerably, moving from the arty yet anthemic garage punk of their self-titled EP to Machine's angular urgency. Fever to Tell, their first full-length and major-label debut, also shows growth: The album opens with some of the raunchiest noise the Yeah Yeah Yeahs have ever recorded, then abruptly changes gears and delivers a kitchen sink's worth of pretty ballads and experimental pieces.
Both the old and new sides of the band's sound offer brilliant moments: "Rich" is a sneering sugar-mommy story; "Black Tongue," which features the great lyric "let's do this like a prison break," is almost Hasil Adkins-esque in its twisted sexuality and rockabilly licks. "Date with the Night," a rattling, screeching joy ride of a song, combines Karen O's unearthly vocals, Nick Zinner's ever-expanding guitar prowess, and Brian Chase's powerful drumming in dynamic ways. Surprisingly, the moody, romantic songs on Fever to Tell are the most genuine. "Pin" and "Y Control" have a bittersweet bounciness, while the unabashedly gorgeous, sentimental "Maps" is not only some of the band's finest work, but one of the best indie/punk love songs in a long, long time. Along with "Modern Romance," a pretty but vaguely sinister meditation on the lack thereof, these songs compensate for some of Fever to Tell's missteps (such as "No No No," a lengthy, halting mishmash of punk and dubby experimentalism).
Though this is their debut album, it almost feels like a transitional release; Fever to Tell proves the Yeah Yeah Yeahs were already rethinking their music in radical ways.
Sin and the Sentence
The Florida-based decibel pushers continue their sonic metamorphosis from thrash-blasted metalcore to melody-driven (almost) trad-metal on Sin and the Sentence, their eighth full-length effort and first studio outing with touring drummer Alex Bent. If 2015's Silence in the Snow marked Trivium's deep dive into arena rock, then Sin and the Sentence is the free fall; a perfectly formed horned hand framed by a smoldering wall of pyrotechnics. It may have taken eight albums to get there, but the band has never sounded more confident, delivering a positively lethal 11-song set that strikes the perfect balance between unhinged and meticulously crafted.
The addition of Bent, a powerhouse, hammer-of-the-gods-style kit man, and the newfound conviction of vocalist Matt Heafy, seem to have put a charge into the group. The riffage is meaner and leaner, and the songs themselves -- especially the singles "Heart from Your Hate" and the combustible title track -- feel both lived-in and visceral, with highlights arriving via the serpentine, gang-vocal-led "Beyond Oblivion" and the throat-mangling closer "Thrown Into the Fire." Produced with significant sonic heft by Josh Wilbur (Lamb of God, All That Remains), Sin and the Sentence is the perfect distillation of Trivium's myriad attempts at bending the genre to their will. It's vintage Metallica by way of System of a Down, with enough Maiden-esque melodies percolating underneath to please even the most ardent old-school headbanger, but what's most impressive is that, despite all of the obvious influences, it finally sounds like them. The band's detractors jumped ship years ago, but for those who have stuck around for the long haul, Sin and the Sentence is here to pay some dividends.
Elizabeth & the Catapult
Keepsake is the fourth album (and Compass Records debut) of Elizabeth & the Catapult, the project of New York singer/songwriter Elizabeth Ziman. Following 2014's Like It Never Happened, it was written and recorded at various stops in the interim, with six different producers contributing (not counting Ziman herself). In addition to touring and appearing on albums by bands like Kishi Bashi and Son Lux during that stretch, she also carved time to score a handful of documentary films with Paul Brill.
A classically trained pianist who took up the guitar before her previous album and writes on both, she puts piano front and center on the Randy Newman-esque "Mea Culpa." A pair of character sketches about reaching personal crossroads, the song's buoyant, racing piano accompaniment and Ziman's playful delivery may seem to underplay serious subject matter, but, after all, any hardship stems from their own bad behavior. An album that embraces moving forward from hard-earned life lessons, the songwriter turns the lens on herself on "Underwater." Also upbeat in tone but with lusher, full-band production by former bandmate Dan Molad, it takes stock of personal growth with lyrics like "I'm not afraid of sleeping like I used to be/I can crash into the waves, let them roll over me." Elsewhere, the earworm "We Can Pretend" functions as a jaunty anthem for selective reminiscing with handclaps and Mellotron among its palette. The album's not all bright and bubbly, though. Keepsake holds its share of wistful reflection ("Magic Chaser," "Better Days") and sentiments somewhere in between, but it gets downright forlorn on the arresting "Land of Lost Things." A piano-and-strings lament with Sondheim-ian overtones, it features reverb-rich production by Mark Marshall and proves to be an album highlight.
Having said that, Ziman presents a solid front here, and that includes the hidden 13th track, "New Beginnings," a dreamy surf tune with hot sand between its toes and production by Richard Swift. It's a fitting end to a thoughtful and ultimately hopeful album that doubles as a songwriting showcase.