It’s September; but thanks to global warming, there is scant fall weather. Like, anywhere.
Here are some good tunes from the last month anyway, to help keep you calm and happy as the earth destructs. Look on the bright side: maybe our president will be impeached soon.
Jenny Hval, The Practice of Love
In letting her music guide her creation-focused lyrics, Hval has written her dance-friendliest, most pop-structured songs to date. On “Ashes to Ashes,” Hval meditates on the process of writing over a gyrating blend of dance music and dream pop: “She had this dream about a song…every beat went all the way down / Into little holes in the ground / It had the most moving chord changes.” Similarly, on “Ordinary,” shortly after the question “Can I only write these things / Not all the other things?” is aired, clanging digital percussion gradually enters the fray, transforming the song’s eighth-note synths from questioning to resolute as the song builds itself a massive dancefloor. It’s not Hval who asks this question on “Ordinary.” That honor belongs to Vivian Wang of Singaporean art-rock unit The Observatory, whom Hval had seen play live before collaborating with her on four Love tracks. Wang is just one of three people who feature on a handful of the album’s songs. In other words, with Love, the mostly solitary Hval literally, not just figuratively, reached out to other artists.— Max Freedman
Read our feature on Jenny Hval here.
The Beatles, Abbey Road 50th Anniversary Reissue
Unlike with their other recordings, and for an album so mammoth as a projected final Beatles work, there isn’t a wealth of lost demos or outtakes or session takes here. Yes, there’s some fun session banter included in the new collection (an early, jovial take of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” shows Lennon and McCartney joking like two old friends, doing a duet without the distraction of its other half). But it’s listening to the cutting, crafting, thinking, and re-thinking of the medley’s dreamy “You Never Give Me Your Money (Take 36),” and the skeletal run through of “The Long One” in its “Trial Edit & Mix – 30 July 1969” form, that gives you the best picture of the latter day Beatles, with Giles Martin and Billy Preston, pragmatically at work. Like a team of architects who came through school together, the four Beatles move diagrams and building blocks along the process of imagination, and the invisible through lines of a longtime friendship are soon to dissolve. — A.D. Amorosi
Opeth, In Cauda Venenum
The band’s thirteenth and latest album may be Opeth’s most grandiose statement yet, but the record’s entrancing dynamics, intertwining guitar-and-Mellotron riffs, and Mikael Åkerfeldt’s emotive vocals are all quite obviously the work of the same band that has been expanding (and blowing) the minds of discerning metal listeners for a quarter of a century. The big surprise this time around, however, is that In Cauda Venenum’s lyrics are in Swedish, making this the first Opeth album that Åkerfeldt has written and sung in his native tongue. The band is also releasing an English version with the exact same music; but rather than detract from the listening experience, the impenetrable (for this listener, anyway) Swedish lyrics seem to actually add an extra layer of mystery and timelessness to the already beguiling music. — Dan Epstein
Read our feature on Opeth here.
Vivian Girls, Memory
After a five-year break, Vivian Girls are back with one of this year’s most consistent rock records. From the opening bars on “Most of All,” the first track on Memory, it’s clear the band had nothing to prove at all. Memory picks up where the trio left off in 2011, drenching sweet, bubblegum melodies in distortion and reverb. This time, though, the band is tighter than ever. The lo-fi quality of their early records has been replaced by a slick studio polish. Bassist Katy Goodman says they wanted it to sound like “three people playing the songs as hard and fast as they could together, like a tight power trio.” — Nick Fulton
Read our feature on Vivian Girls here.
Future Teens, Breakup Season
With the group’s second record, the biggest difference is that it’s a much more collaborative effort, since Hard Feelings was largely penned before vocalist Amy Hoffman was a part of the group. Together, the emo quartet’s influences range from the Pixies to Death Cab for Cutie, Fleetwood Mac, Emmylou Harris, and Carly Rae Jepsen. And it all makes sense when you listen to the group’s work, which is a twangy, charming jaunt into pop-punk territory. It’s also a fitting transition, considering the band spearheaded an emo Carly Rae Jepsen cover compilation for EMOTION that went viral last year (they contributed a cover of “Run Away with Me”), which Hoffman calls “the best emo record ever made.” — Ilana Kaplan
Read our feature on Future Teens here.
Lana Del Ray, Norman Fucking Rockwell
In Lana Del Rey’s America, no one gets out alive, or at least unfucked. In accordance with her sixth album’s dictates—its stories of lost values and lit cultures, ladies of the (Laurel) canyon, and a mellow soft rock sound—the singer/songwriter, along with everyone’s favorite collaborator, Jack Antonoff, fashions a modern take on Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies. Rather than England between the wars, Del Rey’s Rockwell! finds her setting her harmonious, sundown tones to the gullies of fantastic LA in the ’70s, her questions to an isolated Trumpian moment, all in a voice less breathy (her usual) than smug and disgusted—but unlike Waugh’s satirical look at decadent decay, Lana isn’t joking around. — A.D. Amorosi
Surf Curse, Heaven Surrounds You
Heaven Surrounds You is the first album they’ve written since relocating from their native Reno, Nevada to Los Angeles, and each of the record’s twelve hushed, garage-spawned tracks is steered by a melding of their adaptation to their new environment and the movies that they’ve screened during this transitory period. Although it still sounds like the West Coast garage rock longingly written two hundred miles from the Pacific and illuminated by the neons of downtown Reno, Heaven is both their most romantic record to date and their uneasiest, capturing the sounds of Rubeck and Rattigan falling in love with—and recoiling from—the surreality of their new home. — Mike LeSuer
Read our feature on Surf Curse here.
Chelsea Wolfe, Birth of Violence
Overall, it’s the sting of existence, the expression of the kind of pain that reminds you you’re alive, that melds the tracks on Birth of Violence into a singular tapestry. It’s a cinematic experience as much as an aural one, and rewards both passive listening and deeper digging. The title track opens with oscillating percussion invoking the sound of a lonely railcar, and it’s a fragmented narrative of harvests, baptisms, overdoses, and forgiveness. As it progresses, restrained choral keys, along with the gentle strum of Wolfe’s guitar, bolster the build toward a soaring climax which puts her ethereal vocals in the spotlight. Equally haunting and alluring, it feels like a tintype portrait of contemporary America. — John Coyle
Read our feature on Chelsea Wolfe here.
The Roots, Things Fall Apart 20th Anniversary Reissue
Things Fall Apart felt at the time like a mission statement, codifying the positive-thinking ethos of the neo-soul era and rebuking the hollow materialism that had come to define so much of hip-hop culture. Listening back, it’s just as easy to hear it as a trailhead, a summation of strengths that pointed The Roots in a number of different directions. They would go on to make records more hard-edged, more eclectic; arguably more ambitious, and in the case of their still-underrated undun, more focused in its storytelling. But they haven’t yet made a record that felt as alive with possibility as this one, a record that still sparks shit today. — Josh Hurst
Pixies, Beneath the Eyrie
Elemental threads from each of the band’s seminal albums are heard throughout Beneath the Eyrie, from Santiago’s feral guitar textures to Black’s theatrical vocals and Lovering’s full percussion. But new additions bring the sound squarely to the present, reflecting the experience of the current lineup. The hook from “Long Rider” instantly recalls Weezer’s Blue Album, no coincidence given that the Pixies toured with the group last spring. And Lenchantin’s co-writes with Francis, including “Long Rider” and “Los Surfers Muertos,” inject an undercurrent of surf music and surfing, one of her favorite pastimes. — Erin Osmon
Read our feature on Pixies here.
Iggy Pop, Free
The freedom Pop seems to seek, and has finally found, is from an addictive past in New York City (he’s lived and thrived in Miami since 1995), the tentacles of the record industry, the psychic load that is relentless touring, and what he’s called “the problem of chronic insecurity that had dogged my life and career for too long.” This time, Pop’s focus finds itself on the hardened edge of a path he’s taken before: the searing spoken-word of 1999’s Avenue B, and the jazzier leanings of 2009’s Préliminaires and 2012’s Après. His voice now often has the chatty warble familiar to BBC Radio listeners of “Iggy Confidential.” — A.D. Amorosi