Ryan Adams returns with an album for the ages, kicking his heartland rock crusade into another gear with “Prisoner.” Featuring sprinkles of 80s glam with modern alternative and a Neil Young-esque feel to it, Ryan Adams tells the tale of his divorce, tugging at our emotions one heartstring at a time. The standout track to me is the opener “Do You Still Love Me?” I find its appeal to be that it is the only stadium-rock song on the album, and it really sets up the theme of the album. Dynamically it is loud, in your face, and featuring Ryan Adams’ unique vocal style at play, making him seem almost as if his screams are cries. It is an emotionally driven single that sets up the rest of the album perfectly. “Prisoner” is a classic tale of a man lost without his woman and his struggles to make it back to the top on his own, and “Prisoner” will be a record Ryan Adams will be remembered for years to come. – Andrew Vendelis
Recommended if you like: Oasis, Death Cab for Cutie, Bruce Springsteen
Listen to: “Do You Still Love Me?”
Homekshake’s “Fresh Air” shows a different, melodic side of Peter Sagar. He has been releasing music as Homeshake since his “Homeshake Tape” in 2012 and has toured with Mac Demarco. “Fresh Air” seemed like a part II to “Midnight Snack,” as his themes about love, temperature, and everyday objects continue in the lyrics. His exploration of dreamy instruments and timbres never fail to intrigue the ear, clearing the mind of negativity. Though I would say that “Fresh Air” seemed pretty similar to “Midnight Snack,” I would say that his satirical energy and positivity really keep this one fresh. – Jake Keisler
Recommended if you like: Mild High Club, Mac Demarco, Alex Calder
Listen to: “Every Single Thing”
King Gizzard have made serious waves over the past several years, releasing album after album of seemingly increasingly heady concepts – a jazz album with four equally long songs, an uncharacteristically unplugged folk effort, and an infinitely looping album, to name a few. Their new album is similarly unusual, featuring songs composed entirely in microtonal tuning. According to frontman Stu Mackenzie, this means they play instruments that can access “secret notes” that are not usually present in most western music.
All of that aside, this album is for more than just music theory nerds. Although it lacks the visceral intensity of its predecessor, Nonagon Infinity, Banana is still a captivating listen. The microtonal tuning injects an uneasy feeling to the album. This serves the doomy and possibly post-apocalyptic lyrics of the album quite well.
“Doom City” is a good song to start with when looking into the words. The story that the song is telling is undoubtedly supernatural (He, Empyrean/Breathes from his mouth and over tongue/Sky will crucify/Tear little holes in my lungs), but supposedly the inspiration comes from air pollution in Beijing. This elevation of everyday happenings to massive and often vividly destructive forces (to be fair, pollution is already pretty destructive) is right at pace with past King Gizzard releases.
The end product of fractional note playing and a seven-person band is an interesting one. Banana is instrumentally complex, drone-y and captivating. The ability of the band to play together so well (particularly in the instrumental breaks) despite using a whole new tuning system is downright impressive.
King Gizzard took another heady concept and managed to make it theirs again. Banana leaves you excited for what comes next. – Patrick Larsen
Recommended if you like: The Murlocs, Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall
Listen to: “Nuclear Fusion”
John Mayer kicks off wave two of his string of new releases and picks up right where he left off with Wave One. The funk jams from “Moving on and Getting Over” continue over into the opener “Still Feel Like Your Man.” I feel as if Mayer has transcended genres throughout the year, and he has learned the way of mixing styles of music in his works. That is epitomized in the past two waves of The Search for Everything, which is set to be a full-length release in April. By far my favorite is the track “Helpless.” This rock Eagles/Rolling Stones-esque soaring ballad showcases both Mayer’s songwriting bravado and technical guitar prowess as he plays licks throughout the song. However, he allows the EP to breathe in slow jams like “Emoji of a Wave,” which is very reminiscent of the Beach Boys. The closing track, “Roll It on Home,” is an ode to his newfound home in Montana and country influences. The track bounces along as Mayer closes off the EP on a decrescendo that will have fans wondering what the full-length “Search for Everything” will be like. April cannot come soon enough. – Andrew Vendelis
Recommended if you like: The Eagles, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ryan Adams
Listen to: “Helpless”
After almost three full years without a formal release, The Orwells are back with the release of their third LP, “Terrible Human Beings.”
Whereas their second LP, “Disgraceland,” served as a musical diary of being young, restless and rambunctious in suburbia, “Terrible Human Beings” shoots daggers and drips venom. The grittier content allowed the band to display growth both musically and lyrically, which it is apparent they were more than ready to do.
The seedy tone of “Terrible Human Beings” is evident from the beginning of the album’s opening track, “They Put A Body In the Bayou.” The eerie, haunting guitar hooks and thunderous drum beats perfectly complement vocalist Mario Cuomo’s wailing pleas of “I just had to know…who put the body in the bayou?” that prevails throughout the chorus. The grim rock anthem is accompanied by an equally as sordid music video that features a nexus of politics, sex, and drugs.
“They Put A Body In the Bayou” is the perfect song to open the grit-ridden album, as it sets the tone for the rest of the songs that follow. “Creatures” is a rock anthem for the down-and-out, the dead enders who went down the wrong path and have long since realized that it is too late to turn back. “Fry,” one of the album’s more jovial, tells of the desire to escape and hide from the pressures of the world. “Black Francis” is the band’s nod to The Pixies, a band that guitarist Matt O’Keefe has cited as a major musical inspiration for “Terrible Human Beings” in a statement reported by Rolling Stone.
What is perhaps one of the album’s most hard hitting tracks is also the shortest. At just 80 seconds, “Buddy” is a rollicking piece about one-night stands that packs a strong punch in its short duration. A standout on the track is drummer Henry Brinner, who fills the song with the electric zing that fans have come to love so much about it.
“Terrible Human Beings” is completed with a raucous, 7-minute track entitled “Double Feature.” The song serves as the perfect conclusion to “Terrible Human Beings,” as it embodies a little of every theme and stylistic choice presented it its preceding tracks: the thumping drums of “Buddy,” the seediness of “Creatures,” the rhythmic chanting of “Black Francis,” the energy of “Fry,” and the ominous nature of “They Put a Body In the Bayou.”
What makes “Double Feature” unique, however, is its high level of musical innovation. This is why “Terrible Human Beings” is such a standout album as well as a huge step for The Orwells: it creates a nexus of their prior musical strengths that elevated them into notoriety with enhanced lyrical storytelling abilities.
Recommended if you like: Together Pangea, Dune Rats, Ty Segall
Listen to: “Double Feature”
The smooth vocalalist of The Internet is momentarily breaking away to release her first full studio album. Syd Tha Kid has worked as a part of the alternative hip-hop collective, Odd Future, as well as being lead vocalist for The Internet for several years now.
This solo album is just what this cold month needed, bringing in her sultry vocals with an almost viscous texture of beats to match. You almost get lost in the tracks that feel like they go on forever, in the best ways.
Starting off with “Shake Em Off,” Syd details being an up and comer and the public not supporting her, then moving to become a person who people aspire to be. This uplifting and semi-middle-finger-to-the-haters track is a great way to get the album on its feet.
Steve Lacy (another member of The Internet) brings in a little groove into his guest appearance on “Dollar Bills.” 6lack makes his debut on the album the track following, with my favorite, “Over.”
Syd has also released two singles this calendar year – “Body” and “All About Me,” which both also appear on Fin. Both fire tunes.
Though we have all wondered if these solo albums mean the end to The Internet, many of the members have dropped solo work in the past, and the group has continued to thrive. With Grammy-nominated Ego Death released back in 2015, most, if not all members of The Internet have been seen working on other pieces. What makes this group great is that, alone, each of their members is strong, but together, well, just listen. – Myra Johnson
Recommended if you like: The Internet, Rapsody, Kilo Kush
Listen to: “Over”
Xiu Xiu’s latest offering “Forget” shows them continuing to improve their songwriting and execution fifteen years into their career. Jamie Stewart has always made difficult music and there are definitely moments on “Forget” that are hard to swallow, but the way he utilizes pop formulas brings about some extremely catchy and accessible moments throughout the project. “Wondering” is a terrific groove focused art pop song that rivals some of my other favorite pop songs of the year.
The element of this record that is perhaps the most well done is how Jamie and co nail loud and soft dynamics. The best example of this is on “Get Up.” The majority of the song is subdued and reserved and perfectly creates a tense atmosphere until there is a giant release in the last ninety seconds of the song after Jamie repeatedly utters “You’re the only reason I was born.” Transitions like this on other songs are often clunky but this is pulled off incredibly and the finale itself is so beautiful it has become my favorite musical moment this year.
Although Jamie is not one of the best singers, he has one of the best vocal deliveries in contemporary music. The wide range of emotion he can easily and persuasively portray can be heard on “Petite” where he sounds like he’s holding back tears the whole song and on “The Call” where his paranoia and desperation are center stage. When you pair the delivery with the lyrics it becomes even more potent. The chilling and twisted spoken-word end of “Faith, Torn Apart” caps the album off with the lines “It doesn’t matter what you think/ Do anything you like/ Because I was born dead/ And I was born to die.” Passages like that make me eager to continue to dive back into this album and discover more and more.
“Forget” is not an album for everyone. But, if you give it a chance, then you might love it. – Thomas Coogan
Recommended if you like: Perfume Genius, John Congleton and the Nighty Nite, Deerhoof
Listen to: “Get Up”
Be sure to check out our Best of February Spotify Playlist which features all of these artists and many more!