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Thu, 09 Mar 2017 11:26:36
With SXSW just a week over the horizon — the music industry is running up to some big reveals, some long nights and some bleary-eyed mornings. It’s always a good time for releases when everyone knows they may be sharing their wares with the music world as it gathers together to party in Texas.
This week we have the return of indie rock wunder-group The Shins, and some sultry songs of promise from Tennis. Laura Marling returns with her strong but humble take on the feminine psyche. Hurray for the Riff Raff brings some direction and Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin drops a solo album that will warm the hearts of fans.
So here then is our breakdown of some of the most interesting albums of the week.
The Shins — “Heartworms” — Aural Apothecary/Columbia Records
James Mercer, lead songwriter of The Shins, has returned with a more hopeful, dare we say ‘joyful’, sound for the cult band’s fifth full length studio album. There are moments of melancholy — this is the Shins — so on a track like “Mildenhall” we revisit the air force base in the UK where Mercer’s father was stationed when the songwriter was a child. There’s a bitter-sweet refraction to this reviewing of the past, and from this awareness it seems like Mercer is eager to press on into the future with a deeper sense of fun and optimism. It’s the kind of album that fans of the Shins need right now. Good listening.
Tennis — “Yours Conditionally” — Thirty Tigers
Husband and wife team Patrick Riley and Alaina Moore are back with their fourth studio album as Tennis. For a band that have sometimes dumbfounded critics who can’t grasp where to file the sound of the duo, here is a clear underlining of what they do. This is pop. At it’s heart the album is a mature, healthily proportioned, and independent approach to music that serves complex adult issues on a bed of tunes that are undeniably infectious, and radio friendly. There’s no better definition of a pop song than the answer to the question; ‘do you want to turn it up when it plays on the car stereo?’ Listen to opening track “In the Morning I’ll Be Better” and answer that question. Compared to previous, sweeping, nuanced tunes, this album is about as close to pop as any heart can beat. And it’s great.
Laura Marling — “Semper Femina” — More Alarming Records
Semper Femina, in Latin means “Forever Woman” and it’s a tattoo that’s on Laura Marling’s leg. It’s also the title of the album that she’s dropped two days after International Women’s Day. After a period of quiet reflection, the artist has emerged with an album that’s perhaps her best to date. This thing is strong, like magic strong. It appears to arrive from nowhere but in reality this work is the product of soul-searching, political debate and a great deal of craft. It’s almost an albatross of a comparison, but there is a turn of poetic couplet here, from the young ‘poet-turned-songwriter,’ that echoes Leonard Cohen’s attention to pathos, bathos and the mythic. Marling should be held aloft as a leader of men. If you’re going to buy one folk album this week, this is the one.
Hurray for the Riff Raff — “The Navigator” — ATO Records
Alynda Segarra is back with her Hurray for the Riff Raff moniker. This latest album is a concept album. Elements of science fiction, feminism, heartbreak, power and reclamation of control are explored via a character called Navita Milagros Negron. It feels like Segarra is trying on identities so we’re not tied to prejudicial ideas that we’ve formed through previous releases. Here there is freedom to wander through an urban landscape where issues are more directly addressed than in recent projects. It’s brave, it’s largely successful, and Segarra should be applauded.
Greg Graffin — “Millport” — Anti- Records
In the world of punk rock it’s fair to call Bad Religion’s Greg Graffin a bit of a f***ing legend. This album, which employs bandmate Brett Gurewitz and the rhythm section for Social Distortion, is populated with moments that pick up the echoes from topics set in motion by Bad Religion. This is a heartfelt album, and while it does belong closer in DNA to a country rock / roots tone, Graffin’s vocal performances are incredible and still as punk as hell. Essential listening for fans and a point for reference as to why he’s loved, and how he always does things his way. There is no other.
—The ARTISTdirect Staff