Neil Young, Shabazz Palaces & Waxahatchee Light Up Albums Of The Week - July 14
Thu, 13 Jul 2017 16:07:08
Some pretty surreal stuff is happening in the best albums of the week. From ground-breaking hip hop duos issuing a double release of ambitious albums to the almost religious posthumous collection from an iconic proto punk to the remarkably trippy shoegaze that arrives from another planet.
Shabazz Palaces go where no man has ever gone before… or rather they go there and get higher, on a two-album release that gets higher into space than anyone has ever been. Neil Young delivers a similarly stoned-set of songs, but from a more earthly local — 1976 and an acoustic performance that warms the heart. Alan Vega, of cult band Suicide, who died last year, is responsible for IT — a posthumous release that reads like a very welcome letter from a departed friend, while Japanese Breakfast and Waxahatchee bring a new wave of vitality to more modern sounds that bend expectations and deliver bigger than we could have hoped for.
Without further ado, let's take a spin through the most interesting albums released this week.
Shabazz Palaces — "Quazarz: Born On A Gangster Star / Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines" — Sub Pop
The groundbreaking hip hop duo of Ishmael Butler and Tendai Maraire return with an ambitious double release of space-centric albums. Here the sound is of a pair of artists wanting to show the kind of imagination and fortitude that it takes to launch into space, for real. And launch themselves into orbit, they certainly do. The sounds are smooth, and sometimes weightless, the themes of extraterrestrial life, stardust and intergalactic travel roll along in a way that's both inviting and challenging. Beats sometimes feel as if they're assembled a little too cautiously, and the concept of the album has perhaps weighed too heavily on spontaneity — but overall those moments are rare — the accomplishment here is that, in a vast double-collection, low points are almost invisible and everything is high. Very, very high — and very very wonderful.
Neil Young — "Hitchhiker" — Reprise
Neil Young, folk rock's best-loved grumpy old buzzard, returns with a previously vaulted set of tunes that capture a set of acoustic songs that the artist recorded during a single, stoned, night back in 1976. Ambling through songs that were fresh in his mind at the time, "Powderfinger", "Hawaii", "Pocahontas" all feature Young at what feels like his most relaxed. He is actually singing a kind of affectionate dispatch to the heart and history of the North American continent. It's easy to dismiss these ‘from the vaults' albums as cynical cashing-in mechanisms to help icons acquire another Malibu home or island in the Bahamas, but with this collection there's a very real sense of purpose — and Young's connection to content and continent, step over politics, division and conflict to a place where the root is addressed, and in a classic-sounding manner — simply adored.
Waxahatchee — "Out In The Storm" — Merge Records
"See, I always gravitate towards those who are unimpressed / I saw you as a big fish / I saw you as a conquest," sings Katie Crutchfield on her album Out in the Storm. For the rest of the record, which she composes here as Waxahatchee, the songwriter busies herself being casually excellent, as if to embark on the impossible task of impressing the many who will never succumb to her abilities or charm. Songs are never short of genuine, never short of sublime execution, and whilst crunched guitars and straight drum riffs may not be redefining genre, Crutchfield reinvigorates familiar themes with an earnestness which brings rewards to performer and listener. It's great stuff.
Alan Vega — "IT" — Blast First
Cult band Suicide singer Alan Vega passed away almost exactly a year ago, in July of 2016. An influential figure in the history of proto punk rock and counter culture thinking, Vega's was a band that formed a thousand other bands after every show it played. What he could achieve with anger and a sublimation of that kind of energy produced some of the most memorable, and enduring art from within genre. This first posthumous release of a collection that the singer worked on for several years resonates like a found-letter from a long-past friend. It may not be the perfect record, but it's the perfect record to reach us now, looking back and missing the man behind so many classic songs.
Japanese Breakfast — "Soft Sounds From Another Planet" — Dead Oceans
Singer Michelle Zauner returns with her sophomore effort as Japanese Breakfast, and the album perfectly articulates the ambition and confidence that she exuded on her debut collection. Typically you could file this stuff under shoegaze, but there's something more happening — there's a dynamic that betrays a simple dreamscape that often props up the simple guitar progressions employed within the genre. Here Zauner doesn't limit herself to simply being breezy or beautiful, which isn't to say the tunes are not breezy and beautiful, but what happens across the sequencing of the album is a kind of ascension beyond the initial starting place. It's usual for a difficult second album to capture the sense of ambition and magic of first impression that a debut can achieve. However, with Soft Sounds From Another Planet, Japanese Breakfast deliver not only a new wave of similar appeal as the first, it does the almost-impossible: it sustains surprise.
—The ARTISTdirect Staff