Napalm Death – Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Destruction (Century Media)
The inventor-creators of Grindcore have come back. The 5 years since their last release had a number of enthusiasts concerned about their well-being, seeing as how this is the longest gap between albums since they first published Scum in 1987.
If you are unfamiliar with Napalm Death, clearly you are new to metal. But that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere. They have been admired and respected by all in the industry for over 30 years. The best way I can describe their unique style and delivery is: semi-melodic, quasi-demonic, febrile chaos. While sounding positively evil, the most recent release is taking furious, amphetamine-laced punches at the current social and political state of things.
As one of only 2 bands I can think of that has a song that clocks in at less than 1 second (the other one is The Electro Hippies), it is sort of refreshing to witness them doing an entire LP with reasonable-lengthed songs. 15 songs – 51 minutes. That’s downright radio-friendly! Let’s get these guys on the charts.
Song length aside, Napalm Death has kept their signature, iconic grind intact. Fast-moving guitar riffage with little to no lead work, utterly devilish vocals that would rip a lesser throat to shreds, and drums that are so relentlessly punishing that my gut hurts just thinking about it.
A strange point on the record is the surprisingly accessible and straightforward “Amoral”, a middle-of-the-album banger that displays their ability to create. It stands out because it has more in common with acts like The Melvins. It has…structure and…melody.
Whoah, it felt weird to write that. Oh, good. We’re okay. The title track follows it up with blistered corpse-fire and demonic torture.
While this might be one of their most accessible recordings lo’ these 34 years, it isn’t their best and it is far from their worst. Actually, if you ARE new to them, this is a perfect place to start. If you’re an OG Grindcore fan, first take a shower before your neighbor thinks you’re dead, then crank this up.
FFO: Terrorizer, Carcass, The Locust
Lil Tecca – Virgo World (Republic Records)
“Lil” isn’t just some cute term here: Lil Tecca turned 18 less than a month ago. And yet he already has a mixtape; featured spots with acclaimed hip-hop artists The Kid Laroi and A Boogie wit da Hoodie, among others; and, oh, just a hit in the top-4 of the Billboard Hot 100, in “Ransom”.
Once again: he’s JUST NOW old enough to:
- View adult films [whistles like the construction workers do in the cartoons]
- Buy some scratchers and smokes
- Get a Sam’s club membership! 92-pack bulk toilet paper and dish soap, baby!
- Apply for a permit to manufacture fireworks (at least in my state of Tennessee)
Virgo World represents some highly-accessible music, which should attract many earballs. Do you prefer a bit of a poppy beat to your hip-hop? Let “Actin Up” or “Chemistry” be your huckleberry. Into something a bit harder? “Back It Up” or Selection” are for you. You violin fans even get some love, thanks to a superb beat on “True to the Game” by Internet Money producers Census and Spaceman.
As far as flow goes, Lil Tecca is pretty good. He prefers the sing-song delivery on most tracks, which I think is hit (“Royal Rumble”) and miss (“Dolly”), but mostly hit. The lyrics are pretty standard for a JUST NOW 18-year-old: women, nice clothes, jewels, and a little bit of toughness. Kind of like me at 18, minus the women, nice clothes, jewels, or toughness.
Virgo World is worth a listen, if for no other reason than for you, much like me, to fully grasp what a total waste your life has been to this point. Thank goodness I’m old enough to legally drink… looks like I got something on Lil Tecca after all.
FFO: Drake, Juice WRLD
Joan Osborne – Trouble and Strife (Womanly Hips Records)
You know those albums that you love, but that you forget that you love? The ones that you randomly see as you’re virtually flipping through your Spotify playlists, or – for the old fucks in the audience – your CDs or cassettes? (For the kids, music used to come on plastic squares the size and weight of Kit-Kats, with two holes drilled into them. Confused? Ask your parents.)
(And yes, I realize that there are many parents in this day and age who themselves are too young to remember cassettes. And now you realize that too.)
All that is to say: Joan Osborne’s Relish is one of those albums for me. Every time I listen to “St. Teresa”, or “Dracula Moon”, or of course “One of Us”, I’m reminded of how great the album is. But there’s one track that stands out for me, both for how amazing it is and how soulful it is, and that is “Pensacola”. It’s that soul that Joan really taps into for the majority of Trouble and Strife.
When I say “soul”, we’re talking mainly about the type of rock-soaked, country-tinged soul that you would hear from an artist like Janis Joplin, or some of Fleetwood Mac’s discography. “Hands Off” illustrates the rock end, and “Whole Wide World” is more country-esque. A few tracks do carry a more traditional soul sound as well, such as “Never Get Tired (Of Loving You)”. There’s something for everyone here, but no matter which track you pull up, you still get a heavy dose of Joan’s trademark vocals – every bit as good in 2020 as they were in 1995.
Trouble and Strife is Joan Osborne’s first album since 2017’s Songs of Bob Dylan – and her first original release since 2014’s Love and Hate. It won’t be a surprise to hear about someone who has been in the game as long as she has, but she has not missed a single beat.
FFO: Paula Cole, Melissa Etheridge
Little Hag – Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? (Bar None Records)
When an album has track titles like “Tetris”, “Walk of Shame” and “No More Dick Pix”, you know it’s gonna be interesting. And singer-songwriter Little Hag, formerly known by her name, Avery Mandeville, has definitely put together an interesting release – and a great one, at that. The mostly-acoustic album Whatever Happened to Avery Jane? is a real adventure.
Speaking of “Tetris”, that first song on the album begins with this lyric: “Everyone wants to fuck me/No one wants to see me cry”. (And I’m fairly certain it samples actual Tetris game sounds too, but I digress.) As you can tell, Little Hag is not in the business of pulling punches. She goes on to wax poetic about a previous love interest’s social media activity (“Facebook”), the pain of drug addiction (“Alexander”), and an overabundance of dick pix (the aforementioned “No More Dick Pix”).
As far as Little Hag’s vocals are concerned, I’m gonna let her Spotify bio speak for me: “Her unique voice has been compared to Roy Orbison, Angel Olsen, silk taffeta, a river of bourbon, and a car backing out of a gravel driveway”. Yeah, that, uhhh, sums it up perfectly. Now I didn’t say that any of that was bad, and it indeed is not. Little Hag’s voice is at once sultry, spiteful, and vulnerable, and those three traits have her constantly on the precipice of yelling “FUCK YOUUUUU” at the top of her lungs to anyone within earshot.
Again referencing Little Hag’s Spotify bio, Whatever Happened To Avery Jane? is a compilation of older tracks, presumably some from the Avery Mandeville days. Considering how delightful the older tracks are, I’m very much looking forward to the newer stuff too, whenever that may come out. I’ll be waiting patiently.
FFO: Haley Heynderickx, Julia Jacklin, and – apparently – Angel Olsen and Roy Orbison
Bear’s Den with Paul Frith – Fragments (Communion)
“Is there anything I don’t regret?” (“Fuel on the Fire”)
This is one of those records that sticks to your ribs, meaty with plenty to digest. British indie/folk-rock trio Bear’s Den is poised to be a great name on a global scale. There is a palpable beauty and depth contained in each sung syllable, accented by piano, guitar, and various stringed and orchestral instruments arranged by Mr. Frith.
It should be noted that a fair number of these tunes had been previously released on other Bear’s Den albums. While they were good tracks, the impact of the compositional arrangements cannot be overstated. The Fragments versions of “Isaac”, “Fuel on the Fire”, “Crow”, and “Breaker/Keeper” in particular are striking in there subtle but impactful differences.
FFO: Mumford and Sons, The Avett Brothers, The Wood Brothers
Start With: “Auld Wives”, “Isaac”, “When You Break”
Kingdom – Neurofire (Fade To Mind)
This was unexpected. I had previously not been aware of Kingdom, so I clicked the title, Neurofire, expecting something loud and harsh. Instead, I was treated to a club beat and some sexy vocal dives from LUVK and Kayla Blackmon.
Things take a turn at track 4, changing from bangin’ beats to beats about bangin’. “Arch Slide” is like “the Cupid Shuffle” and “WAP” met somewhere in the middle to make that wedding reception very uncomfortable. After 2 more tracks of shameless pop chart click-bait, Kingdom gets down to some pretty gritty dance pop, even if it’s missing any sort of bass quality.
Solid chill tunes if you’re down with overt sexual content.
FFO: Pheona, Kiiara, Semma
Start with: “His n Hers”, “Arch Slide”, “No More Same”
Ian Wayne – Risking Illness (Ian Wayne)
The songs that make up Risking Illness are centered around a simple, yet rather terrifying concept: “forces outside your control can become the cornerstone of your worldview” (from Spotify). The catalyst for this nihilistic rhetoric was the death of Wayne’s nephew, who was diagnosed with leukemia and succumbed within a few weeks.
The album is subtle and somber, with simple lines and an easy vibe. It is one of the most beautiful, aching collections of songs I have heard in years. You can hear his ennui with every breathy lyric. I highly recommend you take this record in small doses, lest you dehydrate yourself in a sea of tears.
FFO: Nick Drake, Nathaniel Rateliff, Songs:Ohia
Start With: “Now is Was”, “Winter’s”
Hey Elbow – We Three (Adrian)
This is positively Scandinavian, drawing on all the powers of the North Sea. Lush, full, ambient synths and guitar effects provide a backdrop that is absolutely mesmerizing in its depth. Reverb-laced vocals chime in when appropriate, but I have no idea what the lyrics are saying. It’s English, but I’m having trouble getting past the beauty of the sound long enough to catch the meanings.
The songs are…slow, but that doesn’t feel like an adequate description. Calculated? Maybe? Deliberate movements, with no wasted energy, for sure. You really can’t just listen to one single track and “get” the vibe. It is meant to be consumed as a whole. It is the kind of record that I wish I had on vinyl.
FFO: Bjork, The Knife, Little Dragon
Start with: “Missit”, “Nurture/Aptitude”
The Archaeas – The Archaeas (Goner)
There is no reason that a recording, any recording, should sound like this. The cheapest off-brand burner phone gets a better recording quality than what is on the debut album from this Kentucky trio.
That being said, this is the most punk rock thing I’ve heard in forever. Busted speaker cones, too much reverb, loud and forceful. I could put this on a bill in 1977 with MC5, 1987 with Stiff Little Fingers, or 1997 with Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. It’s raw, fast, and loud AF.
FFO: MC5, early Stiff Little Fingers, the Catheters
Start with: “Faces”, “Lip Gloss”
Eivør – Segl (self-published)
Eivør Pálsdóttir hails from the Faroe Islands, which I learned is pretty much smack-dab in-between Iceland and Norway – and from pictures looks like somewhere I will need to visit one day. There are just over 50,000 people on the archipelago; but on Segl, Eivør packs a big sound that serves as a strong juxtaposition to such a small homeland.
The electronica- and orchestral-tinged tracks range from sweeping (“Stirdur Saknur”), to haunting (“Hands”), with Eivør’s vocals being the star of the show. If this was an episode of What-Tails, I would mix three parts Tori Amos, two parts Emily Haines, one part Ellie Goulding, and a few dashes of a really lovely Nordic sound. Shake vigorously, and pour directly into your ears. Enjoy.
FFO: Metric, Tori Amos, Anna Ternheim
Semisonic – You’re Not Alone (Pleasuresonic Recordings)
Not much has changed for Minneapolis trio Semisonic over the years. Same three guys (Dan Wilson, John Munson, and Jacob Slichter). Same signature (piano-based lite pop with uplifting lyrics). What’s remarkable is the ability to pick right back off where they left off after a lengthy hiatus. Semisonic released three full-length albums and one EP from 1996-2001, followed by five-track EP You’re Not Alone in September 2020.
19 years from one release to the next, and the sound – and quality – hasn’t changed an iota. The title track is the best of the bunch for my money, but my suggestion would be just to spin the entire 15:46 EP, front to back, because what else were you gonna do for 15 minutes?
You’re Not Alone is proof that it’s never too late to get the band back together, figuratively or quite literally.
FFO: Keane, The Fray
Ava Max – Heaven & Hell (Atlantic)
Ava Max has good intentions. But although her songs exalt feminism and uniqueness with peppy lyrics, they sound like they’ve been packaged in about twelve layers of trite, popified pink plastic. Her nearly-mad-but-not-quite anthem “Torn” makes listeners feel as if they’re standing, bewildered but nonetheless tempted to start dancing, in the middle of a snowstorm of sunshine yellow confetti. It’s the kind of music you’d hear at your local frozen yogurt shop as you dish up your cake batter froyo with rainbow mochi and mini chocolate chips.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s pretty good music. But in a world that’s already overpopulated with perky pop music, her melodies can at times seem a bit too similar to a pack of store brand gummy bears — decently delicious, but slightly overused. Still, who knows? Maybe somewhere out there there’s a huge community of gummy-bear-loving, confetti-throwing pop superfans who will eat it up.
FFO: Marina & the Diamonds, Lady Gaga
Start With: “Torn”, “Kings & Queens”, “So Am I”
-Mali C. (our Youth Representative)