This week is filled with releases that capture the range of tastes that define Mind Equals Blown. The latest by Turnover sees the band making a logical contribution to the next era of indie pop, while Counterparts continues to prove their strengths within the heavy scene. Earl Sweatshirt dropped a surprise EP that fits deeply within the unique niche he’s carved out in the alternative hip hop sphere. Michael Kiwanuka continues his hot streak with another record that sees his hybrid songwriting in top form, and Miranda Lambert continues to excel in her own territory as country music’s patron saint and top notch rebel.
Turnover – Altogether
The distant vocals and soft horns that kick off Altogether make it very clear what kind of aspirations Turnover have on this record. The success of The 1975 this decade turned the male-led, emo-inspired indie pop scene into a proving ground for future talent, and this record is Turnover firmly embedding themselves within a space they were always met to call home. Hello Euphoria was a standout effort for the band to establish their Real Estate chops, and this record is a bigger pop off than the intermediate Good Nature. “Much After Feeling” shows the band in an infectious disco mood that feels appropriately melancholy, keeping the band grounded in the humble scene they are part of. The band shows off a real 80s kick on tracks like “Sending Me Right Back”, with a funky guitars and hand percussion embodying the band’s ability to stay to true their classic sound while adapting to an emerging scene that they prove they have the chops to handle with grace.
Counterparts – Nothing Left to Love
One of the most tight-knit hardcore bands in today’s scene, Counterparts continues an impressive run of studio success with Nothing Left to Love. Their third release on Pure Noise Records and sixth overall, the members build on their succinct and steadfast previous effort, You’re Not You Anymore. In that manner, they keep each of the 10 songs songs to the point, making every moment more soul-crushing than ever — both instrumentally and lyrically. Sure, vocalist Brendan Murphy hasn’t changed his dark and depressive thematics, but his words back a driving force of melodic hardcore with heightened emotion and impact. “Paradise and Plague” gives you everything you could want from the genre, with immaculate choruses, breakdowns, and melodies. Yet, Counterparts still finds room to expand both on the heavy and sot ends, hinting at trash metal in “Cherished” and ambient post-rock in the drawn-out closer. – Tim Dodderidge
Earl Sweatshirt – Feet of Clay
Feet of Clay picks off where Some Rap Songs left off, with the same mix of unorthodox beats and straightforward lyricism creating similar a-ha moments of brilliance. He fulfills his commitment to form and function, with uncomfortable, lo-fi beats running under his dense reflections on alcohol, depression and heartbreak. These seven songs are mostly short, but they are packed with references and reflections alike. The loose soul sample behind “El Toro Combo Meal” feels like a true mashup of the elements that have defined Earl’s career. Bringing Mavi on for Earl’s most extensive guest verse since before Some Rap Songs, Earl turns his verse into a muffled singsong that is aware of his struggles to receive support from his scene, family and others, pressing for the connection of the legendary 2000s Detroit Pistons. This EP shows Earl continuing to stand on his own, and managing to excel in spite of the limitations that breed that position.
Michael Kiwanuka – Kiwanuka
2010s TV and music enthusiasts have had a solid crossover star with Michael Kiwanuka. His stand out mix of soul, indie, R&B and alternative transcends decades and contemporary moments, alike, and his self-titled blowout is no exception. Tracks like “Rolling” play to the melodic sensibilities that old fans are well aware of. The theme song crowd will be satisfied with the classic climax of “Hard to Say Goodbye”, but will find even more to savor in the cinematic horns and squalor of “Living in Denial”. Kiwanuka’s musicianship and composition skills are on full display with this record, with the pristine “Hero” featuring some top notch vamps and orchestral swells that feel even bigger than the sounds that made him resonate in the first place. There isn’t anything out of the ordinary for Kiwanuka on this record, but his confidence and opulence in executing his old tricks bring this record to another level.
Miranda Lambert – Wildcard
If The Weight of These Wings was Miranda Lambert’s way of reflecting on her divorce with Blake Shelton, then Wildcard sees her kicking that baggage out to the curb. This rocking record is as fun as Lambert has ever been, with fun singles like “It All Comes Out in the Wash” and “Tequila Does” showing off her ability to have fun and set her own agenda with her songs. “Mess With My Head” keeps up with her knack for hard line thumpers, while “Dark Bards” speaks to her track record to thrive with a softened band behind her. Lambert’s evolving crossover appeal informs this record well, with the vague tinge of dream pop guitars on “Track Record” complementing the small town reflections and true-to-form twang that makes the track’s melody stand out all the same. Ultimately, Lambert sticks to her guns in a way that feels simultaneously traditional and progressive, giving this record even more crossover appeal than the ones that got her here to begin with.