We’re in week two of our New Era, and nothing will stop us from staying on the groove of new tunes. A week after Angel Olsen and Danny Brown entered AOTY conversation with their latest records, Big Thief punched another entry into that discussion with their second top-notch record of the year. In the spirit of prolific output, Chris Farren and Julien Baker return to the scene with some new tracks after focusing on side projects in 2018. Somos has had tragic year after the death of their guitarist Phil Haggerty in August, which caused them to release their third studio record a couple of months before its official street date of this past Friday. Lastly, Tim looks at the latest from The Devil Wears Prada, with the band continuing to grow beyond their metalcore label.
Big Thief – Two Hands
Big Thief paraded their chops earlier this year with U.F.O.F., a delicate trip into the band’s ability to create towering folk compositions with simple instrumentation and Adrianne Lenker’s delicate vocals. The band decided that one standout record was not enough in 2019, and Two Worlds sees the band excelling at the highest level for another 40 minutes. Tracks like “Forgotten Eyes” and the title track have a precision to their folk intricacies, while takes like “Not” do not shy away from sonic ambiguity. Two Worlds shows Big Thief building a resolute sense of intimacy through simplicity, and the band manages to do so in the most fulfilling of ways.
Chris Farren – Born Hot
Fake Problems lead singer Chris Farren has hit a bit of a stride recently. Antarctigo Vespucci, his project with Jeff Rosenstock, released the eccentric Love in the Time of E-Mail last year, and Born Hot serves as a logical follow-up to that fun and catchy record. This album is softer in its disposition and poppier in its approach, taking after the likes of Rufus Wainwright and Slaughter Beach, Dog in crafting a glossy indie pop record that is fit for a 2010s MTV sitcom. “Search 4 Me” takes an intro from an old Stars record and churns out a bouncy ear worm that steeps in punk millennial apathy. The range of romantic, autumn-ready melodies (“R U Still There?”), A.C. Newman bouncers (“Does the Good Outweigh the Bad”), and quieter sunset rhythms (“Domain Lapse”, “Credits”), gives this record some real crossover appeal that punks, pops and indies will appreciate.
Somos – Prison on a Hill
Somos has always held a bit of a cult status in the emo scene. While the band’s debut lit up the Tiny Engines circles, they did not experience the same level of Moose Blood or All Time Low commercial success with First Day Back. Prison on a Hill sees the band return to Tiny Engines, but its street date comes under unfortunate circumstances. Guitarist Phil Haggerty passed away back in August, leading the band to release this record early to help pay for his funeral expenses. His commitment to activism is not lost on this record, with the band critiquing topics like senseless war (“Farewell to Exile”) and authoritarian rule (“Iron Heel”) through their synth-y style and new wave guitars. At 46 minutes, the record provides the most space the band has had to explore more layered instrumental arrangements and longer song structures, combining this space with a mix of political and personal lyricism. Beyond the unfortunate circumstances of the record’s release, Prison on a Hill serves as a valuable vessel of the band’s growth, and a solid entry point for those less familiar with these Boston sleepers.
The Devil Wears Prada – The Act
Going into The Devil Wears Prada’s seventh full-length album, it’s clear that this is far from the band that popularized “scene” metalcore in the late 2000s. This was apparent when they released a cover of Julien Baker’s “Sour Breath,” and it’s clear throughout The Act – an LP that strays away from the standards of heavy metal yet still maintains a fierce core. Vocalist Mike Hranica bears his soul as always, belting out spoken-word-styled yells on “Lines of Your Hands” and “Please Say No.” But it’s “Chemical,” defined by glistening guitars and an indie rock steadiness, where the band is hardly recognizable at all. They’re different now; they’re artists, exploring the fringes of rock and metal without holding to any one convention. The Act is testament to Prada’s progressive nature and the expectations they’ve set to evolve artistically, which they do with passion and intrigue throughout this release. – Tim Dodderidge
Julien Baker – Tokyo / Sucker Punch
Julien Baker has spent 2019 releasing a solid array of single tracks. These songs have kept her name in the spotlight after two years spent promoting her sophomore record, Turn Out the Lights, and the all-star self-titled EP from Boygenius. “Tokyo” and “Sucker Punch” came out earlier this year on a 7-inch released by Sub Pop. The two songs possess the intimacy that old Baker fans have grown accustomed to. The synths and keyboards on “Tokyo” feel aligned with the progression that shined through on the more cathartic moments on Turn Out the Lights, while the soft build-up of catharsis on “Sucker Punch” sits well as a sister to the title track from that record. These two songs are sure to satisfy her old fans who are excited to see the sonic leaps she is bound to make with her third studio album.