Music update, September 2017.

A whole raft of anticipated releases hit stores in September, including new records from Wolf Alice, Daughter, Hundred Waters, Cut Copy, Torres, The Killers, Death From Above, LCD Soundsystem, and the National, some of which lived up to expectations, some of which didn’t, and some of which were as bad as I expected. (I really couldn’t have any less interest in or respect for The Killers at this point, since they licensed a song and recorded an extra video to help promote the fight involving serial domestic abuser Floyd Mayweather.) Here’s my highly edited list of the best new songs of the month, with a half-dozen metal tracks at the end, increasing in heaviness as it progresses. You can access the Spotify playlist here if the widget below doesn’t appear.

Hundred Waters – Wave to Anchor. Hundred Waters had my #1 album of 2014 with The Moon Rang Like a Bell, an unconventional, experimental record of atmospheric electronica with breathy, acrobatic vocals by Nicole Miglis. The band’s second album, Communicating, came out on September 14th, and pushes even further into experimental territory, but with bigger sounds and more dramatic flourishes, very much in evidence here and on “Particle,” “Prison Guard,” and “Blanket Me.”

Daughter – Glass. Daughter’s Music from Before the Storm is the soundtrack to the new video game Life is Strange: Before the Storm, but works as a standalone album as well, with indie-folk trio Daughter using the game’s script as inspiration for a record that fits well in their own discography. It’s actually more cohesive than their last album, 2016’s Not to Disappear, even with instrumental tracks like this one, and I think stronger start to finish, buoyed by songs like this one, “Burn It Down,” “Voices,” and closer “A Hole in the Earth.”

Wild Beasts – Punk Drunk & Trembling. Wild Beasts are breaking up, with 2016’s magnum opus Boy King, a mesmerizing record of tremendous hooks built around a theme of toxic masculinity, their swan song. This track is one of the leftovers from the recording of that record and part of a forthcoming EP to close out their career.

Hippo Campus – Baseball. How could I omit a song called “Baseball?” Actually, that didn’t matter except that I pushed it further up the playlist – I wouldn’t include a song that wasn’t good, and this song has a great little guitar hook and catchy chorus to drive it. It’s on their newest EP, warm glow, which comes out just a few months after their debut album Landmark dropped.

Sløtface – Backyard. Try Not to Freak Out, the debut full-length from these Norwegian punk-pop purveyors, is uneven, but with a few standout tracks built around big hooks and fun lyrics, including this one and “Nancy Drew.”

Wolf Alice – Heavenward. I’ve been a little disappointed by Wolf Alice’s second album, Visions of a Life, released on Friday, as it doesn’t show any growth from their debut, My Love is Cool, and in some ways feels even less mature.

Death From Above – Holy Books. Their third album, Outrage is Now!, came out on September 8th, and it’s almost as if they’ve merged with Royal Blood, producing an album of huge, guitar-driven hooks that’s my favorite album of their three so far.

Portugal. The Man – Don’t Look Back In Anger. I don’t include many covers and almost never include live tracks, so you know this one, recorded in-studio for Spotify, must be pretty good.

Mourn – The Fire. These Barcelona punks put out a five-song EP, Over the Wall, on September 8th, with two standout tracks, this one and “Whatever.” They have a sort of anarchic, college-rock vibe to their best songs, as if the entire thing is going to fall apart at any second but the band just manages to keep it together until the song ends.

Van William – Never Had Enough Of You. Van Pierszalowski, lead singer of WATERS, put out a few singles on his own under the nom de chanson Van William (understandably so) earlier this year, and has now collected them with this new track and one demo on a four-song EP called The Revolution. This ballad is a definite shift in tone and feel for VW compared to the first two singles and to his work with WATERS, but you’ll recognize his signature sound in the shuffling guitar riff behind the lyrics.

Prides – Lets Stay In Bed All Day. I had Prides’ first single, “The Seeds You Sow,” as my #8 song of 2014,, but their debut album ended up a big disappointment, lacking any big hooks and really downshifting their overall sound. This song seems to get them back on track, with a big Wombats feel to both music and lyrics.

Tricky with Mina Rose – Running Wild. It only took me twenty years, but I have finally realized that I like Tricky’s music a lot more when he’s not the vocalist.

Von Grey – 6 A.M. I’m not sure about the “sexy goth sisters” marketing around this trio, but the sound on this track is a compelling, more vocal-driven descendant of the ’90s novelty act Rasputina.

Cut Copy – Black Rainbows. Cut Copy have produced so much music – 21 singles, five albums (including their latest, Haiku from Zero), a few EPs – since their 2001 debut, but despite a general sound that’s right in my wheelhouse, I’ve rarely found their songs even a little bit memorable because they haven’t had good pop hooks in what is otherwise very poppy music. This breaks that trend, the best song I’ve heard from them since 2010’s “Where I’m Going.”

The Riff – Weekend Schemes. I mean, if your band is named The Riff, you’d better bring the guitar licks … and they do, at least on this song, which is like a harder post-Oasis Britpop vibe with a dash of The Hold Steady in the vocals.

INHEAVEN – Bitter Town. Big, ballsy hard rock from their eponymous debut album, which also features the muscular “World on Fire” (on my August playlist). This song is more wistful, a little introspective even, with strong lyrical contrast to the heavy percussion and distortion that drives the music.

Mastodon – Toe to Toes. Mastodon have always been inventive musicians, frequently breaking out of traditional song structures, and often succumbing to melodic urges as if they couldn’t help but make a heavy song a little catchier. This song seems to split the baby; there’s a heavy, jazz-metal component, reminiscent of the work of ’90s metal acts Cynic and Atheist, and the song suddenly downshifts into AOR territory – but the juxtaposition works to the song’s benefit, providing a respite from the relentless riffs of the heavier sequences.

Chelsea Wolfe – Offering. Highly atmospheric, ethereal, gothic … something. It’s not really metal, although bits of metal creep into her latest album, Hiss Spun, and she employs a number of major names from the metal and hard-rock worlds on the record. There are doom and stoner elements here, but it’s all in service of building a dark, funereal edifice for Wolfe’s wide-ranging vocals. I thought the album as a whole dragged, but this track is a standout.

Myrkur – De Tre Piker. Myrkur is Amalie Brunn, a Danish vocalist who just released her second metal album under this moniker; her music is generally described as “black metal,” but that wildly undersells what she’s doing here. This music defies traditional categorization, borrowing from diverse genres and shifting tempos, themes, and styles multiple times within tracks, incorporating folk and classical elements along with extreme metal aspects, including screamed vocals that alternate with her own clean singing. It doesn’t always work, and she struggles sometimes with the lack of cohesion within tracks, but I’d put her in a very small group of artists who are trying to change the definitions of contemporary rock music.

Arch Enemy – My Shadow and I. I think I just don’t care for Alissa White-Gluz’s guttural vocal style – but I think the guitar riffs on Will to Power, their new album, are a big step forward from the slightly disappointing War Eternal (2014), still true to their melodic death-metal roots. (Founding guitarist Michael Amott was a member of seminal death-metal act Carcass for their breakthrough album Heartwork, which remains one of the founding records of the melodic death-metal subgenre.)

Satyricon – Deep calleth upon Deep. The vocals are bad – they just are, always have been for Satyricon – but they’re an unapologetic doom band now, a transition that, as many of you argued on Twitter, started somewhere around Rebel Extravaganza or Volcano. It’s not what original Satyricon fans want, but if you can stand the silly death growls there’s a good Pallbearer/Crypt Sermon vibe here.

Akercocke – Unbound by Sin. This is probably the most extreme metal song I’ve ever included on one of these playlists, which is why I left it till the end, but this song – and the entire album, Renaissance in Extremis – is a tour de force of progressive, technically proficient metal that incorporates elements of jazz and classical along with the standard death-metal trappings like blast beats (yawn) and growled vocals (mixed relatively low here, so the fretwork stands out). I used to think Akercocke was something of a joke, a so-called “blackened” death metal band that used controversial lyrics and album covers to grab attention, but this album, their first in ten years, just floored me with its complexity and textures. If you like extreme metal at all, it’s the best album of that niche this year and I think the best since Carcass’ Surgical Steel.

Comments

  1. Thoughts on the latest GY!BE or is that not your jam?

  2. Cut Copy’s “seminal” In Ghost Colors was one of like 3 CDs i ever uploaded to my PS3 and i ultimately played about 100 hrs of MLB The Show 2011 while listening solely to it.* It’s not so much that I can’t hear it without thinking of baseball. That’s obvious. Its more like, I can’t watch a baseball game without thinking about Cut/Copy. Figured if anyone would appreciate, it’s you! Cheers.

    *(after paring back ‘Dear Catastrophe Waitress’ and DM’s ‘Ultra’ from the rotation).

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