June 30, 2017 | by NO RECESS! Staff
One of the nice things about good art is it’s an inexhaustible resource, in part because we can never run out of things to say about a world that’s always changing, or ways to emotionally react to it, whether it’s through a labyrinthine Kendrick Lamar verse or a dirt-thick Pissed Jeans riff. So when we started NO RECESS! there wasn’t any hesitation that good, thoughtful music would be coming down the pipe to write about every week; it already was. With each passing year, that’s more true than ever, and you never know where it’s going to come from: a #1 Hot 100 hit for Migos, an influential mixtape trio whose last album tanked, a follow-up to a breakneck At the Drive-In classic from 17 years ago, or the tragedy of Mount Eerie’s Phil Elverum losing his beloved wife and immortalizing her in plainspoken song.
With the increasingly harrowing political landscape, firebrands like Priests won’t run out of material anytime soon; ditto the state of health care for Aimee Mann. Our half-year favorites are in no way definitive; we only hope to serve as a guide. If you came here for the unpredictable Young Thug, we hope you leave with the indescribable Zeal and Ardor. If you seek the rage-rap bluster of Run the Jewels, maybe you’ll discover the big-voiced Americana of Becky Warren. And on with it. Happy July 4th. — DAN WEISS
At the Drive-In, In•Ter A•Li•A (Rise)
Right, they’re not as surprising or powerful as they were 17 years ago, when they last released an album, and the excesses of the Mars Volta have tampered down Cedric Bixler-Zavala’s roar into something that occasionally whines. But it’s remarkable how strong the long-awaited follow-up to Relationship of Command is anyway, how surprising those seasick guitars can still be when they smack you across the face, and even those stray darts of magnetic poetry that are Bixler-Zavala’s guilty pleasure still stick in the craw.
Best Moment: The only reason the endlessly exploding “Pendulum in a Peasant Dress” never quite goes off the rails is because it never quite adheres to them in the first place. — DAN WEISS
Bash and Pop, Anything Could Happen (Fat Possum)
There’s an irascible rock ‘n’ roll brat inside of Tommy Stinson that will never die. The youngest Replacement turned 50 this year, but Anything Could Happen is as ageless as anything he’s ever produced, standing toe-to-toe with the rambunctious swagger of Bash and Pop’s 24-year old predecessor, Friday Night Is Killing Me.
Best Moment: What’s better than a former ‘Mat using booze as a pitch-perfect life metaphor? “Comes as no shock / We take our love on the rocks,” Stinson sings on the heartbroken barroom rocker called (what else?) “On the Rocks.” — RYAN BRAY
Chuck Berry, Chuck (Decca)
Chuck hardly moves an inch from the classic, all-American rock ‘n’ roll Berry helped birth some 60 years ago, and therein lies its greatest strength. The singer’s first album in 39 years ultimately proved to be his last, but he undeniably went out on top. Released just months after his passing, Chuck left us with concrete proof of how indelible his rock bona fides are.
Best Moment: There’s no more moving moment on Chuck than when Berry takes stock of his life on the bluesy, introspective swan song “Darlin’.” — RYAN BRAY
Body Count, Bloodlust (Century Media)
Ice-T, Ernie C, Ill Will, and the others bring the gravity on this ferocious and prescient hunk of street metal. It’s one of the strongest Body Count releases ever, even with a guest appearance by the present-day Dave Mustaine and a break in the middle of the action so Ice-T can explain (in an unexpectedly genial way) the brief history of this, his absolutely livid rock band.
Best Moment: That Slayer medley, what a hoot. — JAMES GREENE JR.
Charly Bliss, Guppy (Barsuk)
Tuneful and lyrically idiosyncratic, the debut full-length from this Brooklyn four-piece is the hyper-melodic candy-punk that angsty poptimist dreams are made of. Taking cues from the Josie and the Pussycats soundtrack and Paramore in equal measure, Guppy is a feat of both sweet and sour.
Best Moment: From “Scare U,” the coziest of lyrical oddities: “Forced fun, ill at ease / All I eat is bread and cheese / Pink elf, bleed the sheets / I wanna talk about it, but I don’t know what I mean.” — CHRISTINA ZAMMARELLI
Cherry Glazerr, Apocalipstick (Secretly Canadian)
While I won’t stand here and vouch for the band’s live performance (if this year’s twitchy visit to KEXP was any indication, they aren’t too concerned about turning in a “solid” performance). Taken for what Apocalipstick is, as a recorded, produced, and obviously polished effort to pull the real power from Clementine Creevy’s voice, Cherry Glazerr do get credit for creating the catchiest, most consistent noise-pop album of the year (so far). — JOCELYN HOPPA
Best Moment: Right out of the gate with “Told You I’d Be With the Guys,” Cherry Glazerr ain’t the band you knew from a few years ago (the one whose members weren’t even out of high school yet).
Cloud Nothings, Life Without Sound (Carpark)
Dylan Baldi’s newest holler into the void continues to mine the heavy, melodic indie-rock Cloud Nothings really began to beef up with their last two albums. The band is playing better and tighter than ever, implicitly presenting a powerful argument against evolving in any way. (But it would still be exciting if they do.)
Best Moment: The quicksilver melody change as Baldi switches from “I want a life / That’s all I need lately” to “I am alive but all alone” in the whipping refrain of “Modern Act.” — CONOR MALCOLM CROCKFORD
Do Make Say Think, Stubborn Persistent Illusions (Constellation)
Another long-missed indie band emerges from the dark forest of the music industry. But holy shit, post-rocker instrumentalists Do Make Say Think resurfaced (it’s been eight years) with material that’s fantastical (yet restrained) by the standard of the band’s well-known and well-loved earnest soundscapes. The music on Stubborn Persistent Illusions may feel stubborn and persistent, leaving a listener wanting it to grow, change and be more. But when they do finally execute a dynamic shift, you understand why you waited.
Best Moment: “Horripilation” is one of those wait-for-it tracks, but do yourself a favor and wait for it. — JOCELYN HOPPA
Elder, Reflections of a Floating World (Armageddon Label)
It’s been a fascinating journey watching prog and metal, two differently disparaged formats of the 1970s, grow into one architectural titan of a cross-genre that’s never quite commanded respect from the critical conversation. With the meteoric rise of Baroness and Deafheaven, that began to change, and with worthy additions to the heavy-melodic continuum. You can plot a point onto that grid for Elder as well, a five-piece who excels at sonic world-building with winding, occasionally string-aided passages on their newest album. For six songs in 64 minutes, Reflections of a Floating World peaks and peaks without ever stooping to doing something hip.
Best Moment: The rocket launch of arpeggiated guitars and ascending orchestral scales that sends the third act of “The Falling Veil” into the outer galaxies. — DAN WEISS
Emperor X, Oversleepers International (Tiny Engines)
Political anxieties inform the songs on Oversleepers International the same way they affect our everyday lives. Characters deal with expired visas and struggle with international healthcare systems. They fantasize about riots and secretly drugging senators. They fear Brexit and spiders. Emperor X’s sole proprietor Chad Matheny has been writing sonically damaged earworms for nearly two decades, but International is his most joyous, tragic, and empathetic to date.
Best Moment: Matheny details the debt he incurred while defeating testicular cancer on “€30,000” with harrowing yet uproariously detailed lines like “I killed a hundred million cells of embryonic carcinoma with the love that caused my middle-aged heart to burst” and a climactic yelp of “BUT I CAN’T PAY!” — RYAN WASOBA
Father John Misty, Pure Comedy (Sub Pop)
Love him or hate him, Father John Misty turned out a heavy, 75-minute introspective album that grins sharply through grim lines about our relationship to the digital world and our need for validation (among, well, a few other things). It’ll bring you down and isolate you, but Josh Tillman’s articulation on these matters will free you all the same.
Best Moment: The most astute Misty observation comes from the “The Memo,” — “It's not self-love that kills you / It's when those who hate you are allowed / To sell you that you’re a glorious shit / The entire world revolves around.” — JOCELYN HOPPA
Future Islands, The Far Field (4AD)
An atmospheric album that chronicles nearly a decade’s worth of touring and its wearying effects against languid synth beats, The Far Field is a softer Future Islands album, but also a tighter one. With unforgettable stage presence Samuel T. Herring emoting out front, the band pairs perfectly with a newfound summer romance.
Best Moment: With love to the smoky Debbie Harry duet “Shadows,” it’s just crushing when Herring declares on “Aladdin” that he’s “Breached the peak of ‘please’ and ‘thanks’ / I’ve seen my features age / My fingers strange.” — AMANDA SCIGAJ
Girlpool, Powerpoint (ANTI-)
Scrappy, beloved hopefuls this tiny in their scope and execution tend to break up before releasing something this consequential, so let’s be grateful this acoustic duo turned electric trio didn’t. The bookending “123” and “Static Somewhere” make no attempt to disguise they’re anthems (thanks, new drummer!), and vignettes in between like “Corner Store” are taking on a musical sophistication their art-space audience may yet be aware of (and they themselves definitely are).
Best Moment: The bright ‘n’ jangly riff that twice pokes out from the creeping doominess of “Soup,” adding a whole other fucked-up dimension to lines like “Come over to my place / I’ll help find your fix.” — DAN WEISS
Grails, Chalice Hymnal (Temporary Residence Ltd.)
While Emil Amos’ stoner metal band Om has received far more fanfare, his project Grails has been consistently putting out impressive, wordless post-rock records since the early 2000s. The self-produced Chalice Hymnal sounds like a performance rather than a recording. And as the music drifts, there’s never really a second I’m under the impression it’s not entirely forward-thinking as well. — JOCELYN HOPPA
Best Moment: “New Prague” is one instrumental where a lack of words is of zero concern.
Hurray for the Riff Raff, The Navigator (ATO)
On this sci-fi-flavored (semi-) autobiographical concept album, Alynda Segarra's titular navigator charts a path through alienation and erasure in “the city” to find her niche as a poet and storyteller of hopeful resistance and survival. Thusly, a wide variety of Americana influences, including folk, doo-wop, bomba, and rootsy blues-rock, come together in an aural representation of Navi's personal intersectional experiences.
Best Moment: Although the bomba groove paired with devastating lyrics in “Rican Beach” lands a gut punch, the stirring moment in the nueva canción-inspired piano ballad “Pa'lante,” where Segarra calls out the names of ancestors from Emmitt Till to Sylvia Rivera, honors the dead while reminding the rest of us to keep going. — HEATHER BATSON
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, The Nashville Sound (Southeastern)
Isbell and Co. hit their Springsteenian stride with this harmony-infused, shared-billing band album that could only have come out of Tennessee. The former Drive-By Trucker’s songwriting conveys as much insight, regret, and hope as ever, but the performances here have more bite and grit to them than we’ve heard yet from the (far) left-field country-chart topper.
Best Moment: The tense frustration of “Cumberland Gap,” relieved only by guitar. — HEATHER BATSON
Kehlani, SweetSexySavage (TSNMI/Atlantic)
While most of her upstart R&B peers traffic in atmosphere and feeling, Kehlani Parrish’s proper debut album follows a blunter, old-fashioned strategy: banger after banger. These include the effusively sensual “Distraction,” a glockenspiel-decorated “Advice” that doesn’t follow its own, and the breathless meter of “In My Feelings,” which stuffs a syllable into every single beat. Love the 22-year-old’s tenacity as her tunecraft barges past the 19-track mark without a single cut exceeding four minutes. There are different ways to flex one’s discipline.
Best Moment: “Undercover,” which makes something beautiful out of contorting fresh Spanish guitar around a decade-old Akon hook. — DAN WEISS
Khalid, American Teen (Sony)
Young, dumb, and broke, he says, though only the first could possibly be true in 2017. He’s at least smart enough to write some of the wisest songs extant about the youthful temptation to throw caution to the wind and be as stupid as you can before life catches up. Elsewhere, he dives right into the inherent shallowness of pitiful breakup songs and somehow comes out looking good. If he was as stupid at age 8Teen as he claims, he’s an impressively fast learner.
Best Moment: “8Teen,” a climax that arrives in the middle of the record. — MELODY DANIELLE RICE
Kendrick Lamar, DAMN. (Top Dawg)
Not that the man needs any introduction, but fearsome salvos like “DNA.” and “ELEMENT.” on his all-caps barnstormer DAMN. set the tone for yet another Kendrick Lamar album that defies pigeonholing, except this one features U2. Nevertheless, hip-hop’s poet laureate still slays with lightning-fast delivery and detailed wordsmithing that spares no detail whether in a personal narrative like “DUCKWORTH.” or a critic-baiting anthem like “HUMBLE.”
Best Moment: Taking out the right-wing trash with utmost class on “YAH.”: “