Whew, after a week that saw very little in the way of worthwhile music, a flood of new tracks and albums came rushing down the pipeline for Father’s Day weekend. Some old favorites return, some new bands form their debuts and there may not even be enough space to talk about it all.
Lorde – Melodrama
Sophomore slumps can strike at any time. Luckily for Lorde, the Australian singer who vaulted to instant stardom amidst Grammy wins in 2013, she took enough time off that people forgot about her. Not that she minded, since the attention was a bit too much for the then sixteen years old. With her maturity comes a sense of relevance, which allows for a fine-tunes production this time around. The songs, all produced hand in hand with Bleachers creator Jack Antonoff, seem so polished that this can’t possibly be as good as we would have hoped for. But it is, seriously, so much so, that it rivals Bleachers, Spoon and The New Pornographers for album of the year so far. I may go on about this album towards the end of year, but suffice it to say the expected sophomore slump never settles in, as Lorde expands her horizons in ways we never expected. From the pain-filled ballad “Writer in the Dark” to the fun romp through “The Louvre” to an ode to late-night parties in “Homemade Dynamite” – the subjects aren’t too different from her teenage years, but her production has certainly stepped up its game.
Key Tracks: Supercut / Liability / The Louvre / Writer in the Dark
The Killers – The Man
The fear each time The Killers approach a new album is what sounds they’ll be attempting to evoke. It’s a long-standing open secret that frontman Brandon Flowers fancies himself a Bruce Springsteen, if born on the outskirts of Las Vegas. In that case, we sometimes get the worst of him – the posturing of Sam’s Town, a heavily divisive album that turned away many of the dance-pop youth that fell in love with them from their debut Hot Fuss. Luckily the die-hards found themselves in for treats with the next two solid, albeit dull efforts – Day & Age and Battle Born. The latter was more Springsteen, but more well done and less bombastic. Let’s say that was Flowers’ Nebraska, a dialed down love affair for the state of the band’s youth. From there Flowers’ embarked on a solo tour with two albums, one the worst of 2010, Flamingo and the other, 2015’s The Desired Effect, which at last had, well, the desired effect – Brandon Flowers had never sounded more like his hero. So, with all that in mind, we temper our expectations for a new song. Lucky for us, Flowers and the Killers have a ‘Wrecking Ball’ for us in the form of a rollicking new song that epitomizes the best qualities of the band’s history. You can dance, you can hear the masculinity oozing its way through the verses, and you can drive your way out of town to it. That’s all you need in a good Killers song.
Nickelback – Feed the Machine
Forgive me for not understanding the backlash to Nickelback all these years. I’ve always thought there were plenty more bands, mundane as all can be subjectively, that deserved harsher credit. For the Canadian outfit, it became particularly galling, and I think that influenced them even more as vocal cord surgeries and label changes attempted to derail the train. To call them mediocre is to do them an injustice, for if you listen to the lyrics, many are often more profound than any number of pop songs circulating constantly on the radio. Take “After the Rain”, a late entry in their newest album Feed the Machine where revitalized frontman Chad Kroeger yelps “The ticket to life as my mother once told me / Stick with your pride and you’re gonna be lonely”. I’m sorry, that’s better than their punk neighbor Justin Bieber begging for a second chance over and over again. To each his own, of course, but I’ve only ever slighted Nickelback in jest. Silver Side Up, easily their best entry, was the blueprint for the subsequent six albums – and now that they’ve proven their longevity, it’s clear that the band was ready to show off their best work. As a casual fan, I have to say that this is their best work in fifteen years. Rock on, you crazy diamonds.
Key Tracks: Feed the Machine / Must Be Nice / Silent Majority
Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
Do not, and I repeat, do not attempt this album if you’re on the verge of slumber. It’s been a long time coming, especially for fans of the eloquent somnambulistic vocals emanating from lead singer Robin Peckold’s throat. However, this is not for the weak-hearted, or the coffee-deprived. While the writing and production value is through the roof, the mood is quite soft. Don’t get me wrong, Fleet Foxes is on top of the world here, coming out with an even more refined version of their previous album Helplessness Blues. If the direction they chose was one more in the vein of The Decemberists, where their folk tales are meant to lull rather than inspire, then they’re on the right track. I just think this is better background music than something for a group listen. Take care before sitting down with this, or worse – driving home at midnight to this. You’ll need a shot of Nodoz.
Key Tracks: Kept Woman / If You Need to, Keep Time on Me / Fool’s Errand
Queens of the Stone Age – The Way You Used to Do
Ever since I saw Josh Homme get super-pissed being played out during the credits for the 2014 Grammys, I knew he’d be back with a vengeance. Pure rock these days is a bit marginalized in popular culture, and there are enough thinkpieces out there that deny or confirm that thought, so I don’t need to go into it further. My standing is that with a dearth of rock stations, we’re sorely lacking a true rock band to unite behind. Take your Selena Gomez, your A$AP Rocky, your Beyonce – they’re all great, subjectively – there’s no one out there rocking like Queens of the Stone Age still do. You can’t pidgeonhole them in like Dave Grohl and Foo Fighters, who evolved with the times alongside Green Day, Blink-182 and even latter day Brit rock groups like The Strokes, The Kooks and Muse. Suffice it to say, other than those that evolved or dropped out, Queens of the Stone Age maintained that level we all wanted from rock – hard and loud, but with decipherable lyrics. We want to feel something from our music, not ironically, and Josh Homme has provided the 2017 version of that message: “If the world exploded behind us / I never noticed if it done / Let nobody dare confine us / I’ll bury anyone who does”. Just keep us up to date, Josh, and we’ll keep rocking along with you.
Hey Violet – From the Outside
I’ve got some odd feelings about this – it sounds like it’s of a place and time I’m no longer a part of, which I also feel makes me sound a bit old. If you recall the days when Paramoras starting out, about a decade ago, one of the most popular albums was Avril Lavigne’s The Best Damn Thing. Pink was still punk, having just released I’m Not Dead and yelled about fuckboys before we knew what they were. Now that time has passed, we’re on the lookout for the next group to take the charge – perhaps it could be Hey Violet, how about that? With songs like “O.D.D.” and “Hoodie”, they definitely might have the case for crowning a new queen of pop punk. Particularly evident of this women before men stage is “Guys My Age”, an anthem telling us all that nothing changes, dudes will always be complete oblivious jerks not worth your time. Here’s hoping they find a place to celebrate their riot grrrl status, like on a soundtrack similar to the one from 10 Things I Hate About You.
Key Tracks: Fuqboi / Guys My Age / Break My Heart / Unholy
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
Two weeks ago I mentioned how much Dan Auerbach was channeling Van Morrison in his newest album. There’s a bigger contender for that sound later in June, in singer Jason Isbell. Heck, in the song “Molotov” Isbell even remarks that he ‘broke a promise to myself / Made a couple to a brown-eyed girl’ There’s also a bit of Ryan Adams’ voice in Isbell, the one-time singer as part of folk group Drive-By Truckers. In his fifth album with band “and the 400 Unit”, Isbell crafts new heart-fueled folk, a working-man’s thought-provoking ballad album. With songs like “Something to Love” and “Tupelo” Isbell is trying to overshadow his southern roots by evoking all his heroes, branching out across America. Truth is, you’re going to want that chicken-fried down home feeling by the end. He’s just welcoming you home to the Nashville sound.
Key Tracks: Cumberland Gap / Anxiety / Chaos and Clothes / Cumberland Gap
Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
If you thought we were done with the Scissor Sisters style sound after the single by Queens of the Stone Age, then you were mistaken. Royal Blood is back, and thicker than ever. If you came to Music for Your Ears today hoping to get some dense rock, some pure drum and bass fuzz, then you came to the right place. What I’ve lamented has been missing from the rock scene is some British sensibility, and here, in lieu of a new Arctic Monkeys album, comes a pair of Brighton boys doing their damnedest to rock our socks off with beats like “Hole in Your Heart” and “She’s Creeping”. They’re at their best when they’re allowing their instruments to take over, but Mike Kerr and Ben Thatcher can hold their own with the best of them, spouting lyrics like “Then she drags me by one finger / To her lips / Hook, line & sinker / Honey I’m a sucker when you linger” – oozing danger at every dropped chord. Take a listen, it won’t hurt.
Key Tracks: I Only Lie When I Love You / Hook, Line and Sinker / Don’t Tell
Alright. That enough for you? If you’re not exhausted from reading all of this and raring up to listen to it all yourself, then prepare for next week’s entries – good stuff from Cheap Trick, Portugal. the Man, Imagine Dragons, Coldplay, Beach House and more. We’ll also take amoment and reflect on the waning spring, warming up to summer by picking the best of the season – adding our choices to the end of the year battle.