King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Julien Baker, SHINee, Danny L Harle, Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Point Park Globe

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Finally, we have reached the point in the year where high-profile releases are going to be coming around every corner. This week, those high-profile releases just so happen to come from some of my favorite artists currently working. There wasn’t an album in this batch that I didn’t enjoy, so hopefully one of these reviews can convince you to check out one of these incredible records.

 

1. King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – L.W.

Released Feb. 26, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Few musicians are as continually as exciting as King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. The Australian sextet has been together for just over a decade now, and in that time, they have released 17 full studio albums. While they have shot to fame for their five album run in 2017, the group remains incredibly consistent despite jumping genres from record to record and song to song. “K.G.” was released in November of 2020, and the sister album “L.W.” was released hot on its heels.

“L.W.,”  the sister album to “K.G.,” also acts as the finale to a trilogy of albums which started with 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana. The trilogy finds the band exploring microtones and eastern tunings. For those not familiar, microtones are essentially the notes in between the notes on a western scale. For instance, D half sharp falls between D and D sharp in eastern scales, but western scales ignore those middle intervals. Also notable is the fact that this is the first release in which all stringed instruments performed on this album are microtonal, rather than frontman Stu Mackenzie’s guitar.

Despite the acquisition of new instruments, “L.W.” lacks the experimentation that other Gizz albums had. This being a safe album does not mean it is bad but only disappointing. While certainly a very cohesive album, many of the songs stay in their lane and don’t offer too many left turns. The opening three tracks are the singles and are definitely a welcome batch of songs to the Gizz catalogue. “If Not Now, Then When?” opens the album, picking up directly where “K.G.” left off before morphing into a funky clavinet-driven song about the dangers of environmental collapse. “O.N.E.” and “Pleura” follow with some driving vocals, especially the low growling vocals on the latter track courtesy of guitarist Joey Walker. 

The middle three songs are also an enjoyable stretch, but the album really hits its stride with the closing three tracks. “Ataraxia” is Joey’s song for the album, and it really shows off his compositional skills. The guitar riffs on here are tasty, and his vocals are always incredible. “See Me” proves that the real hero of this record is drummer Michael Cavanagh. Seventh Gizz member/second drummer/label manager Eric Moore left the band last year to focus on their label full time, meaning Cavs had to pick up the slack. And oh boy, does he really bring the house down. His working through all the polyrhythms the band weave into their songs show just how incredible of a drummer he is. The closing track “K.G.L.W” is a doom metal reworking of the opening track from “K.G.,” featuring the title chanted throughout its eight-minute runtime as the band chugs away. It is a mammoth of a track, featuring strikes of an anvil, sawing noises, and rattling of chains. The whole song feels like it has been crafted from pure fire and lava, and I hope the band follows up 2019’s thrash metal record “Infest The Rat’s Nest” with another metal album leaning more towards the style of this song.  The track is a fitting end to the trilogy, but if anything, I am excited to see where they go now that they seemingly have put this sound to rest.

 

2. Julien Baker – Little Oblivions

Released Feb. 26, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Boygenius is a supergroup of sorts that is composed of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker. Phoebe has always been the popular one with last year being somewhat her big moment with “Punisher” and Lucy Dacus has had big boosts due to her backing of Bernie Sanders, but it feels like nobody talks about Julien Baker. Despite being the youngest of the three, she had released music first and was met with much critical acclaim earlier in her career. Despite her seemingly being overshadowed by her peers nowadays, she has always been one of my favorite singer/songwriters of recent years.

“Little Oblivions” is a prime example of why I enjoy her music as much as I do. Lyrically, she continues to tackle substance abuse and mental health issues through her own personal experience with a heart on her sleeve approach that some might find uncomfortable. Each song is incredibly emotional, cutting right into my core with every line. I can relate to a good portion of this album, but I think most people can. It’s certainly not a style of songwriting that lands for everyone, but for me it works very well.

While she continues her lyrical themes from prior projects, this is her most advanced album to date from a compositional standpoint. Her first album featured just her vocals and guitar, while the second added keyboards and strings. Here, Julien brings forth a full band composed entirely of herself. Yep, she plays all the drums, guitars, pianos, and every other sound you hear across “Little Oblivions.” Even with a complete sound palette on this release, she maintains the same lethargic melancholia her albums have become known for. This is tired music for tired people. Do not put this on around friends. Play it alone in your room with your lights off. Cry to “Relative Fiction” and “Bloodshot.” Rethink every interaction you have had with a past partner to “Song In E.” Listen to this at night because it will certainly make the rest of your day miserable in the best possible way.

 

3. SHINee – Don’t Call Me

Released Feb. 22, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

K-pop is genuinely one of the most all-consuming and fast-growing things to hit the music community in the last decade. It felt like it poofed into existence and was the singularly most important thing in pop culture. If you were in high school in the middle of the last decade, it was k-pop everywhere you turned. Of course, k-pop has been around for a very long time, but the genre’s explosion in the West is unlike anything I have ever seen. Most who are familiar with the movement have experience with the intense fandom, which is notorious for being incredibly devoted to their favorite artists. While the community has had multiple crossovers with the press due to various controversies, the genre has become cemented in the States. Personally, I have always been put off by the community and struggled with the music at times. I listen to a lot of foreign music, but the whole production style and formula for k-pop never did it for me.

SHINee was different. I later found out that they are one of the most celebrated groups in k-pop for their performances, but they struck me as different due to their influences. 2016’s “1 Of 1” was where I got onto the ride. I expected more or less the same thing I had heard from other groups, but I was instead treated with a new jack swing throwback that took cues from the likes of Janet Jackson and New Edition. The album quickly became my favorite k-pop release by a wide margin.

Now, in 2021, the group returns with their seventh album, “Don’t Call Me.” The album is their first album of completely new material since the passing of Jonghyun in 2017, as well as being their return from their mandatory military service. While this album is still very inventive and more adventurous than others in the genre, it definitely feels like a step down from past releases. The title track is quite messy and out of place, but thankfully the rest of the album is better. “I Really Want You” and “Kiss Kiss” both stand out as highlights, with their driving grooves feeling like something Nile Rodgers would’ve cooked up in the 70s without feeling too revivalist.

“Body Rhythm” feels a little awkward with its faux reggae beat, but it is pleasant enough. “Attention” feels like it could almost fit on the last Carly Rae Jepsen album, and that is very much a compliment. The performances all across the board from all four members are stellar, and they continue to be—in my opinion—the best in their game. I’m sure they have had a rough last few years, so I’ll chalk the missteps on this record up to the group taking their time to get back in the groove.

 

4. Danny L Harle – Harlecore

Released Feb. 26, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

If you have been keeping up with music trends in the last few years, then you certainly have become aware of hyperpop. Danny L Harle may not be a name that you recognize, but he has worked closely with the likes of Charli XCX, Superfruit and Caroline Polachek. Aside from producing those artists and more, Harle was notable for being one of the more accessible artists on PC Music during his time signed there. Now, he comes forth from behind the scenes to drop his first full-length album, the humorously titled “Harlecore.”

This release is stacked with features, such as Hannah Diamond, L Devine, and Caroline Polachek. Momentum-wise, this thing allows for a lot more breathing room than most hyperpop, and I believe that is due to the influences it pulls from. Despite still having that irony-drenched musk most hyperpop gives off, this pulls a lot more from the 90s than other records of its kind. Taking influence from trance, drum and bass, hardstyle, and eurodance gives these songs a nostalgic feeling that doesn’t feel like a parody. “On A Mountain” and “Do You Remember” sound like they were pulled straight from 1998. I can’t even say this album leans on nostalgia too hard because it is just so well crafted. It feels like it is both 20 years old and also of its time. The shorty, zany songs like “Boing Beat” and “Piano Song” are the perfect amount of over-caffeinated energy without becoming grating.

The record plays out like a live set of four different DJs, all portrayed by Harle and a collaborator. DJ Danny is himself, DJ Boing a collab with Lil Data, DJ Mayhem a collab with Hudson Mohawke, and DJ Ocean a collab with Polachek. Each one has their own style, and the gimmick keeps the album fresh and exciting throughout its runtime. I find the DJ Danny tracks the most compelling, but that’s just my love of 90s dance music creeping out. This album also has a sense of humor I can’t help but love. I think I finally found some hyperpop that doesn’t make me feel like I am losing touch with what is cool. That is, if you can even call this hyperpop. One thing is for certain,  that when shows open back up, you’ll find me bouncing in the pit at one of Harle’s shows.

 

5. Nick Cave & Warren Ellis – Carnage

Released Feb. 25, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds have one of the most celebrated discographies that I have not dived into nearly as much as I’d like. Having released 17 studio albums in their near 40 years together, they seem to have only put out a couple of albums that are not considered essential listens. In 1997, Warren Ellis joined the group to play strings and a whole host of other instruments before eventually becoming Cave’s key collaborator in the band. Together, the duo has been releasing soundtracks for many films as a side gig from the band. “Carnage” marks the first studio album under the name of the two that is not a film soundtrack.

“Carnage” was a surprise drop, being released with no announcement except for a brief mention of its existence a few months ago on Cave’s blog. This album shows yet another evolution in the writing of the duo while staying thematically connected with the last few Bad Seeds albums. The sparse arrangements harken back to the majority of the band’s output last decade, but this one is born in a distinctly different fire. “Skeleton Tree” was barren and worn down emotionally, while “Ghosteen” was more lush and natural. “Carnage” is filled to the brim with the incredible storytelling Nick Cave is known for while having its own vibe, although it is harder to pin down this one. His voice is as strong and impassioned as ever, and Ellis really outdid himself with the strings on this one. 

“Albuquerque” is a soft and tender ballad that swells and flows, wringing out all of the pains of isolation many have faced in the last year. “Hand Of God” is such a wild change of pace for the duo and acts as a great tension builder of an album opener due to the throbbing synths and distorted backing vocals. The highlight of the album comes in the middle of the tracklist with “White Elephant.” Despite being Australian, Nick Cave writes about the protests that arose from the civil unrest in our country last summer with an intensity that really drives the message home, unlike any song I’ve heard in the same vein. 

The first half takes the listener into the psyche of a trigger-happy prejudiced person in an intense inner monologue. It also spins in calling out the hypocrisy in being upset over the toppling of monuments and not the crumbling of the human lives that those very same monuments stand against. The song’s second half explodes into a cathartic choir-driven gospel section that pushes the idea that the end will come for us all regardless of race, color, or creed. Being Nick Cave, the section has religious overtones, but it is less about where we are going and more so the fact that we all die and are equal in the end, so we better start acting equal while we are alive.

I urge everyone to check out this album, or at least “White Elephant.” Nick Cave has yet to disappoint me, and I can’t wait to dive into even more of his back catalogue. As the kids say, he truly doesn’t miss.