Half Japanese’s legacy as detuned-guitar weirdos that inspired legions of other important bands is more than solidified at this point. But thankfully, the band has decided to record a new album, their first in 13 years, to go along with their recently announced Neutral Milk Hotel tour. And let’s just say it’s far from a fiasco. Overjoyed is brilliant, teaming with the energy of a band half the age of the Fair brothers. “In its Pull” establishes the band’s core appeal of sing-spoken vocals over a straight-ahead rock beat and guitars that vacillate between Stones riffs and atonal fuckall chords. “Meant to Be That Way” sees the band engaging in squealing, No Wave-style guitar sounds, but they’re pretty reined in, used in the service of creating a potent post-punk groove. “Brave Enough” might be the band’s best pop song yet, full of jangling island guitars, bongo drums and lyrics like “Come on! Let’s do it!” Yet the whole thing is lovably strange, too, a special freak-pop gem that only Half Japanese could produce. That moment of accessibility speaks to how listenable Overjoyed is throughout, even while the band is spitting distorted vitriol into their mics (“Do It Nation”) or singing with only the faintest hint of a melody (“Shining Star”)—these songs are still hooky at their core and a lot of fun to listen to. There’s also a wonderful positive energy to the album that doesn’t feel forced. A song like “Overjoyed and Thankful” might be ironic, but it doesn’t really matter, as its torn-apart rock ‘n’ roll still brings a smile to your face. And “The Time Is Now” is irrepressibly life affirming and musically quite pretty, with shimmering, jazzy guitar lines. “Don’t ever get stuck with that stupid word ‘why’; I never have liked that word,” they sing nakedly on “The Time Is Now.” To borrow a line from the song, the long-awaited Overjoyed puts a few more rainbows in our blue sky.
Over the course of their 20-plus years of existence, the band Earth have impacted in the world of ambient and drone metal like an asteroid, setting the stage for the genre to flourish with their seminal Earth 2 album and continuing from there on six more albums. But their seventh, Primitive & Deadly, is only the second to have vocals. As the band has evolved to strip down some of the corrosive feedback that marked their early work and have added in more Americana and jazz-based elements, this addition of vocals can just be seen as another development in their sound, especially when they’re so effective. After setting sail on a slow-rolling metallic ocean with “Torn By the Fox of the Crescent Moon,” Mark Lanegan throws his gritty vocals into the mix on the whiskey-soaked “There Is a Serpent Coming” as well as the desert metal of “Rooks Across the Gate.” Lanegan tends to be an ace guest vocalist, as his particularly grizzled voice can add gravitas to something light (his work with Isobel Campbell) as well as it can sound like it’s cracking the earth on a metal album (his work with Queens of the Stone Age), and here, of course, Lanegan’s voice works wonders, selling otherwise silly lines like “I see all the creepin’ crawlies comin’” to help make “There Is a Serpent Coming” the album’s standout track. Beneath Lanegan’s voice, as well as the dusky, dreamy voice of Rose Windows’ Rabia Shaheen Qazi on 11-minute centerpiece “From the Zodiacal Light,” the trio (who are occasionally helped here by Brett Nelson of Built to Spill and Jodie Cox of Narrows) stretch out and allow the compositions’ slow movements to land perfectly. The band only slightly falters on the vocal-free “Even Hell Has Its Heroes”—sure, it’s drone metal, but it still feels redundant to the rest of the album, even as the high-note solos create some thrilling moments. Overall, the album feels gloriously desolate, like staring across Death Valley at sunset as closer “Rooks Across the Gate” dissolves into tremulous distortion.
Nick Zammuto’s second album after the breakup of his acclaimed collagist band The Books moves between proggy electro-pop, shimmering digital textures and the occasional rock freakout moment. Despite the album’s fitful nature, Zammuto has a keen sense of what works and what doesn’t, and Anchor still somehow feels unified and natural.
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