Vulnicura is the album Bjork fans were longing for. Co-producing with white-hot underground beatmaker Arca, Bjork crafts some of her most singular and affecting music yet, writing complex string arrangements that elevate the drama in songs like “Stonemilker” to that of classics like Homogenic’s “Joga” or “Bachelorette.” Vulnicura measures the effects of the end of a relationship—the end of Bjork’s partnership with artist Matthew Barney serves as the catalyst—and she acts as an emotional scientist on tracks like “Lionsong,” tinkering with what’s left in the aftermath (“Should I throw oil on one of these wounds? But which one?”) amid vocal manipulation that calls to mind her work on the voice-centric Medulla. As that striking album art portrays, the core of Vulnicura is a gaping wound. On “History of Touches,” she sees every touch and sexual ecounter as a singularity, illustrated by electronics that glow like an aurora borealis. But her shield of objectivism crumbles on “Black Lake,” Vulnicura’s absolutely devastating centerpiece. Over 10 minutes, Bjork details how hitting absolute bottom at the end of a relationship that feels like a life’s worth of work coming to and end. Every so often, the music, a dark swirl of strings and beats supplied by Bjork and Arca, cuts out for a strange, long coda that feels like a necessary swallowing of air before she delivers the next stanza, sometimes wearily, sometimes desperately. Each time it hits like a punch to the gut. She’s simply never done anything so affecting before; given her catalog, this alone is remarkable.
Earl Sweatshirt – “Grief”
Odd Future cohort Earl Sweatshirt has announced a new album without much notice (as seems to be the going trend these days) called I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside, and true to that sunny title, “Grief” is an anxiety-riddled trip through Earl’s psyche, over a digitally degraded, hollowed-out beat and cloudy synth. Thankfully, Earl hasn’t gone the slightest bit soft since releasing the excellent Doris in 2013, promising much for I Don’t Go Outside.
Death Grips – “On GP”
The second track from Sacramento’s Death Grips’ supposed last album throws us for another loop, as MC Ride barks imperiously over Zach Hill’s unpredictable rolls a huge riff that sounds like a Neil Young record played through a turbine. Then the whole thing shifts for a dreamier second half, during which Ride’s words become more desperately pointed. It’s an utterly gripping seven-and-a-half minutes of music, one of the best things the band has done. Orders for The Powers That B (due March 31) are through the roof, so get on it!
Record Store Day 2015 is upon us, taking place Saturday, April 18. The list of limited edition releases coming out exclusively on Record Store Day is up now (download the full list here). While there’s tons of great stuff to choose from (while supplies last, of course), here are 12 highlights to look for.
Neko Case – Fox Confessor Brings the Flood
Neko Case released her best album in 2006, a perfect distillation of her country-meets-indie-rock style, featuring the ethereal and confessional “Hold On, Hold On,” ’50s-style ballad “That Teenage Feeling” and Biblically inspired “John Saw That Number.” The long-out-of-print LP comes on red vinyl with a Record Store Day slipmat.
Johnny Cash – Koncert v Praze (In Prague Live)
Kendrick Lamar’s breakthrough second album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, left such an impression that hype for a follow-up has been through the roof. So forgive the Compton rapper if he kind of Beyonce’d To Pimp a Butterfly, teasing singles before announcing a release date and suddenly putting it out a week early. Pulling the rug out from hype and inevitable backlash, it gives us a change to all hear To Pimp a Butterfly at once, in all its glory. Butterfly doubles down on the idiosyncracies of good kid, eschewing club-friendly tracks in favor of those that cast a light on Lamar’s pure skills as a rapper and wordsmith—always celebrated, yet perhaps distracted by stellar production and good kid’s concept-album style—as well as his ability to put together a layered and compelling album. Tracks like the “For Free” interlude are showcases for Lamar’s dexterity, while “u’s” desperate, verge-on-tears delivery find him at his most vulnerable —Drake’s never done anything like this. The production across To Pimp a Butterfly, courtesy of such luminaries as Flying Lotus and Thundercat, like those artists’ work (and similarly to D’Angelo’s recently released Black Messiah), effortlessly melds hip-hop, R&B and jazz on excellent tracks like the off-kilter “Institutionalized” and gorgeous “These Walls” to exist in some mystery middle space, without drawing attention away from Lamar’s star power. While headier tracks dominate the album, Lamar unleashes a couple of huge singles at the album’s closing. At first, “i” could come off as Lamar’s “sell out” track, catchy enough to sit alongside Pharrell’s “Happy” as a crowd-friendly that sands off his rough edges, but it serves as a bit of a breather here, dressed up in The Isley Brothers’ unstoppable “Who’s That Lady,” though Lamar’s lyrics remain deeply dark, exposing his own depression, and a spoken word passage that delves into a discussion on racial slurs adds context. Following the reclaiming of racial stereotypes on the absolutely killer “The Blacker the Berry,” To Pimp a Butterfly ends ultimately feeling conflicted yet triumphant. It’s a deep, complicated work, yet not one that feels the slightest bit overstuffed or overwrought. Kendrick Lamar successfully defies all expectations yet again, on what’s sure to be one of the year’s best albums.
Best Coast – “Heaven Sent”
Best Coast’s upcoming third album, California Nights (due May 5), sounds like a fantasy meeting between The Verve and The Bangles, judging by its first two singles. “Heaven Sent” is more upbeat and melodic than the hazy title track while retaining its full-bodied guitar sound, like some sunkissed lost Lush song. Check out the karaoke-style lyric video below:
What’s with the song title of Mikal Cronin’s new song, you might ask? The power-pop songsmith’s upcoming new album, MCIII (due May 5), includes a six-song suite on its B-side, of which this is the second part. It’s furiously loud and melodic, as we’ve come to expect and enjoy immensely from Cronin, but also has a surprise climax with Cronin jammin’ on the Greek tzouras. Color us intrigued. He’s at S.F.’s Independent April 22 and L.A.’s Eagle Rock Center for the Arts May 1.