Deafheaven’s fusion of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock continues to grow richer and bolder on their third album. Following the crossover success of their much-celebrated second album, Sunbather, it may have been tempting for the band to trim off their rough edges — namely, the black metal influence that accounts for a large part of their sound — to focus on the more accessible parts. The fact that they didn’t speaks highly of their integrity, sure, but it’s also ensured Deafheaven stays an original. With five extended tracks, New Bermuda feels like one massive, evolving piece, making it easier to point to moments rather than entire songs that speak to you — the way “Luna” folds melodic chords into its double-bass barrage and ends up in a scenic place as lovely as anything on Souvlaki or Agaetis Byrjun; or how “Come Back” clears the way for Kerry McCoy’s chugging power chords and harmonic descending scales and George Clark’s shriek from the depths; or “Baby Blue’s” heroic, Pumpkinsy wah-wahed solos. Any metal fan can extoll the genre’s ability to soothe not in spite of, but because of its brutality and decibel level. There’s something about the music’s capacity to overwhelm and obliterate outside noise, memories, anxiety and trauma that’s rather unparalleled. Deafheaven’s commitment to bringing that sound into an indie-rock setting and vice versa has helped make them the best and most important metal crossover act since Metallica. Whatever your preferred noise is in which to lose yourself, New Bermuda is a crucial meeting point.
This week was a huge one for new releases. Instead of doing my usual handful of album picks, I’m picking out nine that stand out.
Scottish trio Chvrches made electro-pop gems splattered with emotion on their beguiling debut. For album No. 2, they just get craftier, creating songs that sound like the soundtrack to your wildest dreams. “Never Ending Circles” opens the album on a note of big, open-armed camaraderie, the kind of drinking song or team anthem that’s nearly impossible to pull off. That sense of momentum carries through song after song. “Leave a Trace” finds frontwoman Lauren Mayberry’s vocals at their strongest — hers is the kind of voice that makes it impossible to feel lonely or sad when you’re listening to it. “Keep You On My Side” is a hi-NRG-inspired jam that calls to mind the best of Erasure or early Depeche Mode with its fluttering synths, but its hard-hitting beat updates the sound for the EDM generation. Every Open Eye doesn’t quite have a song that lands with the same power as “The Mother We Share” or “Gun,” but The Bones of What You Believe was an album of peaks and valleys, whereas this one is a steadier ride, coasting on the band’s increased confidence. It’s life-embracing pop music of the highest order, something we all need from time to time.
Deconstructionist indie rock band Battles create music that defies expectation. Ian Williams, Dave Konopka and John Stanier interact like triplets, crafting live loops of staccato guitar and synth noise with which Stanier creates mammoth, syncopated live beats, wielding his crash cymbal like Thor’s hammer. Epic opener “The Yabba” stops and starts with chopsocky electronics, swaying guitar swells and a skittering groove, building to an intense climax of all cylinders firing. On “Dot Net,” stuttering Konopka and Williams’ loops seem to communicate with one another like two robots speaking in binary, over which Stanier lays an expressive beat as counterpoint. The muscular groove of “FF Bada” ends up building to an anxious synth melody for one of the album’s most intense moments, while “Summer Simmer” recalls brainy analog electronic groups like The Art of Noise, if they were reborn as trance-inducing drill sergeants. You won’t miss former vocalist Tyondai Braxton on this release, as Battles instead focus all of their energies on their chemistry as a trio, with results that are rarely short of breathtaking. For fans of this kind of innovative, body-awakening music, La Di Da Di is truly an awesome experience.
Slowcore greats Low add some electronic touches to their spare sound and come out with their best album in years. Mimi Parker’s tender vocals float through space and malfunctioning electronics on haunting opener “Gentle.” Alan Sparhawk leads the band through the Western-tinged “No Comprende,” which ambles along unhurriedly but with a gritty beat and tense, muted guitars. Despite slight changes in the band’s sound, exemplified on the “What Part of Me,” in which Sparhawk and Parker’s vocals waltz over a light synth-pop pulse, Low are still at their best when crafting intensely intimate music that seems to fill huge, empty spaces with overwhelming emotion, such as on the simply stunning “Spanish Translation.” Whether you’re new to Low or just needed a reminder of their greatness, Ones & Sixes does the trick.
I missed this one last week, but it’s worth mentioning anyway because of how rad it is. Hanna Lew (Grass Widow) releases a second album with her new band, pairing jagged post-punk riffs with coldwave synths and Lew’s floating, layered vocals. The results range from the melodic Blondie-style pop of “Broken Lines” to the pulsating, thrilling “Cracks.” Into the Air works because Lew and co. seem to know what to put into every song, pulling from influences as needed — a little Kraftwerkian rigidity here, a little punk fury there — rather than stuffing it all into every song. As such, Into the Air’s songs stand alone, the towering synth-popper “Spirals” a perfect apotheosis of their various tendencies, and hang together masterfully at the same time.
Widowspeak’s All Yours is just what we need to cool off during this hot, hot summer. The duo’s tunes are cool and meditative, evoking the feeling of watching a fading sunset over the forested hills of New York’s Hudson Valley, where the band resides. Molly Hamilton’s sweet vocals whisper over Robert Early Thomas’ dusky licks and a touch of organ on the sultry title track. The band mostly keeps things spare and dreamy, but they plug in to give tracks like “Dead Love (So Still)” a little raunch, coming off like the Velvet Underground’s third album reimagined as stoner country music. Elsewhere, Hamilton plays Nancy Sinatra to Thomas’ Lee Hazlewood on the sumptuous “Girls,” generating plenty of heat from a spacious, two-chord jam and Hamilton’s narcotic drawl, while “Borrowed World” sees Thomas take the mic for a spry duet (something the band should consider doing more often). Somehow, All Yours is both Widowspeak’s mellowest album and its most exciting. With a sharp focus on songwriting over ambiance and more room for Hamilton’s vocals to shine, they end up with their best, most distinctive album yet.