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The Best Albums From April 2019 – Kevin Abstract, Fontaines D.C., More

May 2, 2019 | Posted by David Hayter
Kevin Abstract

April has come and gone in quite some style. The month has overflowed with great new music. So much so that 411 hasn’t had the chance to check out hotly tipped new material from the likes of Kevin Morby, The Chemical Brothers, Kesley Lu and Sunn O))). But let’s not dwell on what we’ve missed, let’s dive into the best new albums we’ve heard in the last 30 days.

Kevin Abstract – Arizona Baby

Genre: Hip Hop

Brockhampton’s sound will always be bigger and better suited to global conquest, but it’s hard to imagine Kevin Abstract ever releasing anything this powerful or profound as part of a collective. This is the sound of one man laying it all out there, risking castigation and humiliation respectively, with all the over-earnest abandon that made his sophomore album so divisive. But where American Boyfriend was defined by its wilful amateurism and a distinctly teenage sense of self-seriousness; ARIZONA baby is defined by an incredible depth of musicianship and a tender and thoughtful approach to very adult emotions.

Sure, Kevin will always be a willful over sharer, but by encapsulating the security and support of a truly loving relationship he has not only captured something profound, he has presented something genuinely new in mainstream rap music. He’s not bragging, he’s not saying what he thinks we want to hear, he’s embracing his own state of mind and finding his sense of self in the arms of another – and, frankly, that’s beautiful. Read Our Full Reviewer [9.0]

Weyes Blood – Titanic Rising

Genre: Singer-Songwriter

Obfuscation can be a curse in avant garde circles. In the search of more provocative ideas, fresh takes and exotic soundscapes artists often feel pressured to obscure, scuff up or over intellectualise their melodies and lyric sheets. On Titanic Rising, Weyes Blood rejects any and all unnatural affectations to pen forty minutes of divinely sung and wonderfully straightforward psych-folk. That’s not to say her creations are plain, far from it, but they are imbued with an incredible sense of both immediacy and scope that comes from looking the listener dead in the eye and bearing her soul. It might sound like a cliché, but it’s impossibly tricky to pull off. It’s all too easy to sound trite or wish washy, but any coward can hide beneath an arty filter and take the indirect approach. It takes a special kind of talent to convince an entire audience with a solitary unadorned note that you are, in fact, the real thing – and believe me, Titanic Rising is just that.  [9.0]

KankyoOngaku: Japanese Ambient, Environmental & New Age Music 1980-1990

Genre: Ambient

We typically try to avoid compilations, live albums and reissues (sorry Beyonce) in our lists here at 411, but it’s worth making an exception for Kankyo Ongaku. Rather than being a celebration of the familiar or an uncovering of some scratchy demos, this compilation really does have the thrill of the new. For many western listeners these names, if not sounds, will be entirely new and, truth be told, it’s hard to think of a single album released this month that proves more pleasurable. New Age ambient of course evokes dreadful memories of spas, waiting rooms and tech news updates, but there is something delightfully unnerving to be discovered here. The collection feels eerily adrift, as the music floats perilously close to the technological edge, with its unfathomable twinkling and blinking tones, and a child like naivety that renders each note distant, unclear, but pleasingly hazy. Kankyo Ongaku is a truly sublime overview of a dynamic evolution in sound: while West embraced the computer age with big block like machines than the synthetic thud of Depeche Mode, Japan offered something far more seductive, tranquil and sleek.  [8.5]

Fontaines D.C. – Dogrel

Genre: Post-Punk

April might just be the month of great albums by artist who couldn’t care less if you can list their every influence. From The Strokes and surf-pop to The Fall and Joy Division, the sonic signatures may be overt, but I challenge anyone to listen to Dogrel and mistake Fontaines D.C. for anyone else. Proudly poetic and wearing their Dublin drawl like a badge of honor, Dogrel is less the sound of the streets and more the voice of an underlying tension, ping-ponging around inside each and every one of us. There’s a needling tautness to these deliciously observed post-punk ditties – and ditties is the word. Whenever Fontaines threaten to billow out into something more ambitious or alien, there’s an unmistakable earthy reality check – a flat goading note or sarcastic snarl. Dogrel is one of those brilliant albums that alludes to something great, some sort of grand hope on the horizon, but that lives and breathes the suffocating boredom of a life spent watching the world go by – or in their own words: “You’re a cluster of nothing…how do you go about living, as a relic from a dream”. [8.5]

Inter Arma – Sulphur English

Genre: Metal

Following up Paradise Gallows was supposed to be difficult. Not so for Inter Arma, but that’s not to say Sulphur English isn’t the result of something serious thought – or ache. The Virginia fivepiece have decided to jettison the beauty and occasional delicacy of their past work in favor of outright bludgeoning brutality. On paper that’s a regression. In reality it’s an adroit manoeuvre. The band have limited their emotional expression and technical wizardry to the bleakest, hardest and most pitiless downward spiral of sound and spirit. Suffice to say the album slaps and slaps hard. At times, when the drums do slow their relentless onslaught, the dull thuds feel fit for caving in ribs. On the title track, the pummelling is so intense it verges on a subterranean scurrying, as if they’ve  already pounded their anxiety into bloody oblivion and are now tunnelling nihilistically into the earth itself. Remarkably, amidst the tumult, especially on the album’s sludgy front end, Inter Arma settle upon some of their most engrossing and entrancing moments – “Citadel” is a marvel that rock fans of more faint hearted disposition will no doubt enjoy.  [8.0]

Otoboke Beaver – Itekoma Hits

Genre: Punk

These Kyoto punks have restored my faith in punk rock. Make no mistake, the genre is still churning out great works of social satire from a variety of perspectives, but Otoboke Beaver have carved out a little slice of 70s anarchic abandon that feels wholly refreshing. The anger is the there, the pace is utterly relentless, but it’s the goading pop chops that make this quasi-compilation so blisteringly effective. The guitar work is sublime. Every riff is addictive while the stop-start, herky-jerky rhythm demands that you dance (while making an absolute fool out of anyone who dares to try) and the way the band play around with structure is down right sardonic. After racing at a million miles an hour, they’ll slam on the breaks and then … well who the fuck could hope to predict what will happen next. One second they unleash a super-clean solo, the next the chorus powers through, the time after that they’ll introduce a sultry and entirely unrelated bass line as a pseudo solo and every so often they’ll just kill the track stone dead and move on. Iketoma Hits is a maelstrom of rage. It doesn’t matter if you can’t understand the words: the humor is undeniable. Their sarcasm and masterful eviscerations need no translation. [8.0]

Taylor Alexander – Good Old Fashioned Pain

Genre: Country

Little Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus might be igniting a heated debate about my most hated topic, genre categorisation (honestly, who the fuck cares, they are all pop songs anyway), but if country is in a state of flux, no one told Taylor Alexander. This tremendous unsigned talent is proof that while an endless streams of invective is wasted on Billboard Chart placements, the vast majority of musicians are plugging away playing the music they love for small audiences in the hope that someone (anyone!) will be captivated by their tales. This immaculately observed collection is in many ways a trip through country history, with a host of instantly recognisable themes and characters, but make no mistake, this is no nostalgic attempt at hero worship. Alexander has a deliciously understated turn of phrase that gives his words the weight of ancient wisdom until you sit back and realise that you’ve never actually heard these words said before (at least not this way). Fittingly, for a singer who once competed on The Voice, Good Old Fashioned Pain humbly tells the tale of artist struggling to make it in the face of grand indifference. [8.0]

Craig Finn – I Need A New War

Genre: Rock

When Craig Finn emerged as a solo artist, to many, it felt like he was waving the white flag. The Hold Steady had run out of steam and were walking off into the sunset after a magnificent and pleasingly prolific run. In hindsight, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I Need A New War, the third and final instalment of a trilogy of solo albums, completes a tour of backwater, backroom, after-the-party America. Finn has always been an alleyway poet and a barroom rocker – and this album perfectly captures his anti-Springsteenian impulse. He conjures instantly, recognisable characters just like The Boss, but these stories are lack scope, heroism and they are anything but epic, they are defiantly kitchen sink. Like Nebraska with a heavy dose of detachment and sung by a mule whose back has finally broken. This are anthems for Americans who are stuck, stuck living in the after glow of their prime. [7.5]

Aldous Harding – Designer

Genre: Indie/Folk

She’s always been an eccentric. That’s how Aldous Harding maintained our interested in the crowded “brooding singer-songwriter” ranks. Her voice was always wilfully unusual, even as her arrangements remained stately and sparse. Designer sees her idiosyncratic vocal approach spread outwards to the flutes, guitars and basic structure of her songs. Despite all its inherent oddness and the genuine needle of Harding’s fractured vocal (at times verses don’t so much flow as creek like brittle skeleton fingers clawing their way up a staircase), Designer remains a pleasingly dark collection. This is remorseful, ominous music, but it’s not morose. There’s a hidden glee to be found, a dislocated sense of summer skips and flits between the long shadows of this anxious and yet unguarded collection. [7.5]

Pup – Morbid Stuff

In some ways Morbid Stuff is a frustrating listen. If you fell in love with The Dream Is Over the way I did, you probably hoped and expected some kind of great leap forward on Pup’s follow up LP. The more rational among us no doubt screamed: for the love of God, do you know anything about this band? Morbid Stuff is in many ways more of the same. Another helping of riotous and wilful amateurism that leaps between the most glorious riffs one second, and out of tune howls of near self-immolation the next. Like The Hold Steady hooked on heroin and recording power-pop in an  over turned skip, Pup are both know-it-alls and hopeless romantics. Too clever for their own good, but too hapless to make a success of themselves – well thank god their such wilful fuck ups, because their failure provides the rest of us with a glorious outlet for our pent up frustrations.  [7.5]

Lizzo – Cuz I Love You 

Genre: Pop

Is Cuz I Love You as good as Lizzo thinks it is? Almost certainly not, but who on earth could possibly care. This album thrives because Lizzo is so damn confident in her abilities. In a sense it’s disappointing that such a ferocious artist proves so precious when it comes to traditional criticism: when you hear Lizzo music she’s a super hero. She is so far above the fray it’s almost impossible to imagine that a middling review could possible ruin her day. Cuz I Love You is relentless. This is the power of positivity: an instantly quotable onslaught of self-loving retro-bombast. Or, as Chance The Rapper famously put it, “there ain’t one gosh darn part you can’t tweet”. At times the music could be more inventive and the tracks rarely cut deep, but that’s beside the point: Cuz I Love You is a pure crowd pleaser. This is an old fashioned sing in the shower and slide across the dancefloor classic. [7.5]

article topics :

Kevin Abstract, David Hayter