in Review

Apologies for the fact that we’re already a few days removed from April and that most of these albums actually came out in March. But well, I’m just a little backlogged with albums to listen to. The Spring tends to be the most fruitful time for music releases (both in the pop sphere and for the critical darlings), and 2023 is shaping up to be a fairly normal year in that regard after a couple years of general album release unpredictability. I’ll admit that almost all of these artists are fairly established, but maybe that’s what happens when you’re just reviewing music that came out fairly recently, as the more under-the-radar artists can tend to slip through the cracks and reveal themselves as the year rolls along.

Yves Tumor – Praise a Lord Who Chews but Which Does Not Consume; (Or Simply, Hot Between Worlds)

Yves Tumor has reminded me that just because an artist doesn’t initially click with you, it doesn’t mean you should give up on them immediately. When they started to gain a following with 2018’s Safe In The Hands of Love, I just couldn’t get into it really. Maybe it was that record’s experimental weirdness combined with the fact that electronic music has to be fairly accessible for me to embrace it. However, since then, Yves Tumor has slowly morphed into a kind of wonderfully eccentric rock star, the kind for whom an album title of this length and questionable meaning feels appropriate instead of annoying.

While Yves Tumor is pulling from a fairly disparate group of influences, from dance music, to electrofunk, to sleazy classic rock, it feels weirdly coherent on this latest album. It carries on a lot of the same rock-oriented sound of Yves Tumor’s last album Heaven To A Tortured Mind, with its fuzzy bass and guitars trudging along hypnotically under Sean Lee Bowie’s almost angelic falsetto. It all doesn’t seem like it should work, but comes together nicely due to Yves Tumor’s unique Prince-like gift of having a very exacting vision of sound while also coming off like the life of the party.

Lana Del Rey – Did You Know That There’s A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

With Lana Del Rey, I always go back and forth on how much I like her music and how much I end up listening to it because it seems like it’s always there and it’s always dependable. She’s now released 9 albums since breaking out a little over a decade ago with Born To Die, making her undoubtedly one of the most prolific songwriters of her stature. She’s also a singer-songwriter who has cultivated such a distinct and unmistakable style that pretty much anyone can easily conjure something in their mind when they hear music described as sounding “like a Lana Del Rey song”.

After releasing what many (including myself) regard as her masterwork, Norman Fucking Rockwell! in 2019, she released two albums in 2021 that were solid, but felt a little less ambitious than NFR. This latest album (another one with a very long title), sees that same scope returning, both in its sweeping production but also in its 77-minute length. It’s this latter quality that makes it so I’ll definitely need to listen to Ocean Blvd more in order to figure out if it’ll rank among my favorites of the year, but its dreaminess and more impressionistic songwriting are what already puts it in that sphere.

It makes absolute sense that Del Rey admitted that she was less particular about her lyrics this time, often recording off of rough sketches first recorded into her iPhone, thus resulting in less of the Lana-isms that we tend to expect. Is it a little too long? Probably. But it’s also a fantastic example of Lana Del Rey’s ability to evoke a very specific vibe, but while also finding ways of making that vibe still feel fresh.

Boygenius – The Record

Finally, a “record” with a decidedly straightforward title.

With this debut album from indie supergroup Boygenius, it’s a little hard to enjoy it detached from the expectations that come with three of music’s brightest singer/songwriters recording a full-fledged album together. Sure, the Boygenius EP from 2018 gave us a pretty good idea of what to expect from a collaboration between Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julian Baker, but that felt more like a one-off, while the last few years have seen all three of them (and particularly Bridgers) continue their success. So it’s hard not to expect that an actual album by these three talents carries an unfair amount of weight to it.

As much as I enjoy listening to this album, there’s still a silly part of me that is mildly disappointed that this album sounds more or less exactly how you’d expect it to sound. But at the same time, why wouldn’t it? These three singers have established their own very specific brand of beaten-down melancholy folk-rock, and much like the band’s previous EP, The Record sees the same kind of bolstered sound that comes with each member lending their voice to these songs that sound about as good as anything on their respective solo albums. Maybe that doesn’t make The Record exciting by any means, but it still feels like the kind of album we’ll look back on years from now and be thankful that these arbiters of early 2020s indie rock collaborated on.

The New Pornographers – Continue as a Guest

As much as I love this band, I was not really looking forward to another album from The New Pornographers. Their last couple of releases saw them leaning more into a New Wave-inspired sound that I liked well enough on 2014’s Brill Bruisers, but then started to wear a little thin on 2017’s Whiteout Conditions and 2019’s In the Morse Code of Breaklights. It also has felt like a little something has been missing from The New Pornos ever since Dan Bejar stopped contributing to their albums, even if I think his integralness to the band has sometimes been overstated.

So I was pleasantly surprised to find that Continue as a Guest contains the kind of addictively sweet songwriting I expect from this band, even if there is an admittedly muted tone to the album. The New Pornographers always sounded surprisingly energetic despite not really breaking out until all of their members were in their 30s or 40s, but here you can actually hear them slowing down a little and sounding a bit more their age in a way that suits them well. “Really Really Light” is both the lead-off track as well as a kind of manifesto for the sound of this album, as the crunchy keyboard riffs and thumping drums often heard in the band’s work are dwarfed by strummy acoustic guitars and airier vocals from A.C. Newman and Neko Case.

Unsurprisingly, Newman appears to now be the dominant creative force in the band, writing pretty much all the songs and handling production duties on Continue as a Guest. However, he still cedes a lot of the vocals to Neko and Kathryn Calder, who have a kind of easiness here that sometimes feels reminiscent of ’70s soft rock. The album’s bittersweet quality feels a little more comparable to Neko Case’s solo albums than the typical pop-heavy New Pornos sound. Though I’m here for it, considering she’s been taking a while to release a follow-up to 2018’s Hell-On, which I believe marks the first time two New Pornographers albums have been released in-between Neko albums.

Wednesday – Rat Saw God

I already mentioned this album as a Little Pick on a recent podcast, so there isn’t too much more I need to say about it. But I’ll just add that it does become harder with each passing year to find young bands that get me excited about the future of rock music, and this is definitely one of those bands. Especially when they actually feel like “a band”, rather than just some artist who calls themself a band when they’re really just a solo artist recording music in their home studio. But with Wednesday, you can feel the push and pull of these musicians jamming with each other and finding a snarled beauty in the friction that comes from different personalities creating something from nothing. That said, Karly Hartzman is clearly the lead songwriter in the band, but the dudes she’s joined by in Wednesday really bring out the shaggy rawness in these songs in a way that’s consistently thrilling.