Recent Release Roundup: Animal Collective, Earl Sweatshirt, and Black Country, New Road

After only a month and half, 2022 has gifted us with multiple releases by notable artists met with praise from both newcomers and seasoned fans alike. In this Recent Release Roundup, I will be covering three of these albums: “Time Skiffs” by Animal Collective, “SICK!” by Earl Sweatshirt and “Ants From Up There” by Black Country, New Road. 

Animal Collective have been known for their boundary pushing psychedelic pop music for years, working within a wide range of genres and showcasing eclectic ideas throughout their long career. “Time Skiffs” marks their first studio album in six years, coming in hot after a series of underwhelming releases that followed their most popular and well known record, “Merriweather Post Pavilion.” In a return to form, “Time Skiffs” works within the neo-psychedelic style that was prominent in their golden age of releases between 2004 to 2009. The opening track on the album, “Dragon Slayer,” sets the tone for the rest of the record, utilizing aquatic synths and a bubbly, psychedelic style that draws on influences from exotica. Similar to past albums, the group makes strong use of dense vocal harmonies on songs like “Walker” and “Prester John,” leading to many stunningly pretty moments of dense, satisfying sound. The rest of the album is thematically continuous in sound, utilizing the aforementioned aquatic effects to evoke a relaxing, summery mood. Although the band mostly plays it safe in regards to song structure or experimental qualities (unlike past releases), they do branch out with instrumentation in satisfying and purposeful ways, such as employing glockenspiel on “We Go Back” and a sitar sounding effect on “Strung With Everything.” As mentioned before, the only main criticism I would make of the album as a whole is the lack of strong variation from song to song, a creative feature far more noticeable in their best work. However, “Time Skiffs” is a great album regardless and will please both dedicated fans of their style as well as new listeners attempting to find something more accessible by the group. 

After achieving high praise for his 2018 album “Some Rap Songs,” Earl Sweatshirt has finally gifted his fans with another project that continues a trend of short length releases. Clocking in at a lean 24 minutes, “SICK!” is often a continuation of what made “Some Rap Songs” great, albeit to a less impressive extent. Earl’s poetic and deadpan style is often delivered with the same idiosyncratic rhythm that characterizes his more recent previous work, backed up by unique instrumentals and production. “Tabula Rasa,” “Vision” and “Fire in the Hole” showcase some of the best beats on any of his albums, supported by a range of samples utilizing horns, pianos and guitars in a beautiful manner. Features from ZelooperZ and up-and-coming Armand Hammer are both well placed and executed, complimenting Earl’s style nicely. Rather than maintaining a fully abstract or experimental approach, songs like “Lobby” and “Titanic” conform to more recent trends in both lyrical flow and instrumentation, utilizing heavy bass and trap hi hats. Despite this, these songs remain uniquely appealing due to Earl’s distinct vocals. However, the overall style lacks a bit of eccentricity that made “Some Rap Songs” such an impactful release for me, and I wish Earl had continued a bit more in this boundary pushing direction, both lyrically and instrumentally. I think this indictment ultimately boils down to my own personal preferences. Regardless, “SICK!” is still a solid album that should be appealing to any of Earl’s appreciators. 

Black Country, New Road is one of the most exciting and promising current bands for music enthusiasts. The group first caught attention with their release of the single “Sunglasses,” a unique song which immediately generated my own interest in the band. After the improbably high standards and hype preceding their widely praised debut release “For the First Time,” the band has followed up strongly in just under a year with “Ants From Up There.” Maintaining their post-rock sensibilities while moving away from the dissonance of post-punk, “Ants From Up There” instead makes heavy use of chamber music instrumentation, prominently showcasing saxophone throughout the album as well as strings and piano. Although song structure is certainly diverse from song to song, there is less of an overall difference between the style of each track than in their previous album. Instead, their latest project aims at coherence while still ensuring each song has unique elements in order for the listener to distinguish between them. For instance, “Chaos Space Marine” is creatively arranged and concise, theatrical vocally with great pace and intricacies that begin to become pronounced upon repeated listens. “Concorde” follows it up with more beautiful, resonant saxophone playing, wailing on the chorus before building up slowly and deliberately in the bridge to its melodic conclusion. The band embraces a thunderous playing style, creating a bittersweet but cathartic release of energy that is found on other songs such as “Basketball Shoes.” The distinctly impassioned vocals help carry the emotional weight of all tracks, being especially pronounced on “Good Will Hunting” and “Bread Song.” These epic performances are arranged in a deliberate manner that exploits dynamic contrast perfectly, a common trend throughout the album in which the group builds up from quiet, minimal sections before arriving at earth shattering, powerfully climatic moments. This album is easily my favorite of the three I wrote about for this article, and I wait patiently for the direction the group will follow.

These three albums have been a great start to yet another year of music, and I eagerly await hearing and covering whatever may come next.

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