Recent release roundup: Familiar faces impress

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Roughly three and a half months in and 2022 continues to be a noteworthy year for music. In this Recent Release Roundup I will be covering a selection of albums released by artists well-established within their respective scenes: “Together” by Duster, “Aethiopes” by Billy Woods and “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” by Denzel Curry.

Lo-fi indie band Duster has long been a celebrated group for fans of genres like slowcore and space rock, releasing the cult classic record “Stratosphere” back in 1998. After putting out “Contemporary Movement” in 2000, the band then returned in 2018 for a self-titled release after nearly two decades without creating a studio album. Shocking their fans, “Together” was announced as a surprise release through YouTube music videos. The record largely continues in the band’s signature style, often utilizing subdued vocals and simple riffs that emphasize emotion over technical clarity. Spacey effects found on the intro of “Escalator” and throughout “Moonroam” make the listener feel as if they are drifting through air. The group’s ethereal, fuzzy sounds are soothing in nature, found in the form of piano synths on “Sad Boys” or “Making Rooms” guitar riffs. Duster sticks to either simple, melodic guitar playing or denser distorted chords on a song-by-song basis, comparable with previous releases. However, room for variation can still be found on various tracks, such as the electronic sounding percussion in “Retrograde” or the unique vocal effects of “Feel No Joy”. Although the album does have a few too many songs that begin to sound similar in style, the tracklist accomplishes the commendable feat of improving as one goes through it rather than perpetually declining in quality. My criticisms mostly relate to certain riffs leaving little impression on me or disliking the drums’ sound (the snare on “Familiar Fields” or overly loud kit on “Time Switch” come to mind), but the album is otherwise solid. “Together” does not quite live up to the band’s older releases in terms of its melancholic impact, but I suspect it will continue to grow on me with additional listening.

Billy Woods has been an important East Coast rap figure for the past decade of his career, creating both notable solo albums (“Hiding Places”) and collaborative ones (“Haram” with Elucid). On this most recent release, “Aethiopes” (in collaboration with Preservation), Woods creatively challenges rap conventions in a variety of manners. Employing abstract lyricism and unique rhythmic delivery, Woods’ vocals immediately become the key point of interest to the listener. Words move more freely rather than being packaged into more recognizable flows. The lyrics themselves pertain to a variety of topics, ranging from esoteric knowledge about former Ethiopian presidents (“I think Mengistu Haile Mariam is my neighbor”) to literary references regarding Albert Camus (“It’s hot on these streets monsieur, I might shoot a Arab”). These idiosyncratic tendencies are also found in the instrumentals. Songs like “Remorseless” and “No Hard Feelings” have few to no drums, “Wharves” utilizes dissonant vibraphones as its melodic core, and “NYNEX” introduces a harmonica to the mix, which I have never heard before in a rap song. Additional examples can be found on most songs: “Haarlem” employs avant-garde piano playing towards the end of its duration, and the album experiments with hip hop percussion conventions throughout its runtime. With a combination of these eclectic lyrical and instrumental qualities, “Aethiopes” leaves an instant impression as challenging, distinctive and impressive overall. As someone newer to Woods’ music, I am excited to see what else his discography has to offer for future listening.

Denzel Curry has been one of the most consistent hip hop artists over the past few years, continually releasing memorable music that stylistically pays homage to his Southern rap origins while moving in subtler new directions. After making his mark on the trap genre with the uniquely dark “TA13OO” and further solidifying his reputation on “Zuu,” “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” is, in some ways, new territory for Curry. His lyrics more often deal with interpretations of current social issues (colorism and the music industry, for instance), and his musical style shifts closer to genres like jazz rap and boom bap. “Walkin,” “Mental” and “Ain’t No Way” employ lush samples that create psychedelic soundscapes, instances where Curry appears to distance himself from the often heavier instrumentals on “TA13OO”. Curry’s intense energy is continually present, tending to rework his past rage into more introspective ideas. Additionally, strong features from Rico Nasty and Slowthai (among others) help support their respective tracks. Continuity for long-term fans is heard on songs like “Worst Comes to Worst” and “The Last,” using moody trap instrumentals that are to be expected from the rapper. Although Curry’s efforts to branch out are welcomed and successfully executed (occasionally in stunning manner), as an older fan I admittedly miss some of the aggressiveness he brought to past performances. Despite this personal preference, “Melt My Eyez See Your Future” is a sound album through and through, demonstrating that Curry is able to break out of the box his audience puts him into in meritorious fashion. 

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