Daniel Ek, Spotify’s bald CEO who always appears to be clutching an invisible orb in photos, had a harsh assessment for artists this week. If you want to make a living in the streaming-ravaged music industry without touring, he suggests, simply release music all the time. Sounds easy enough! While he isn’t wrong in the objective sense, it’s still maddening once you consider the ways in which he’s personally exacerbated the poor conditions for musicians to make this a necessity. Even then, as some prolific artists have pointed out, streaming doesn’t allow for any sort of living wage to come from frequent releases.
It’s hard to think about this stuff for too long without steaming over, so in the meantime check out new albums this week from Beyoncé — who definitely could afford to go a decade between albums — Madeline Kenney, Land of Talk, and more this week.
Beyoncé — Black Is King
Okay, so while this may not technically be an album of new music, just about anything Beyoncé touches — save for like, a DJ Khaled feature — qualifies as appointment viewing. The Disney Plus exclusive visual album is every bit as magisterial and teeming with sly references as you’d expect. Aside from the stray leopard print and facepaint, it’s possible to watch sustained passages from the film and forget all about the dreaded Lion King reboot it’s linked to — something that’s both impressive and a little frightening. This stands alone.
Madeline Kenney — Sucker’s Lunch
Probably one of the most immediately satisfying first listens I’ve had in a minute. Madeline Kenney takes an omnivorous approach on Sucker’s Lunch, soaring when she has to, and reeling in for midtempo jams that slot in nicely with Faye Webster’s Sunday afternoon ennui. Pairing with Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner and Andy Stack, Kenney finds an indispensable team for her versatile, expressive voice and playing. Wye Oak also has a new EP of their own today, and has been on an unstoppable streak since 2016’s Tween, so yeah...check that out too.
Land of Talk — Indistinct Conversations
One of the more underrated and dependable outfits in indie rock, Land of Talk return with their first album since 2017’s Life After Youth. That last record nearly led Elizabeth Powell to quit music altogether, after their father suffered a debilitating stroke during its making. Indistinct Conversations gestures toward direct, even more confident songwriting than before. Confronting oppressive power structures, manipulative abusers, and their own place, Powell charges ahead with propulsive swells and the always-intricate guitar-work.
Trevor Powers — Capricorn
Since the dissolution of Youth Lagoon in 2016, Trevor Powers has burrowed into the darker, more jagged contours of his music. After 2018’s Mulberry Violence distorted and warped his voice in ways previously unheard, flirting with more abrasive textures than the twisted candy-coated widescreen of Youth Lagoon’s finest, the new record is largely instrumental. He’s charting something a bit closer to murky pastoral feeling on Capricorn — new territory that further shreds his past playbook.
Thanya Iyer — KIND
This thing is just brimming with ideas and shifts in instrumentation. While the Montreal-based violinist and songwriter lends a gentle touch at every turn, KIND feels completely unbound to genre or expectation. Thanya Iyer's second record is informed just as much by free jazz as it is Aughts chamber pop, but she seems to follow only her own impulses. Although these arrangements teem with support from brass trios, flautists, harmonies, and skittering vocal loops, nothing scans as overwrought or crowded. Sometimes you hear an album and wonder how it could ever be reproduced in a live setting, and I'd pay a reasonable amount to find out whenever it's safe to do so.