Things are getting weirder. Besides the president and almost everyone in his orbit testing positive for coronavirus, and his delirious, cough-heavy phone interviews, we’re witnessing music careers derail in real time due to poor health precautions. Country star Morgan Wallen, who was set to join this weekend’s SNL as musical guest, has been booted at the eleventh hour after recent videos surfaced of his maskless partying and makeouts. He was replaced with Jack White in short order, who may not have new music to promote, but has an upcoming White Stripes greatest hits album to pull from. Not the most bracingly relevant artist of the moment, like say, Fleetwood Mac, but he’ll be up to the task. However improbable, any of the artists behind the week’s new albums would’ve been an equally compelling live set, including Touché Amoré, Future Islands following up their starmaking Letterman turn, or the mysterious Jay Electronica.
Touché Amoré — Lament
After taking their time to follow up 2016’s unrelenting Stage Four, the post-hardcore titans return with their most ambitious album to date. Pushing well beyond the jagged dispatches of their earliest records, Lament is an enormous grab-bag of melodic rock that still incinerates everything in its wake. Frontman Jeremy Bolm put everything on the line for the band’s previous record, piecing together the guilt-stricken process of grieving his mother in real time. Instead of abandoning the subject matter altogether, he grapples with the messy banality that follows, juggling hope, totems for love, and uncomfortably confronting the people who didn’t turn out at his lowest points. There’s decidedly new terrain here — the pedal steel and soaring builds of “A Broadcast,” the eminently hooky range of “Reminders” — while doubling down on Touché’s most reliable strengths, as they throttle right out of the gate on “Come Heroine.” It’s a hard-fought triumph.
Jay Electronica — Act II: The Patents of Nobility
Which seemed more likely at the start of this year: a society-altering pandemic or two Jay Electronica albums? There luckily (?) wasn’t any choice in the matter, with both highly improbable events coming to pass. Following the revelatory and Jay-Z-featuring A Written Testimony, Jay’s latest record comes more than a decade after its intended release. It leaked over the weekend, with some light kayfabe from Jay’s legal team before it went up on Tidal and YouTube in short order. Nevermind if it largely feels unfinished demos or like something never meant to leave the vaults, it’s fascinating to behold. He brings a further collection of detailed narratives that cast all of his trepidation toward stardom into slightly clearer focus.
Mary Lattimore — Silver Ladders
One of the bedrock “let’s throw something on in the background while I write, suppress existential doom, or get ready to sleep” artists, harpist Mary Lattimore returns with her latest record of vast horizons. Lumping anyone into that category is far from a knock — it can end up becoming some of the most-listened stuff. Silver Ladders continues to upgrade her toolkit, after extending her experimental harp playing with guitar, theremin, and vocal work. Joined by Slowdive’s Neil Halstead, she follows her recent string of collaborative albums with his otherworldly, foreboding guitar work and synth textures. It’s increasingly hard to write about an artist like Lattimore or Julianna Barwick or Tim Hecker without the proper vocabulary when they so thoroughly own a lane like this, but it’s incredibly pleasant, good stuff.
Slow Pulp — Moveys
The Chicago-based indie rock act Slow Pulp was thrown something of a curveball in finishing up their debut LP. Partway through wrapping up Moveys when the pandemic struck, the band was forced to mix and record vocal takes across state lines, with the band split between Chicago and Wisconsin. Nevermind that the finished product turned out to be a supremely confident, genre-bounding exercise. Spanning driving folk rock, shimmering dream pop, and heavy shoegaze, it skitters with a restless pursuit of new terrain. “At It Again” rules, and sounds like an early highlight.
Cut Worms — Nobody Lives Here Anymore
On his gargantuan new double album, Cut Worms’ Max Clarke traverses a remarkable amount of ground over nearly 80 minutes. He leaves almost no stone unturned in the ‘60s Americana songbook, from easygoing country and folk pop to sunkissed psychedelia. It goes down incredibly easily, without feeling belabored or overwrought in its aims. According to an early press statement, he says the album title derives from “throwaway consumer culture and how the postwar commercial wet dreams never came true, how nothing is made to last.” That’s...right? While it can evoke empty storefronts and forgotten towns, he’s never incensed enough on Nobody Lives Here Anymore for this to register as anything but eminently listenable, an earnest tribute to the greats from long before his time.