There's a Treasure Trove of Great New Records Including Helado Negro, Marissa Nadler, Bat Fangs, and More
The end of October featured some of the best releases of the year, including my latest AOTY candidate.
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When providing weekly music reviews covering the latest and greatest records, there is nothing more frustrating than dealing with release schedules. Most of late September and October was a desert until the past few weeks when the indie labels simultaneously released some of the year’s best work. Sometimes I feel like a contestant on Stanley Spadowski’s Clubhouse.
I covered the heavy hitters with the welcomed return of My Morning Jacket and the new The War on Drugs, but here are some tremendous artists that deserve just as much consideration, including a new candidate for my album of the year.
Helado Negro - Far In
I’ll admit that I was late to the Helado Negro party, dropping in with 2019’s This is How You Smile. It quickly became one of my favorite records of the year as real name Roberto Carlos Lange explored his Latinx heritage over top of a freak-folk dreamscape.
With his seventh album, Far In, Lange returns to the electronic flair that highlighted some of his previous work, but this time with a warm and intimate feel. Compared to This is How You Smile, the production and mixing on this record is something that immediately stands out as soon as guest drummer Jason Trammel shuffles in on the opener, “Wake Up Tomorrow.” Combined with Kacy Hill’s entrancing vocal hook, Lange transports you right to the studio sessions.
Lange describes the songs as “mind meanderings drawn in sound,” and it’s easy to hear why as he sings about modern anxieties and finding kindness while effortlessly grooving between soothing danceable numbers like “Gemini & Leo” and “Outside the Outside.” The tender moments are just as enjoyable with “Aguas Frías” and “Agosto,” as Lange sings in an airy falsetto with Buscaboulla.
This bilingual voyage is a much-needed salve for our times and is the record that I am genuinely excited about at the moment. Far In will indeed be vying for my AOTY next month.
Far In is available now on 4AD.
Marissa Nadler - The Path of the Clouds
I am truly enjoying Lana Del Ray’s current hushed ballads cycle. Still, Marissa Nadler has been releasing dreamy folk records for over fifteen years now, and The Path of the Clouds is more vital than either of Del Ray’s releases this year (the Jack Antonoff-less Blue Banisters is the better of the two).
The Nashville singer-songwriter has always been an expert storyteller, and on Nadler’s ninth album, she’s switched up the format, this time writing songs based on old Unsolved Mysteries tales. Inspired by the old tv show with a nightmare-inducing theme song, Nadler draws parallels in her own life to develop a set of eleven haunting songs, supported by a top cast including Simon Raymonde of Cocteau Twins and prolific harpist Mary Lattimore, and many more.
On “Bessie, Did You Make It?” Nadler crafts a murder ballad that follows a couple who disappeared on their honeymoon in 1928 while riding a homemade canoe on the Colorado River. As the narrative builds, Nadler enables the classic Unsolved Mysteries trope of someone claiming to be the victim decades later with Bessie alive and claiming to have killed her husband to survive. The title track also embraces themes of perseverance, this time focusing on hijacker D.B. Cooper. Shapeshifters appear on “If I Could Breathe Underwater,” combining Nadler’s spectral croon with Lattimore’s harp for maximum effect.
The Path of the Clouds is also Nadler’s second record of the year after Instead of Dreaming, a set of covers and also possibly the best of her career. Produced by Nadler and mixed by Seth Manchester of METZ and Lightning Bolt, it’s effortless to get swept up in The Path of the Clouds’ late-night majestic grandeur.
The Path of the Clouds is available now on Sacred Bones and Bella Union Records.
Bat Fangs - Queen of My World
Alright, enough existential dread, sometimes you have to crank up the amps, and Bat Fangs is back with their second record of shout-along shredders with Queen of My World.
Started as a side project from Ex Hex’s bassist Betsy Wright, she is once again joined by drummer Laura King (Mac McCaughan, Speed Stick) hair metal anthems. This outing chugs confidently through the glam rock and 80’s cock rock of yore while wisely leaving the toxic masculinity in the past. For fans of Pat Benetar, Joan Jett, or The Donnas from my era, you’re going to love Queen of My World.
There’s nothing better than an opening band that rips the roof off, and I came across Bat Fangs when I saw them open for indie punk legends Superchunk at the intimate Teregram Ballroom. Wright and King are also only a duo live, and the gargantuan sound that comes from them has been one of my favorite live moments.
Long live thundering drums and power chords!
Queen of My World is available now on Don Giovanni Records.
But wait, there’s more!
Black Marble - Fast Idol
Chris Stewart returns for his fourth outing as Black Marble, refining his ‘80s-influenced coldwave pallet on the excellent Fast Idol.
Available now on Sacred Bones.
Grouper - Shade
Grouper, the project by Liz Harris, has always worked within a foggy “love it or leave it” state, and Shade is no different with some of her most “accessible” work yet. The record also gave me one of my favorite tweets of recent, and fans of Harris’ music will agree:
Shade is available now on Kranky.
Bedouine - Waysides
Azniv Korkejian, who performs as Bedouine, sounded like she was plucked straight from Laurel Canyon on 2019’s Bird Songs of a Killjoy. On her third record, Waysides, Korkejian shows her mastery of modern folk, this time more acoustic-focused.
Waysides is available now on The Orchard.