May 13th Release Day -Caustic Commentary: Kendrick Lamar, The Smile, Yves Jarvis, Black Keys, Quelle Chris & More

In a new weekly roundup, Glide drops caustic commentary on selected tracks from release day Friday.

Kendrick Lamar – “Die Hard”

The most hotly anticipated release of the year, both critically and commercially, doesn’t disappoint. It seemed hard to believe that Damn. came out five years ago, based on that record’s lasting shelf life but listening to Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers it’s impossible to ignore Lamar’s growth and the sprawling double album more than makes up for the wait. With every track destined to be dissected, hyper-analyzed and spawn a million unreviewed Genius annotations, “Die Hard” stands out for its frank simplicity. Lamar evokes the effervescence of Frank Ocean and the versatility at the heart of this new album and meditates on his own love and relationship with Whitney Alford. Of all Lamar’s album’s Mr. Morale is the most consumed by doubt and self-realization, with “Die Hard” pulling the most strength from his vulnerability.

The Smile – “Free in the Knowledge”

Early reviews compared The Smile to Hail to the Thief, an apt summary of the relatively low stakes and stylistically divergent Radiohead offshoot. Low stakes because they don’t carry the Radiohead moniker and stylistically divergent because these tracks unfurl with haphazard energy that tends to elude its mother band as of late. The Smile’s sound is also heavily influenced by Sons of Kemet’s Tom Skinner and his chaotic drumming, which makes sense, but what’s surprising is that “Free in The Knowledge”, a track that could’ve been pulled from A Moon Shaped Pool finds the best footing here.

Yves Jarvis – “Bootstrap Jubilee”

Jarvis has been quietly cranking out these lo-fi, fun little albums for a few years now, but he’s never sounded less restrained and carefree than he does here. With a dizzy, percolating vocal delivery and circular repetition, “Bootstrap Jubilee” finds the perfect note of effortlessness for Jarvis. But it’s also his most disciplined song on the record, defining its purpose with a form and structure that alludes so much of the other slapdash cuts. Frankly, that’s to be expected from Jarvis, and part of his charm, even if his brightest moments come when he doesn’t overreach (or underreach).

Quelle Chris – “Alive Ain’t Always Living”

Detroit’s Quelle Chris has quietly become one of the strongest and most overlooked rappers out there and as long as he’s releasing his new albums at the same time as Kendrick Lamar, it’s going to stay that way. But for every Everything’s Fine and Innocent Country 2, you get a Deathfame – A very good rap album to be sure, but one that doesn’t approach the high expectations he’s set for himself, save for “Alive Ain’t Always Living”. Essentially the opening track, it sets the mood for a very different album than what follows. With its slow-rolling and celebratory mood, it comes off like a victory lap for Innocent Country 2, something he’s no doubt earned, even if he doesn’t always live up to.

The Black Keys – “How Long”

The lone saving grace on another beguiling and misguided retread for The Black Keys, “How Long” is the sole track here that knows The Keys are at their best when they pull from Delta Kream and not “Let’s Rock”. Even the bluesier cuts here, the ones that Billy Gibbons’ presence would seem to all but ensure success, come off limp. “How Long” at least musters the emotion and the longing of blues even when sonically it could pass for a Brothers cut. That’s more to say about it than the would-be stadium fodder The Keys have to keep churning out to maintain their surprise ascension to headliner status.

Say Sue Me – “Still Here”

This South Korean quartet mostly sings in English and carries more than a few comparisons to the newest Japanese Breakfast album, even if they were laying out that kind of shimmering pop when Michelle Zauner was still embracing her take on shoegaze. “Still Here”, is sunny and wistful in equal measure and finds the band embracing the possibilities after tragedy, eliciting a sense of beauty and euphoria that on all their previous records has come off like a double-edged sword. By the time the second guitar solo kicks in, the cathartic ebullience sets the point of order for the record: This is no longer a band tied to the death of their drummer, but a band who has come out on the other side with a hard-fought vibrancy. They have that in common the Zauner too.

Richard Thompson – “Twilight Cowboy”

Thompson’s most recent work hasn’t exactly captured the genuine excitement of his trailblazing 60s and 70s albums. Nor have they captured the surprise of his 80s and 90s output, whose success was so often built on the groundwork he had already laid, but still managed to captivate besides that. Instead, he’s sounded vaguely bored with only hints of minor inspiration for a long time, with the one notable exception being his soundtrack to Werner Herzog’s Grizzly Man. Thompson and Jim O’Rourke meld perfectly on these instrumentals, always hinting at the darkness and beauty central to the documentary’s themes. “Twilight Cowboy” makes time to twinkle in its solemn reverence and echo the enthusiasm and jubilance of Timothy Treadwell. Even if it’s not new, this remastered version works as a reminder to keep considering Thompson, even if he doesn’t always live up to his own capabilities.

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