What Am I Listening To? – May 2016

Here are my first impressions of the latest releases from Sleeping at Last, Radiohead, Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, and Thrice.

2016_SleepingatLast_AtlasSensesSleeping at Last – Atlas: Senses EP
This one actually should have been on my list for April, since that’s when the final song “Sight” was released. I forgot it then, so here it is now. Click the link above for the full review that I published earlier today, or if you just want a summary, it’s another solid entry in the Atlas series with the tender sound we’ve come to expect from SAL, and a few minor surprises along the way.

2016_Radiohead_AMoonShapedPoolRadiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
Probably the most high-profile release of the month, at least out of the stuff you’d expect me to be listening to. Radiohead sure loves their sudden album releases – this is the third album they’ve dropped on us with little to no advance warning. I’m absolutely over the moon (pun!) for the lead single “Burn the Witch”, and my initial impression of the largely subdued and surprisingly acoustic/orchestral material throughout most of the album was positive, though with repeated listens I’m finding it to be a bit lacking. Is it a better album than The King of Limbs? Probably, because it feels more like a complete project with the songs all having a reason for being presented in a specific order, and given that, it flows incredibly well. But Limbs had more individual songs that got me really excited, so it’s hard to say for sure. It’s definitely different, and there are some real gems here that longtime fans have been appreciating (especially the release of “True Love Waits” as an album track after nearly 20 years of it showing up in their setlists), but it’s probably not the place those newly interested in Radiohead should start out.

2016_SamBeamJescaHoop_LoveLetterforFireSam Beam & Jesca Hoop – Love Letter for Fire
This is basically an album of lightly quirky, but largely subdued, Iron & Wine duets. I know very little about Jesca Hoop, but the girlish vocals and multi-instrumental flourishes she adds to these songs feel like a restrained presence, while Sam Beam is the dominating personality here (insofar as a man with such a hushed voice and humble demeanor can be “dominating”). I don’t mind that, as it superficially reads as a new Iron & Wine album, though with all the short track lengths and a lot of similar songs running into each other, it’s been harder to pick out highlights than it normally is on a true I&W release.

2016_Thrice_ToBeEverywhereIstoBeNowhereThrice – To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere
Thrice’s comeback after a long hiatus (just about as long as Radiohead’s, now that I think about it) just came out on Friday and I’ve only had the chance to listen to it twice, so my first impressions probably won’t line up with my final impressions when I review it a few months down the line. But overall, I like it. No real shockers here – Thrice didn’t reinvent the wheel and I think this fits in snugly with the sound they had in the Vheissu era when I first got into the band, with only small hints of the stylistic experimentation from The Alchemy Index showing up later in the album. There’s the occasional odd time signature or bit of electronic manipulation, but for the most part this is straight-ahead, slightly heavy rock goodness that I think will go down well with all but perhaps their oldest fans for whom anything that isn’t hardcore punk/screamo isn’t heavy enough.

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