Beauty is deep. The surprise hit of the summer may turn out to be Kate Bush’s 1985 single “Running Up That Hill” which, after being placed in an episode of the Netflix series Stranger Things, reached the top 10 in 14 countries and rose to the top of the Apple Music Charts in the United States. It’s not exactly a deep cut. The video was in regular rotation on MTV in its day, and has been covered numerous times since then, including a 2003 version of Placebo that was recorded after being used on The OC TV show. best-known songs, and it’s not hard to see why. The lyrics are about overcoming adversity, and who doesn’t love that? It was also the first time that Bush retreaded old grooves, reusing the heavy drums and Fairlight synthesizers from his previous album (The Dreaming, which remains his breakthrough and brilliant career) but with lyrics that were less distanced, less demanding, less smart.
If this turns out to be Bush’s summer, then maybe some of that good fortune will come from NYC phenom Kristeen Young. The comparison does him a little disservice, as comparisons usually do, but it’s not hard to do with his new album The Beauty Shop (June 24, self-released on vinyl and CD): the soprano vibrato like a serrated knife, the intensity and complexity of the music, the sometimes pure terror of the songs. Young has been there for a while. The Beauty Shop is his ninth album after debuting in 1997, and like The Dreaming was for Bush, it’s a defining statement. There’s anger in the songs, not months of anger but years of anger, mostly about the expectations and obligations of being a woman. And maybe as is the case with women, when people write about her (including me here), they’re writing about the men she’s worked with: Bowie, Morrisey, even Placebo’s Brian Molko. (And Bowiephiles, take note, she has Tony Visconti on bass and Donny McAslin on sax here.) Then they mention Kate Bush. But The Beauty Shop deserves to be judged on its own merits. Start with the hyper-dramatic videos Young made for the album and skip straight to his Bandcamp. This is not an album to be taken lightly or quickly forgotten.
To further reinforce the forced parallel, Saajtak’s new record could be understood as a direction Bush might have taken if she had engaged in electronics and sequencers in the years after climbing said hill. The band’s debut album, For the Makers (out June 3 via American Dream) comes after nearly a decade of activity in Detroit, and their tight dynamic shows it. The songs would be easy to dismiss as amped up club music, but there’s a lot going on in the mix. Alex Koi’s electronics and suspended vocals do something like Goldfrapp hardcore, but with layers you can get lost in. Koi had moved to New York by the time work began on the album and in this case, familiarity breeds content. For the Makers took shape through remote improvisations and locked file sharing, which might explain its odd mix of alienation and cohesion. Detroit house music still seems somehow ingrained in their DNA, at least in Simon Alexander-Adams’ synthesizers, but it’s pretty heady stuff, and with Ben Willis’ bass and Jonathan Barahal Taylor’s drums, ready to make brains dance.
Big House hard industry. If Saajtak nightclub doesn’t really sound like a good time, Prison Religion’s dance floor is a nightmare of beats and blasts. Hard Industrial BOP (out June 10 on UIQ, cassette and digital) is the third release from the duo of Virginie Poozy (Parker Jones) and False Prpht (Warren Black) and it’s downright chilling 23 minutes. Heavy beats, processed vocals and screams, loops and drill’n’bass explosions fill the 9 short tracks, more like scenes than songs. In the album title, they reference jazz drummer Art Blakey and the dawn of hard bop as an effort to find purity outside of the gimmicky. “There are so many here who are being held captive in prisons and facilities,” they ask in the album notes. “What is honesty? Words, gestures and twisted identities through the perverse prism of a failing system? The gimmicks that Prison Religion rejects are societal, which leaves them with quite antisocial and powerfully disconcerting music.
Meanwhile, the gnomes stand up. The other famous band from the 80s making headlines is Spın̈al Tap, the overly believable fake metal band immortalized in film by Rob Reiner. Looking back, one wonders how much metal parody we really need. The often-missed fact of the matter is that metal sometimes (less often than not) is already laughing at itself. Just as non-fans tend to think country singers playing hick are really dumb, the cheekiness of epic, mythic metal is often missed. In either case, the point is the music; the lyrics are just a funhouse mirror. The Belgian power trio Gnome might succeed in overturning such prejudices with pointed red hats, but probably won’t. They are extremely tight, however, while singing their efforts to rise up and wage war against their oppressors, the tyrannical forces that seek to hold back the, uh, gnomes. King (out May 5, digital and CD, from Polder Records) delivers the lyrics – more than when they debuted in 2018, but there are still some stunning instrumentals, including most of the epic 12 minutes closer – with a anthemic sincerity. Even when they’re playing little jigs, they’re riff monsters. The recommended starting point is the video of “Wenceslas”. The album is filled with tongue-in-cheek guitar action, but it’s battle music. The revolution is on – a tiny, dirty, hairy, warty foot. We are all gnomes.