This is one of those weeks where there’s just an insane array of good music, where it feels like you’re shorting seven other albums if you pick a single one and name it the best. This could’ve gone any number of different ways. Downtown Boys’ Full Communism is a furious and urgent and needed skronk-hardcore jolt, and I already feel pretty bad for not picking it. Hop Along’s Painted Shut is total unpretentious throat-lump punk rock romanticism, beautifully rendered. In Non-Believers, Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan pared things back and made a pretty, personal album about remembering what it was like to be young, the type of rose-tinted reverie that resonates harder the further away from being young you get. Mikal Cronin’s MCIII might not be quite as immediate as its last album, but it wraps all its hooks up in blankets of psych-rock strings and finds an expansiveness I didn’t think I’d ever hear from the guy. Todd Rundgren teamed up with Lindstrøm and Serena-Maneesh’s Emil Nikolaisen to make Runddans, and it’s some of the spaciest music any of them has ever made, which is saying something. In Peripheral Vision, Turnover made an album of pop-punk that shoots for the sun and actually gets there. There’s a PC Music compilation that makes you feel like there are sugar-elves wriggling around in your brain. If you have the slightest interest in jazz, Kamasi Washington’s triple-disc space-jazz monster The Epic feels essential. Torres recruited Portishead’s Adrien Utley and PJ Harvey’s original backing band to make Sprinter, an album of scraped-raw personal intensity. It’s just an embarrassment of riches out there; there’s so much good music that you can’t really hope to process it all. And this may be completely a personal-bias thing, but given all those choices, I’m going to run with the one that makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the side of the head so hard that my eye has popped out of the socket. Maybe that’s just me.
Once upon a time, before the term “indie rock” became a catchall that basically meant “music with guitars that you listen to while you’re on the internet,” you’d hear the term “underground rock” and imagine something like II, the new album from Metz. In the early ’90s, when I was first discovering the stuff, America’s rock-music underground was made up of scary, stringy-haired, bug-eyed fuckers who wanted to hurt you with their music. And while a few standouts — your Jesus Lizards, your Helmets — blew up big enough to achieve something like canonical status, there was this whole world of bands — your Chokebores, your Steel Pole Bathtubs — made up of dudes who looked like really intense gas station attendants and who made amazingly squalid and guttural spaz-music that seems positively paleolithic today. During that era, the indie rock underground wasn’t too far removed from hardcore, or from metal, and it mostly separated itself by sounding dirtier and meaner and uglier than anything else out there. Flip through some old Frank Kozik show posters online and a picture will emerge. These days, indie rock is something else, and a band like Metz feel like lone warriors, men out of time. Their 2012 self-titled album stood out because it heaved and battered with a ferocity that we hadn’t really heard in years. And II, the long-awaited follow-up, is even better. They’ve evidently spent the past couple of years sharpening an already-sharp sound, and now their riffs gouge harder, and their choruses burn brighter.
The 10 songs on II all have their own sense of structure, but they don’t matter as much on their own as they do when you take them in as one bleeding, howling whole. One riff careens into the next, and one horrific howl gives way to another. The album never lets up. I can never tell what frontman Alex Edkins is howling about, and it doesn’t even really matter. What matters is the momentum of the thing, the way it never stops hammering away. Metz are a classically structured power-trio, and in the instinctive force of the album, you can hear the effect of a couple of years of tireless touring. These guys all know how to play their roles. Bassist Chris Slorach is responsible for most of the riffs, while Edkins bursts in and makes horrible noises over the top of it. Drummer Hayden Menzies alone is responsible for holding everything together, and he does so with pinpoint precision, though it helps that he also hits his drums hard enough that they sound like grenades exploding. There are a few playful touches, like the needling disco shakers that come in toward the end of opener “Acetate,” but this is a band committed to its sound. They never leave ramming speed.
Metz don’t have anything particularly new to add to the scrape-rock conversation, but they have that sound so absolutely mastered that even talking about innovation feels like slighting them. II is an album that could’ve come out on Homestead in 1986, or Amphetamine Reptile in 1993, or Troubleman Unlimited in 2000. There are a few technological things on II, like the occasional queasy tape-loop, that bands on those labels would’ve had trouble pulling off, but it’s firmly within a blueprint that bands on those labels laid. There are two main differences that make this one special. For one thing, it sounds bigger and fuller than just about anything on those labels, which probably has a whole lot to do with better access to cheap professional recording equipment. These guys don’t have to scrimp and save for months at their bike-messenger jobs to afford an afternoon in a studio. For another thing, the mere fact that a band like this can exist, and thrive, in 2015 is a beautiful thing. There aren’t too many of them left. And a locked-in blarefest like this one still hits hard. There’s a cathartic anxiety to it that you’re not going to get from most of the music this site covers. And there’s utilitarian value to this record, too. At 29 minutes and change, it’s shockingly perfect gym music, timed exactly right for a half-hour on the elliptical. And as long as these fuckers are smashing car doors on your head, you’re not going to stop running as hard as you can.
II is out now on Sub Pop.
Other albums of note out this week:
• My Morning Jacket’s skygazing return The Waterfall.
• Best Coast’s hazy, shimmering California Nights.
• Mumford & Sons’ dogshit Coldplay-core move Wilder Mind.
• Torres’ soul-emptying gutpunch Sprinter.
• Downtown Boys’ gloriously progressive skronk-punk blast Full Communism.
• Hop Along’s lovely plainspoken punker Painted Shut.
• Turnover’s shoegazey pop-punker Peripheral Vision.
• Mikal Cronin’s tuneful, orchestral psych-rocker MCIII.
• Kamasi Washington’s aptly titled triple-disc space-jazz odyssey The Epic.
• Superchunk frontman Mac McCaughan’s wayback-machine solo reverie Non-Believers.
• Chris Stapleton’s craggy confessional country album Traveller.
• Coliseum’s throbbing post-hardcore growl Anxiety’s Kiss.
• Todd Rundgren, Hans-Peter Lindstrøm, and Emil Nikolaisen’s astral party Runddans.
• Palma Violets’ raucous Brit-rock sophomore effort Danger In The Club.
• Django Django’s flowery, Clinic-esque psych-pop move Born Under Saturn.
• Warm Soda’s elastic garage rocker Symbolic Dream.
• Jacco Gardner’s baroque psychedelic blissout Hypnophobia.
• Battle Ave’s slow, resonant Year Of Nod.
• All People’s expansive post-punker Learn Forget Repeat.
• Oddisee’s incisive personal rap statement The Good Fight.
• Nosaj Thing’s collab-heavy bass music album Fated.
• Michael Rault’s psych-pop debut Living Daylight.
• Van Hunt’s crowdfunded old-soul album The Fun Rises, The Fun Sets.
• Rose Windows’ omnivorous self-titled psych-folk debut.
• Ciara’s breakup album Jackie.
• Gacha’s soothing electronic debut Send Two Sunsets.
• Other Lives’ lush, twangy Rituals.
• Pale Honey’s icy self-titled synthpop debut.
• Pompeya’s grand Russian indie rocker Real.
• Scallops Hotel’s art-rap LP Plain Speaking.
• STS and RJD2’s collaborative album STS x RJD2.
• Andreya Triana’s smoky retro-soul album Giants.
• Quarterbacks side project Fraternal Twin’s debut Skin Gets Hot.
• Dendritic Arbor’s black metal/grindcore onslaught Romantic Love.
• Holy Ghost!’s remix collection Work For Hire.
• PC Music’s singles compilation PC Music Volume 1.
• Wise Blood’s Babyland EP.
• Actress’ DJ-Kicks mix.
• Cheatahs’ Murasaki EP.
• Thin Lips’ Divorce Year EP.
• Honne’s Coastal Love EP.
• Rioux’s Evolver EP.