Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: of Montreal, Kings of Leon, Drake, Tigers Jaw, Sunami / Gulch

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

March kicks off with an uncharacteristically dry release week, but there are some good things to be found. Bodily celebration, the potential future of music and celebrity gossip. It’s not the best week so far, but it certainly is interesting.


1. of Montreal – I Feel Safe With You, Trash

Released March 5, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

The hardest part of writing these reviews is that they are largely based on first impressions. In order to keep an up-to-date schedule, I dedicate the first half of my weekends to making sure I say what I want to with these reviews. In the case of this album, I will not be able to properly digest it for at least a few months.

“I Feel Safe With You, Trash” is the 17th studio album from Georgia-based indie pop band of Montreal. of Montreal is less of a band at this point and is more so just Kevin Barnes and touring musicians. I have been an admirer of their work for quite a few years now, and they have one of the largest discographies that I not only have heard everything, but also own. Despite not enjoying most of their 2010s output, I thought both of the band’s last two albums were amazing, even with the most recent album, “UR FUN,” often being referred to as the band’s worst. Still, there always seems to be something enjoyable with all of Kevin’s work.

This new album is a big step for Barnes, as this is the first release after they publicly came out as non-binary. The topic of gender fluidity has often been covered in Barnes’ music, but it is much more personal on “Trash.” This record serves as a celebration of Barnes’ new found pride in their identity, as it touches less on body dysmorphia and self harm like prior releases. As a seasoned fan, it is wonderful to see Kevin open up as they have been exploring gender identity since 1999’s “The Gay Parade.” While this is their most personal album since 2007’s “Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer?,” it still maintains the lyrical quirks Kevin is known for. By lyrical quirks, I mean using words so obscure mixed with references only the most well read poets would understand. This is such a lyrically dense album that I don’t think I will ever exactly understand what they are talking about, and that goes for all of their work.

Musically, this is the most diverse set of sounds on an of Montreal album in almost a decade. Unlike prior albums, this one feels more natural when it switches from one idea to the next. There still are sudden genre jumps and jarring splits between ideas, but they feel like they should be there. Kevin also plays with some genres they haven’t before, like the second half of “Drowner’s TeÃrs” that turns into borderline nightcore. “ThRam Rammaged à Man-Mod” has a strong dancehall and reggae influence, while “True Beauty ForeveR” melds with vaporwave aesthetics to create a future funk earworm. That track is probably one of their best in recent years. The whole album has so many ideas that I could fill up this entire paper with them, but I will let you listen to find out for yourself.

Vocally, Kevin sounds as slightly off-kilter as always, creating ugly harmonies that somehow become catchy. They play all the instruments themselves as well as handle the production. Speaking of which, this is the best produced album of theirs in a very long time. My only criticism is that the album is a little too long for its own good, but it was presented as a double album, so the hour long runtime makes sense. Despite that, there isn’t a track that I would cut from the bunch. I am so happy for Kevin as it seems like this is the happiest they have been in a while, at least in the public eye. I have seen them live twice and I would love for them to be my first concert post-COVID. I can’t wait to see what comes next!


2. Kings of Leon – When You See Yourself

Released March 5, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

There are a couple of things you can do to put yourself back on the map after a few years of inactivity. Kings of Leon did two of those things. One is a very good thing, and the other is one of the worst ideas possible.

Making a decent album is the first way to generate some buzz. “When You See Yourself” is the eighth studio album from Kings of Leon and their first in about five years. This album sees the group take a step back from the pop rock of 2016’s “Walls” and into a more post-punk revival direction with influences from their southern rock roots. While not as immediate or catchy as their past work, this album is very nicely textured. “100,000 People” bobs along with its steady bassline and shimmering synths. “Echoing” has some great guitar parts throughout as well. I think the album sounds great, but the vocals are mixed too low throughout the whole album. “Golden Restless Age” has a great groove to it as well. Overall, the album is pleasant enough and will satisfy fans of the band and rock music alike, but it doesn’t really do anything all that exciting to make it stand out musically. I wish I could say more about the music, but it is pretty inoffensive and standard. The main issue is the album rollout overshadows all discourse around the album’s contents.

Now onto that second method of generating buzz. Unless you have been living under a rock, you have been exposed to the concept of cryptocurrency this year. With the GameStop shenanigans earlier this year, all things stock seem out of whack. I am not an economics major, but I will try and explain this conundrum Kings of Leon have led us to. Non-fungible tokens, or NFTs for short, are a form of cryptocurrency asset. Fungible cryptocurrencies allow you to spend them on actual items where they are accepted as currency, but non-fungible ones act as glorified trading cards. They are kept on the blockchain, but you can only sell these NFTs as collectables.

So why does that matter? Well, “When You See Yourself” marks the first album to be sold as an NFT. This is a very, very, very bad thing. To start, cryptocurrencies are new enough that the boom they are seeing will likely lead to a crash in the future. I am not nearly educated enough to discuss the actual market effects of this, but I can speak on the environmental effects. Due to the nature of online currencies and the danger of bots, there are a series of puzzles to be solved in order to mine a cryptocurrency. As a computer mines furter, the puzzles become more complex and require massive amounts of power to run. Miners in Russia are building literal building sized rigs hooked up to hydroelectric dams in order to keep this process going. Buying some pricier NFTs can set back years and years of someone’s carbon footprint. That is only how things currently stand and there is no telling the environmental effects of this practice in the future if this method of selling art catches on.

There is a lot more to this whole ordeal, but I don’t want to speak outside of my knowledge level. Sure, you might get a cool vinyl if you buy the NFT, but is it worth it? I understand why Kings of Leon would do this, as the money people use to buy these NFT exclusives will go directly to the band, but if this becomes the norm, then there are some massive economic and environmental issues ahead. The album is fine, but I wish a better one had posed the threat of destroying life as I know it in the future instead.


3. Drake – Scary Hours 2

Released March 5, 2021

2 Globes out of 5

You know who has had a rather quiet last few years? Drake. Of course, the few projects he has dropped the last few years have had great chart success, but it doesn’t feel like anyone talks about him anymore. Even now in 2021, he drops a surprise EP with no lead up, and I still don’t see any buzz about it.

For some perspective, let’s look at the last few years for Drake. In 2018, he reignited his long-running feud with Pusha T. Those who were in the know when it comes to hip-hop knew what a mistake that was. Many flocked to Twitter in defense of Drake, claiming he would “end Pusha T’s career” and other similar sentiments, only for Pusha T to expose Drake in a number of ways. In Pusha’s “The Story Of Adidon,” it was revealed Drake was hiding the fact he had a child with an adult film actor and was planning to use his son to eventually promote his clothing line. Drake never directly fired back and instead spoke about it on his album from that year, “Scorpion.” The album was criticized for being incredibly bloated along with the relentless promotion on streaming services, in which Drake popped up on the cover of playlists for rap, jazz, rock and pretty much any playlist the company made.

2019 saw some loose singles, and 2020 saw the release of his “Dark Lane Demo Tapes” mixtape, which was again criticized for being below average cuts for Drake. Now, in 2021, he gives us “Scary Hours 2.” The biggest strength and weakness for this release is just how unremarkable it is. It is leagues better than anything he has put out in the last few years, but it is absolutely boring. The production is some of the worst he has ever had on his songs, with many of the beats sounding unintentionally hazy and far away. The vocal production on Drake’s voice makes his already poor delivery much worse. Production aside, the lyrics are just okay. Ghostwritten or not, they aren’t that impressive, but they aren’t as embarrassing as some of his work over the last few years. There aren’t any strong hooks throughout the whole project, with his delivery on the chorus of “What’s Next” being incredibly clunky at points. The Kanye reference on “Wants and Needs” was actually pretty funny, though.

The thing that really saves this project is the features. I never thought I would say this, but Lil Baby absolutely outperforms Drake on “Wants and Needs” in what is arguably the best verse on the EP. Rick Ross shows up at the beginning of “Lemon Pepper Freestyle” to make some COVID puns and talk about Tupac, but he is charming enough, as he always is. Then, we are treated to a solid four minutes of Drake talking about paying child support and how we should feel bad for him because being a famous parent is hard. Yeah Drake, I’m sure all the people on unemployment feel so sorry for you and how embarrassing it is to pick up your son from kindergarten in a luxury car. He continues to talk about this, that, and the other, while squeezing in some uncomfortable lines about liquoring up someone enough for intercourse. Given Drake’s history with underaged women, I don’t want to hear a single innuendo out of his mouth ever again.

It’s hard to call this release good, but it is undoubtedly his best work in a good while. That is saying almost nothing though, as he can do much better than this. If we had the emotional Drake who made “Hold On, We’re Going Home” back, then maybe he might make something of note. Of course, I am just a college student. People will listen to Drake as long as he makes music, regardless of the quality. At this point, he doesn’t make music to be listened to. It’s strictly made to be blasted from a car radio, a cheap blu-tooth speaker at the pool or at an overcrowded frat party. He’s still successful, so I guess that’s the golden formula.


4. Tigers Jaw – I Won’t Care How You Remember Me

Released March 5, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

I was waiting to make a joke about the title. I would crack my knuckles and begin typing. “Good thing they don’t care, because I don’t remember this at all.” I would crack a smile and lean back in my chair. I would be a comedy genius. However, this album is actually pretty decent. It certainly isn’t the most exciting thing, but it isn’t boring enough to try and sum it up with a pun involving the title.

Tigers Jaw are interesting to me in the way that they predate the whole “sad indie guy” aesthetic that is so popular now. I don’t mean in the American Football way, but more in the Modern Baseball way. That is probably gibberish to some of you, but I know someone out there knows exactly what I mean by that. Essentially, Tigers Jaw would have been a lot more popular if they didn’t have their commercial peak in the 2000s and instead had it in the mid 2010s. They seem to have just missed the cutoff for both nostalgia bands and the new wave of emo-influenced indie rock. That’s a shame, because a lot of people my age would dig them!

Unfortunately, I think they are just okay. “I Won’t Care How You Remember Me” doesn’t give me any new revelations about the band, but I still think it is rather solid. The title track builds into a more upbeat second half nicely, and tracks like “Body Language” feature some nice melodies and guitar riffs. The keyboard on “Cat’s Cradle” put a little smile on my face as well. Ben Walsh has a solid, if stereotypical for emo, voice, but I found myself drawn more towards the songs sung by Brianna Collins. Collins’ voice borders on twee at times and she brings a sincerity to these tracks that feels rather refreshing. “Heaven Apart” is a great example, as she floats above the keyboard-led breaks before being swept away as the band re-enters underneath her.

Again, this album doesn’t do much to stand out from others like it, but I can’t fault it for that. After all, doesn’t everyone else sound like them and not the other way around? If you dig any of the mid-tempo emo groups from the past few years, give this a shot. 


5. Sunami / Gulch – Split 7″

Released March 5, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

I usually do not pay much attention to split releases, but this one intrigued me. Gulch was one of the great discoveries of mine late last year, but I haven’t heard of Sunami until the release of this project. At only 12 minutes, this split flies by rather quickly. Each band offers two cuts of thrashy metalcore for this release, and they are some enjoyable tunes.

The Sunami side is slightly weaker in my opinion, but they do offer up a slightly more accessible take on the genre. They lean a bit more beatdown than Gulch, and thus they have a somewhat cleaner and punchier production style. Of their two songs, I dig “Step Up” more, but the stop and start nature of “Die Slow” is quite fun.

The Gulch side takes a closer approach to deathcore while still maintaining an accessible edge. The production is clean, the vocals are gnarly and the riffs are very tight. The atmospheric break in “Bolt Swallower” gives the track the edge for me. “Accelerator” lives up to its name, as it is an aggressive little number that clocks in at just under two minutes of chugging riffs and blistering drums.

There ultimately is not a lot I have to say about this split, but if you are into metal, punk or any extreme music, give this a shot. Overall, it is an enjoyable slice of metalcore that offers up some variety to this dry week.