Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Lil Nas X, Injury Reserve, Lindsey Buckingham, Carcass, Mild High Club

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

The weeks keep coming, but we have a bit of a breather this time. While many heavy hitters are to be released in the coming weeks, the releases this time are nothing to shake a stick at. This week, we have new beginnings and tragic endings, but most of all, great music!

Pop Rap
Released September 17, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

There likely isn’t a cognitive person alive right now who isn’t at least somewhat familiar with Lil Nas X. “Old Town Road” was a cultural event and listeners everywhere couldn’t escape that song’s grasp. Despite releasing an EP with several successful singles, Lil Nas X hasn’t quite solidified himself as someone with staying power quite yet. That all relied on his first full length outing, which had just arrived this past weekend. So how does “MONTERO” hold up?

It’s pretty good! Much of the appeal towards Lil Nas X is how down to earth he is. He definitely doesn’t take his role in the music industry too seriously given his social media presence. That is the one thing that feels missing from his debut album. It’s not that this album is too serious, but that the humor he has previously conveyed doesn’t come through quite as well here. This isn’t a bad thing, as many songs tackle how Lil Nas X views his place in entertainment as well as his own sexuality, such as on the smash hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name).” “Industry Baby” tackles the claims of him being an industry plant over an anthemic horn section that sticks in your head. There are a lot of interesting genre blends throughout the album. I struggle to call this a hip hop album in any capacity, but for a lack of a better cohesive term I’ve labeled this album as such. There are touches of rap, R&B, bedroom pop and alternative rock throughout the whole project. The track “Life After Salem” even incorporates elements of gothic rock that feels like a bold move to have on an album like this.

While the genre influences are cool and all, the songs don’t feel too fleshed out. There are several songs that start with a nearly identical acoustic guitar recording that make certain tracks feel unintentionally repetitive. Some songs also feel a little too short for their own good, such as “That’s What I Want,” “Tales Of Dominica,” and the title track. In fact, a good bit of the album feels a little undercooked. While the songs are by no means bad in their current state, a sizable chunk of them feel like they are not fully realized.

Despite this, this was a promising debut. This will certainly appeal to the general mass music audience in a way that will appease most listeners. I think Lil Nas X is certainly here to stay for a while, but he needs to work on some of his deeper cuts to make the album pop a bit more. I’m very excited to see what comes next from one of the brightest new names in the pop world.

Injury Reserve – By The Time I Get To Phoenix
Experimental Hip Hop
Released September 15, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Few things can impact a piece of art like death. I was a casual fan of Injury Reserve when Stepa J. Groggs had passed last summer, but the waves left after his untimely death really hit me. It’s one thing when an artist like Prince or David Bowie passes on, but to lose a talent so young is something else entirely. “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” is Injury Reserve’s second album and is unfortunately the first to be released since Groggs’s tragic death.

This is a hard album to pin down. The term “hip hop” is used loosely as this is an extremely experimental album. You can read the list of genres for each song, but it still doesn’t quite make sense when you listen to it. Take for example the opener “Outside.” Ritchie with a T delivers a verse over a soundscape you could describe as abstract hip hop, neo-psychedelia, progressive electronic, outsider house, psychedelic rock and sound collage, but none of that registers when you listen. The instrumentals that sprawl throughout the album are disjointed, chaotic and to be genuinely honest, frightening at times.

Of course, this was the intent of the surviving members of Injury Reserve. This album exemplifies the feeling of being lost after the death of someone close. “Footwork In A Forest Fire” is absolutely feral and lives up to its name in every way. The single “Superman That” is incredibly ominous, but nothing touches the penultimate track and other single “Knees.” Groggs and Ritchie both give some of the most moving and powerful verses I’ve ever heard in music. The motif of “my knees hurt when I grow and that’s a tough pill to swallow because I’m not getting taller” is eerie when put in context with Groggs’s passing. Ritchie also states on “Top Picks For You” that no one is ever dead in the digital age as Groggs will live on through pictures and memories shared through computer algorithms.

This is the hardest album I’ve ever had to review. I simply cannot describe the sounds this album contains or the emotional weight this thing carries. This is certainly not an album for everyone. It is an incredibly difficult listen, the lyrical content aside. I still don’t exactly know how I feel after listening to this thing a few times. One thing I can say is this is one of the best examples of music as pure art. Injury Reserve had a goal with this album, and they hit every single nail on the head. I struggle to love the entire project, but there is a very, very short list of albums that I respect more than this one.

Lindsey Buckingham – Lindsey Buckingham
Pop Rock
Released September 10, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Fleetwood Mac have crossed generations in their fandom. Having worked in a record store for a few years, my coworkers and I have had a joke that a group of college aged girls will buy a copy of Rumours almost every time they step in our store. That statement holds incredibly true. However, the one thing that has not been passed down from generation to generation of Fleetwood Mac fans is exactly where much of the magic comes from. It seems many my age don’t realize the band existed before 1975 and was founded by Peter Green, but it also feels like many don’t know any other member other than Stevie Nicks, which is understandable due to her status as an icon. However, if you peel back the curtain, you will see that there is more to the band than just Stevie.

About four years ago, the other two principle songwriters in Fleetwood Mac, Lindsey Buckingham and Christine McVie, released an album together that was originally slated to be the next Fleetwood Mac album before those plans fell through. Many speculate that that album led to Buckingham’s firing from the band. While Christine McVie is my favorite songwriter in the group, there is absolutely no contest in regards to who is the one who carried the weight in Fleetwood Mac. Lindsey Buckingham gets unfairly shafted in the band’s history, and his recent termination from the band only proves that point.

So, after much delay, Lindsey has returned with a new studio album that has been shaped by the last three years of his life. While I hesitate to call this a bitter album, there is definitely some understated resentment in these songs. “I Don’t Mind” deals with long term relationships, a topic likely inspired by his history with Stevie. While the lyrical content is on par with most of Lindsey’s past work, it is worth noting that supposedly every sound on this album was done by Lindsey himself. It is incredible to hear a 71 year old with an array of health problems still perform like this. The fact that all the percussion is programmed drums keeps some songs from being outright rockers, but that’s never been Lindsey’s style. This sounds just like all of his other work in the best way possible. Hearing that guitar tone is like a hug from an old friend. Lindsey’s voice also sounds basically unchanged from decades ago. It’s also cool to hear him make kooky songs like “Blue Light” that harken back to his first solo outing.

I doubt the next Fleetwood Mac album, if that ever happens, will be able to touch this one. “On The Wrong Side” would’ve been a modern day classic if it had the support of the full band. Instead, Linsdey had to prove that he could do it all himself. It’s a shame to see a band so old fight like they do. As childish as the whole thing is, it is nice to see that Linsdey has had such a consistently good solo output for the last forty years. It just makes you wonder what could’ve been.

Carcass – Torn Arteries
Melodic Death Metal
Released September 17, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Few metal bands have had a career path quite like Carcass. Being from across the pond in Liverpool, they don’t exactly hail from one of the metal capitals of the world. Despite this, they have become one of the most influential bands in the genre. They emerged as the originators of the niche subgenre known quite unpleasantly as “goregrind,” a mixture of death metal and grindcore, before becoming a powerhouse in death and melodic death metal. Eventually, they morphed into a “death ‘n’ roll” band in the late 90s. Unlike many of their contemporaries, they have managed to avoid becoming complete self parodies in recent years by being very sporadic with their output.

That trend continues with “Torn Arteries”, an album that continues the band’s theme of anatomical references and increasingly verbose lyrics that only licensed surgeons could understand. The riffs might not be instantaneous as their classic material, but they still absolutely shred. The songs never feel like they drag or are endlessly chugging along. I do really enjoy the pun-filled song titles such as “Eleanor Rigor Mortis” and“Dance of Ixtab (Psychopomp & Circumstance March No.1 in B)”, the latter being especially dark given the play on words. The epic “Flesh Ripping Sonic Tormented Limited” features an incredible breakdown near the tail end of the song that felt like classic death metal had returned.

The production on this album is immaculate. It sounds warm and every instrument is clear in the mix. The vocals are also not too off putting for those who are not too familiar with harsh vocals. Each guitar solo is also incredibly executed and there are quite a few memorable melodies across this release. While Carcass don’t innovate on sounds they’ve previously covered, they do make a greatly enjoyable record. Don’t let the album or song titles scare you, this is rather accessible for death metal and honestly not the worst starting point for the genre.

Mild High Club – Going Going Gone
Jazz Pop
Released September 17, 2021

4 Globes out of 5

Have you ever discovered a band through a collaborative album that an artist you already like had done? I’m sure many people found Mild High Club through their album they did with King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard back in 2017. What I didn’t know before I listened to that album was that it was not simply an artist I like collaborating with an artist I would write off. As it turns out, Mild High Club are vibe setter extraordinaires.

Fans of smooth music and indie pop will find solace in the music of Mild High Club. “Going Going Gone” is the group’s first release since the immaculate “Skiptracing” in 2016 and shows that the band have not lost a beat in the last five years. While I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Gizz collab due to many of the tracks feeling too short and not cohesive enough, “Going Going Gone” alleviates much of that issue by making most of the tracks flow into each other seamlessly. Instead of several songs feeling like little vignettes, they feel like pieces to one big puzzle.

“A New High” and “It’s Over Again” make up a fantastic one-two punch that exemplifies how the short song approach can be executed correctly. “I Don’t Mind The Wait” is another stellar cut, with the electronic break in the middle fitting perfectly with the jazz casing. “Me Myself And Dollar Hell” is probably the album’s most immediate track and would fit right in with many vibe playlists. The album’s length is not an issue for how short it is, as it makes the whole experience a bit breezier and easier to digest. Maybe it’s my love for kitschy jazz pop, but this album is a great time that pretty much anyone could vibe with.