Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga, Yes, Full Of Hell, Juçara Marçal, Frontierer

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

There was a relative lack of big-name albums this week, so this batch of reviews takes a look at some more niche releases as well as a few of the more popular artists who did release new music.

Tony Bennett & Lady Gaga – Love For Sale
Vocal Jazz
Released October 1, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

Seeing people grow old can be a frightening experience. When your family or other people you look up to age, it makes you aware of your own mortality in many ways. We so often talk about artists passing away at a young age that we are shocked when we remember how old others are. At 95, Tony Bennett is no spring chicken. It feels like he has always been around, and for the overwhelming majority of people alive, he has been.

To a younger generation, he is akin to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, but Bennett has outlived pretty much every other crooner and still kept up with his craft. Some may also know him for his 2014 collab with Lady Gaga, “Cheek To Cheek.” The duo return with “Love For Sale,” which is Gaga’s seventh album and Bennett’s 61st. Unfortunately, it seems this will also be Bennett’s last, as earlier this year it was announced that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2016. Thankfully, his touring schedule and vocal practices have kept him on his toes, but the last few years have not been kind to old Tony. He has officially retired from live performing this past August.

For being in his 90s, Bennett sounds much better than one would expect. He and Gaga have some great chemistry, but it doesn’t feel quite as organic as its predecessor. There are a few instances of awkward vocal processing throughout the record, mainly with Bennett, which I am not entirely surprised about. However, it is never distracting enough to be noticable. The instrumentation across the album is nothing extraordinary, fairly par for the course when it comes to jazz standards. The song selection is very nice, featuring titanic Cole Porter numbers like “I Get A Kick Out Of You” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” However, I’m partial to the “Anything Goes” classics “It’s De-Lovely” and “You’re The Top.”

This record sometimes falls into the “background music” category and comes off sterile at points, but ultimately “Love For Sale” is a very cute album. It is hard to divorce from Bennett’s condition and can be a sad listen, but on the flip side, this is also a celebratory sendoff to one of the most iconic people in music. Either way, it is good enough for what it is. Bennett has given us so much, so you can’t be too harsh if he takes it easy at this point.

Yes – The Quest
Progressive Rock
Released October 1, 2021

2 Globes out of 5

Speaking of artists getting older, Yes have come out with another album. “The Quest” comes as their 22nd album and their first since the passing of bassist Chris Squire in 2015. Because of Squire’s passing, this also means this is the first Yes album with no original members. Guitarist Steve Howe is the only remaining member who was on much of the band’s acclaimed work in the 70s. Drummer Alan White became Bill Bruford’s replacement back in 1973, but many argue that was after the band’s peak. Geoff Downes, Billy Sherwood and Jon Davison round out the crew. Downes had contributed to “Drama” in 1980 but was absent from the band until recently. Sherwood, an excellent musician, has frequently played with the band in the last thirty years, but like most bassists, cannot touch Squire’s ability. Of course, Jon Davison is no Jon Anderson.

In short, Yes are now almost 50 years out from the band that made “Close To The Edge.” As I said before, you can’t fault your heroes for getting old, but you can fault them for losing their passion. “The Quest” sounds so insipid that I struggle to link it with the same band that has made multiple of my favorite albums of all time. The lyrics are so preposterously corny, which is a huge achievement for the band that made some of the most nonsensical lyrics sound uplifting and mystical. The production, done by Howe, is flat and sterile. Despite being a double album, all the music could comfortably fit on one CD, making it obvious it was a marketing decision so they could label this as their first double album since 1973’s “Tales From Topographic Oceans.”

While everyone is still proficient enough at their instruments, Jon is not as convincing of a vocalist as the prior Jon he took over for. He is at least better than anyone else who tries to sing on the album, as Sherwood cannot carry the harmonies Squire brought to the group. White is still a wonderful drummer, but the songs are too lethargic to prove that he can continue to play like his work on “Relayer.” However, the one shining spot on this album is Howe. He has taken exceptionally good care of his health and can still wring out emotion from his six strings like few others can. Even the lukewarm production cannot completely wash away how wonderful of an instrumentalist he is. “Dare To Know” and “A Living Island” both prove that Howe can give us a heartfelt performance. “Sister Sleeping Soul” is a lovely song that would be almost a classic if they had fleshed out the performances more and allowed a bit edgier production. In fact, the second disc is much stronger than the first, but that is thirteen minutes of music out of an hour.

I may be unfairly harsh on this album, but it is frustrating when an artist who is capable of making music of a certain quality can obviously do so but chooses not to. They could hire a better producer, get Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson back, and the album would be much better off. I know that will never happen, but I can dream, can’t I? This isn’t the worst album ever. In fact, it isn’t even the worst album they made in the last 20 years. It’s just boring mid-tempo rock made by aging rockers who still want to share music with the world. Is there really anything wrong with that? I don’t think so. Howe and Squire have stated they wanted the band to outlive them and continue to shuffle lineups. This will not be the final Yes album, so I hope it isn’t even more downhill from here. If anything, we can count on Roger Dean to give us some really cool album art.

Full Of Hell – Garden Of Burning Apparitions
Released October 1, 2021

3.5 Globes out of 5

Full Of Hell are a surprisingly popular band for the genre of music they make. While most metal genres are not the most widely accessible in terms of the average listener’s enjoyment, some of the deeper subgenres get very, very foreboding. Deathgrind, a mix of death metal and grindcore, is a perfect example of what I mean. Still, Full Of Hell is more popular than I would’ve thought.

They are also a great band for the Halloween season. “Garden Of Burning Apparitions” is full of absolutely spooky moments, from the tortured vocals and distorted saxophone on “Urchin Thrones” to what sounds like a washing machine being annihilated in the background of “Derelict Satellite.” “Reeking Tunnels” is probably the album’s most accessible song, with a punk riff that is not too dissimilar to more contemporary bands, separated only by an absolutely repugnant vocal performance that cues it back in with the rest of the album. Most of the songs are under a minute and a half and the album flies by at only 20 minutes in length, but it can be a grueling listen for some. The production is also a little blown out, which makes the album feel flatter and quieter than expected. It works for the aesthetic, but it doesn’t always serve the music,

I would advise most people who don’t already appreciate the outer extremes of metal and punk to skip this one, as it is certainly not a great entry point. If you are already familiar with the depths of extreme metal, then give this one a shot. If you have house guests and want them to leave, throw this one on. If you want to bathe in a sea of distortion and noise, here’s your album.

Juçara Marçal – Delta Estácio Blues
Vanguarda Paulista
Released September 30, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Brazil is genuinely one of the most culturally rich places on the planet, and their music scene could eclipse much of the world in terms of history and variations in styles. The country is also no stranger to going against the grain, which is exactly the point of Vanguarda Paulistana. This movement originated in the state of São Paulo and translates to São Paulo avant-garde. It acted as a cultural movement in Brazil to unite artists who had no access to major labels due to the avant-garde nature of their music. Even though many artists were put under this umbrella term, few sounded the same. While this movement was at its height from 1979 to 1985, many artists still take influence from the scene.

Juçara Marçal, leader of the jazz influenced art punk band Metá Metá, is one of the more prominent figures in the scene in recent years. “Delta Estácio Blues” is her second solo album, and her first in about seven years. While many artists soften with age, as seen by the second review this week, some stay cutting edge. Marçal is one of the sharpest out there. This album might feel weird at first listen but it is no stranger than something like 100 gecs. The bleeps and bloops found on this record are utilized in a context strange for rock music, such as the strange stop and start of “Sem Cais,” complete with woozy bass lines that feel almost alien. One highlight in particular is the hip hop influenced “Crash,” a track littered with clanging percussion and a gnarly, seering vocal. If I understood Portuguese, I would certainly try to figure out what she is so passionate about on that track.

Speaking of enchanting tracks, “La Femme à Barbe” is absolutely magical. It feels like you are falling into a pit as the musical ensemble swirls around you, with Marçal’s vocals dancing into the sky above. Not every track is a winner, namely the odd vocal pitch shifting on “Oi, Cat.” Closer “Iyalode Mbé Mbé” is the closest to her previous work in Metá Metá, largely due to the jazz influence. “Ladra” is also a rather interesting track, with the screwball guitar line that feels like it will give you a heart attack at any second, no thanks to the lurching synths that play opposite to it.

Even with some minor missteps, there is a whole world found within this album. Any fan of somewhat left field rock music should give this one a listen, or at least work up to it with the music of Metá Metá. I’ve said it before and I will say it again; Brazil is on another level when it comes to musical creativity. Juçara Marçal has given one of the best gems of the year so far.

Frontierer – Oxidized
Released October 1, 2021

4.5 Globes out of 5

Without repeating myself too much, metal can be an absolutely bonkers genre. Frontierer are without a doubt at the top of the heap. I discovered them in 2019 and was blown away with how absolutely oppressive their sound is. There really are few things that sound weightier than this band, and “Oxidized” might as well be their mission statement.

The guitars sound like laser beams slicing your brain in half. You could sit me down and explain how these sounds are achieved, but they sound so incredibly unnatural that I would just reject any and all explanations. The bass hits your body and makes you feel like you are being ground into a fine paste by heavy duty machinery. Unsurprisingly, the drums are equally brutal. When there isn’t a natural kit, programmed drums pummell you from all sides. There is zero breathing room on this record, save the one post-rock break in “Daydark.” However, the electronic drums still buzz around like flies that will not let you catch a break. Drum and bass is a common influence throughout the album, but most noticeably on “Heirloom” and “LK WX.” On normal metal albums, a song with breakbeat or techno influence would be a moment to gather your bearings but not here. “SVVANS” takes the biggest break from the chaos, but even then it is overbearing with its intensity.

I question Chad Kapper’s sanity, as there is no way he can continue to sing like this and have a voice. The ferocity of his vocals is unmatched to the point that they actually hurt my own throat just listening. The rest of the band are absolutely incredible in their performances as well. The best way I can describe this album is like being sucked into a black hole, but you’re being uploaded to a computer instead. Trust me, it makes sense when you listen to it. This is not for the faint of heart. My first exposure to this group nearly gave me a panic attack, and I had to build a tolerance for this sensory assault. Enter with absolute caution.