Tracking New Music Releases with Zac Wittman: Beach House, Alice Glass, Oliver Tree, Big K.R.I.T., Immolation

Written By Zachary Wittman, Music Columnist

Genre-defining artists gather together to make yet another release weekend special. Some release their best work, while others fall short. Either way, here are this past week’s major players.

Beach House – Once Twice Melody
Dream Pop
Released February 18, 2022

4.5 Globes out of 5

Continuing a streak of album-of-the-year contenders being released weekly, Beach House have finally thrown their hat into the ring after months of hype. The release cycle of “Once Twice Melody” was rough. Starting in November of last year, the album was released in fourths as a series of EPs every month. Even with this strategy, the album still leaked months early, spoiling the whole endeavor. Even with such a trainwreck of a marketing campaign, the duo came out on top with what is their best album yet.

As I’ve stated last week in my Big Thief review, double albums are a quick way to my heart. They leave a lot of room for artists to experiment and develop new ideas. Beach House does just that, but they manage to still keep their trademark sound. Each quarter of the album, the first two sets of four songs and the final two sets of five, has its own distinct feel. The first soundtracks the reminiscing on old friends and relationships that you have when driving late at night alone. The title track has some lovely string work that sweeps the listener into the album’s world. “Superstar” uses its strings for atmosphere, creating a truly ethereal song that encapsulates everything great about this band. “Pink Funeral” adds tension, with the string jabs contrasting the swirling keyboards as the lyrics pay ode to “Swan Lake.” “Through Me” gives the album a sense of propulsion and firmly buckles the listener in for the ride to come.

The second section is the sad glasses of champagne when you get home. The electronic drums on “Runaway” paired with the vocal processing make this easily one of my favorite Beach House songs. “ESP” is the reflection that leads to the catharsis of moving on and shedding past sins in the stellar “New Romance.” “Over And Over” would be a worthy album closer with its track length and morphing song structure, but the album doesn’t stop here.

The third section is where the experimentation gets the most apparent. “Sunset” is the band’s take on a psychedelic folk song and the atmosphere is absolutely perfect. “Only You Know” harkens back to the band’s previous release “7” and the shoegaze direction that album took, while “Another Go Around” is the most ambient the band has gotten thus far. “Masquerade” takes cues from trip hop and early industrial leaning synthpop. This section closes with the psychedelic “Illusion Of Forever,” with a hazy vocal harmony that elevates the song to Twin Peaks soundtrack level of etherealness.

The final stretch of songs are the synthesis of everything Beach House has done thus far. “Finale” is the curtain call for this era of the band and the final four songs are the actors. “The Bells” is their acoustic side, “Hurts To Love” is their synthpop height, “Many Nights” is their dreamy soft side and “Modern Love Stories” is that wistful spacious format they became known for.

As the album closes, the overall message becomes clear. The sound the band has been crafting for almost 20 years has come to a close. This is the artistic statement they have been working up to this entire time. While I might prefer “7” to this one, I cannot deny that this album is a triumph in every sense of the word. The band have stated that following projects will be much texturally different from this and that is very much a good thing. There is no way they can possibly improve this sound.

Alice Glass – PREY // IV
Released February 16, 2022

3 Globes out of 5

A lot of popular music, specifically genres and artists adjacent to hyperpop, owe a lot to Alice Glass. The singer was one of the leading names in synth-based music in the late 2000s due to her time as the frontwoman and co-founder of the group Crystal Castles. Still a teenager when the group formed, Glass proved to be one of the most innovative young voices in pushing pop boundaries.

The story of Glass’s first solo album “PREY // IV” starts with her departure from the project eight years ago. Her reason for leaving stemmed from multiple assault allegations of varying degrees towards her former bandmate, who used his age gap and industry influence to control her. After years of torment, she finally split from the band and came out to the public about the abuse she suffered. Since then, Crystal Castles have been dormant, and Glass has requested her fans not listen to or support her defunct band’s music anymore.

And so, Glass finally released her first full length solo album. The title comes as her own play on the numbered titles that Crystal Castles records would bear, since she was on the group’s first three albums. The lyrical content on this record is overtly about her split with the band and the torment she endured. “Fair Game” features some scathing lyrics sung from the viewpoint of Glass’s former bandmate, highlighting the abusive and manipulative language he would use. “Baby Teeth” concerns Glass discovering her own self-worth and realizing her true creative power. Musically, the album is the blend of electropop, witch house, synthpop and industrial that you would expect. However, the album does not feel cohesive and has trouble sticking in your head. The songs feel a little underwritten, but the atmosphere is so close to being just right.

Given the circumstances of this album’s existence, the intense lyrical focus can be excused. The purging of emotions built up over the years is undoubtedly therapeutic for Glass, but it can be hit or miss for the listener. I am sure that those with their own similar trauma might find solace in Glass’s ability to rise above it, but others might find it somewhat triggering. While she never goes into explicit detail, the emotion conveyed in these songs is unmistakable.

Sadly, this record needs more than that to truly work. In the past few years, these sounds Glass pioneered have been pushed to new heights by other artists, making this one feel half-baked in comparison. The focus on exorcising her past seems to keep her from moving forward, both lyrically and musically. Out of all the musicians in the world, Alice Glass is one of the ones who deserve the most love and respect. I hope that she finds her footing after this one and truly escapes her past once and for all.

Oliver Tree – Cowboy Tears
Folk Pop
Released February 18, 2022

2 Globes out of 5

Personality goes a long way in the music world. Despite not being a fan of Oliver Tree’s music, I always thought his persona was funny. The snotty rich kid who fights with everyone is great when you know it’s fake. His fanbase is usually lovely, breezy people who just like being alive.

“Cowboy Tears” is strange. It peels away a lot of the electronic and hip hop elements, instead going for a folk approach. This inadvertently removes a lot of the charm his fans loved about his past work while heightening the quirks that his detractors vocally detest him for. As the album progresses, you slowly realize that every song is indeed going to sound the same. The choruses are fine in a vacuum, but after a while you start to forget which song is which. “Swing & A Miss” is the standout, with the melody being the most memorable. The lyrics don’t land on either the comedy or sincerer side. Is “Cigarettes” supposed to be a sad ode to self-destruction or a jab at smokers? The first doesn’t fit in with Tree’s persona, but the latter isn’t really present outside of the outro vocal. That inconsistent tone is all over the album and makes it hard to really enjoy what is going on. Considering how stagnant the musical palette is throughout the album, the lyrics cannot be ignored. Tree’s vocal drawl also starts to get frustrating to sit through after a while, even with a tracklist full of songs under three minutes that only adds up to a brief half an hour runtime.

There really isn’t a lot to be said for “Cowboy Tears.” A song or two might survive onto “summer vibe” playlists, but they are all so formulaic that it could be any pick of the litter. Even if I wasn’t a fan, I could tell his previous effort was much more personable. Too many people make music that sounds exactly like this and Oliver Tree of all people does not need to be one of them.

Big K.R.I.T. – Digital Roses Don’t Die
Southern Hip Hop
Released February 18, 2022

2.5 Globes out of 5

If you make one of the best modern-day hip hop albums, you should be expected to create a mediocre follow-up. “4eva Is A Mighty Long Time” was a spiritual journey in every sense of the word, but “K.R.I.T. Iz Here” was quite a letdown. With “Digital Roses Don’t Die,” Big K.R.I.T. slides even further off the mark.

K.R.I.T.’s rapping skills are traded in for more melodic deliveries, including a whole lot of singing. His voice is not bad, but it isn’t good enough to warrant the overbearing soul influence on this album that washes out most of the hip hop. With so many songs and such a short length, the album blows by before you know it. None of the songs stand up next to each other in a way that benefits the album’s flow.

Almost every song feels like it would be an interlude on his previous albums at best. It isn’t until “Just 4 You” that you feel like you’ve hit a true fully-fledged song, but that’s already a third into the album’s length. The spacey psychedelic sounds of the interludes “Earth” and “Water” are interesting building blocks, but the foundation is never set enough for any real structure to be placed on top of these sounds. The lyrics are as pretentious as humanly possible, though. There is a song on this album called “Boring” and it is somehow one of the more interesting songs.

The few moments of rapping on here are refreshing. The horn stabs of “Would It Matter” fit in wonderfully with the soul and trap production. “All The Time” drops the sultry jams and allows K.R.I.T. to deliver the type of southern hip hop banger he is known for. Despite having an obvious overarching theme, there is nothing that the listener learns from “Digital Roses Don’t Die.” What was the point of any of the pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo he was spurting out during the interludes? Why did he attempt to emulate the heady “backpack rappers” when he has proven to be a perfectly capable lyricist before?

I don’t really know what happened here. Such an incredible rapper putting out such mediocre slop. I love funk and soul, but this doesn’t do those genres justice either. If this album does anything, it reminds you of how monumental “4eva Is A Mighty Long Time” is. Go listen to that instead. Only put this one on if you need nice background music.

Immolation – Acts Of God
Death Metal
Released February 18, 2022

4 Globes out of 5

Death metal legends Immolation are the kings of the New York metal scene. They have one of the strongest classic periods of any of their contemporaries while also avoiding a major dip in quality since. Even so, they have put out their best album in twenty years with “Acts Of God.”

Not for the faint of heart, “Acts Of God” is an oppressive and infernal album that pummels and beats the listener. In traditional death metal fashion, the band utilizes chaotic song structures, varied time signatures and dissonant breakdowns. The headbanging levels are off the charts here. Take for instance the middle section of “When Halos Burn.” The atonality of the guitar riff mixed with that drum groove absolutely slays. “The Age Of No Light” and “Incineration Procession” prove that the band can still deliver some gnarly riffs.

Robert Vigna is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists in metal. Ross Dolan delivers some chunky bass work alongside some of his best vocal work he has ever laid down on record. I do wish the production was more punchy, however. I wanted to feel Steve Shalaty beating me within an inch of my life with his drumsticks. Seriously, who is hitting the skins that violently after this long of a career?

The record could use a little trimming, but I am not sure what I would cut outside of the two instrumental interludes “Abandoned” and “And The Flames Wept.” Mostly everything is a keeper. There is something that is missing from the band’s classic work, but it is hard to describe. Maybe it’s the youthful aggression of being a blossoming metal band in the 90s, but this feels slightly different. That is not to say it is bad, but this would stand out when placed next to their earlier works. As for their modern-day albums, this is by far their best in a very long time. Immolation doing what they do well.