I can’t imagine I’ll review days (of the week, month, or year) all that often, but this past Tuesday was pretty epic.

Tuesday, September 14th saw the release of several big-time indie-rock records by the likes of The Walkmen, of Montreal (which I won’t review), Les Savy Fav, Blonde Redhead, Superchunk, and Grinderman plus “urban” flavors from Black Milk and Bilal as well as the indie-alt-country stylings of Justin Townes Earl (how much more great pedigree could he cram into his name?). I realize a good number of Tuesdays could be equally if not more auspicious, but “in a world” where release dates mean less and less, this one seemed to carry some significance, if only for me. Since I’m still unemployed, I have the time to review all of these records. I’ll keep it short to both dip my toes back in the reviewer’s waters and to test the reader’s patience a bit less. All reviews are on a 5-star scale. Additionally, aside from the Black Milk release, I’ve only listened to each album a few times–I don’t anticipate that being the case many times more.

Black Milk – Album of the Year (Fat Beats) 1/2 of 5
Detroit Producer/MC Black Milk brings drums bigger than the Willis (ex Sears) Tower. Milk’s follow-up to 2008’s Tronic ups the ante on percussive creativity, going so far as to add more live drums than some records by The Roots. But it’s no surprise that someone who turned in some of the most idiosyncratically enjoyable beats this side of J. Dilla would continue to push his compositions and production. What is worth noting: Black Milk is slowly shedding his amateurish mic skills. Some verses still come off clunky and awkward, but his lines are stronger and no one, I mean no one, navigates Black Milk’s beats better than he does. Arguably the best dis line of the year: “My shit is Martin Luther, your shit is Martin Lawrence.”
Check out the video for the single “Deadly Medley,” try to ignore the laughably small scrum of “paparazzi.”

Grinderman – Grinderman 2 (Epitaph)
Grinderman is Nick Cave and some of his Bad Seeds getting down and dirty, really dirty. Every sleazy, sneering rocker since Carl Perkins penned “Blue Suede Shoes” has been distilled and bottled for your pleasure by this act. Their second go-round, with the very imaginative title, is a bit cleaner on the production front, but even slimier. With Cave’s almost nauseatingly sexy vocals a bit further up in the mix, the creeper come-on’s are more pronounced and the sleaze is more up front. If you thought Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds just needed to have more balls and be creepier, not in that macabre way, than you need to get on the Grinderman.

Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin (French Kiss)
Root for Ruin, only Les Savy Fav‘s fifth studio LP in 15 years, is sharp. Not only is the instrumentation almost mathematically precise, Tim Harrington’s lyrics are also tersely brilliant. There is nothing revelatory on the level of Dylan or drunken literary spewings of The Hold Steady, Root for Ruin is full of tongue-in-cheek anthems. It’s a confluence of the reckless abandon of youth and over-educated word play of a college graduate; the perfect balance of angst and education to get the brother with a B.A. and a sibling still in junior high.

Bilal – Airtight’s Revenge (Plug Research)
Bilal is one of many victims of major labels sweeping up scads of R&B and hip-hop acts looking for the next big BET hit (the same mentality would lead to the ring-tone wars just a few years later). His debut, 2001’s 1st Born Second , was released with almost no promotional push from Interscope who subsequently shelved his follow-up, Love for Sale, which was leaked in 2006. Bilal’s found a home on a supportive indie Plug Research, who not only gave him room to create, but has, with it’s meager resources, actually promoted it. We need to thank Plug cause this is the sexiest, craziest, most startlingly fresh R&B record since Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah Part I: 4th World War (2008).

Superchunk – Majesty Shredding (Merge) 1/2
Superchunk‘s ninth album, the group’s first since 2001’s wonderfully titled Here’s to Shutting Up, Majesty Shredding shows little of the nine year break. The ‘Chunk’s still carving out crags of emo-tinged (not a pejorative) power-pop like they were in their mid-20’s…not their early 40’s. Frontman Mac McCaughan has always had a knack for smart lyrics (see Superchunk and Portastatic’s discographies for proof), and that hasn’t changed, in fact, McCaughan seems to have found a pocket of giddy angst left lingering from headier days. Majesty Shredding may not be essential listening, but it stands up perfectly well against an impressive catalog.

The Walkmen – Lisbon (Fat Possum) 1/2
Is it possible The Walkmen have finally released a record I enjoy? I’ve spent almost a decade trying to enjoy this band.  There have been a few songs (“The Rat,” “We’ve Been Had“) here and there, and I’ve flirted with enjoying some albums, but have ultimately come up cold and unfulfilled. Lisbon, the group’s sixth LP, is expansive and beautiful without being too polished–this is largely due to the gruff vocals of Hamilton Leithauser, but I’m not entirely sold. After three listens, consider me primed for conversion; though the jury’s still out.

Justin Townes Earle – Harlem River Blues (Bloodshot) 1/2
I think, in some ways, it’s as difficult for me to review a record from a guy named Justin Townes Earle (Son of Steve Earle, middle name from Townes Van Zandt) as it would be to record with a name like Justin Townes Earle. Named after the grandfather of alt-country and sired by one of folk’s true punks, finding your voice would be nearly impossible. Earle certainly has no shortage of talent, but if he’s trying not to be his father or his father’s mentor, he may have avoided being something really interesting. Earle has leaned very heavily on classic folk, country and bluegrass tropes, which isn’t bad, but there doesn’t seem to be any difference between him singing it versus anyone else. He’s composed an album full of wonderful tunes, but there isn’t much character to them. (There’s also something about the line “Put on a country station on that satellite radio” from “Ain’t Waitin'”which seems unnecessarily topical in an album which resorts to, largely, an older and more folksy lexicon.)

Blonde Redhead – Penny Sparkle (4AD) 1/2
Whoa. Blonde Redhead has been doing their best My Bloody Valentine impression for over 15 years, and they were really good at it. A band that felt a little derivative but was always interesting. Now, now it’s a different story. With little warning Blonde Redhead veered waaaay off in to a super European-sounding electro-synth pop. And what’s better, they seem well suited for it. Penny Sparkle is never as refreshing as their poppy shoegaze was, but it’s surprisingly enjoyable, if not a bit wrote and banal. This is a fun novelty for fans and only essential for completists.