This Week’s New Music: March 3, 2017

This week’s releases include the much-anticipated full-length from Ed Sheeran, the return of Grandaddy and Minus the Bear, along with R&B newcomer Khilad and country crooner Seth Ennis.

Ed Sheeran, ÷

After taking a year off to ruminate, unplug and write over 100 songs for his new album, Ed Sheeran returns with his best work to date on ÷ (Divide), his third mathematically named album. He continues with his hip-hop/pop/folk fusion — albeit a little less prominent and jarring than on his earlier albums — beginning with his amped-up creation myth on “Erase,” an autobiographical tour de force, full of truth, spite, malice, words of wisdom and sharply drawn images, even taking time to pay homage to his musical hero Damien Rice: “[T]he stadium crowd 240 thou’/I may have grown up, but I hope Damien’s proud.” On “Castle on the Hill,” he availed himself of Midas-touch hitmaker Benny Blanco’s production talents, coming up with an epic song full of nostalgia, memory and deep reflection, that picks up steam with its U2 choruses and breathless guitars. Album stand-out “Galaway Girl,” shape shifts from an edgy rap into pure folk tradition than makes you think of the Coors playing “Toss the Feathers.” But the song that will most likely get your attention is “Shape of You,” a vaguely island, dance-tastic, sex bomb that he wrote with Rhianna in mind. –Jaan Uhelszki

8938264_500x500Grandaddy, Last Place

Born in the decade when indie and alternative weren’t dirty words, and when wordplay and cleverness were given high marks, Granddaddy shone with a smart, spectral light. Less slanted but more enchanted than Pavement, less jaundiced and coy than Weezer but equally ethereal as Yoshimi-era Flaming Lips. They were the perfect band for the times, delivering their wry off-center missives on love, loss and technology, each album more carefully wrought and more ambitious than the last with layered atmospherics and clear haunting melodies that you swear you already knew. That was their gift, making the personal universal. Making sad sound good. But band spiritual leader Jason Lytle buckled under the sheer weight of needing to surpass his earlier efforts — and on their last effort, 2006’s Fambly Cat, being responsible for everything but the drums — he ended up in a spiral of exhaustion and self-doubt that caused him to pull plug on the beloved band. It took him almost 10 years to regain his psychic equilibrium, during which time he released two solo albums, collaborated with Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse, and produced Band of Horses. During the time away from the band he claimed he learned patience, communication skills and a lot of rad studio techniques that he employs here, producing Last Place himself. It’s not-so-oddly a continuation of what the band did best: ethereal soundscapes and simple but skewed poetic lines that could have easily come out of Charles Bukowski’s pen. “You were a dream and I was a concrete wall,” Lytle sings in “Brush With the Wild,” vexing about what it was like to be at the top and then losing that ascendency. “We were the best/That’s all I recall/Forget the rest.”  And really, that’s all you need to know, because Last Place is first in my book. Jaan Uhelszki

8948546_500x500Khalid, American Teen

Khalid is a singer from El Paso who has a vocal tone similar to Frank Ocean. His debut album, American Teen, pays homage to youth with bright yet melancholy synth-pop production, and a sensibility that seems transported from an 80s teen pop movie. “I’m 18 and I still live with my parents…let’s do all the stupid sh*t that young kids do,” he declares on “8Teen.” “Young Dumb & Broke” is also dedicated to high school kids, while “Location” and “Hopeless” reveal him to be something of an old-school romantic. The longing he expresses is appealingly chaste, at least when compared to the sex-drenched urban pop of his peers. –Mosi Reeves

8863080_500x500Minus the Bear, Voids

Voids is the kind of skillfully understated album that could only come from indie veterans. Sixteen years into their career and Minus the Bear have achieved a sublime balance between compositional complexity, emotional honesty and crystalline songcraft. Boasting interwoven layers of flickering haze and pointillist melodicism, the proggy “Silver” is a stunning example of their math rock-informed musicianship. “Invisible” is cut from a similar cloth, though this time around bass and drums lock into a tight and efficient post-punk beat. Speaking of the rhythm section, new drummer Kiefer Matthias, who replaced the beloved Erin Tate, shows off serious chops, especially on the shapeshifting, start/stop art rock workout “Robotic Heart.” –Justin Farrar

8938251_500x500Seth Ennis, Mabelle

Nashville’s newest young heartthrob, whose piano-propelled pre-release single talks about how he “Woke Up in Nashville,” croons mostly about young ladies. The rest of his debut EP comprises laid-back but jaunty opener “Play It Cool” that has him sing-talking like Sam Hunt, a ballad that warns not to “Think & Drive” when one’s crush lives just three stoplights away, and a lament about a “Fast Girl” who’d rather not slow dance to slow jams — though with Ennis’, maybe she’ll make an exception. –Chuck Eddy

8536167_500x500Temples, Volcano

On their sophomore effort Temples’ third eye continues to beam swirling psychedelia, only this time around the Brits have tempered their retro tendencies. Though a decent portion of the album still worships at the altar of swinging ’60s London, what really stands out are those cuts reveling in their newfound sense of modernity. “Certainty” flirts with a funky, rave-style club groove, while “All Join In” is 21st-century dream pop awash in gauzy electronics. What hasn’t changed is Temples’ gift for gorgeous sonic detail. Indeed, every nook and cranny of Volcano is dipped, dowsed and soaked in a million different shades of glittery, cosmic haze. It’s so rich you’re ears will be overwhelmed with sensation. —Justin Farrar

8917744_500x500Sleaford Mods, English Tapas

Sleaford Mods may have signed with Rough Trade, yet English Tapas doesn’t find the duo of spoken-word miscreant Jason Williamson and beatmaker Andrew Robert Lindsay Fearn prettying up their gritty, punky, working-class sound for mainstream acceptance. The music — recorded in the wake of 2016’s Brexit vote in the United Kingdom — is as bleak and angry as ever. “B.H.S.,” for instance, is a seething yet brilliantly insightful examination of global wealth inequality. Musically speaking, Fearn’s rhythms largely remain skeletal, raw and maniacally repetitive. That said, he does lob a few welcomed curves, including “Messy Anywhere,” which pivots on an eccentric art funk beat. –Justin Farrar

8938946_500x500K.Flay, Blood in the Cut (Remixed)

After electronic DJ Aire Atlantica remixed K.Flay’s alternative title track, two other electronic DJ’s, Ojivolta and Awoltalk, created remixes that now compile the 3-track EP. The original song has an ever-present bass chugging at a steady beat that each DJ changes to create their own unique sound. Aire Atlantica keeps the original beat but distorts the bass guitar and uses downtempo electronic production while Ojivolta increases the tempo and trades the bass for an electric guitar, adding various tempo transitions throughout the track. Awoltalk’s remix starts off mellow and gradually builds to an upbeat tempo that uses electronic piano instead of bass guitar, giving the track a fun, feel good vibe. —Jazmyn Pratt