What we’re listening to: Trail of Flowers, Hyperdrama, Science Fiction and more

In this installment of What We’re Listening To, Engadget writers and editors discuss some of the recent music releases we’ve had on repeat. It’s safe to say there’s some variety on this list.
Sierra Ferrell – Trail of Flowers 
Sierra Ferrell seems almost like an anachronism in 2024, but in the best possible way. She has this effortless, old-timey country style that is at points reminiscent of the likes of The Carter Family or Flatt and Scruggs (her brilliant covers of songs once performed by the latter duo are permanently seared into my brain), and it’s just so refreshing. Trail of Flowers, Ferrell’s second studio album, toes a little further into a more modern sound, but it maintains this deeply Americana feel that just seems to roll off the West Virginia-born artist so naturally.
Country music isn’t just one thing, and neither is Trail of Flowers. It meanders through different flavors — folk, bluegrass, hints of jazz — but it manages to do so in a way that feels cohesive when it’s all taken together. The wistful “American Dreaming” and “Wish You Well” are offset by sillier, whimsical numbers like “I Could Drive You Crazy” or the deep cut cover, “Chitlin’ Cookin’ Time in Cheatham County.” Tracks like “Money Train,” “I’ll Come Off the Mountain” and “Lighthouse” are instantly catchy. “Why Haven’t You Loved Me Yet” and “No Letter” feel like classics in the making.

And then there’s the cheekily sinister, scorned-lover’s lament, “Rosemary.” It’s one of the songs that first got me hooked on Sierra Ferrell years ago, as I imagine is the case for a lot of fans who have followed Ferrell’s career since her busking days or her unforgettable GemsOnVHS performances. I was almost nervous to hear it on Trail of Flowers, with a full production, after loving the raw, stripped-down recording I’ve been replaying on YouTube for so long. But they’ve done a beautiful job of capturing that magic, and “Rosemary” may be my favorite track on the album. It’s hard to pick, though.
Castle Rat – Into the Realm 
Sometime early last year, I discovered something I didn’t realize was missing from my life: medieval fantasy doom metal. I was at a show at the gloriously trippy Brooklyn Made watching an opener ahead of the band I’d gone there to see, and unexpectedly found myself witness to an on-stage choreographed sword fight (well, there was a scythe involved too) between a woman in chainmail and someone wearing a hooded rat mask and lingerie. I’d already been enraptured by the band’s heavy, immersive riffs and the singer’s hypnotic 1970s-esque vocals, but in that moment, yeah, things really clicked into place. This was my introduction to Castle Rat, and it was a damn good one.
I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of their debut album ever since, and from the second it dropped last month — an LP called Into the Realm — I’ve pretty much been playing it on a nonstop loop. It would actually be embarrassing if you were to check the number of times I’ve listened to the album’s standout ballad, “Cry For Me.” It is a haunting, emotional song that really takes you on a journey and I’m a little obsessed with it. Into the Realm opens strong with the boppy “Dagger Dragger,” and some real heavy-hitters follow in tracks like “Feed the Dream,” “Fresh Fur” and “Nightblood.” “Red Sands” is a slow-building powerhouse, and I’ve even found myself loving the three roughly minute-long instrumental interludes that tie the whole album together.
Doom bands love a good theme (as do I), and we tend to see a lot of weed, witchcraft, science fiction and fantasy pop up throughout the subgenres that fall under this umbrella. Castle Rat definitely isn’t the first to have a shtick, but there’s a certain freshness to the band’s even more specific, self-described medieval fantasy brand, perhaps because they commit to it so hard. Their ‘70s and ‘80s influences are obvious, yet everything they’ve put out so far still feels original. Some people might find the whole thing gimmicky, but I think it’s working. Especially since they have the chops to back it up. I’m excited to see where Castle Rat goes from here.
Honorable Mentions:
Girl with No Face, Allie X— Another song I’ve been listening to an embarrassing amount these days is Weird World, off Allie X’s latest album, Girl with No Face. I somehow haven’t tired myself of it yet, it makes me go absolutely feral. Girl with No Face is full of synth-pop gems, like “Off With Her Tits” — a dancey, angsty anthem sure to resonate with anyone who has experienced dysphoria around their body image — “John and Johnathan,” “Black Eye” and “Staying Power.”

Club Shy, Shygirl — This is just a collection of straight-up bangers. It’s not even 16 minutes long, but it really hits. If you need an instant mood-elevator ahead of a night out, this album is it.
Stampede: Volume 1, Orville Peck — Orville Peck’s first release in his fringeless era is a duets album, the first part of which was released on Friday and features artists including Willie Nelson, Noah Cyrus and Elton John. I haven’t had much time to spend with Stampede: Volume 1 yet, but I’m into it so far. “Conquer the Heart” ft. Nathaniel Rateliff and “How Far Will We Take It?” with Noah Cyrus feel like they combine the best elements of Pony (2019) and Bronco (2022). Bronco came in two waves, so I expect we’ll see a Volume 2 for Stampede before long, too.
— Cheyenne MacDonald, Weekend Editor

Hannah Jadagu – Aperture
Whenever I hear the words “banger” or “bop,” I don’t think about artists like Taylor Swift. I think about the nebulous musical genre known as bedroom pop. Bop, after all, is right there in the name. Hannah Jadagu is a bedroom pop wizard of the highest order. Her first EP was made entirely on an old iPhone and still slaps, though she has since graduated to real recording studios. Jadagu’s latest full-length on Sub Pop, Aperture, is filled with both bangers and bops, and my favorite is the lovelorn “Say It Now.” Listen to this thing. It just may be the perfect pop song and is absolutely crying out for some road trip singalongs. The shoegaze-adjacent “What You Did” is another classic and would be at home on any decent summer playlist.
— Lawrence Bonk, Contributing Reporter
Justice – Hyperdrama
Justice’s first full-length release Cross from 2007 is one of my favorite albums of all time. Not only did it define the crunchy electronic sound of the blog house era in the late 2000s and early 2010s, it also felt like a new French duo had picked up where Daft Punk left off following 2005’s Human After All. Now Justice is back with its fourth album in Hyperdrama. But instead of being inspired by a specific genre of music like we heard in Audio, Video, Disco’s stadium rock tracks or Woman’s disco-fueled beats, this album feels more like the soundtrack to a moody sci-fi thriller, almost as if this is Justice’s alternate reality take on the Tron: Legacy soundtrack.

“Generator” is a certified banger and probably the song that sounds the most like classic Justice. “Neverender” and “One Night/All Night” are also highlights, though I think Justice may have leaned a bit too heavily on Tame Impala to give this album personality. “Dear Alan” delivers super smooth vibes and Thundercat makes a delightful appearance and finishes things strong in “The End.” 
The one thing I really miss is at least one truly danceable track like we got on all of the band’s previous albums. I also have to admit that some of the songs in the middle blend together in a less-than-memorable way. So while Hyperdrama isn’t the top-to-bottom masterpiece that Cross was a decade and a half ago, more Justice isn’t a bad thing.
— Sam Rutherford, Senior Reporter
Utada Hikaru – Science Fiction
Over the past few weeks, I’ve mostly been listening to songs from Science Fiction, the first greatest hits album by J-Pop artist Utada Hikaru. I’ve been a fan since they released their debut album First Love back in 1999, when people were far more likely to be weirded out by the fact that yes, you can enjoy music with lyrics in a language you don’t understand. Utada has been in and out of the J-Pop scene since then, and there were long stretches of time when I wouldn’t hear anything about them. Every new music drop is a gift, especially this album, since it’s tied to an upcoming concert tour, which they only do once in a blue moon.
Utada experienced a resurgence in 2022 when their songs “First Love” and “Hatsukoi” — which also translates to “first love” — were featured in a hit Japanese drama series on Netflix called (you guessed it) First Love. Those tracks are, of course, in Science Fiction, which also includes songs from various points in Utada’s career. 
The album will take you on a journey from when they mostly wrote R&B-inspired pop to an era when their music became more experimental, and it will introduce you to their current sound, which is both mainstream and unique. While some of the re-recorded versions of their older songs like “Traveling” don’t quite hit the mark, it’s still a good representation of who Utada is as a musician. As a long-time fan, though, this album isn’t just a collection of songs to me, but a collection of memories from different stages of my life.
— Mariella Moon, Contributing Reporter
Caroline Polachek – “Starburned and Unkissed”
There are a few reasons that “Starburned and Unkissed” stands out against the I Saw the TV Glow soundtrack, which is replete with not only beloved mainstays like Broken Social Scene’s “Anthems For A Seventeen-Year Old Girl” as well as other original songs from luminaries like Phoebe Bridgers and Hop Along’s Frances Quinlan. If cornered, I would say the most brilliant thing about “Starburned and Unkissed,” its greatest strength, is that it’s just a little too slow. 
Every note stretches and yearns with the impatience of adolescence, verges on running out of air, of snapping in two. Much like the scene of the utterly and equally brilliant I Saw the TV Glow it was written for, it captures the sleepy anxiety of a too-warm high school, overcrowded and isolating. The heaviness of its crushing guitars ebbs and flows unsteadily, mimicking the experimentation of callow hands. (It takes the second try on the chorus for the drums and guitars to all come in on cue.) 

It’s unstable, hopeful. Caroline’s voice — gently mangled by intentional autotune pitch shifts — falls out of key in the song’s last few refrains, threatening to derail the dreamy beauty of the past three minutes. It ends abruptly, begging for another listen, another return to a time that can’t be recaptured.
Honorable mentions:
“Lover’s Spit Plays in the Background,” Claire Rousay — Rousay’s sentiment is a perfect album for reading outside on an overcast day. I’m not sure I can pick a standout track, as the experience is really in letting the whole thing wash over you, but this one’s close enough.
“Stickers of Brian,” Hot Mulligan — Classic pop punk subject matter (“my job sucks and I hate everyone”) but my god what an earworm.
“On Brand,” Ekko Astral — Levels of snottiness previously considered unachievable. Hard not to love what a beautiful mess these folks make.
“Cometh the Storm,” High on Fire — Most of High on Fire’s 20+ years of output sounds like — and lyrically is probably about — an axe-wielding barbarian ripping a bong, or whatever other D&D nonsense they’re up to. (I say this lovingly. I adore High on Fire.) The title track off the new one is… unusually dirge-like? At first it felt very “old band showing their age” but it’s grown on me as an intentional and welcome change. They’re not off the hook for using AI for the “Burning Down” music video though. C’mon guys.
— Avery Ellis, Deputy Editor, ReportsThis article originally appeared on Engadget at https://www.engadget.com/what-were-listening-to-trail-of-flowers-hyperdrama-science-fiction-and-more-143052023.html?src=rss

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