New This Week: Damon Albarn, Life Without Buildings & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 04.30.14 in Features

This week, Damon Albarn goes solo, Wye Oak goes synth and The Pixies go terrible.

Damon Albarn, Everyday Robots:
The Blur frontman mixes the old and rootsy with the new and digital. Barry Walters says:

Some people just get more real and revealing when they’re at the end of their rope, and it seems that happens to Albarn on Everyday Robots. “We’re everyday robots on our phones/ In the process of getting home,” are the weary words with which he opens the album, and they’re set to a drudging piano ballad that flushes with strings and clink-clonking percussion that evoke Chinese classical music, as if modern man’s electronic portables were haunted by the ghosts of the factories where they’re manufactured.

Wye Oak, Shriek:
The Baltimore band bypasses conventional synthpop for more introspective, individual territory. Barry Walters says of this RECOMMENDED release:

Perhaps it was inevitable that Wye Oak wouldn’t be the same after singer Jenn Wasner cracked open the dance-pop Pandora’s box with her other duo, Dungeonesse. Now, Wye Oak is a very different proposition: Wasner is still in Baltimore while Andy Stack recently settled in Marfa, Texas. On their fourth album, Shriek, they roll with the changes in their lives by accentuating them. For one, Wasner put down her guitars and switched to bass: In fact, aside from some growling feedback on “Paradise,” there are few of the guitars that previously situated Wye Oak somewhere between shoegaze and indie folk. In their place are far more keyboards, and although Stack still plays a drum set on most cuts, synthetics now typically trump organic sounds.

Life Without Buildings, Any Other City:
One of the greatest rock records of the ’00s, bar none. Sue Tompkins’ vocal delivery is matchless, and the way her words tumble across the loose jangle of guitars is 100% unfettered joy. Read our oral history of the record to learn more. This one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Bikini Kill, The First Two Records:
Classic. Pure fury, with grimy, guttural punk riffs and the peerless wail of singer Kathleen Hanna. To listen to this is to hear the next 20 years of punk music in one spellbinding package. As fierce and tough as ever. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Fennesz, Bécs:
Latest from Austrian experimentalist veers from moody and melodic to stark and imposing. Fennesz uses repeated patterns of sound to beautiful effect, soothing one moment, unsettling the next, and rounds out all songs with his gentle, deeply-felt guitar work.

Ex-Cult, Midnight Passenger:
One day the whole world will wake up to what a great band Ex-Cult is, and you can say you got there first. Hammering riffs and wild-eyed, Mark E. Smith-style hollered vocals make this one of the year’s most visceral, ruthless releases.

The Pixies, Indie Cindy:
Well, at least they didn’t do it for the money. Brian Raftery says:

Because this is the Pixies, and because you will listen to this album multiple times, trying to find a way in, you will end up thinking about Indie Cindy a lot. You’ll wonder how Black lost his jones for thoroughly crackity, unapologetically weird lyrics, and instead wound up with bad poetry-slam one-liners like “Look out for that hot plate/ guess that’s all you got — great!” — just one of several beguilingly awful verses from the album’s title track. You’ll marvel at how much the disjointed, unpleasant “Bagboy” recreates what it’s like to stand at the center of a big-field music festival and hear three mediocre dance-rock bands playing at the same time. And you’ll wonder if songs like these are why Kim Deal split, and blame her for not doing more to prevent them.

31Ø8, 31Ø8:
Trouble in Mind always delivers insistently melodic music with a few rough edges. Their latest is no exception: apparently, this was an anonymous submission to the label. It fits their aesthetic perfectly, with warped synths and toothy guitars wrapping around sugar-sweet melodies. Like if Kraftwerk were a power pop band. RECOMMENDED

Klaus Johann Grobe, Im Sinne der Zeit:
Another new one from Trouble in Mind, this is different from their usual fare. The lyrics are entirely in German, and the musid mines that country’s rich rock history. Think krautrock and Stockhausen and you’re on the right track.

Pink Mountaintops, Get Back:
Stephen McBean goes for full-on glitter-rock scumminess. Steven Hyden says:

The vacuous riffs and coked-out howling of one-note psych janglers like “Through All the Worry” (one of two tracks featuring J. Mascis on guitar) and “New Teenage Mutilation” are intended to evoke damaged starlets and puke-strewn streets. But as the title of “The Second Summer of Love” suggests, what really seems to be driving Get Back is creative exhaustion. Pink Mountaintops may be no mere side project, but Get Back is certainly McBean’s most trivial record yet.

Ought, More Than Any Other Day:
Jittery post-punk with twitching guitars and busted-box percussion. The songs are full of sharp edges, and have the same freewheeling panic as Life Without Buildings. RECOMMENDED

Olga Bell, Krai:
Russian traditional music meets avant-garde classical, mutant disco, jazz fusion and IDM, from Dirty Projector Olga Bell. Winston Cook-Wilson says:

Olga Bell belongs to a cohort of indie musicians that work as composers, but her music refreshingly avoids the current clichés of music lumped into that category. If Krai directly interacts with any “art music” tradition at all, it is the plaintive, dissonant writing of 20th-century Soviet masters like Dmitri Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke. Bell’s idea of musical form resembles a classical composer’s more than a singer-songwriter’s; she eschews traditional verse-chorus based forms in favor of more integrated structures, where a melodic “theme” is developed and recast in different molds over the course of a movement. It’s primarily this element of Bell’s music that makes Krai, a work which draws from so many disparate musical idioms, a spectacularly well-unified and exceptional piece, instead of simply a pastiche of ear-catching ideas.

Sd Laika, That’s Harakiri:
Dirty and onerous music that intensifies grime’s chopped-up, futuristic beats. Abby Garnett says:

Runge’s music intensifies grime’s chopped-up, futuristic beats, exaggerating them into sudden thuds and hisses, often punctuated by abrupt full stops. Unlike anything you’re likely to hear on the dancefloor, tracks like “Don’t Know” constantly fluctuate between time signatures, taunting anyone who hopes to lock into a comfortable groove. “You Were Wrong” and the album opener, “Peace,” also incorporate bizarre-sounding harmonic progressions that travel in unexpected directions, like scuffed-up fragments of Satie pieces. Still, the word “grime” continues to evoke Sd Laika’s sound pretty well — it’s dirty and onerous music, the mix sounding just wet enough to stick to the walls of a darkened room.

Floor, Oblation:
I’m pretty into this one. Torche’s Steve Brooks indulges in some slow-moving sludge-rock, pairing bucket-of-tar riffs with his agonized, high-arcing vocals. Melodic metal with mercilessly gut-rumbling guitars. RECOMMENDED

Nels Cline Singers, Macroscope:
The Wilco guitarist crosses more stylistic boundaries than usual. Seth Colter-Walls says:

Inside an hour, you have the lounge-jazz meets distorted soloing of “Red Before Orange,” the Brazilian-influenced rhythms of “Respira,” and the abstracted party music of “The Wedding Band,” in addition to the power-trio stomping of “Canales’ Cabeza.” The record closes with the trio’s most experimental and winding pieces, such as the Sonic Youth-ish, gorgeously droning “Seven Zed Heaven,” and the musique-concrete rawk of “Hairy Mother.” By mixing all his paints, including some of the more conventionally attractive ones, this zig-zagging album sketches a maximalism that’s distinct in the guitarist’s large catalog.

Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate:
You know, I really like Wovenhand, and I’m not sure why more people don’t share that opinion. David Eugene Edwards has been making great, ash-covered apocalyptic quasi-Biblical doom rock since his days in 16 Horsepower, and each new record is full of bushels of fire and brimstone.

Old 97′s, Most Messed Up:
Tenth album from durable alt-country-ish band is looser and more revved-up than they’ve been in a while. The guitars are toothy, the rhythms taut and vocalist Rhett Miller belts out his lyrics like they’re the last he’ll ever sing.

Ramona Lisa, Arcadia:
Spoiler alert: Ramona Lisa is Caroline Polachek from Chairlift. Arcadia is full of breathy, synth-laden electro-balladry that’s both ethereal and occasionally icy (“Getaway Ride” sounds like a Minimal Wave band doing a Berlin cover.)

Blitz the Ambassador, Afropolitan Dreams:
Latest from Ghanaian-American rapper blends booming production that combines slight elements of Afrobeat with heavier elements of jazz for a final product that recalls the kind of sonic experimenting that was happening in hip-hop in the early ’00s.

Broken Twin, May:
Moody, contemplative songwriting from Danish songwriter Majke Voss Romme, May is full of spare ballads built mainly from muted piano and guitar that leave plenty of room for Romme’s fluttering alto.

Nat Baldwin, In the Hollows:
Olga Bell isn’t this week’s only release from a Dirty Projector. Winston Cook-Wilson on Nat Baldwin’s strongest and most intimate release to date:

There is a warmth and unaffected beauty to Baldwin’s album that is at odds with the pain of its lyrics — sometimes dull and obscure and, elsewhere, shockingly explicit. In some way all of the songs (Baldwin’s strongest and most intimate batch to date) address death and self-destructiveness. “A Good Day to Die” feels like the most personal meditation on these issues, a reflection on the difficulties of both dying and living well which culminates with the lines “If I knew that it would come to this I would do it again/ A good day to die is the only way I know how to live.”

Rodrigo y Gabriela, 9 Dead Alive:
Guitar wizards return with another record of guitar wizardry. Lots of nimble fretwork and intricately-braided guitar lines. If that’s your thing, you’ll be into this.

Various Artists, Sierra Leone in 1970s USA:
Another winner from the excellent Soundway label, this one assembles songs the African group Muyei Power recorded in the mid ’70s while on a tour of U.S. colleges (!) The songs are bright and limber and blend traditional Afrobeat with the unmistakable stretch and pop of funk. As with every Soundway release, this one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Survival Knife, Loose Power:
Justin Trosper from Unwound fronts this snarling post-punk outfit. The songs recall the edgier end of the Dischord catalog, with rudely-elbowing guitars and Trosper’s defiantly melodic delivery.

Pigeon John, Encino Man:
Funk-fueled hip-hop from LA rapper blends limber, bass-heavy production with his freewheeling flow. If you ever wanted to hear someone rhyme skillfully over Talking Book-era Stevie Wonder, this one’s for you.

Low Leaf, Akashaalay:
Vocalist Angelica Lopez, who records as Low Leaf, blends the dreamier end of world music with lithe R&B for a result that recalls the heavy-lidded globetrotting of recent Erykah Badu. RECOMMENDED

Brody Dalle, Diploid Love:
I loved the Distillers and have been pining for a Brody Dalle comeback for a while now. And here it is! Diploid splits the difference between robotic synth-fueled songs that sound like late-period Faint. (I could do with less of those.) and tough rockers that return Dalle’s inimitable snarl to the fore. (I could do with more of those.)

Ben Watt, Hendra:
One-half of Everything but the Girl takes on a contemplative, folk-tinged style on his second solo LP. Robert Ham says:

What surprises on Hendra is the darkness and rueful reflection that hovers over these 10 songs. He worries about keeping a grip on memories of the past, such as scattering his father’s ashes on “Matthew Arnold’s Field,” while trying to make peace with getting older himself. What Watt can’t seem to wrestle confidently with is the present: On “The Gun,” he offers an earnest but stumbling take on our culture’s firearms obsession, while “Young Man’s Game,” offers a self-deprecating look at his efforts to keep up with youth culture.

Doe Paoro, Ink on the Walls:
Doe Paoro has been playing around New York for a while now. On her latest EP, she continues to move away from the bare balladry that defined her early career into a more approachable mainstream pop sound.

Frameworks, Loom:
Chaotic riffing and throat-shredding vocals put this on the nastier side of emo. Songs build and collapse and stop and start, and the whole thing feels like one long, cathartic kicking fit.

Mystic Braves, Desert Island:
Do you like psych? LA band (who recently scored a gig opening for the Zombies) drop woozy organs and hallucinogenic harmonies over Strawberry Alarm Clock riffs for an appropriately trippy final product.

Triptides, Colors:
This is psych, too, but is even spacier than Mystic Braves. There’s a veneer of haze over all of these songs, causing them to go in and out of focus. Floats gently, like a multicolored boat down a weird neon river.

Autopsy, Tourniquets, Hacksaws & Graves:
The title says it all. More spiraling riffs and pissed-off growling from great California death metal band. The songs are a little more measured and controlled on this one, which makes their bite that much deadlier.

Wold, Postsocial:
My favorite album title of the day. I love Wold, but this band is not for everyone. Imagine black metal recorded on a cassette recorder. Then imagine playing back that cassette, cranking the volume on it all the way up, and then recording it using another tape recorder, with the condensor mic jammed right up against the speaker. Duh: RECOMMENDED