Jenny Lewis, The Voyager: The former Rilo Kiley frontwoman may sing of darkness, but she’s never shone brighter than on her third solo LP. Barry Walters says:
Lewis tackles heavy material throughout, but there are moments of levity. The lyrics to the wistful “Late Bloomer,” sung in the first person about a three-way fling Lewis apparently experienced in Paris, ironically undercut the title: Lewis is only 16 in the song. “Is this the beginning of our vacation/ Or is it the end of our relationship,” she asks in “Aloha & the Three Johns,” but the song’s mood is bouncy, and the sound is pure power-pop. These are her fullest arrangements ever — guests include Lou Barlow, Benmont Tench, the Watson Twins and First Aid Kit — yet no one upstages Lewis.
Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, Hypnotic Eye: Tom Petty’s discontent-fueled determination to keep pushing forward is why his new work with the Heartbreakers remains so vital. Maura Johnston says:
On Hypnotic Eye, Petty’s 13th album with the Heartbreakers, his depictions of American life on the fringes of hope are more fleshed out than usual, and the emotions experienced by each song’s characters, from the talisman-collecting antagonist of “Red River” to the confused-by-the-world observer of “Shadow People,” are heightened by his band’s cool, almost off-the-cuff musicianship. Hypnotic Eye is fluidly, expertly played by Petty and his longtime musical companions — particularly lead guitarist Mike Campbell, whose precisely placed licks and minimalist solos serve as a Greek chorus to his bandleader’s more acerbic observations. The easy, bluesy feel of earlier Heartbreakers albums is still present, but on Hypnotic Eye it is sharpened to a fine point, with tracks like the chugging “Power Drunk” and the self-lacerating boogie “Fault Lines” serving as particular standouts.
Shabazz Palaces, Lese Majesty: Excellent, psyched-out hip-hop from a master of the form. Nate Patrin says:
As a lyricist, Palaceer Lazaro interweaves familiar signifiers, hustler truisms and pop-culture namedrops into deeper meanings with layers upon layers. On “#CAKE” — which, per the opening refrain, Butler both has and eats — Baba Maraire’s beats swirl around and subsume Lazaro’s voice, so that he hides in plain sight. The album coalesces into gorgeous boomin’-system ambient (“Dawn in Luxor,” “Noetic Noiromantics”) and spot-welded 808 funk (“Forerunner Foray,” “The Ballad of Lt. Maj. Winnings”) that wraps spacious, melodic and percussive minimalism around a dense core of bass. A deep meditation that’s finely tuned and humane, Lese Majesty manages to be both insightful and enigmatic while still blowing your hair back.
Albert Ayler, The Albert Ayler Story: First things first – if you somehow missed Kevin Whitehead’s excellent piece on the history of Ayler’s Spiritual Unity, you should change that immediately. This epic four-hour comp from ESP-Disk gathers up all the AA you’d ever need.
Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, Cold World: Excellent slow-burning gospel music from the queen of the genre. This album is parked right at the intersection of soul and spirituality, and the results are smoking. Katy Henriksen interviewed Naomi for us just a few days ago.
Hooray for Earth, RACY: More fantastic, pummeling synth-guitar epics with a sure sense of melody and a knack for grand, imposing instrumentation.
Soft Walls, No Time: Wonderfully woozy psych from the always-excellent Trouble in Mind. Soft Walls are a little more experimental than the label’s typical fare; there’s lockstep drum machines and a healthy amount of dissonance, making for a record that nods toward goth more than garage. RECOMMENDED
Krakatau, Water Near a Bridge: Another unlikely pick for Trouble in Mind, Krakatau specialize in ghostly, droning psych and ambient music. All of the songs here clock in well above the 10-minute mark, and all of them are eerie mood pieces designed to unnerve.
Wreckless Eric, Le Beat Group Electrique: Reissue of Wreckless Eric’s excellent 1989 album that puts a premium on British Invasion-style melodies, but delivers them at a dorm room budget. Obviously, this is excellent and HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Wildest Dreams, Wildest Dreams: The cultish and revered DJ Harvey does what comes naturally. Sharon O’Connell says:
There are echoes throughout of Steppenwolf, Love, Santana, Quicksilver Messenger Service and (especially) the Doors, and the whole is evocative of a particular filmic landscape — a pre-Starbucks California where chrome Choppers are forever burning down molten highways toward a Malibu sunset, and everyone is hanging out and getting high. Its contemporary rock attitude pulls it back from the precipices of homage and pastiche. A creator of wild dreams Bassett may be, but he knows how to direct them.
Eric Clapton & Friends, The Breeze: My feelings about Clapton have been well-documented, but since this is a compilation of JJ Cale covers to honor the memory of that worthy songwriter, I will spare you my snark. Lots of duets. Wanna guess whether or not one of them is with John Mayer?
Fela Kuti, Finding Fela: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack: I’m a pretty big Fela fan, but I worry we’re starting to hit Fela saturation. This is a collection of this songs featured in the upcoming movie about his life. A good starting point if, somehow, you haven’t gotten into Kuti’s great music yet.
Blessed Feathers, Order of the Arrow: Psych-addled country from this Wisconsin duo. Plenty of banjo-driven folk pushed delightfully off-kilter by weird, mirage-like haze.