New This Week: The Black Keys, Swans, Chromeo, Sylvan Esso & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 05.13.14 in Features

The Black Keys, Turn Blue:
These guys are back. Lenny Kaye says:

The new Black Keys album is titled Turn Blue, but it might well be called How the Blues Turn. The group’s evolution over the last dozen years has proved to be a narrative of continual reinvention, of how to expand their sound while remaining true to the initial impulses that turned them into a band in the first place. And while the bedrock duality of Dan Auerbach’s guitars and Patrick Carney’s pound-for-pound drumming still provides the starting point for their songs, they’ve hardly locked themselves into a formula. Each album has its own reason for being, and none more expansive than this, their eighth full-length.

Swans, To Be Kind:
Swans return. Still spectacular. This record is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Grayson Haver Currin says:

“One thing I want to point out right now: This is not a reunion,” Gira wrote in 2010, announcing the return of Swans. “It’s not some dumb-ass nostalgia act. It is not repeating the past.” Sure, that idea was evident on both My Father Will Guide Me up a Rope to the Sky and The Seer, very good albums that worked to find new ways to sound like some conception of Swans. But To Be Kind is the first time this new iteration has been its own untethered beast, charging ahead for two-plus hours with no apologies or concessions. To Be Kind thrills in and with discomfort: radical dynamics and collapsing rhythms, uncompromising runtimes and repugnant sentiments. Swans squeeze pleasure from pain here, or at the very least, empty every ounce of sweat and decibel of energy into that effort.

Amen Dunes, Love:
One of my favorite records of the year. Mystical, expansive psych-folk with startlingly beautiful vocal melodies, Love keeps on revealing new layers with each listen. It sounds like it was recorded in the middle of a field, mist settling down all around. I cannot recommend this record strongly enough. Andrew Parks talked to Damon McMahon, the man behind Amen Dunes, about his fascinating life in this piece. This album is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Young Widows, Easy Pain:
Another great, bludgeoning slab of post metal from this long-running, unfairly-overlooked band. This record is mighty, sledgehammer guitars and searing vocals, at times matching the energy and intensity of early Swans. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Tori Amos, Unrepentant Geraldines:
Tori’s return to form. Katherine St. Asaph says:

Unrepentant Geraldines is her attempt at relatability. It’s practically a retcon, the adult-contemporary affair you might imagine Amos gracefully maturing into after Scarlet’s Walk. It’s immaculately produced, from the reverb on her Bösendorfer to the shivers in her voice. There’s plenty of Americana, both in sound and theme. There are some of Amos’s most gorgeous moments in years — the fluttered echoes in Southern-gothic “Trouble’s Lament,” the harmonies that cloud “Oysters”‘ like breath on a window, the moments in “The Weatherman” where the floor falls from beneath the melody.

Michael Jackson, Xscape:
Perhaps you have heard of him? Second posthumous MJ record. The lead single, “Love Never Felt So Good,” sounded like an Off the Wall outtake, and was way better than most people expected it would be. The rest of this sounds all over the map, with some mid ’90s-sounding R&B and some thumpier numbers that sound almost contemporary.

Chromeo, White Women:
Knocking the Canadian electrofunk revivalist duo for being cheesy is missing the point. Rich Juzwiak says:

White Women is moderately more lush (check the sumptuous strings on the slick closer “Fall Back 2u” or the lovely piano/synth ballad “Ezra’s Interlude,” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig) and daring (“Sexy Socialite” is briskly paced new wave, and thus barely danceable) than previous Chromeo albums. But the more they change, the more they resemble the past work of other people — the lovely Solange duet “Lost on the Way Home” has slow, throbbing synths a la the ones Giorgio Moroder gave to Berlin for “Take My Breath Away,” and chord progression is nearly identical to Solange’s own “Lovers in the Parking Lot.” References to the Doobie Brothers, Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love,” Yaz, and Italo disco cult jam “True Love” by NOIA seem intentional, and part of the fun of listening to Chromeo is playing Spot the Reference.

Little Dragon, Nabuma Rubberband:
More bright, sprightly electropop anchored in soulful, R&B-inspired vocals.

King Dude, Fear: I love this record so much, I put it in Heavy Rotation, where I wrote, “Fear is powered by a grinding electric guitar and that the King’s croon has been scuffed up to full-growl.” His fiercest and darkest work to date. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mirah, Changing Light:
Mirah’s first solo LP in five years visits every emotion on the post-heartbreak spectrum. Megan Seling says:

It’s clear that Mirah’s sorting through some dark shit. A goat slits a shepherd’s throat in the embittered, percussion-heavy opener “Goat Shepherd”; there’s a vulnerable pining in the horn and synth-laced “Turned the Heat Off”; and in the first line of the borderline-sadistic “24th St.” she croons, “Honey, I don’t wanna treat you bad, but I’m gonna leave you,” before emotionally manipulating the subject to stick around and make dinner anyway. But just before we start to wonder if she’s going to be all right, she reassures us that she’ll survive, we all will, by ending Changing Light with the breezy, carefully optimistic pop song “Radiomind.”

Iamsu!, Sincerely Yours:
Heartfelt spoken-word pieces woven through minimal, dreamy production. Matthew Ramirez says:

Su is frequently a contradiction: an album-oriented artist who works best on singles, a guy with real presence on the mic but whose raspy, unassuming voice hides clever bars. His first commercially available record, Sincerely Yours, is a document of this tense dynamic, instead of the perfection of it. Heartfelt spoken-word pieces are woven through minimal, dreamy production, fulfilling rap’s current need to make every album a statement. This cohesive, novelistic approach works to varying degrees of success, and it ultimately plays like the wide-eyed, optimistic flipside to YG’s ambitious My Krazy Life.

Geronimo!, Cheap Trick:
Ever since we premiered a track from this album a few weeks ago, I’ve been more or less obsessed with it. Top-velocity rock & roll with clever lyrics that are alternately hollered and sung. Like if the Hold Steady were 20 years younger and grew up on Knapsack. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Chain & the Gang, Minimum Rock & Roll:
The legendary Ian Svenonius and the year’s best album title deliver the kind of rickety scuzzbucket rock & roll on which he built a reputation. We’re going to call it ’50s DIY. We’re also going to call it RECOMMENDED

The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Days of Abandon:
The Pains return with an album of bright, confectionery indie-pop, with a greater focus on melodies and clean, streamlined arrangements. They went through a lineup shakeup recently; John Everhart discusses that with them in this interview. As for the album, it’s RECOMMENDED

Sylvan Esso, Sylvan Esso:
I really, really love this album. Amelia Meath from Appalachian folk group Mountain Man and Nick Sanborn from Megafaun team up for a record that recalls the bubbling dance pop of groups like Purity Ring and CHVRCHES. RECOMMENDED

Agalloch, The Serpent and the Sphere:
Man, do I love this. American metal band serve up another helping of punishing metal with an emphasis on atmosphere and mood. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Ned Doheny, Separate Oceans:
This reissue of Doheny’s three ’70s albums is yacht rock at its most soulful. Barry Walters says:

As the liner notes to this collection of highlights from his three ’70s albums plus demos and alternates points out, Doheny’s strongest shot at a commercial breakthrough, 1976′s Hard Candy, hit the market only three months after Boz Scaggs’s Silk Degrees, which “filled Columbia’s white-soul smash quota.” Like Scaggs, Doheny mixes the smooth with the sublimely syncopated, although sometimes via melodies that extend beyond what he can comfortably sing: The evidence is in his previously unreleased reading of “What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me,” which he fumbles slightly.

Dark Matter, Dark Matter:
Super intriguing new record from the excellent Siltbreeze. Stephen Cogle’s vocals are theatrical and crooning, and the music around it is alternately tense and lush. Think of Scott Walker circa Scotts 1 – 4 sitting in with the Fresh & Onlys. RECOMMENDED

Douglas Dare, Whelm:
Similar in tone and sound to the above, Whelm also skews operatic, but it’s prettier and more polished, Dare’s voice often accompanied by piano or spare, clicking electronic rhythms.

Cretin Stompers, Looking Forward to Being Attacked:
We premiered a track from these HoZac Records maniacs not long ago. What we said then — “tough glam swagger, tripped-out psych guitars and a bruising, Thin-Lizzy vocal” — is still true today. RECOMMENDED

NONES, Midwestern Family Values:
It’s a Hozac two-fer today! Clawing post-punk, wailing sax and panicked, hollered vocals make scattered moments of this recall the violent desperation of the Birthday Party.

La Sera, Hour of the Dawn:
The ex-Vivian Girl vaults over late-’00s fuzz pop cliches. Beverly Bryan says:

The Nancy Sinatra-meets-Wipers album opener “Losing to the Dark” switchblade-deflates a self-involved rocker boyfriend with lyrics like “Why don’t you write another song about how fun you are to drink with at the bar?” Other highlights, like the love-dazed rock ‘n’ roll ballad “Running Wild,” aim for weak-kneed, big-haired romance. The tales of reckless youth expand into anthems that could soundtrack a millennial remake of Rumble Fish or The Outsiders.

Cheap Girls, Famous Graves:
Their name implies roaring garage rock, but this Michigan band actually practices an earnest, melodic strain of power-pop, with loose guitars and pleading vocals.

Cousins, The Halls of Wickwire:
Bruising, guitar-driven with a vaguely psych edge. Vocals are drowning in echo, the rest of it hammers and wobbles and zooms in and out of focus.

Tobacco, Ultima II Massage:
Black Moth Super Rainbow record goes completely bananas on this third solo album. Heavy synths, distorted-beyond-recognition vocals, punch-you-in-the-cranium percussion. A big, overwhelming box of violence.

Dolly Parton, Blue Smoke:
I’m pretty sure most people would be on board with a Dolly Parton late-career renaissance. Blue Smoke probably isn’t it, but it is full of sturdy, sunny country music that occasionally veers toward straight pop (“Home”).

Mimicking Birds, Eons:
Emotive, deeply-felt rococo indie pop that at times matches the mood and tone of mid-period Shearwater.

Various Artists, I Saved Latin! A Tribute to Wes Anderson:
Various indie luminaries join forces to cover songs featured in Wes Anderson films to varying results.

Lee “Scratch” Perry, Back on the Controls:
Perry is reunited with the vintage recording equipment he used decades ago. Ian Gittins says:

At the age of 78 he seemed a busted flush, which is why it was such an inspired idea for modern British reggae producer Daniel Boyle to reunite Perry with the vintage recording equipment on which he wrought miracles in his Black Ark studio before burning it to the ground in 1983. Sitting at an analog mixing desk and surrounded by reel-to-reel tape machines and his legendary Mu-tron Bi-Phase phaser pedal, Perry remembers here what it is that he used to do so brilliantly. Manipulating faders and FX pedals and adding hoarse, enjoyably contrary vocals to all-new lolloping tracks such as Rastafari “On Wall Street” and “I Believe,” the original Upsetter serves up a labyrinthine, sporadically mesmerizing masterclass in simultaneously old-school and futuristic dub reggae. It could only be Perry — and this late in the day, it’s far better than we have any right to expect.

Down, Down IV Part II:
Even more bruising and ambitious than its predecessor. Jon Wiederhorn says:

Tough-guy vocalist Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Superjoint Ritual) and guitarist Pepper Keenan (Corrosion of Conformity) are both steeped in hardcore and thrash, and while Down are neither, the contempt and energy of both genres inform their songwriting. The group is now the main creative vehicle for both Anselmo and Keenan, with both devoting more time to Down now than they did when it was a side project. The care is evident: The nearly-nine-minute sludge rocker “Bacchanalia” and the eight-and-a-half minute pupil-dilator “Conjure” burn slow and steady with trudging, shape-shifting rhythms.