This week in new releases: Mariah goes back to the ’90s, Neil Young goes back to the ’40s, Ben Frost pushes into the 31st century, and Owen Pallett and Sharon Van Etten bleed their souls onto paper — all that plus the return of Close Lobsters, the best jangle-pop band you’ve never heard of.
Sharon Van Etten, Are We There: On her stunning fourth LP, Sharon Van Etten is still not quite comfortable in love, nor is she destroyed by it. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Brian Howe says:
Sharon Van Etten proves the adage that slow and steady wins the race. The saying describes the tempo of her music as well as her incremental improvement. Each new album is a little bolder than the last, though the songs remain built around the consistent core of her electric guitar — dirty, slashing, skeletal and yet somehow tasteful — and her impressive voice, which covers the whole range between fragile and formidable. The latter reigns on this astonishing fourth album, which casts a monumental shadow over her back catalog and handily replacing 2012 breakthrough Tramp as her best.
Neil Young, A Letter Home – Neil Young pairs with Jack White and Third Man Records to offer a lovely, affecting, scratched-out collection of covers pressed directly to vinyl in a 1940s-era phone booth.
Mariah Carey, Me. I Am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse: Mariah Carey tosses caution to the wind and travels back to her early days. Says Maura Johnston:
Me. I Am Mariah is a fun, confident album that showcases Carey’s influences and ability to serve as influencer. It opens with “Cry.,” a slow-burn ballad that inevitably builds to her voice reaching its highest peaks. But from there, she travels back to her early days of listening to gospel music and George Michael (her faithful cover of his heart-wrenching “One More Try” is gorgeous) as well as her time on the radio in the ’90s (the drowsy “Dedicated” samples the Wu-Tang Clan’s shout-out to her on “Da Mystery of Chessboxin’”) before landing in the present day (“Supernatural,” which features cameos from her kids, has glittering synths and a slow groove).
Owen Pallett, In Conflict: An obliquely confessional, emotionally intense and occasionally frightening set of avant-pop. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Winston Cook-Wilson says:
The best section of the album is its cool center, where Pallett eschews the rest of the album’s electro-pop trappings in favor of two brooding, largely percussion-less art songs. “Chorale” is full of moody synth-French horns, shades of David Sylvian and “The Passions” resembles an Amnesiac outtake, complete with Pendereckian waterfalls of dissonant strings. Some of the more straightforward tracks like “The Secret Seven,” which recalls Hats-era Blue Nile, and fierce rocker “The Riverbed” are also carefully crafted and potent. Overall, In Conflict succeeds at its goals; Pallett followed up a sweeping orchestral score of an album with an obliquely confessional, emotionally intense and occasionally frightening set of avant-pop.
Ben Frost, A U R O R A: The Icelandic producer fine-tunes a sound that’s all his own. Zach Kelly says:
Ditching the “traditional” instruments of his previous efforts like 2007′s ruminative Theory of Machines and 2009′s slyly feral By the Throat, Frost’s music now feels unencumbered, relying on electronics to create monolithic peaks and dark, fathomless troughs. Taking everything from black metal textures to futuristic synth work to fried bits of noise, A U R O R A is an encompassing, sometimes overwhelming experience.
Peanut Butter Wolf and Charizma, Circa 1990-1993: The definitive collection of Peanut Butter Wolf’s output with the late MC Charizma. Nate Patrin says:
It’s one of the biggest what-ifs in underground hip-hop: What if Charizma, the young, slick MC with the command and bravado of prime LL, hadn’t been murdered a week before Christmas ’93? Would his production partner, Peanut Butter Wolf, have become a go-to beatmaker for the rap underground instead of redirecting his attention to a curatorial mode and founding Stones Throw? Would they have become cult favorites akin to their West Coast alt-rap peers the Pharcyde?
Hundred Waters, The Moon Range Like a Bell: An enthralling follow-up from the slightly alien bards of our post-digital global village. Marc Hogan says:
Though opener “Show Me Love,” made up only of frontwoman Nicole Miglis’s layered vocals, has a spiritual tint that recalls 19th-century staple “Down in the River to Pray,” the theme is humanistic — the stuff of Robyn and Robin S. — and the a cappella is only a studio construction. With fellow singer Samantha Moss no longer in the group, Miglis’s nuanced lilt is the main constant, and she ties together the cinematically foreboding “Cavity,” the rave-squiggled “[Animal]” and the pulsing slow jam “Innocent.”
Pell, Floating While Dreaming: New Orleans young rapper, easily melodic and light-footed, obviously influenced by Drake. Guest spots by Dent May and Boldy James.
David Lang and Anonymous 4, love fail: The latest from the Pulitzer Prize-winning David Lang finds him revisiting some of the sonic territory of his 2007 work The Little Match Girl Passion with the vocal group Anonymous 4. Read Justin Davidson’s interview with David Lang here.
OBN IIIs,Third Time to Harm: Austin garage-rocker Orville Bateman Neeley III’s sorta-eponymous project returns with another relentlessly chugging Stooges-inspired set.
Close Lobsters, Kunstwerk in Spacetime: New Close Lobsters! Cult-beloved jangle-pop act returns for their first pair of tunes since 1989. It’s not a lot to go on, but listening to them now, you could have fooled us that this wasn’t a vintage-era recording. The wry atmosphere understated grace are all there.
Mohammed Fairouz, Poems & Prayers: The third symphony from the promising 26-year-old American composer Mohammed Fairouz, a work that explores the conflicts in the Middle East through the lens of its poetry.