New This Week: Dum Dum Girls, Peggy Sue, Habibi & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 01.28.14 in Spotlights

First things first: RIP Pete Seeger, the one-man curator and protector of the American music tradition and the full and best and purest embodiment of the protest movement. The legacy he leaves behind is proof of a life lived well and true.

And with that, this week’s new releases:

Dum Dum Girls, Too True: I love this band so much. Their evolution over the last three records has been a thrill to watch, as Dee Dee has gradually stepped out from behind the reverb haze to emerge a confident and clear-eyed songwriter. While Too True doesn’t have the emotional ballast of Only in Dreams (still their best effort in my estimation), it is certainly a strong entry into their catalog. It is HIGHLY RECOMMEDNED. Barry Walters says:

Too True is Dee Dee Penny’s third album with veteran producer Richard Gottehrer, and it’s also the third significant refinement to her sound. Unlike 2011′s Only in Dreams, which dealt with the pain of her mother’s death with boldly extroverted music, Too True turns inward. It’s still full of pensive, guitar-driven pop, but it’s not as immediate as its predecessors, and its catchiest moments occur in ballads that shift’s Penny’s focus from a lamented “you” to a contemplative “I.” Behind its Jesus and Pretenders Chain exterior lies a subtle singer-songwriter joint.

Peggy Sue, Choir of Echoes: The evolution of this band has been amazing to me. They were pretty straightforward when they started, writing sorta folk-inspired (albeit pretty hectic) songs that were pleasant but kind of unremarkable. Then came 2009s stunning Acrobats, that had all the fury and tension of PJ Harvey’s Rid of Me. Acrobats eases off the shadow somewhat, but it’s still a grand, imposing record. They talked about it with Sharon O’Connell. Of this RECOMMENDED record, Hilary Saunders says:

It’s a compelling reinvention, and even the hardest left turns on Choir of Echoes showcase the band’s strengths. Young and Slade’s harmonies have always carried the band, and on songs like “Come Back Around” and “Two Shots,” the chilling, reverberating “ahs” and “ohs” evoke the symbolism of the album’s title. On lead single “Idle,” a foreboding ballad about unemployment, and “Longest Day of the Year Blues” they prove they remain as powerful when they strip out the effects. “How Heavy The Quiet That Grew Between Your Mouth And Mine” leaves Young and Slade’s voices completely bare, their lines weaving around each other’s like an Appalachian folk song.

Habibi, Habibi: Excellent self-titled debut from this Brooklyn band arrives courtesy of our good friends at Burger Records. Bouncy, defiantly, no-frills guitar pop with spindly riffs and bounding, jubilant vocals. This one is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Barry Walters says:

There’s mystery in their minimalism, however, and it leaves plenty of space for lead vocalist and bandleader Rahill Jamalifard. Raised in Detroit by Iranian-American parents, she sometimes alludes to her Persian background in song, like in “Persepolis,” an atypically strummed near-ballad written about her grandfather living outside the famed historical ruins. The sugar-lipped protagonist of her Twist-ready “Detroit Baby” is unambiguously a dude, but mostly she sings about other women, and does so with words of observation, admiration, bemusement and maybe even love.

Angelique Kidjo, Eve: The latest from Angelique Kidjo — on which she gets assists from Vampire Weekend’s Rostam Batmanglij, Dr. John, the Kronos Quartet and many others — is, by Kidjo’s own description, a book of stories about women. Musically, it’s full of the same simmering Afropop on which she’s built a formidable career, with her voice front-and-center, the frenetic arrangements simmering underneath. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and read the feature Richard Gehr wrote on Kidjo for us, in which she explains the album’s origins.

Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here: The latest from Laura Cantrell, this time made up mostly of her own songs. We were lucky enough to host a song premiere not long ago; here is the full-length from which that came. Annie Zaleski says:

The major difference this time around is that Cantrell has largely written the bulk of the material on the record, either by herself or with co-writers (a list that includes Franklin Bruno, Sam Bisbee and Camera Obscura’s Traceyanne Campbell). The result is a series of neatly wound vignettes touching on cheeky gender relations (the sturdy jangle rocker “All the Girls Are Complicated”), soldiering through life despite disappointment (the gentle ballad “Letter Never Sent”) and mustering up the confidence to persevere despite obstacles (the Neko Case-like sparse closer “Someday Sparrow”). Musically, the rest of No Way There From Here is just as exquisite: The record’s crisp folk and country accents — all plucked banjo, woozy pedal steel and brushed drums — enhance Cantrell’s unflappable, faintly twangy delivery.

Algebra Blessett, Recovery: I loved Algebra Blessett’s 2008 album Purpose; This one sounds just as strong. Blessett writes R&B that’s firmly in the late ’90s mold — strong, assured vocals striding through relaxed, occasionally opulent arrangements. This is rich, confident R&B, and it’s RECOMMENDED.

Morgan Delt, Morgan Delt: Heady psych-pop from L.A.’s Morgan Delt. Full of heady, beautiful psych pop, this one is RECOMMENDED. Evan Minsker says:

He has an ear for odd moments: A bleak, minimal void opens up in the center of “Little Zombies,” two persistent bass notes cutting through empty space and Delt’s vocals echoing back on themselves until his words are unrecognizable. Across the record, Delt explores a variety of tones — dystopian raga, garage-rock urgency, 1960s studio-wizard beauty. On “Beneath the Black and Purple,” he grounds the album’s more far-out moments with firm, stomping percussion and a fuzzy, scrappy hook typical of the early Kinks. It’s an adventurous album and is, to date, the greatest psychedelic triumph from Trouble in Mind Records, which is really saying something.

Bitch Prefect, Bird Nerds: I loved this group’s last record so much. Bitch Prefect specialize in a kind of loose, slacked-out take on indie rock — like a lazier Lucksmiths, maybe, but way more rickety and falling-apart-at-the-seams. The guitars are spindly and the vocals are kinda wet-cat sad-sack, and the whole thing is so incredibly charming. One of my favorite young bands. RECOMMENDED

Tara Jane O’Neil, Where Shine New Lights: A nearly ambient LP from Chicago-born, Portland-based Tara Jane O’Neil, also known for her excellent work in Retsin and Rodan. Barry Walters says:

On her seventh solo record, she concentrates on her greatest virtue: her facility with delicate instrumental textures. She’s still singing, but her voice, now softer than ever, is no longer front and center. Instead, it’s more of a choral accompaniment to her gentle guitar figures, which are fleshed out by supporting musicians on violin, piano, and vibraphone. Drenched in reverb and sustain, these largely electric but typically pastel shades fill the sonic spaces like watercolors washed over paper.

Cities Aviv, Come to Life: Memphis rapper Cities Aviv returns with a dark, panicked record, one that blends elements of minimal electronic music with Aviv’s punchy, throaty delivery. There’s a kind of computer-melting-down-vibe going on here — in its best moments, it’s like Death Grips’ younger brother rapping inside an arcade in 1987.

Actress, Ghettoville: Actress’s latest is a pared-down pitch-shifted series of textural exercises. Says Abby Garnett:

Now four albums into the project, Cunningham has morphed into a craftsman of gritty grayscale miniatures, which he uses here to describe a decaying cityscape (the album title reprises his 2008 debut, Hazyville.) While he throws the club a few bones here, on churning techno cut “Frontline” and the aquatic thumper “Gaze,” Ghettoville is predominantly a pared down, pitch-shifted series of textural exercises, as alluring for the experimental set as it is devoid of DJ-friendly fare. “Rims,” which devolves into an insistent click track, pushes sonic deconstruction to near-hostile levels, while the warped slow jam “Rap” slyly acknowledges that Cunningham once described his music as “R&B concrete.” As a piece of sound art, it’s finely drawn and intermittently seductive, but Ghettoville has the effect of further obscuring its creator’s intentions.

Mello Music Group, Mandala Vol. 1: Polysonic Flows and Mandala Vol. 2, Today’s Mathematics: If you’ve been around here for any length of time, you know how we feel about Mello Music Group. One of the few consistently reliable hip-hop labels in the business, Mello delivers time and time again. They didn’t put out a single bad record in 2013, and I’m pretty excited to see what the new year holds for them. In the off-chance you’re not wise to what they’re up to, this pair of compilations is the perfect entry point. Bleary productions, tough, clever rhymes and personlity to spare. Both of these are HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mt. Royal, Mt. Royal: Many years ago, there was a great band called Love Life, fronted by Katrina Ford, that proffered tense, gothy music punctuated by sudden, noisy freakouts. That band, sadly, was short-lived. Then, a few years after that, there was a band called Celebration, also fronted by Katrina Ford, that was even tenser and noisier and more coiled. They were also great, and the music this time is spookier and moodier and more ethereal, and I am hoping against all hope that they will not be short lived, because come on already. RECOMMENDED

The Lawrence Arms, Metropole: The first new album from long-running punks in eight years, Metropole is full of piss and vinegar, roaring riffs and ragged-throated vocals, but tempered with a keen melodic sensibility. The choruses are built to be shouted along with, jubilant refrains for fist-in-the-air enoyment.

Quilt, Held In Splendor: The second set from Boston trio Quilt. Laura Studarus says:

Friends swing by, bringing their saxophones, violins, cellos, steel guitars and effects pedals with them, and that spectrum of instrumentation brings new possibilities. In addition, Anna Fox Rochinski, Shane Butler and John Andrews all trade lead vocal duties this time, and the varied voicings helps maintain interest throughout the album as a whole.

Gaslight Anthem, B-Sides: Great Expectations indeed. I really loved this band’s first two records, but they might need to take some time to dream things up again. Major label debut Handwritten kinda landed with a wet splat, and I’m concerned Brian Fallon only has like four or five chord structures that he just keeps rearranging. This collection of B-sides, live cuts, acoustic versions and covers (including one of “State of Love and Trust,” aka the best Pearl Jam song) should tide everyone over while the band figures out what its next move is.

The New Mendicants, Into the Lime: Teenage Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Joe Pernice of the Pernice Brothers joined to make music for the soundtrack of a Nick Hornby film adaptation, and ended up with this album. What’s the over/under on it containing heartbreakingly pure tenor voices and harmonies that sparkle like sheets of stacked ice? Anyone? Johnny Sharp says:

On “Follow You Down,” a lovers’ death pact is contemplated in positively romantic terms, to gently lilting piano. “Shouting Match” is about a quarrel that “started out as a lovers’ spat, now it’s World War III in a third-floor flat,” as cloud-surfing harmonies are offset by grungy guitar. The combination of downbeat subject matter and uplifting music is a trick they keep pulling off: “If You Only Knew Her” and “High On The Skyline” recall Simon & Garfunkel, and “Sarasota” is a softly-sung tale about a “dirty foundling” dreaming of free booze and a better life — even if that might be in the afterlife. They even fold a little black humour into the mix with the fuzzed-up “A Very Sorry Christmas.”

Farewell Dear Ghost, We Color the Night: Farewell Dear Ghost is the nom de gloom of 24-year-old Australian Philipp Szala. Colour is stacked with lean, melodic pop songs that wouldn’t sound out of place on midday FM radio. Moody, synth-soaked atmospheric ballads add a bit of darkness to the proceedings.

Kaumwald, Hantasive: Some great, stuttery, spooky, glitched-up electronic music on Opal Tapes, which moves from morse code chattering to big, bottom-heavy drones to weird, digital afterlife static. In other words: something for everyone!

Sleepy Sun, Maui Tears: Latest from doom-psych maestros sounds like Black Mountain unleaded. Or un-Led-ed? Life’s big questions. Guitars swirl like smog clouds, and the vocals are bleary and baleful, as if wrangling visions from another world.

David Crosby, Croz: This guy. I dunno, man. This kind of stuff is not my jam. Maybe it’s yours. Barry Walters says:

Like his previous work with his late-’90s/early-’00s band CPR, Crosby fourth solo album in more than 40 years showcases his son, skilled pianist James Raymond, who steers the album in the winding direction of Hejira, the 1976 disc by his dad’s former paramour Joni Mitchell: Unfettered and self-released, Croz is similarly more jazz than rock, driven more by piano than guitar, and far more meditative than it is commercially minded.