Excellent week for great new indie records, starting with:
Two takes on the sun’s ascent bookend Muchacho with yogic serenity. They’re a primer to the fuzzy emotional place where Houck finds himself. His trademark warble starts out shrouded in soft electronic beats and yearning violins (“Song for Zula”). Then he plays to old strengths, letting lonesome lap steel cozy up to the piano and make room for a swells of horns (“Terror in the Canyons (The Wounded Master)”). There’s a hint of that old spiritual hunger, “so holy and wasted like a prayer in the wind” (“A New Anhedonia”). But even when our ragged guide is facing up to mistakes, the music meets him with tenderness (“Down to Go”).
Low, The Invisible Way – The beloved, long-running trio’s latest is “their most sanguine in over a decade,” according to Sam Adams:
The measured tempos and fragile harmonies of the Duluth, Minnesota, trio Low — core couple Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker plus bassist Steve Garrington, who joined in 2008 — have often concealed turmoil beneath their placid surface. But their 10th album, The Invisible Way, is their most sanguine in more than a decade, less tempestuous than 2005′s The Great Destroyer and resolving the marital tensions of 2011′s C’mon. Decamping from their own recording studio for producer Jeff Tweedy’s digs, they’ve made an album that feels more suited to the inside of a church than those they’ve actually recorded in one.
Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia – The unconventionally brilliant/brilliantly unconventional indie-rock guitar virtuoso crafts the statement of her career. Our own J. Edward Keyes writes:
The first song on the fourth record from Marnie Stern is called “Year of the Glad” — a nod to Infinite Jest as well as a declaration of its theme — and crests with Stern yelling, “Everything’s starting now.” For a second it feels likeThe Chronicles of Marnia is going to be an album about rejuvenation — about letting go of the things that trouble you and kicking open the door of the dark house to let the sunshine pour in. And then the next song starts, and before long Stern is shouting, “The fear creeping in, and I am losing hope in my body.” So it goes throughout Chronicles, a breathtaking spiral of sound that fizzes and pops like a pinwheel of fireworks. It’s not only Stern’s best record, but one of the best of the year to date.
Justin Timberlake, The 20/20 Experience - Pop’s reigning do-no-wrong boy wonder returns from his long hiatus. Barry Walters writes:
“He’s so talented he can do anything!” That’s the gist of what’s typically said about Justin Timberlake, and for the most part it’s absolutely true. He’s an exceptionally nimble and unfettered singer/dancer, an extraordinary mimic with a drummer’s sense of timing. These gifts have helped him tremendously in comedy as well as drama, and despite the increasing maturity of his music and acting pursuits, he hasn’t let go of his ample boyish charm: This ex-Mouseketeer, ex-’N Sync-er still radiates mischievous yet all-American fun … These are the stats that have empowered Timberlake to make a supremely — and, at times, foolishly — confident 20/20 Experience.
Anais Mitchell, Child Ballads – “One of today’s most creative and authentic rising songwriters,” as our own Laura Leebove calls her, returns with a collaboration with Jefferson Hamer to “interpret and modernize seven of the 305 English and Scottish ballads collected by Francis James Child in the late 1800s.” Leebove writes:
Their collection is short, sweet and intimate, with little more than acoustic guitars and vocals telling the tales of an ill-fated sailor, a quick-witted sister, and disapproving parents. (If you thought your in-laws were trouble, listen to “Willie of Winsbury” and “Willie’s Lady,” where you’ll meet a king who orders her daughter’s lover to be hanged, and a witch mother who casts a spell on her son’s pregnant wife.) Mitchell and Hamer have recorded accessible, American-folk renditions of these centuries-old songs, a fitting addition to the countless modern artists — among them Joan Baez, Nickel Creek, even Fleet Foxes — who have who have passed them on throughout the years.
Suede, Bloodsports: There is no way I’m ever calling this band “The London” Suede, so you can all go straight to hell right now. Suede are back! This one is more triumphant-sounding than they’ve been in the past — huge choruses and Brett Anderson’s fantastic, keening voice. I saw this band in the UK on one of their 2010 reunion shows and they were spectacular.
Conquering Animal Sound, On Floating Bodies: ALRIGHT!! Man, do I love this band. Their last record, Kammerspiel, was one of my favorite surprises. I didn’t even know a new record was on the way but, man, am I glad it’s here. This one sounds a little nastier than the last one — the vocals a bit sharper and tougher, the electronic production a bit more stammering and stuttery and arty — fewer soft curves, more sharp angles. I am excited to spend more time with this.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Specter at the Feast: Former merchants of gloom return with a record of crisp, bright rock music. Most notable is their cover of The Call’s bright-eyed “Let the Day Begin”; Robert Levon Been is the son of Call frontman Michael Been, who passed away two years ago at a BRMC show.
Alice Smith, She: A pretty radical reinvention for Alice Smith. The onetime smoky, jazzy R&B singer gets glossier and poppier without sacrificing any of her trademark warmth and emotion. The result is a confident soul record with gilded edges.
Simone Dinnerstein & Tift Merritt, Night – The singer/songwriter and beloved classical pianist come together on record for an unlikely but fruitful collaboration. Peter Margasak writes:
Self-taught Americana singer-songwriter Tift Merritt and Julliard-trained classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein would hardly seem likely collaborators, but the rapport and cross-hatching of styles they achieve on Night sure makes it seem like they were destined to work together. The album’s stark beauty and seamless flow owes part of its success to the decision of Merritt and Dinnerstein to keep the work modest in scale and free of conceptual baggage. There’s a feel to the collection that harkens back to the sheet music era, when folks entertained themselves in their parlor room and playing songs rather than listening to records or the radio. Together they make transitions between some of Merritt’s most translucent balladry: Billie Holiday’s “Don’t Explain,” Bach’s “Prelude in B minor” and Johnny Nash’s indelible “I Can See Clearly Now” seem not only effortless, but also logical.
KEN Mode, Entrench – Brutal, sharp and zero-fat hardcore/noise rock from long-running Canadian trio. Jon Wiederhorn writes:
Over the past decade, Winnipeg, Canada’s KEN Mode — who took their name from Henry Rollins’s acronym for Kill Everyone Now (as detailed in his book Get in the Van) — have evolved from a bracing hardcore metal band into something more experimental and complex. The band’s fifth album, Entrench, is their most inventive yet, matching raw musical gristle and asymmetrical acrobatics with unexpected sonic flourishes, from the scribbling violins of the opening cut “Counter Culture Complex” to the undistorted arpeggios and pensive piano of the closer “Monomyth.”
Call of the Void, Dragged Down a Dead End Path: New, nasty, grindy stuff on Relapse. This Colorado group is adept at all the things that make grind great — the larynx-wrecking vocals, the avalanche of percussion, the oil-drill riffs. Perfect loud music for warm weather.
Dur-Dur Band, Vol. 5: Another home run from Awesome Tapes from Africa. This one is from Somalia’s Dur-Dur band, who land somewhere between highlife and what we’ve all come to (incorrectly!) term Afrobeat. There are popcorn rhythms and tangled-up guitars and beaming, jubilant vocals, and the whole damn thing is RECOMMENDED
And So I Watch You From Afar, All Hail Bright Futures: Irish art rock band return with another knotty, tumultuous effort. Complicated song structures, full-body rythms and plenty of prog-like lurch for those who like their music dense and tricky.
Batillus, Concrete Sustain – Doom metal with a groove. Jon Wiederhorn says:
The 2011 debut full-length from New York’s Batillus, Furnace was crushing, oppressive, bleak and morose, one of the top dark horse doom metal albums of the year. Not content to remain within those parameters, the band has undergone a facelift for its new album Concrete Sustain. In addition to an abundance of trudging, mid-paced riffs played on densely distorted guitar and bass, Batillus have built a framework of counterpoint rhythms that provide tension and contrast: Grinding, whirring industrial samples abound, as do textural washes of feedback that border on the post-rock nihilism of Neurosis.
Thalia Zedek Band, Via – Zedek returns with another one of her signature knotty, pleasing, and distinctive solo records.
Colleen Green, Sock it To Me: I’m a pretty big Colleen Green fan, I have to admit. Her latest doesn’t stray too far from all of the things she does best: the Casio still sounds like it was nicked from a garage sale, the guitars are tinny and fizzy and her voice is soulful and searching. Her knack for sugary hooks is what pulls the whole project together — if you are charmed by rickety indiepop as much as I am, this one’s for you.
Inter Arma, Sky Burial: Thick, murky, ashen and doomy, this is the sound of the walls closing in and hell coming to claim its sons. It’s got plenty of long, hammering passages, but also incredible moments of beauty — acoustic guitars and moody synths — making for a fascinating record that grips from beginning to end.
Tomasz Stanko, Wislawa – Excellent new record from Polish jazz eminence. Peter Margasak writes:
The veteran Polish trumpeter Tomasz Stanko has long been a reliable and rewarding source for jazz of smoldering intensity. He’s a deeply lyrical, probing player whose investment in free jazz is real, but he’s consistently couched his most “out” explorations in a brooding elegance. Over the last decade or so he’s made a series of gorgeously meditative and quietly scalding albums for ECM with rhythm sections half his age. While he continues to keep a residence in Warsaw, for the last five years he’s also kept an apartment in New York, fostering relationships with younger American players. The magnificent double album Wislawa is the first fruit of those new collaborations.