New This Week: St. Vincent, Beck & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 02.25.14 in Spotlights

St. Vincent, St. Vincent: The latest from St. Vincent is a confident and oft-surprising collection of rock songs. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED. Amanda Petrusich says:

Clark is justifiably tense about modern times (about the possibility that existence has become too performative, that we’re mediating all of our experiences via one screen or another) and in “Digital Witness,” she sings dryly about those collective approximations of reality: “People turn the TV on/ It looks just like a window,” she shrugs before adding a winking (and flatly spoken) “Yeah.” Meanwhile, in “Huey Newton,” her voice creeping into falsetto, she eviscerates “the shrine of zeroes and ones” over a guitar riff so throbbing and chunky it feels like it must have been recorded in a garage. Clark’s shredding is always a fine counterpoint to the delicacy of her vocals, and that juxtaposition is particularly fiery here, where both her playing and her singing are the best they’ve ever been. As such, St. Vincent is an especially vivid encapsulation of our particular time and place: of all the things we share, and all the things we can’t.

Beck, Morning Phase: Beck’s 12th album is a new beginning, in more ways than one. Barry Walters says:

Morning Phase may be delicate, but it’s not all subtle. Beck reigns in his tendency to distance himself from his own material, and the melodies, along with their thickly harmonic renderings by many of the same musicians who supported him on Sea Change (including his own dad, string arranger David Campbell) are dazzlingly strong, earnest and assured, as if this time around, they couldn’t be any other way.

Morrissey, Your Arsenal: Anniversary reissue of what is, in this writer’s opinion, Moz’s best solo record still sears and scorches. Produced by Mick Ronson, David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars sidearm, Your Arsenal is Morrissey at his rowdiest, loaded with race car riffs and full of rock and roll swagger. The loudest moments are the best, but the ballads are also among Stephen Patrick’s most finely-wrought. “We’ll Let You Know” is surprisingly tender and heartbreaking, and “I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday” has practically become his “My Way.” HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Wild Beasts, Present Tense: Achieving more with a whisper than a shriek. Barry Walters says:

While the thunder of their earlier records proved these guys possess the emotional and musical force to follow in Muse’s arena-rock shoes, their fourth album suggests they’d rather embrace minimalism alongside James Blake and the xx. Their quietist yet most fervid effort yet, Present Tense simmers with a passion that threatens to boil over at any moment, one that’s richly romantic yet clear-eyed in ways from which arty rock bands ordinarily shy.

Special Explosion, The Art of Mothering: Fans of classic Built to Spill, take note: this is about to become your new favorite band. Sharing that same fondness for merry, elastic guitar lines and soft, high-arcing vocal melodies, these Seattle kids (all under 21!) have made a record that is tuneful and knotty at the same time. RECOMMENDED

Thalia Zedek, SIX: After a welcome reunion with her beloved ’90s band Come, Thalia Zedek cranked out this brief EP that has all of the sparse, haunting power for which her solo work has become known. Guitars jut upward like bare tree branches, and Zedek’s voice sounds like a strange mystic speaking dark truths from the great beyond.

Jackson C. Frank, Fixin’ to Die: Jackson C Frank is one of the most painfully overlooked songwriters of the 1960s. His life was marked by unthinkable trauma: as a child, he survived a school fire; his lone album, recorded by Paul Simon, vanished into obscurity (despite containing “Blues Run the Game,” one of the finest folk songs ever written). As an adult, he wandered to New York, penniless and suffering from severe mental illness, where a friend found him living on the streets. He died in 1999 in relative obscurity. This compilation gathers up 22 of Frank’s earliest recordings from the ’60s and early ’70s.

Yellow Ostrich, Cosmos: The latest from Brooklyn’s Yellow Ostrich is inspired by Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series. Ryan Reed says:

With their latest LP, Cosmos, indie-rockers Yellow Ostrich have made their space-rock album, but mostly in a thematic sense: Inspired by astronomer Carl Sagan’s 1980 PBS series, these prolific Brooklynites wrestle with life’s unsolvable mysteries, gazing in awe at the night sky for answers. Here’s the strange part: Instead of chasing the expansive sonic blueprint of, say, Pink Floyd or Gong, Yellow Ostrich have actually pared back their guitar-heavy style, with frontman Alex Schaaf exploring his more reflective side over trance-y riffs and minimal programmed percussion.

Neneh Cherry, Blank Project: Neneh Cherry’s first solo set in 18 years is abstract and direct, personal and political. Barry Walters says of this RECOMMENDED new record:

Blank Project is all about Cherry’s restless presence, her streetwise inflections, her uniquely international diction, the way, at 49, this Swedish-Sierra Leonean woman who’s lived in Stockholm, London, New York and elsewhere still sings as if she’s a pre-teen singing secrets to herself while skipping rope in a city park. Produced by Four Tet, Blank Project was recorded and mixed in five days and accordingly sounds — to paraphrase Cherry’s biggest album — rawer than sushi, as if the fish were still alive, as if the music is still being made while you’re listening to it, as if she’s still dreaming it up as it moves from her lips to your ears.

The Woodentops, Granular Tales: The first new Woodentops record in 25 years! In the ’80s, The Woodentops mined the same jangle-pop territory as bands like Aztec Camera and the Monocrhome Set, pairing sparkling guitar melodies with dour, matter-of-fact vocals, landing several singles on the UK charts. On Granular Tales, they sound just like they used to, writing beautifully droll Britpop for those, like yours truly, whose hearts still melts for that kind of thing.

Golden Donna, II: Alright!! The last Golden Donna outing, on Not Not Fun, was a huge favorite of mine. This new one, on NNF Imprint 100% Silk, is just as woozy and free-form. I love the kind of delightfully reckless approach to electronic music all of the artists on 100% Silk seem to have, and Joel Shanahan of Golden Donna is no different. You can dance to these tracks, but they’re also loaded with buckets of sonic muck that keep them from being overly “oontz”-y or accessible. This is one for those who like their dance music on the weird side, and it’s RECOMMENDED.

DVA, Nipomo: We were lucky enough to be able to host a track premiere from the latest album from Czech Republic duo DVA. Now, the full-length has arrived, and it’s just as fascinating and beguiling as that track let on. Really fascinating sound design — the rhythm track on “Surfi” is a loop of ping-pong balls bouncing off a table — coupled with curling, elfin vocals and throbbing, oblong arrangements make this one of the year’s most intriguing releases. RECOMMENDED

In Aeternam Vale, “Machine À Laver / Ultrabase,”: Great new 22-minute single from French doom-clubbers In Aeternam Vale on the always-excellent Minimal Wave label. The A-Side is a fantastic slice of claustrophobic drone; the B-Side is a great, thumping bit of electrogoth.

The Wounded Kings, Consolamentum: Truly walloping doom metal from these UK shadow-dwellers, Consolamentum combines the gut-rumbling drop-tuning of legends like Electric Wizard with the acid-fried vocal melodies of neo-revivalists like Royal Thunder. This one is instantly addicting, another batch of bleak hymns for the misanthropic among us. RECOMMENDED

Schoolboy Q, Oxymoron: The L.A. rapper’s major-label debut is more filler than future. Says Jonah Bromwich:

Q’s sound with Top Dawg Entertainment often dulled the edge on regional production cues, but the opening third of Oxymoron shows comfort with classic West Coast signifiers. “Gangsta” is classic riding music, minor key menace and bass thump. “Los Awesome,” featuring TDE compatriot Jay Rock, rides the dirty gearshift-synth that Dr. Dre used to such effect on The Game’s The Documentary. Kendrick shows up on “Collard Greens” with some helium-voiced Spanish, over the eerie whines that have defined G-funk since The Chronic.

Death Vessel, Island Intervals: Joel Thibodeau’s first release since 2008 shows a clear evolution from his time away. Catherine P. Lewis says:

His new album, Island Intervals, shows one result of his hiatus in its richer sound, courtesy of Alex Somer’s Icelandic studio. Thibodeau’s lilting falsetto sounds as airy and innocent as ever, but he’s expanded his neo-folk instrumentation, and the soft backing vocals on “Mercury Dime” and the intense percussion on “Velvet Antlers” make Death Vessel sound more like a collaborative band than the solo project feel of his earlier albums. Island Interval‘s first single, “Ilsa Drown,” is a duet with Jónsi, and the two countertenors intertwine to conjure up a spritely fantasy world.

The Notwist, Close to the Glass: We are a long way off from Neon Golden. The new one from the Notwist is also their most experimental in a while; Martin Gretchmann apparently remixed his bandmates’ playing on the fly, stretching out sounds as they made them and turning tranquil songs rubbery and loose. The mad energy translates to the final record, which feels unbridled and unpredictable.

Milagres, Violent Light: Latest from this Brooklyn group is quietly anthemic — which is not as much of a contradiction as it sounds. The songs pulse and surge, but they never feel heavy-handed. When they open up into big, arena-ready choruses, it’s like a bird gently swooping up into the air.

Bleeing Rainbow, Interrupt: Noisy, riotous indiepop with an emphasis on aggressive, amped-up guitars. The group’s fourth record is also their noisiest, but the clamor is offset by sugar-sweet melodies at the center.