New This Week: The Walkmen, Regina Spektor & More

J. Edward Keyes

By J. Edward Keyes

on 05.30.12 in Spotlights

Here’s what we’ve got this week!

The Walkmen, Heaven: This is today’s big winner. The Walkmen return, bigger and bolder and more assured than ever before. It’s Highly Recommended, and Peter Gerstenzang says:

If you want to know why your smartest, most iconoclastic friends speak in hushed tones about The Walkmen, check out the opening track of their new album Heaven. In five minutes, this band seemingly sums up rock history, referencing doo wop, “The Duke Of Earl,” folk-rock and Lou Reed’s street poetry. All crowned by Hamilton Leithauser’s winsome croon. This might explain all the fuss. Still, Heaven isn’t pastiche, despite betraying its influences. Take “The Witch.” Sure, the organ icily echoes Elvis Costello circa ’78. But here, Leithauser’s brings his very own romantic anomie. “It starts like this,” he sings, “A kiss is just a kiss.” Which introduces the overarching theme of the record: Love, man! Love so right. Love gone wrong.

Regina Spektor, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats: Everyone’s favorite Russian-born piano-playing singer-songwriter returns. Pat Rapa says:

This is not the album where Regina Spektor breaks free of that “quirky” tag. There are too many playful tics (she’s sort of a homeschooled McFerrinite when it comes to puff-cheeked drum sounds) and impish impulses (if anybody can get away with saying “Bronxy Bronx,” it’s her). And “Oh Marcello” — which calls for a Super Mario Italian accent in the verses, then steals the chorus verbatim from “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” — yeah, that one’s particularly insane. But, as we’ve come to expect from the Russian-born, classically trained, Bronxy Bronx piano player, What We Saw From the Cheap Seats is whipsmart and breathtakingly gorgeous.

Sun Kil Moon, Among the Leaves: Onetime Red House Painters frontman is back with another batch of ruminative acoustic numbers. This album is a bit more explicitly self-referential than he’s been before, with some pretty pointed references to past career highlights. Mike Wolf says:

Attention younger folks: All that really happens as you grow older is you learn to roll with everything better. Just listen to the gently undulating “Sunshine in Chicago,” from Sun Kil Moon’s fifth album — Mark Kozelek barely breaks stride or even distinguishes the good and bad from the mundane as he drily lists observations in his fine-grained, road-weary voice: “My band played here a lot in the ’90s when we had/ Lots of female fans…Now I just sign posters for guys in tennis shoes.”

Laurel Halo, Quarantine: This is one of my favorite records of the spring. Guazy, eery, mysterious, this gets the big ol’ Highly Recommended. Here’s Laura Studarus with a rundown:

Halo coaxes a stark beauty out of her cascading ones and zeros, and Quarantine‘s tension and character stem from Halo’s juxtaposition of moments of disquieting minimalism with her all-too-human voice. Prime example: “Thaw,” which begins with a sentimental synth refrain that’s paired with Halo’s Nico-like warble — hesitations, missed notes and all. She loops her vocals on “Years” to create a breathy choir, but for most of the record they’re left unadorned, sitting naked at the front of the mix, the masterpiece-defining chip in an otherwise elegant sculpture.

St. Etienne, Words and Music By…: The spiritual sister to the Allo Darlin’ record? Long-running indiepoppers are back with a record that examines how ones relationship to music changes over the years. Laura Studarus says:

“I didn’t go to church, I didn’t need to,” Saint Etienne vocalist Sarah Cracknell murmurs on “Over the Border,” the first song on Words and Music by Saint Etienne. A beatific spoken-word recollection of how a fascination with Peter Gabriel’s house sparked a lifelong obsession with music, the song ends with a desperate query, “When I was married/ And when I had kids/ Would Mark Bolan still be so important?” The London-based trio teases out the answer to that question over Words and Music‘s 13 songs. It’s a concept that could have easily devolved into a tiresome exercise in nostalgia, but Saint Etienne sidestep navel-gazing, framing their recollections against a glittering patchwork of dance music, Brit-pop and electronic textures. The result is an album about a near-sacred love for music that’s worth falling in love with.

Ladyhawke, Anxiety: Ladyhawke returns after an eternal hiatus with a record that sounds bigger and bolder than its predecessor. Barry Walters says:

Anxiety retains the synths, hooks and beats that link the multi-instrumentalist to fellow ’80s celebrants Little Boots, Annie, Robyn, La Roux, Goldfrapp and Lady Gaga, and she’s even polished her vocal skills. But this time around, her guitars rock a little harder while her influences span decades. The slinky solo snaking through the instrumental break of “Black White & Blue” buzzes like Eno-era Roxy Music even as the keyboards suggest Sparks’ “This Town Isn’t Big Enough for the Both of Us.”

Scissor Sisters, Magic Hour: Onetime disco revivalists branch out into electro and R&B on this new record. Ashley Melzer says:

After spending three records exploring the expanses of disco and pop, the Scissor Sisters are changing their tune, moving the cabaret dramatics that have long informed their music and live show toward a less nostalgic sound. On Magic Hour, instead of wearing ’70s influences on their sparkly sleeves, the Sisters tiptoe toward R&B and electronic music. The shift is in part thanks to co-producers, German electronic producer Alex “Boys Noize” Ridha and Scottish DJ/producer Calvin Harris, whose past work accounts for some of the album’s genre-hopping and synth-heavy breaks.

King Tuff, King Tuff: Bruised-knuckle guitars and pouty vocals are at the fore of this debut from one-time Happy Birthday member King Tuff. This is some great, ragged, super bratty stuff, and if you’re a fan of Ty Segall, Jay Reatard and the like, you’ll like this as well. Recommended

Small Faces, Small Faces: Highly Recommended debut album from classic London modsters apply rock attitude to soul classics and invent an entire genre in the process.

Various Artists, Oh, Michael Look What You’ve Done: Compilation of covers of long-overlooked folk journeyman from the ’60s and ’70s. Peter Blackstock says:

When recent reissues cast new light on early Chapman works such as Rainmaker and Fully Qualified Survivor, fellow artists across generations took note. And so, alongside hauntingly beautiful renditions by some of his contemporaries from the old days — most notably Bridget St. John’s “Rabbit Hills” and Maddy Prior’s “The Prospector” — there are contributions from younger artists who came across Chapman’s work much more recently, including Meg Baird’s mesmerizing take on “No Song to Sing” and Hiss Golden Messenger’s epic exploration of “Fennario.”

Grass Widow, Internal Logic: To get it out of the way right at the gate: this one is Highly Recommended. Dreamy trio vocals glide over rickety guitars, as if Lush decided to moonlight as a Raincoats cover band. The contrast between dreamy vocals and ruthlessly spare instrumentation is irresistible.

Nice Face, Horizon Fires: The great HoZac records is blowing our minds once again, this time with a batch of drone-style heavy lidded garage-psych — doomy rhythms, monster-movie organs and howling vocals. Recommended

Rayon Beach, This Looks Serious: Another soon-to-be HoZac classic, this one a lot louder and more ragged than Nice Face — clattering, rowdy, loose, scuzzy, fun and Recommended

White Lung, Sorry: Keep it nasty with this collection of 900-mile-an-hour ragers from Vacnouver’s White Lung. This thing never slows down — it stays nasty and snarling, lots of big, barbed guitars and nasally vocals. Recommended

Marissa Nadler, The Sister: I have long held a soft spot for Marissa Nadler. I’m a sucker for anything that’s spare and spooky, and Nadler does that better than most. The Sister has got Nadler’s trademark curling-smoke eeriness, which is just as bewitching as ever. Recommended

The Intelligence, Everybody’s Got it Easy But Me: Another barnburner from the Intelligence; split-second guitars, bare-knuckle percussion and dry, conversational vocals.

Cadence Weapon, Hope in Dirt City: Cadence Weapon is Rollie Pemberton, onetime Pitchfork writer and longtime MC. He’s got a great, wry, laid-back delivery and his productions favor old school, crackling boom-bap style with a few flashes of hi-tech futurism.

Dawnbringer, Into the Lair of the Sun God: Philly hard rock/metal band favor the sound of classic metal, pairing rip-roaring guitars with craggy vocals and lean, hooky choruses. So legit it should come packaged in a denim jacket.

Dave Sumner’s Jazz Picks
Small drop this week, but some quality albums that should make it a nice week of music listening. Let’s begin…

Mole, What’s the Meaning?: Quartet of guitar, keys, drums, and bass. Modern jazz that skirts the edges of fusion, but has a sound more aptly comparable to that of electronics-driven jazz like the Esbjorn Svensson Trio. Driving rhythms, dramatic melodies, guitar heat melting keyboard icicles that hang suspended in space. Nice stuff.

Federico Casagrande, The Ancient Battle of the Invisible: Outstanding guitar-led quartet (w/vibes, drums, bass). On guitar, Casagrande likes to ride the crests of waves rather than dive down and swim furiously beneath the water’s surface. Jeff Davis, on vibes, works wonders as Casagrande’s counterpart, keeping a furious pace yet never stepping over anybody’s toes. Plenty of heat, but it’s the serene interludes that make the session. Pick of the Week.

Fulvio Sigurta & Claudio Fillipini, Through the Journey: Beautiful duo recording of trumpet and piano. One pretty tune after the other, unblemished even when they mix it up a bit. Sparse and serene in that ECM sort of way, but none of the nearly-ambient/new age leanings… jazz, with perhaps a modern classical touch here and there. Quiet late nights or rainy afternoons, this is the album you want to be playing through the speakers. Highly Recommended

Chris Greene Quartet, A Group Effort: A friendly smile of an album. Quartet date, with bandleader Greene on sax. Greene plays straight-ahead jazz, but shows some versatility in how the quartet reflects it. Tunes that can show a face of groove and funk, others that show an inkling of rocking out, others that bring Latin motifs… and it all works nice together. Recorded live, some of that edge-of-the-precipice excitement of live shows comes through on this album. “Shore Up” and “Stat” bring a nice meditative vibe to pieces. Recommended.

Pearl Django, Eleven: Gypsy jazz ensemble that’s been around for nearly 20 years, changing cast along the way, and transitioning from solely performing the music of Django Reinhardt to composing their own hot jazz style music and original compositions. Very likable album, and it’s been a few months since I rec’d something like this, so here you are.

A couple more Black Lion Vault releases hit today. A Dollar Brand (aka Abdullah Ibrahim) live trio album from 1965 and Mal Waldron album dated in the early-70′s.