Released in Japan and Korea last summer, we finally see a stateside release for the latest by etheral-voiced folk-popper Priscilla Ahn. Her folky, windswept voice is buoyed by layers of glistening reverb, muted guitars and shimmering synthesizers as she sings of ritualistic romance and wanders through a hazy world of intimacy. The production really stands out as fairly experimental and it is to Ahn's benefit. The record sounds intelligent and accomplished, truly an achievement for an artist who seems to be continually improving.
On this Deutsche Gramophon recording, Andre De Ridder conducts the Copenhagen Philharmonic in interpreting compositions by two composers who straddle the worlds of both classical composition and rock. Dessner plays with the National, while Greenwood plays with Radiohead, both play guitar, and both are attracted to building, repetitive motifs, taking full advantage of the intricate structures an orchestra can be both building and simultaneously dismantling throughout a composition. Dessner's pieces tend towards whimsy with light narrative percussion while Greenwood's tend to be more muscular with rhythmic elements dispersed throughout the orchestra. De Ridder, whose repertoire spans Bach to Weill to contemporary electro-acoustic concerns, approaches the material seriously and carefully and the orchestra does the same.
Adams's self-described "architectonic" post-minimalist pseudo-romantic compositions have always been natural vehicles for emotions built on a similar scale and with a similar methodology. In capturing historical events and the emotional networks with which they intersect, his layered compositions, now parallel, now intersecting, become stunning representations of the intersecting economies at the conceptual and narrative heart of his work. In his latest piece, a sort of follow up to his Nativity oratorio, El Nino , Adams returns to the broadly biblical, extrapolating the narratives circulating around Christ without the presence of the man himself. Explicitly a work about women and the injustices they experience, TGATTOM is a massive undertaking and Dudamel and his orchestra attack it with the fervor it deserves. Especially interesting is its central inclusion of the cimbalom, a roughly 600 year old hammered dulcimer, which cuts through the stratified melodies, rhythms, and narratives in a way that recalls a particularly cutting piano.
Hard to believe that WAS have been releasing records for 12 years but they HAVE. If you've been watching, you've witnessed a clever and variably earnest indie rock band produce bouncing anthemic indie-rock/nu-power-pop at a larger and larger scale, sometimes helping you dance, sometimes helping you mope. This is the music of a set of young New Yorkers that I mostly imagine hanging out in parks and toasting their own granola. They can make jokes as funny as yours and mine, but without all the swearing, which is harder than it seems. They can laugh at themselves and they can get serious, nodding to angular XTC-style guitar wrigglings before opening up into a half-time Pinkerton -era chorus or even the Cap'n Jazzings of their namesake. Full-fledged rock stars by now, the band's power-pop stop start, quiet loud dynamics are tighter than ever, they pick you up and you think they dropped you but they DIDN'T. They caught you in a fun place where you can see melancholy in the distance but you can't get to it because they're cradling you in their arms. Rather than use their undoubtedly larger budgets to be lazy and just layer on more guitars and plug-ins, the Scientists seem to be taking more time to make better songs, incorporating syncopated shredding into their fills and more complex harmonies and changes than ever before. The songs are more dense, and space-age keyboards sparkle in and out before opening up to almost Thin Lizzy style dual guitar harmonies, but it all seems to be working in the band's favor, bringing them closer to what seems like their admirable goal might be: making really good pop music.
This Georgia alt-country institution has, by now, proved themselves to be the hard-rocking intellectual Skynyrdites they've been swearing they are since day one. One of my favorite things about the DBTs is the playful structuralism that they enact with their unique brand of Faces-influenced Southern pummel. Rather than break the mold and throwing the rule book out the window (a la Wilco), these guys have always been about stretching what southern/country-rock can be to its limits without discarding their respect for the genre as an institution. It's kind of like basketball. If you could just hold the ball under your arm and run to the other end of the court or go into the crowd and mysteriously appear back on the court nearer the net, it would definitely be a crazy game, but it's a lot harder to dribble and pass and pay attention to the shot-clock and execute feats of brilliance within those constraints. Or even pizza. You put goat cheese and morel mushrooms on ANYTHING and it will be delicious, but you make me a plain cheese pizza with mozzarella and red sauce and have it blow my mind, much harder. With English Oceans , the DBTs have once again shown us that country-rock can be smart, dense, and ambitious without losing any of its raucous or plaintive twang and without losing any of its hometown pride, which can often incorporate stern looks in the mirror. The Van Zant & Van Zandt would both be proud and, somewhere, they probably are.
Long-running singer-songwriter Eleni Mandell has defined the independent artist aesthetic for the past 15-plus years, releasing glimmering folk-pop albums by herself and, recently, on indie label Yep Roc. Her latest studio album maintains that independent streak, but perhaps with a now-wider audience (and since it’s her ninth time out), Mandell has never sounded more confident than on Let’s Fly a Kite ’s sweet, sultry pop. Whether she’s playing the part of wayward mother or lover (“Put My Baby to Bed”) or ingénue longing for a husband (“Wedding Ring”), Mandell delivers carefully crafted, yet never overwrought, lyrics full of cinematic detail. Musically, Mandell’s voice is modest but not commanding, and so she dresses her songs with chamber pop touches like clarinet and organ, making songs like “Little Joy” wonderful to dive into and parse its interlocking parts, while the country shuffle of a song like “The Man Who’s Always Lost” feels like something from a lost Western musical. For anyone whose life sometimes feels like an endless series of movie scenes, Let’s Fly a Kite makes a wonderful accompaniment.
Twin Forks is the new outlet for Dashboard Confessional frontman Chris Carrabba, having fully given himself over to his country/bluegrass leanings and coming out sounding like exuberant playful emotional neo-folk ala Mumford & Sons. Lush mandolin strumming and choruses of whistlers punctuate tales of love and loss in a style that should appeal to fans of Carrabba's previous work while potentially gaining him some new ones on the acoustic folk side of things. Carrabba's commitment to the form is visible and his newly learned fingerpicking is displayed in fine style, setting the tone for his always earnest everyday-poetry.
Stateside release for the second album by the Leeds-based alterna-power-pop group. Some sort of venn-diagram between golden-age-Foo-Fighters, OK GO and a broad respect for career-spanning Weezer-worship. These songs are huge, hooky and crunchy, ready for ecstatic head banging and fist pumping and meant to be played loud. A new perspective on the pop music at the heart of post-grunge bombast, occasionally filtered through the contemporary pop-punk leanings of bands like the Arctic Monkeys.
On last year’s New Moon The Men made some moves away from their punky roots and toward classic country and singer/songwriter territory, but they’ve got a serious honky-tonk vibe going on on Tomorrow’s Hits . “Dark Waltz” sounds like a loud-ass bar band covering Bob Dylan, lovably ragged and rollicking with saloon piano, shout-along choruses and tasty blues licks creating sizable noise. Songs like “Get What You Give” are more delicate, embracing more intricate guitar parts amid big rock riffs, while the drums hit hard and the delivery is still defiantly punk. Fans of the band’s early work shouldn’t worry, though—there’s plenty of rush and energy to songs like “Different Days,” even as the band throws pianos and organ into the mix, and “Pearly Gates” is the kind of hardcore-meets-blues raveup that only a band like The Men can pull off. So while they’re more Neil Young than Husker Du these days, they’ve by no means become boring. Far from it— Tomorrow’s Hits sounds like the band The Men were destined to be.
English jazz singer McFarlane opens up into her debut full-length with grace and no shortage of space to open up into. Working with a stellar band over ten originals and one cover of Junior Murvin's "Police & Thieves," McFarlane reveals herself and her band as a quiet but serious force to be reckoned with. In particular, the Murvin cover venn diagrams somewhere between Pharoah Sanders' spiritual soul-jazz and Van Morrison's flowing, tumbling Astral Weeks ensemble, all shrouded with the muted tension of a Nina Simone session. While the originals swing, they take root in the spiritual jazz of Alice Coltrane and McCoy Tyner, leaning towards Tyner's lyricism rather than Coltrane's percussive mantraisms. Occasional vocal harmony and half-time rhythmic arrangements recall R&B crossover, likening McFarlane, again, to a present day Simone. Vocally, however, McFarlane probably couldn't be less like Simone, achieving a sweetness miles away from Simone's ideas of romance and when she does become menacing, it's more subdued, more sensual. A fascinating debut.
St. Vincent’s absolutely breathtaking new album begins, as Annie Clark’s previous albums have, like some unearthly musical. Clark seemingly touches down from another planet, asking “am I the only one in the world?” on opener “Rattlesnake” amid all manner of alien guitar and strange percussive squelches. “Birth in Reverse” similarly paints a vivid picture, starting with the lines “Oh what an ordinary day … take out the garbage, masturbate.” “Birth in Reverse” explodes into an extraordinary, paranoid chorus of restless glee. Clark’s way with words has never been more cutting, as on “Prince Johnny,” which manages to be strikingly specific while keeping its deeper existential meaning vague (“Remember that time we snorted/That piece of the Berlin Wall you extorted?” is her best rhyming couplet yet.) Even her ballads bite—“I prefer your love to Jesus” is a thoroughly loaded line repeated on “I Prefer Your Love,” giving depth and conflict to what’s on the surface a beautiful, Kate Bush-inspired love song. Musically, Clark employs everything from decaying choruses (“Prince Johnny”) to hip-hop synths (“Huey Newton”) to Prince-esque atonal funk (“Digital Witness”), but it’s a remarkably cohesive listen, as though each element has been thoroughly considered and sanded down to perfection. As implied by naming her fourth album simply St. Vincent , it’s an album that seems to be about truly knowing oneself—or the thrilling discoveries that come with a lifetime of seeking that knowledge.
A legend of Topanga Canyon folk, Linda Perhacs returns with her first album in more than 40 years. She’s been living life as a dentist while an Internet-age cult built around her New Age-folk album Parallelograms , with Devendra Bahart asking her to appear on his album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon . Modern acolytes like Julia Holter and Nite Jewel (aka Ramona Gonzalez) help out here, helping transform compositions like “River of God” into stunning, swirling pools of layered vocals, softly plucked acoustic guitars and light touches or organ and backward guitar. Songs like “Daybreak” are simple and beautiful, seeming to well up with light as they progress, while songs like “Intensity” are more directly strange and alluring, combining New Agey aphorisms (“We are in the rhythm of an energy sea,” for instance) with exciting polyrhythms, woven strands of vocals and intriguing musical touches that seem to spill out perfectly. It’s a similar story to Animal Collective’s work with Vashti Bunyan a few years back, and similarly, The Sound of All Things is a complete triumph.
Actor & musician Danny Tamberelli, known for his role on The Adventures of Pete & Pete, picks up some California punk rock and tells an amazing story about Iggy Pop teaching him to play "TV Eye" at age 12.