In Gang Gang Dance, Brian DeGraw helps make screwed up electronic music that is still somehow danceable and hooky. In his bEEdEEgEE project, he expands on the dancier side of things, weaving expansive electronic tapestries rooted in house and new wave, with the help of a couple of awesome guest singers (CSS’s Lovefoxxx, Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor, among others). Douglas Armour’s yearning voice makes “Empty Vases” into ace emotional electro-pop. His GGD bandmate Lizzi Bougatsos lends some of her ethereal coo to the jittery “Overlook,” which feels as close to their band as anything on this album. And Taylor makes “(F.U.T.D.) Time of Waste” a great, hedonistic party jam about having lots to do yet getting nothing done—“all I wanna do is fuck up the day” has to be one of the great all-time slacker lines, while Lovefoxx’s turn over the big, dreamy beats of “Flowers” has got to be the highlight of the entire album. Yet even with these high-profile guest spots, DeGraw is still just as dazzling on his own, spinning various distorted percussive elements into a dizzying stew on “Bricks” and creating a distinctive early house homage with “Like Rain Man.” It’s late in the year, but bEEdEEgEE is making a bid for year-end-list relevance with the stunning Sum/One.
Mutual Benefit’s latest release is a small, glittering gem of an album, full of restless experimental folk that rumbles with creativity even as it soothes with majestic sounds. Warm noise, chimes and droning acoustic guitars open “Strong River” like a sunrise wake-up call. Fittingly, “Golden Wake” follows, softly and briskly on a drum-machine beat that sizzles in the background while the band harmonizes and offers strings and synth-flute solos. “Advanced Falconry” offers the soundtrack to stunning natural vistas with its grandiose presentation and stunning, skyward melodies. “That Light That’s Blinding” settles the album’s middle nicely, with lovely boy/girl harmonies, and the album closes on a set of more atmospheric numbers that continue the album’s seven-song spell. It altogether feels like a beautiful summer day, well-spent.
Xiu Xiu put a modern twist on the Nina Simone discography with Nina, a collection of 11 songs originally recorded by the jazz icon. Frontman Jamie Stewart’s quivering voice lends itself quite well to Simone’s songs as he drops into a deeper, breathier register, sounding desperate as he bids a lover adieu in “Don’t Smoke in Bed.” Stewart’s longtime collaborator Ches Smith contributes modern-jazz arrangements to the songs that match Stewart’s unconventional approach to singing, serving up loads of existential dread in the form of clattering percussion, prickly violins and bellowing cellos in “Where Can I Go Without You,” perhaps the most moving song on the album as Stewart cries the final refrain as a pathetic lamentation. They pick things up on “See Line Woman” and “Pirate Jenny,” staying faithful to the feel of the originals while tearing them apart with mid-song sound explosions and Stewart’s madman delivery. Nina is an album that could easily upset both Simone and Xiu Xiu purists (if the latter is such a thing that exists), and for its fearless approach alone it should be commended. Whether or not Xiu Xiu are always successful at reinterpreting Simone’s songs is up for debate, but Nina is never less than a challenging, fascinating listen.
Nick Cave’s recorded output has been so consistent that in no point in his career would it seem indulgent to release a live album. It just so happens that his latest album, with The Bad Seeds, is particularly strong, so we’re thankful to have much of it recorded in a live setting, as part of KCRW’s typically excellent live recordings. Starting with Push the Sky Away’s long, languid, Miley-Cyrus-and-Robert-Johnson-reffing “Hoggs Boson Blues,” Cave and co. play most of the album to an appreciative audience. Cave’s unadorned voice sounds glorious as he sings “you were my main little lover in a world where everybody fucks everbody else over” in the hopeless “Far From Me.” Cave’s classics sound great here as well, as the band takes on “Stranger Than Kindness,” “The Mercy Seat” and especially a rollicking “Jack the Ripper.” While Live at KCRW can’t quite compare with seeing one of the band’s exhilarating live shows, it’s damn near close and another welcome addition to the Nick Cave catalog.
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