To listen to Pharmakon is to stare the beast straight in the mouth. Margaret Chardiet’s latest album starts with heavy breathing, panting and a buzzing synth that sounds more like an electroshock therapy machine. “Intent or Instinct” builds deliberately with an atonal loop gathering strength until she unleashes a nasty banshee wail. Free of too much digitized effect, it sounds truly bloodcurdling. It’s also immensely cathartic. And “Body Betrays Itself” feels like it takes over your very being, her most powerful musical statement to date. Not everything in such harsh surroundings works—“Primitive Struggle” is about as inviting as it sounds, full of coughing, spitting and heaving along to a digital heartbeat. But Chardiet can really surprise you, too. “Autoimmune” actually nudges closer to something resembling pop, like the dirtiest Trent Reznor would ever let his hands get. And in the incantation of the title track, Chardiet’s actual, human voice can be heard, albeit echoed out into infinity, and the result is quite affecting, given how she shreds her voice across the rest of the record. So Bestial Burden isn’t for the faint of heart. Dismiss it and you might even get a laugh out of its relentless brutality. But give it your full attention, and it just might change you. So don’t be afraid. Dive in and let Bestial Burden swallow you whole. Note: If you like her records, you should probably see her live.
Taiga is a pop album, but its creator has made that way intentionally while retaining, and perhaps improving upon, her artistry. Rather than cashing in, the album finds Zola Jesus (aka Nika Rosa Danilova) returning to her roots of sorts, as she largely wrote Taiga on Washington’s Vashon Island, as though returning to the rustic forests where she was raised in Wisconsin, singing “do you wish you could go back to it all?” on the creaking opening title track, which erupts into a jungle beat. From here, we head into powerful pop songs like “Dangerous Days” that find Danilova singing clearly and boldly over dance-pop beats, but with the same paralyzing strength her voice has always commanded. “Go (Blank Sea)” is a little sultrier, built on a slower beat that swells into big, booming pop chorus and disintegrates into fluttering synthesizers, while Nika Roza Danilova’s voice rises and falls with soul and precision. “Hunger’s” hyperkinetic beat and incisive synth riff make for some of the album’s most grabbing moments. And though “Lawless’,” beautiful melodies sound buried under the ice, they’re still firmly pop. Perhaps because of the way in which it was written, the album has a certain isolation to it that comes through on tracks like “Ego,” in which Danilova undergoes thorough self-examination (she pairs similarly painful reflections “I fought against the ego, I know it brought me closer to losin’” and “I fed into the ego, I knew it brought me closer to hubris”), while synthesizers and strings quietly battle around her, sounds creaking cavernously in the background. On Taiga, Danilova sounds as though she’s faced her inner demons and come through on top with an album of powerfully moving pop music.
Electric Youth broke out in a big way with “A Real Hero,” a song that came to define the sound of the film Drive and its corresponding soundtrack. The duo double down on that impossibly romantic synth sound on Innerworld, their long-awaited debut album. That slow-burning pulse is back in songs like “Innocence,” perfectly capturing the romantic ideal of first love with synthesizers that at first sparkle like eyes being rubbed awake and then dazzle with gentle orchestration. Subtly enough referencing the soundtrackers of ’80s proms like Yaz and Alphaville, Bronwynn Griffin’s breathy voice sometimes floats by as a dream and other times catches onto a lighter-waving sentiment, like “we are the youth, we like to sing” (on “WeAreTheYouth”). Though Electric Youth may lack a bit for originality, Innerworld pretty skillfully avoids sameyness by appealing to current Europop-indebted dance music on tracks like “Runaway,” though they’re at their comfortable best on songs like “Without You,” building from their favored digital throb into a lovable freestyle couple. Griffin and her partner, Austin Garrick, have been a couple since the 8th grade, and thus their ability to make every synth stab feel like a dizzying first crush rings authentic. It doesn’t matter if you’ve heard some of the sounds here before, or that they even include the three-year-old “Real Hero”; Innerworld’s swoony romanticism makes you feel like it’s the first time.
His Name Is Alive, the experimental music project by Warren Defever that had a remarkable run of records during the glory days of 4AD, have a new one coming out Oct. 28 called Tecuciztecatl, due from Light in the Attic.
As Pitchfork points out, the press release calls it a “psychedelic rock opera.” However, the lovely “African Violet Casts a Spell” suggests an Afropop vibe, so we’ll see:
While making the album, Defever and guitarist Dusty Jones made a study guide of sorts of every Thin Lizzy guitar solo recorded between 1971 and 1983. So we’re hoping for harmonic guitar glissandos aplenty on this one. Hear the whole hour-plus mind-melting Lizzathon below:
More details about the rock opera element are here:
The rock opera is imagined vaguely in the shape of a 1969 Hammer horror film: bloody, British, gothic, and brimming with beguiling and attractive vampires. The songs are written from the perspective of five characters: the mother, the doctor, the twins and the librarian whose side hustle is demon hunting. The story begins with a young woman getting an ultrasound who discovers she's pregnant with twins. Realizing something is going terribly wrong, "I think I'm missing something on the inside," she visits a local library for research. The librarian instructs the woman on how to kill the demon baby without harming the other twin, and together they carry out the various rituals necessary. Eventually one baby is born.
Whereas earlier this year, Neil Young released A Letter Home, an album of lo-fi covers that was recorded in Jack White’s recording booth studio, Storyone could have an altogether different feel. Young talked to Billboard about wanting to record an album with an orchestra on mono using one mic:
“I want to do something like that where we really record what happened, with one point of view and the musicians moved closer and farther away, the way it was done in the past. To me that's a challenge and it's a sound that's unbelievable, and you can't get it any other way. So I'm into doing that.”
He’s already released “Who’s Gonna Stand Up?,” a pro-environment rally song with a 92-piece orchestra and choir. You can hear that and check out the lyrics below: