In between the albums Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding, Bob Dylan holed up in Garth Hudson’s Woodstock home with his band (that would be The Band), where the group tore through multiple recordings a day for the summer of 1967. Those recordings would not only provide the seeds of hit songs for other artists, they would go on to spawn The Band’s Music From Big Pink. Though a collection of these recordings was released in 1975, the entirety of this legendary fertile period had never been released until now. Vol. 11 of The Bootleg Series gives Dylan fans what they’ve dreamed of having. Running in chronological order, we start with the sweet “Edge of the Ocean,” a simple, rough-and-tumble recording that of a never-before-released song that represents the seedlings of Dylan and The Band’s momentous summer. We get early versions of “You Ain’t Goin Nowhere” with cool, scattershot lyrics about feeding cats. There’s an early take of The Band’s “I Shall Be Released” that is stunning in its shambolic simplicity. You can almost feel the room around which “Quinn the Eskimo” was recorded as the band casually rolls through the future Manfred Mann song. Some of the recordings can be a bit rough, sure. But listening through these recordings and finding your favorites is the next best thing to having been there yourself during these epic recording sessions. And the prime cuts from Vol. 11 taken together still represent the great lost Dylan album. For fans of Dylan and The Band—really, for all fans of music history—Basement Tapes Vol. 11 is an essential listen. Hear "Odds and Ends" via Rollingstone.
The Twilight Sad are masters of misery, plying heartbreak directly into their guitars on their stunning fourth album. “There’s a Girl in the Corner” is an epic breakup song, with James Graham’s repeating “she’s not coming back,” his Scottish brogue piercing through sheets of minor key noise. “Last January” is propulsive with a perfect layering of synths, displaying at how well The Twilight Sad have folded their recent new-wave leanings into their core noise-pop sound. The band also continue to show an uncanny ability to repurpose familiar influences like R.E.M., Joy Division and My Bloody Valentine and still come out with something fresh and enjoyable on tracks like “It Was Never the Same,” touching on these influences without being beholden to them, or letting Graham’s voice soar over a Suicide-style drum machine on the title track. The band has often been noted more for its atmospherics than hooks, but “Drown So I Can Watch” is one of their catchiest songs yet, with a relatively light, lilting melody that eases some of the downer mood. And they allow for more space on Nobody Wants to Be Here and Nobody Wants to Leave than on previous albums, ending on a pair of spare, beautiful tracks. It’s the best thing they’ve done since their electrifying debut.
Tough Love finds the singer who made her name in the world of dubstep stretching further into pop environs, with help from the likes of Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Miguel and Ed Sheeran. The Kate Bush-inspired title track that opens the album is already brighter and warmer than anything she has done before. The radio-ready but cool throbbing beats of “You and I” successfully split the difference between her “indie Sade” past and the pop horizon she now faces. Still, she’s really in her element amid the chilled out synths and digital handclaps of the sumptuous “Cruel.” Ware’s voice is in top form throughout, working wonders on the soulful “Say You Love Me,” amid gospel touches and a skittering beat. Her biggest issue is still somewhat anonymous lyrics, but the music and her voice always seems to make the most of them, driving home lyrics of heartbreak with a nuanced touch, while the tenuously sexy “Kind Of … Sometimes … Maybe” shows off her personality brilliantly, coming off as an update on Janet Jackson’s coy sensuality, filtered through Ware's old soul. Musically, Ware and her collaborators manage to move all over the map and make it seem like they’re travelling a straight line, keeping things rhythmically intriguing on tracks like the sultry “Sweetest Song” and even making room for a throwback disco track like “Want Your Feeling.” If it’s less cohesive than her debut, Devotion, it’s also a lot more fun, and perhaps more consistently rewarding. Tough Love should find Ware expanding her audience beyond the soul, electronica and indie fans who have already discovered her and into the pop realm without losing a shred of her estimable cool.
The band’s new album was recorded in Atlanta and was the band’s first to be produced by Ben H. Allen III, who was worked with everyone form Kaiser Chiefs and Animal Collective to Cee-Lo and Gnarls Barkley. It follows a round of B&S vinyl reissues from Matador, including the recently reissued If You’re Feeling Sinister, which had some of us around here feeling nostalgic; Tigermilk; Fold Your Hands Child, You Walk Like a Peasant; The Life Pursuit; and Dear Catastrophe Waitress, along with The Boy With the Arab Strap, which comes out on vinyl Nov. 4.
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.