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Space Visitors Film Festival in San Francisco

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Music We Like

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Colors (CD)

Beck

Much has been made of Beck’s Grammy win for Album of the Year with 2014’s Morning Phase , his downcast collection of folk-rock slow burners and spiritual successor to Sea Change . Yes, it can be agreed upon that the award seemed ludicrously overdue for one of the most creative and influential forces in all of pop music from the '90s onward. But did that album truly merit the distinction, over Beyonce no less? Did Kanye West have a point after all? Do you even care about the Grammys? Beck is nothing if not consistently (re)inventive, and true to chameleonic form, abandons both the style and substance of that wildly successful album completely. You won’t find any ruminative folk dirges or melancholy Americana here. With a sound that matches its title, Colors is a collection largely made up of upbeat, party-minded pop music, produced with a 21st century sheen that would easily slot any of these tunes between radio favorites such as Maroon 5 or Foals. Even the song titles reflect Beck’s unselfconscious sense of jubilance: “Up All Night,” “I’m So Free,” and, quite simply, “Wow.” Yet this isn’t some spur of the moment sugar rush by the 47-year old songwriter. Colors has been gestating for quite some time now, with sessions beginning as far back as 2013; lead-off single “Dreams” was released in June of 2015, just a few months removed from that would-be contentious Grammy win. “Dreams” serves as the album’s clearest sense of purpose, with sharp electric guitar stabs, a propulsive dance beat, and an almost millennial whoop-y wordless refrain. Beck glides between his natural register and capable falsetto over an unabashedly crowd-pleasing melody, yet at five minutes long, incorporates plenty of sonic quirks and studio wizardry into the mix. The neon dance floor-ready exuberance hinted at here is increased on “Up All Night,” elsewhere the Beatles-by-Britpop bounce of “Dear Life” is contrasted to the downright goofiness of “Wow,” which melds nonsensical slack-rap to sunny Coachella-rock choruses, and functions as the most audacious Beck song since “Hell Yes.” Colors is a complete left turn from Morning Light , sounding a little like previous releases while simultaneously sounding like nothing he’s ever put out before. In short, it’s the most Beck-like Beck album you could expect.

Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights (CD)

The White Buffalo

White Buffalo returns with Darkest Darks, Lightest Lights , a slow and sad but ultimately intriguing new LP. Lead single “The Observatory” hits all the right notes, opening with a simple strummed guitar melody and frontman Jake Smith’s timeless, deeply-timbered voice, his lyrics exploring themes of common ground and disconnection. The album treads similar territory, delving into topics of relationships, loss, and transcendence. It’s a strong, evocative record and a wonderful showcase for Smith’s incredible voice that seems to leap off the LP and into the room.

Thrum (CD)

Joe Henry

Joe Henry’s gift for sparse, lovely American-tinged songs is front-and-center on his latest, Thrum . The songs are languidly paced, rooted in another slower time, where bluesmen rambled country roads and made deals with the devil to become artistic greats. This is the lineage from which Henry seemingly descends. Yet, there’s a complexity to his songs, both lyrically and melodically, that gives his work real staying power. Thrum is a quietly lovely gut punch.

Take Me Apart (CD)

Kelela

On Take Me Apart , Kelela proves once again that she’s at the forefront of new, dark, and dreamy R&B. The album is lush, heady, and captivating. In short, it’s got that unique Kelela stamp. Although it’s her show, the songstress has also assembled a dream team for this one; some of the songs are co-written by The xx’s Romy Madley Croft and production duties are split between Arca, Kingdom, Jam City, Bok Bok, and Ariel Rechtshaid. Filled with deep grooves and an alluring atmosphere, Take Me Apart will be in heavy rotation.

Country Hustle (CD)

Jeb Loy Nichols

Somehow, Jeb Loy Nichols traverses the seemingly incongruent genres of reggae and country with ease, touching on any and all overlapping styles between the two, such as soul, blues, funk, etc. Country Hustle is his tenth release since Nichols began his solo career 20 years ago, and makes its claim for the greatest yet. There’s a tape hiss that permeates the record and makes it sound like a long-lost artifact from yesteryear, along with these tunes imbuing a classic funky style indebted to the soul heroes of the '60s and '70s. The minimal, psychedelic cover of Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” has to be heard to believed, with a skeletal drum machine beat, hazy synths, and dubby production bringing to mind something William Onyeabor might have drafted. There ain't anything else out there quite like this.

As You Please (CD)

Citizen

Citizen’s As You Please is a welcome throwback to the golden era of emo and alt-rock. Missing the aggression, melancholy, and dark melodies of the best of the genre? Sick of upbeat poppy choruses that sound tailor-made for the Hot Topic webstore? This album is for you. Forceful, intense, but extremely enjoyable, As You Please hits that sweet spot between nostalgia and innovation.

I See You (CD)

The xx

The xx expand on their characteristic minimal cool on I See You . Their intimate, vulnerable lyrics and shimmering sound are still there, but these traits have been given an infusion of warmth and color with the introduction of some dancier elements, smart samples, and lush soundscapes. It's a welcome evolution. The album is a gem -- multi-faceted and vivid, revealing more of itself with every spin.

The Order Of Time (CD)

Valerie June

Rootsy singer/songwriter Valerie June blends soul, blues, and folk with mystical wisdom delivered in an ageless, nasal voice. Co-written with Norah Jones, her sophomore album,  The Order of Time , includes vocals from Jones as well as June's late father Emerson Hockett.

Undivided Heart & Soul (CD)

JD McPherson

On his third album, JD McPherson switches gears a bit from the throwback, R&B-infused '50s rock that defined his previous two releases. The production quality on Undivided Heart & Soul has evolved from purposefully retro to decidedly modern. Unlike earlier albums, you won’t mistake this upon first listen for a genuine artifact from the golden age of rock & soul. Though McPherson’s playing is largely the same, the crisp production places this album fully in the 21st century; a bluesy, airtight production akin to something Mark Ronson might help craft. The songs themselves incorporate a bit of this modern influence: “Lucky Penny” brings to mind current bearers of the blues-rock torch such as The Black Keys or Cage The Elephant. “Hunting For Sugar” takes what might be a Smokey Robinson ballad and introduces it to neo-soul, with spacey reverb galore and percussion that seems to emulate a sampled break beat. No, JD McPherson doesn’t live in the past, but his music is adept at embodying what makes those old soul records so compelling. On Undivided Heart & Soul , those records get a hi-fi sonic makeover.

Good Nature (CD)

Turnover

Turnover’s Good Nature veers far from the band’s earlier emo/punk tinged efforts. Their latest is hazy, wistful dream pop in the vein of Wild Nothing, Real Estate, or DIIV. Lush and poetic, Good Nature is the sound of rainy day afternoons and late summer cloud-watching. These dreamy new tracks possess a welcome optimism and point towards Turnover as a band to keep an eye on.

Queens Of The Breakers (CD)

The Barr Brothers

Sibling duo The Barr Brothers set a richly atmospheric tone on their third LP, Queen of the Breakers . These well-constructed folk songs venture into indie, Americana, and southern rock territory, each track building off the previous one. It’s perfect road trip music, suited to restless souls and wandering hearts. This is the sort of album that slowly worms its way into to your heart and stays on your record player for months.

All American Made (CD)

Margo Price

All American Made is all killer and no filler. With her rich voice, brilliant melodies, and raw lyrics, Margo Price announces herself as the latest in a long lineage of hard-hitting female country singers. Listen to this album and you’ll see: Ms. Price may not be surrounded by legend (yet) in the way her predecessors have been, but she sure does seem to carry around that undefinable “it” that marks an artist as a future classic. All American Made is a rich tapestry of life in hardscrabble modern America.

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