19 March 2015

Preview Round-Up: January/February 2015

Natalie Prass
concert preview

On their own, this Nashvillean's songs are quiet, intimate, love-troubled things, and her impossibly sweet voice a vulnerable, elfin wisp.  But bolstered – as they are on her self-titled debut LP (Spacebomb), and as they will be on stage tonight – by the luxurious fantasy-throwback orchestrations of producer/collaborators Matthew E. White and Trey Pollard, they emerge as improbable beacons of modern-day countrypolitan R&B: calmly jubilant, buoyed by a graceful, grown-and-sexy elegance and steeped in deep Southern swamp-gospel soul.

Justin Townes Earle
concert preview

September's Single Mothers and its recently-released companion Absent Fathers (Vagrant) are, as their titles suggest, not exactly feel-good albums: each offers ten torn-and-tender, pedal-steel-draped tunes on all-too-autobiographical themes of abandonment, struggle and uncertain redemption.  There's solace to be had here too, but it's mostly in the sound – a little bit soul-searing country, a little rock'n'roll – of one of our most promising songwriters settling into a comfortable groove that at this rate (he's only 33) could sustain him for decades, though one hopes it doesn't have to.

Ariel Pink
concert preview

A decade after his Animal Collective-abetted emergence as home-taping neo-lo-fi hero (and improbable chillwave forerunner), Ariel Pink has somehow morphed into indiedom's reigning king of the freaks; a cartoonish mutant-pop ringmaster and a relentlessly trolling social media instigator.  Last year's powderpuff-pink pom pom (4AD) is his twisted, taste-defying magnum opus: an overstuffed seventeen-track schlocktacular that plays like Frank Zappa by way of John Waters – several of its campy/creepy hyper-retro goof-offs were co-written with ur-L.A.-misfit Kim Fowley (R.I.P.), whose spirit looms large here – but somehow manages space for some effortlessly pretty psych-pop ballads too.

Hundred Waters
concert preview

This Gainesville FL band take their name from Austrian architect (Friedensreich) Hundertwasser, whose whimsically fluid, boldly colorful and environmentally-minded buildings defy the stuffy grandiloquence of his native Vienna in much the same way their music sticks out from the context of circa 2015 "indie rock," and, certainly, from the typical purview of their label boss Skrillex.  Last year's sophomore set The Moon Rang Like A Bell (OWSLA) is all rounded edges and dreamy pastel textures; mystical post-classical pop forged at the intersection of polished instrumentalism and subdued but sprightly electronics.

Zola Jesus
concert preview

"I thought fear brought me closer to the truth," sings Nika Danilova midway through 2014's Taiga (Mute) – which may explain some things about the art-gothery and foreboding that so dominated her past oeuvre, and why this, her fifth album as Zola Jesus, pushes so emphatically past it.  There are breakbeats; there are brass chorales; there is some serious affirmation and emotional empowerment afoot.  Pop goes the ego.

Kishi Bashi String Quartet
[Pop/Chamber Music]
concert preview

Twee-prog whiz kid K. Ishibashi routinely loops and layers his ever-frolicsome fiddle-work into the equivalent of at least a quartet, so hearing him accompanied by four more string players at this "special seated show" should approach chamber orchestra territory.  It'll be interesting to hear how the giddy-goofy dance-pop of cuts like "The Ballad of Mr. Steak" (from last year's irrepressible Lighght (Joyful Noise)) translate – if they're doing it right, the show shouldn't remain seated for long.

Elisa Ambrogio
concert preview

Elisa Ambrogio's markedly song-oriented solo debut, The Immoralist (Drag City), feels like a distant cousin, at best, to both the noisenik skronk she spearheads in Magik Markers and the sleepy-sparse folk of 200 Years, her duo with Ben Chasny. These ten tunes have their share of clangor and drone, but also an understated sweetness (see, especially, the chiming "Superstitious"), and rough-edged naturalism recalling Waxahatchee and Torres in their commingling of grit and grace.

Damien Jurado
concert preview

Eleven albums into what was once a relatively demure indie-folk career, things are getting mighty interesting for this Seattle songsmith.  Last year's Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun (Secretly Canadian), Jurado's third straight collaboration with neo-psych production MVP Richard Swift, got about as far out as he could get without jettisoning the "singer-songwriter" umbrella entirely – a murky, mystical psycho-spiritual concept opus with bombastically plush, dub-touched sonic whizbangery to match.

Jeffrery Lewis/Diane Cluck
concert preview

West Philly house/gallery Eris Temple Arts is a suitably scruffy and intimate setting for these veterans of New York's loose "anti-folk" scene (basically, songwriters unaverse to personality, topicality and humor – kinda like what folk used to mean.)  Lewis is an endearingly muppetish, ever-personable performer and a top-notch cartoonist (fingers crossed he brings along some of his illustrated "low-budget music video" flip-books); the Lancaster-bred, self-described "intuitive" Cluck tends more to the poetic, even austere, as on last year's brief-but-affecting Boneset (Important),but she's got her quirks for sure, and a magnificent warble of a voice.

Until The Ribbon Breaks
concert preview

Not many acts would seem equally at home sharing stages with heavy-lidded lounge-poppers London Grammar – tomorrow night's headliners – and the flat-out heavy rap duo Run The Jewels (with whom they've traded album guest spots), but this Welsh trio fits the bill.  Their assured if rather forbiddingly sober debut, A Lesson Unlearnt (Cobalt) somehow synthesizes the past half-decade's trends in electro-pop, lushly moody avant-R&B, indie rock anthemism and egghead hip-hop, with precisely the kind of fluid fluency their cassette-tape-referencing moniker lacks.

concert preview

If Riff Raff didn't exist, Mad Decent, who signed the Houston rapper/freakazoid to an eight-album deal (two down, as of last summer's Neon Icon) may have had to invent him – he shares head homeboy Diplo's gonzo maximalism and tireless hustle, but with a gleeful, improbably ingenuous absurdism with which the globetrotting label boss could only dream of keeping pace.

concert preview

Rune Reilly Kölsch hails not from Köln – though his label, Kompakt, is there – but from Denmark's autonomous hippie "freetown" of Christiania, where he may have learned something about utopian visions.  2013's 1977 (titled, T-Swift/FlyLo-style, after his birth year) was a masterclass in warmly enveloping, straightforward-but-not-simplistic house, unafraid of sentimentality; last month's mix for the Balance series accomplished similar things in slightly whooshier fashion, imbued (via the likes of Radiohead, Caribou and Coldplay) with an almost hymn like serenity and a big-tent populism that transcends his counter-cultural roots.

originally published in Philadelphia City Paper

03 January 2015

Review Round-up: 2014 Year-End List Blurbs (for Publications)

St. Vincent
St. Vincent

Annie Clark's self-titled fourth album as St. Vincent doesn't mark a dramatic shift in approach from 2011's similarly singular Strange Mercy, nor is it a grand defining statement in any immediately obvious sense.  Then again, little about Clark can really be described as "obvious" at this point (save perhaps that, as their recent collaboration demonstrated, she would and did make an ideal mirror/foil/counterpart/inheritor to David Byrne's nervy-smart art-rock eminence.)  But St. Vincent earns its eponymity in how fully it embodies its creator's essential idiosyncrasies.  Of course, there is Clark's merciless, mercurial guitar-wielding – she continues to wrangle astonishing new shapes and textures from her axe – often juxtaposed against some of her most tenderly lyrical vocal melodies.  Like her previous work – but even more so – St. Vincent is rooted in the tensions (and slippages) between humanity and artificiality, a fascination which is not (only) esoterically conceptual – informing, among other things, her increasingly theatrical visual presentation and stagecraft – but also gleefully visceral, audible in everything from the nervous, kinetic digital sputters of "Rattlesnake" (with its somewhat Byrneian naked-in-nature narrative) to the deliciously terrifying cyborg death-march of "Bring Me Your Loves" to the eerily perfect, almost baroque lushness of "Severed Crossed Fingers."  For all its gestures toward relatability, even mundanity ("take out the garbage, masturbate…"), it's an album that only seems more alien the more familiar it gets.

Against Me!
Transgender Dysphoria Blues

The compelling narrative of frontwoman Laura Jane Grace's coming out as transgender – explored in depth in Jonathan Valania's MAGNET interview in January – gave Transgender Dysphoria Blues a hooky backstory, attracting plenty of listeners who'd probably otherwise have little interest in a self-released effort by a fifteen-year-old Florida punk band.  And, of course, that story is undeniably central to the album, most of which speaks in no uncertain terms to the complex (and very punk rock) tangle of emotions – resentment, futility, isolation, confusion, awkwardness, self-loathing and ultimately (less in the lyrics per se than in Grace's searing, triumphant delivery of them) defiant pride – accompanying her experience, and those of trans people more generally.  These songs are not always as direct and legible as you might (or might not) expect, but they are never less than effective – equally potent as consciousness-raisers, psychological portraits and conflicted but rousing empowerment anthems.  What kept us listening all year long, however, is simply that this is among 2014's best and most thrilling rock'n'roll albums, flat-out: a breathless half hour of lean, surging riffs and pummeling drums, ready and primed for fist-pumping sing-alongs, as much in line with the guitar-rock classicism of Ted Leo or the Hold Steady as with any number of populist punk touchstones.
originally published in Magnet Magazine

Sylvan Esso
Sylvan Esso

Equal parts cozy and coy, Sylvan Esso's fertile trans-genre cross-pollination (dub-indie? folkstep?) brought us electronic pop music on an invitingly human scale, with Nick Sanborn's homespun, bass-savvy beatwork recasting Amelia Meath's folksy, feisty Mountain Man warble – and vice versa – to yield some of the year's purest pop pleasures ("Play It Right") and teardrop-tender slow jams (the lilting shakers-and-heartbreak of "Coffee") as well as, with the schoolyard-ready D.I.Y. tech-house of "H.S.K.T." perhaps 2014's most improbably infectious dance party anthem.
originally published in Philadelphia City Paper

Review Round-Up: August-December 2014

The 2 Bears
The Night Is Young

The music that Raf Rundell and Hot Chip's Joe Goddard make as The 2 Bears draws deeply and lovingly on classicist dance forms – house music, most emphatically, but also UK garage, dub and dancehall reggae – with enough soul, variety and cheery playfulness to win over the staunchest technophobes.  The Night Is Young (Southern Fried), album number two for the London duo, packs in a tremendous array of sounds, styles and voices (toasters, divas, psychotropic ramblers and the sweet-voiced South African Sbusiso, to name a few); an almost Basement Jaxx-like level of polychromatic sonic detailing which makes it rather more disjointed than its superb predecessor, despite comparable highs.  Even the seemingly straight-ahead dance-pop banger "Angel (Touch Me)," built around an indelibly tasty piano lick, somehow manages a detour into tribal African village ambience.  While things get a touch unfocused in the final stretch, the Hot Chip chaps are always good for a grandly uplifting closing statement, and the gently expansive, marimba-led title track fits that bill beautifully.

Basement Jaxx

Junto is a jolt; a juggernaut; an absolute joyride.  Per the sleek, white-dominated cover, it's the most streamlined, frill-free BJaxx album ever: not without its allotment of sound-stuffed, multi-culti diversions – check Mykki Blanco-featuring breakbeat-ragga detour "Buffalo," or "Mermaid of Salinas"' delirious Carnaval vibes – but otherwise a relatively uncluttered mainline of diva-house bangers and soulful dance-pop, complete with the requisite arms-in-the-air comedown closer.  It's also the closest they've come to the ecstatic, hedonistic rush of their holy initial trinity in the decade since.  Simon Ratcliffe and Felix Buxton never really went away – they've maintained a steady trickle of singles while engaging in go-to career dalliances (a film score, an orchestral collaboration) – but it's been five years since their last proper full-length, during which their influence – on post-dubstep "maximalists" Rustie and TNGHT and, especially, pop-friendly dance acts like Disclosure, Rudimental, Calvin Harris and Hercules & Love Affair – has never been easier to spot.  So this return feels perfectly timed, with only one major quibble: the album's not out until late August, when by rights it should be soundtracking beach-bound cruises and poolside fiestas all summer long.

The Juan MacLean
In A Dream

The Juan Maclean play the long game; they won't be rushed.  Now by some margin DFA's longest-running act, this is only their third album since their debut singles helped inaugurate the label back in 2002 – and, per their usual habit, its high points are all epics.  Indeed, there's practically an inverse relationship here between track length and quality.  The album opens with eight drama-filled minutes of Moroderesque robo-disco and closes with ten of darkly romantic, pillowy-soft tech-house; both bookends are majestically expansive and inviting.  Atypically fluid, almost Balearic slo-mo funker "Running Back To You" and the burbling, crisply catchy "A Simple Design" – one of several showcases for Nancy Whang's always-captivating vocals – are seven minutes and pretty great.  Most of the sub-6:30-cuts, though – some relatively undistinguished synthpop stabs, plus "Here I Am"'s improbably handbaggy house – fall weirdly flat,.  It's not that these guys can't do tight, compelling pop hooks – the longer cuts here have some great ones – it's just the kind they craft seem to work best with plenty of room to wriggle and stretch.

Simian Mobile Disco

From the era-defining, indie-friendly electro-house of their debut to Temporary Pleasure's misbegotten populism, Delicacies' hard techno turn and Unpatterns' subtler, spirit-ridden shadings – not to mention their freewheeling DJ mixes and last year's fantastic, career-glossing Live – Simian Mobile Disco have, stylistically speaking, more than lived up to the middle third of their name.  Whorl, also essentially an in-concert recording – cut before an audience in the California desert using a small, all-analog hardware setup – is yet another marked departure.  It's easily the duo's most abstract and exploratory work yet, building on and veering beyond their recent focus on acid-flecked techno, and their first outing unambiguously geared toward listening rather than body-moving.  Which isn't to say it doesn't get there: "Hypnick Jerk"'s sinuous minimalism and "Dervish"'s filtered, martial stutter-funk offer two of their most infectious, nuanced grooves.  But it's a patient, meandering journey, punctuated by spacey synth-wash ambience (it's almost ten minutes before the first beat drops.)  Where Unpatterns was an assured culmination, this is a fresh, auspicious strike into new territory from a group that deserves far more recognition.


jj – as they were then styled – emerged mid-2009 with a fully-formed, fascinating aesthetic: all white everything (save the occasional blood splatter), a hazy, tenderly oblique indie-pop sound built around scintillating synths, billowing acoustic guitars and unpredictable samples, and an unabashed, twee-style infatuation with thuggish US hip-hop, all wrapped around Elin Kastlander's drowsy, druggy, offhandedly luscious vocals.  Within 18 months, they'd mined two delicate, magical albums from this inimitable template, plus the deliriously plunderphonic/swag-jacking Kills mixtape, but several ensuing years of intermittent singles largely failed to point a way forward.  Third album V brings some new ideas to the JJ playbook – a level of bombast vaguely befitting their newfound capitalization; a runtime (considerably) longer than half an hour; one half of an almost-rock song – but it plods across ultimately familiar ground, still as plush and pillowy as ever (on rave-flecked dance beats and string-draped, auto-tuned ballads alike), still rhyming "drugs" with "hugs."  The duo's intoxicating sense of endless sonic possibility remains, but the many lovely moments rarely amount to memorable songs, and several pointed shout-outs to their still-enchanting debut feel like cruel teases.

various artists
Beck Song Reader

Never meant to exist – yet probably always inevitable – the record-album [evidently] entitled Beck Song Reader couldn't hope to match the charm and fascination of Beck's Song Reader, the 2012 album (as in loose-leaf folio) of turn-of-last-century-styled sheet music that remains his finest achievement of the past decade – but it's a valiant and enjoyably varied attempt, by a seriously stacked cast of contributors.  As with any V/A grab-bag, not everything's gold (Beck's own offering, "Heaven's Ladder," is hardly a highlight – plus he gets half the words wrong!), but a respectable percentage truly is.  Many renditions veer rootsy and reverent, ranging from quite nice (Norah Jones' country-pop "Just Noise") to just ok – but (perhaps not bespeaking highly of the songs themselves) the best ones furnish more distinctive personality, predictably or otherwise: "I'm Down"'s an unsurprisingly great fit for Jack White's current mad scientist-Americana mode, while David Johansen does well by "Rough on Rats"' Tom Waits-isms, but less-likely candidates Swamp Dogg, Jarvis Cocker and fun. make their selections lovingly their own, while Juanes' sparkling, subversive translation – into Spanish and synth-pop – of "Don't Act Like Your Heart Isn't Hard" may be best of all.
originally published in Magnet Magazine

Music Go Music

There are several moments on Impressions (Thousand Tongues), this slightly-ineffable LA outfit's magnificent second LP, when they go out of their way to sound like ABBA.  Take the glorious "Shine Down Forever," which handily elevates "Gimme Gimme Gimme..."'s godless desperation to pure, pious romantic rapture ("you are the sun to me/shine on me always with gentle beams of empathy...") – well before they actuall tease the riff.  Most of the time, though, it happens completely naturally.  But don't think of them as copyists – it's just that, evidently, more bands should make brilliantly melodic almost-funk disco-pop with a curious surfeit of harpsichords. [A]

Jenny Lewis
The Voyager

Polished and pristine as a SoCal sunset, The Voyager (Warner Brothers) does double duty as one of the summer's breeziest, most easy-pleasing pop records and one of its subtlest, wryest heartbreakers.  Jenny Lewis' not-at-all-difficult third album passes over roots and country (to say nothing of "indie") in favor of a luxuriously crafted '70s L.A. soft-rock throwback (hey there, Haim) – complete with a cast of celebs and studio pros (Ryan Adams and Beck swap out behind the boards) – that's all achingly sunny melody and equally aching, smarting narratives of romantic regret and nagging displacement. [B+]

They Want My Soul

They Want My Soul (Loma Vista) kicks off with decisively Stonesy strut, which is refreshing and anomalous since the remaining 35 minutes are as inimitably, unrelentingly Spoony as Spoony can be, ticking all the band's paradoxical boxes – tidy grit, substantial stylishness, effortless propulsion, layered minimalism, dispassionate rocking-out (in spots, the hardest they have in ages) – all of which, coming after a four-year hiatus, is more than enough to generate the thrill of reuniting with an old friend.  It breaks approximately zero new ground, but then again Spoon don't have to bend – the universe bends to them. [B+]

The New Pornographers
Brill Bruisers

The hydra-headed indie perennials' previous LP, 2010's Together, was underrated (or overlooked) simply for being more of the (superlative) same; their fifth-straight master class in oblique-angled power-pop euphorics.  The intriguingly synth-heavy Brill Bruisers (Matador) – their sixth, and the closest they've come to a stumble – seems poised to be overrated by way of correction.  Though it ends strong (as usual) and adds a few firecrackers to the repertoire – the vocodey "Backstairs," "Dancehall Domine," some fine Bejar chuggers – it's the first time that treading largely familiar ground has yielded less than thrilling results, with the melody lines too often terse and truncated, the nonsense verse oddly inelegant, the productions shruggably overblown. [C+]

Land Observations
The Grand Tour

Following the marvelously meditative, highly thematic albeit instrumental compositions making up his solo debut, Roman Roads IV-XI, visual artist and post-post-rocker James Brooks – who means his musical moniker quite seriously – returns with a second set of geo-historically minded European peregrinations: The Grand Tour (Mute), informed by the post-collegiate Continental gallivants of all those 19th-century English novel protagonists.  Once again, Brooks imbues his solitary electric guitar with a clean, gently crisp tone, shaping it into tidy, meticulously layered metronomic reveries; placid and measured but softly searching. [B+]

concert preview

An obvious career culmination and one of the year's most beautiful albums, Our Love (Merge) swirls together virtually every facet of Dan Snaith's constantly evolving output – the delicate, prismatic electro-acoustic hybrids of his early days as Manitoba, Andorra's psychedelic soft-pop, the genial house and acid bangers of his Daphni alias – raises the stakes with the most personal songs he's ever written, and enlists some help from fellow Ontarians Jessy Lanza (who also opens tonight's show) and Owen Pallett just for good measure. 

concert preview

Nick Zammuto's post-Books operation isn't quite as restlessly inventive and cerebral as his old band, but they're no less singular and, in their quiet way, just as playful.  (They also have a ridiculously good drummer.)  Probably the Vermonter's most plainly accessible work yet, Anchor (Temporary Residence) feels like a friendlier (and funnier) take on latter-day Radiohead/Thom Yorke, balancing crisp, gently mathy metronomics with low-key, curiously affecting and slightly folky song-craft.

Steve Gunn
concert preview

Hot on the heels of last year's quietly luxuriant Time Out and his great recent duo summit with Mike Cooper, rapidly rising six-stringer Steve Gunn's wide-ranging Way Out Weather (Paradise of Bachelors) unfurls at an elastic, easygoing pace that belies his rate of productivity; translating the meditative mentality of American Primitivist ragas into ragged-edged (and at times surprisingly Stones-y) folk-rock.

[Indie Rock]
concert preview

Atlanta, GA's Rock*A*Teens represent a generally little-remembered chapter of Merge records' (and '90s indie rock) history, though this summer – which marks their first public activity as a band since 2002 – has somewhat improbably seen the release of not one but two live recordings from their heyday: one a stand-alone cheekily entitled A Major Motion Picture (Chunklet), the other packaged as a bonus disc with a reissue of the band's 2000 swan song, Sweet Bird of Youth.  The available evidence presents them as a hard-hitting but surprisingly versatile outfit who were both ahead of and very much of their time, trafficking in everything from gothy rockabilly and woozy, soon-to-be-vogueish carnivalesque psych to tortuous, semi-baroque lit-rock reminiscent of Quasi and Destroyer, while predicting the raggedly earnest likes of Okkervil River (frontman Chris Lopez is an clear influence on Will Sheff) and The Arcade Fire (who cut their first record for Merge four years after R*A*Ts cut their last.)
originally published in Philadelphia City Paper

03 August 2014

Review Round-Up: July 2014


Frankie Rose's lush, luminous alto has become one of the most reliably bewitching sounds in indiedom, as she's fed us a steady stream of hazy, shimmering pop records – including two great full-lengths in the last two years – that are atmospheric, dynamic and catchy in equal measure. Beverly, the Brooklyn badass/scene linchpin's team-up with singer-guitarist Drew Citron (who also plays in Rose's band), is cut from extremely similar cloth: there are no synths here, less overall sheen, and definitely a bit more noise and rock'n'roll crunch to the guitars – particularly on the spiky beach-punk instrumental "Ambular" – but any additional grit or post-punky darkness is nicely balanced by that familiar gleaming, underlying warmth. (Although Citron wrote most of the material, the duo's voices, twinned in harmony almost throughout, are nearly indistinguishable.) Coming so quickly in the wake of Rose's truly magical solo work, this project carries a slight whiff of routine, businesslike productivity – they did title it Careers, after all – but there's nothing wrong with punching the clock when the results are so dependably swoony.


The honey, in the music of this Glaswegian two-piece – the awesomely named Stina Tweeddale and Shona McViccar – comes in the viscous richness of Stina's cooed, frequently self-harmonized vocals; the blood's in the meaty, vital churn of her guitarwork and the steady, forceful thump of Shona's drums. There's blood spit (and spilt) in snarly choruses like "Why won't you just grow up?" and "Super Rat"'s just-so-we're-clear tirade: "I will hate you forever/scumbag sleaze slimeball grease/You really do disgust me" – but then we find Stina "wishing I was waking up in my boy's arms," with all the melty sweetness of Best Coast at their gooiest. (They have their more insightful moments too, like noting that "cynics never fall in love/they just blame it on lust.") Point being, these lasses have some range. Starting from a debut that spans crunchy, punky indie-pop hookfests ("Killer Bangs"); smart, Speedy Ortiz-style grunge revivalism, and retro-ey hints of country and surf, Honeyblood have plenty of possibilities, and a ton of potential – but they're also pretty darn potent already. originally published in Magnet Magazine

Lana Del Rey

Ultraviolence (Interscope) strips all of the hip-hop, and much of the Hollywood (though not the cinema, per se), out of Lana Del Rey's signature vibe, making it less magnificently fantastical but not necessarily any more realist; less sonically striking – that unmistakable breathy, languorous alto aside – but hardly less rapturously absorbing.  Nothing sounds like a single – or else, they all do – so it all just sinks deep into a bluesy, glam-tinted wallow – call it bummertime sadness – blurring into a continuous, elegantly framed soft-focus, slow-motion montage. [B+]

Soft Pink Truth
Why Do The Heathen Rage?

Drew Daniel – Shakespeare scholar and half of merrie electronic meta-pranksters Matmos – is no stranger to epically conceptual goofiness, but Why Do The Heathen Rage? (Thrill Jockey) is his most brilliantly, gleefully demented project yet.  Subtitled “Electronic Profanations of Black Metal Classics,” it drags Venom, Mayhem and Darkthrone songs, kicking and screaming, through a frothy miasma of breakbeat rave, acid techno, industrial glitch-core and full-on diva house, riddled with queer theory and impishly Satanic irreverence.  Metal devotees and EDM purists should proceed with extreme caution and (antithetical) open-mindedness; fans of fun – and utter, manic absurdity – should dive right in, especially those who think as hard as they party. [A-]

Craig Leon
Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol I: Nommos/Visiting

Anthology of Interplanetary Folk Music Vol. 1 (RVNG Intl.) unearths (and precisely replicates) two utterly fascinating albums of early, private synthesizer music – Nommos (1980) and Visiting (1982) – envisioned by this NYC composer (and producer of seemingly every seminal punk debut) as emulating the extra-terrestrial musical transmissions central to the star-gazing cosmology of Mali's Dogon people.  The music – full of ritualistic repetition and otherworldly texture; warm, entrancing drones and subtle, curious rhythmic shifts – is as strange, timeless, ancient and alien as its labyrinthine backstory suggests, but it compels on so many levels largely through its uncanny, unassuming simplicity. [A-]


It's tough doing more justice to the prevailing vibe of 1979 (Friend of Friends), this LA composer/producer's latest offering (which also comes with an interactive visual/video counterpart), than the titles he's given to its murky, melancholic instrumentals: "Addictive Yearning." "Let The Silence Float." "Drink It In." They don't feel like compositions so much as ebbing, flowing fields of sound; rich, thick yet subtly muted jazzy ambience centered around drippy, soft-edged electric piano clusters, awash in analog pop and hiss; beatless – or nearly so – but never quite static; suffused with some deep-set but not-quite-expressible emotion. [A-]

Brian Eno • Karl Hyde
High Life

The second full-length collaboration in just three months between avant-overlord Eno and Underworld frontman Hyde, the loose, vibrant High Life (Warp) unexpectedly resurrects the African-inspired, texture-jamming groove language first established in the former's foundational early-'80s explorations with David Byrne and Talking Heads, with Hyde's bright, glassy guitar work (and occasional vocals) highlighting a high-summer romp through terse, jittery chop-up funk and softly beaming, uplifting long-form pop.  It's the most vital – and flat-out fun – Eno has sounded in ages.

DJ Dodger Stadium
Friends of Mine

Jerome LOL and Samo Sound Boy – two LA beatsters with terrible taste in monikers – join forces on Friend of Mine (Body High), an understated but emphatically heart-sleeved house record that recalls Moby’s Play in its ready, bubbly accessibility and unabashed (indeed, incessant) foregrounding of soulful vocal loops.  It also evokes
Fatboy Slim’s excitable filter work, gospel predilection and
transcendently thumping repetition.  Such reference points are hardly enticements to today’s taste-conscious technophiles, but this stuff’s so beautifully constructed – with its focused, just-busy-enough beatwork and keen sense of build and release – that it’ll win them over right along with the rest of us. [B]

Neon Icon

Kitchen-sink pop culture references + Mad Lib rhyme games + sports-nerd free-association + multiple personality mania + absurdly eclectic braggadocio (“hot like five saunas; my shoelaces are iguana”; “I can shoot a BB through a frosted Cheerio”; “no kids, no wife, no
child support“) + absurdly exploded expectations + absurdly divided Metacritic scores + Rick Ross x Soulja Boy ÷ Big Sean - Vanilla Ice + “the white [insert random black celebrity]” + Versace Versace Versace [wifebeater; glock; sleeping bag] + Swishahouse ratchet-trap + Cypress
Hill G-funk + bubblegum electro-R&B + Jonny Greenwood guitar flutters + hallucinatory autotune gloss-pop + (Diplo-produced; B-52s-esque) surf-rap [why is this not a thing??] + aw-shucks tearjerker hick-hop + dolphin noises... = NEON iCON (Mad Decent) [B]

Big Freedia
Just Be Free

The NoLA bounce monarch's unflagging, Herculean campaign to liberate and oscillate the asses of the planet – via tireless touring; vividly viral booty-twerk vids; reality television – hasn't left much time for pedestrian concerns like making albums, but Just Be Free (Queen Diva), unsurprisingly, approaches that proposition with the same imperious sass and aplomb she brings to everything else: it's a delirious, non-stop tear through rump-wiggling anthemics, spiked with enough sonic tweaks – funky horns, intergalactic stutters, ghetto-house breakbeats, insta-coined catchphrases – to stay fresh without deflecting the prime, pious directive of keeping those cheeks clapping. 

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Finally, some freaking summer jams!  In a season that’s been woefully thin on windows-down fist-pumpers, fun. guitarist Jack Antonoff brings the goods with a mostly-solo side project that’s lousy with instant anthems and equally potent deep cuts.  Strange Desire (RCA) – which has the exultant gang-chanted choruses, martial stomp and giddy, maximalist production ethos of his meal-ticket band, but only about a third of the gloss – is a thrilling and unabashed homage to New Wave synth-rock of the “Dancing With Myself“/“Dancing In The Dark” era (see also: Big Country, Tears for Fears, Modern English...) but it’s got far too much idiosyncratic heart, and too many surprises up its sleeve (Grimes! Yoko Ono! Kid A/Múm-level electro-skitters!), to reduce to mere retro-pop pastiche.

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Per the handle, Kettering, UK’s Temples are a reverent lot, taking their place alongside Holland’s Jacco Gardner, Sweden’s Dungen and Australia’s Tame Impala and – in their less ravey moments – Jagwar Ma in an international monastic order devoted to ritually summoning the precise spirit and sound of a sunny, swirly day in 1967.  Sun Structures (Fat Possum), the band’s buoyant, Byrds-besotted debut, is duly and lovingly lavished with twelve-strings and Mellotrons, drippily phased vocals and fuzz-tone bass, offering a particularly crisp and tidy psych-pop simulacrum – with some slightly revisionist 21st-century boom and crunch to the drum sounds – one that airbrushes out most of the era’s darker, trippier excesses without ever stinting on the melody or mysticism.

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And this week's prize for most absurdly apt bandname combo – besting White Hills/Pink Mountaintops; on par with last month's Potty Mouth/Swearin' pairing – goes to... two spunky mid-'90s babies, both among the most endearing live performers in recent memory, each of whom manifests her own distinct aspect of felinity.  Daytona Beach rapper/tumblr-princess Kitty (fka Kitty Pryde) – whose Impatiens EP re-clinches both her ear for innovative sparkle-thump and her deftly breezy mic smartz – is all frisky-smug "totes adorbs, but still sorta way too hip for you," but like, nice about it – whereas Chloe Chaidez, frontlady and raison d'être of LA glam-popsters Kitten, and a total spitfire on stage, has more of a husky, feral, cat-in-heat vibe.  Her band's pretty-great eponymous debut (Elektra) shelves their punkier tendencies for an emo '80s gloss not far removed from recent tourmate Charli XCX, though the semi-acoustic closer indicates there's some Alanis in the DNA too.  Now, where's Chan Marshall at?'

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This Merge-signed, Brooklyn-based trio charmed us two years back with the effortless indie-pop of their debut, but their fuller richness took some time to sink in: the album went down so sweet and breezy it was easy to miss its smart, subtle adventurousness and the undercurrent of wistful restraint beneath Amber Papini's clear-eyed, elegantly winsome vocals.  This year's Trouble – despite the band's unmistakable late-summer shimmer, they keep dropping records in January – announced itself, title on down, as a darker, more grown-up affair, venturing variably into spikier, synthier, grittier and generally more new wave-tinted territory, without losing its predecessor's delectably light touch – but most of those seemingly new developments were really there all along, if you were listening close enough.

Fat Creeps
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Last summer, these beloved Boston lady-rockers toured with Philly faves Bleeding Rainbow, which makes a lot of sense since the two bands share a lot of the same punky-sweet DNA and have a similar scrappy, lo-fi charm; equally given to scuffed-up riffs, dreamily drony haze
and pretty swooning melodies.  This time they’re making the rounds behind super-infectious debut long-player Must Be Nice (Sophomore Lounge), which balances out their self-styled “lazy” garage-rock crunch with plenty of dark, moody spaciness, Mariam Saleh and Gracie Jackson’s dead-eyed close-harmony coos and Saleh’s deliciously loose-slung surf-pop basslines.

Viet Cong
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Two of Viet Cong's four members were in the belated, beloved Calgary band Women, and they carry forward many recognizable strands of that group's dour, textural post-punk.  But the seven songs – demos, theoretically – comprising their 2013 debut release Cassette (first presented in the titular format and reissued this week, semi-confusingly, on vinyl, by Mexican Summer) contain more divergent musical directions, and possibly more color and melody, than Women's entire output: from the crisp, Jam-flavored power-pop of "Throw It Away" to dissonant, shape-shifting kraut-punk closer "Select Your Drone," with a couple scraggly, Lilys-ish paisley psych ditties and a full-throttle Bauhaus cover along the way.  Per their great performances at this year's SXSW, the band is also tremendous fun to watch, with an engrossing and surprisingly playful onstage dynamic.

Pink Mountaintops
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It's probably fair – and, I think, no slander – to say that Vancouver's Stephen McBean specializes in record-collector rock, both in his "day job" band – the psych/prog/proto-metal-updating, all-around Zeppelin-worshipping Black Mountain – and, perhaps especially, with this (ostensibly) lighter, (decidedly) lower-fi, (theoretically) solo side-outlet.  Let's see: Get Back(Jagjaguwar) – the first 'Tops outing since '09's relatively polished Outside Love – is titled after a Beatles tune; the first cut quotes Bowie in its chorus and the second enshrines 1987's "second summer of love," while lyrical allusions to "teenage kicks," "fascination street," etc. abound throughout.  Even so, the referents, and the reverences, are predominantly musical, from fuzz-drenched Jesus and Mary Chain janglefests and dingy, dinged-up Springsteenisms to post-punk rave-ups and scuzzball psych comparable to the kraut-damaged headspace of recent Primal Scream.

Dub Thompson
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Like their quasi-labelmates and spiritual big brothers in Foxygen – whose Jonathan Rado produced their recklessly rickety debut – this LA duo of teenage noiseniks work in a sort of manic adolescent piecemeal pastiche.  But where the Foxys favor a sunny, '60s-steeped retro-rock palette that, even at its most sprawling, still tends to foreground melody, these guys plunge headfirst into the darkest, scraggliest reaches of post-punk and bad-trip psychedelia.  9 Songs (Dead Oceans) contains eight songs (jerks!!) and only about two and a half hooks – most of which are contained in the tense reggae scorcher "No Time" (Rado on organ), and another quarter or so in the prerecorded Casio demo that serves as "Dograces"' goof of an outro.  Not so much enfants terribles as full-on child terrors.

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Japan's O O I O O (pronounce it by saying each letter aloud) – the mercurial, all-female quartet led by the ineffable Yoshimi P-We – started life as a side-line to the similarly unpredictable sound-rock experiments she conducts with the Boredoms, but as of this century they've actually been somewhat more active than their ostensible "parent" band – even though their new, seventh album, Gamel (Thrill Jockey), is their first in five years.  Per its title, the record incorporates the microtonal dings, clangs and bongs of Indonesian gamelan metallophones as a central component in its candy-coated craziness, augmenting a typically odd concatenation of chants, thumps, bursts of choral harmony and feral-guitar squawks for a serpentine sonic melee that is maddening and exhilarating, exotic and chaotic in equal measure.

Laura Cantrell
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Laura Cantrell sports something of a dual lineage: a bona-fide Nashville native whose last album was a tribute to country queen Kitty Wells, she's also a Brooklynite veteran of WFMU and Matador Records, and a favorite of the late John Peel.  So it fits that she's touring with Camera Obscura, Scottish indie-poppers whose fine 2013 effort Desire Lines found them tacking increasingly toward Americana – and whose Tracyanne Campbell, incidentally, co-wrote one of the dozen near-perfect tunes on Cantrell's new record; her first set of originals since 2005 (Franklin Bruno co-wrote two others.)  No Way There From Here (Thrift Shop) is a warm, affectionate, poignantly personal set striking a country/folk/roots-pop sweet spot similar to Kelly Hogan, Devon Sproule, Caitlin Rose (who provides some harmonies) or Neko Case at her most direct.

originally published in Philadelphia City Paper