Brace The Wave
Given the prolificacy (and, y’know, lenient self-editing) of Barlow’s home-taping decades, it’s telling that, even trailing his last album by six years (which saw the continuation of successful reunions for both Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr.) this outing contains a mere nine songs. Frill-free cover on down, this is a deliberately small record: trim, but hardly slight. Each song boasts a strong, memorable melody, buoyed as always by Barlow’s familiarly resonant, expressive, pliable voice, and there’s an appreciable dynamic range within its generally understated, drum-free palette – from the poppy, burnished near-rocker “Boundaries” to the sweet, gentle acoustic picking of “Repeat.” Early standout “Nerve” – one of many self-critical ruminations here, with Barlow staring down fifty, haunted by memory and sleeplessness – builds from a gruff, jagged off-kilter march into an unexpectedly lush, harmonized chorus: “What’s wrong with wanting more than I deserve?” As usual, he’s selling himself short. Go get it, Lou!
HeCTA, Wagner’s amiably befuddled new project, evokes some of the what-the-hey knob-twiddling spirit of that happily bygone era, layering his familiarly laconic musings (and, in one instance, a sliced-up old Buddy Hackett routine) atop an assortment of dense, not especially subtle (nor, incidentally, very danceable) beatscapes. It’s pretty weird. Not necessarily any weirder than your average Lambchop record, although it is, for the most part, considerably less gorgeous. (Perhaps tellingly, The Diet is best at its mellowest – the warm, poignant synth-pop of “Sympathy for the Auto Industry”; the almost Books-ish chamber-glitch “We Are Glistening.”) Decidedly – and by design – a curiosity, but worth seeking out for those who enjoy such things.
Yo La Tengo
Bad Bad Hats/Mynabirds
Mutilator Defeated at Last (Castle Face), this year’s Oh Sees episode – they've reliably issued one album (or more) annually since 2006, last year’s putative “hiatus” notwithstanding – sure sounds victorious. And it is indeed a triumph: one of the band’s strongest outings yet, despite (or perhaps due to) representing a significant retreat from their typically coarse, blistering garage-psych assault. Fear not: John Dwyer and co. still bring the flamethrowing guitar-scrawl and regular bouts of gnarly, contortionist punk-scuzz – they’re just tempered here by atypical levels of moody, kraut-blues nuance and (relative) polish; even, on murky seven-minute centerpiece “Sticky Hulks,” some downright pretty organ playing.
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
These ineffable Quebecois cranks – the po-faced agitprop mystics with the goofball moniker – came juddering out of semi-retirement in 2010, still nine strong, the fury, passion and esoteric allure of their towering instrumental manifestations undimmed by the typical reunion rock hokum. This year’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress (Constellation) is a continuous full-album suite that traverses familiar tropes (dramatically building, buzzing drones) and some curveballs (unexpectedly sanguine opener “Peasantry” lurches toward a drunken, folksy jam-along) in satisfying, if admittedly succinct fashion. This is their first Philly show in over a decade not to sell out months in advance, if only because it now seems clear they’ll be around for awhile.