Category Archives: ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC

Essential New Music: Miranda Lee Richards’ “Existential Beast”

Miranda Lee Richards apparently lives in 1971 Laurel Canyon, according to her fourth LP, Existential Beast. Opener “Ashes And Seeds” and other tracks ooze the atmosphere of the L.A. studio-musician country rock that permeated discs such as Linda Ronstadt’s Hasten Down The Wind. The major differences between the originals and Richards’ take on the sound are numerous, however. First, her nature and her singing are ethereal, as aerie-faerie as a roomful of Kate Bush records. But since she doesn’t have the old ’70s L.A. studio mafia in her employ, this music sounds more organic. Plus, the production has a strong modern psychedelia flavor: bashy drums, excessive reverb, the whole nine yards. Ultimately, Richards is at her best when she drops the Ronstadt/Joni Mitchell homages and unleashes her inner Marianne Faithfull circa “As Tears Go By,” as on “Oh Raven” or closing acoustic waltz “Another World.” Then her voice’s purity shines.

—Tim Stegall

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: The Van Pelt’s “Stealing From Our Favorite Thieves” And “Sultans Of Sentiment”

This pair of releases by New York City’s the Van Pelt, in hindsight, provided a number of significant indie-rock mile markers. The band was led by Ted’s brother, Chris Leo; Stealing From Our Favorite Thieves was recorded by Alap Momin (ex-Dälek); bassist Toko Yasuda went back and forth between TVP and Blonde Redhead after that record; and both albums saw the light of day via cult label Gern Blandsten. After being out of print since the turn of the century, the original tapes have been mined for reissue treatment by Spain’s La Castanya, allowing listeners to trace the band from its gorgeously melodic and incendiary, post-hardcore beginnings a la the Jazz June and Texas Is The Reason to a more subdued, Slint-like bent with Leo’s increasingly spoken-word vocal style by the time the last notes ring out on Sultans Of Sentiment.

–Kevin Stewart-Panko

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Algiers’ “The Underside Of Power”

The wall of sound this band generates with distorted guitars, samples, industrial noise and live drums is overwhelming at times, but the message it conveys about race and class in America is an important one. Vocalist Franklin Fisher delivers the band’s sermons with an effective flair, slipping easily between soul, gospel, rock, jazz and hip hop. The instrumental textures are dense and multilayered, producing music that blends anger with a measured optimism. “Cleveland” draws parallels between the KKK in the ’50s and ’60s and today’s more subtle racism. It includes chilling shout-outs to seven African-American prisoners who were the victims of police violence while they were in custody. “The Cycle/The Spiral: Time To Go Down Slowly” sounds like Ray Charles fronting Nine Inch Nails, a cry of defiance in the face of the sinister forces encroaching on our freedoms, while the title track is a Motown-flavored rocker with slashing guitar pyrotechnics that complement Fisher’s operatic fervor.

—j. poet

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Beach Fossils’ “Somersault”

If your band is going have the word “beach” in its name, your music better have breeziness in spades. Brooklyn trio Beach Fossils have offered an easygoing listening experience since their debut, though their sophomore album (and associated EPs) marked a turn into more jagged territory. On Somersault, Beach Fossils continue to expand their sound, and the band gets better as it ventures further from home. Early on Somersault, “This Year” and “May 1st” set the scene with ably played jangle. The songs are ultimately harmless, but they’re overshadowed by the album’s more adventurous moments. Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell lends her voice to the floaty “Tangerine,” and “Social Jetlag” sounds like Teenage Fanclub on codeine. The ghost of “I Am The Walrus” haunts “Closer Everywhere,” and singer Dustin Payseur takes a backseat to Memphis rapper Cities Aviv’s spoken word on “Rise.” They might still find comfort in straightforward guitar pop, but Beach Fossils are a rare band that should actually indulge its wilder tendencies.

—Eric Schuman

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Black Lips’ “Satan’s Graffiti Or God’s Art?”

It’s ironic that garage rock’s enfants terribles enlisted the services of Sean Lennon to produce their eighth album, because the refining of their abrasive twang seemingly comes from long nights spent poring over pre-Rubber Soul Beatles. Underlying the Echoplex effects, groaning saxophone and layers of sinister noisiness on “Can’t Hold On” are a British Invasion backbeat, glistening tambourine percussion and wobbly vocal harmonies that are almost as drowned out as those elements were by screaming teenage girls in the ’60s. Even when Black Lips operate more on the obnoxious side of the coin—“We Know” grinds to intolerable, screeching halts in an attempt to prove themselves both edgy and improved—the fuzzy, surf swing of tracks such as “Occidental Front” prove the band can be powerfully charming.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Perfume Genius’ “No Shape”

After a minute of simple, tender piano and tremulous vocals hearkening to the intimate, wounded balladry of Mike Hadreas’ early albums, No Shape takes an unexpected turn. A sudden, euphoric outpouring of sonic fairy dust emerges, reflecting the dramatic shift in the Seattle songwriter’s working methods that began on 2014’s Too Bright. The evolution only intensifies here, as he swaps out that album’s synthesizer explorations for a vibrantly baroque art-pop palette (strings, harpsichords, bells, electric guitar) that is, if anything, even brighter. The songs—the dense, Kate Bush-y “Wreath,” swooningly opulent beatbox bossa “Just Like Love” and, especially, the cathartic, massively catchy “Slip Away”—largely follow suit, although the album also finds space for Hadreas’ darker and more experimental impulses. And while queerness remains emphatically central to his artistic outlook, it too manifests in ways broader and more expansive than the previous album’s grappling with homophobia in its many forms. Despite lyrics contending with crippling anxiety (“Choir”), suicide (“Valley”) and relationship strife (sumptuous Weyes Blood duet “Sides”), what ultimately emerges is a celebration of the defiant act of loving and living fully in the face of a world gone mad.

—K. Ross Hoffman

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Man Forever’s “Play What They Want”

You have to peel away a few layers to get to Man Forever’s identity, but the purpose of this record is right there on the cover. Man Forever is singer/drummer/composer John Colpitts, a.k.a. Kid Millions of Oneida. Originally, the project applied the tonal relationships of minimalism to drums, and its touring incarnations have involved Chuck Berry-like pickup bands and a partnership with classical ensemble So Percussion. The Kid plays what he wants, and he has taken a shine to 21st century classical composition. So this time he’s recruited Yo La Tengo, Laurie Anderson and female vocal quartet Quince to bolster his own singing on five tracks that interweave chants, narrations and reverb-laden croons with layers of interlocking percussion, liquid guitars and acoustic instrumentation that could’ve been lifted from an Alice Coltrane record. When it’s on, which is most of the time, it’s deep and beyond category.

—Bill Meyer

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: North Mississippi Allstars’ “Prayer For Peace”

The North Mississippi Allstars have been rollin’ and tumblin’ since 1996. Upholding an earthy tradition carved out by their badass dad, musician/producer James Luther Dickinson, drummer Cody and guitarist/singer Luther play unvarnished, blues-infused rock ‘n’ roll of the Southern variety. And since the birthplace of the blues is the Mississippi Delta per se, you know the music here is authentic. While Prayer For Peace is the duo’s seventh studio album, their rootsy sound remains more or less unchanged and identifiable. Joined by bassist Oteil Burbridge, guitarist/singer Grahame Lesh and guitarist Kenny Brown, the Dickinsons display their bond with jam deities like the Dead and the Allman Brothers Band, as well as their lineage from Hill Country elders Otha Turner and R.L. Burnside. Performing bluesy originals and classics such as Fred McDowell’s “You Got To Move,” the Allstars are earnest rock torchbearers burning quite brightly.

—Mitch Myers

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Alison Moyet’s “Other”

Alison Moyet’s husky alto can dominate any landscape, from the perky synth-pop of her youthful collaboration with Vince Clarke in Yazoo to the top-40 pop of “Whispering Your Name” or “It Won’t Be Long.” It’s forceful, soulful and empathetic, and 35 years after Yazoo’s classic “Only You,” it’s lost none of its power or beauty. Her profile has remained higher in her native U.K. than in the U.S., but her solo albums—Other is her ninth—have been consistently rewarding. A sequel of sorts to 2013’s The Minutes, Other reunites her with electronic producer Guy Sigsworth (Björk, Madonna) for a set that’s by turns tender and spare (piano ballad “Other”), aggressive and angry (the heavy-handed “Beautiful Gun”) and perky and poppy (the new wavish “Happy Giddy”). But whether juxtaposed with string sections, dark electronics or thumping beats, Moyet’s deeply sonorous voice is still the dramatic center.

—Steve Klinge

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s “Best Troubador”

The first song Will Oldham (aka Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) ever sang onstage was a Merle Haggard cover. He repays the debt fully with this 16-track compilation of Haggard covers. With two exceptions, he avoids the obvious hits, choosing to shine a light on Haggard’s often downhearted love songs with arrangements that avoid country-music conventions. A spooky slide guitar makes “Roses In The Winter” sound like a lament, with Oldham’s trembling voice adding to the song’s despondent feel. “My Old Pal” echoes the Carter Family with its folky harmonies and simple melody, while a smoky sax makes “I Always Get Lucky With You,” a hit Haggard wrote for George Jones, sound like a cocktail-lounge standard. After a slow start, Oldham and the band romp through “Wouldn’t That Be Something,” a tune that shows off Haggard’s interest in science fiction and includes a wry, self-referential quote from the more famous and oft-covered “Today I Started Loving You Again.”

—j. poet

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

  • FaceBook