Category Archives: ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC

Essential New Music: Mineral Girls’ “This Is The Last Time Every Time”

There’s a portion of music about 10 minutes into the new Mineral Girls album that kind of locks in the band’s shining move into clarity. The pop elements of the song fall back into the distance to give way to a shimmering moment of peace. The words trail off and the guitars turn cyclical, entrancing, dazzling. Truly a look-out-toward-the-horizon moment, this section (from “This Is The Last Time”) is simple but definitive. Here, the North Carolina group extends outward what it might’ve before stuffed into a tinier space. On 2015’s Cozy Body, the songs were warm but opaque, filtered through fuzz, cloudy even from up close. In contrast, This Is The Last Time Every Time is exposed, vulnerable, crisp and loud.

We’re reminded of other bands that emerged out of the fuzz to make incredible records. Braid’s Bob Nanna coming up close with Frame & Canvas’s tongue-twisted opening lines after an under-the-surface rhythm introduction on “The New Nathan Detroits.” Death Cab For Cutie taking the shields down about a minute into We Have The Facts. More recently, You Blew It! enlisted Evan Weiss to bring Keep Doing What You’re Doing into clanging, blaring light. Coming closer is a risk, but This Is The Last Time Every Time is in the company of these successes.

Mineral Girls takes a confident step forward while the songs bring us through the knotty, complex pains of being alive. The rousing “Let’s Talk About Us” wades through these contradictions—it’s a twisting rock song that gives power to a chorus that goes “I am in love with everyone and terrified of everything.”

Most of the record is defined by its meticulous guitar work, tightening up like sailor knots and loosening again into strings on songs like “Bridge Over What.” The title track is an outlier musically, trading in teetering guitars for thin electronics and campfire singalongs. Immediately reminiscent of Lifted/I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning-era Bright Eyes, with its off-kilter vocals and existential spoken-word interruptions, “This Is The Last Time Every Time” is a fractured song that wobbles between intimate crisis and infinite questions with a warm sense of dark humor.

This Is The Last Time Every Time is a record about feeling disconnected. The characters in these songs grapple on the line between their internal and external selves, ditching their own parties to be alone, trying to understand how other people appear to live peacefully. On “The Bruise On We,” the pain of these disconnections come to an apex, breaking into catharsis after two minutes of level-headed weaving: “All of the world’s/Most beautiful imagery/Is associated with something/That I can’t relate to.”

Although the LP deals with heavy topics—depression, body image, abuse and addiction among them—the very existence of these songs is an act of perseverance. An open heart in search of healing beats at the center of each one. This is beautiful, harsh and (let’s not forget) wholly enjoyable music built on shifting structures that pivot sometimes slowly and sometimes all at once. With This Is The Last Time Every Time, Mineral Girls give everything of themselves without the distance that lo-fi recordings can impose. The result is something best held close to your chest.

—Jordan T. Walsh

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer’s “Not Dark Yet”

While Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer haven’t exactly been strangers—they’ve shared stages and haunted each other’s songs—the sisters’ solo careers have seldom been in sync. Lynne first hit the country charts in 1988, but by the time Moorer followed suit 10 years later, Lynne had moved on to pop-soul—and they’ve hopscotched from genre to genre ever since. All of their differences fall away on their first full-length collaboration, where their voices blend together beautifully. It’s no surprise that the title track, a latter-day Dylan gem, is lovely; that Lynne and Moorer’s take on the Killers’ “My List” sounds similarly stately is a testament to their restraint. That holds true for the spare piano-and-guitar arrangement of Nick Cave’s “Into My Arms” and the set’s lone original, “Is It Too Much.” The only misstep is a discordant take on Nirvana’s “Lithium,” which somehow manages to be both eerily faithful and dizzily busy. Still, when Lynne and Moorer howl in unison, you can’t fault them for chasing the harmless high and holy daze that only close sibling harmonies can induce.

M.J. Fine

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Fumio Miyashita’s “Live On The Boffomundo Show”

Do a web search for The Boffomundo Show and you’ll find yourself tempted by a rabbit hole deep enough to harm your relationships and job history. Between the late ’70s and early ’90s, the public-access TV show hosted a who’s-who of progressive and jazz-rock personalities for interviews and live performances. This LP takes a couple sets by Fumio Miyashita off the shelf for the first time since 1980. In the mid-’70s, Miyashita founded the Far East Family Band, which was characterized as Japan’s answer to Pink Floyd, with future new-age star Kitaro. Live On The Boffomundo Show is simultaneously more cosmic and naturalistic than anything by either his old band or his famous ex-bandmate. Playing over rudimentary but persistent rhythms, Miyashita set a full array of space-age blips, avian chatter and snaky synth melodies to tunnel through the heart of the sun and out the other side.

Bill Meyer

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Brian Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets,” “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy),” “Another Green World” And “Before And After Science”

With the cheerful absurdity of Here Come The Warm Jets and the harrowing, avant-glam pop of Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy) (both 1974), the fretless fusion of 1975’s Another Green World and the searing new wave of 1977’s Before And After Science, Brian Eno (credited simply as Eno on the first three albums) created an immediate identity for his vocal, solo oeuvre away from Roxy Music and apart from his then-burgeoning interests in discrete, ambient music. Now, done up as half-speed masters at 45 RPM spread across two vinyl records (each, with gatefold sleeves), the early, restless Eno—before and beyond his role as stately experimental artist, collaborator, producer and thinker—gets a clearer-than-crystal overdue review.

What can be learned from these rich remasters? That, with the exception of the gloriously understated Another Green World’s ethereal, bass-heavy minimalism (thanks to Percy Jones), Eno’s high end is deeply piercing, whether it’s the epileptic “King’s Lead Hat” (Before And After Science), the swooning “Fat Lady Of Limbourg” (Tiger Mountain) or the corny “Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch” (Warm Jets) and “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More” (Tiger Mountain). That refrigerator-magnet prose started in 1974. That doo-wop and barbershop chorales are way more inspirational to Eno than initially realized. That I miss the sinister, panicked guitar sounds of Robert Fripp (provoked and processed by Eno) now more than ever. That the textural electronic experimentation of Before And After Science is truly the third album in the Berlin Trilogy recorded by Eno and David Bowie at the same time.

Taken as a whole, Eno’s first four non-ambient solo albums represent a ferociousness in experimental pop the likes of which we won’t hear again soon.

A.D. Amorosi

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Iron & Wine’s “Beast Epic”

With 2011’s Kiss Each Other Clean and 2013’s Ghost On Ghost, Iron & Wine albums seemed to be on an expansion trajectory, adding orchestration, lengthier instrumental passages and deeper textures to Sam Beam’s poetic, gentle folk songs. Since then, Beam, who uses the Iron & Wine moniker whether recording solo or with a band, has kept busy, releasing a set of early archival material and two duets albums (one of covers with Ben Bridwell of Band Of Horses and one with Jesca Hoop) and co-producing and playing/singing on Tift Merritt’s Stitch Of The World. (All are worth hearing.)

Beast Epic is the sixth Iron & Wine LP, and while it’s not a return to the stark folk of The Creek Drank The Cradle, it does dial back on the density of the arrangements, with the focus on Beam’s acoustic guitar laced with acoustic bass, light piano and an occasional cello. The tone is Nick Drake-like, but not, as is too often the case when artists go for this sound, Nick Drake-lite. It’s as if Beam took the lessons in complex arrangements learned from Ghost On Ghost but stripped them to their spacious essence.

On Beast Epic, the mood is tender even when the lyrics are caustic. “Some call it talking blues/Some call it bitter truth/Some call it getting even in a song,” Beam sings softly on “Bitter Truth,” which also contains a Dylan-worthy putdown: “You better love yourself/’Cause I’ve tried.” This being an Iron & Wine record, the 11 songs (in 36 minutes) have a thematic unity: References to dissolving relationships, to birds, to sunsets and to singing recur, as do a few Christian ones (although not as many as in the past). And there’s unmitigated tenderness, too: “For all the love you’ve left behind, you can have mine,” sings Beam on “Call It Dreaming.”

Although Beast Epic does not broadcast its complexity and depth as with some past Iron & Wine efforts, it’s still lovely, dark and deep.

Steve Klinge

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: The Chris Robinson Brotherhood’s “Barefoot In The Head”

The Chris Robinson Brotherhood doesn’t get enough respect. Vocalist/bandleader Robinson is still distancing himself from the legacy of his old group, the Black Crowes, and far too few people have heard the many splendid recordings by his more current band of brothers. These guys are total road warriors who’ve nurtured their expansive live sound to include several aspects of cosmic American music that echo the spirit and intent of tribal pioneers like the Grateful Dead. Deep and communal, Barefoot In The Head is the CRB’s most impressive studio effort yet. Ace guitarist Neal Casal (Ryan Adams And The Cardinals) is sharper than ever and brings out the best in Robinson, while Adam MacDougall’s vintage keyboard arsenal keeps things from sounding too clichéd. Psychedelic flourishes abound as the band’s rocking roots and fluid flashbacks interweave organically. The songs are there, the performances are spirited, Robinson’s voice is in fine form, and the good times just keep rolling along.

Mitch Myers

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: The Telescopes’ “As Light Return”

Like the Feelies, the Telescopes have a doughnut for a timeline. They started out in 1987 as a promising psych-pop combo whose music argued for the merits of guitars in the pre-Loveless era. After fizzling in the early ’90s, they took a decade off. Now organized around founding singer/guitarist Stephen Lawrie, they sound much heavier and quite unburdened by commercial notions. Lawrie isn’t averse to singing tunes, but he saddles them with lumbering cadences and heaping clouds of looped guitars until it seems like the noise is the point. Each of the record’s five songs inches closer to that conclusion, but it’s the epic finale, “Handful Of Ashes,” that makes the case. With the drums withdrawn and the guitars circling like hurricane clouds, it completely embraces the maelstrom.

Bill Meyer

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Broken Social Scene’s “Hug Of Thunder”

Broken Social Scene albums have never been about raising the profiles of the group’s dozen-plus members. Though guitarist Kevin Drew and bassist Brendan Canning serve as de facto leaders, BSS thrives on collaborations that yield results greater than the sum of their parts. With several members boasting their own celebrated careers, each assembly of BSS can end up feeling like a family reunion, inside jokes and all.

Hug Of Thunder features just about all of the marquee names associated with BSS (Feist, Metric’s Emily Haines, Stars’ Amy Millan), but they share the spotlight with a handful of new recruits. Singer Ariel Engle is the most prominent addition, taking the reins on highlights “Stay Happy” and “Gonna Get Better.” Haines shines on the breathless “Protest Song,” and under Feist’s guidance, the title track is one of the band’s best.

With so many talented cooks contributing to Hug Of Thunder, not to mention the significant gap between its release and its predecessor (2010’s Forgiveness Rock Record), the retreads of familiar sonic ground are a bit disappointing. As fun as Drew’s “Halfway Home” is, it’s a total ringer for the band’s 2005 breakout, “7/4 (Shoreline).” The muscular arrangements and horn flares elevate “Vanity Pail Kids” and “Gonna Get Better” much in the same way they did for the standouts on Forgiveness Rock Record. If it’s been a minute since you’ve spent time with BSS, Hug Of Thunder could be a revelation. Otherwise, you’ll just have to settle for it being a very good album.

Eric Schuman

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: Grizzly Bear’s “Painted Ruins”

It’s no slight to claim that Painted Ruins contains strong trace elements of Radiohead circa OK Computer. Thom Yorke and Co. selected the Brooklyn quartet to open for their 2008 tour, and Jonny Greenwood called them his favorite band at the time. The album is full of anxiety and tension, stocked with woozy melodies that float atop precise rhythms and dramatically calibrated guitars; it foregrounds its attention to detail.

Painted Ruins, the fourth Grizzly Bear LP (not counting 2004’s Horn Of Plenty, which was essentially an Edward Droste solo recording), ends a self-imposed hiatus following 2012’s Shields. It was written in fits and starts via long-distance correspondence, with the band members split between East and West coasts, vocalist/guitarist Daniel Rossen in upstate New York, drummer Christopher Bear in Brooklyn, bassist Chris Taylor and vocalist Edward Droste in L.A. Those instrument roles are very slippery: Everyone aside from Droste plays multiple instruments, and everyone sings.

Painted Ruins itself is slippery: It’s sharply focused—and sonically beautiful—but also abstract, with an open-ended feeling to the swooping voices and lyrical ambiguities. “Great disaster, shocking sight/Scream and run or test your might,” Rossen sings on “Aquarian,” one of several tracks with political undercurrents. “With every passing day/Our history fades away/And I’m not sure why/There’s nothing left to say,” sings Droste on “Neighbors,” and he could be singing about America or about the husband he recently divorced.

Like the Antlers or Wild Beasts or, yes, Radiohead, Grizzly Bear makes records that draw you deeply into their textures and drama, with lyrics that explore feelings of alienation and uncertainty. The result is strangely comforting and compelling.

Steve Klinge

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed

Essential New Music: The Fall’s “New Facts Emerge”

New Facts Emerge is the 32nd studio album by the Fall—an undeniable miracle, all things considered. And a micro-miracle inside that big miracle is that, starting with 1999’s The Marshall Suite and including this brand-new document, Mark E. Smith has managed to put the Fall name on 12 studio full-lengths that not only measure up to the band’s heyday of a very long time ago but exist as strong contenders against the underground rock landscape onto which each album appeared over the last 18 years. If New Facts Emerge reminds the listener of any post-millennial Fall album, I’d have to go with 2003’s The Real New Fall LP. You’d need to hire a consultant to follow the lineup turmoil that’s consistently swirled around Smith on the way to a year of activity and an album that really shouldn’t be possible, but the balance of fuck-around filler to forward-thinking tracks to what any fan would deem “a Fall classic” is contextually astonishing.

Andrew Earles

Posted in ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC | Comments closed