This Tommy Stinson-fronted outfit’s only previous record, 1993’s Friday Night Is Killing Me, was generally well-received, if not a big seller, but it’s questionable as to whether there was much demand for a sequel given the passage of time. After all, the former Replacements bassist quickly moved on to another group (Perfect) before releasing a number of solo LPs, serving an unlikely stint in Guns N’ Roses and embarking on perhaps an even more improbable Mats reunion. Yet here we are 24 years later, and Stinson has resurrected Bash & Pop—the name, anyway, as he’s the only returnee—for a follow-up. Damn if it wasn’t worth the wait. Anything Could Happen is full of similarly winning Friday Night-ish bar-band power pop (“On The Rocks,” “Never Wanted To Know,” the title track) and the sardonic Minnesotan wit Stinson shares with his on-again/off-again cohort Paul Westerberg. There’s a heavy country/Americana influence throughout Anything Could Happen, perhaps greater than expected, though Friday Night did have a bit of that as well; enjoyable twangy shuffles like the opening “Not This Time,” “Breathing Room” and “Anytime Soon” dominate. It’s a direction that suits Stinson rather well. Musically, he’s lived in Westerberg’s considerable shadow since the day the latter forced his way into the seminal combo fronted by Stinson’s brother Bob. With Anything Could Happen, Stinson not only shows that Bash & Pop 2.0 has potential staying power but also that he’s worthy of comparisons to his mentor.
Will Kimbrough is a journeyman guitarist and songwriter with countless solo and collaborative credits to his name. Acclaimed vocalist Brigitte DeMeyer, though younger than Kimbrough, is approaching her second decade of music making. While Mockingbird Soul isn’t the duo’s first collaboration, it’s their first album as a credited pair, and it showcases their solo and shared talents quite cleanly and pleasurably. Both Kimbrough and DeMeyer definitely sound more at home in the better-appointed spaces in the American Tower Of Song, and the record works best when it fully embraces that crisp, clean aesthetic; “The Juke,” which tries tentatively for a dirty-blues vibe, seems by contrast the LP’s most mannered moment. More successful are the moments when the pair leans into the bright runs and clean vocals that show off their impressive technical chops. Of these, the slide-heavy title cut, the sly, jazzy “Carpetbagger’s Lullaby” and “Honey Bee,” and the moving letting-go story of “I Can Hear Your Voice” are particular highlights.
In the 15 years since William Basinski began releasing The Disintegration Loops—his epochal tape-loop masterpiece that’s become inseparable from its now-legendary recording on his Brooklyn rooftop the night of 9/11—the work has garnered levels of myth usually reserved for folk heroes and minor deities. Even so, Basinski has proven remarkably capable at existing far outside of his own legacy, his uncanny ability to wring entire worlds from his famously deep tape archives proving more remarkable with each subsequent release. A Shadow In Time is no exception, splitting its time between the placid ambiance of the title track and the impossibly melancholy lament of “For David Robert Jones.” The latter, an elegy titled for David Bowie, ranks easily among the most somber pieces in Basinski’s catalog, its yawning lead orchestral sample very gradually opening up to a mournful, distorted horn line, which itself slowly gives way to a cavernous silence.
Ryan Adams and I have had our differences over the years, the majority of them in the pages of this very magazine. But despite the multitude of criticisms I’ve offered (drive-by appropriation of American musical forms such as C&W, chronic inability to edit one’s back catalog, a sensitivity and temperament more befitting a WWF contestant than singer/songwriter), it’s undeniable that Adams has both persisted and succeeded in ways I thought he never would. So this review is all about props, and on his 16th solo album in the 16 years since he dispensed with Whiskeytown, he deserves them all. There’s craft galore on display here: Bad-romance post-mortem “Breakdown” is probably as lovely a song as he’s ever recorded, splitting the heretofore unexplored difference between the Boss and the Smiths; his storytelling has never been sharper (“Swear I wasn’t lonely when I met you, girl/I was so bored,” he opines on “Outbound Train,” a self-skewering self-examination that wouldn’t sound out of place on Nebraska); and Adams is starting to develop a classic way with a metaphor that even Hank Williams might’ve admired. (It’s hard not to hear “Haunted House” as a reading on the dissolution of his marriage to Mandy Moore; “To Be Without You” takes this subject even deeper and darker into the regret zone.) I’ve seen ridiculous reviews of his cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album that read way more into it than necessary and have basically concluded that this is the breakup album he’s always been threatening to write, his Blood On The Tracks. We may have had bad blood (and from Adams’ perspective, we may still), but, dude, I ain’t got nothin’ but mad love for you now.
On its second album, 2012’s Coexist, the xx doubled down on the minimalist aesthetic that made its debut an instant classic. Coexist found new ways to work with the spaces between Romy Madley Croft’s clear-toned guitar lines, Oliver Sim’s melodic bass and Jamie Smith’s restrained beats and gauzy keyboards, and new ways to throw Croft and Sim’s introspective vocals into sharp relief.
The danger of minimalism, however, is that it eventually becomes more difficult to create something fresh through subtraction rather than addition. The blare of horns that opens I See You announces a retooled, vibrant xx. I See You startles with its extroverted touches: the forceful vocals on “Say Something Loving,” the R&B hooks to “Lips,” the “I Can’t Go For That” Hall & Oates sample on “Hold On.” While “Performance” might fit on Coexist, almost every other song includes at least one disruptor, even if it’s as subtle as the increased BPM of “I Dare You” or the unison vocals of “Test Me.”
Smith’s 2015 album In Colour (credited to his DJ moniker, Jamie xx) is the obvious template: Both Croft and Sim contributed vocals to their partner’s club-happy debut. But what makes this xx album work so well is that the British trio hasn’t lost sight of what has made them special from their start as teenagers on their 2009 debut: their use of space and silence; the interplay between voices, Croft’s alto often in dialogue with Sim’s baritone; the earnest, self-aware, sometimes self-lacerating lyrics; the sense that this is a young band that grew up on hip hop and U.K. club music but whose DNA includes New Order, Young Marble Giants and the Cure without being self-conscious about any of them. It continues to add up to something special.
If there’s one thing that immediately stands out in Austra’s music, it’s the rafter-raising voice of leader Katie Stelmanis. As Austra continues its progression from solo project to full-on band, Stelmanis and Co. have assembled Future Politics, their third album. Less brooding than their darkwave debut and partially stripped of Olympia’s gloss, this latest offering carries an overwhelming feeling of desperation; Stelmanis sings as though time is running out for her to get a message through. Despite the increased presence and influence of bandmates, Stelmanis sounds increasingly alone on Future Politics. Her voice is just out of reach on “Freepower” and her piano is placed at the forefront on the title track. The standout comes right in the middle of the album; “I Love You More Than You Love Yourself” is at once heartbreaking and heartwarming. An effervescent song that showcases the power and range of Stelmanis’ instrument, it’s a crowning achievement on an LP that boasts some of Austra’s best work yet.
Whores’ first full-length comes charging right out of the gate and doesn’t let up. Call it angular hard metal largely at punk speed. After a series of short, choppy releases (two EPs and a split single with Rabbits), the Atlanta trio tries its chops over a full album, and there’s enough solid material here that the record never lags. That would seem like a strange risk for music this pounding and this weighty, but a lot of relentless metal bands can come to sound samey after half an album’s worth of thudding bass and midrange distortion. Whores avoid that pitfall through clever sequencing of speed-racer tracks next to more restrainedly paced numbers (the opening blast of “Playing Poor,” leadoff single “Baby Teeth” and “Participation Trophy” illustrates this move well) and by allowing Christian Lembach’s vocals to rise and recede in the hammering instrumental mix as needed. There’s a lot of sonic variety on Gold, in fact; tonal and EQ variation from song to song contribute to the music’s diverse feel, a quality that impresses the more you spin it.
Revival, Gillian Welch’s 1996 debut, is a cornerstone of Americana, or alt-country as it was called at the time. It raised questions of authenticity—Welch, who grew up in Los Angeles, and guitarist David Rawlings met at Boston’s Berklee College Of Music and were blatantly trafficking in Appalachian folk themes and images—but the stark clarity and world-weary tone sounded perfect. Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg is a companion piece to Revival on the occasion of its 20th anniversary. It’s a 21-track set of demo and live versions, including eight outtakes. It doesn’t add a lot to our understanding of Revival, however: Many of the arrangements on the T Bone Burnett-produced album were as spare as demos, so to hear Welch and Rawlings work through, say, “Orphan Girl” is to hear a less confident or less well-recorded version of basically the same track. Still, it’s cool to discover the unreleased songs, including Johnny Cash “One Piece At A Time” homage “Dry Town,” and to be reminded of how great Revival is.
If you’re looking for the meltingly hot wall of sound that California garage-rock champions Thee Oh Sees are known for in their new LP (released just a few months after their previous album), you may be disappointed. Here, John Dwyer and Co. wax bucolic, bringing forth strange psych/folk sounds that bring to mind twisted Arthurian legend (with flute solo!) more than the kind of overwhelming sternum-crushing sound for which they’re known. But anyone who likes Thee Oh Sees knows that there are many faces to Dwyers’ work, ranging from electronic twiddling to psych trance. Some of this widening gyre of experimental sound comes through on An Odd Entrances, but there’s a definite misty-isle feel to this record, culminating in the Beatlesque “At The End, On The Stairs.” It may not be what you expect, but it’s got the same Dwyer DNA that’s always made the band compelling.
A Hand Through The Cellar Door finds Luke Temple stripping down his performance to the bare minimum. Subtle acoustic bass, quiet drums and occasional string and piano accents support his strummed acoustic guitar, leaving his quiet, expressive singing at center stage. Temple is a literary writer, and many of these songs sound like short stories set to music. “The Birds Of Late December” describes the slow disintegration of a marriage using sparse, bleak images of winter weather. “Maryanne Was Quiet” follows a shy young wife as she descends into madness, attempts suicide and is reborn as a more confident person. On “The Case Of Louis Warren,” a feared bully almost dies in a flaming car crash, only to emerge as a kinder, gentler person. “Ordinary Feeling” and “The Masterpiece Is Broken” are more traditional folk ballads—moody, introspective snapshots of the day-to-day dissatisfactions of ordinary life described with compassion and keen insight.