Category Archives: ESSENTIAL NEW MUSIC

Essential New Music: The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s “Don’t Get Lost”

As if its perpetual revolving door of membership weren’t confusing enough, on album number 16, Brian Jonestown Massacre main man Anton Newcombe has employed the services of five additional guest musicians and vocalists (including members of the Charlatans and the Pogues). Thankfully, this crowding doesn’t bog down Don’t Get Lost too much. There are moments that could’ve been excised, but BJM demonstrates a most robust path when its psychedelia lasers fix onto a starting point and add to the established theme, as on the kaleidoscopic flower-power shimmer of “Resist Much Obey Little,” the curious dub/twang/classic-U2 combo on “Fact 67” and the hypnotic entwining of world music with no-wave flavored industrial on “Throbbing Gristle” and “One Slow Breath.” The strengths shine through, despite a lack of variance in pacing and tempo over the course of this record’s 14 tracks occasionally detracting from potential dynamic wealth.

—Kevin Stewart-Panko

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Essential New Music: Bardo Pond’s “Under The Pines”

Since its classic psych-sludge/noise-gaze debut, Bufo Alvarius, appeared in 1995, Bardo Pond has stood out in its oversaturated corner of the underground thanks to the haunting vocals of singer/flutist Isobel Sollenberger and the dirge-vs.-lead guitar onslaught of the Gibbons brothers, the latter lending the band a serious heaviness that was uncommon among its peers. After a slower post-millennial stretch that saw two LPs on ATP Records, Bardo Pond moved to U.K.-based safe haven Fire Records in 2010 and has since released a clutch of EPs and three full-lengths with the label (2014’s Refulgo was on their own Three-Lobed Recordings imprint), with Under The Pines being the most recent. While there are no arm-hair-raisers like “Tommy Gun Angel” (from 1997’s Lapsed) or “Capillary River” (from the aforementioned debut) here, the album is the reliable mix of shorter, inverted blues-rock dirges and extended workouts one has come to expect from this well-oiled machine.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Beans’ “HAAST,” “Love Me Tonight” And “Wolves Of The World”

Rapper, spoken-word artist, producer and founding Anti-Pop Consortium member Beans hasn’t released an LP since 2011’s End It All. Now come three albums and a first novel, Die Tonight, in a limited-edition bundle. The wait was worth it. HAAST, Love Me Tonight and Wolves Of The World each showcase various aspects of Beans’ formidably wide-ranging aesthetic—the brainy gearhead, the gritty sexhead, the spacey funkhead. The division isn’t that easy or clean, of course, as Beans’ rapid-fire lyrical delivery and diverse topicality don’t linger too long in any one idiom, and all three are linked by his minimalist production approach and tendency to blend canonical hip-hop gestures with artful rhetorical flourishes (from the sinfully catchy “Pendulum”: “And we walk around humble, for what?/Y’all already know the name before we tear the shit up”). Wolves inches the other two albums just slightly, in its complexity of form and content. But each is a stunner on its own merits, and taken entire, the trilogy (triptych?) presents one of so-called underground hip hop’s strongest talents in top form.

—Eric Waggoner

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Essential New Music: Boss Hog’s “Brood X”

Though Jon Spencer’s rising profile in the early-’90s pegged Boss Hog as one of his side projects due to it being the band he shared with wife Cristina Martinez, it’s always been her show, and it’s always been unpredictable. Reemerging last year with the four-song Brood Star EP (also on long-time label In The Red) after a hiatus of 15-plus years, Brood X is Boss Hog’s first album since 2000’s great, sadly misunderstood Whiteout, and it’s a lively hybrid of funk’s nastier side, featuring organ/keyboard-driven ass-shakers and the gutter-blues one might expect from the principals behind its creation. Primarily a vocal showcase for Martinez (Spencer’s vocals take a backseat, as on previous albums), the succinct 10 songs on Brood X are all upbeat workouts, though slower, moody closer “Sunday Routine” is a nice touch that belies the dance-floor-readiness of what precedes it.

—Andrew Earles

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Essential New Music: Mastodon’s “Emperor Of Sand”

Despite signing to a major label years earlier, Mastodon really didn’t lumber into the mainstream until 2011’s The Hunter. At that point, the band had completed the migration to clean singing and mostly shed its prog-rock eccentricities. Once More ‘Round The Sun followed, still bringing the heavy but incorporating even more melodic elements. Had that record been a double, it could’ve easily shared album gatefolds with Mastodon’s latest. Emperor Of Sand hears the band’s continued evolution (de-evolution?) from metal to hard rock, its destructive powers diminished in the pursuit of accessibility. In chasing commercial appeal, drummer Brann Dailor remains the band’s most capable vocal weapon, with the earworm-y “Steambreather” recalling Once More’s “The Motherload.” Elsewhere, the only real blunder here is “Clandestiny,” which is sadly reminiscent of Styx (ask your parents) in its middle section. Emperor is solid, dexterously played hard rock from a band that used to crush listener skulls.

—Matt Ryan

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Essential New Music: Anders Parker’s “The Man Who Fell From Earth”

Anders Parker has worked in every conceivable context—Space Needle, Varnaline, Gob Iron with Jay Farrar, his broadly varied solo output—but some of his most potent statements come when his voice and acoustic guitar are presented alone in the naked glare of the studio. The Man Who Fell From Earth follows that blueprint with filigrees of electric guitar, cello and violin as Parker channels his inner Nick Drake and T Bone Burnett on a gorgeous set of emotional and passionate songs. Parker balances joy and melancholy with a juggler’s skill as he dives (“As The Stars Fell Down On Me,” the title track) and soars (“High Flying Bird,” “On Flying Hill”), simultaneously fixed on the road ahead (“Our New Blood,” “No Regrets, No Turning ‘Round, No Looking Back”) and the troubled path behind (“I Don’t Do That Anymore,” “Endless Blues”). Even as Parker documents the crashing of the heavens, he notes that “everyone is made of stars,” reiterating the reality that rebirth follows death and the greatest growth typically occurs after the greatest destruction. Just as typically, the scuffed beauty of Parker’s delivery elevates the proceedings, shining a soft, delicate light on his darkest messages.

—Brian Baker

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Essential New Music: White Reaper’s “The World’s Best American Band”

On its first two records, White Reaper’s garage punk garnered comparisons to Ty Segall and Jay Reatard, but those really in the know recognized the Kentuckians as the spiritual successors to the Marked Men. Both bands made joyful, memorable pop music in the guise of grainy, fuzz-toned punk rock. Though it will initially elicit double takes, The World’s Best American Band is a logical next step for the group, one that largely leaves punk in the rearview in favor of glam, power pop and ’80s Sunset Strip. The result is a raucous party of a record that should play well to the fist-pumping cheap seats. The title track nicks its aesthetic from Big Star’s “In The Streets” (the Cheap Trick version), “Judy French” is teenage summer nights in audio form, and “Tell Me” boasts a guitar strut lascivious enough to warrant a parental advisory warning. Yes, this album is a turophile’s dream, but only the most black-hearted cynic could resist joining the party.

—Matt Ryan

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Essential New Music: Old 97’s “Graveyard Whistling”

The first decade of this century found the Old 97’s getting a little complacent. It’s not that competent efforts like Drag It Up and Blame It On Gravity were a stain on the band’s record, but they nevertheless seemed light-years away from Too Far To Care, a time when Rhett Miller was threatening to get drunk and burn the nightclub down (“Niteclub”). That all changed with 2014’s Most Messed Up, which heard the band getting its mojo back and, more critically, Miller reclaiming the lyrical irreverence that characterized his earlier work. Any doubts that the Old 97’s could sustain this creative resurgence are summarily dismissed with Graveyard Whistling.

“He makes wine from water, but I just bought you a beer,” Miller sings on the rollicking, honky-tonk “Jesus Loves You,” a song packed with such an embarrassment of lyrical gems that you can’t help grinning like an idiot as it unfolds. The good-natured blasphemy continues on “Good With God,” the album’s first single (featuring alt-country wailer Brandi Carlile), wherein Miller imagines God as a woman (“I wonder how she feels about me?/I guess we’ll have to wait and see”). As with all the best Old 97’s music, ornery women (“She Hates Everybody”) and whiskey (“Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls,” “Drinkin’ Song”) figure prominently as the band careens from ballads to barn burners with Ken Bethea’s surf guitar and the Hammond/Peeples’ rhythm locomotive in full effect. Thankfully, for the Old 97’s, last call is still nowhere in sight.

—Matt Ryan

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Essential New Music: The New Pornographers’ “Whiteout Conditions”

The headline for Whiteout Conditions, the New Pornographers’ latest triumph, isn’t necessarily that the adrenalized Canadian septet has crafted its seventh collection of infectiously pinwheeling indie rock; the breaking news would be if the band hadn’t. But there are significant firsts and diversions on Whiteout Conditions that bear examination, given the consistency the Pornographers maintain on their new missive. To begin, Whiteout Conditions represents the first New Porns album without longtime drummer Kurt Dahle, who left the band after 2014’s Brill Bruisers, and the first with new beatkeeper Joe Seiders. It also represents the first LP without co-songwriter Dan Bejar, who was presumably busy with Destroyer pursuits, and his absence is the most pointed; his often hallucinogenic contributions made frontman A.C. Newman’s impenetrable lyric pretzels seem sane by comparison.

It is Newman’s steady creative hand and brilliant understanding of pop music’s beating human heart that once again win the day on Whiteout Conditions. Newman and Co. up their own ante from the synth pop pulse of Brill Bruisers, taking a chilly motorik cue from ’70s krautrock and heating it to a boil over the Pornographers’ sterno can of undeniable hooks and fearless melodicism. “Play Money” and “High Ticket Attractions” throb at the exuberant new-wave pace that has marked the band’s catalog from the start. On the quietly propulsive “Second Sleep,” vocalists Neko Case and Kathryn Calder coo like fellow Canadian Jane Siberry while synths burble like a musical stream of consciousness, but even in the more sedate moments (“This Is The World Of The Theatre,” “We’ve Been Here Before”), there’s an underlying insistence that ties the 11-track set together in a typically neat package that sits comfortably and appropriately in one of rock’s greatest band catalogs.

—Brian Baker

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Essential New Music: Sera Cahoone’s “From Where I Started”

After several successful albums that leaned more toward the rock side of the country-rock equation, Seattle songwriter (and former drummer) Sera Cahoone heads back to her roots. The classic country songs of heartbreak that originally inspired her to play music inform From Where I Started’s tunes, but the tunes here are understated. The atmospheric arrangements give the material a feel that’s more reminiscent of empty bedrooms than smoky barrooms. Cahoone’s acoustic fingerpicking and a soft loping beat drives “Always Turn Around,” a song that equates stage fright with the fear of intimacy. Her whispered vocal is steeped in resignation and regret. “Dusty Lungs” is a lament for a young miner facing a slow death, featuring Cahoone’s haunting multitracked harmonies and Annalisa Tornfelt’s ominous fiddling. The album closes on an upbeat note with “House Our Own,” wherein the singer daydreams about an ideal relationship in a home by the side of a lake, far from the city.

—j. poet

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