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.
The debut solo outing from the lesser-known half of the wildly underrated 2 Bears (alongside Hot Chip’s Joe Goddard) is a curious affair. At 27 minutes, it’s more of a sampler platter than a full, cohesive statement—an oddball smattering of pop songs behaving like dance tracks and vice versa—but much of what’s here is worth salivating over. First single “Right Time” remains a towering highlight: a glowing, sumptuous, casually anthemic filter-disco slow-burner that’s one of the best tracks of 2016 in any genre. Nothing else follows suit or even really tries: The twinkly, laid-back, acid-tinged house of “Llama Farmer” is in the same ballroom, at least. But otherwise, “Carried Away” veers into rollicking, quick-footed (and strangely introspective) piano rock, “Shoppin’ For A Shaman” is dozy, brightly plodding sunshine psychedelia, and “Poor Bitch” is a 90-second political sing-song/Beat-poetry goof. All told, it’s definitely a head-scratcher, but there’s plenty of that ineffable ursine magic on display. Abundant evidence exists that while he may be selfie-obsessed, Rundell is a musically generous, gregarious soul.
—K. Ross Hoffman
Danish pianist Agnes Obel’s music is the sound of a haunted head and a haunted heart. Spectral keyboard lines and ghostly, sometimes pitch-shifted vocals float through her third album, which is less acoustic than her first two releases, and more processed, but sounds no less human and aching. Though it would be misleading to compare Obel’s music to Nico’s, Obel works a similar vein of inscrutable lyrics set to music that sounds more derived from chamber orchestras and gritty minor-key ballads than from most contemporary popular forms. Too, while Obel is frequently compared to Joanna Newsom in her eclectic approach to arrangements and her tendency to sparse component parts in the music, the songs on Citizen Of Glass feel more solid and lyrically more grounded in the known world, as on the gorgeous “It’s Happening Again” and “Trojan Horses.” This is music for dark seasons, both of the soul and of the earth.
The Notwist was busy reinventing itself over and over again before most of us in the U.S. heard the band for the first time on 2002’s Neon Golden. That album found the former grunge group settling into an electronic/indie-rock hybrid that’s been its calling card ever since. It’s not dissimilar to Radiohead’s pivot on Kid A and Amnesiac, and much of the Notwist’s new live album is reminiscent of Radiohead’s live EP I Might Be Wrong, right down to the sampled-and-chopped vocal improvisations. While it wasn’t much more than a stopgap EP, I Might Be Wrong did at least set out to show how Radiohead would pull off its new sound live. Superheroes, Ghostvillians & Stuff also shows how the Notwist masterfully blends organic and inorganic textures outside the studio, but it’s also a reminder of how adventurous this band can be. While the live record’s nearly 100 minutes leans almost exclusively on its post-2002 output, the Notwist takes every opportunity to explore untapped corners of those songs, turning tracks like “Pilot” and “Trashing Days” inside out.
The discipline of sound design has been around since before the dawn of the talkies, but these days it refers to any number of things having to do with sonics (music, soundtracks, live theater production, etc.) and includes artists such as Peder Losnegard, the Norwegian singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist better known as Lido. Lido’s recent past included a major-label career under the handle LidoLido and work as a producer and remixer for artists ranging from Alt-J and Banks to Kanye West and Chance The Rapper. Everything is his latest solo offering, something of a concept album that spotlights the impact zone of a particularly nasty breakup and, in its EDM way, is as punk rock as New York Dolls ever was, featuring the sort of over-the-top arrangements, muscular musicality and bloody-minded inventiveness that will blow most electro-peers into the ether. “Catharsis” is 2016’s glitchiest bit of 808s and heartbreak; “Citi Bike” opens with a flip-the-bird vocal pastiche only to zigzag its angrily drunken way to the dance floor; and “Murder” is Lido flexing his considerable musical chops for shock, awe and laughs. It probably wouldn’t have been Johnny Thunders’ jam, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be yours.
Do we need a fourth volume of Mick Harvey’s Serge Gainsbourg covers? Yes, surprisingly. Intoxicated Women comes out of the same sessions that produced the recent Delirium Tremens, which arrived two decades after his previous Gainsbourg set. This one, however, focuses on duets and songs for female leads; it’s jauntier, if still jaundiced, and contains some of Gainsbourg’s best compositions, including “Poupee De Cire, Poupee De Son” and “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus.” Harvey, formerly of Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds, often cedes the vocals to one of his guests, content to lead the small band from behind the piano or organ. Harvey’s female foils such as Xanthe Waite, Andrea Schroeder and Jess Ribeiro can’t quite match Gainsbourg’s Brigitte Bardot and Jane Birkin for sexual tension, but the general tenor of Intoxicated Women, in Harvey’s translations of Gainsbourg’s French lyrics, is aptly dissolute, louche and subversive.
It may not be a coincidence that Robert Pollard’s latest Guided By Voices offshoot, ESP Ohio, kicks off its debut album with the two-and-a-half-minute clarion call of “A Much Needed Shot In The Arm.” ESP Ohio—Pollard, guitarist Doug Gillard, Lifeguards producer/drummer Travis Harrison and current GBV bassist Mark Shue—plays with a startling cohesion and renewed verve that suggests TVT/Matador-era GBV, as evidenced by the quietly epic “Miss Hospital ’93,” the punky menace of “Intercourse Fashion,” the compelling thump of “Royal Cyclopean,” the pummeling Who-glazed rumble of “Lithuanian Bombshells” and the loudly epic “Grand Beach Finale.” Let’s face it, if you’ve resisted drinking Pollard’s Kool-Aid to this point, ESP Ohio isn’t going to tempt you to tip his Dixie cup. But to those of us who saltily salute whatever flag the Captain runs up his various flagpoles, Starting Point Of The Royal Cyclopean is one of the more exciting developments in the recent Pollardverse.
For the last few years, change has both defined San Diego-based duo Crocodiles and made them impossible to define. They were initially a sludgy, doomy garage combo, but Brandon Welchez and Charles Rowell’s recent efforts (usually manifesting in an album per year) have pushed the boundaries of guitar-based psych/pop. Calling Dreamless merely the band’s foray into electronica is a bit reductive and not entirely accurate, though the album features more synthetic elements than any of its five predecessors. With the aid of frequent collaborator Martin Thulin on keys, Welchez and Rowell reimagine their attack on Dreamless, opting for Joy Division-esque menace (“Go Now”) and dark disco (“Maximum Penetration”). The songs range from grimy rave-ups like “I’m Sick” to oddly bubbly closer “Not Even In Your Dreams.” Dreamless might not be as thunderous as Endless Summer or as hooky as Crimes Of Passion, but it vastly improves on the scattershot Boys, suggesting that, at least for now, Crocodiles got their groove back.