Destroyer comes back strange, Bully channels ’90s fuzz, Jessie Ware evokes Whitney and Mariah, and doom duo Bell Witch turns in a moving eulogy to its late drummer. These plus Lindstrøm, Margo Price, and Makthaverskan in this week’s notable releases.
Jessie Ware, Glasshouse
[PMR/Friends Keep Secrets/Interscope]
Jessie Ware’s 2012 debut, Devotion, is one of the most quietly masterful pop albums of this decade, a survey of post-millennial British R&B and downtempo electronica that slots in neatly alongside the music of contemporaries like Blood Orange and Sampha. But Ware’s 2014 follow-up, Tough Love, and the new Glasshouse are decidedly less hip affairs, moving closer to Haim’s studio-perfect (and occasionally too studied) evocation of decades of pop radio and adult contemporary music. It’s timeless stuff, almost imagistic in the way it conjures the specters of belters past like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Annie Lennox. But where Tough Love’s likable but watery songs felt flat after the moody, keening Devotion, Glasshouse resolutely has the goods, packaging a handful of searing, bring-down-the-house ballads in an album that stands alongside her debut.
This is big, movie-climax stuff, with tracks like “Thinking About You,” “Hearts,” and “Alone” cresting in ugly-cry moments of spotlit romantic intensity. She intersperses these huge, emotionally draining barnburners with more exploratory tracks, tackling midtempo funk (“Midnight”), playful samba (“Selfish Love”), and coffeehouse folk (“Sam”), as well as a few moments that, like on Devotion, lean as heavily on the production as they do Ware’s powerhouse vocals (“Finish What We Started”). And while all of this could feel a bit scattershot in lesser hands, there’s a writerly clarity to her compositions that ties them all together into a cohesive statement of marital and maternal devotion. Glasshouse was written and recorded following the birth of Ware’s first child, so there’s an earned earnestness to its emotional palette, even as it tumbles into schmaltzy paeans to domestic bliss (“Slow Me Down”). If it weren’t executed so sincerely, the whole thing would fall flat. But Ware walks the tightwire, and the result is as thrilling, in its own quiet way, as anything she’s produced.
RIYL: Haim. Sampha. Big feelings.
Start here: “Alone” should probably be retroactively added to the closing credits of every Hollywood romance released between 1989 and 1995. [Clayton Purdom]
Bell Witch, Mirror Reaper
Even by the standards of funeral doom—metal’s gloomiest, most glacial permutation—Bell Witch is exquisitely depressing. Listening to the Seattle outfit’s protracted dirges is like carrying a coffin uphill in the rain, the albatross of grief turning every step into a struggle. This time around, that grief is personal: Mirror Reaper is the band’s first album since the death of former drummer and vocalist Adrian Guerra, a tribute that unfolds as a single, unbroken, movie-length track. Attention spans will certainly be tested, but surrender to the despair and Bell Witch’s slow-motion eulogy—delivered through a lonely ring of guitar, gently crashing cymbals, and stray funeral-home organ—hits like a blast beat to the heart. In the album’s most moving gambit, surviving founder Dylan Desmond resurrects his departed bandmate for a final farewell, repurposing some unused vocals by Guerra from 2015’s Four Phantoms. All told, it’s a haunting listen.
RIYL: Evoken. Mournful Congregation. Loss (the band, but also the thing you cope with). Wallowing in sadness.
Start here: Again, Mirror Reaper is just one really long song, but it does have separate passages. The one starting around the 48-minute mark—featuring Guerra’s from-beyond-the-grave guest appearance—will give you some sense of what a beautiful, meditative bummer this record is. [A.A. Dowd]
Lindstrøm, It’s Alright Between Us As It Is
It’s easy to take Lindstrøm for granted. Between his extensive remix work, inventive collaborative albums (including 2015’s Runddans with Todd Rundgren and Serena-Maneesh’s Emil Nikolaisen), and occasional solo efforts, the Oslo-based producer is always releasing something new. Still, Lindstrøm’s remarkable consistency elevates his latest collection of percolating interplanetary disco, It’s Alright Between Us As It Is. Although diffuse genres fly in and out of orbit—chilly new wave (“Spire”); electro tinted by spongy funk and glittery house (“Tensions”); and minimalist prog posturing (“Drift”)—the mostly instrumental record is a meticulous display of rain-on-tin rhythms and oceanic synth surges. To stave off monotony, guest vocalists pop in to add some keening emotional nuance. Swedish artist Frida Sundemo is imploring and conspiratorial on the sighing, Blondie-esque “But Isn’t It,” while Grace Hall adds honeyed resonance to the glossy downtempo single “Shinin.” It’s Alright Between Us As It Is feeds the body and soul.
RIYL: Pre-Dare Human League. Basking in the sunshine. Factory Floor. The famed NYC club Danceteria, circa 1983.
Start here: Norwegian musician Jenny Hval provides crisp, soothsayer narration on the icy electro highlight “Bungl (Like A Ghost),” a disorienting, macabre song about romantic and temporal burdens. [Annie Zaleski]
On its second album, Bully remains a contemporary band with a sound straight out of the Mudhoney/Nirvana spectrum of ’90s grunge. Fuzzy distortion carries guitars that simmer and burst, matched by the vocals of singer-guitarist Alicia Bognanno, whose raspy howl is practically a Bully trademark. In keeping with the style, Bognanno recorded the album with her former employer, Chicago’s Electrical Audio, home to Steve Albini and numerous other albums that would qualify as RIYL for Bully. (Bognanno is credited as the album’s engineer, not producer—another Albini signature.) Unsurprisingly, Losing enjoys a strong cohesion over its 38 minutes, from sound (grungy indie rock) to subject matter (the perils of relationships and life in your mid-20s). Even at that short running time, Losing’s 12 songs start to blur together toward the end, but the album’s many charms keep that from becoming a liability.
RIYL: Mudhoney. Screaming Females. Nirvana. Courtney Barnett. Chastity Belt.
Start here: Opening track “Feel The Same” nicely captures the tone of the album with guitars alternating between simmers and blasts, and Bognanno’s voice following suit with vocals that whisper, coo, and howl. [Kyle Ryan]
Margo Price, All American Made
After the deeply personal Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, honky-tonk hero Margo Price sets her sights outward on All American Made. While there are still tunes here that feel like a glimpse into Price’s private life, like vice anthem “Weakness” or the shuffling, family farm narrative “Heart Of America,” her sophomore record spends a big chunk of its time on broader issues. “Pay Gap” takes up arms against the income disparity women must deal with—agitprop with a laid-back, beachy vibe—while “Cocaine Cowboys,” with its Memphis groove, skewers “all hat and no cattle” shitheads. Price’s understated, gentle duet with Willie Nelson, “Learning To Lose,” offers a poignant meditation on existential dilemmas, while “Wild Women” is 100 percent righteous outlaw country, celebrating freedom and flipping the bird to the industry’s double standards. But it’s the title track—a soft and heart-wrenching protest song that captures the struggle of living in the U.S.—that cements Price’s songwriting bona fides as a fiercely important voice in modern country.
RIYL: Loretta Lynn. Willie Nelson. Hittin’ the road. Quality, handcrafted products. Weed, whiskey, and wild women.
Start here: “Weakness” is the kind of confident, rollicking country tune we’ve come to expect from Price, rounded out by wicked fiddle, biting six-string, and clever yet affecting lyrics. [Matt Williams]
Destroyer’s excellent experiment in sophisti-pop kitsch continues on its 12th album, ken. While the band’s last three releases in this mode—the Bay Of Pigs EP, Kaputt, and Poison Season—saw a consistent growth in their confidence and vibrancy, they’ve all shared a lushness that made them immediately warm and enveloping. Ken is a far more distant album. It still dabbles in that world of polished rock and soft jazz, with Bejar at center stage as a sort of rambling, impressionistic lounge singer. But its songs are often fractured and sparse, characterized as much by cold, staccato electronics and decaying synths as they are steamy sax solos. Much like opener “Sky’s Grey,” where an awkward bed of skittering Casio keyboard percussion precedes its grand metamorphosis, this record is a grower whose off-putting quirks—like the swampy electronic muck that surrounds Bejar on “Saw You At The Hospital” or the discordant droning foundation of “A Light Travels Down The Catwalk”—give way and blend with all the gloss underneath them into yet another strange, frequently gorgeous album.
RIYL: Kaputt. Yacht rock. Saxophone solos. Also, weirdly, New Order.
Start here: It’s not as safe a pick as the easily digestible “Tinseltown Swimming In Blood,” but if you can connect with ken’s slow-burning centerpiece, “Rome,” then this is an album for you. [Matt Gerardi]
[Run For Cover]
Whenever a band loses a member, it’s assumed that whatever work comes next will be transitional in nature. In the case of Makthaverskan’s III, there’s some truth to that, as the departure of guitarist Gustav Data Andersson is noticeable—the interlocking guitars found on II are now gone—but the record never feels mired in it. As songs like “In My Dreams” show, the band is more nimble than ever, able to rebuild its sound without drastically changing its formula. As a vocalist, Maja Milner still soars above her peers, and III sees her writing the catchiest vocal melodies of her career. It helps that Makthaverskan’s rhythm section, which could easily outplay any other post-punk band out there, has taken a leap forward as well. “Eden” is a highlight, as Andreas Wettmark’s nonstop drum rolls and Irma Krook’s lumbering bass line carry the song’s weight, leaving enough room for Milner to drop in hooks that linger long after they end. There are moments on III where the band stumbles—“Witness” ebbs just a hair too close to The Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black”—but by and large, Makthaverskan has never been sharper than it is in the present moment.
RIYL: Post-punk. Dance beats. The sunnier spots in The Cure’s discography.
Start here: “Eden” isn’t just the best track on III; it’s also a perfect summation of everything Makthaverskan has done well up to this point. [David Anthony]
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