Bad Witch is a thin, if rewarding, listen from Nine Inch Nails; while Kamasi Washington’s cinematic soul-jazz is more ambitious than ever on the awe-inspiring Heaven And Earth; and Gang Gang Dance turn in a somewhat too-impeccable sixth LP with Kazuashita. These, plus Martyn and The Orb in this week’s notable new releases.
And in case you missed it, check out our review of The Carters’ Everything Is Love right here.
Kamasi Washington, Heaven And Earth
No one’s making music like Kamasi Washington. His albums are longer-than-feature-length epics, painting nearly wordless narratives through a seamless combination of R&B, iconic ’60s and ’70s jazz modes, and the cinematic power of orchestras and choruses. Heaven And Earth is shorter than his powerful, three-hour debut, but it might be even more ambitious, splitting its 16 tracks into a two-part concept album: the first reflecting the world as it is, the second depicting Washington’s optimistic vision of the world as it should be. Earth is loaded with mentally and emotionally draining songs, none more so than stunning opener “Fists Of Fury.” Similarly, the futuristic splendor of “The Space Travelers Lullaby” sets the tone for Heaven, a set of smoother, more cosmic songs that showcase Washington’s ability to pen compositions of awe-inspiring majesty. Even more impressive is the way those two modes occasionally bleed into each other from across the album’s border, as if to remind us that life’s beauty doesn’t disappear amid struggle and that triumph can’t last without a little struggle of its own.
RIYL: Pharoah Sanders. Coltrane’s Classic Quartet period. Miles’ fusion period. Stevie Wonder. Soul jazz.
Start here: It’s not one of Heaven And Earth’s more sophisticated tracks, but “Fists Of Fury” is likely its most accessible and exhilarating: a funky Afro-Cuban protest song (a style that, in this context, is itself loaded with symbolism) that demands taking hands used for good and raising them up against oppressors. Washington delivers a gut-wrenching solo that screams with every ounce of anguish and defiance in his body. [Matt Gerardi]
Nine Inch Nails, Bad Witch
The most startling thing about the final EP in Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ trilogy may be its quasi-nostalgia. In press materials, Reznor says he reignited his love for his guitar (and sax!) as he wrote. The distorted, mechanical percussion of opener “Shit Mirror” comes straight out of industrial’s golden age, with the swirls of distortion and Reznor’s howling vocals sounding like vintage NIN. Surprisingly, Reznor pushes himself the most vocally: He practically croons in “God Break Down The Door” and, especially, closer “Over And Out.” When he sings “Time is running out” in the latter, it sounds like an alternate-universe “My Way.” It doesn’t suit him. That said, Bad Witch doesn’t have a lot of Reznor vocals, period. “Play The Goddamned Part” and “I’m Not From This World” are instrumental (minus one line in “World” listeners will be hard-pressed to hear), and “Over And Out” goes nearly three minutes without vocals. The instrumentals, like all NIN, reward immersive listening, but fans may find themselves wishing for a little more to grab onto.
RIYL: Despair. Nihilism. Layers of swirling distortion and mechanical sounds. And, weirdly, Sinatra.
Start here: “Shit Mirror” sets the tone for Bad Witch with Reznor’s signature mix of aggression and hooks. [Kyle Ryan]
The fourth full-length from Dutch techno artist Martijn Deykers finds him in an especially dark mood, inspired by a heart attack scare he suffered last year. Any cohesive emotion is good news for Martyn, whose more recent albums, like 2014’s The Air Between Words, have been marked by typically tasteful production, but little else. Voids has that, but there’s also a welcome, brooding focus to tracks like his tribute to late drum-n-bass pioneer Marcus Intalex, “Manchester,” which finds a sampled voice repeating, “Deep deep talent / And we’ve lost a big one” over minor-key atmospheres and classic, clattering dubstep beats. Ditto “Mind Rain,” whose frantic tabla drums and skittering synths make it one of the more frenetic in Martyn’s catalog. Deykers still has a deflating habit of showing all his cards at once, establishing his rhythms and modes and maintaining them to little variation, and several tracks wear out well before their runtime—especially “Cutting Tone” and closer “Voids Two.” But here, at least, Voids doesn’t leave you feeling completely empty.
RIYL: Detroit techno. Scuba. Michna. Burial. LFO. Arguing over what constitutes “real dubstep.”
Start here: “Manchester” best captures Voids’ aura of anxiety and Deykers’ immaculate arrangements. [Sean O’Neal]
Gang Gang Dance, Kazuashita
The title of Kazuashita album-opener “( Infirma Terrae )” describes what Gang Gang Dance is up to with its first LP since 2011’s Eye Contact. Gang Gang has always delighted in borrowing from this and that genre to create dance music at once global and otherworldly. On sixth LP Kazuashita, the band is way out in the vacuum of space. Singer Lizzi Bougatsos riding hollow synth waves before getting pushed under by a soaring guitar on “Too Much, Too Soon” typifies the overall vibe here. It’s handsomely clubby stuff shot through with narcotized melancholy. “J-Tree” uses audio from that viral clip of a bison herd rushing toward protesters at Standing Rock and as it peaks—“Look at the buffalo!”—the composition comes apart for a few seconds, gleefully whooping Native Americans commingling with crumbling feedback. Then it dissolves into a stiflingly plangent keyboard line. Kazuashita is impeccably made, but it could stand a little more chaos.
RIYL: Laurel Halo. Post-Merriweather Animal Collective. Gas and ice giants.
Start here: On “Lotus” Bougatsos coos over a bleary-beautiful loop, and in the moments when Bougatsos takes a breath, it functions as a lovely kind of call-and-response duet between woman and machine. [Colin McGowan]
The Orb, No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds
With its sprawling, 70-minute runtime, its lengthy list of guest musicians—including veterans like Killing Joke’s Martin Glover and Jah Wobble, plus a team-up with Roger Eno—The Orb’s 15th album invites comparisons to its early-’90s heyday. But next to genre-defining works like The Orb’s Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld, the new No Sounds Are Out Of Bound mostly underwhelms, recycling the group’s ambient house atmospheres and obsessions (B-movie sci-fi, CB radio chatter, wistful childhood memories) in various genre directions, but to no particular end. Guest vocalists Emma Gillespie and Hollie Cook lend some classic trance and smoothed-out disco soul, respectively, to “The End Of The End” and “Rush Hill Road,” while “Wolfbane” mashes up Dr. Dre, drive-time DJ babble, a Young Frankenstein music cue, and a George W. Bush joke into a fitfully amusing hip-hop deconstruction. But overall it’s a baggy mixed bag of dub grooves and warmed-over house beats, dominated by an exhausting tower of babbling dialogue samples that, like No Sounds itself, rarely have much to say.
RIYL: The Orb. The Future Sound Of London. The yesterday sound of club music. The 1990s, just in general.
Start here: “Doughnuts Forever” feels least like a retread of previous ideas, boasting a swimmy, pilfering-your-parents’-record-collection vibe reminiscent of The Avalanches, cleverly juxtaposed against a somber piano line. [Sean O’Neal]
Purchasing albums via Amazon helps support The A.V. Club.