REVIEWS

WEB-REVIEWS
Published  June 2017

Como MamasCOMO MAMAS
MOVE UPSTAIRS
(DAPTONE)

The gospel music tradition lives on in many churches across the country, and one of the better examples of that tradition lies in the powerful voices of Ester Mae Wilbourn, Della Daniels, and Angelina Taylor, a.k.a. the Como Mamas. Their first album, 2013’s Get An Understanding, featured the Mamas singing a cappella on many gospel standards, with a combination of a come-to-meeting feeling and more than a little influence from Memphis’ Stax/Volt artists of the 1960s. Team the trio up with some of Daptone Records’ seasoned soul instrumentalists, however, and you get Move Upstairs, in which the Mamas’ bombastic treatment of music is heartily encouraged and sometimes tempered by the Glorifiers band. A prime example: the singers’ take on “99 And A Half Won’t Do” on Understanding versus the same song on Upstairs. The singers are more than capable of carrying the song by themselves, but some rhythm section accompaniment gives their voices room to find nuance while still bringing righteous soul. The subtleties found in their strong deliveries kick up Upstairs from the title song and album opener to the testifying “I Know I’ve Been Changed.” Start to finish, hearing the Como Mamas’ latest is sure to move all souls. —Leigh Checkman

Full of HellFULL OF HELL
TRUMPETING ECSTASY
(PROFOUND LORE)

When Full of Hell and Code Orange did a split for Topshelf in 2012, it seemed like a flashpoint for two young, distinct visions of metallic hardcore— both esoteric and overflowing with doom—and neither band has slowed since, leaving warpaths traceable from their split. Two phenomenal LPs developing their own experimental sludge/grind and some powerfully paired splits brought Full of Hell to collaborative albums with both noise legend Merzbow and experimental doom duo The Body, extensive international touring, and now their first LP of their own in four years. The album is maximally-yet-seamlessly staffed with notable friends like Nicole Dollanganger and members of The Body, Column of Heaven, Converge, Old Man Gloom, and Isis. Trumpeting Ecstasy seems to triangulate the band’s first LP’s challenging sludge-core and second LP’s dark grind to exemplify Full of Hell’s mastery of the two sounds’ theoretical oppositions. Trumpeting Ecstasy’s torrent of pummeling doom/ noise/grindcore offers more ambition and artistry in a 23 minute LP than similar bands’ opuses (and somehow without any of those other bands’ chauvinism). Full of Hell, left to their own devices, has always been one of those bands that are exemplarily inaccessible for anyone shy about extreme music. But, for those who can unpack their work, Trumpeting is an exquisite flurry of extreme styles flashing—black metal frigidity, industrial-noise clang, death metal shredding and growling, and even some hardcore polka beat. If you are into extreme music (or have just wanted the Thou/Body collaborations to be twice as fast), Trumpeting Ecstasy is a must! —Ben Miotke

Kendrick LamarKENDRICK LAMAR
DAMN
(INTERSCOPE)

When we last left K-Dot/Cornrow Kenny/Kung-fu Kenny on the masterpiece that was To Pimp a Butterfly, he was conversing with the ghost of Tupac about the subject of gaining fame and still keeping your Blackness. On DAMN, he is still wrestling with the subject, as the first two songs immediately sample Fox News pundits objecting to a line about cops in his hit song “Alright.” The rest of the album tackles similar topics such as religion and his childhood upbringing with just as much subtlety, with song titles like “GOD,” “FEAR,” and “BLOOD.” In a surprising move, Kendrick backtracks from the lush jazz of To Pimp A Butterfly, instead returning to the gritty boom-bap that was prevalent on his first two albums. Super producers like Mike WiLL Made-It and The Alchemist bring their A game on tracks “DNA” and “FEAR.” And frequent collaborator Sounwave continues his streak of finding creative samples that you would never expect to see on a major label rap album (this time he channels deep house and British indie rocker Ratboy). While not being another record that “saves” rap music like some fans anticipated, it’s very unlikely there will be a better hip-hop release this year. —Brandon Lattimore

RixeRIXE
BAPTEME DU FEU
(LA VIDA ES UN MUS)

Rixe, the contemporary standard-bearers of French Oi! punk, gruffly stomp their way back into the hearts and minds of today’s multi-striped, transoceanic hooligans with their third EP release in as many years. Having toured the U.S. last summer and just recently completing a European run, Rixe is shoving their leather, bristles, boots, and acne into the collective consciousness of the punk milieu. This four-track Parisian pounder commences with a torrent of hard charging tom-tom bashing, leading into an anthemic pogo number entitled “Tenter Le Diable” (“Try The Devil”). The second number, “Paris-Est,” begins with a slowed-down Crass-like military snare roll before guttural vocals and brooding guitarwork whip up to a frenzied, fist-pumping sing along in the chorus. “Condamné” (“Condemned”) is an Oi! razor blade that slices with precision and power. The home stretch, “Hécatombe,” is a total headbanger that is equal parts grit and bounce, designed to induce violent circle pits with mohawks flapping and suspenders popping off Ben Sherman shirts. For those looking for a throwback to the heyday of French Oi! of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, look no further than Rixe. —Dan McCoy

Rudy StoneRUDY STONE
THE BLINKING LIGHT/ PEACE ON EARTH
(MODERATE FIDELITY)

My first exposure to psych-pop auteur Rudy Stone was his Ash Wednesday appearance on ANTIGRAVITY RADIO. Stone’s in-studio performance and music curation was perfectly gentle. While I picked up that he has a serious passion for a variety of music, Stone deftly focused on neo-psychedelia selections to complement his own material, which will be available on The Blinking Light/Peace on Earth, coming out June 16th. Side A, The Blinking Light, begins with a charming instrumental and unfolds into tight pop songs beaming stoned introspection and hazy observations. Stone crafted each song himself with a cosmopolitan appreciation for psychedelic music and brought in guest performers whose talents elaborate on his dreamy psych-pop craft. The Blinking Light sleepwalks among various moments in psychedelic music history such as krautrock, surf, desert rock, art rock, and especially dream pop. This brings to mind British neo-psychedelic acts such as Spacemen 3, Mojave 3, and Red House Painters more so than buzzy younger psych contemporaries. B Side Peace On Earth is a near-15 minute instrumental breaking from the pop of Side A and entering a hypnotic, synth-centered drone approaching ‘70s European experimentalists such as Roedelius and Cluster. The Blinking Light/Peace On Earth’s clear, approachable psych-pop should meld with a great range of moods, especially summer ones! —Ben Miotke

Spirit of the BeehiveSPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE
PLEASURE SUCK
(TINY ENGINES)

Spirit of the Beehive has synthesized and experimented with heavy psych, dream pop, shoegaze, jangle pop, indie rock, noise, and folk to deliver a second full-length of thrilling contemporary psych rock. Abrupt and heavy like My Bloody Valentine on Loveless, at other times gentle and shaky like the Cocteau Twins, and broadly flowing like Dinosaur Jr., Spirit could be a shoegaze band if Pleasure Suck didn’t feel so much more like the first Factory Records bands offering Pink Floyd, the Beatles, and West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band a grander, more personal psychedelia. For this and some production manipulations in common, Spirit of the Beehive is like the Butthole Surfers with Jesus and Mary Chain and Primal Scream’s scenester nonchalance rather than manic snarkiness. Pleasure might be a top album this year for fans of contemporaries No Joy, Pope, Pity Sex, Crying, Nothing, and Palm. —Ben Miotke

Sylvan EssoSYLVAN ESSO
WHAT NOW
(LOMA VISTA)

All through Sylvan Esso’s self-titled debut, Amelia Meath’s elegant vocals float above producer and electronic instrumentalist Nick Sanborn’s beats as though they were made for each other. The duo’s second outing, What Now, takes the collaboration further, coming up with even better songwriting and some downright beautiful tracks. To be sure, most of What Now is full of dance tracks. Some are overt paeans to movement (“Kick Jump Twist”), while others weave seductive synths and infectious rhythms with lyrics telling stories that manage to be in turns sweet, clever, and somewhat tortured on occasion. There’s the tale of bestlaid— and morbid—plans thrown to the wind in “Die Young,” and a catchy pop song dissing pop songs in “Radio.” This sophomore outing showcases a band hitting its stride in great form. What Now’s ebullient answer to its own question is brought to us by a hypnotic chanteuse and an electronics master for whom the skies are truly the limit. —Leigh Checkman

Tewolde ReddaTEWOLDE REDDA
ERITREA’S GUITAR PIONEER 1970-73
(DOMINO SOUND/ MITMITTA MUSIKA)

For those unaware, New Orleans’ Domino Sound Record Shack is not only one of the most well-curated shops in the nation, but also a very serious record label. Many of Domino’s releases are compilations of 45s collected abroad by label/store owner Matt Knowles (who also designs the label’s gripping, practical sleeves). The label’s Ethiopian Wedding Songs has been a popular one and their latest release, collecting every single that Eritrean artist Tewolde Redda released, is just as compelling. The Horn of Africa’s general musical confluence is one of African and Middle Eastern folk traditions, which has created fascinating and distinct musical expressions (something that Ethiopian artists get a good amount of American mainstream press for). But Eritrea’s Guitar Pioneer showcases how the Horn’s confluence can meet with its pan-African soul and R&B contemporaries. Redda, pioneering electric instrumentation with his amplified kirar, incorporated these musical ideas and his nation’s first horn section to such great effect that— although translations are included in vinyl copies—so much power and emotion emanate from these tracks that I’ve actually forgotten I wasn’t hearing English. The pentatonic scale, cheers, and rhythms will remind one of Ethiopian music from the mid 20th century, but Redda stands apart—if for no other reason than for bringing these hypnotic techniques into peership with American soul, blues, and country greats. It doesn’t take long to get past the somewhat grainy sound of the recordings, and this is easily one of my favorite releases from Domino so far. —Ben Miotke

The Mountain GoatsTHE MOUNTAIN GOATS
GOTHS
(MERGE)

Now at 50 years old, John Darnielle has earned far enough accolades to be recognized as an indie-rock elder statesman. So it’s peculiar that on the group’s 16th album, Goths, he has decided to hang up the guitar that he use to strum so enthusiastically. Instead, he switches to piano and goes for bigger production values as woodwind and sax dip in and out of arrangements. It works, as this is easily the most lush sounding album in the Mountain Goats’ discography— but the manic energy that came from Darnielle’s strumming is sorely missed. While not a virtuoso by any means, the way he played was the perfect backdrop for his tales of hopeful yet hopeless wrestlers, drug addicts, and youths. For most of Goths, those same sort of characters are here, but now the music doesn’t have that same urgency that makes you want to root for them. There are still moments of Darnielle’s humor scattered throughout, though. “Shelved” involves an aging goth figurehead who refuses to let his music career fall into a rut (“Not gonna tour with Trent Reznor / Third of three bottom of the bill / You can’t pay me to make that kind of music / Not gonna swallow that pill”), while “High Unicorn Tolerance” takes us through a day in a life of a fantasy-obsessed teenager. While serving as a perfect ode to a subculture that has fallen out of relevance, Goths may also serve as the first Mountain Goats album where they have stretched their music too far. —Brandon Lattimore

***

Rob SheffieldROB SHEFFIELD
DREAMING THE BEATLES: THE LOVE STORY OF ONE BAND AND THE WHOLE WORLD
(DEY ST/MORROW)

Longtime fans of The Beatles may be rolling their eyes at yet another addition to a sizeable library’s worth of writings about the band and its individual members that has been gathered over the past 50+ years. What could Rob Sheffield, as talented a music critic and writer as he is, possibly contribute to it all with these essays? It turns out that these collected musings on John, Paul, George, and Ringo are significant signposts on how generations of listeners, more and more of whom were born long after the band broke up, may be discovering and finding meaning in the music. With references to sources such as Mark Lewisohn’s excellent The Beatles’ Recording Sessions, Dreaming The Beatles takes readers on new pathways through the journey this group took to reach “the toppermost of the poppermost” and what happened after those heady heydays. Entwined with the facts are thoughts on what The Beatles’ music could be about for children of the ‘80s, ‘90s, and the 21st century, as the recordings have moved out of their original context and truly become part of Western culture. Though Sheffield’s conclusions are questionable, the book is a great jumping-off point for heartfelt debate. —Leigh Checkman

Jon McCarthyJON MCCARTHY
HARD ROLL: A PARAMEDIC’S PERSPECTIVE OF LIFE AND DEATH IN NEW ORLEANS
(PELICAN)

From impossible housing costs that push sick people to New Orleans East (a neighborhood furthest from critical care facilities), to the question of photographing the city’s notorious gun violence when it’s impossible to get consent from the victim, this paramedic-author takes a broad sweep of familiar, if unoriginal, themes of New Orleans exceptionalism. In his collection of personal tales, Jon McCarthy uses a heavy hand to implicate local administrators, institutions, and cultural norms in the brutal obstacles to wellness for New Orleanians. As an EMT student, I heard this a lot: New Orleans EMS is the real deal, and the kind of traumas you are exposed to are just too much for a medic not to be changed by. With a little guidance and stronger editing, McCarthy could have produced an incisive and challenging exposé on what he has experienced. Instead, every narrative arc is punctuated with overwrought philosophizing and non sequiturs. Before the reader can make their own general impression of the text, they’ve been jolted between scientific theory and full-on superstitious explanations. Pelican Publishing is constantly putting out unpolished, cliche products, and Hard Roll is just another one of them. —Nora Maria Fuller

Hari KunzruHARI KUNZRU
WHITE TEARS
(KNOPF)

In the latest novel by Hari Kunzru, two young music obsessives—one from an extravagantly rich family, the other decidedly not—dive so deep into the world of vintage recording technology and 78 rpm record collecting that they’re moved to record and “discover” a long-lost blues song. Their hoax turns chilling when they gradually learn that the song isn’t actually fake. As their lives become menaced by disaster, real-world circumstances blend terrifyingly with the supernatural. Kunzru vibrantly evokes Brooklyn for a certain type of white male, and conveys his characters’ love of music technology with admirable precision. Most centrally, he freshly contrasts the thrill of the aspirational working class man tasting the world where the ultrarich drift imperviously among passions The socioeconomic differences mirror the enduring paradox of the blues: the imbalance between Black musicians and the white men who obsess over them. Each innately possesses something that the other wants but can never have. This book is about cultural appropriation, but it brilliantly illustrates how appropriators— everyone in the story, really—are prisoners of their own lives, desperately aware of their desire for transcendence, but absolutely unable to reach it. —Travis Bird           

 

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