Reviews

BIG THIEF
TWO HANDS
(4AD)

A mere five months after dropping their universally praised third full-length, U.F.O.F., Big Thief is back. The band’s new record, Two Hands (out October 11), is a more straightforward document than its last. Where U.F.O.F. was cryptic and secretive, Two Hands molds singer Adrianne Lenker’s thoughts into more of a plain-spoken, digestible format. For most of the album, she sings over quiet, acoustic instrumentation provided by Buck Meeks on guitar, Max Oleartchik on bass, and James Krivchenia, whose drums are often a barely-present tap in the background. The intention might have been to place more emphasis on Lenker’s weirdly beautiful lyrical formations, but even those are somewhat tamped down. Though we get glimpses of brilliance, such as the “trashed and soiled weedles clawing the veneer” on “Forgotten Eyes,” we’re never brought into Lenker’s world quite as viscerally as we were on previous projects. What we’re left with is ten perfectly listenable, well-structured tracks that lack the transcendent poignance Big Thief is capable of. Five months is not much time between records. Two Hands doesn’t feel rushed, exactly, but it’s not fully realized either. —Raphael Helfand

BIPOLAROID
PAINT IT, BLACKER
(GET HIP)

Bipolaroid’s fifth full length album continues the band’s 17-year exploration of their self-described “delta-psych” sound with 11 new tracks that fuse pop song structure with kaleidoscopic jams. Their particular brand of psych rock blends Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd with proto-punk and indie rock influences, for a sound that’s at once modern and familiar. “Back in the Old Black” showcases singer-songwriter Ben Glover’s knack for melody, and “Sacred Geometry” dials in Ben Sumner’s keys for maximum freakout. At times, Paint It, Blacker feels like an Elephant 6 Collective record lost in the late ‘90s that should have been released sometime in between Dusk at Cubist Castle and Circulatory System. There are also moments of pure Guided By Voices-style pop mini-explosions, as on the eight second “Superb Owl.” But in spite of their many influences, Bipolaroid have carved out their own neo-psych niche—rough and raw, pretty and melodic all at once. The band will be throwing a release show for Paint It, Blacker October 18 at BJs with Planchettes and Silver Synthetic opening. —Nick Pope

MOLLY BURCH
BALLADS 7”
(CAPTURED TRACKS)

On this 7”, Austin native Molly Burch serves up two slices of lovesick songs. In the hands of most, these tracks would be overcast and depressing, but Burch’s nuanced vocals and perspective give them attitude. As she points out on the track “Only One” (“May I remind you / I’m the one who picks up the pieces when you’re done”), she is not sitting idly by while her relationship ends. And the confrontation couldn’t sound better. Pulled from the same sessions as the full length First Flower, she titled this 7” Ballads to pay “homage to the powerful female vocalists I idolized growing up.” She delivers all the emotion and drama without rushing the pace. Guitar work by Dailey Toliver, Sam Kossler, and Jason Chronis ebbs and flows with the tide-like tempo. Recorded and mixed by Erik Wofford (Black Angels, Bill Callahan), there are subtle pieces of instrumentation that feel and sound present and rich. For example, the acoustic guitar on “Your Party” is simple but the mandolin-strummed accents give the track depth and character. With the quality of The Cactus Blossoms and airy vocal delivery of Hope Sandoval, these tracks hardly seem like album outcasts, but rather a precursor to music to come. —Emily Elhaj

CASUAL BURN
MEAN THING
(HANDSTAND)

On Mean Thing, local garage punk weirdos Casual Burn are equal parts danceable and deranged. This album is the sound of sanity slipping through one’s fingers as they shake their troubles away. Throughout this release, the band effortlessly jumps between electrifying bursts of energy and slow paced displays of distorted discontent. On pessimistic anthem “Get Up,” singer Monet Maloof shouts “Nothing for me to do but sleep until three / Roll around and dread that’s all I’ll ever be.” Much of this album’s lyrical content resides in similarly self-deprecating territory. On tunes like “Ask Me,” guitarist David Sabludowsky accents his pummeling chords with chaotic whammy bar to devastating effect. Closer “I Don’t Like Mine” stands out as Mean Things’ eeriest track. Carlos Knoop’s repetitive bass VI and Nathan Bluford’s drums ground the slow, grimy freak-blues tune while ominous feedback and powerful chants drive it home. —William Archambeault

CHEF MENTEUR
III
(SUNRISE OCEAN BENDER)

New Orleans psych futurists Chef Menteur began fusing field recordings with ambient post rock in 2001, and they were instrumental in releasing the Proud to Swim Home Katrina charity compilation. Their new triple album serves as a late period chronology. North of Tomorrow & South of Yesterday was previously available only to fans who backed the band’s Kickstarter for 2012’s East of the Sun & West of the Moon. Both albums are included here, plus a remaster of 2014’s Force Majeure. Unpredictability is this band’s forte, and it’s a toss up whether each song will approach a pop structure or drone endlessly on a single note. Tracks are alternately driven by synths or guitars, loops or live drums. Fans of Krautrock legends Can will appreciate the spliced jam session approach. While Chef Menteur’s best moments are often their least accessible, the homespun “I Belong To This Plateau” and desert rocker “Surface Tension” prove they can capture your attention with a more familiar sound. There’s technically no new material here, so it might not be an essential grab if you already have all three releases. For the uninitiated, though, III is a good way to catch up on this experimental mainstay’s recent history. —Michael Kunz

MIKAL CRONIN
SEEKER
(MERGE)

On first listen, I thought I was hearing Tom Petty’s “Mary Jane’s Last Dance.” Mikal Cronin admits “Show Me” has a “not-quite-subtle hint” of the Heartbreakers in the instrumentation and is “one of my favorite songs from the album.” The song, which is about feeling small in an overwhelming world, has a familiar introduction, but veers into new territory musically and lyrically. Having been privy to a solo, acoustic version of this song, it stands as a strong piece of songwriting, even when stripped down. While fighting through writer’s block, stifling anxiety, and going through a break-up, Cronin churned out demos after spending time alone to write. Just as the greenery in Idyllwild, California was catching fire, Cronin packed up and headed back to Los Angeles to commit these new songs to tape. These sessions would become Seeker. This follow-up to 2015’s MCIII was recorded live with engineer Jason Quever (Beach House, Cass McCombs). The “Down by the RIver” à la Crazy Horse tones are compliments of backing group Freedom Band, which features Ty Segall. There is a rich quality courtesy of added strings (Emily Elkin appears in the video of “Show Me”) and keys by Ben Boye (Ryley Walker, Sun Kil Moon). The Beatles’ White Album can also be heard production-wise. It’s rumored there will be special “dinked” copies that will include an exclusive bonus 12” with the tracks “Arsonist” and “Tsinosra” (painfully limited to under 500 copies). —Emily Elhaj

THE ELECTRIC ARCH
OUT OF RANGE
(SELF-RELEASE)

Well-loved local indie act Rotary Downs hasn’t released an album in five years, but frontman James Marler has kept busy. His newest outlet, The Electric Arch, releases their debut album in October. Recorded in the attic of a classic New Orleans double shotgun, Marler and producer/co-conspirator Matthew Cloutier have built a sound that is at once futuristic and vintage. Using gear primarily from the ‘60s and ‘70s, Out of Range has a delightful fuzz encapsulating it, evoking strains of surf, French pop, and psychedelia. Opener “Crisps & Crackers” is the longest track on the album, but a perfect choice as the first single, its firm backbone of punchy keys overlaid with Marler’s signature sleepy, cool vocals. It rises and falls with choral buildups and prominent percussion, setting the tone for a rock solid record. I dare you not to smile while listening to the sunny and tropical “Postcard to Celeste” or move your body to the propulsive, throbbing bass of “Las Ramblas.” The group resists being cornered at every turn, tapping the grunge well for “Moving To The Islands” before indulging just a few tracks later in a dreamy ‘50s rock sound on “Can’t Stand It.” From start to finish, the sound is lush, layered, and engaging—a standout effort. —Erin Hall

KIM GORDON
NO HOME RECORD
(MATADOR)

Kim Gordon has been a powerful and visionary force in the world of art and music for the past four decades, creating music that is meant to be an experience and not merely background noise. The songs on her long-anticipated solo debut, No Home Record, are beautiful, tense, and wryly funny, a showcase of Gordon’s classic sound and her ability to evolve as an artist. “Cookie Butter” is reminiscent of Gordon’s earliest recordings, while “Paprika Pony” has a vibe that is indebted to modern hip-hop and rap. “Earthquake,” a Sonic Youth-esque guitar jam that is surprisingly delicate, addresses the themes of change and loss: “If I could cry and shake for you / I’d lay awake for you / I’ve got sand in my heart for you.” “Don’t Play It Back” finds Gordon exploring the relationship with identity and self in a world which seeks to commodify both: “I hope the world don’t turn away… You don’t own me / Golden Vanity / You can pee in the ocean / It’s free.” The album ends on a strong note with the gorgeous, funereal “Get Yr Life Back,” a testament to the important role Gordon forever holds as an artist, musician, and truth-seeker.

Mary Beth Campbell

THE HIGHWOMEN
S/T
(ELEKTRA)

This debut is everything a good country record should be: assertive, impassioned, heart wrenching, and a little cheeky. The opening track, a chronicle of womankind’s untold stories, features an especially powerful verse from guest vocalist Yola. Don’t be surprised if you get full-body chills when she richly delivers the lines, “I sat down on the Greyhound that was bound for Mississippi / My mother asked me if that ride was worth my life / And when the shots rang out, I never heard the sound / But I am still around.” Shifting gears from that powerful intro, the single “Redesigning Women” is all smartmouthed sass, embracing, contorting, and redefining feminine stereotypes. As the record rolls on, we’re treated to an empowering screed from a neglected woman (“Loose Change”), a heartwarming call for unity (“Crowded Table”), and a frank rejection of unrealistic maternal expectations (“My Name Can’t Be Mama”). Brandi Carlile positively shines on “If She Ever Leaves Me,” the self-described “first lesbian country love song.” The back half of the album includes a stirring love letter to a family that ended up smaller than expected (“My Only Child”), an ode to the outlaws upstairs (“Heaven is a Honky Tonk”), and a gut wrenching father/daughter exchange upon death’s doorstep (“Cocktail and a Song”). The one misstep is the Maren Morris-penned “Old Soul,” which stretches its legs much longer than needed. Each of the four members has writing credits throughout the album and they take turns on lead vocals. The end product is cohesive, but it’s easy to spot each woman’s personality and style apart from the others. You may not count yourself a country fan, but give this record a spin. Women uplifting women and telling their stories in their own voices is powerful, and it’s something we need more of right now. —Erin Hall

JENNY HVAL
THE PRACTICE OF LOVE
(SACRED BONES)

Norwegian performance artist, musician, and writer Jenny Hval’s new record comes hot on the heels of her novel Paradise Rot. Though partly inspired by Valie Export’s 1985 film of the same name, Hval is ultimately using this musical outlet to sharpen her skills as a writer. Featured guests Vivian Wang, Laura Jean Englert, and Félicia Atkinson are regarded as participants in an album-spanning conversation. Some of the audio was indeed recorded while collaborators were talking with one another and edited for the album. Wang’s spoken passages on the album opener “Lions” feels like an operating system is trying to communicate with us. Largely electronic trance arrangements are used to full effect on “Six Red Cannas,” which is an all-out club tune. Hval and producer Lasse Marhaug (Merzbow, Ken Vandermark) may have angled for a synth-pop aesthetic, but this record ultimately serves as a vessel for the messages on Love, asking complicated questions like: “What is our job as a member of the human race? Do we have to accept this job, and if we don’t, does the pressure to be normal ever stop?” Flourishes of organic instruments like saxophone on “Thumbsucker” and “High Alice” are welcomed and add a layer of sensitivity to the rave atmosphere. Production comparisons to Kate Bush’s hotly anticipated 2005 Aerial album pay homage but do not overshadow Hval’s performance. The layering of spoken words that are lightly pronounced and closely mic’d is a familiar stroke from Bush’s brush that also works well here. Other contemporaries and legends like Kelly Lee Owens and Björk can also be felt on this Sacred Bones-released full-length. —Emily Elhaj

CHRISSIE HYNDE & THE VALVE BONE WOE ENSEMBLE
VALVE BONE WOE
(BMG)

Chrissie Hynde admits she was “not interested in branching out into other musical genres, being a devout rock singer, but jazz is something I grew up around… and I’ve always had a soft spot for it.” With producers Marius De Vries (La La Land) and Eldad Guetta (Rufus Wainwright), Hynde is celebrating some of her favorite songs on her first collection devoted to covers. The Beach Boys track, “Caroline, No.” gets a total and complete dub treatment that slinks alongside traditional jazz instrumentation. Cascading piano runs, a vamping bass line, and brass make for a truly reinvented version of the classic song originally found on Pet Sounds. The Nick Drake-penned “River Man” is a stunner and features the characteristic sweeping string arrangements but also brilliant double bass work. The songs on Valve Bone Woe vary widely. Tracks originally written or recorded by Frank Sinatra, Charles Trénet, and The Kinks rub shoulders with renditions by jazz legends John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. Focusing on melody and song structure, Valve Bone Woe is an exercise in good taste and reinvention. —Emily Elhaj

IN BUSINESS
SPACE STORY
(SELF-RELEASE)

In Business’ sophomore effort chronicles the band’s journey through a wormhole to stop a group called S.C.R.O.T.U.M. from destroying all the funk in the multiverse. The CD comes with a sci-fi novella printed on a four page insert, complete with side characters like the moody robot Andromeo and the arrogant rich kid Spliff. Each character makes an appearance on the album, usually in the form of ‘80s-style rap verses taken by various band members. You’d have to be kind of a stick in the mud not to get a kick out of this shameless, nerdy fun. Far from lightweight, these tunes boast some aggressive horn blasts and a powerful lead vocal by Whitney Alouisious. A stray classic rock guitar riff that closes “My Name is Andromeo” returns in full force for “The Funknology,” adding a consistent musical theme to this concept album. The mix is squeaky clean compared to the gritty abandon of standard bearers like Parliament, but you’ll want to hear this record if you love funk, brass bands, or New Orleans gumbo music. —Michael Kunz

KING GIZZARD AND THE LIZARD WIZARD
INFEST THE RATS’ NEST
(FLIGHTLESS)

On their 15th album since their 2012 debut, King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard push their boundaries with thrash metal chaos. At this point, listeners should know to expect the unexpected from these Australian garage rockers. From their own spaghetti western to a cyborg-centric synth dance tune, they’ve rightfully earned a reputation as a prolific and diverse band. Metalheads might be quick to dismiss the group’s outing into thrash, but King Gizzard delivers the goods. Their ripping guitars and tales of despair hold up with the top titans of the subgenre. On this concept album, they imagine a world where climate change has destroyed the Earth and only the rich can afford the luxury of relocating to Mars, leaving the poor doomed to a painful demise back home. The metal subgenre is a perfect fit for the album’s dark lyrical content, which follows Earth’s remaining citizens through deadly attempts at relocating to Venus. Enjoy Infest the Rats’ Nest’s thrashy goodness and dark focus while it lasts, but don’t expect King Gizzard to continue pursuing this style. At the rate they change their focus, their next release could very well be a bluegrass album about world peace. —William Archambeault

IGGY POP
FREE
(LOMA VISTA)

The temptation to write this review and not mention David Bowie’s last and arguably most impactful album Blackstar was present. However, there are parallels. Bowie’s parting gift, released in 2016, is both beautiful and dark. Elements of jazz, electronic music, and emotive maturity were on full display and at peak ability. Iggy Pop seems to be working with the same clay on Free. An unlikely follow-up to his 2016 album Post Pop Depression (a collaboration with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age), Free falls somewhere between spoken word and minimal jazz. The skeleton of this record is often barely there. The horn of Leron Thomas and sporadic piano chords support Pop and his shaky baritone vocals. Sarah Lipstate (Noveller) lends guitar here and was found while Iggy Pop was filling out his BBC program Iggy Confidential. Pop says, “I began to recoil from guitar riffs in favor of guitarscapes, from twangs in favor of horns, from back beat in favor of space.” The spoken word lament featured on “We Are The People” is blunt but poetic. Its author, like many songs on this record, was not Iggy. It is Lou Reed and can be found in a recorded performance at St. Mark’s Church in New York in 1971. “Sonali” is a mysterious, abstract, and driving track composed by Thomas and performed by Pop to haunting effect. Not unlike 2012’s Francophone covers album, Après, this is a smoothed out and dreamy record that lends itself to contemplation, but requires a fair amount of patience. —Emily Elhaj

PSYCHIC HOTLINE
HEAT INDEX
(SELF-RELEASE)

Up north, summer is associated with beach vacations and barbeques. But in Louisiana, summer is hell, dominated by 100% humidity and life-threatening storms. This is the vibe Ruth Mascelli (a.k.a. Psychic Hotline) captures on their fifth EP, Heat Index. More precisely, they say, they are trying to convey “the tense, languid stretches of time, the ever-present anxiety of living through hurricane season on a deteriorating coast.” Released in mid-July, at the height of summer’s oppressive reign, Heat Index was recorded using minimal gear. The foundation of all six tracks is the Roland MC 303, a ‘90s budget synth and drum machine. Often, ambient embellishment is added with a Virus C, another ‘90s synth known for its lush tones. The result is 23 minutes of mesmeric acid house, with cloudy synth chords evaporating into pulsing basslines. Mascelli, who also plays synth/drum machine as Ruth X in local no-wave group Special Interest (and also contributes to ANTIGRAVITY), is an essential figure in New Orleans DIY. Exploring Southern life through a queer, futurist lens, their vision is dark, ironic, and vitally alive. —Raphael Helfand

WHITNEY
FOREVER TURNED AROUND
(SECRETLY CANADIAN)

Following the unexpected success of 2016’s Light Upon the Lake, it comes as no surprise that Whitney’s sophomore follow-up Forever Turned Around follows the same basic blueprint and covers much the same territory as its predecessor. In fact, the band’s core members Julien Ehrlich (drums, vocals) and Max Kakacek (lead guitar) returned to Light producer Jonathan Rado to help recapture the warm acoustic ambience that made their debut such a standout record. The results are as lush and texturally detailed as ever. Kakacek’s lead guitar is more subtle than on any of his past work, but can still be relied on for a hooky melody here and there. Ehrlich’s falsetto vocal delivery, on the other hand, is stronger and more confident than ever (as evidenced by his excellent performance at Tipitina’s last month). The string arrangements, performed by Lia Kohl (cello), Whitney Johnson (viola), and Macie Stewart (violin), blend beautifully with Ehrlich’s voice on highlights like second single “Valleys (My Love)” and the title track. Forever may lack the strong singles that Light had—“Giving Up” is no “Golden Days”—but Whitney’s second effort feels like the better realized and more complete album. —Nick Pope

VARIOUS ARTISTS
STRANGE SOUNDS
(STRANGE DAISY)

This compilation from local label Strange Daisy Records follows progressive forces in underground music. This release prominently focuses on local talent while also making room for contributors from Austin and Brazil. A Living Soundtrack’s “Wijarn Pongpanich,” the opening track, sets the release’s tone with calm yet chaotic production that simultaneously creates its own world and tears it apart. Many of the songs featured could be described with similarly bizarre sentiments. Strange Sounds and Strange Daisy refuse to be bound by traditionally restrictive notions of genre. Static Masks’ tapping rock guitars are equally as at home on this compilation as BLK’s thumping R&B production. It also boasts three new recordings from local acts HiGH, Cikada, and Mesopeak. Cikada’s rabid dog vocals and doomy metal guitars put them at odds with most of the compilation, which leans heavily on atmospheric explorations typified by groups like Matron and Bad Misters. With over an hour of diverse talent, Strange Sounds is sure to keep listeners on their toes and drive curiosity about the new sounds coming out of New Orleans. —William Archambeault