Music » Record Roundup

Kylie Minogue's cheerfully lascivious Kiss Me Once and 15 more record reviews

Eleven Reader writers tackle a dizzying variety of new music, including Pharrell's expertly vacuous Ikea pop, Morbus Chron's feral-to-cerebral death prog, and Issue's blissed-out, goofy hip-hop about tea.

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Carla Bozulich, Boy (Constellation) After several phenomenal albums with her versatile, razor-edged band Evangelista, singer-­songwriter Carla Bozulich took things into her own hands for the new Boy—she not only played many of the instruments but also produced and mixed the record (Italian drummer Andrea Belfi provides most of the beats, while Bay Area multi-instrumentalist John Eichenseer contributed keyboards, viola, and electronics). The press materials for Boy call it Bozulich's "pop record," and that's true insofar as the songs follow standard verse-chorus-­verse forms—her focused, aspirated singing and the music's harrowing textures aren't exactly sweet and accessible. Bozulich has always been an expressive vocalist, but here she sounds more powerful than ever, with a primal intensity that's somewhere between Patti Smith and Nick Cave. More than 20 years into her career, she keeps getting better. Peter Margasak


Bobby Charles, Bobby Charles (Light in the Attic) Bobby Charles's drawl isn't the only thing that gives this swamp-rock icon's 1972 debut all the laid-back, porch-music vibes of the Band: Rick Danko, the Band's bassist, coproduced it. Born Robert Charles Guidry in 1938 in Abbeville, Louisiana, he made his first run at the pop charts in 1955 with "Later Alligator," a bouncing R&B number he cut for Chess that Bill Haley & His Comets would later make a hit. (As the story goes, Charles auditioned for the label by singing over the phone, and Leonard Chess was surprised when a white guy showed up in Chicago to record.) For his first solo LP he gathered an all-star cast of friends, including Dr. John, David Sanborn, and most members of the Band; this is the first time it's been in print on LP since a 1988 reissue. Charles's Cajun heritage is most audible in "I'm That Way," "Long Face" (with its twinkling piano), and "Small Town Talk" (which features Dr. John's slyly infectious organ flourishes). "Street People" and "Let Yourself Go," on the other hand, belong beside the twangy roots-rock anthems of the day. The folks at Light in the Attic remastered the LP from the original tapes—180-gram vinyl means nothing if the pressing is shit—so this overlooked treasure sounds as good as it ever has. —Erin Osmon


Coffinworm, IV.I.VIII (Profound Lore) Back when all I knew about this Indiana metal band was what I could hear on its 2010 debut full-length, When All Became None, I saw it described as "decrepit doom." Upon seeing Coffinworm live, I decided that "decrepit" meant "someone in the band has dreadlocks." But now that I've listened to IV.I.VIII, I'm reconsidering. Though the album sounds like a huge ancient killing machine, it also sounds like that machine has been buried since it mopped up the last of the Nephilim, slowly corroding with blood-blackened earth. Its fraying cables shriek and groan, its pitted gears rumble and grind—and even when the music's ugly gnashing kicks into overdrive, with the vocals' ragged roar emerging incomprehensibly from its interior convolutions, it never sheds its aura of vast, filthy bulk. But it also maintains an implacably steady rhythm as it churns across the landscape—whatever propels it remains in perfect working order, an impression reinforced by overdubs of regimented pistonlike clanking and precisely timed detonations of electronic noise. So does IV.I.VIII count as "decrepit" or not? I could go either way. You say "tomato," I say "monstrous, hateful engine of death from beyond time." Philip Montoro


Eternal Summers, The Drop Beneath (Kanine) On 2012's Correct Behavior, the lush tunes of Virginia indie-rock trio Eternal Summers surged forward with a surplus of energy and urgency—the band's sound was basically a supercatchy, nostalgia-inducing blend of dream pop and jumpy postpunk. On the new The Drop Beneath, though, Eternal Summers take a step back and pace themselves, which plays perfectly to their band's strengths. The extra breathing room in the songs gives Nicole Yun's sweet, lofty vocals and richly chorused guitar lots of room to soar, while Jonathan Woods's swooping, melodic bass locks in with Daniel Cundiff's clean drumming to create a new-wave vibe reminiscent of early New Order or the Cure. This relatively refined and reined-in sound was no doubt influenced by Eternal Summers' new producer, Doug Gillard—an indie-rock genius in his own right, he's played in countless bands, among them indie-poppers Nada Surf and prolific lo-fi kings Guided by Voices. Luca Cimarusti


Issue, Liquid Wisdom (Greedhead) Three things to know about Bay Area rapper Issue: he's the son of hyphy legend E-40, he doesn't sound anything like his dad, and he's obsessed with tea. Liquid Wisdom, which former Das Racist member Himanshu Suri released on his standard-bearing avant-rap label, Greedhead, references different varieties of tea the same way other rap albums reference marijuana strains or boutique vodka brands, and Issue's spacey, stream-of-consciousness flow brings to mind the hippie-fied based vibes of fellow Bay Area denizen Lil B. The album's beats (one of them from Chicago duo Supreme Cuts) ride a similarly blissed-out wave, which would make it perfect for yoga if it weren't for the frequent punch lines and funny voices, delivered with the awkward comedic style of a teenage boy who dresses in hoodies and an MF Doom mask. Miles Raymer


Vijay Iyer, Mutations (ECM) Pianist and composer Vijay Iyer plays an original, variegated form of jazz, but he's always done much more than that, both in music and in his other pursuits; last year he won a MacArthur Fellowship on the heels of landing a professorship at Harvard. This year he signed with ECM, and on his debut for the label, Mutations, he seems determined to establish his bona fides as a composer—a role that's been part of his artistic practice for years. The centerpiece of the album is Mutations I-X, a 2005 work commissioned by the string quartet Ethel that convincingly translates Iyer's thinking as an improviser into its ten rigorously structured and smartly plotted movements. Elegant composed passages played by a killer string quintet, which includes violinist Miranda Cuckson and ICE cellist Kivie Cahn-Lipman, collide with Iyer's parts, which are either written or improvised; the pianist also manipulates samples of the strings in real time. For this performance the string players emphasized the aleatoric element of the score, making more of the spontaneous choices that it allows. Mutations I-X is surrounded by exquisite solo piano pieces, including two that use electronics. Taken as a whole, the album leaves no doubt as to Iyer's ambition and range—it's a knockout. Peter Margasak


Kuolemanlaakso, Tulijoutsen (Svart) Do you find this band's name really hard to spell? I certainly do. That might be partly because it's Finnish, and Finnish is a Uralic language—meaning it's not nearly as closely related to English as, say, Swedish or Norwegian. When Finnish metal bands dig into their landscapes and history, as Kuolemanlaakso do on their second album, Tulijoutsen, they unearth things that can feel haunting and exotic to us—or at least more veiled and mysterious than English-­speaking metalheads are used to. Even if you know that Elias Lonnrot stitched together Finland's unifying national epic, Kalevala, in the 19th century, the rhythms of its poetry still seem to reach out of a much more distant age. Tulijoutsen, produced by V. Santura of Triptykon, has a misty, mossy grandeur, inspired as it is by nature and folklore—and it's also full of surprises, particularly near the end. "Glastonburyn Lehto" has a weird cabaret-pop feel, and vocalist Mikko Kotamaki stops howling, ending up sounding not unlike a vaguely elven Nick Cave—it's startlingly urbane and civilized compared to what comes before and after. The very next song, after all, is the stormy, eerie "Tuonen Tahtivyo," full of faery-vengeance choirs and crushing riffage. Monica Kendrick


Kylie Minogue, Kiss Me Once (Warner Brothers) Over the span of 25 years and more than a dozen albums, it's become sadly clear that Kylie Minogue is never going to be the same kind of supermassive media star in America that she is in much of the rest of the world. (However, her anthemic club-pop sound and haute-couture diva image have blown up here by proxy—via Lady Gaga's "homages.") Minogue seems content with partial global domination, though, and the second half of her career has been defined by the playful experimentation of a pop queen who doesn't measure herself by chart placement alone. Her latest LP bursts with the cheerful lasciviousness that's become her trademark (song titles include "Sexy Love," "Sexercise," and "Les Sex") and with retro-­disco sounds updated by contemporary flourishes (such as the grimy postdubstep synths on "Sexercise"); thanks to "I Was Gonna Cancel," she can add yet another infinitely addictive floor-filler to her resumé. Miles Raymer


Morbus Chron, Sweven (Century Media) On their second full-length, Stockholm four-piece Morbus Chron have done their damnedest to shake off any preconceptions about what "Swedish death metal" should sound like in 2014. There's no throwback guitar tone, no D-beat, and no cheap Entombed ripoff riffs; instead, on Sweven Morbus Chron undertake an evolution similar to Death's climb from feral to cerebral. They've hinted at experimental leanings from the start, but now they're throwing caution to the wind and going full-bore death prog. Heavily melodic riffing and dark, tense vibes saturate the album, augmented by thrashy upbeats and clever use of tremolo effects. Though the band's Autopsy fixation remains, it's tempered by seriously impressive songwriting—their most satisfying moves include the hushed acoustic guitars in the middle of "The Perennial Link," the moody, bluesy open-picked solos on "Ripening Life," and the stately doom feel of instrumental album closer "Terminus." Morbus Chron lure their riffs into strange territory, and it pays off. Sweven is a unique beast from a band that warrants careful future observation. Kim Kelly


Owls, Two (Polyvinyl) In 2001 four of the five members of second-wave emo heavyweights Cap'n Jazz—vocalist Tim Kinsella, guitarist Victor Villareal, bassist Sam Zurick, and drummer Mike Kinsella—released an LP as Owls. Now, four years after the Cap'n Jazz reunion tour, Owls are back with Two, where they rough up and bulk up the artsy, mathy emo of their debut until some tracks sound like the huge, bold postpunk Dischord Records put out in the late 80s and early 90s (not long after the Revolution Summer kick-­started emo). Villareal still sometimes plays the complex, spellbindingly fast guitar patterns that made him the godfather of "twinklecore," but often he slackens his pace to create heavy, trance-­inducing melodies. The guitars have some city grit to them too, and when Tim Kinsella sings "All Chicago smells like chocolate" on "I'll Never Be . . . " I can't help but think about walking through the grimy underpasses near the Blommer factory. Leor Galil


Partial, LL (Another Timbre) "We jam econo," the Minutemen proclaimed, and I'm sure that at least one member of Partial could source that quote in a second. There's nothing remotely rocking or jammy about this local duo's music, but it couldn't be more economical. Noé Cuellar (of Coppice) and Joseph Clayton Mills (of Haptic) recorded LL in the basement of a Pilsen thrift shop, whose contents yielded every sound on this album of cheaply made but richly layered musique concrete. They keep their focus small, extracting moments of intrigue from environmental sounds and the tiny noises made by toys, tools, clocks, door hinges, and a 19th-century Swiss music box, whose unmolested song gets the last word. Every gesture is laden with multiple potential meanings, including the record's title: If you read LL as two Roman numerals, it could signify the 50/50 nature of collaboration. Or it could just remind you that this music comes from the lower level. Bill Meyer


Bo Anders Persson, Love Is Here to Stay (Subliminal Sounds) Swedish composer and experimentalist Bo Anders Persson is best known for expansive psych-folk bands Pärson Sound, International Harvester, and Träd, Gräs och Stenar, which he cofounded in the late 60s. This new release collects some of his earliest work, from '66 and '67 (all but one track is previously unissued), and it's very different from those groups' output. A series of sketches cut in 1966, while he was studying at the Royal Academy of Music in Stockholm, mostly features amorphous, abstract melodic shapes from either flutist Björn J:son Lindh or vocalist Maylene Bergström, floating over and drifting through proto­industrial hums and machinelike drones that Persson created using tape. The title track adds upright bass and Persson's congo, conjuring a jazz­like feel, and in the chamberlike "Små Toner Mer Eller Mindre," brittle harp interjections interrupt long tones on trombone, bass, and alto flute. The highlight is the 1967 tape piece Protein­imperialism (released by Wergo on a 1970 split album with Folke Rabe), a continually morphing swirl of fairground sounds and radio transmissions created for an art installation that year. Peter Margasak


Pharrell, Girl (Columbia) Most pop and rap listeners have short memories. Who remembers that Pharrell Williams, half of production duo the Neptunes, released the bloated, vacuous glam-thug-rap album In My Mind in 2006? When that flopped, he retreated into production work before reemerging in the past year with a few calculated guest appearances that happened to be massive hits—Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines"—and a funny hat at the Grammys. Now comes Pharrell's sophomore album, Girl, a compact but still vacuous stab at solo success. Some critics have compared it to Michael Jackson, but it's more Kings of Convenience than King of Pop—a brisk ten tracks of fluffy bounce and bouncy fluff. At times, especially on the already-number-one single "Happy" and the Justin Timberlake duet "Brand New," impeccable pop instincts mask the music's shallowness. But half of Girl is Michael Jackson without any of the things that made Michael Jackson great: funk, weirdness, variety, singing chops. It's Ikea pop—efficient and crafty, but ubiquitous and boring. Tal Rosenberg


Rudy Royston, 303 (Greenleaf) Since moving to New York from Denver in 2006, drummer Rudy Royston has been keeping time for some of the most disciplined and original bandleaders in jazz: guitarist Bill Frisell, saxophonist J.D. Allen, and most recently trumpeter Dave Douglas. But his first recording under his own name—the new 303, named for his former area code—carves out an artistic space of its own. Royston's seven-­piece band manages to sound loose and atmospheric even at its most heated, and the presence of electric guitarist Nir Felder and two upright bassists—Yasushi Nakamura and Mimi Jones—gives it a modern veneer. "Play on Words" is state-of-the-art New York postbop, with a hyperkinetic drive that's untypical for Royston, and on the stately, gospel-­flavored ballad "Goodnight Kinyah" he pares down his sound. He and his band—rounded out by pianist Sam Harris, trumpeter Nadje Noordhuis, and saxophonist Jon Irabagon—deliver ruminative reimaginings of Radiohead ("High and Dry") and Mozart ("Ave Verum Corpus"), but the drummer's own material conveys his range of ideas just fine. Peter Margasak


Sisyphus, Sisyphus (Asthmatic Kitty/Joyful Noise) In 2012 oddball Chicago rapper Serengeti teamed up with eclectic producer Son Lux and indie-rock hero Sufjan Stevens as S/S/S, but for their debut album—commissioned by Minneapolis's Walker Art Center and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra's Liquid Music concert series—they've renamed their collaboration Sisyphus. These songs are as party as they are arty—the nimble, buoyant dance-funk of the first single, "Calm It Down," would sound familiar to James Murphy. Sisyphus segues from Son Lux's colorful electronic pileups to Sufjan's symphonic wool-sweater indie folk to Serengeti's spacey, giddy rap, often within a single track. The album's best moments, particularly "I Won't Be Afraid" and "Take Me," are sublime, wistful, and angelic, much like the three members' moodier solo work—but with new eccentricities that only could've come from this project. Leor Galil


Wild Beasts, Present Tense (Domino) Wild Beasts' seductive 2009 breakout record, Two Dancers, is essentially well-­orchestrated, peculiar indie rock, dressed up by the theatrical vocals of Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming and distinguished by a few standout songs. Since then, though, the band have been exploring dark electro, experimenting with synths and negative space, and trying to write albums that seethe and bubble as a whole (rather than revolving around a couple singles). The new Present Tense is the English foursome's most adult-sounding record, if you're willing to allow "adult-sounding" to mean "cohesive, gloomy, and sinister." The excellent opening single, "Wanderlust," features delicate jolts of thick, low-end synth and a driving programmed beat, and Thorpe's creepy "Don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck" vocal outro adds to the track's already threatening mystique. Wild Beasts sacrifice a bit of their guitar-rock catchiness on Present Tense, but that makes for a more compelling listen overall. Kevin Warwick

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