Music » Record Roundup

Ryan Hemsworth's cleaned-up, poppy Guilt Trips and 15 more record reviews

Nine Reader writers tackle 16 albums, including Omar Souleyman’s proper studio debut and the Dismemberment Plan's unembarrassing reunion record.

by , , , , , , , and

1 comment

Daniel Bachman, Jesus I'm a Sinner (Tompkins Square)

Jesus I'm a Sinner might just as well have been titled "Jesus, What Do I Do Next?" With last year's Seven Pines, Virgina-born acoustic guitarist Daniel Bachman offered an intimidatingly accomplished example of the style known as "American primitive guitar"—loosely speaking, a merger of American folk idioms and raga aesthetics. This time, the 23-year-old has combined the things that made that record great with several collaborative experiments. Consequently Jesus I'm a Sinner is less cohesive, though the individual parts are excellent: on the solo piece "Leaving Istanbul (4 AM)" and the eerie "Under the Shade of the Trees," where he's accompanied by a tree full of cicadas, he summons a brooding mystery that clashes with the more traditional sounds of the Cajun dance "Happy One Step," a duet with fiddler Sally Morgan, and the old-time ramble "Variations on Goose Chase," on which Bachman swaps his guitar for a banjo. Bill Meyer


Bardo Pond, Peace on Venus (Fire)

It's not usually a compliment to say that a band's music has ground to a halt, but the near stasis that Bardo Pond achieves on Peace on Venus seems not only intentional but also entirely apropos. The Philadelphia-­based quintet has often favored slow tempos, but here it maintains an immaculate poise while moving like a sloth wading through molasses. Drummer Jason Kourkonis leaves open spaces as wide as picture windows between his massive beats, showing off the layers of coarsely textured, sedimental rock that guitarist brothers John and Michael Gibbons and bassist Clint Takeda blast from their amps—imagine the Stooges' Ron Asheton sitting in with Crazy Horse, and you're halfway there. Isobel Sollenberger's woozy vocals and echo-laden flute add contrasting light and motion, flashing in and out of the frame like glints of sunlight on the dental work of a spaghetti-western villain. Bill Meyer


CCR Headcleaner, Lace the Earth With Arms Wide Open: 2013 (Pizza Burglar)

These San Francisco weirdos, who've been kicking around with their hybrid of noise rock and indie pop for the past three years, have finally released their debut LP, Lace the Earth With Arms Wide Open: 2013. With its fractured acoustic numbers and bombastic bursts of noise, this perfectly schizophrenic record has a little something for everyone, but the sound that dominates Lace the Earth is the one they do best—a massive guitar onslaught a la Sonic Youth spiked with the catchy, offbeat aesthetic of central Ohio bands such as Times New Viking and the Breeders. The album would be more memorable if it weren't so all over the board, but there's not a bad track on it, no matter the style. Luca Cimarusti


Circle and Mamiffer, Enharmonic Intervals (for Paschen Organ) (SIGE/Ektro)

Washington state noisemakers Mamiffer (aka Faith Coloccia and former Isis front man Aaron Turner) have already collaborated with locals Locrian and Coloccia's group Pyramids, and to make Enharmonic Intervals (for Paschen Organ) they traveled to Finland to record with experimental rock band Circle in Keski-Porin Kirkko, a gothic church in Circle's hometown of Pori. Most of the album consists of deep, trancelike organs, curdling guitar feedback, guttural howls, and wordless wailing, which echo off the cavernous church's walls to create a creepy, dramatic ambience that's tense and occasionally startling. "Tumulus" melds a grand prog-rock organ melody with minimalist quasi-­tribal drumming, descending guitar riffs, shrieking vocals, and what sounds like an incantation chanted at just above a whisper—the musicians channel sinister energy into something that feels almost spiritual. Leor Galil


Diplo, Revolution EP (Mad Decent)

Diplo has never been one to commit to any given style of music for more than 32 bars, and his sudden massive mainstream bankability has done nothing to tame that tendency. If anything it's amplified it: coming off a year of working with the likes of Lil Wayne and K-pop star G-Dragon, as well as producing Snoop Lion's Reincarnated with his Major Lazer crew, he's dropped an EP whose opening track returns to the hyper­kinetic, genre-mashing booty-pop music of 2012's Express Yourself, which contributed as much to the twerking phenomenon as Miley Cyrus. "Biggie Bounce" sounds like confetti made out of dancehall, New Orleans bounce, Miami bass, Brazilian favela funk, and about a dozen other ass-focused dance-music microgenres, all thrown in the air and recorded. The other three originals on Revolution are exercises in radio pop, arena EDM, and (most unexpectedly) grimy 90s-style rap. Like many of the tracks Diplo releases under his own name, they're spotty from second to second due to his lack of discipline when it comes to song structure—sometimes it feels like he just tosses together a bunch of half-finished parts and leaves it up to DJs and remixers to figure out how they're supposed to go together. Miles Raymer


Dismemberment Plan, Uncanney Valley (Partisan)

When I heard that the Dismemberment Plan was writing new material after a very fun 2011 run of reunion shows (which included Pitchfork), I held my breath. For a solid decade between 1993 and 2003, the D.C. quartet had blended artsy indie rock and inventive postpunk, helping a generation of gangly, bespectacled undergrad dorks feel cool. And hey, that meant something to me. They left on a high note, fostering an especially fond nostalgia among thirtysomethings—which a new album, a decade later, seemed doomed to mar. So now that Uncanney Valley is out, what's the verdict? It's good—better than I'd hoped. As soon as front man Travis Morrison opened his mouth on the first track, "No One's Saying Nothing," his ageless nasal voice delivering the characteristically zany lines "You hit the space bar enough and cocaine comes out / I really like this computer," I was ready to like the album, not pick it apart. Uncanney Valley sticks with the more chill and mature strain of noisy indie rock on Change (J. Robbins recorded this one too), with fewer of the eccentricities and jagged edges from Emergency & I. Basically the band knows where to aim its arrow. And don't fret, Morrison still busts out his dorky, free-­flowing, hip-hop-style vocals—this is the D-Plan, after all. Kevin Warwick


Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky)

Sound artist Tim Hecker traverses a lot of ground on Virgins—sometimes he orchestrates squirmingly tense soundscapes ("Virginal I" is like a thicket of swirling wind chimes just before a storm, backed by a distorted, catastrophic rumble) and sometimes he calls down the heavens with an overwhelming celestial chorus, like something out of an alien-abduction film ("Radiance"). It'd feel like a patchwork if Hecker weren't so brilliant at pulling its threads. The new album, a follow-up to the esteemed Ravedeath, 1972, was recorded last year with live ensembles in Reykjavik, Montreal, and Seattle, but despite its fragmentary genesis, the creaks and groans Hecker adds create a sort of demented pattern that's definitely the product of a single mind. On "Live Room," for instance, a smattering of keys and tinny percussive elements acts as a loose framework, even as it's swallowed whole by growling low-end buzz. It's actually frightening—not only is Hecker a master at adapting to different settings and personnel, he can also make fear into a sound. Kevin Warwick


Ryan Hemsworth, Guilt Trips (Last Gang)

Ryan Hemsworth is part of a loosely affiliated stylistic movement where his fellow travelers include Shlohmo and Chicago's Supreme Cuts, both of whom supplied remixes for his 2012 EP Last Words; it borders hip-hop and dance music but doesn't cross over fully into either, and it's sprinkled with R&B and sounds that fall just short of experimental. Hemsworth's new Guilt Trips, his second full-length overall and second release of 2013 (after his Still Awake EP in May), adds focus and clarity to a sound that previously wallowed in haziness. It's no secret that mainstream producers have been following the likes of Hemsworth, and Guilt Trips seems motivated by his desire to prove that he can do pop as well as they can. To that end he's reined in his wandering and started to lean harder on vocals, including guest turns on "Day / Night / Sleep System" by two very different Brooklyn rappers: Barbadian spitter Haleek Maul and Internet sensation Kitty (nee Pryde). And if that's what he was aiming for, he's done it—all that stands between "Weird Life" and placement on an album by a Drake-jacking major-label R&B star is a little networking and a punchier mix. Miles Raymer


Gilbert Holmström New Quintet, Tiden är Kort (Moserobie)

Tenor saxophonist Gilbert Holmström is an overlooked elder who played an important role in Sweden's jazz history, but he may yet get his due; the 1975 album Waves From Albert Ayler by his powerful Mount Everest Trio was among the first reissues from John Corbett's Unheard Music Series in 2000, and more recently 35-year-old Swedish saxophonist Jonas Kullhammar has worked hard to shed light on Holmström. A few years ago Kullhammar's Moserobie label reissued Utan Misstankar, Holmström's classic 1965 debut, and for the new Tiden är Kort the younger man rounded up a group of players of his own generation—bassist Torbjörn Zetterberg, drummer Jonas Holgerson, and Atomic trumpeter Magnus Broo—to play behind the veteran. Holmström sounds as strong and open-minded as he did nearly five decades ago, and he wrote seven of the eight tunes—muscular, gracefully swinging postbop, with elegant arrangements that push every soloist. Whether he's playing a simultaneous modal solo with Kullhammar on "Desert Walk" or just taking his own turn, he's never less than fully engaged with the band, sharing fresh ideas rather than rehearsing his past innovations. Peter Margasak


Jumalhamara, Resitaali (Ahdistuksen Aihio Productions)

To get to their debut full-length, Resignaatio, in 2010, this Finnish black-metal band took a long and twisted road—and if they wanted to switch to a straight, broad careerist path from there, the new limited-release album Resitaali is hardly the next logical move. Resignaatio caught a lot of ears with its furiously complex and challenging black metal, but Resitaali isn't more of the same, or even a recognizable evolutionary step—it's four long tracks of melancholy harmonium drone, much of which wouldn't sound out of place on an avant-garde indie label. On tracks three and four (they're untitled) the foggy roar starts to mount to eerie heights and suffocating densities; the encroaching dissonance of the former sets the stage for the ten-minute cathedral build of the latter. I don't see this album as a sequel to Resignaatio so much as a chaser: Resitaali wouldn't have nearly the impact if I didn't already know what Jumalhamara could do as a metal band, and Resignaatio is deepened and enriched by its moody, meditative sibling. Monica Kendrick


Ryan Muncy, Hot (New Focus)

Adolphe Sax patented his namesake instrument way back in 1846, but today it's associated with relatively modern forms of music, among them jazz, R&B, and rock—in the classical world, it remains a kind of bastard sibling to the clarinet. Chicagoan Ryan Muncy, executive director of fearless new-music group Ensemble dal Niente and a member of the all-saxophone Anubis Quartet, has been a party to the performance or comissioning of more than 100 new works for the instrument, and on his dazzling solo debut, Hot, he continues to fight the good fight: its diverse array of saxophone pieces were composed, with one exception, in the current century. A series of bracing duets shows off the instrument's malleability and freakish extended range as well as its delicacy and refinement. On "Refrain From Riffing," a kaleidoscopic 2008 piece by Anthony Cheung, Muncy spins gossamer lines gilded by sour harmonics through Ben Melsky's detuned harp constellations, which alternately form tangled webs and cascading washes; on "Strohbass," by Chicago-based composer Marcos Balter, Muncy uses his baritone sax to carry on a sparse, suspenseful conversation of fluttery gestures and terse blurts with Claire Chase's bass flute. Peter Margasak


Oranssi Pazuzu, Valonielu (Svart/20 Buck Spin)

This Finnish band plays cosmic black metal that simmers with the baroque lunacy of psychedelic science fiction. Hypnotizing riffs and puzzling patterns of accents overlap in eccentric orbits, while guitars and electronics sizzle, sweep, grind, pulse, and twinkle. Oranssi Pazuzu's third full-length, Valonielu, presents a sinister, orientalist view of space, compressed into a slide show of alien vistas—you could almost imagine Ming the Merciless out there, if he were an elemental evil instead of a racist caricature. An automated probe streaks across the inky sky, its bright coma trailing brain-­scrambling static; armies of gnashing robots hollow out the core of a frozen moon; a tendril of glittering vapor snakes out of a crack in the ground and coils around your body, turning you into a giant bug with jewels for eyes. And as you plunge through a wormhole at inhuman speeds, bathed in a kaleidoscope of exotic radiation pouring from its fatally stressed spacetime, you catch up with the back of your own head—how many of these loops have actually been taking you deeper inside yourself, not further into the void? Is there a difference? Philip Montoro


Pusha T, My Name Is My Name (GOOD Music/Def Jam)

Could Pusha T have been any luckier than to bounce out of Clipse and straight into Kanye's back pocket? (OK, there's still supposed to be a new Clipse record coming, but I'll believe that when I see it.) Few rappers have been blessed by this much great production—the 36-year-old has benefited from Pharrell's first prime and from the angry hip-hop-as-high-art phase of Jimmy Kimmel's best friend. The stacked guest roster on Pusha T's debut solo album, My Name Is My Name, denies him the chance to prove that he can carry songs all by himself, but the album still showcases the best rapping Ye's spent time around since he served as executive producer of Common's Be. The soaring posttrap epics "King Push" and "Who I Am," the mangled gutter robot ballad "Pain," and the Drake-ian "40 Acres" (possibly a shout-out to producer Noah "40" Shebib) are all at the top of their classes. And sometimes the big budget buys perfect simplicity: the viciously sparse loops of "Numbers on the Boards" and "Nosetalgia" make them two of the best songs of the year. Tosten Burks


Omar Souleyman, Wenu Wenu (Ribbon Music)

The surprise breakthrough of Syrian dabke singer Omar Souleyman is still gathering steam: the new Wenu Wenu is his first release on a widely distributed label and his first album recorded in a proper studio. When I heard that Kieran Hebden (aka Four Tet) had produced it, I imagined lots of cameos from Westerners and a more jacked-up sound, but I was wrong. Hebden took a hands-off approach at their Brooklyn sessions (the first time Souleyman has cut an album outside Syria), so that the only appreciable difference is a newfound clarity, sans the in-the-red levels of earlier efforts. Souleyman's coarse, hectoring vocals are accompanied only by the keyboards and synthesized, snaking Auto-Tuned mejwiz of longtime collaborator Rizan Sa'id. If what you liked best about Souleyman's Sublime Frequencies releases was their raw primitivism, you might be disappointed with Wenu Wenu, but I'm happy to hear him in richly detailed Technicolor for the first time on disc. Peter Margasak


Linda Thompson, Won't Be Long Now (Pettifer Sounds)

Won't Be Long Now is the third album since 2002 from beloved British folk singer Linda Thompson—a bonanza after a 17-year drought. This cobbled-together release contains new material cut in New York and London as well as older stuff—including a live a cappella reading of the traditional "Blue Bleezin' Blind Drunk," recorded at New York club Bottom Line in 2002, and "Paddy's Lamentation," an alternate version of a song on the soundtrack of Gangs of New York. The album is a bit of a family affair: ex-husband Richard played guitar on the bitter "Love's for Babies and Fools"; her son Teddy wrote or cowrote several songs, played guitar, and sang; and her daughter Kami added vocals, including a lead turn on Anna McGarrigle's "As Fast as My Feet." Thompson's clarion voice sounds a tad scuffed, which lends extra gravity to the songs about disappointment and heartbreak; as usual she moves easily between traditional British folk and modern pop-rock, and the cool of her singing can't belie the sadness behind it. Peter Margasak


Various artists, Off the Board: A Studio 4 Family Compilation (self-released)

Pennsylvania producer Will Yip has a dream: he wants to be one of the owners of Studio 4 Recording, a big-budget studio in suburban Philadelphia that's served Boyz II Men, Urge Overkill, and Cypress Hill. Yip works at Studio 4 and is partial to the kind of alt-rock acts usually described as "DIY" or "punk," which means they can't afford to record there. If Yip becomes an owner, though, he'll be able to work with any sugary pop-punk band or fourth-wave emo group his heart desires, limited only by his willingness to eat into the studio's revenue. To help raise the money, Yip has put out Off the Board, a collection of B sides and unreleased tunes from bands he's recorded. The compilation is imperfect (Light Years' "I Couldn't Change" veers toward saccharine mall punk), but I'd buy it just for the autumnal shoegaze of Pity Sex's "Euclid" and the relaxed hook of Tigers Jaw's "Carry You Over." Leor Galil


Showing 1-1 of 1


Add a comment