Music » Record Roundup

Lil B's 101-track mixtape 05 Fuck Em and 15 more record reviews

Eight Reader writers recommend Don Cherry's joyful collectivist jazz, Against Me!'s transformative arena punk, and Murmur's inscrutable blackened prog, just for starters.

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Abyssal, Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius (Iron Bonehead) Anonymous UK trio Abyssal swooped in out of nowhere in 2011, and the aftershocks of their arrival are still rippling outward. The latest incarnation of their excellently murky sophomore full-length, Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius, is this vinyl reissue by Iron Bonehead, which comes snapping at the heels of a CD version by Profound Lore (which was itself a reissue of a self-released effort). Why all the fuss over what could be a bunch of nobodies? Just listen to the first moments of "The Tongue of the Demagogue," which roar out of the ominous intro "Forbode" like an atomic blast. This is chaotic, malevolent death metal, its seasick chord changes smothered under clouds of distortion and black-metal malaise; to add to its charm, the stomach-pump vocals sound like somebody having his intestines pulled out through his teeth. Like-minded hellspawn Portal and Antediluvian may have started the fire, but Abyssal just rolled up with a drum of jet fuel. Kim Kelly

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Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues (Total Treble) When you listen to music, you've usually got a choice about whether you bear its creator's personality and background in mind, but it's impossible to overlook the story behind Against Me!'s new Transgender Dysphoria Blues. It's the first album from this Florida punk band since singer-guitarist Tom Gabel came out as a transgender woman in 2012 and began to transition, changing her name to Laura Jane Grace in the process. Grace, who recently moved to Chicago, clearly drew upon these life changes—the record's title even riffs on "gender dysphoria," the feeling of mismatch between biological sex and gender identity. But though Grace's raw, intense singing evokes the confusion and alienation in her lyrics, she mostly avoids precise autobiographical detail in favor of vague poeticism that's easy to identify with if you've ever felt uncomfortable in your own skin. It also helps that the album's handful of arena-rock tunes—especially "Fuckmylife666" and "Black Me Out"—are catchy as hell. Leor Galil

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Don Cherry, Live in Stockholm (Caprice) For about two decades, beginning in 1965, globally conscious trumpeter Don Cherry lived in Sweden, and though his work with American jazz musicians has tended to obscure the music he made during those years, time is starting to catch up with it. In 2012 Caprice re­issued Organic Music Society, which collects prescient early-70s recordings on which Cherry helped lay the foundation of what's now known as world music, exploring traditions from around the globe in a collective, improvisational setting. Many of the players from that record turn up on this excellent live album, most of which was cut in 1968. The two-part "ABF Suite"—composed for Arbetarnas Bildningsförbund, the educational wing of the Swedish labor party—sounds more like what we think of as jazz than the recordings Cherry would make a few years later, but even here the episodic, largely improvised pieces flow organically among a richness of ideas in a way that suggests a collectivist model, turning music making into a metaphor for broader efforts at sharing and cooperation. "Another Dome Session," from a 1971 concert in a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome built by Stockholm's Museum of Modern Art, not only delves deeper into international flavors but also incorporates the joyful sounds of children playing nearby. Peter Margasak

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Peter Gutteridge, Pure (540) Peter Gutteridge was a founding member of the Clean, the Chills, the Great Unwashed, and Snapper—some of the greatest combos in the history of New Zealand rock. However, he's pursued a lifestyle that you might call as uncompromising as his music (if you were speaking euphemistically), and it's kept him from developing a profile as a solo artist that's anything like those of his old comrades. He's made just one long-playing release under his own name, a 1989 cassette of homemade demos called Pure, which has just been pressed, dropouts and all, onto four sides of garish orange vinyl. Though Gutteridge's keyboard, drum machine, and guitar effects were hardly top-of-the-line even in the late 80s, the way these songs blend lilting melody, robotic rhythm, and eardrum-sanding distortion sounds astoundingly prescient. By turns delicate, playful, and cruelly malevolent, they hold up quite well today. Bill Meyer

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Haptic, Abeyance (Entr'acte) Internet-enabled work-­sharing has evolved to the point where it's easy for musicians scattered all over the country to make a record together that sounds like they were all in the same room. But when a member of Chicago-based experimental trio Haptic moved to the west coast, they did the opposite. Not only did each musician work on Abeyance in isolation, they all took as their raw material manifestations of separation and distance. The 40:56 piece consists mostly of environmental recordings—empty rooms in which the members of Haptic live and other rooms that they've vacated, a relative playing piano from a floor away—and borderline subliminal electronic tones. The result is a layering of hisses and hums that expresses quite concretely the emptiness that ensues from loss, yet paradoxically fills space with a barely heard but strongly felt presence. It not only works as ambient music; it's music made from ambience. Bill Meyer

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Lil B, 05 Fuck Em (mixtape) Bay Area MC Lil B has kept so busy lately being a self-help guru and social-media power user that it's been easy to forget why we all started paying attention to him in the first place—the brilliantly off-kilter mixtapes he once released at an astounding rate. Lil B had a slow 2013, with only four full-length releases (compared to 17 in 2012), but 05 Fuck Em, released on Christmas Eve, helps makes up for that by delivering an impressive 101 tracks. Most of them are the kind of blissfully abstract stuff that's become Lil B's trademark—on "Im Gunna Be a Doctor" he daydreams about getting a medical degree over the Kanye-produced beat to Twista's "Slow Jamz"—but a few key cuts, including the ratchet-influenced "So Thirsty," prove that he's far more than the sum of his extramusical activities. Miles Raymer

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Mariam the Believer, Blood Donation (Mochi Mochi) Mariam the Believer is the solo persona of charismatic, soulful Swedish singer-­songwriter Mariam Wallentin, best known for her role in Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a duo with her husband, drummer Andreas Werliin; he's one of three musicians backing her in this context, where she sings and plays guitar. While Wildbirds combine a stripped-down sonic vocabulary, experimental impulses, and weird harmonies (both members have backgrounds in jazz), as Mariam the Believer Wallentin pushes toward dramatic pop-rock, though her idiosyncratic singing and novel arrangements prevent it from sounding mainstream. Her nimble, muscular voice isn't flashy or especially aggressive, but it's nonetheless magnetic—she brings burnished soul to "The String of Everything" and bluesy intensity to the throbbing "Somewhere Else." Peter Margasak

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Mogwai, Rave Tapes (Sub Pop) Seventeen years and a dozen full-length releases since 1997's Young Team put Mogwai on the postrock map, the band still commands attention. Last year these Scotsmen released a spooky score for French zombie drama Les Revenants that highlights their debt to Italian prog rockers and horror-soundtrack composers Goblin. Rave Tapes is a warmer-blooded affair, with a DayGlo psychedelic palette that's miles away from Les Revenants' icy tones—it wouldn't feel out of place accompanying one of Dario Argento's famously lurid giallo masterpieces. Even on genre experiments such as the metal-tinged "Hexon Bogon," longtime listeners will recognize the basic framework of a Mogwai song, which the band spent years refining and is now giddily twisting into compelling new shapes. Miles Raymer

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Murmur, Murmur (Season of Mist) Chicago black-metal band Murmur has overhauled its lineup since the 2010 full-length Mainlining the Lugubrious: only founder Matthias Vogels remains, now joined by bassist Alex Perkolup (Lovely Little Girls), guitarist Shane Prendi­ville (Guzzlemug), and drummer Charlie Werber (Guzzlemug, Lovely Little Girls). This isn't a case of a solitary mastermind assembling yet another crew of jobbers, though: all four members pitched in on songwriting, transforming Murmur's music into something I can only call "blackened prog." It employs some metal language—a few growled or shrieked vocals, the occasional chugga-chugga—but its dialect comes from an entirely different country, accented with electric piano, acoustic guitar, and frantic, swooping sci-fi synth. Fractured chromatic patterns like tangram tiles nest in one another's crazed contours, while Werber's drumming sometimes nails down the flying riffs and sometimes crisscrosses them with unrelated rhythms; elsewhere his flurries of impacts sound more like pelting rain than any kind of beat. "Bull of Crete" uses busy three-against-four phasing, and "Al-Malik" proceeds in phrases of 10, 11, 12, and 13 pulses (I stopped counting after that). Murmur amplifies the complicated histrionics of late-70s Rock in Opposition with the alien grandeur of zeuhl, and its overriding mood is of fanatical urgency and unresolved tension—it's beautiful and hermetic, like an obscure and powerful rite conducted in a language you don't understand. Philip Montoro

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Polwechsel, Traces of Wood (Hatology) During its two-decade existence this Austrian ensemble has frequently changed personnel—only cellist Michael Moser and bassist Werner Dafeldecker remain from the original quartet—but it's never abandoned its focus, exploring the fine line between controlled, abstract improvisation and minimalist composition. Polwechsel is widely credited with launching the style of reductionist music—whether composed or improvised—that took hold in urban centers such as Berlin and London in the 90s. On Traces of Wood, the group's first album in four years, Moser and Dafeldecker are joined only by percussionists Burkhard Beins and Martin Brandlmayr (the leader of art-rock band Radian), and both of them generate as much bowed and rubbed frictive sound as the string players. Each member composed one of the record's four lengthy pieces, which situate gratifying turbulence and noise between Zenlike meditative passages, and even the most serene moments are distinguished by often viscerally articulated gradations of color. It's the group's most charged music in more than a decade. Peter Margasak

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Tempel, On the Steps of the Temple (Prosthetic) For a band to be competent in instrumental metal a la Russian Circles, it has to be able to seamlessly shift from serene majesty—with steady washes of crash cymbal, layers of acoustic guitar, and triumphant power riffs that just beg for some Ronnie James Dio high notes—into drop-tuned, sludgy oblivion. And the debut full-length from Arizona duo Tempel sounds like Explosions in the Sky set aflame and marched off the edge of a cliff. On proggier tunes such as "Final Years" or "Avaritia," the band shows a softer side—picture a mulletted dude with a whammy bar—but the punishing head banger "The Mist That Shrouds the Peak" (that title!) glows with ire. On the Steps definitely suffers from overproduction—the double-kick onslaughts are so crisp they sound sterile—but you'll get over it. Kevin Warwick

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Twista, Back to the Basics (GMG Entertainment) Last year veteran Chicago MC Twista added strong verses to tracks from several up-and-coming locals, including Chance the Rapper's soulful "Cocoa Butter Kisses," Sicko Mobb's fiesta-ready "Bitches & Bikinis," and DJ Victoriouz's spacey "Cash Out" (alongside pint-size driller Lil Mouse, who at 13 inspired a superficial 2012 Sun-Times think piece about the effect of violent lyrics on the city's kids). Twista calls himself the "midwest godfather" on December's Back to the Basics EP (the follow-­up to 2012's Reloaded and his first nonmixtape release since 2010's The Perfect Storm), and his eagerness to work with the younger generation ought to make that title stick. Twista shows no sign of slowing down—he's still rhyming at the breakneck speed that landed him in the 1993 Guinness Book of World Records as the planet's fastest rapper. He's got plenty of swagger too, and on "Beast" his smooth, sinuous flow hits a satisfying groove. Leor Galil

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Various artists, Seapunk Volume 2 (Coral Records Internazionale) When my Reader colleague Miles Raymer wrote about seapunk two years ago, he described the microscene's sound as a glistening, energetic collision of aughties pop and R&B, 90s house and techno, and the newest southern trap rap. The scene's main players have since expanded the influences in their nets, making seapunk increasingly amorphous—an "investigative" seapunk episode of MTV's Weird Vibes included Anamanaguchi, a chiptune rock act I've always considered sui generis, not part of any scene. This growing diversity is reflected on Seapunk Volume 2, a genre-hopping compilation from Coral Records Internazionale, the label run by Chicago producer Ultrademon; it features 16 artists from Chicago and abroad, including wurkstep originators Sich Mang and Teklife collective member DJ Earl, who mixes drum 'n' bass loops into the footwork cut "Break." There are plenty of choice tracks, but right now I'm stuck on Fazerock's "Dunkin' Donuts Without Milk," with its buzzing synths and bubbling, pitched-up vocal samples. Leor Galil

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Papadon Washington, The Blues in Me (UDAD) On this album Papadon Washington plays every instrument—guitar, sax, bass, drums, Hammond organ occasionally double-tracked with acoustic piano—to single-­handedly create a swinging, nightclubby soul-jazz groove with a powerful gospel charge. The music's so relaxing, in fact, that the intensity of his political message might come as a shock. Though Washington is perfectly capable on conventional fare ("Baby Taught Me to Swing," "This Woman of Mine"), he shines brightest when he's most socially engaged. Both the title tune and "The Blues Is My Story" challenge post­racial bromides, insisting that the blues is African-American music, inextricably intertwined with the legacy of slavery and oppression. "When Money Talks" calls out a corrupt politician (who happens to be a woman), and the rousing "Ain't Going Back" proclaims the singer's dedication to carrying on the freedom struggle. It might be a stretch to call Washington the second coming of Gil Scott-Heron or the blues equivalent of Chuck D, Sista Souljah, or Immortal Technique, but it's certainly refreshing to hear a voice like his in the genre today. David Whiteis

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Leo Welch, Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess) Making his recorded debut at the ripe old age of 81, Mississippi gospel-blues shouter Leo Welch finally shares his music with the wider world after a lengthy career as a logger. Though he leads a gospel band called Rising Voices when he performs around Calhoun County, for this session label owner Bruce Watson put together a scrappy ensemble of five Mississippi roots-music pros, augmented by Welch's own Sabougla Voices chorus, Martha and Laverne Conley. Almost all the songs are based on traditional material—Welch wrote just one, "His Holy Name"—and if you've listened to much of the blues, these potent, spirited performances will sound familiar. The band, which includes onetime Squirrel Nut Zipper Jimbo Mathus, plays with old-­fashioned looseness, working only to elevate Welch's sorrowful, sanctified wail. Peter Margasak

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You Blew It!, Keep Doing What You're Doing (Topshelf) Kids growing up in the U.S. used to be bombarded with the notion that no place on earth was more magical than Orlando, Florida—after all, it hosts not just Disney World but also SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Studios Florida. Since 2009 it's also been home to emo band You Blew It!, whose second album, Keep Doing What You're Doing, is as much fun as the parks in its hometown claim to be—partly because it's more emotionally honest. Its rugged road-trip songs embrace the twentysomething confusion and angst that the Magical Kingdom would rather pretend don't exist. Evan Thomas Weiss of Into It. Over It. produced the album and played bass, and he helped You Blew It! shed some of the sloppiness of their earlier releases—they infuse rugged power-pop hooks with the cathartic earnestness of fourth-wave emo, and on "Award of the Year Award" even a nasty falling-out with a friend emerges as blissful alt-rock. Leor Galil

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