Music » Record Roundup

The Pixies' deflating Indie Cindy and 15 more record reviews

A dozen far-flung Reader writers cover Future's conscience-stricken coke rap, Todd Terje's playfully colorful nu-disco, Triptykon's lightless armor-plated epics, and points further afield.

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Kent Burnside, My World Is So Cold (Lucky 13) Kent Burnside's grandfather, the late R.L. Burnside, spent most of his life playing raw, single-­chord "trance blues" in jukes around his hometown of Holly Springs, Mississippi. Like any self-respecting son (or grandson) of the blues, Burnside remains true to his lineage while blazing his own trail: on his debut album, My World Is So Cold, he duplicates R.L.'s distinctive style with almost eerie accuracy, reinforcing it with tough, bass-heavy bombast borrowed from modern rock and R&B. His guitar playing, distorted by tremolo and wah-wah as the occasion demands, brings garage-punk feistiness to the atavistic, modally constructed lines and relentlessly propulsive rhythms he learned from his grandfather. When he expands into more pop-oriented chordal and melodic material (as on the title tune), he attains a callow sort of vulnerability that feels anomalous juxtaposed with his usual hardened persona. On "I Miss You," a tribute to R.L., his breathy, occasionally uncertain vocals sound almost overwhelmed with emotion, but he still comes across as a survivor: the song builds from an acoustic meditation to full-band, house-wrecking backwoods soul, as though dramatizing his determination to prevail. David Whiteis


Cuddle Magic & Phyllis Chen, Cuddle Magic & Phyllis Chen (FYO) If your New York art-pop group were called Cuddle Magic (and sounded like it too), you might avoid collaborating with a toy-piano maestro for fear of cute overload. But Phyllis Chen is not only a virtuoso of that children's instrument—she's also a dazzling sonic architect who's used it (alongside bells, music boxes, and inventively repurposed objects and devices) to create a unique sound world. Her array of colors and textures adds depth to the album's varied and often jagged songs, including the gamelan-­flavored "Margot" (one of Chen's excellent contributions, both of which are instrumentals), and the arrangement of the sweetly poppy "An Extra Life" has a chamber-music openness that lets it breathe rather than overwhelm with sugar. Peter Margasak


Brian Eno & Karl Hyde, Someday World (Warp) Collaborating with Karl Hyde of Underworld, Brian Eno returns to the kind of music he made near the beginning of his career, which fell into a previously unexplored gap between pop and proof of concept for whatever crazy new philosophy and/or studio technique he was developing at the time. The good news is that Eno's instincts as a producer remain sharp, and Someday World sounds a bit ahead and to the left of the leading edge in rock-based music. The bad news is that the songs themselves recall the uninspired tail end of the 90s Madchester scene, where funky breakbeats met self-serious Brit-rock songwriting. Few people are as adept as Eno at manipulating sound, but in the twilight of his long career, his famously good taste is starting to slip. Miles Raymer


Fushitsusha with Peter Brötzmann, Nothing Changes    No One Can Change Anything, I Am Ever-Changing    Only You Can Change Yourself (Utech) There is no other power trio on earth like Fushitsusha. Their performances are more like eldritch ceremonies than concerts, unfolding over epic time spans across a dynamic range that encompasses hushed pathos and eardrum-rupturing fury. For much of this three-hour 1996 live recording, bandleader Keiji Haino sounds like a shaman summoning ancient gods—he dominates the proceedings with his howling voice, keening hurdy-gurdy, and gale-force guitar. But if anyone can belly up to that altar alongside him, it's German free-jazz reedist Peter Brötzmann. They slug it out at length, delivering the album's scariest moments near the end; when they join forces to smash apart the final riff, it's like Godzilla and King Kong laying waste to some puny human metropolis. Bill Meyer


Future, Honest (A-1/Freebandz/Epic) Coke rap has always had a dark, mournful side, which surfaces when its normally gleeful pusher-­protagonists are confronted by their consciences, realizing the roles they play in a self-perpetuating, self-destructive system. On any given album, though, usually only one song follows this melancholy path. Atlanta's Future is the first major rap artist to build a career by taking soul-ache as his primary theme, and he mines the mood as passionately and artfully as Marvin Gaye ever did. "Move That Dope," the lead single from his second full-length, uses a raw, minimalist Mike Will Made It beat and off-kilter rhyme patterns to make dealing cocaine sound as fatalistic, compulsive, and ultimately unrewarding as being addicted to it. Even the album's most triumphal moments—on "Covered N Money" Future asks us to imagine him literally covered in money—are undercut by a formidable existential streak. Miles Raymer


Alexander Hawkins Ensemble, Step Wide, Step Deep (Babel) Keyboardist Alexander Hawkins is one of the UK's most exciting improvisers, whether firing off furious Hammond B-3 swells in the trio Decoy or playing piano in the transatlantic combo Convergence. On this terrific sextet album, he shows off his skills as a bandleader, and the improvisations of his bandmates—they're just as plugged into one another as they are into the music—give his open-ended postbop themes a loosey-goosey multilinear feel. Hawkins's sometimes elegant, sometimes jagged playing forms rapidly shifting constellations of melody with violinist Dylan Bates (brother of pianist Django), electric guitarist Otto Fischer, and clarinetist Shabaka Hutchings. The tightly coiled rhythm section of bassist Neil Charles and drummer Tom Skinner affords everyone plenty of leeway, easily accommodating Hutchings's freewheeling interjections, and together this ensemble achieves one of the most impressive collisions of group improvisation and propulsive freebop I've heard in years. Peter Margasak


Ibn Inglor, New Wave 2 (self-released) After trudging through snowbanks in subzero temperatures for so much of this winter, I've had enough of anything to do with cold—but I'll make an exception for the sequel to Ibn Inglor's 2013 New Wave mixtape. The bone-chilling iciness of the Chicago rapper-­producer's futuristic, postindustrial beats (which he makes with his friend Brandon Mahone as the duo Mhone Glor) accentuates the emotional extremes in his lyrics; he raps about gunshots and gang fighting in his neighborhood on "Chambers" and the death of his grandmother on "Damaged." Inglor spikes his delivery with a tension that's palpable even when he's rapping in a near whisper—he punctuates terse verses with audible breaths, and even his quietest moments gnaw at the edges of your peace of mind. Leor Galil


JACK Quartet, Helmut Lachenmann: Complete String Quartets (Mode) Helmut Lachenmann's three string quartets—composed between 1972 and 2001—seem only to gain resonance and power with the passage of time. His Gran Torso was a paradigm shifter when it arrived in '72, demolishing the conventional vocabulary of the string quartet by requiring the mastery of difficult extended techniques to produce a mind-melting battery of sounds and textures: bone-rattling scrapes, strident sawing, shadowy harmonics. Lachenmann referred to this new approach as "instrumental musique concrete," but many of the sounds seemed borrowed from the vocabulary already developed by free improvisers. New York's JACK Quartet performs these works with bracing physicality, exceeding even the previous standard-bearers, the Arditti Quartet, in abrasive finesse. Peter Margasak


Kelis, Food (Ninja Tune) After Kelis flopped with the dance music of Flesh Tone in 2010, the woman who brought us "Milkshake" decided she needed a creative reset. She ditched major-label sheen in favor of hand-spun flourishes by TV on the Radio cofounder Dave Sitek, producer for the likes of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Santigold, and Scarlett Johansson, whose 2008 album of Tom Waits covers would've been shredded by the gnashing jaws of the blogosphere had Sitek not buried the starlet's pitchy singing in a blanket of textural warmth a la This Mortal Coil. Kelis's chameleonic nature makes her a good fit for a heavy-­handed producer, and on Food her raspy singing is elevated rather than drowned by Sitek's sound—here he draws a through line from Afrobeat to 90s R&B, an on-the-nose exercise in trend baiting that perfectly suits a pop front woman gone indie. Food is front-loaded with standout bangers ("Jerk Ribs," "Breakfast," "Forever Be," "Runnin'"), which will probably discourage casual listeners from approaching the album as a whole—but those songs ought to highlight loads of Spotify playlists and sweaty house parties this summer. Kelis perfoms at Park West on Mon 6/9. Erin Osmon


Lord Mantis, Death Mask (Profound Lore) Chicago's Lord Mantis don't exactly play death metal—usually they sound more like a pissed-off steel mill—but they've got the "death" part down. Or at least an antipathy to life: "Everything is just meat," bassist and front man Charlie Fell said in a recent interview, "living as part of some giant regurgitating machine that you're just some fucking gear in." The band's third full-length, Death Mask, trudges and bludgeons more than it thrashes, its repetitions numbing and punishingly deliberate—these guys like to dig into one note at a time, diverging only momentarily, like a drill bit skipping out of the hole it's chewing into an anvil. But if any one thing persuades me that Lord Mantis would be happy to see the planet sterilized and glowing like a cinder, it's the vocals: Fell isn't screaming just because that's what people do in this kind of metal. He sounds like you've impaled him on a spear, and now he's gonna pull it through his own body so he can get close enough to you to tear off your lower jaw with his bare hands and throw it under your car. The best reason to make cathartic music, after all, is because you've got something you really need to get out of your system. Lord Mantis plays a release party for Death Mask at Cobra Lounge on Fri 4/25; Abigail Williams and Terminate open. Philip Montoro


Pixies, Indie Cindy (Pixiesmusic) Indie Cindy is the first Pixies LP since 1991's Trompe le Monde, and the alt-rock pioneers' rabid fans have been waiting for it with bated breath for two decades—through a fax-machine breakup, an ugly feud, a cash-grab reunion, several forgettable side projects, and what seems to have become a revolving-door bass-player spot. The first track on the record, "What Goes Boom," is absolutely thrilling, its bizarre, outer-space surf-punk sounding like a prime cut from Bossanova—the Pixies are back, you could be forgiven for thinking, and they're as strong as ever. But the excitement fades fast as the rest of Indie Cindy's dozen songs pass by. Black Francis's rambling-­lunatic vocals sound forced, the whole band feels sluggish, and of course Kim Deal—the Pixies' heart and soul—is gone. Hearing one of alt-rock's most unhinged, electric bands sound this old and tired is a soul-crushing experience. Your best bet is to skip this record entirely and put Doolittle back on. Luca Cimarusti


Screaming Females, Live at the Hideout (Don Giovanni) If there's one complaint I have about New Jersey rock trio Screaming Females, it's that the band's studio albums don't live up to its shows—watching front woman Marissa Paternoster wring furious, cloud-­scraping riffs from her guitar can make a believer out of anyone. The new Live at the Hideout, recorded by Steve Albini during two January nights at Chicago's most beloved small venue, captures much of the raggedness and in-the-moment intensity of a gig in front of actual people. You can hear it in the way Paternoster's ringing, fuzzed-out guitar hangs over the end of "Leave It All Up to Me" to overlap with the quiet, downcast bass-­driven intro to "Foul Mouth"; you can hear it in the brief, mumbled banter Paternoster manages after her blustery shouting on "Lights Out"; and whenever the music dies down, you can hear it in the crowd's rapturous cheering. Leor Galil


Todd Terje, It's Album Time (Olsen) Between the legions of DFA offshoots and all the Eurotrash dudes armed with synths and Ableton Live, nu-disco was turning into a cheesy cartoon by the end of the 2000s. So kudos to Norwegian Todd Terje for turning the music's playful childishness into an asset, whether in his goofy personality or his eclectic DJ sets or his brash, colorful cover art (by Oslo-based illustrator Bendik Kaltenborn). Terje's debut LP opens with voices chanting "It's album time" and ends with a crowd of hooligans hollering the melody to "Inspector Norse" (his biggest single), the same way Looney Tunes cartoons open with "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down" and end with "That's all folks!" The majority of the album comprises already-released singles—the new material is mostly long interludes of wiggly scat singing, salsa, Italo-disco, and cocktail jazz—but the sequencing is marvelous. The most noteworthy new song is also the album's standout track, a slow-burning cover of Robert Palmer's "Johnny and Mary" featuring Bryan Ferry on vocals—the former Roxy Music front man sings karaoke with a dramatic, dessicated voice and a sly wink for the aging jet set. Tal Rosenberg


Triptykon, Melana Chasmata (Century Media/Prowling Death) Hellhammer begat Celtic Frost begat pretty much every extreme-metal band worth its salt, and then from the 2008 self-immolation of that iconic Swiss band arose Thomas Gabriel Fischer's current project, Triptykon. Heavily informed by the sprawling gothic doom of Celtic Frost's swan song, Monotheist, Triptykon follows in those deep, dark footprints with grim resolve. The band's second full-length, Melana Chasmata, rumbles confidently into Pandemonium with precious few signs of the dread sophomore slump. There is much to devour here: "Tree of Suffocating Souls" comes howling out of the void armed with Fischer's inimitable lightless guitar tone, and on the chorus he and guitarist V. Santura deliver torturous call-and-response vocals. "Demon Pact" soaks its nightmarish biomechanical menace in reptilian evil, and "In the Sleep of Death" includes shuddering moans from Fischer that make for one of his most vulnerable vocal performances yet. The bleak, ambitious epic "Black Snow" is the album's best tune, and the final track, "Waiting," is a trippy good-bye abetted by the eerie coo of longtime Fischer collaborator Simone Vollenweider. Vanja Šlajh's churning bass lines and Fischer's aforementioned guitar tone give the record's crushing riffs an inhuman heaviness and mechanical sheen—the production is top-notch, but the songs don't feel shellacked so much as armor plated. The omnipresent crunch and black-­eyeliner overtones jell with the industrial drive, a combination that sometimes recalls Amebix's moody farewell album, 2011's Sonic Mass. No mere mortal could have crafted these songs, so give thanks to the old gods—Triptykon lives. Kim Kelly


Various artists, The Space Project (Lefse) The explanation of what exactly makes up The Space Project's "space sounds" is itself a little out there. The audio threaded through this compilation's 14 tracks comes from the two Voyager space probes launched in 1977—it's been derived from data representing "electro­magnetic radiation fluctuations in the magnet­osphere of the planets." More important, though, is the lineup of notable artists who signed on to contribute—among them Antlers, Blues Control, Beach House, Jesu, Zomes, and Spiritualized (whose Jason Pierce, always the colorful crank, admitted that he did it for the $1,500 the gig paid). Predictably given its subject matter, the album has a celestial, ambient bent, and it's both adventurous and somewhat difficult to parse—but only in the sense that it's hard to know what's making which noise. The "space sounds" often consist of low steady hums and scratches, sometimes morphing into walkie-talkie-style static or what the vacuum of a black hole might sound like. And the tracks that incorporate these sounds—some with dreamy vocals, some without—are chilling, even disturbing. Kevin Warwick


Wovenhand, Refractory Obdurate (Deathwish Inc.) Over the past two years, Wovenhand front man, guitarist, and songwriter David Eugene Edwards has suffered from pneumonia, released two albums, toured and recorded with the re-formed Crime & the City Solution, and moved his own band from Sounds Familyre (a label specializing in the Christian and the weird) to Deathwish Inc. (a label cofounded by Converge front man Jacob Bannon). Wovenhand's seventh full-length, Refractory Obdurate, delivers on the promise of 2012's The Laughing Stalk, their hardest and heaviest yet. I saw them on that tour, and it was one of the greatest shows of the year for me—the unrelenting ferocity of the band's southern-gothic hard rock powered Edwards's almost otherworldly persona, which is part spirit-filled preacher, part visionary prophet, part William Blake, and part Ronnie Van Zant. That power sounds even more assured on Refractory Obdurate, whether it's flowing through the crunchy, chuggy breakdown of "Masonic Youth," the driving, almost welcoming riffing of "Good Shepherd," or the eerie, angry, melancholy percolation of "Salome." Come for the music, stay for the lyrics—Edwards's poetry flies at cruising altitude, operating at the kind of insane speaking-in-tongues heights that Nick Cave can't sustain and David Tibet can't reach from his introverted occultist's tower. It's been said that the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world is a different one every night, and I'm sure Wovenhand has been many of those bands. Monica Kendrick

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