"On its surface, the output of veteran German electronic-music provocateur Felix Kubin might sound like a goofy throwback to the so-called Neue Deutsche Welle—in the late 70s and early 80s, this arty German response to punk and new wave produced loads of peculiar artists, many with deliberately robotic aesthetics and a postmodern tendency to mix styles and eras in dislocating ways," writes Peter Margasak. "Kubin grew up in Hamburg absorbing those sounds, and his experiments from that era finally saw the light in 2002 as The Tetchy Teenage Tapes of Felix Kubin 1981-1985. On his 2013 album Zemsta Plutona, the synths feel just as dated, but overall the music is such an odd patchwork that it can't feel 'retro.' The album opens with an absurd, mechanical-sounding cover of the Lou Christie falsetto classic 'Lightnin' Strikes,' and the 12 tracks of subversive art-pop that follow incorporate alien funk, faux swing, Communist-era youth songs, elegant sequenced electronics a la vintage Kraftwerk, and the traditional German radio plays called Hörspiele."
Margasak says about tenor saxophonist Mark Turner, "When he emerged in the 90s, his playing showed the influence of Warne Marsh, from whom he’d absorbed harmonic curiosity and a predilection for engaging in conversational simultaneous improvisations with other horn players. Since 2000 he's worked in the collective trio Fly with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, and since 2003 his lovely, striated tone has served as the ruminative melodic voice of the Billy Hart Quartet. But it's great to have him back as a leader on the new Lathe of Heaven, a pianoless quartet album named for Ursula K. Le Guin's 1971 sci-fi novel. He's joined on the front line by remarkable Israeli trumpeter Avishai Cohen—who likewise works without a chordal instrument in his trio Triveni—and the pair demonstrate a preternatural bond, playing Turner's elegant, serpentine themes in unison and slaloming alongside each other in long passages of yin-yang improvisation."
My pick of the week is Bay Area shoegaze revivalists Whirr. About their new LP Sway, I wrote, "Whirr has tightened up a little bit, kicking up the tempos and focusing its energy into a concentrated beam of warm 'n' fuzzy indie rock. But the band is by no means going punk: the songs are still pretty and sad, just a little less spacey. The biggest difference is that the wistful singing of Alexandra Morte and Kristina Esfandiari has been swapped out for mellow, hushed baritone vocals by guitarists Joseph Bautista and Loren Rivera. When Whirr plays live, though, it's not particularly important who's on the mike—the last time I saw the band, the three guitarists were blasting through a wall of amplifiers that overpowered the PA and rendered the vocals 100 percent inaudible."