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Local release roundup

Owen drags emo into adulthood, Flosstradamus makes footwork music friendlier, Golden Birthday weirds up bubblegum pop, and more

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Owen

Ghost Town

(Polyvinyl)

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There's always been something appealing about Mike Kinsella's low-stakes approach to his Owen project—his near total lack of professional ambition nicely offsets the genteel virtuosity of his recordings. Since he became a stay-at-home father, that feel-ing has only intensified—listening to his new album you quickly begin to suspect that the people he's looking to impress with it could fit comfortably on a couch together, and probably do so on a daily basis. Ghost Town's subdued, tranquil energy places it firmly in the tradition of rock's great "new dad" albums, but also hovering over it is the recent death of Kinsella's own father—for years he and his brother Tim have been working out their complicated relationships with their dad through their music. Kinsella's lyrics sometimes sound like they're addressed to a child, but it's not always clear if it's his daughter or him-self as a kid. The sweeping pop melody of standout track "O, Evelyn" runs a direct line to the early-aughts emo scene whose groundwork Kinsella helped build, but the song excises emo's narcissism and self-pity, reclaiming the genre for people who've grown up enough to start caring about somebody else.

Flosstradamus featuring Kid Sister

"Luuk Out Gurl"

(Fool's Gold)

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In an article about the Chicago footwork scene that I wrote a year and a half ago, I theorized that while footwork dancing had the potential to break into the mainstream (in fact it had already attracted producers of dance-crew shows and directors of music videos), footwork music would have a much tougher time crossing over. The beats are too fast and stray too far from the four-on-the-floor template; most tracks don't have much in the way of melody, and all of them would probably sound completely alien to the average Britney fan. That hypothesis pissed off a lot of people in the footwork scene, which I initially saw as the natural defensive reaction of an insular community—but after hearing Flosstradamus's new single, I'm willing to admit that I may have been completely wrong. Produced by half the duo, Josh Young (a footwork fan from way back), and with a vocal from his sibling Kid Sister (ditto), "Luuk Out Gurl" takes some of footwork music's freakier elements—a double-time beat, lurching pitch shifts that carry both the drums and the vocal sample back and forth between different tunings—and somehow bends them to the rules of a radio-friendly pop song. Knowing the way dance-music styles trickle up, it's not hard to imagine Britney's take on it.

Golden Birthday

Illusions

(Rainbow Body/Catholic Tapes)

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Mark Robinson has covered so much ground, both in and out of Unrest, that I can't remember if he ever made a record where he took a sorta-cheeky stab at emulating My Bloody Valentine with electronic instruments and cheap tape machines, but for the purposes of describing Illusions it'd be handy if he did—that hypothetical album is exactly what I'd compare Golden Birthday's new one to. Inflicting sonic distress upon bubblegum pop is such a great strategy that even the nose­diving overall quality of the artists practicing it can't completely ruin the fun, and Golden Birthday have at least two virtues that help them rise above that pack. One is the artful hookiness of their songs, which manage to get really, really sweet without ever being cloying. The other is the band's lack of restraint in weirding those songs up—they might bury them under drifts of distortion, for instance, or warp them till they start to sound like the playback from a partly melted tape.

Fotosputnik

Idiolects

(The Static Cult)

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Last month I got an e-mail from Graham Grochocinski of local Krautrock outfit Fotosputnik, which included a link to download their second album. "Don't operate any heavy machinery while listening to it," he joked. He may have a point, but not because Idiolects is a boring record—it isn't, at least not to listeners who have enough patience and affinity for repetition that their ears perk up when they hear the word "Krautrock." Most modern practitioners of the style attack its signature motorik grooves with punk-band aggression, but this trio will let them unravel into placid washes of sound, whose serenity works better to tamp down the spikes of anxiety that come with day-to-day life than a lot of prescription medications do. In other words, not only should you avoid listening to Idiolects while operating heavy machinery, you should also take a pass in any other situation when drifting off on your own private cloud of bliss wouldn't be safe or appropriate.

MC Zulu

Electro Track Therapy

(Perception 2020)

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Seeing MC Zulu and Chrissy Murderbot destroy an early-afternoon crowd at the side stage of this year's Pitchfork festival was immensely satisfying, not so much because I'd championed both of them in my column but rather because I'd watched them spend years earning their spot on the bill the hard way. Murderbot has capitalized on the pair's elevated profile post-Pitchfork with a few new releases, including the EP I'm a Asshole, and Zulu has done the same with this long-player, whose sprawling range and frenetic energy make it a worthy sequel to his festival performance. Featuring beats by a cast of buzzy producers that includes Murderbot, Poirier, and Maga Bo, Electro Track Therapy tears across a good-size chunk of the huge sonic territory that's rather unhelpfully called "global bass culture," touching on dancehall, soca, reggaeton, kuduro, and other regional booty-shaking styles. Holding it all together is Zulu's classic toaster's delivery and commanding baritone voice—even through the speakers you can almost see him sweat.

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