Earl Sweatshirt's humane, heartbreaking Doris and 14 more record reviews | Record Roundup | Chicago Reader

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Earl Sweatshirt's humane, heartbreaking Doris and 14 more record reviews

Seven Reader writers want you to hear Sich Mang's seizure-inducing psychedelic EDM and No Age's experimental two-chord punk—and that's just for starters.

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Nathan Abshire, Master of the Cajun Accordion: The Classic Swallow Recordings (Ace)

Louisiana accordionist and singer Nathan Abshire helped popularize Cajun music during the 60s folk revival, and this superb 25-track anthology collects his work for the Swallow label between 1965 and 1976, fronting his own Pine Grove Boys as well as the Balfa Brothers. Born in 1913, Abshire picked up the accordion at age eight, and by the mid-30s he'd cut a handful of sides for Bluebird Records with his Rayne-Bo Ramblers; but until he scored a hit in 1950 with the first version of his signature song, "Pine Grove Blues" (represented here in a 1966 version), his recording career progressed in fits and starts. The late-career recordings collected on Master of the Cajun Accordion comprise the bulk of his discography, and they're as soulful and spirited as anything he cut as a younger man. Over waltzlike rhythms (the percussion is sparse, sometimes just a triangle), his wheezing squeezebox pumps out biting unison licks with astringent fiddle, played mostly by masters Dewey and Will Balfa, and his slurred, forceful Creole singing finds a sweet spot between honky-tonk and the blues. Peter Margasak

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The Bug, Filthy (Ninja Tune)

London producer Kevin Martin (aka the Bug) was messing around with dubstep long before Americans mined it for concrete-shaking bass drops that they could toss into breakneck, shape-shifting EDM. Brostep tends to corrode attention spans with its frenetic jump cuts, but Martin patiently builds sustained, heavy slow burners from stark UK dubstep, blaring dancehall, and nasty grime; add in his paranoid, dystopian vision of modern life, and his music is as bleak as it is piercingly raw and engrossing. I could happily listen to some of Martin's simple, ear-­drubbing tracks for a lot longer than they actually last, and he's obliged me with the new Filthy EP—the two songs on the A side use the exact same beat, and the B-side cuts share an instrumental. Martin cycles through vocalists, so depending on your prefence you can listen to Danny Brown's nasal rapping over a harsh, warped horn sample and machine-gun percussion ("Freakshow") or Flowdan's deep patois flow ("Dirty"). I prefer not choosing and just spinning both. Leor Galil

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The Dead C, Armed Courage (Ba Da Bing!)

In the late aughts New Zealand-based trio the Dead C seemed to have come full circle; after making several albums of torpid electronics and cut-and-pasted chaos, their two most recent returned to the grimy rock of their late-80s output. Armed Courage suggests that what looked like a full circle might really be more like a comet's orbit. Though each side-length piece has plenty of squalling, fuzzy guitar and restlessly accelerating beats, whatever force holds them together appears to be giving out—and when singer Michael Morley begins intoning sorrowful phrases distorted by what sounds like an old rotary-phone handset, the aura of collapse is complete. The Dead C's music has always been about entropy, and current events have finally caught up with it; crumpled and obscure, Armed Courage is a map of the world. Bill Meyer

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Destruction Unit, Deep Trip (Sacred Bones)

Don't bother trying to locate a hidden message in Destruction Unit's Deep Trip—it's smack in front of your eyes right from the opening track, "The World on Drugs." Each of the eight songs is a dry, blown-out cacophony of psychedelic guitar swells and creeping delay . . . lots of creeping delay. The album indulges in miasmal meltdowns as often as it freaks out with tweaky rhythms—it might race ahead with a barrage of cymbal-heavy drumming, then suddenly come down, dialing back the busy density as the wobbling, theatrical vocals of front man R. Rousseau slice into the ever-present wall of treble. It can be jarring when the band's metabolism shifts on a dime, but that's probably for the best—too slow of a burn for too long can induce guitar-haze paralysis. Kevin Warwick

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Earl Sweatshirt, Doris (Columbia/Tan Cressida)

When LA rap collective Odd Future broke out in 2011, one of its brightest members, rapper-­producer Earl Sweatshirt, was conspicuously AWOL. In part because fans had little to work with besides the raw, minimalist mixtape Earl, his mysterious absence transformed him into a cult pop hero; they wore T-shirts that said free earl and chanted for him at shows. (It turns out he didn't exactly need freeing: when Complex and the New Yorker tracked him down, he was at a boarding school in Samoa.) Earl faces down his outsize persona early on his new album, Doris—on the second track, "Burgundy," he raps lucidly about juggling audience expectations and personal woes. Sparse, stumbling drums and leaned-out, squealing synths give the album an atmosphere of alienation and paranoia, but high-profile guest producers (the Neptunes, RZA, Frank Ocean) help lighten the mood with refined beats that complement Earl's humane, personal, and heartbreaking rhymes. Leor Galil

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M. Geddes Gengras, Collected Works Vol. 1: The Moog Years (Umor Rex)

M. Geddes Gengras belongs to LA's bustling experimental-­music scene and specializes in works for analog synthesizers. Last year he and another fringey young American musician, Sun Araw, teamed up with Jamaican roots-reggae heroes the Congos for an unexpectedly synergistic collaborative album, Icon Give Thank, and an accompanying live collection, Icon Give Life. His first major release since then rounds up highlights from a series of Moog improvisations recorded live to four-track and originally released on cassette between 2008 and 2011. On tracks such as "Untitled #1," the minimalist compositional style and vintage tones recall 1970s avant-garde art music as well as the decade's headier sci-fi movies; elsewhere he produces ambient soundscapes with unsettlingly dark undercurrents. Miles Raymer

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Albert "Tootie" Heath, Ethan Iverson, and Ben Street, Tootie's Tempo (Sunnyside)

This multigenerational trio came together five years ago, when Bad Plus pianist Ethan Iverson was leading a series of informal standards gigs with bassist Ben Street and drummer Billy Hart at New York club Smalls. When Hart couldn't make one of the shows, he suggested that Iverson enlist Albert "Tootie" Heath, brother of reedist Jimmy and bassist Percy, a veteran equally at home in old-school swing and in free jazz (he's worked with the likes of Lester Young and Ben Webster on one hand, and with Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell on the other). The Iverson-Street-Heath trio released a terrific recording of one of their Smalls dates in 2009, and on the new Tootie's Tempo they've become more than just a standards group (though they still aren't playing any of their own material). They bring an inventive openness to their readings of some of jazz's oldest warhorses—the James P. Johnson favorite "The Charleston," for instance, they give a raucous treatment led by Heath's distended marching groove. On the Antonio Carlos Jobim bossa nova "How Insensitive," Heath plays with a funereal sobriety, using only a mallet on a reverberant low tom, while Iverson makes like Chopin. And on "Danube Incident," a Lalo Schifrin cue from the Mission: Impossible TV show that Portishead sampled for their single "Sour Times," Iverson employs rattling, clanging prepared piano to tease out a mix of mawkish emotion and lyrical beauty as Heath adds lean muscle. Too often younger jazz musicians seem cowed by the prospect of working with their elders, but here the creative provocations go both ways. Peter Margasak

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Kandodo, k2o (Thrill Jockey)

Simon Price, who's been playing heavy riffs with British psych-rock combo the Heads since the early 90s, branches out and reaches back with his instrumental solo project Kandodo. He borrowed the name from a budget supermarket chain in Malawi, where he grew up, and though nothing on the record sounds stereotypically African, the music has a wide-open spaciousness that feels more in tune with starlit skies and sun-baked safari parks than with damp English meadows. Price's buzzing guitars and synths seem to simultaneously stretch toward a receding horizon and ascend toward a full moon. The last and longest track is also the best: "Swim Into the Sun" turns the trademark "Apache beat" of Krautrockers Neu! into a stomp that belies the tune's name, while its swirling guitars spin around a heart of darkness. —Bill Meyer

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The Mallard, Finding Meaning in Deference (Castle Face)

Last year's excellent Yes on Blood introduced San Francisco band the Mallard to the world by adding a creepy edge to typical Bay Area garage rock. On the posthumous new Finding Meaning in Deference, they move away from Thee Oh Sees worship and into dark, gloomy postpunk—they color their gothy songs, which lift some rhythms from Bauhaus, with sharp, atonal guitar leads, synth sweeps, and the disenchanted vocals of front woman Greer McGettrick. But the only thing that's actually a bummer about this delightfully bleak and heady record is the knowledge that we'll never find out what this underrated band would've done next. —Luca Cimarusti

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No Age, An Object (Sub Pop)

After nearly a decade together, America's favorite noise punks have begun to mellow, trading a little of the manic adolescent energy that defined their early career for a calmer, more deliberate way of working. But though An Object is the quietest record in the duo's catalog, it's also probably the most experimental one, with physically manipulated microphones and speakers adding subtle inflections to what remains essentially two-chord punk—sort of like if the Ramones had gone into the studio with John Cage. —Miles Raymer

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Sich Mang, BLWNTOUT (Rainbow Body)

A couple years ago Chicago-­LA duo Sich Mang—Eric Lee Gale, also of Golden Birthday, and Rand Sevilla—invented "wurkstep," and on the new BLWNTOUT they've perfected it. Sich Mang's psychedelic, spaced-out EDM traffics in complete sensory overload: beats pound and sputter on top of one another, atmospheric synths swoop and glow, and samples blaze by nonstop, some sped up to helium-­high pitches and others slowed down to a Houston screw. It sounds like techno made by a broken Nintendo. BLWNTOUT seems as likely to cause a seizure as it is to start a dance party—but it somehow manages to be as fun and listenable as it is overwhelming. —Luca Cimarusti

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Dobrinka Tabakova, String Paths (ECM)

String Paths is the first full-length recording entirely devoted to the work of Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova. She moved to London with her family in 1991, when she was 11, and in her music you can hear a push-pull between ancient and modern, East and West—the tension is never awkward or disruptive, though, because she seems to have found enough common threads linking disparate traditions and eras. Like Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, she uses sumptuous harmonies that seem to reach back centuries; on the first composition on this album, the string-trio piece "Insight," she sculpts the timbres of violin, viola, and cello to suggest the thick, fluttering sound of the accordion she grew up hearing in Bulgarian folk music (the instrument itself turns up on the pensive "Frozen River Flows"). She's named the three sections of her Concerto for Cello and Strings "Turbulent, Tense," "Longing," and "Radiant," and the last title in particular could almost apply to all the music included here—Tabakova's lyrical tones are flush with romantic richness and meticulously controlled sorrow. Peter Margasak

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Vattnet Viskar, Sky Swallower (Century Media)

Last year this black-metal band from the tiny town of Plaistow, New Hampshire, debuted with a self-titled three-song EP that earned them a deal with Century Media; 18 months and one new rhythm section later, they're releasing their first full-length, Sky Swallower. The album's gestures are stark, simple, and direct, so that it's heavier and catchier than the EP but without its sprawling wildness; the songs fit together like a suite, punctuated by delicate interludes of glassy guitar whose thoughtfully chosen chords drop like bell strokes into the quiet. When Vattnet Viskar came out, I wrote that it calls to mind "the harshness and beauty of a frigid, rocky, barely populated mountain forest." The new record's combination of entrancing repetition and tight, episodic construction makes it feel like watching time-lapse footage of that same landscape passing through a decade of seasons—or like closing your eyes on a stand of pines lashed by a green-black storm and opening them to a moonlit hillside swaddled in untouched snow. —Philip Montoro

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Venom P. Stinger, 1986-1991 (Drag City)

This handy double CD collects the early studio output of Australian postpunk band Venom P. Stinger, who these days tend to get treated like little more than a footnote to the history of the Dirty Three—this was what guitarist Mick Turner and drummer Jim White were doing before forming their more famous group with violinist Warren Ellis in 1992. (A reunited version of Venom P. Stinger released Tearbucketer in '96.) The Melbourne four-piece, which also included bassist Alan Secher-­Jensen and singer Dugald MacKenzie, played noisy, wildly careening punk not far removed from the antisocial sounds that Chicago's Touch and Go label was releasing at the same time—or from the snotty, grimy, brain-rattling rock of fellow Aussie groups such as King Snake Roost and Lubricated Goat. This 29-track anthology demonstrates that Venom P. Stinger, like many other Australian postpunk bands, had a rock 'n' roll heart. It's also impressive evidence of Turner and White's sophistication and inventiveness, even at this early stage in their careers—the former unleashes gnarled and abrasive noise around his withering licks and riffs, and the latter brings an elegant swing to his playing, a rarity in rock drummers then and now. Venom P. Stinger was raucous and primitive, but behind that din was a focused, nimble group of musicians. Peter Margasak

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Chelsea Wolfe, Pain Is Beauty (Sargent House)

When Chelsea Wolfe started attracting serious attention after the 2011 release of Apokalypsis, part of her hook was the doom-and-gloom, black-metal aesthetic she brought to her gothy, tribal folk. On the cover she's pictured zombielike and possessed, her face dead and eyes whited out, and the music is noisy and twisted, orchestral in its darkness ("Movie Screen" especially). But though a metal font graces the cover of the new Pain Is Beauty, Wolfe has tiptoed much further into haunting electro territory—and on this cover she's portrayed as a radiant kind of sorceress. The aura of doom has given way to prettier, more refined tracks, propelled by pulsing beats that seem to pursue the vocals. Wolfe is achingly soulful on "Sick," backed by a jogging bass rhythm and washes of stringlike synths—the whole thing sounds like it could dissolve into an ominous chant at any moment. —Kevin Warwick

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