Since the release of his last LP, 2014’s Adrian Thaws, Tricky has lived his life abroad, writing his latest album, Ununiform, in Moscow before recording it in Berlin. Album number 11 shows the 49-year old musician taking a new approach, giving his work a mature, orchestral feel while adding a new stable of vocalists (including Kazakhstan rapper Scriptonite, British vocalist Mina Rose and Italian actress/singer Asia Argento).
Adding modest piano and steady bass lines, Tricky keeps the 13 tracks on Ununiform uncomplicated and easy to digest, even when he’s melding together Eastern European melodies and North London beats (“It’s Your Day,” “Bang Boogie”). But despite Ununiform containing a few standout tracks, including the dark duet “Dark Days” (with Rose) and moody album closer “When We Die” (reuniting with longtime collaborator Martina Topley-Bird), too many songs on Ununiform simple come off sounding unfinished, with the cover of Hole’s “Doll Parts” (renamed “Doll”), featuring vocals from L.A. socialite Avalon Lurks, seeming especially uninspired and pointless.
Ununiform is an uneven album at best, showing that Tricky isn’t bereft of ideas but was lacking the fire to properly flesh them out. (False Idols)
Since Black Dice released their last LP, 2012’s Mr. Impossible, Eric Copeland, one third of the New York experimentalists, has released a series of solo albums that featured a more playful and rubbery feel than his band’s brand of drone-based electronics. On his new LP, Copeland has re-dubbed his music ‘goofstep’ — hence the album’s title, Goofballs.
Although much of this eight-track album leans heavily on straightforward polyrhythms and bushy, gooey melodies, Copeland is clearly still dedicated to delivering dense, unconventional dance music. Opener “Boogieman” revolves around a hauntingly slow chopped and screwed vocal sample, but tracks like “Neckbone,” “Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo” and “Mixer Shredder” are built around some terrific and captivating bass lines that pull you into his hypnotic four-minute symphonies.
Copeland keeps things fresh (and odd) by ending off the album with a trio of songs — “Close Encounters,” “Smearjob” and “Doo Whatcha Wah Wah” — that feature left-field vocals that come off surprisingly melodic and re-listenable. Although there’s no real drop-dead, standout tracks across the short 35-minute LP, and Copeland plays it a bit safe on Goofballs, there’s a real clarity and craft present on this bizarrely uncharacteristic album. (DFA)
For many musicians, it’s a dream to record in the famed Shoals region with members of the legendary Muscle Shoals recording crew. But Jon Langford was invited to do just that, completely sight-unseen. After producing artwork for an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2015, the Welsh musician was invited to come out to Alabama to record by Elvis’s former bassist and member of Muscle Shoals rhythm section, Norbert Putnam.
Joined by fellow Shoals musicians David Hood, Randy McCormack and Will McFarlane, along with Chicago musician John Szymanski and backup singers Tomi Lunsford, Bethany Thomas and Tawney Newsome (also an up-and-coming comedian), Four Lost Souls shows Langford moving further away from his punk rock roots with the Mekons and transitioning his brand of alt-country into NPR adult contemporary territory.
But, nonetheless, Langford’s eighth LP is an accomplished piece of music, beautifully executed and written, giving his musicians a ton of room to stretch out and expose the soul of each song. Langford lends his voice and acoustic guitar playing as an accent to Four Lost Souls, as his backup singers take the lead on the majority of the album’s 13 tracks, including “In Oxford Mississippi” and “Masterpiece.”
Although many songs lack the fire and passion that defined his earlier work, with the exception of the race-relation lyrical content of “What’s My Name?” and the growling “Snake Behind Glass,” Four Lost Souls is simply unlike anything else in Jon Langford’s sprawling discography. (Bloodshot)
In the five years since Antibalas released their last album (2012’s self-titled affair), the Afrobeat collective have seen a significant number of their musicians leave for other projects, as members have joined Arcade Fire, the Roots, the Black Keys and Mark Ronson in supporting roles. But as their latest LP, Where the Gods Are in Peace, shows, the Brooklyn band have benefited from an influx of new players, too.
It seems as though the youth movement in this 12-piece band were weaned on early Antibalas, as this five-track LP resurrects everything that made the group such an important part of the New York funk scene in the early 2000s. Although the album clocks in at only 35 minutes in length, it’s separated into three lengthy suites, giving Antibalas a chance to see ideas through; “Hook & Crook” benefits greatly from an unbridled mid-track horn breakdown, while “Tombstone Pt. 2” gives guest vocalist Zap Mama room to get loose and emotional with her delivery.
With an album-long theme revolving around the ascent of an alien who joins forces with natives to save the world, Antibalas seem more than ready to push themselves to another musical level with Where the Gods Are in Peace. (Afrosound/Daptone Records)
Since their inception over 45 years ago, Sparks have always seemed more like an art project more than a proper band. And like any reputable artists, the Mael brothers have cycled through multiple periods, from British Invasion to glam rock, disco and even opera. But on Hippopotamus, their first proper album in eight years, the duo sound undeniably and perfectly like themselves.
With a whopping 15 tracks and a 55-minute runtime, the 68-year-old Russell and 72-year-old Ron sound remarkably punchy, quirky and cutting on album number 25. Although Sparks have always filled their records with idiosyncratic lyrics about the absurdities of modern life, it’s great to see them match great verses (in songs like “Edith Piaf (Said it Better Than Me),” “What the Hell Is it This Time?” and “So Tell Me Mrs. Lincoln Aside From That How Was the Play?”) with some of their sharpest arrangements and musicianship (courtesy of longtime guitarist Dean Menta and session drummer extraordinaire Steve Nistor).
The Mael brothers also manage to keep listeners enthralled by freely jumping between modes, moving between jaunty piano songs (“Missionary Position”), cascading layered guitar burners (“Unaware”) and clever melodies and bridges (“Giddy, Giddy”). It seems unlikely that a band this far into their career would make an album as career-defining as Hippopotamus, but then, Sparks have always done things on according to their own schedule. (BMG)
Although Hitchhiker isn’t Neil Young’s first abandoned album to be unearthed later, it’s certainly his most realized — impressive, given these songs were recorded quickly in a single session in 1976. Armed with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica (and a studio piano for “The Old Country Waltz”), Young left the studio that evening having recorded some of his strongest songs to date; he envisioned the lo-fi recording to be released as is before Reprise, his record label, flat-out objected.
After he abandoned the recordings, Young used rerecordings of eight of these songs on a series of future albums between 1977’s American Stars ‘n Bars (“The Old Country Waltz”) and 2010’s Le Noise (“Hitchhiker”). Elsewhere, songs like “Pocahontas” and “Powderfinger” (both redone with Crazy Horse for 1979’s Rust Never Sleeps), along with the underrated “Campaigner” (re-recorded for 1977 collection Decade) and “Human Highway” (later on 1978’s Comes a Time) show just how fertile and adventurous of a songwriter Young had become by the mid ’70s.
Although it would be easy (but erroneous) to overlook this collection as an unessential novelty (especially since one of the two unreleased songs, “Hawaii,” stands as a bit of a throwaway), it’s fascinating to hear these songs sequenced together, as the album takes on a bit of a new narrative that shows 1976-era Young as a man out on his own, fearing the unknown while dealing with the harsh realities of life, as laid out by songs like “Powderfinger,” “Give Me Strength” and the title track.
Although Young’s had plenty of highs and lows throughout his sprawling discography, there’s no question that each of his 38 studio LPs were results of a particular vision, and Hitchhiker benefits greatly from this fleeting vision captured over a single evening in 1976.
Dive into Neil Young’s back catalogue via Umusic. (Warner)
When the Fresh & Onlys released their 2010 LP, Play it Strange, the group were affectionately lumped in with the then-burgeoning San Francisco garage rock scene that included Thee Oh Sees, Ty Segall and Sonny & the Sunsets. The Cali quartet immediately responded by distancing themselves from that scene, releasing a duo of LPs that instead embraced ’80s jangle pop, college rock and even goth. For Wolf Lie Down, the band’s latest, the Fresh & Onlys have curiously enlisted two Bay area garage rock locals, Kelley Stoltz and Greg Ashley, to produce.
But what makes LP number six so engrossing is that fact that they use their rekindled relationship with garage rock as an ingredient to move even further ahead musically, as nothing here (aside from the early ’80s Misfits sound of the title track), truly sounds like it was recorded by this group of musicians.
It’s always been an issue that Tim Cohen lacks dynamic vocal delivery, but on tracks like “Qualm of Innocence” and “Walking Blues,” he uses his vocals as a mood piece instead, giving listeners a range of emotion through phrasing and melodic stretches. Wymond Miles’ guitar seems to be in sync with this emotion, as the duo trade licks throughout the short eight-track album.
It’s remarkable that the Fresh & Onlys have yet to make a disappointing album, but even more that they manage to keep the streak alive given their level of experimentation. (Sinderlyn)