The Jayhawks--Paging Mr Proust

When Mark Olson parted ways with the Jayhawks in 1996, the band responded with 1997's Sound of Lies, one of their scrappiest and most eclectic albums. It was as if the Jayhawks (in particular Gary Louris) wanted to show the world they were still strong and lively despite the departure of one of their co-founders. Olson returned to the Jayhawks for the 2011 reunion album Mockingbird Time, only to leave the band again on less than cordial terms. Released in 2016, Paging Mr. Proust is the first Jayhawks studio project since, and once again it finds Louris and his bandmates mixing up their formula, introducing new edges and angles to the group's evocative, lonesome Midwestern sound. Louris adds lots of jagged guitar to the loop-based construction of "Ace," while "Lost the Summer" is a lean, ominous rocker with a noisy attack. ("Pretty Roses in Your Hair" is another, more subtle tune built around a ghostly drum loop.) Much of the time, Louris' vocals and melodies follow the template he's established in the past, but there's a fresh degree of energy in these performances. Peter Buck and Tucker Martine (who co-produced the album with Louris) have given the guitars an edgier and less pastoral sound than one might expect from the Jayhawks. Neil Young is still the clear inspiration behind Louris' soloing, but here the tone is sharper and the crunch has more impact, even when the songs are gentle at heart. All in all, Paging Mr. Proust is an album that honors the traditions of the Jayhawks but isn't afraid to play with convention. ~Mark Deming, allmusic.com

 

DJ Shadow-- The Mountain Will Fall

In the booklet for The Mountain Will Fall – DJ Shadow’s fifth proper album -- only a handful of interpolations and samples are credited. After the detailed track list, a series of images pointedly depict a wall of analog electronic gear. While this album is much less reliant upon repurposed recordings than what preceded it – Josh Davis voiced the intent to put his touch on what contemporary music moves him -- there are many shared qualities. The sounds of the components have varied from release to release, but The Mountain Will Fall, as much as anything else, can be classified as a sprawling, largely instrumental suite rooted in hip-hop. There are subtle and abrupt changes in mood, dashes of off-center humor, and moments of bass-drum bombardment following extended stretches of austere atmospheres. Likewise, there are tracks within tracks that slip and tumble down unexpected paths. There's even a modern-day equivalent to "The Number Song," the almost-as-cut-up and equally rambunctious "The Sideshow." The few guest appearances have true purpose, not merely the fulfillment of half-hearted offers to "work together sometime." In typically hostile and humorous form, Killer Mike and El-P mix it up with live brass and horns on the gunslinging "Nobody Speak." "Bergschrund" ("mountain crevasse"), made with Nils Frahm, is a bracing hybrid of stutter-stop beats, blips, and thrumming effects that evoke perilous suspense. ~Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

Bat For Lashes-- The Bride

Exploring femininity in all its personas is a major part of Bat for Lashes' music, and never more so than on The Bride. The album begins vividly: Bedecked in fluttering harps and some of Khan's loveliest vocals yet, "I Do" has all the showy nuptial romance of a petal-strewn aisle. It's so incredibly sweet that it feels like it's tempting fate, offering the perfect setup for the brewing terror on "In God's House," as well as the slow-building drama of "Joe's Dream" and the hallucinatory panic of "Honeymooning Alone," both of which give the death-obsessed pop of the '50s and '60s a highbrow update.

The Bride's slower second half may be hypnotic or dreary. To trace the arc from mourning to recovery, Khan relies on ballads that range from bitter ("Never Forgive the Angels") to empowering ("I Will Love Again," which sounds more like the kind of fare Adele or Christina Aguilera would sing). And though she gives the bride a surprisingly happy ending with "In Your Bed" -- which finds the character wanting to stay in her lover's arms rather than go out on the town -- it feels like her story is missing several chapters. Similarly, The Bride often feels like a missed opportunity to revisit the drama Bat for Lashes delivered so ably on Two Suns. Khan rectifies this somewhat on more mystical songs like the witchy invocation of "Widow's Peak" and "Close Encounters," an eldritch lovers' meeting that recalls Wuthering Heights (both the book and the Kate Bush song). Still, it's hard not to want Bat for Lashes to go further down this path; while Khan used restraint eloquently on The Haunted Man, The Bride is beautifully crafted, but not always thrilling.~Heather Phares, allmusic.com


Neko Case/kd lang/Laura Veirs--case/lang/veirs


When artists of note collaborate on a project, the greatest obstacle is usually balance. The participants may truly respect one another, but as talent, ego, and personality enter the picture, someone is inevitably going to dominate the proceedings, and someone else will end up in the shadows. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs seem keenly aware of this on the album case/lang/veirs, an album of songs the three singers and songwriters wrote and recorded between 2013 and 2015. And these songs often suggest a conscious effort to  make sure everyone gets her share of the spotlight and that everyone's strengths are put to good use. Oddly enough, one of the consequences of this is that k.d. lang, the strongest vocalist here, doesn't get as much time at center stage as one might expect, and ultimately she makes less of an impression than her partners. One could argue that lang potentially has the most to lose in this project; while Case and Veirs have healthy followings, lang is the genuine star here, but she hasn't made an album that's been as celebrated as her reputation in some time. While this project could have given lang a chance to step out of her comfort zone and try something new, here she's content to stick to atmospheric midtempo numbers that fit her skill set beautifully, but offer little in the way of surprises (beyond the irritating fake woodwinds on "1000 Miles Away"). However, Case and Veirs give her a chance to sing harmonies with vocalists who approach her own level of skill for a change, an opportunity she seems to relish, and here Case sounds most like the album's MVP. Case's cool, introspective indie rock approach dominates the album's melodies and production, her lead vocals are both naturalistic and dramatically effective, and she harmonizes beautifully with lang and Veirs. And Veirs ends up shining unexpectedly bright on case/lang/veirs; the sweet, homey modesty of her vocal approach is a pleasing complement to the more dramatic stylings of Case and lang, and she contributes a gorgeous uptempo pop tune to the set, "Best Kept Secret," as well as an affecting homage to Judee Sill. ~Mark Deming, allmusic.com

 

King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard--Nonagon Infinity

The prolific Australian psychedelic pop combo King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard aren't the kind of band prone to repeating themselves. Over the course of their short career, they've established themselves as voracious sonic explorers who aren't afraid to take chances and never met a gimmick they didn't like. With such a weird and varied track record, their 2016 album, Nonagon Infinity, could have gone just about anywhere and done anything.  On it, King Gizzard deliver their best trick yet to go along with their most focused, most ferocious music to date. The album is designed to flow continuously from song to song with no breaks in what the band calls an infinite loop, and unless one is listening very closely it's hard to tell where one song stops and the next begins. To help make the gimmick work, the songs are very similar in energy and approach, with lyrics from one song turning up in another and guitar riffs cycling through from one section to another. The energy level is mainly set to search and destroy throughout as the drums thunder, the lightning-fast guitars slash and burn, and the spacy vocals often break out into ecstatic shouts. The band has added some supercharged Sabbath-y metal to its sound, and it works very well. The opening suite of songs punches fast and hard, like someone is slapping you repeatedly with a copy of a Saxon album. It's way more blown-out and weird than that, but you can hear a lot of late-'70s no-frills metal in the sound. The rest of the record is a little more varied, with moments of calm proggy respite, jazz-rock dreaminess, and blown-out psych-pop to balanced the frantic, sustained attack. The way the album is put together is an impressive feat, but almost beside the point since each song within the loop is worthy of standing alone. King Gizzard's inventive sound, giant hooks, and hard-as-titanium playing make Nonagon Infinity not only their best album yet, but maybe the best psych-metal-jazz-prog album ever. That can be debated, but at the very least artists like the Flaming Lips, Ty Segall, and others who think they are doing something cool and weird should check it out and take a few notes. ~Tim Sendra, allmusic.com


James Blake -- The Colour In Anything

Little was heard from James Blake throughout an almost three-year period that followed Overgrown, his second straight Top Ten U.K. album. Drawn like a scene from a dissolving relationship that immediately precedes release and relief, the track "Modern Soul" hinted that the album could be a bit brighter with less of the anguish that permeated the singer/producer's first two albums. Another song, a vaguely aching minimal dub ballad, was aired two months later, possibly chosen because it too had a title, "Timeless," that could potentially wind up detractors. The Colour in Anything materialized at a length nearly that of his first two albums put together. Recording began in London. Once stalled by creative fatigue, Blake decamped to Rick Rubin's Malibu studio. The sunnier environment had no evident effect on the album's outlook. Regardless of location, Blake continues to deal in fraught romantic trauma, setting the album's tone immediately with "Radio Silence," a mix of mournful gospel and surging synthesizers in which "I can't believe this, you don't wanna see me" is stated something like ten times. As he sifts through the wreckage in puzzled and lucid states, he still stretches and distorts his frail but transfixing choir boy voice. A few lines are expressed with Auto-Tune fillips, some are enhanced through fine layering, and others are left unembellished, sometimes sunk into the mix of basslines that tap and thrum, percussion that gently skitters and scrapes, and synthesizers, applied like coating, that swell and swarm. Most disorienting is "Put That Away and Talk to Me," akin to a malfunctioning lullaby mobile playing a late-'90s Timbaland knockoff. Blake sought some help, not only from Rubin, who co-produced the Malibu sessions, but from Justin Vernon, who assisted with two songs and is heard on "I Need a Forest Fire," while Frank Ocean co-wrote another pair, including the all-voice closer, where Blake solemnly resolves -- ta-da -- that contentment is up to him. Compared to the self-titled debut and Overgrown, this a more graceful and denser purging, one that can soundtrack some intense wallowing or, at a low volume, throb and murmur unobtrusively in the background.~ Andy Kellman, allmusic.com

 

 

 

 

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