Big Thief -- Two Hands

Following quickly on the heels of the spacey, artful U.F.O.F. -- by five months, to be exact -- Big Thief's fourth long-player, Two Hands, was recorded just days after its contrasting sister album. However, while U.F.O.F. was tracked at a wooded facility outside of Seattle, the band deliberately moved to the 100-plus-degree environs of a desert studio west of El Paso for Two Hands. Though less improvised-sounding on the whole than its predecessor, the loose Two Hands was recorded live with few overdubs. The album opens with "Rock and Sing," a short, lullaby-like introduction. Typically intimate lyrics from singer/songwriter Adrianne Lenker sound more stream of consciousness than composed on the track, with lines like "Hand me that cable/Plug into anything/I am unstable/Rock and sing, rock and sing." It's followed by catchier album highlight "Forgotten Eyes," which settles into the visceral, full-band folk-rock of Big Thief's earlier albums but with a distinctly immediate recording quality. Other songs on Two Hands are memorable for different reasons, such as the quirkier guitar tones of the skittering "Two Hands," the folksy harmonies of "Replaced" (by guitarist/co-writer Buck Meek), and the stark tenderness of "Wolf" ("How you seem to follow through/On everything you yearn for"). While it's hard to talk about Two Hands in 2019 without the context of the stunning U.F.O.F., the album's quality stands on its own, offering its own grade of intimacy, sound, and feel for alternate moods.


Angel Olsen--All Mirrors

When Angel Olsen first emerged as a solo artist in the early 2010s, it was with a spare, haunting acoustic lo-fi that put all focus on her vulnerable, idiosyncratic vocal delivery. As she shifted from country-inflected indie folk to a brooding, more volatile garage-rock blend over the course of her next couple albums, even adding synths to the mix on 2017's My Woman, she managed to keep her tormented songs distinctly intimate. She does it again on All Mirrors, even when lavish arrangements and sometimes seismic production make full use of a 14-piece orchestra alongside guitars, synths, and a thundering low end. Opening track "Lark" sets the stage, developing from a reticent mumble over distant-sounding strings to a yelping, echoing symphonic pop and back again. "Echoing" may be understating it; the song and much of the studio-made album sound like they were recorded in a cathedral, with instruments simmering at a distance before closing in on the singer at opportune moments. Meanwhile, she fills the reverberating expanses with pleas, frustrations, and sad epiphanies on a set of songs concerned with deciding to walk away from toxic relationships, as the track list guides listeners through "Spring," "Summer," and "Endgame."  All Mirrors was originally conceived as a double album with solo renditions of the same songs, but as the fully realized tracks took shape, Olsen committed to a definitive version. Though she may have initially built her reputation on stark and brittle atmospheres, it turns out that her trademark vulnerability is only elevated by these stirring, highly stylized interpretations, making it a risk that pays off in spades. ~Marcy Donelson,


Leonard Cohen -- Thanks For The Dance

2019 posthumous release from the late singer/songwriter. Produced by Leonard's son Adam, and engineered and mixed by Michael Chaves, the duo also worked together with Leonard on the 2016 album You Want It Darker. Thanks for the Dance is not a commemorative collection of B sides and outtakes, but an unexpected harvest of new songs, exciting and vital, a continuation of the master's final work. This remarkable album was made in many places. Javier Mas, the great Spanish laud player who accompanied Leonard on stage for the last eight years of touring, flew from Barcelona to Los Angeles to capture the artist's spirit on Leonard's own guitar. In Berlin, at a musical event called People Festival, Adam invited friends and comrades to lend their ears and talents. An unexpected harvest of new songs, exciting and vital, a continuation of the master’s final work. Leonard’s son Adam Cohen invited friends and comrades to lend their ears and talents. Damien Rice and Leslie Feist sang. Richard Reed Parry of Arcade Fire played bass. Bryce Dessner of The National played guitar, the composer Dustin O’Halloran played piano. The Berlin-based choir Cantus Domus sang, and the s t a r g a z e orchestra played. In Montreal the famed producer Daniel Lanois dropped in, beautifully enriching sparse arrangements. The Shaar Hashomayim choir, who played such important part of the sound of the last album, contributed to a song, and Patrick Watson brought his inimitable talent as co-producer to a song. Back in Los Angeles Jennifer Warnes, one of the keepers of Leonard’s flame, sang background vocals, and Beck contributed on guitar and Jew’s harp. Michael Chaves, who elegantly recorded and mixed ‘You Want It Darker’, did the engineering and mixing.


Hana Vu -- Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway

A self-producing indie artist, Los Angeles' Hana Vu first started sharing her songs as a young teenager in the mid-2010s. By the arrival of her label debut, the 2018 EP How Many Times Have You Driven By, she was on the radar of the indie-music press and acts like Soccer Mommy and Sales, who invited her to open shows. In the months that followed, she graduated from high school and decided to pursue music full-time. Presented as a double EP, her first full-length is the intriguingly titled Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway. Less mercurial than her Luminelle debut, it homes in on a rich, dreamy, subversively grimy indie pop accompanied by simple beats, with occasional diversions into post-grunge ("Order") and a Cure-derived dance-rock that lands somewhere in between ("Outside," "Passenger"). The set opens with "At the Party," a disco-infused jam with lush atmospheres that complement Vu's naturally sonorous, surly delivery. Its self-conscious lyrics address an object of affection before ultimately deciding "I'll never be good enough." It's one of several tracks that touch on notions of social status and celebrity as reflected in titles like "Actress" and "Insider." On topic, the spare guitar ballad "Fighter" includes the line "I want to be a big star, and I want to have everything." Thoroughly discontented and often infectious, Nicole Kidman/Anne Hathaway closes with "Worm," a track whose minimalist arrangement of acoustic guitar and low-grade synth hum puts all focus on Vu's quirky, yearning melody. Her voice is eerily triple-tracked on the song, slimming down to double-tracking for the record's final words: "You don't cry for me/But I want you to/I don't fly away/But I wanted to." By the end, it establishes Vu as an intriguing artist with a distinctive tone rather than merely one to watch.~ Marcy Donelson



Danny Brown -- uknowwhatimsayin

Danny Brown took his grotesquerie to its highest level yet with Atrocity Exhibition. Concurrent with his divergent pursuits and evolving public image -- he's now done a sitcom theme, dipped into acting, hosted a talk show, and has spoken about living less recklessly -- the rapper dials back a bit with his follow-up and second Warp LP, executive produced by Q-Tip. Brief meetings with Flying Lotus and Thundercat, and Run the Jewels and Jpegmafia, return Brown to crazed mode, but the headliner's input is rote, if delivered with the skill of a technician. Tip is also hands-on with production on three tracks, gems distributed across the short sequence A Curtis Mayfield-style exalted soul obscurity lifts "Best Life," where Brown resembles a lisp-less Kool G Rap with hard-boiled memories of being an impressionable wannabe turned stressed street hustler. The best is saved for last on "Combat." Tip-sourced blurting and wheezing horns at first provide the high frequencies. Brown expounds in his natural deeper register before his pitch shoots progressively upward and increasingly agitated over the next verses, tracing a perilous trajectory from carefree to troubled, from "Used to chop grams off my grandma's faucet" to "Prayin' for probation, hope I get lucky." The track begins and ends with talk from a late-'70s documentary featuring members of a South Bronx gang after which another cut is titled -- one of many details that help make this sound like a unified, deliberate, and conscious work. ~Andy Kellman,

John Coltrane-- Blue World


A year after the unprecedented release of the John Coltrane Quartet's Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album, fans get another gift from the vault. The backstory (detailed in the booklet) combined with the unique place it claims in his catalog (chronologically and aesthetically), make it a fascinating, historically significant addition to his discography. In 1964, between the recently completed Crescent, and six months before the start of the sessions for A Love Supreme, the John Coltrane Quartet cut the music on Blue World. This wasn't an album proper, but music to accompany Quebecois director Giles Groulx's then-unfinished debut feature film, Le Chat Dans lu Sac (it had been shot but was still in the editing stages; neither Coltrane nor his bandmates had seen it).

Musically, Blue World is unique. Its tracks offer then-newly recorded interpretations of material he'd issued earlier in his career and had already dropped from his live set, save for "Naima," two gorgeous takes bookend the album. Coltrane was always looking ahead, especially during this period of white-hot discovery. While completely enjoyable, Blue World's true value perhaps lies in revealing the quartet encountering this older material with a fully developed musical character, and changing its shapes, accents, colors, and textures according to its own expressive signature. These versions differ (often significantly) from previously issued ones, making Blue World a necessary addendum to the recognized historical record to be sure. But just as importantly, it adds another very satisfying entry to the music libraries of Coltrane's legions of fans.~ Thom Jurek,













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