The Frightnrs--Nothing More To Say

The Frightnrs have made a splendid debut album, but it's an open question if listeners will be able to listen past the story behind it and hear it for what it really is. The story is a biggie: hailing from Queens, New York, the Frightnrs were a band that re-created the sound of vintage rocksteady and early reggae with striking accuracy and genuine sincerity. After the Frightnrs made a name for themselves on the New York club circuit, they were tapped to cut an album for Daptone Records, the celebrated retro-soul label. During the sessions for the album, lead singer Dan Klein began experiencing serious health problems, and he received a shattering diagnosis: Klein had contracted ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), the neurodegenerative condition sometimes known as "Lou Gehrig's Disease." While Klein rallied his strength to complete the album, ALS claimed him three months before Nothing More to Say was released, and in the eyes of many it will be seen as an obituary rather than the work of a tough, very talented band. Good reggae and rocksteady is all about nuance, and the Frightnrs have nuance in abundance. The rhythm section (Preet Patel on bass and Rich Terrana on drums) is outstanding, capturing the deep space of authentic Jamaican grooves with authority and a brilliant intuitive feel, and Chuck Patel's keyboards show he's listened to more than his share of vintage rocksteady and reggae and absorbed the influences into a style of his own. And Klein's vocals are outstanding, fitting the mood and the feel of this music without affectation or clichés, and that these performances were the work of a man who was literally fighting for his life is truly amazing. Dan Klein's passing means we may never get another Frightnrs album, and certainly not one with this lineup. But this is music about life, and the passion and gritty joy of Nothing More to Say are what make it essential listening, regardless of the fate of the lead vocalist.

~Mark Deming,


Drive-By Truckers-- American Band

From their breakthrough album (2001's Southern Rock Opera) onward, the Drive-By Truckers have never shied away from dealing with the political and philosophical divides that come with life in the American South. But as issues of race, violence, and the failings of the electoral process have come to dominate the national conversation in 2016, the Drive-By Truckers have responded with their most explicitly political album to date. American Band contains a dozen songs that deal with familiar themes for this band in some respects, but instead of pondering "the Southern Thing," these are stories that confront all sides of a great but troubled nation, as racism means not just the mixed message of the rebel flag but the unjust death of Trayvon Martin, and one tries to come to terms with the many ways our culture is slowly changing in some ways and stubbornly refusing to evolve in others. This is music full of both fury and purpose, but with rare exceptions, American Band isn't an album of anger but of puzzlement and concern. Patterson Hood's songs are thoughtful journal entries informed by his experiences as a Southern man who had left his home for the Pacific Northwest, especially "Ever South" and "What It Means." Mike Cooley, as always the Yang to Hood's Yin, writes and sings with greater grit and Southern swagger, but he delivers some of his smartest and most eloquent work to date with "Surrender Under Protest," "Ramon Casiano," and "Once They Banned Imagine," all superb studies of the flaws of human nature. American Band is an op-ed column with guitars, and it presents a message well worth hearing, both as politics and as music. ~ Mark Deming,


Western exports may have dominated the consciousness of international rock fans for the entirety of the 20th century, but our increasing global awareness has unearthed a treasure trove of transcendental grooves and spellbinding riffage from exotic and remote corners of the planet. Goat's previous albums World Music and Commune were perfect testaments to this heightened awareness, with Silk Road psychedelia, desert blues, and Third World pop all serving as governing forces within the band's sound. But Goat's strange amalgam isn't some cheap game of cultural appropriation - it's nearly impossible to pinpoint the exact origins of the elusive group's sound. The fact that they pledge allegiance to a spot on the periphery of our maps bolsters the nomadic quality of their sonic explorations. With Requiem, Goat continue to rock and writhe to a beat beholden to no nation, no state. Goat's only outright declaration for Requiem is that it is their "folk" album, and the album is focused more on their subdued bucolic ritualism than psilocybin freakouts. But Goat hasn't completely foregone their fiery charms - tracks like "All-Seeing Eye" and "Goatfuzz" conjure the sultry heathen pulsations that ensnared us on their previous albums. Perhaps the most puzzling aspect of Requiem comes with the closing track "Ubuntu." The song is little more than a melodic delay-driven electric piano line, until we hear the refrain from "Diarabi" - the first song on their first album - sneak into the mix. It creates a kind of musical ouroboros - an infinite cycle of reflection and rejuvenation, death and rebirth. Rather than offering explanations for their strange trajectories, Goat create a world where the line between truth and fiction is so obscured that all you can do is bask in their cryptic genius.

Y La Bamba--Ojos Del Sol

For the Portland band Y La Bamba, creativity and talent have combined and crystalized to form a unique sound. That sound is the sum of many individual musical experiences and influences, but it also reflects a shared vision. Most importantly, on the new Ojos Del Sol, it sounds as if the group is having a blast playing music.  The biggest step forward on the new record lies in how Y La Bamba uses Luz Elena Mendoza's voice: It's employed like a musical instrument, as part of an ensemble sound. That may sound easy, but it's difficult to pull off. Singing delicately in her upper register, she seems enmeshed in the instrumental arrangements, which gives her bicultural storytelling an almost otherworldly feel.  Ojos Del Sol represents a major step forward for Y La Bamba, not least because it fully establishes Mendoza as one of the most innovative and exciting young vocalists around.~Felix Contreras, NPR


Blood Orange--Freetown Sound

Devonté Hynes' struggle with identity and its interaction with the world is perfectly captured within the 17 tracks of Freetown Sound; often confusing, with multiple overlapping thoughts, the album charts a parallel course through Hynes' personal reflections on race and gender, and his impetus to call out the obstacles shared by all those who consider themselves outsiders.

Hynes' reflection is far-reaching, going all the way back to the capital of Sierra Leone's complex history -- where his father was born -- for its thematic roots. There are so many ideas, guest appearances, and samples that Hynes transcends the concept of a personal record; Freetown Sound is the closest you'll get to being Devonté Hynes' mind, body, and soul. Such a complex experience makes the first listen challenging; the first half of the album swims past in a woozy, yet harmonious, deluge of expressions, thoughts, and feelings. Initially, latching onto something concrete proves difficult, but around halfway the picture becomes a little more focused. "Hands Up" and "Hadron Collider" mark the change; the latter track, with its standout guest vocal from Nelly Furtado, shines in particular.

The number of guests present, whether with full vocals or just short clips, only goes to show how far Hynes has expanded his sphere in the last three years. The record is so personal that the only one able to understand every layer is Hynes himself. As a result, Freetown Sound can come across as weighty, indecipherable chaos to some. But for anyone who can relate to him on some level, it's hard not to be in awe of a man as complicated as Devonté Hynes being able to compose such an insightful, personal experience.  ~Liam Martin,

Ages and Ages -- Something To Ruin

A band started by Tim Perry with the purpose of making uplifting music with sunny harmonies, Ages and Ages succeeded in doing just that on their 2011 debut. Ages and Ages face a similar challenge on Something to Ruin, an album set against a backdrop of corporatization, gentrification, and exploding real estate prices in their base of Portland. With membership (11 credited here) spread across the Pacific Northwest, it's a relatable topic for those in many other cities, big and small, at the time of its release. The gravity is even captured on cover art that shows elephants roaming the streets of a city in dystopian ruin. Can the music possibly be peppy, especially with titles like "Kick Me Out" and "I'm Moving" among the track list? While the lyrics aren't always optimistic, Ages and Ages' rustic indie pop does deliver on their mission, if it's a bit tempered by a somber reality. The message is brighter on "So Hazy," a melodic rap and group chorale about muddled thoughts that features Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock. (The album was recorded in his studio in Portland.) If, on average, the album's enthusiasm is muted, it's still stacked with infectious melodies, warmth, and Perry's engaging songcraft. The trippier "As It Is" closes the album on a hopeful note: "You're gonna find your peace and anonymity." Though Something to Ruin may not be an escapist work, it does deliver feel-good tunes with substance, and that may prove to be even more of a comfort.
~Marcy Donelson,



Check out our EM blog baby!