Beirut -- Gallipoli

The fifth full-length by Zach Condon's Beirut, Gallipoli is a sequel of sorts to 2015's No No No in that it returns co-producer Gabe Wax and employs similar instrumentation, including Condon's Farfisa organ. An instrument that he acquired at his first job at a community art space in his hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico, it had been left behind by a (literal) traveling circus and ended up serving as the main writing tool for Condon's first two Beirut albums. In a statement about the album, Condon explained his effort to channel performances through a series of amplifiers, PA systems, and tape machines, hoping to capture sounds like mechanical buzzing, creaking instruments, and off-pitch tones. It's hardly to lo-fi effect, however, with Condon's warm quaver and bevy of brass instruments, acoustic and electric guitars, electronic and acoustic drums, accordion, and mix of pianos, organs, and synthesizers including modular synths gathered under a production ethos that dials up already colorful arrangements to Technicolor spectacle. "Landscape," for example, layers persistent organ eighth notes, tight vocal harmonies, syncopated bass, and clattering and rumbling percussion and drum tones, all with a sustained force that sounds more symphonic than the components seem they should. The song is otherwise quite breezy, with an elongated vocal melody arching over all the accompaniment like a sun-speckled rainbow. Inspired by a brass band procession Condon witnessed in the coastal city of Gallipoli, Italy, the reflective title track opens with melodic, mechanical glitch and a studio-manufactured brass-and-drums band. Featuring Condon on multi-tracked trumpet and vocal harmonies, it, too, has a larger-than-life sound despite its more restrained emotional tone. ~Marcy Donelson, allmusic.com

 

Deerhunter -- Why Isn't Everything Already Disappeard?

A quick scan of Deerhunter's body of work -- which includes album and song titles like Fading Frontier and "Memory Boy" -- serves as a reminder that the fleeting nature of life is something that has fascinated Bradford Cox and company for years. Until the band's eighth album, these meditations on ephemerality were deeply personal. On Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared?, Cox looks at the world around him with the same intensity that he used to examine his own life on earlier albums. Though this shift in perspective was brought on by the political climate of the late 2010s, Deerhunter's version of resistance isn't to rail against only the injustices of that era, but against a seemingly endless history of inhumanity and death with songs that sound deceptively life-affirming. The band's skill at pairing devastating subject matter with chiming melodies has never been quite so subversive as it is on the album's first two tracks. On "Death in Midsummer" -- which sounds as anthemic as a song about the piles of bodies left in the wake of the Russian Revolution of 1917 can -- Cate Le Bon's brittle harpsichord expresses the band's prickly nature and fondness for the unexpected rather than the refinement it usually signifies in pop music. Poignant moments could easily be mistaken for nostalgia, but the sorrow that permeates Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? doesn't come from wishing things were the way they used to be; it's because things turned out the way they did. Deerhunter makes it abundantly clear that they're anti-nostalgia on the breezy "Futurism," and more indirectly on "Plains," a brief, brilliant sketch of friendship and loss that takes inspiration from James Dean's time filming Giant in Marfa, TX, where the band recorded much of the album. From the weariness and wonder in its title to the mix of delicacy and anger in its songs, Why Hasn't Everything Already Disappeared? is one of Deerhunter's most haunting and thought-provoking albums. ~Heather Phares, allmusic.com

 

Mandolin Orange -- Tides of a Teardrop

When a small acoustic group expands their numbers, it's usually with the intention of delivering a bigger and bolder sound, but Mandolin Orange are an act who continue to create a strikingly intimate record as they've expanded their instrumental range. The addition of a rhythm section and an occasional electric guitar has only reinforced the character of Mandolin Orange's music; their music evokes the sweet, quiet sorrow of late nights, long rides across the plains, and that moment when the snap of autumn begins to give way to the chill of winter. Marlin and Frantz are vocalists who have no trouble finding the emotional textures of a song, and their tales of love and ordinary life (penned by Marlin) are all the more powerful of the subtle details of their unforced delivery, and their harmonies are never showy but always add to the songs. The careful, nuanced interplay of the musicians on Tides Of A Teardrop is superb, and producer Marlin and engineer Julian Dreyer give the recordings a wide-open ambience that recalls the unobtrusive accuracy of a good bluegrass session with the telling atmosphere of slowcore classics like Low's Secret Name. Plenty of roots-oriented acts can do the high and lonesome thing, but Mandolin Orange make it cut like bourbon and soothe like honey on Tides of a Teardrop, and it's outstanding work from a group that grow more satisfying and accomplished with each release. [The initial edition of Tides of a Teardrop includes a bonus EP, Sing and Play Traditionals, featuring Frantz and Marlin offering spare interpretations of four folk standards. It's not quite as impressive as the material on the album, but the performances are spot-on and they approach the covers with the same emotional honesty as their originals.] ~Mark Deming, allmusic.com


Steve Gunn -- The Unseen Inbetween


Annabel Mehran's black-and-white cover photo for Steve Gunn's The Unseen In Between is a portrait of the guitarist and songwriter seemingly on the move. It evokes those found on early to mid 1960s recordings by Bob Dylan, Koerner Ray and Glover, Jackson C. Frank, Bert Jansch, and others. Gunn's has shifted his focus considerably. Rather than simply showcase his dazzling guitar playing, he delivers carefully crafted, uncharacteristically tight and well-written songs with guitars, keyboards, strings, reeds--and percussion-- translating them without artifice or instrumental disguise. Gunn's also a more confident, capable singer than he was on 2016's Eyes On The Lines and it shows. He places his voice at the center of producer/guitarist James Elkington's beautifully layered, multi-textured mix.. His delivery walks the line between folk, blues, and psyhedelia as the tune unfolds its suggestive, fleeting landsdcapes and emotional states. "Vagabond" inspired by Anges Varda's tragic 1985 film of the same name, features Meg Baird on backing vocals; it winding psychedelic country rock recalls the feel present on Jansch's early seventies Los Angeles period albums L.A. Turnaround and Santa Barbara Honeymoon.  On The Unseen In Between Gunn's guitar is the hub on which his songs turn, but is not their centerpiece. For guitar fans, there's an abundance of fine playing here, but the songwriter's aesthetic shift delivers listeners his most consistent album to date.~ Thom Jurek allmusic.com

 

 

Makaya McCraven-- Universal Beings

Guiding the undulating, polyrhythmic, genre-ambiguous flow of drummer Makaya McCraven's ever-evolving "organic beat music," is a strategy not far removed from the one employed by Teo Macero and Miles Davis on Bitches Brew and subsequent dates: Here, moments from continuous improvised performances are digitally looped, cut, spliced, and edited into entirely new compositions. McCraven has been developing the approach for some time, though it came to fruition on 2015's brilliant In the Moment, culled from nearly 48 hours of live improvised performance at a single venue over a year, then processed and remixed into 19 individual pieces. McCraven takes a leap further out on the double-length Universal Beings. The spirit and inspiration of Alice Coltrane permeates the music's flow in rhapsodic whole tones. The Chicago side commencing with "Pharaoh's Intro" stars Hutchings and Paul communicating in post-bop cadences carried by McCraven's frenetic drumming. It follows to "Atlantic Black" with fiery, Nigerian funk rhythms colored by cello and bassline pulses and saxophone loops over a spacy electric piano and a spiky Reid solo pushing the tune outward. It's brought back inside by the Afro-beat rhythms and dubwise basslines undergirding "Inner Flight." The London side skates between trippy, soulful, syncopated jazz-funk and modal jazz courtesy of Garcia's illustrious horn and Ashley Henry's Rhodes piano as the interplay between McCraven and bassist Daniel Casimir balances both ends of the spectrum; they create emphasis, tension, and release. The Los Angeles side contains virtually everything that previously transpired but goes somewhere new. At the end of the recording, McCraven says "You guys got all that?" then laughs. Given all that's here, one wonders who he was speaking to, the engineers or the listeners? Universal Beings is unique from any other jazz recording in 2018: It marries virtuoso musicianship, technological savvy, a keen editor's ear for creative inspiration, and a plethora of almighty grooves. ~Thom Jurek, allmusic.com


M. Ward -- What A Wonderful Industry

Equal parts rock memoir and cautionary tale, M. Ward's ninth outing is titled What a Wonderful Industry. Forgoing his long-held roster position at Merge Records, the Portland-based songwriter issued the album himself, pairing his affinity for arcane American roots traditions with colorful stories from his two decades operating in various branches of the music industry. Ward's laconic delivery and retro-minded Americana have always been presented with a twinkle of dry wit, but not unlike its unannounced delivery, a self-released concept album calling out what he refers to as the "heroes and villains in equal measure" encountered during his career comes as a bit of a surprise. While his records often come across as a little loose and hairy, What a Wonderful Industry has a particularly homespun feel to it with an emphasis on springy acoustic 12-string riffs and rattling rhythms disguising what are in reality some of his craftiest songs to date. There's a bit of jangling mayhem -- bordering almost on menace -- to tracks like "Bobby" and "Miracle Man," while the brooding "Shark" wears its darkness in a subtler shade. The nifty little guitar intervals on "A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste" help lend an air of dreamy sophistication to its cutting lyrics. Along with the excellent "Motorcycle Ride," it's also one of the album's sweetest pop gems. Writing about past foes and benefactors seems to have injected some fire into Ward's approach, which had arguably settled into a pretty familiar laid-back groove. Musically, What a Wonderful Industry slots neatly into his canon, but its added focus on personal history gives it a distinctive flavor. ~Timothy Monger, allmusic.com

 

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