Freddie Gibbs & Madlib -- Bandana

Freddie Gibbs & Madlib’s Bandana is based on a bounty of beats Madlib crafted on an iPad and offered to Kanye West, who opted to use only one, heard on the gold-certified "No More Parties in LA." Gibbs claimed what was left, put in his work, and then met with Madlib to fine-tune it all. Gibbs' ability to cover a tremendous amount of lyrical ground with minimal evident exertion, whether in first or fifth gear, is writ large. He's equally convincing regarding struggles and triumphs, palpably dispirited as he wrecks his family with unfaithfulness and drug dependency, almost distressingly brazen as he brags about converting his mother's residence into a narcotics distribution channel.  For all the debate Madlib stirred up by divulging his use of a tablet without any of the analog equipment on which he built his reputation, it's doubtless that these beats are among the producer's headiest, deep and detailed. They're creatively threaded with a head-spinning array of samples raiding popular and obscure soul and funk, reggae, Hindi thriller soundtracks, and even broken beat (shout to DJ Rels). Singular proof that these artists should continue to collaborate is "Cataracts," where a lovestruck mid-'70s R&B truffle is slightly accelerated to suit a defiantly exultant Gibbs. He and Madlib somehow make "F*ckin' up this bad food, fast food, gettin' fat" sound like the only way to truly live.~Andy Kellman,


Marika Hackman--Any Human Friend

Hackman was a breathy-voiced nu-folkie on her first two albums (2013's That Iron Taste and 2015's We Slept at Last), but she picked up a band, beefed up the arrangements, and started speaking up on 2017's I'm Not Your Man. She moves even further away from her starting point with 2019's Any Human Friend. While I'm Not Your Man suggested Hackman had belatedly discovered indie rock, Any Human Friend plays like her hip pop move, with plenty of keyboards and drum machines holding down the backing tracks and Hackman layering glossy harmonies around her vocals. There are guitars here, but they mostly serve as texture while the warm but clean electronic textures carry Hackman's melodies and make room for the lyrics. Any Human Friend sounds sleeker and more polished than Hackman's previous releases, but at the same time it takes the playfully libidinous tone of I'm Not Your Man and cranks it up a few levels. These songs leave no doubt that Hackman is a big fan of sex and pleasure, even if they can turn out to be problematic, and there's something quietly disarming in the unguarded way she sings about her needs (and the degrees to which they're being met, with "Hand Solo" revealing she's willing to take responsibility for her own orgasm if push comes to shove). In 2019 it isn't especially novel that Hackman prefers women to men, but her willingness to explain just what she wants and why she wants it on tunes like "All Night" and "The One" still feels refreshing, witty, and honest, not shocking for their own sake but compelling in her willingness to share without grandstanding. Which may have a lot to do with why Hackman chose to match these lyrics with a more passionate and engaging sound on Any Human Friend -- if you want to get what you want, you have to be sure that you're heard.  ~Mark Deming,


Sleater-Kinney -- The Center Won't Hold

Weeks before the release of The Center Won't Hold, Janet Weiss left Sleater-Kinney -- a departure that clouded the record's reception, suggesting that the drummer perhaps wasn't happy with the trio's decision to collaborate with producer St. Vincent.  Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker countered this perception by insisting it was Weiss' idea to work with St. Vincent, and the fact that the drummer is hardly buried in the mix suggests there may be no animosity among the various camps. Still, with Weiss' absence, the very title The Center Won't Hold seems prescient for the future of Sleater-Kinney, but it's also true the album is designed to suggest that the world is unmoored. In the age of Trump and Brexit, such a notion isn't far-fetched, and Brownstein and Tucker frequently allude to the roiling political tensions of the late 2010s, but they spend just as much of the record lamenting personal dissociation -- the alienation that arrives when too much time is spent time staring into tiny screens. To that end, teaming with St. Vincent is a bit of a conceptual masterstroke. Annie Clark encourages Sleater-Kinney to approach their songs from a sideways angle and dress the arrangements in retro synths; they're adding explicit post-punk artiness to their punk roar. Coming on the heels of the galvanizing guitar rock of No Cities to Love, this shift in direction is especially bracing, particularly when combined with the apocalyptic undercurrents of the lyrics. Some of these words may be a bit on the nose, but when heard as part of a web of retro synths, echoey guitars, and tightly controlled rhythms, the effect is powerful: it's an album that forces the listener to abandon nostalgia and accept that things are different now. It's not a comforting notion, and it's one that may sit awkwardly for listeners who prize raw guitars over refined aesthetic, but The Center Won't Hold demonstrates what a fearless band Sleater-Kinney is.   ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

Lillie Mae -- Other Girls

Lillie Mae Rische is an American singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist, known to bluegrass and country fans as a member of all-sibling outfits the Risches and Jypsi. Rock fans discovered her fiddle and mandolin playing in Jack White's live band. They encountered her instantly recognizable singing voice on "Temporary Ground" from his 2014 Lazaretto album, as well as her debut solo single "Nobody's"/"Same Eyes," issued in Third Man Records' Blue Series the same year. Collaborating with producer Dave Cobb helps Lillie Mae simultaneously sharpen and expand her focus -- a nifty, subtle trick that fuels Other Girls, her second album for Third Man Records. Lillie Mae operates in an undefined territory where ancient and modern music meet, a place where bluegrass can seem spacy but not quite lonesome. This is a distinct, delicate balance, one she hinted at on Forever and Then Some, but Other Girls benefits from Cobb adding a sense of spectral melancholy to the proceedings. It's a quality that's thankfully not overplayed; it's there just enough to add dimension and mystery, emotions that still linger when the record turns and eases into something a little simpler. Lillie Mae's high, keening voice is suited for such stylized plaints but the reason Other Girls works as well as it does is that it's not solely sad. The record is filled with flinty defiance and sly humor, and it's all unified by a fearless sense of adventure. Because the record ends with the dark, swirling mini-suite "Love Dilly Love," the fearlessness leaves a lasting impression, but it doesn't overshadow "Crisp and Cold," "You've Got Other Girls for That," and "Terlingua Girl," songs where Lillie Mae sings with tenderness and steel; songs that manage to turn old traditions into something surprising and new. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine,




Ezra Furman -- Twelve Nudes

Arriving just a year after 2018's critically acclaimed dystopian queer outlaw odyssey Transangelic Exodus, Twelve Nudes sees Ezra Furman and his newly minted Band with No Name deliver a savage, amp-melting set that's all teeth. Raw, political, feral, and apoplectic, yet reliably open-hearted, the songs were recorded quickly and with the needle firmly ensconced in the red. Furman pushes his voice to extremes as well, and you can smell the beer sweat and the smoke from his tonsils throughout. The 11-track Twelve Nudes begins in spectacular fashion with the unhinged, melodic punk rager "Calm Down aka I Should Not Be Alone," a just-over-two-minute slab of nervy ear candy that's thick with overdriven bar chords and punchy compressed drums, and punctuated with the leering "woo-woos" of the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil." Blunt force pit-inducers like "Rated R Crusaders," "Blown," and "My Teeth Hurt" follow suit, drawing inspiration from the socio-political miasma of 2018 and coming off like Green Day taking a stab at Dead Kennedys' Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables. It's not all bloody fisticuffs, though. Furman tempers some of that sonic pugilism on the road trip-ready confectionary "In America" and the poignant, gender questioning "I Wanna Be Your Girlfriend," the latter of which divulges "All my friends are writing their résumés/my responsible friends are applying for jobs/but me, I was considering ditching Ezra, and going by Esme." Transangelic Exodus was a meticulously crafted and heavily nuanced work that showcased Furman's pop acumen and lyrical prowess. Even at its most subdued, the relentless and invigorating Twelve Nudes crackles and pops like an alkali metal hitting water.~ James Christopher Monger,

Bill Callahan-- Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Though Shepherd is over an hour long, its songs are on a smaller, and more personal, scale than any of Callahan's previous work -- instead of panoramas, they're family snapshots. Reflecting the growing wisdom of his songwriting, Callahan begins the album by casting off the people and ideas that no longer belong in his life. On the smoky, three-minute long "Angela," he says a final goodbye to the kind of star-crossed relationship that, earlier in his career, might have inspired an entire album. On "The Ballad of the Hulk," he bids farewell to the suppressed anger and toxic masculinity of his "Bill Bixby days." From there, he marvels at the simplicity and complexity of life and death with a refreshing and thought-provoking lightness. These songs float with a free-flowing ease, turning what could be midlife crises into opportunities to grow and reflect. Most of all, the album's songs are connected by joy, whether it's the bustling domesticity of "Son of the Sea," the existential gratitude of "Call Me Anything" or the chance to tell his son when to wander and when to put down roots on the charming "Tugboats and Tumbleweeds." Unassuming yet frequently profound, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest is a gorgeous and much-needed return from an artist whose powers have only grown during the time he spent living his life. ~Heather Phares,













Check out our EM blog baby!