Beach House -- 7

While Beach House's sound has always focused on hypnotic melodies and Victoria LeGrand's rich vocals -- and likely always will -- they've found different ways to explore this potent combination on each album. LeGrand and Alex Scally delivered some of their most dramatic experiments on 2015's Depression Cherry and Thank Your Lucky Stars, which presented a surprising amount of sides to their music even as they stripped it down to the basics. If possible, they're even more committed to change on their aptly named seventh album. To make 7, Beach House opted to work with Sonic Boom instead of longtime producer Chris Coady; brought their live drummer James Barone into the studio; and recorded songs as soon as they were done writing them instead of waiting to record all of them at once. This creative liberation resonates on every track, whether Scally and LeGrand build up the instrumentation or pare it back, touch on their familiar sounds or invent new ones. 7's sequencing spotlights just how wide its range is, juxtaposing songs that sound wildly different, but equally like Beach House. The galactic whoosh of "Dark Spring" -- a key example of Boom's influence -- sounds all the more vast next to "Pay No Mind," the band's warmest, most down-to-earth love song yet. Similarly, "L'Inconnue"'s blissful call-and-response contrasts nicely with the edgy "Drunk in LA," where the beats and synths evoke rain-slicked streets and city lights. Throughout 7, Beach House feel more concerned with capturing moments fully rather than conforming to notions of what a cohesive album is. That these songs sound like they came from different albums is ultimately more refreshing than disorienting, and the excitement that courses through each track is palpable. Scally and LeGrand could have only made 7 at this point in their career -- not only do they have the skill to change things up, but the wisdom to know how and when to do so.~ Heather Phares,


John Coltrane -- Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album

"This is like finding a new room in the Great Pyramid."--Sonny Rollins

Yes, this is not a reissue, not a live album, not an album of outtakes. In 1963, Coltrane recorded a studio album that has remained unknown and unheard until now. It was recorded at Van Gelder Studios, the "Abbey Road" of jazz, with Coltrane's classic Quartet: McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Garrison & Coltrane, at the height of his career. The music represents one of the most influential groups in music history, performing in a musical style it had perfected and reaching in new, exploratory directions that would affect the trajectory of jazz from then on. In short, this is the holy grail of jazz. There is a regular CD & Deluxe CD, and a regular & Deluxe LP. Deluxe versions include the seven found tracks and 7 alternate takes.




Leon Bridges -- Good Thing

In sound and look, the Grammy-nominated Coming Home replicated one style from a bygone era with such perfectionist accuracy that Leon Bridges risked being typecast as a malt-shop soul man. Some of Bridges' subsequent featured appearances fulfilled that role, but others indicated that he was primed to break out and loosen up a bit. The singer and songwriter's second album similarly displays different approaches that skillfully build off and depart from the previous release. Bridges displays some hard-fought assurance on the call-and-response soul-jazz groove "Bad Bad News," where he asserts "I hit 'em with the style and grace, and watch their ankles break." "Shy," a mellow number with appealingly awry likenesses to Al Green and the Isley Brothers, quickly pulls Bridges back to his modest, chivalrous self. Bridges later clearly aims to reach a broader audience, though he only briefly approaches Bruno Mars territory with a little uptown funk laced through "If It Feels Good (Then It Must Be)," the effervescent bounce of which is rooted in the Whispers' "It's a Love Thing," and "You Don't Know," a second slice of sophisticated, feel-good post-disco. All these deviations, including the one that sounds like it was written for an early-'70s Rod Stewart album, seem natural for Bridges, who evidently had much more to explore and express than what was shown on Coming Home. What's more, there is no pandering. Most suggestive of the singer's bright future is album closer "Georgia to Texas," a stunning and ultimately affecting tribute to his mother delivered in front of an acoustic jazz quartet. ~ Andy Kellman,

Dawes -- Passwords

Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith has always been the kind insightful singer/songwriter whose lyrics read a lot like poetry. They’re like thoughtful journal entries turned into literate, symbol-heavy songs rife with self-effacing revelations and timely insights into the state of the world. So it makes sense that the band's sixth studio-album, the aptly-titled Passwords, finds Goldsmith investigating notions of communication—with ourselves and with each other, both successfully and pathetically—and the myriad ways our social-media frenzied climate can make the truth feel so elusive. He addresses the this theme explicitly on the crunchy, mid-tempo opener "Living in the Future." Singing in a hushed deadpan delivery, he snears "It's the battle of the passwords/ It's the trumpets on the hill/ It's that constant paranoia/ It's the final fire drill." While he certainly imbues the rest of the album with an equally ominous sense of big brother fatigue, there's also a warmth and innate humanity at the core of each song that lightens the tone  As dark as Goldsmith gets on Passwords, he remains hopeful, even romantic, summoning images of Romeo and Juliet and "Cusack holding that stereo" on the tender love song "Never Gonna Say Goodbye." It's that bittersweet message of hope for humanity on Passwords that resonates the strongest. ~Matt Collar,


Khruangbin -- Con Todo el Mundo

Texan trio Khruangbin named themselves after the Thai word for airplane, which couldn't be more appropriate for a band whose influences imply heavy passport usage. Of course, the band are inspired by Thai rock and funk from the '60s and '70s -- sounds most easily available to Western ears via releases like the Thai Beat a Go-Go compilations or anything issued by ZudRangMa Records. The group also draw from the bass pressure of vintage dub reggae, the free-spirited haziness of California psychedelia, and the gritty passion of '70s soul, with hints of Iranian pop, Afrobeat, Spaghetti Western film scores, and countless other styles. While this sounds like it could be an impossibly tall order, or something that requires an encyclopedic knowledge of music just to listen to, the band achieve a remarkably, almost effortlessly cohesive sound, and it goes down much more smoothly than one might expect. The group never have a lead vocalist, but most of the songs on Con Todo el Mundo feature distant, shadowy backup vocals, making them seem like proper songs with the lyrics removed. Instead, Mark Speer's reverb-heavy guitar does most of the talking, playing a more ethereal variation on twangy surf or desert blues riffs. ~Paul Simpson,

Jean Grae --Everything's Fine

On Everything's Fine, rappers Jean Grae and Quelle Chris reflect on what it takes to stay normal and sane while dealing with intense personal issues and living in an increasingly corrupt, crazy world that constantly seems on the brink of destruction. The darkly humorous album sarcastically riffs on this sense of false, clichéd optimism, as well as stereotypes, the whitewashing of hip-hop (and popular culture in general), and the general sense of anxiety surrounding day-to-day existence. Right from the outset, the album is filled with dense, complex vocal arrangements, with both MCs (as well as their guests) delivering dozens of vicious caricatures of fake rappers and "woke" folks. The couple, who announced their engagement a few months prior to the album's release, have vastly different styles -- Grae, who also moonlights as an actress and comedian, is sharper and more dramatic, while Chris has more of a loose, conversational style and can sometimes be described as a stoner rapper -- but they complement each other well, and both drive the album's concept. Musically, some of the tracks sound like the type of sludgy, lo-fi boom-bap Chris is known for, but they branch off into several other directions, such as the smudged P-Funk vibe of "House Call," the spacy, late-night jazz groove of "Gold Purple Orange," and the grinding industrial drone of "Scoop of Dirt." In addition to guest appearances by underground rappers such as Your Old Droog and Denmark Vessey, several comedians also contribute. The brilliant John Hodgman wearily, reluctantly offers words of encouragement on the Negativland-like interlude "Don't Worry It's Fine," while Nick Offerman cheerfully encourages you to disregard anything that doesn't directly affect you during "Everything's Still Fine." On "OhSh," Hannibal Buress shows up to deliver a numbskulled rap satire while a barrage of samples of the word "shit" fly by at a rapid pace, and it's impossible to imagine everyone involved not cracking up in the studio. The album ends with two of its most cautiously optimistic tracks, the more uplifting "Waiting for the Moon" and the ethereal yet hard "River," which seem to resolve that things are, in fact, quite OK, but you still need to watch out and fight for yourself. ~ Paul Simpson,










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