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.


Wire--Mind Hive

One of the great joys of Wire's music in the 2010s and beyond is how brilliantly they reinvent their enduring strengths in equally timeless and timely ways. On Mind Hive, the band's legendary skill at writing concise songs filled with layers of meaning comes to the fore. Even its title is compact yet complex, flipping a statement of shared knowledge -- and perhaps conformity -- into one of restless intelligence. Wire don't waste any of the album's terse 35 minutes; instead of the ruminative approach they took on Silver/Lead, they immediately spring into action. They're still unrivaled at capturing crisis points in their music: Wire's time-tested flair for cloaking ominous moods in irresistible tunes shines on Mind Hive, particularly on a string of incisive pop songs in the vein of Chair's Missing. It's still thrilling to hear Colin Newman proclaim "discard new litanies" over sparkling guitars and keyboards on "Cactused," and if the grinding groove of "Primed and Ready" sounds surprisingly upbeat, "Off the Beach"'s lilting melody and uneasy imagery ("CC cameras/Knives and hammers") reinforces the overall mood of justified paranoia. Later, when Wire revisits the more expansive style of albums such as Silver/Lead, it's just as purposeful as what came before. Crucially, when they touch on their own past, it never, ever sounds complacent (of course, it never sounded complacent back then, either). The issues Wire grapple with are evergreen, and as they persevere in the face of stupidity and apathy, Mind Hive's unflinching, poetic songs prove maturity is a weapon they wield just as deftly as outrage. ~Heather Phares,

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,

Algiers-- There Is No Year


There Is No Year, the third album out now on Matador Records by Atlanta-based Algiers, was co-produced by Randall Dunn and Ben Greenberg. In a scalding gumbo of post-punk mania, mutant gospel, shambolic blues, and ravaged funk and soul, they add more grimy electronic and industrial elements to their attack. Pulsing synths and electronic, clattering, mechanized beats (recalling the manic approach of Suicide's first album) introduce the opening title track. Vocalist/lyricist Franklin James Fisher begins testifying with an activist's conviction and a soul man's heart. His urgency offers keen, righteous social and cultural critique instead of indictment and judgment. A sax breakdown by guest Skerik pushes the margin. There Is No Year contains more textural and timbral elements than one can keep track of, but that doesn’t matter. These tight, explosive songs combine a refined poetic lyric approach in songwriting and arranging that's every bit as urgent as the album's two predecessors, yet it's so emotionally charged, it leaves the listener breathless and exhausted, as well as compelled and excited.~Thom Jurek














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