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EBTG - Fuse

With Fuse, the first Everything But The Girl album in 24 years, Tracy Thorn and Ben Watt immediately make it clear that they aren't interested in dwelling in the past. The Overmono-like taut beats and vibrating bass of marvelous lead single "Nothing Left to Lose" plunk EBTG's sound firmly into 2023, yet the sparse, clear production makes it unmistakable that Thorn's voice has roughened up a bit, even since her last solo record. This only adds more emotional weight to her lyrics, which are as thoughtful as ever, yet especially relevant for the 2020s. Fuse isn’t as club-friendly or single-driven as the stacked-with-hits Walking Wounded and Temperamental, but it contains the most adventurous production EBTG have ever attempted, showing that the duo haven't lost their touch for pairing up-to-date music with relevant, affecting subject matter.  ~Paul Simpson,

The National- First Two Pages of Frankenstein

First Two Pages of Frankenstein, the 2023 record that marks The National's first proper album since 2017's Sleep Well Beast -- not to mention the first they've released since Aaron Dessner became a collaborator of Taylor Swift's -- lies among the National albums that provide a glimmer of reassurance, the sense of consolation arriving not through catharsis but meditation. While stillness is a constant within the National, as they enter middle age, they seem to have less patience for varying tempo or volume, so First Two Pages of Frankenstein appears to be painted in gradations of grey; it's not monochromatic, but from a certain perspective it can appear homogenous. Even supporting vocals from Sufjan Stevens and Phoebe Bridgers, who cameos twice, don't command attention, marking a distinct break from I Am Easy to Find, where guest vocals provided a focal point. Here, the National sound relatively streamlined, concentrating on their collective subdued drama. Naturally, Matt Berninger's murmured musings are placed at the forefront, yet the band follow his every pause and sigh, giving the music the impression of riding a wave; things surge forward, then recede. Nothing here sounds precisely new -- yet the skill in the craft is married to a brightness in outlook that lets First Two Pages of Frankenstein operate on two parallel paths: it can serve as moody atmosphere or reward close listening. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,


boygenius - the record

Five years is a long time, long enough for a band to wander, reunite, and find themselves on a different plane. Such is the case of boygenius, the indie supergroup of Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker. When the trio first joined forces in 2018, it was to bash out an EP over the course of four days, releasing the results on Matador. Everything about The Record, the full-length debut delivered a half-decade later, is more deliberate.  What's remarkable about The Record is how these three idiosyncratic songwriters consciously decide to subsume their quirks within a group voice. Individual traits haven't been erased so much as they've been sanded so they can fit neatly together. The unified front gives The Record shape and heft, qualities apparent from its twin openers: "Without You Without Them" highlights their spectral harmonies, while "$20" drives home an offset riff that's quintessentially 1990s. Much of The Record feels like a conscious throwback to the spirit of 1993, blending the dreamier and noisier aspects of alt-rock, feeling equally at home with the bittersweet strums of "Leonard Cohen" and the walloping hooks of "Satanist," not to mention how "True Blue" and "Not Strong Enough" land squarely in the middle of this spectrum. Collectively, boygenius feels heftier and hookier than Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus do on their own, and this collective instinct towards immediacy pays great dividends: it's bracing to hear such introspective singer/songwriters embrace the pleasures of a united front. ~Stephen Thomas Erlewine,

DOMi & JD Beck - NOT TiGHT

This keyboard and drum jazzy duo covered Thundercat, Flying Lotus and MF Doom and soon joined Anderson.Paak's creative circle. Their debut NOT TiGHT on Paak's new label APESHIT via Blue Note Records-is an unclassifiable mix of hip-hop & R&B that seems to be the future of modern jazz. The album features Mac DeMarco, Paak, Snoop Dogg, Herbie Hancock, & Thundercat. The musicianship of DOMi & Beck throughout the album is incredible, and the energy between the two is magnetic. Both began playing music from a young age: DOMi studied at the Conservatoire de Paris and Berklee College of Music in Boston. JD BECK cut his teeth around Dallas before logging time with Erykah Badu. IYL Terrace Martin, Robert Glasper, Thundercat


El Michels Affair - Glorious Game

Led by multi-instrumentalist, writer, and producer Leon Michels, El Michels Affair are an R&B-rooted band synthesizing vintage groove-oriented jazz, soul, funk, rocksteady, Afrobeat, and hip-hop, among other styles.  Their latest (with The Roots’ Black Thought) called Glorious Game, sounds a lot more chopped and looped than any other El Michaels Affair release, and the supplemental voices are likewise ghostlier, excepting those of featured singers Kirby and Son Little. Opener "Grateful" immediately differentiates this from earlier EMA sessions by taking Shabba Ranks' "Ting-a-Ling" from the dancehall to the playground with the gruff voice of Thought coursing through churning drums, lancing synthesizer bass, and trilling flute. Turkish psych, vintage funk, and Joni Mitchell are put to variable use in other songs that alternately rumble, gnash, and float.  Glorious Game does not dilute the Black Thought catalog, either. Thought switches subjects and vantage points with typical ease and is almost as piercing throughout as he was on Cheat Codes, his collaboration with Danger Mouse. ~Andy Kellman,

Belle & Sebastian - Late Developers

The long stretches between albums that had become standard for indie pop heroes Belle and Sebastian made their 11th studio LP, Late Developers, even more of a surprise, as it was released without much lead-up just eight months after 2022's A Bit of Previous. Recorded during the same self-produced sessions, Late Developers feels like a companion piece to its predecessor, reaching just as inspired heights and continuing the band's inspection of aging and existential dread that always comes wrapped in soft, reassuring melodies. Late Developers is a sturdy collection on its own, but it takes on new depth when paired with A Bit of Previous. Absorbed as pieces of a connected statement, the two albums show Belle and Sebastian deep into their career but still in a state of artistic flourishing. Even the inclusion of an older tune somehow doesn't feel like they're content to stay cycling through past ideas. If anything it serves as a stark example of just how far they've come since those timid, mawkish early days, and the rest of the songs give a glimpse of how far they might yet go.~Fred Thomas,

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