Saicobab is the newest project of Yoshimio (a.k.a. Yoshimi P-We), who helms OOIOO and sings/drums in the Boredoms. Both Saicobab’s and Sab Se Purani Bab’s names are fanciful translations from Japanese and Hindi, respectively, of the words “ancient baby.” But even if you have a complete command of both languages, you’ll likely be stymied if you try to deal with this music on a purely linguistic level. As in OOIOO, Yoshimio performs exactingly structured songs, but she often seems to be flinging syllables into elaborate shapes for musical rather than lyrical effect. The combination of acoustic instrumentation (double bass, sitar, hand percussion) with her electronically treated voice moves this material farther from rock music than OOIOO was willing to stray, but anyone who appreciated that combo’s giddy exuberance and arcane tunefulness will find plenty to like on this record’s seven intricately arranged tracks.
This feisty young Melburnian released a crackerjack, all-killer, five-song EP in last year’s B-Grade University, and she has now repeated the feat with, specifically, the front end of her full-length debut. It’s not that Brother’s back side—which tends toward more elaborate, polished and generically poppy arrangements—is particularly bad or even all that much of a stylistic departure. But none of it’s particularly memorable, either, especially next to all the fizzy, bounding energy and gonzo shout-along hooks crammed into side one. Picking up the ball from B-Grade’s brash, bratty standout “I Don’t Think You Like People Like Me,” the album’s defiantly pop-punky first half touches on distance-challenged romance (love-blitzed opener “Every Day’s The Weekend,” the touching, expansive “Backpack”), self-care fails, siblinghood (the unexpectedly literal, bashed-out title track) and her love/hate for the city of Perth—all with characteristic witty, everygal charm. And gauche as it may seem for someone signed to a prestige indie like Dead Oceans, Lahey’s just way more compelling (and fun) when channeling Avril Lavigne (with a splash of prime Lily Allen in the attitude department) than she is rehashing Best Coast.
—K. Ross Hoffman
On her 2016 self-titled debut, Dori Freeman addressed the downside of love with plenty of wit and uplifting melodies. There are more love songs on Letters Never Read—some luminous, some troubled—but her soulful singing lifts them all out of the doldrums and into a pleasing state of grace. On “Turtle Dove,” her voice embraces the blissful limitations of true love, channeling the spirit of Jim Reeves with the help of a shimmering vibraphone and Aoife O’Donovan’s heartfelt harmonies. The quiet, twang-heavy groove of “Make You My Own” is a classic love song made more passionate by Freeman’s understated delivery. Her tender vocal on “Cold Waves” balances feelings of hopelessness with a prayer for the deliverance that only true love can bring. It’s a remarkable performance. Producer Teddy Thompson brings in an impressive cast to support Freeman’s burnished vocals, including his dad, Richard, who lends his distinctive fretwork to her cover of his “I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight.”
Brooklyn indie songwriter Mirah has always been a wonderfully eclectic artist, with each album bringing new sounds and ideas. For her latest work, she’s collaborating with longtime friend Jherek Bischoff, a noted composer. Together, the two rework key songs from her past catalog, bringing closer vocals and string-quartet arrangements. It’s quite lovely, and even when the arrangements don’t stray that far from the originals, the new intimacy of Mirah’s vocals on these tracks is worth the price of purchase itself. Physically, this is a vinyl-only EP, but pick up the digital version and you get four additional songs, some of which are more adventurous than the proper tracks. There’s only one new composition here, the title track, but it’s a hopeful number that’s full of the same kind of sunshine that infuses the EP.
Lee Ann Womack rose to prominence with prime mainstream Nashville fodder like hit ballad “I Hope You Dance” and the Shania-sized power pop of “I’ll Think Of A Reason Later.” Then she made a hell of a comeback with 2014’s The Way I’m Livin’, a roots move keyed to sinnin’ with hints of gospel and everything in between. Three years later, its more muted follow-up opens with the exclamation, “I’ve got all the trouble I’m ever gonna need” and nearly rocks out for six minutes with her Dolly Parton-esque trill backed up by a choir. But the only other things on her ninth album to match “All The Trouble” are a top-tier rendering of “Long Black Veil” and maybe “Wicked,” whose tale of a “.38 special and an alibi” returns to sinnin’. Little else here stuns you in place like “The Way I’m Livin’” or beautifies like “When I Come Around.”
Once upon a time, you could say “Brooklyn band” and instantly conjure a set of characteristics straight outta Central Casting: beards, guitar scree, a practice space in Williamsburg, side projects that transformed this melange into 10-inch dance sides. Grooms are now five albums into their sonic journey, and on Exit Index, the trio has steered pretty deliberately from its Sonic Youth-meets-Helium past toward a present tinged with a decidedly hazy dream-pop glow. In a just and right world, “Horoscope” would find a home on the radio, and “Magistrate Seeks Romance” would provide the soundtrack for a thousand teenage makeout sessions. As it is, this is the finest damn thing Grooms have recorded, and it represents the best sort of American pop extant, all angsty dislocation with tricky melodies for days and textures that beg you to listen over and over again. “Where are my millions?” sings Travis Johnson on the album’s opener, “The Directory.” I guess it depends upon what kinds of riches you’re counting. I’ve found mine.
Neil Young has acknowledged that his late friend/producer David Briggs was the guy who could get the most out of him as a recording artist. This is probably true. Of course, Briggs had plenty to work with handling Neil Young in his absolute prime. And this is what you want to hear. Drawn from the notorious Neil Young Archives, Hitchhiker is a perfectly wonderful solo-acoustic session recorded one day in 1976. Of the 10 songs performed, eight ended up being redone in more elaborate form for now-celebrated albums On The Beach, Zuma and Tonight’s The Night. More than any other rocker of the ’60s and ’70s, Young was able to switch from high-decibel crunch to bare-bones acoustic and still keep his edge. Boasting vintage takes of “Powderfinger” and “Human Highway” as well as rare treasure “Give Me Strength,” this is a most welcome collection.
With ’90s nostalgia already in full swing among those who were too young for all-ages shows the first time around, the only logical place to go is all in, like a TV boyfriend dashing to the airport to apologize in the era just before terrorists and the TSA ruined the big romantic gesture. By stripping away the lo-fi trappings of cuddlecore and doubling down on sugary melodies, turn-of-the-millennium references and back-of-the-alt-weekly quandaries, Who Is She? makes music guaranteed to ease your blues over Jordan Catalano. And if you’re not, under all those layers of irony and flannel, still kinda bummed about My So-Called Life’s dyslexic dreamboat (“Jordan Catalano”) or the Scream stars’ real-life split (“I’m Getting Courteney Cox and David Arquette Back Together If It’s The Last Thing I Do”), you might be too young (or too old) to be pining for the ’90s.
Aside from existing and surviving through the trials and tribulations that follow being a band for 29 years, Unsane’s second biggest achievement is how it has stuck to a formula over the course of that time and thrived in the process. Heck, even Green Day sounds nothing like it did when it started. That’s not to say Sterilize is indistinguishable from Unsane’s 1991 self-titled debut, but there’s no doubt who you’re listening to when the calamitous chords and broken-phone vocals of “Factory” open the band’s eighth full-length. Those who remember the gnarly skate video for “Scrape” that was all over MTV during the mid-’90s will have their memory banks jump-started by the patented, noise-rock churn and driving scuzz of “The Grind” and “We’re Fucked.” The gutter-blues tinges and what amounts to melodic singing on “Lung” and “Distance,” respectively, sprinkle some freshness on Sterilize, but it’s still all about lurching guitars, distorted bass, metronomic ball-peen drumming and the belief that pleasure exists in pain. —Kevin Stewart-Panko
The endless retirement tour and the never-done 50th anniversary of the Who have been the butt of jokes ever since its 40th anniversary and the one before that. Luckily, what remaining Who founders Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have going for them instead of truth in advertising is a renewed ferocity—a necessary entity considering how lackluster they sounded during the Kenney Jones era. If blaming a mediocre drummer seems like an easy out, consider how this Who sounds with Ringo’s kid Zak Starkey pummeling and paradiddlng the skins in a marauding manner befitting the late, great Keith Moon. Combine the dramatic rhythmic thrill of Starkey’s fills with Simon Townshend’s heavenly background vocals—a lovely counterpoint to Daltrey’s gruff howl and chatter—and decades-old deaf-dumb-and-blind-kid rockers such as “Amazing Journey” and the anthemic “We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me” medley really and truly soar. There’s even an electrifying sensuality to Townshend’s “rock opera” that was never there in the first place. Hey, Starkey and the younger Townshend brother really add a kick to the proceedings. Maybe they can extend this retirement to their 60th anniversary.