Essential New Music: Neneh Cherry’s “Broken Politics”

Nearly 30 years (!?) after the ping-ponging pop-hop of Raw Like Sushi and its global hit, “Buffalo Stance,” Neneh Chery has found a fashion in which to maintain the ebullience of that youthful debut—and aging that torrid pop tone gracefully—while honing in on the socio-political now with deeply personal lyrics and a pulsing, spacey score provided by producer Kieran Hebden (Four Tet).

With that, Broken Politics is no easy listen by half. Between Hebden’s fussy jeepy beats and aggressive collage tones and Cherry’s tossed-in-the-air wordplay landing on all things socio-rhetorical (“Deep Vein Thrombosis” lines such as “how fragile is a life that can have everything now, too”), there’s a tension behind a great portion of the new album, a friction in sound and Cherry’s vision of an uneasy world. On “Kong,” Massive Attack’s 3D brings the low bass-y grumble of his one-time syn-sub ensemble to bear on Cherry’s icy arrangements while she hoots and scowls about “ guns and guts and history.”

That doesn’t mean or make the rapper/singer into Kafka, and Broken Politics into an existential mess. With its joyful noisy Ornette Coleman plastic-sax sample and its Jamaican steel-drum loop, “Natural Skin Deep,” gives Cherry a big bouncy way into a stray, gleeful hook, one where she intones, “My love goes on and on,” as a release. Like someone winning a tug of war, exhausted by the push-and-pull, Broken Politics feels like a deep breath after a long, tense struggle.

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: Heather Leigh’s “Throne”

Heather Leigh has been playing music on her own and with Charalambides, Tarpis Tula and Peter Brötzmann (among others) for more than two decades, but she didn’t release an album of songs with words until 2015. Both the presentation and the emotional content of that debut, I Abused Animal, is a solo voice and pedal-steel guitar so stark it sounds flayed to the bone. Throne is much more filled out, with synthesizers and beats layered onto her primary instruments.

But even though Throne’s flesh-and-blood sonics contrast dramatically with its skeletal predecessor, the two records are united in their unflinching exploration of the unstable territory where attraction and exploitation collide. One song’s protagonist exalts an object of desire; on the next, the narrator ambivalently recalls too-friendly attention paid by someone’s dad in the garage. Whatever the scenario, Leigh’s bold and voluptuous phrasing draws you into the emotional intensity of the situation without telling you what conclusions to draw.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Reissues And Collections Roundup (Kinks, John Lennon, Lindsey Buckingham, John Fogerty, Stereolab, NRBQ, Bikini Kill And More)

Just in time for your holidaze shopping, we bring you the best reissues and collections with which to stuff your loved ones’ stockings.

The Kinks The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society (BMG)
The 50th anniversary edition of hands-down one of the best and most influential rock albums ever is available as a super-deluxe set (174 tracks over two LPs, five CDs and three seven-inches, plus a book and other goodies) and a deluxe set (49 tracks over two CDs), as well as single-LP and single-CD editions. Absolutely essential.

Dave Davies Decade (Red River/Green Amp)
Since Father Christmas can never have too many Kinks-related goodies in his gift sack … This 13-track set collects unreleased material spanning 1971-1979 by this guitar hero.

John Lennon Imagine (UMe) and Imagine and Gimme Some Truth (Eagle Vision)
Lennon’s 1971 masterpiece gets multiple treatments with the centerpiece being a four-CD/two-Blu-ray ultimate collection featuring 140 tracks (the album is also available in double-CD, double-LP and single-CD formats); films Imagine and Gimme Some Truth are available on Blu-ray and DVD, having been hand-restored, remastered and remixed in surround sound.

Lindsey Buckingham Solo Anthology: The Best Of Lindsey Buckingham (Rhino)
A 53-track, three-CD set (a six-LP version is out November 23) featuring album, live and alternate versions from the Fleetwood Mac frontman’s solo career, plus some live takes on Mac hits.

John Fogerty Eye Of The Zombie and Deja Vu (All Over Again) (BMG)
From 1986 and 2004, respectively, these two often-overlooked LPs from the Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman are the latest in his year-long reissue campaign.

Loudon Wainwright III Years In The Making (StoryStound)
A two-CD, 42-track collection of live recordings, radio appearances, demos, etc., spanning Rufus’ dad’s almost-half-century career.

Permanent Green Light Hallucinations (Omnivore)
A 16-track compilation of Michael Quercio’s post-Three O’Clock ’90s psych-pop trio.

David J Crocodile Tears And The Velvet Cosh (Glass Modern)
A reissue of the second solo album by the Bauhaus and Love And Rockets bassist, from 1985.

Stereolab Switched On, Refried Ectoplasm (Switched On Volume 2) and Aluminum Tunes (Switched On Volume 3) (Duophonic)
All three are essential to ‘Lab rats, but we’re partial to Aluminum Tunes; these are available individually and as a CD boxed set.

NRBQ All Hopped Up (Omnivore)
Straight-up reissue of the genre-blending band’s fifth album, from 1977.

Bikini Kill The Singles (Bikini Kill)
A nine-song reissue of the 1998 CD collecting all of the legendary, Kathleen Hanna-led riot-grrrl band’s seven-inches.

The Four Tops The Complete ABC/Dunhill Singles (Real Gone)
33 tracks from the vocal quartet’s post-Motown period (1972-1978), many of which have never been released on CD before.

Yum-Yum Dan Loves Patti (Omnivore)
A 20th anniversary reissue from Chris Holmes (Sabalon Glitz, Paul McCartney touring DJ), with him in classic-pop mode; 10 bonus tracks, including Prince and Ronettes covers, round out the set.

Essential New Music: Restorations’ “LP5000”

Philadelphia’s Restorations skipped 4996 LPs to get from 2014’s LP3 to LP5000. Listening to the new record, it’s easy to figure out why. On LP5000, Restorations are consistently preoccupied with the future. During the course of the LP’s taut seven songs and 25 minutes, new buildings replace old neighborhood centerpieces, strangers invade historic streets, new administrations dissolve false senses of safety. Everything changes so fast in the world of LP5000, and some of the characters on these wearied, rocking-in-spite-ot-it-all streets can only react with a shrug and an, “Oh, but who has the time?”

LP5000 is recognizably Philadelphian, but not overtly. This is a record about an American city in the wake of the cultural and political upheaval that was the 2016 election. The earlier-quoted line comes from the subject of “Nonbeliever,” but the speaker is not framed as a cynic. The speaker is a regular person—with a family, with responsibilities, and who can’t imagine that there’s anything they can do to make anything any better. The song’s mellow keys and cyclical, hypnotic guitar lines give the impression of malaise, of hope lost. It’s not so much a scold as it is a reflection of familiar disaffection.

What LP5000 does to undermine this political disaffection is show a world still moving at a breathtaking clip, whether you’re watching, whether you care. It’s telling the song that immediately follows “Nonbeliever” is steady rocker “Remains,” which recounts the night of the election in tandem with gentrification in constant progression: “As the results came in/I felt the ground pull me closer down” and, later, “Now you can’t afford to live in the town you were born in.” The song begins and ends with the line, “If I remember that right, we were standing in the rain.” All of this change happens around people who remain basically the same, doing the same shit or not.

As such, Restorations do not give a rallying cry with LP5000; it’s more like an honest, direct delivery of the situation at hand. There’s nothing overtly furious on this album—instead, its best compositions brood and meditate, try to organize a reaction. “Melt” twinkles and meanders through lines that could easily be screamed (“I know you’ve been scared since November … I don’t wanna hear that name again.” On simmering, glitchy “Eye,” frontman Jon Loudon juxtaposes reactions to our political moment (“Glance at your phone and you mumble ‘I hope he dies’/ I hope he dies, too”) with a simple narrative in which the speaker drops off a loved one at the airport. Starting off as gorgeous, glittering the National worship, the song explodes into a wailing, apocalyptic noise as Loudon, keeping his composure, sings:

It’s just me and the recoveries singing,
“The only drug for this is time.”
Living a letter to all the things we could’ve done better now,
Forever further on my way back home.
I’m still spinning like a laundromat,
Still treading water in the aftermath.
Just stay clean, just say you’ll remember me,
Forever further on my way back home.

It’s perhaps the finest moment in Restorations’ catalogue, and a summation of LP5000’s main point: The future, like it or not, is happening. Be there for the ones you love and react to it for them and for everyone. Don’t let the future happen without your say.

—Jordan Walsh

Essential New Music: David Nance Group’s “Peaced & Slightly Pulverized”

Never mind the mythology that has grown up around garage rock. If you’re going to brew a high-octane mix of ferocity, soul and volume at home, it really helps to have a basement. The closed-in feeling of low ceilings gives you some claustrophobic anxiety to keep at bay, and beneath-ground insulation makes it more likely that you can kick out the jams long enough to write a song without being interrupted because you’re violating a noise ordinance.

Case in point: Peaced & Slightly Pulverized, which was recorded mostly live in a Nebraskan basement over a couple days last December. Its seven songs aim by turns for the dread-shrouded trudge of classic Crazy Horse and the feloniously intentioned assault of early Stooges. And if it’s a little bit easier to hit the target when it’s pasted to a nearby cinder block, that doesn’t mean that they do any less damage.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Yowler’s “Black Dog In My Path”

Yowler is the solo project of Maryn Jones, who hails from MAGNET’s hometown of Philly. Jones just released sophomore Yowler album Black Dog In My Path (Double Double Whammy), and it’s a must hear. Jones and her band celebrated the LP’s release with a show at PhilaMOCA with Swanning and the Goodbye Party, and MAGNET photographer Chris Sikich was on hand to document the killer night, the first in a short run of Yowler shows this fall (tour dates below). Check out the photos, and be sure to check out Black Dog In My Path (stream it below).

Tour Dates
11/12 Kingston, NY BSP Lounge
11/13 Brooklyn, Park Church Co-Op
11/14 Pittsburgh, Mr. Roboto Project
11/15 Lakewood, OH, Mahall’s
11/16 Columbus, OH, Big Room Bar
11/17 Lansing, MI, Mac’s Bar
11/18 Chicago, The Empty Bottle
11/19 Bloomington, IN, The Bishop

Essential New Music: Nathan Bowles’ “Plainly Mistaken”

Nathan Bowles never quite spells out the nature of his mistake, but it’s clear that if you thought he was going to stick to the unaccompanied banjo picking found on his first solo albums you have another thing coming. Across the nine tunes on Plainly Mistaken, he doubles his banjo with piano and percussion, puts it in front of an assertive, all-acoustic rhythm section and uses it to accompany songs drawn from English free improvisation and the dawns of bluegrass and popular electronic music.

Title aside, Bowles does many things right here. He plays banjo with unfussy grace and sings with raw spirit. He hammers styles together like a master carpenter, fashioning a rapprochement between a child’s lullaby and minimalism on “Now If You Remember,” as well as retrofitting an American Primitive raga with a cosmic-jazz groove on “The Road Reversed.” And Bowles has sequenced Plainly Mistaken so that it takes you through joy, pensiveness and perturbation with nary a wrong turn.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: The Louvin Brothers’ “Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings”

Praise be to the Modern Harmonic for curating a sonic museum of the ethereal—at times otherworldly—sibling harmony, songwriting and unique delivery of the legendary Louvin Brothers’ custom brand of gospel and secular country music. Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings is a collection of 1950s-era demo tapes from brothers Ira and Charlie. Within the grooves of this double-vinyl collection lies attempts at pushing their sound past their usually gospel-tinged workups and classic country feel with stabs at barnyard woogie on “Red Hen Boogie,” the subtle western swing of “Discontented Cowboy” and songs meant to crack a laugh at such as the entendre within “It’s All Off.” (Of which Ol’ Ira makes us keenly aware in his spoken message on the record’s commencement. There’s more than a few.)

Rest assured, there’s gospel in plenty, and the splendid lo-fi demos are extracted with a surgeon’s hands, cleaned up to near perfection. That’s not to say any of the Louvin Brothers’ former releases were squeaky clean. Most definitely not, but the perfection was always in the imperfection—or, better said, low fidelity in terms of recording gear only, certainly not that of voice or acoustic instrumentation. You can only imagine how astute the sound would be had the modern recording technology of today been accessible between ’56 and ’63.

There are simply no better two voices interwoven over a guitar and mandolin than Charlie and Ira Loudermilk (“Louvin” being an adopted moniker obtained early on in their career). Call it what you will, but that sound and ability was crafted in the womb, first instilled in the elder Ira then passed again through to two-years-younger brother Charlie. There wasn’t much better than Ira’s high and Charlie’s low in close harmony.

The irony of the Louvin Brothers legend is how high and sweetly sung their songs are, most in high praise of God and deeply rooted in the Baptist faith and its hymns, but how one half of the duo was almost literally filled with the devil. Charlie always felt the only time Ira was even remotely pure was when singing these songs and playing his mandolin, the rest of his short time on earth spent in pure misery. Ira was haunted by demons, loved the drink and the fairer sex, but he could sell the gospel in song.

Just one listen paints the picture that they were nearly saints, but quite the contrary. It was this behavior that led to the ultimate demise of the duo in 1963 as they were assumedly set to take over the world and were already regulars at the Grand Ole Opry. Ira died in fiery fashion in 1965 (Charlie from cancer in 2011). For more on all that, Charlie’s autobiography Satan Is Real: The Ballad Of The Louvin Brothers is a must read, just like 1959 album Satan Is Real is a must listen. It’s not so much a statement as it is a way of life. Love And Wealth: The Lost Recordings is the collection of unreleased songs from 1951-1956, yet it’s basically a religious experience in and of itself. Amen.

—Scott Zuppardo

Essential New Music: Kuzu’s “Hiljaisuus”

Photo by Julia Dratel

Hiljaisuus is the Finnish word for silence, and that’s one thing that you will not encounter across the two sides of this LP. Kuzu is a trio that plays free jazz and voltage-enabled improvisation. Dave Rempis is one of the loudest saxophonists in Chicago, a town not known for its retiring reedists, and Asheville, N.C.-based guitarist Tashi Dorji is a master at making six strings sound as big as a bridge’s suspension cables.

Percussionist Tyler Damon, who recently left Indiana for the Windy City, combines a sculptural approach to sound with an unreformed ex-skater kid’s love for blurry, break-neck motion. This music is varied and dynamic, but silence isn’t part of the recipe. Excitement is, whether the band is snarled in a three-way tangle or one member of it is blazing flat-out while the others give him space.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Death Cab For Cutie’s “Thank You For Today”

There’s nothing quite like a good Sunday-morning record. Sunday is the day of existential dread, the day of anxiety over lost time. It’s delicate—a wrong turn can send it down to a dark place. A record that can elegantly begin or even guide you through the worst of days is a special one, and they don’t come along as often as you might think.

Thank You For Today is a good Sunday-morning record in that it opens up seriously, but calmly and thoughtfully. It’s bright and patient. It seems to expand time somehow, beautifully carving out a singular sonic space and exploring it from every angle. The ninth record from Death Cab For Cutie is overwhelmingly, perhaps surprisingly, pleasant in a way that the band never has been before. This may lose some people, sure. Thank You For Today doesn’t harbor the same dramatic flair of 2003’s Transatlanticism or 2005’s Plans, but that’s perfectly all right. Thank You For Today is Death Cab’s most level-headed work yet, a slowly rotating prism of shimmering synthesizers and quietly puzzled rhythms. A hazy brightness permeating a thin, cloudy dawn.

While 2015’s Kintsugi was definitively a record of disintegration, Thank You For Today feels seamless and singular. “I Dreamt We Spoke Again” opens the LP with mellow keys and a distant vocal, rising above the surface alongside a gently flurry of deep drums. It slides in and out of focus before gliding easily into the buzzing intro to “Summer Years,” a deliberately nostalgic tune that sounds like a culmination of all of Ben Gibbard’s well-worn songwriting paths. The dream-like quality of the song gives a certain honesty to Gibbard’s wandering mind, resting in the quiet moments on a lost (or never found) love: “And I wonder where you are tonight/If the one you’re with was a compromise/As we’re walking lines in parallel/That will never meet, and it’s just as well.” It’s the same subject matter that Death Cab made its name on, but the trick of this song is that it unearths a different kind of emotion—it’s a strange feeling, not necessarily a sad one, to look back and see all the turns not taken.

The best song on Thank You For Today is “You Moved Away,” which exists in a little world crafted of a constant synthetic whirr, like a steady breeze tentatively moving the track along. “You Moved Away” is a song about solemn, understated change, developed through the kind of storytelling that gave dreary life to 2008’s Narrow Stairs. The difference here is a weight of experience, a confidence on the part of the character in focus. Gibbard sings matter-of-factly, “When you moved away/All of your friends got drunk and one by one begged you to stay/They all felt irrationally betrayed,” but there is no big reaction on the part of the character. It’s not emotionless, but as the whirr turns into a whistle of the wind, it’s clear that the decision has been made. Leaving is no longer the devastation it might have been in Death Cab’s earlier songs—now, it’s just a part of living.

Then there’s “60 And Punk,” a closer that rests on a piano melody that feels slightly askew, telling the story of a washed-up rock-star type unable to give up on the old way of life. It’s a scene that may seem a little didactic, but it also feels self-reflective, letting go of the danger of youth before it swallows you, leaves you lifeless and unexcited—“a superhero growing bored/No one to save anymore.” “60 And Punk” is a song about letting yourself find comfort, letting yourself grow into someone slightly different. The Death Cab For Cutie of Thank You For Today is something slightly different from the Death Cab of the ‘00s, but that’s OK. Gibbard and Co. are letting themselves slip gracefully into wiser versions of themselves, positioning themselves to live through plenty of Sunday mornings to come.

—Jordan Walsh