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

Essential New Music: The Necks’ “Body”

Wherever the Necks find themselves, they’re all in. The Australian trio’s totally improvised concerts are direct responses to the room, the audience and each other. Last year’s Unfold self-consciously tackled the matter of making a vinyl double album by collecting four short-for-them performances, one per LP side. Now comes Body (out digitally now, physically September 21), which capitalizes on the studio’s resources.

The single, hour-long piece is as layered as their live sets are sparse, taking advantage of the members’ multi-instrumental talents to morph from pensive piano trio to full-on rock combo to drifting ambient space explorers. Whichever role they adopt, they inhabit it absolutely. But since Body is a studio record, the Necks also invite you to shift from macro to micro listening by zeroing in on particular instruments and allowing them chances to loom large upon the sound stage. The album’s title is more than a clue; whether they’re hammering a Krauty groove into the earth or inviting you to experience a piano from within, this is body music.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Roy Montgomery’s “Suffuse”

When the music business takes aim at you feet and says, “Dance,” some people cut a rug. Not Roy Montgomery; he just leaves the room for a decade, plenty of time for the shooting to cease and the feuds to die down. So while he’s been recording since 1981, his discography—which is split between vocal and instrumental efforts—is rather slender. Even in a catalog where each album looms large, this one stands out; while he plays all the sounds on its six tracks, they’re all voiced by women.

Circuit Des Yeux, She Keeps Bees, Katie von Schleicher, Purple Pilgrims, Juliana Barwick and Grouper run the gamut of pitch ranges and styles, but each delivers an emotionally immediate performance that draws the listener first to their voices. Still, the watery atmospherics of Montgomery’s guitar playing sets the tone. Even in the background, his tendency toward exquisite melancholy reigns supreme.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Foxing’s “Nearer My God”

Listening to Foxing’s Nearer My God in broad daylight almost feels like you’re getting away with something. It’s a little wrong. The songs on Nearer My God are things you toss and turn with. They haunt your sleep and they’re still ringing, mysteriously, in your ears when you bolt upright at four in the morning. Listening to them in the blaring sunlight, a gentle breeze relaxing into your hair on a silent and serene summer day, is a little like cheating yourself into something else that’s happening far from you—the difference is that dramatic. It’s like peering through a window into a tortured, black night.

This is to say there’s something agitated about the songs on Nearer My God, but the source is often opaque. It’s an unconscious, uncertain restlessness that pervades tracks like “Grand Paradise,” which glides in on a gentle tickle of a beat before slowly becoming a big, booming rock song. Conor Murphy sings, “I try but I can’t seem to remember anything,” in a layered, anxious falsetto. “Grand Paradise” is a song that treats the idea of ascending into heaven the way one might recount an alien abduction, or maybe it’s giving an alien abduction a holy light. Either way, the subject in this song is being followed, watched, judged: “They’re breathing down my neck/I’m embarrassing myself again.” Or maybe they’re just tired, “starving for sleep.”

The confident, nervy, nightmarish “Grand Paradise” sets the scene for the rest of Nearer My God, stretching Foxing’s sound to grander heights and expanding its canvas so the band can really do whatever it wants. And Foxing does. Where 2015’s Dealer was a more intimate, centralized record that pretty much spent its run time building on and polishing one sound or vibe, Nearer My God feels limitless by comparison. “Five Cups” is a nine-minute ambient odyssey. “Gameshark” is a frantically groovy fantasy opposed by the title track’s blissful, intensely layered pop. “Heartbeats” is mournfully orchestral, while “Crown Candy” is almost circus fare with its dramatic hook. The heart of “Bastardizer” is a literal bagpipe solo. Nearer My God is an eclectic, daring and draining record that’s very difficult to define once its hour-long runtime is up. It’s the sound of a band trying very, very hard. And that’s the best thing about it.

Not everything on Nearer My God comes out of left field, though. Closing duo “Won’t Drown” and “Lambert” sound like heightened versions of Dealer’s best songs. “Won’t Drown” is a particular stand out, the most outwardly impassioned track on the LP, the repetition of “pray that we won’t drown, so we keep the water running out” desperately floating above the sonic currents that sound gentle when picked out individually, but feel chaotic and urgent in the way they clash together. “Lambert,” meanwhile, is a tour de force in the build and release of tension, its final apex an essential catharsis, with a ruminative coda that feels like a plea to the demons that surely haunt this record: “Tell them all to go home.”

Foxing has long made freezing, pensive and occasionally bombastic songs for dark times. But Nearer My God is its sharpest, most giving document yet. It’s a swing for the fences that hits the mark at practically every turn, with every attempt to spread the band’s sound in so many different directions, while Foxing reaches further into the night.

—Jordan Walsh

Essential New Music: Matchess’ “Sacracorpa”

Whitney Johnson is the sort of side person who makes any project sound better. For confirmation, check out her strings and singing on recordings and live work with Ryley Walker, Circuit des Yeux and Sarah Davachi. She also has some strong ideas about how music should sound on her own, and they come together quite vividly on the fourth LP by her solo project Matchess. Medium and message converge on a half-dozen songs that sound a little like Stereolab condensed into a soundtrack for inner exploration and healing.

Effects blur Johnson viola, Acetone organ, cassette tapes, singing and drum machines, smudging the clear lines of her melodies and evoking a struggle between conflict-induced unease and inner-generated lucidity. The instrument she messes with the most is her own voice, which induces the listener to follow Johnson into the zone of supernatural calm located at the center of her songs.

—Bill Meyer