Jack White: Schoolhouse Rock

Boarding House Reach not only shows off Jack White’s master’s-level skills as a musician but also lyrics that will make some English professors avaricious

The three words composing the title of Jack White’s new album should be readily comprehensible to any average anglophone—unlike, for instance, Blunderbuss or Lazaretto—but that doesn’t mean the LP doesn’t offer plenty of opportunities for White to flaunt his sesquipedalian predilections vis-à-vis his song titles. Here’s a quick rundown/cheat sheet to some of the album’s most highfalutin verbiage.

“Hypermisophoniac”
“Misophonia” (literally “hatred of sound”) turns out to be a little-understood condition involving a psychological sensitivity to specific noises—a fitting title for a song peppered with all sorts of beeps and electronic swooshes, wherein “Every sound I hear/Is louder than the last” and “When you click your teeth/I need relief.” It’s unclear how that connects to the central refrain about “robbin’ a bank,” but the “hyper” part seems pretty apt, too.

“Abulia And Akrasia”
These sound like the names of intriguingly exotic characters (perhaps somehow connected to the Ezmerelda who turns up later in the album), but they refer to two distinct-yet-related concepts—one from neurology, the other from classical philosophy—involving the lack of willpower. In the case of the magniloquent, pleonastic, circumlocutious speaker in this odd interlude, spluttering on about abjuration and repudiation, it’s apparently related to tea-drinking.

“Ice Station Zebra”
What’s the link between this boisterous Beasties-esque boomer (whose title, like the two aforementioned, doesn’t appear in its lyrics) and the eponymous Cold War-era arctic espionage thriller? We don’t know Jack, although White does manage to make space for references to both Caravaggio and James Brown, while misleadingly suggesting at one point that the song is called “Cool Hand Luke.”

—K. Ross Hoffman

Essential New Music: Jack White’s “Boarding House Reach”

Of the many would-be millennial “rock ’n’ roll saviors” kicking around in the early aughts, Jack White has done the most, both with the White Stripes and beyond, to merit the mantle—even if he’d likely scoff at it (outwardly, at least). He’s become one of the very few (only?) honest-to-goodness rock stars to emerge this century, delved into and reconnected with the messy, idiosyncratic spirit of the music’s vital, primal roots—which is to say, among other things, not forgetting about the “’n’ roll” part—while also, and increasingly, remaking it in his own image. Not surprisingly, White’s got some thoughts on the subject of influence and innovation, which turn up on his third solo album in the form of “Ice Station Zebra,” a bashing, swaggering gonzo-funk polemic: “If you rewind the tape, we’re all copying God.” It’s a sentiment that smacks equally of hubris or humility, depending how you angle it—which seems just about right for White.

Of course, as he’s rapped in the past, even God herself has fewer plans than he—and that’s never been more true than here, with what is by some distance the weirdest, wildest White we’ve yet encountered on record. Boarding House Reach may start off in readily recognizable territory, with rather rote, lumbering gospel-tinged ballad (and lead single) “Connected By Love,” but we don’t really get back there until the penultimate country/folk “What’s Done Is Done” (a lovely, possibly suicidal shuffle that nevertheless features an amusingly loopy synth solo.) In between, we get an unpredictable array of deconstructed bangers, shape-shifting jams and freakouts, and woozily atmospheric spoken-word passages—along with a biting, brooding canine-rights diatribe/dirge and a jazzy piano rendition of a sentimental Dvorák setting that was apparently once transcribed by Al Capone.

Replete with percussive tangents, synth squelches and densely warped voice-play—even when he’s throwing the headbangers a bone and playing (quite explicitly) into Promethean rock-god mythology with the Zep-worthy riffage and block-rockin’ beats of “Over And Over And Over”—this kaleidoscopic gallimaufry is a seemingly ultimate repudiation of the White Stripes’ studied minimalism and formal concision. It doesn’t ever violate White’s analog ethos and, somehow, never seems to stray all that far from the myriad shades and permutations of the blues. Given White’s stature, it’ll get hailed as everything from blinding, boundary-pushing brilliance to wanton, haphazard (and possibly heretical) indulgence, but it really all depends on your vantage point. As White bellows on one of the album’s strangest interludes, “Do you want to question everything?/Think of a good question!”

—K. Ross Hoffman

Essential New Music: Mary Gauthier’s “Rifles & Rosary Beads”

Where have all the soldiers gone? American battles once pitted brother against brother and accentuated the gap between parents and children; more recent wars are barely a blip in our nonstop news cycle. If you’re not in one of the ever-shrinking number of military families, you probably don’t know any soldiers, let alone what they’ve been through. Mary Gauthier fills in the blanks with the 11 somber-yet-empathetic songs on Rifles & Rosary Beads.

The perspectives of her co-writers—eight vets and 12 military spouses—aren’t uniform, but they share a common thread of processing trauma and feeling left behind. One standout is “Iraq,” the story of an Army mechanic whose real enemy isn’t the country where she’s been shipped but the men in her own unit who see her body as just one more thing to conquer. By bringing experiences like hers to light, Gauthier does us all a service.

—M.J. Fine

Essential New Music: Keiji Haino + SUMAC’s “American Dollar Bill—Keep Facing Sideways, You’re Too Hideous To Look At Face On”

It had to happen. Keiji Haino has played with folk musicians and Faust, Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet and Merzbow. Sooner or later, he had to play with a metal band, right? Well, half right. SUMAC isn’t just any metal band. While the trio’s members wield the tools of 21st-century metal with a facility born of close acquaintance, they don’t sound like any other metal combo. They don’t just sing about chaos, they enact it, which means they’re well matched to master disrupter Haino.

On American Dollar Bill, Haino carries on like some demon apparition from a Noh play, shrieking and cooing and exhaling. Rather than try to wedge what Haino does into song form, SUMAC makes the songs fall apart. The band’s riffs and solos topple like old growth redwoods unmoored by a mudslide, and when Haino drops his mic to join the fray on guitar and electronics, the collapse is complete.

—Bill Meyer

Essential New Music: Inara George’s “Dearest Everybody”

The title of Inara George’s fourth solo album encapsulates the paradox of the music she makes. It’s breezy and delicate enough to create the illusion of intimacy and inclusion, but the listener is purely incidental. Dearest Everybody alights on the spot “between all this joy and all this sorrow,” as George sings on “Young Adult,” with the mild shock that comes with realizing that you’re comfortably on the cusp of middle age.

The tasteful arrangements—gentle piano, unobtrusive acoustic guitar, meticulously crafted vocal harmonies—prove George is more adept than most at finding the sweet spot in a life well lived. But for those on a less comfortable path, the losses suffered by the characters who populate songs like “Crazy” and “Release Me” are a reminder of all that’s unattainable in the first place. You can pine for the possibilities that lie behind every sweet “ooh-oooh-ooooh” and “ba-bum-ba” and still be alienated by the accumulation of so many unfulfilled promises.

—M.J. Fine

Moby: The Second Comings

Moby offers further proof that Morrissey was right: William Butler Yeats is on our side

Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt tracks “Mere Anarchy” and “The Ceremony Of Innocence” take their titles from phrases found in William Butler Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming,” but Moby is by no means the first to dip into the work of the great Irish poet. Many Irish artists have alluded to his work.

Thin Lizzy built 1979’s “Black Rose” around Yeats references. Van Morrison set “Crazy Jane Talks To God” to music (but initially had to remove the track from 1985’s A Sense Of Wonder when Yeats’ estate denied permission). Mike Scott and the Waterboys included “The Stolen Child” on 1988 masterpiece Fisherman’s Blues and later did a full album of Yeats poems (2011’s An Appointment With Mr. Yeats). Morrison and Scott contributed to Now And In Time To Be, a 1997 set of Yeats poems turned into songs that also included World Party’s Karl Wallinger and the Pogues’ Shane MacGowan.

It’s not only the Irish giving props to Yeats, however. To name just two: Joni Mitchell rewrote “The Second Coming” as “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” for 1991’s Night Ride Home, and the Roots named 1999’s Things Fall Apart after Chinua Achebe’s novel, but Achebe originally got the title from Yeats.

More recent is A Fanatic Heart: Bob Geldof On W.B. Yeats, a documentary about the life and work of the poet extraordinaire, featuring the likes of Morrison, MacGowan, Bono, Sting, Elvis Costello, Liam Neeson, Colin Farrell and Noel Gallagher.

—Steve Klinge

Essential New Music: Moby’s “Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt”

The huge success of 1999’s Play has afforded Moby permanent artistic license, allowing him to be maddeningly unpredictable, to leap arbitrarily among genres (from ambient to hardcore), to proselytize, to be blissfully unconcerned with anything but his own agenda. Play, Moby’s fifth album, turned out to be an outlier in his career arc: an accessible mashup of then-current electronic dance music and Alan Lomax field recordings of early 20th-century gospel. Setting aside thorny questions of cultural appropriation, it’s a great record, still.

Without being a crass imitation, Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt, Moby’s 15th album, could be Play’s long-delayed successor. It’s not as fun or as catchy as that record, but the broad outlines come from a similar Play-book, with Moby’s talk/sung vocals amid coos and hums of female singers, and with allusions to gospel songs such as “Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child.” And the general tone is comfortably familiar: This is Moby’s downtempo trip-hop record, something that can fit on a playlist with Massive Attack, Portishead and lesser lights like Morcheeba.

Last year, Moby And The Void Pacific Choir released the self-descriptively titled More Fast Songs About The Apocalypse. Everything Was Beautiful, And Nothing Hurt is full of slow songs about the apocalypse. It’s an inviting album (much more so than his electro-punk stuff with the Void Pacific Choir), but it’s bleak. Two songs crib from W.B. Yeats’ end-days poem “The Second Coming”; other pessimistic titles include “Welcome To Hard Times,” “The Sorrow Tree” and “A Dark Cloud Is Coming.” But this time out, Moby’s paired his dystopic vision of sin and spiritual decay with some of his most beautiful melodies; “The Ceremony Of Innocence” (one of the Yeats ones) is a patient, murmuring meditation.

Moby may have intended the album title to be ironic or idealistic, but it’s also a valid description of this set of songs in comparison to much of the rest of his recent discography.

—Steve Klinge

Essential New Music: The Go! Team’s “Semicircle”

In 2015, David Byrne flew (one of) his freak flags for the twirling arts of the color guard, probably giving fellow musicians inspiration or license to hoist their own brand of militaristic marching-band fervor. Then again, Go! Team squad leader Ian Parton doesn’t need a push when it comes to finding unique ways to craft what his camp calls a mix of oddball “Northern-soul stompers, Japanese indie-pop swooners and old-school hip-hop jams.” So out come the youth choirs, steel drums, sousaphones and glockenspiels—to say nothing of Semicircle’s genuine gritty edge—for a funny, funky high-school jam.

Though “Mayday” and “Semicircle Song” are joyful epiphanies of soul and unity, Semicircle touches on elements of the socially aware and a-woke with old-fashioned message-driven songs such as “Plans Are Like A Dream U Organise” and “The Answer’s No—Now What’s The Question?” holding prominence among the album’s dozen prancers.

—A.D. Amorosi

Car Seat Headrest: Jukebox Hero

Under the covers with Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo

Car Seat Headrest is a fiercely fine-tuned live beast of a band and has unpacked a staggering array of covers from the past four decades. A survey.

Talking Heads, “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)”
For anyone who’s ever played in a band, the sheer majesty of David Byrne’s best melody and accompanying boogie-down beat seemed unattainable, an Everest you could die trying to climb. Will Toledo and crew pull it off with comic asides and a craftsman’s aplomb.

The Smiths, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore”
As quiet and contemplative as “Naive Melody” is funky—probably the version Morrissey hears when he imagines the music playing at his own funeral.

Frank Ocean, “Ivy”
For those of you who’ve witnessed the Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli reimagining Ocean’s heartbreak beats as darkly cunning Superman-lover feints, Toledo instead manages to remake Ocean as an awkward teen self-hatred machine. Often a set-closer, “Ivy” manages to say more about Toledo than it does Ocean.

Pixies, “Motorway To Roswell”
Go online and check out the version Car Seat Headrest recorded in Seattle’s KEXP studio—a snarling monster Black Francis himself would be proud of.

—Corey duBrowa

Essential New Music: Car Seat Headrest’s “Twin Fantasy (Face To Face)”

“My boy, we don’t see each other much.” And on this shouty, Animal Collective-ish note, Will Toledo—the brains and brawn behind Car Seat Headrest, a bedsit (or more accurately, car-sit; Toledo once recorded all of his vocals in his car because he felt more private there) operation long before it was a proper band—kicks off 11th full-length Twin Fantasy (Face To Face), essentially a completely re-recorded version of his sixth. Plenty of artists have remade older works but typically for business reasons (full royalties, spiting band members who are no longer in the picture, etc.) vs. aesthetic principles (turns out that Will just wanted to fully realize the Beck-like version of these songs he had always heard in his head).

What a glorious sound it is—the highs and lows (sonically and emotionally) are crisper and better defined, and the epic contours of Toledo’s personal “Paranoid Android,” the lengthy, multipart “Beach Life-In-Death” (the Reddit leak signaling this surprise baby was about to be delivered), are now oh-so-much more accessible to the heartbroken and the damaged than they were previously. Toledo’s indie masterwork is music to get stoned to (“Famous Prophets”), fall in love to (“Sober To Death”), dance to (“Bodys”), have panic attacks to and, most crucially, to relate to, his neuroses and insecurities now unlocked like the creaky door to a dingy basement that holds treasure instead of terror.

Will Toledo didn’t invent the rain; he just created the best device for warding off the damp. Listen with the one you (used to) love.

—Corey duBrowa