Essential New Music: Theo Bleckmann’s “Elegy”

The modern vocal frippery of Theo Bleckmann is nearly unparalleled in its beautiful, bountiful oddity. Whether pasted before wonky wallpaper ambience, free classicism, klutzy cabaret or rubbery spacious post-bop jazz, Bleckmann is as much a wilding-out ham actor as he is a solace-seeking sound whisperer. For his ECM debut (he guested on the label’s recent albums by Meredith Monk and Julia Hülsmann), Bleckmann rope-a-dopes like a voice boxer between the wobbly punches of ambient jazz and chilly chamber tones with Blackstar guitarist Ben Monder, brush master John Hollenbeck and the subtly rhythmic likes of pianist Shai Maestro and double-bassist Chris Tordini making a sloe-gin fizzy sizzle behind the singer. Brave enough to allow instrumentals such as the elegant Satie-like “Semblance” to roost, Bleckmann takes his time and minds his pace through the dry, open theatricality of Stephen Sondheim’s “Comedy Tonight” with some thrilling off-key trills. The fancifully flitting “Fields,” the mournfully wordy “To Be Shown To Monks At A Certain Temple” and the sonorously harmonic title track also amaze.

—A.D. Amorosi

Essential New Music: The Godfathers’ “A Big Bad Beautiful Noise”

The Godfathers were needed when they strutted outta late-’80s London with guitars set on stun, their hearts full of napalm. They expertly melded punk and R&B like some mutant late-night jam between Dr. Feelgood and Johnny Thunders’ Heartbreakers, with Lemmy sitting in. Pure rock ‘n’ roll seemed all but dead as they released early singles like “This Damn Nation” and “I Want Everything.” They surely inspired such future punk ‘n’ roll highpoints as Thee Michelle Gun Elephant. Eight years after reforming, the Godfathers—with only founder vocalist Pete Coyne remaining from the original lineup—are needed again, and this tough disc (their first since 2014’s Jukebox Fury) is what the doctor ordered. Styles ranging from motorik (“‘Til My Heart Stops Beating”) to Spiders From Mars (“You And Me Against The World”) get essayed, but it all comes out pure, 100-proof Godfathers, as hard-rockin’, contemporary and fresh-sounding as ever.

—Tim Stegall

Essential New Music: Joan Of Arc’s “He’s Got The Whole This Land Is Your Land In His Hands”

Tim Kinsella-helmed collective Joan Of Arc is one of indie/art rock’s oddest success stories, a 21-year-long recording/performance project that’s produced albums of guitar duets, pretty folk/rock, aggro noise, Pro Tools-built electronic music and seemingly whatever the hell else has caught Kinsella’s interest at the moment, with virtually zero regard for aesthetic consistency or public taste. He’s Got The Whole etc. is, by these lights, a rather domesticated JOA release, not as intentionally abrasive as its predecessor, 2013’s Testimonium Songs, even if the new record also opts for clangor and hard edges over tuneful song structures. Still, if He’s Got etc. is noisy, it’s not unmelodic. It’s just that the melodies are cheekily tucked away inside the whirr and tumble of the arrangements. The lyrics, which carry those melodies clearly once you listen for them, are recognizably Kinsella—in places Dadaist (“My forehead is a tongue/My tongue is a flower/My flower is a fish”), in places endearingly goofy (“I know how the nicest guy in ISIS feels”). Much of the instrumentation is built around repeated samples, which means the strongest tracks are the ones with the most interesting and complex sonic landscapes: “This Must Be The Placenta,” “Cha Cha Cha Chakra” and “F Is For Fake” are particularly notable, as is the jagged, stuttering “Two Toothed Troll,” which provides vocalist Melina Ausikaitis with something of a star turn, a song that manages to knit together space travel, the rhetoric of photographic consent forms and the Great Chicago Fire. What the hell—it’s all material, especially for a band so consistently determined to make art out of the banal.

—Eric Waggoner

Essential New Music: Bash & Pop’s “Anything Could Happen”

This Tommy Stinson-fronted outfit’s only previous record, 1993’s Friday Night Is Killing Me, was generally well-received, if not a big seller, but it’s questionable as to whether there was much demand for a sequel given the passage of time. After all, the former Replacements bassist quickly moved on to another group (Perfect) before releasing a number of solo LPs, serving an unlikely stint in Guns N’ Roses and embarking on perhaps an even more improbable Mats reunion. Yet here we are 24 years later, and Stinson has resurrected Bash & Pop—the name, anyway, as he’s the only returnee—for a follow-up. Damn if it wasn’t worth the wait. Anything Could Happen is full of similarly winning Friday Night-ish bar-band power pop (“On The Rocks,” “Never Wanted To Know,” the title track) and the sardonic Minnesotan wit Stinson shares with his on-again/off-again cohort Paul Westerberg. There’s a heavy country/Americana influence throughout Anything Could Happen, perhaps greater than expected, though Friday Night did have a bit of that as well; enjoyable twangy shuffles like the opening “Not This Time,” “Breathing Room” and “Anytime Soon” dominate. It’s a direction that suits Stinson rather well. Musically, he’s lived in Westerberg’s considerable shadow since the day the latter forced his way into the seminal combo fronted by Stinson’s brother Bob. With Anything Could Happen, Stinson not only shows that Bash & Pop 2.0 has potential staying power but also that he’s worthy of comparisons to his mentor.

—Matt Hickey

Essential New Music: Brigitte DeMeyer And Will Kimbrough’s “Mockingbird Soul”

Will Kimbrough is a journeyman guitarist and songwriter with countless solo and collaborative credits to his name. Acclaimed vocalist Brigitte DeMeyer, though younger than Kimbrough, is approaching her second decade of music making. While Mockingbird Soul isn’t the duo’s first collaboration, it’s their first album as a credited pair, and it showcases their solo and shared talents quite cleanly and pleasurably. Both Kimbrough and DeMeyer definitely sound more at home in the better-appointed spaces in the American Tower Of Song, and the record works best when it fully embraces that crisp, clean aesthetic; “The Juke,” which tries tentatively for a dirty-blues vibe, seems by contrast the LP’s most mannered moment. More successful are the moments when the pair leans into the bright runs and clean vocals that show off their impressive technical chops. Of these, the slide-heavy title cut, the sly, jazzy “Carpetbagger’s Lullaby” and “Honey Bee,” and the moving letting-go story of “I Can Hear Your Voice” are particular highlights.

—Eric Waggoner