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Tricky, Charles Bradley, Olafur Arnalds, and More: June Music Reviews

May 17, 2013

Ólafur Arnalds
Now I Am Winter

Never trust the drummer. The former skins smasher for such Icelandic hardcore bands as Fighting Shit and Celestine, Ólafur Arnalds is reborn as orchestral beat maker supreme, plying mercurial strings and squishy beats in moody landscapes that recall Massive Attack’s Mezzanine. Featuring arrangements from Nico Muhly and Icelandic vocalist Arnór Dan, Now I Am Winter is at its best when fully aloft, more 20th Century classical atmospheres than subterranean dance-floor fillers. Arnalds is a master of subtlety, from synths that infer Hades to strings that unleash the heavens.


False Idols
Searching for spine-crawling, syncopated beats and eerie, whispered vocals to soundtrack your seduction scene? Press play on Tricky’s latest, False Idols, an intentional return to the sounds of his perennial debut, Maxinquaye. Playing vocal catch with Tricky, Idols’ guest vocalists are drawn into a sinister space sculpted by his spare, cinematic sounds. Hollow cello strings outline the shuddering “Nothing’s Changed” while the childlike voice softens the edges of the doomfilled “If I Only Knew.”


Charles Bradley
Victim of Love
Gainesville, Florida’s, “Screaming Eagle of Soul” resurrects the classic R&B of Otis Redding, Jerry Butler and James Brown, with the stellar Daptone production team to make you think it’s 1968 all over again. Bradley’s dark whiskey croon is a thing of joy, not pain, whether vamping a soul strut on “Strictly Reserved” or pumping a shuffle stomp on “You Put That Flame.” That Bradley and the Daptone crew make this majestic music without a hint of irony or cliché— that’s a real shout of soul.


Pistol Annies
Annie Up
The bad-ass country trio of Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angaleena Presley scores again. As on their debut album, Hell on Heels, the spotlight shifts from one Annie’s vocal to another, or shines on their awesome three-part harmonies, serving up tenderness, attitude, joy, darkness— whatever best serves each of the terrific, original songs. Lambert’s star just keeps rising higher, and that’s in part due to her commitment to heartfelt music full of relatable stories and emotional impact.


This Savannah, GA-based quintet has churned out marshy, phantasmal, roiling post-hardcore anthems since 2001, and is following up one of 2010’s highlight-heavy rock albums with a “colder” aesthetic. A theme of loss hasn’t hampered Kylesa from compiling prismatic textures, however; the band employs quickening modulation in the higher frequencies to contrast with the heaving low end. Occasional digital flecks and gothic whorls reinforce Kylesa’s impressive blend of the crunch of metal with the tension and paradox of post-punk.


The Way Things Fall
Detroit-based partners Adam Lee Miller and Nicola Kuperus have married step-sequencer percussion, detuning patches, and spectral pads mislabeled as detached “electro” since 1998. This fifth full-length backs off the aggro dissonance of 2007’s Why Bother? for the duo’s most “pop” album, in the way Gary Numan, early Human League, and the Normal were pop, as well as snap and crackle. Stripped of ratty bass panic attacks and atonal splatter, consonant arrangements and blanched analogue melodies manifest in wraithlike contortions.


William Tyler
Impossible Truth
Hazy, dark, half-distorted/ half-glistening layers of strings jangle melodiously through the locations that inspire guitarist, sometimes Lambchop member William Tyler. “Cadillac Desert” twangs a little; “We Can’t Go Home Again” sounds a lot like how melancholy feels, until it starts to build steam and roll away. This collection of breathtaking, carefully orchestrated instrumentals is like a musical road trip, and it will transport you to places you didn’t even know acoustic guitars could go.

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