New Ways: Music From the Documentary I Dream of Wires
Much of the music heard in IDOW was created by the film’s producer, synthesist Jason Amm (aka Solvent) using many of the instruments featured onscreen. Stylistically, Amm covers a lot of territory, mining classic Numanesque tones for “Transfer Function” and exploiting generative patches in pieces such as “Wow” (which sounds like the synth is saying the word). It’s a cohesive collection of tracks that you’ll likely keep in rotation. The first taste is free on the Suction Records Bandcamp page.
Part of IDM’s first wave, Andy Turner and Ed Handley are ace compilers of springy, syncopated robofunk full of filtered tone sweeps and jaunty melodies. Operating as Plaid since 1991, the “post-techno” duo has delved into woozy bass music and almost classical motifs, balmy trills and increasingly pressurized breakbeats. This tenth album includes plinky synths nodding to Human League’s art-school era, as well as dreamy, cascading harmonics. In other words, it’s classic Plaid.
I Never Learn
LL RECORDINGS/ATLANTIC There’s something as raw as childbirth at work on Lykke Li’s third album, I Never Learn. Chanting monotone vocals over aggressively strummed acoustic guitars, the title track climaxes in swirling Mellotron and spooky choral vocals. “No Rest for the Wicked” is similarly sparse, and beautifully anthemic, drums banging and pianos clanging in a canyon of reverb. Co-produced with longtime collaborators Björn Yttling and Greg Kurstin, I Never Learn cuts to the quick, beauty bookended by sorrow.
Wine Dark Sea
The marvelous singer/songwriter Jolie Holland channels some old-fashioned Delta blues and some wondrous Waits-esque, post-punk, under-construction noise on Wine Dark Sea. She’s got a little Lucinda Williams inside her, and a little Billie Holiday, too. This distorted, inventive, song-centered, romantic thing of beauty isn’t easy to pinpoint, but it is unforgettable. From the first fuzzy notes and thump of the opening track, “On and On,” listeners will be held in thrall.
You’ve heard L.A. big-mouth LP before: She wrote Rihanna’s “Cheers (Drink to That)” and Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful People.” LP’s debut brings her arena-ready songs, booming vocals, and ukulele strums to centerstage. Tapped as a star of the future by Martin Guitars, who built her signature ukulele, LP’s larger-than-life songs are fleshed out by her massive voice, which recalls an evil embryo of a Big Mama Thornton and Slim Whitman on steroids.
In 2001 Austrian electroacoustic composer Christian Fennesz released Endless Summer, a benchmark for DSP-lacerated melodies. Now he has returned to a twilight beach with his first album in six years, a gently swelling new standard of luminescent acoustic motifs cresting into brackish granular drifts. While many Fennesz compositions begin “traditionally,” played on Fender guitars into custom-built circuit benders, it’s through physical modeling synthesis and harmonically corrosive patches that Fennesz generates his blissed-out refractions and alluvial melancholy.
Lee Fields & the Expressions
TRUTH AND SOUL
What luck that Lee Fields is still making perfect old-school soul records after 45 years in the business. Arrangements on his latest may owe some of their style to Stax, or Hi, or Motown, or some combination of those and more, but the big heart beating in the middle of the taut rhythms and elevating horns and funky guitar riffs is always Fields, whose sweet, raw voice remains as arresting as it was when he cut his first side in ’69.