The Way Out Label
Bankrolled by Hall of Fame football running back Jim Brown, Cleveland’s Way Out Label (via Numero) provides a lost goldmine of late-’60s soul. The cast includes Motown arrangers, gospel choirs, the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra, and such onetime contenders as Volcanic Eruption and Lou Ragland & The Bandmasters. The double-disc, 40-track collection expresses ’60s good vibrations in such blissful soul confections as Jesse Fisher’s “Don’t Cheat on Me” and Bobby Wade’s polished “I’m in Love with You.” Step back in time to an era of plentiful R&B talent, all-analog studios, and endlessly sunny horizons.
There are synth pop elements to Bishop Allen, and in their finest moments, echoes of the Jesus and Mary Chain. Guitar noise and keyboard riffs repeat in a mesmerizing fashion, with low vocals often seeming to come from the next room. This voice-as-one-of-the-instruments approach is particularly effective on the opener, “Start Again,” (an appropriate song to begin the band’s first record in five years) where the song becomes increasingly crowded with beautiful, harmonized guitar parts as the track progresses.
“Intimate” and “tender” are usually overused adjectives for open-mic treacle, but this latest album from Dan Snaith recasts those expressions with synthetic luster. Bass caresses, melodies swell, rhythms stroke. Compared to 2010’s Swim there’s even less psychedelic rawk and more euphoric circuit-bent rolls; Snaith gets less groovy and more groove. Like contemporary Keiran Hebden (Four Tet), Snaith balances serene and stark, presenting melancholy as life affirming and reimagining raw funk as his own singer-songwriter forum.
A whole bunch of rock ‘n’ roll rebellion is packed into Irish rockabilly dolly Imelda May. Tribal is May’s fourth album of snarling vocals dictating a rollicking good time. Putting punk, country, surf rock, blues, and electrifying rock ‘n’ roll touches on her rockabilly canvas, May goes from the taunting “wicka wicka” of “Wild Woman” to the torch singing of “Gypsy In Me.” If Carl Perkins were alive, he’d be chasing May down for a roof-raising duet.
Puss N Boots
No Fools, No Fun
Norah Jones’ latest project is the trio Puss N Boots. Think of them as the East Coast Pistol Annies: more mood than attitude, more New York electric folk than Nashville badass country. Jones sings sweet harmonies and trades leads with Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper on delicate, heartfelt covers including The Band’s “Twilight” and Neil Young’s “Down by the River.” What a pleasure that a superstar like Jones continues to follow her musical bliss, and make lovely records with her friends.
The follow-up to 2011’s Black Up, this 18-track set of seven “astral suites” was produced in a custom-built studio and premiered in a Seattle laser dome. It’s a reverb-saturated sprawl of electrojazz verses, dank, unremitting bass, grinding robofunk, and wabi-sabi dynamics that sits comfortably on a mixtape alongside Death Grips and Flying Lotus, but occupies its own transcendental upheaval. Texture and tonality mutates from dreamy to drone, anchored by drum-machine tussles and ringing synth/guitar fills.
Death From Above 1979
The Physical World
Toronto duo Death From Above 1979 stomped out of 2004 on livid, lurid bass riffs, riding a drum kit like a drunk hook-up. Returning a decade later, DFA 1979 maintains unruly libido, while ramping up friction-burnt synths alongside more kempt melodies. Amplified more than overdriven production gives these 11 tracks depth of focus, contrasting textures, and automation that makes the last album’s locked-in pummeling sound mono in comparison. While not as flaying and climactic, DFA 1979 retains potency.