New Music Reviews: March 2017

New Releases from Thievery Corporation, Dirty Projectors, Empty Set, and more!
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NATHANIEL RATELIFF AND THE NIGHT SWEATS
A LITTL E SOMETHING MORE FROM NAT HANIEL RATELIFF AND THE NIGHT SWEATS
STAX

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This EP from one of the breakout bands of the past year acts as a sort of companion to the group’s smash eponymous debut album. Included are outtakes from the album sessions, studio takes on some of their live material, and conversely, a live version of the album track “Wasting Time” that was recorded at the Stax Museum of American Soul (Memphis). Crooning or stomping, Rateliff and band serve up a fantastic, Band-like interpretation of American soul.
BARBARA SCHULTZ

THIEVERY CORPORATION
THE TEMPLE OF I & I
ESL MUSIC

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Washington, D.C.-based producers Rob Garza and Eric Hilton emerged as Thievery Corporation at the height of mid-’90s blunted, blissed-out downtempo. Mastering rare-groove acid jazz forms, they tailored bespoke soundtracks for gentleman spies and bossa nova lounges. Through it all ran a tasteful dub thread—now the roots and branches of these 15 tracks—recorded and steeped in Jamaica. Flushed keys, pillowy bass, percussive sway, and viscous reverb unify with toasting and torchy vocalists.
TONY WARE

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EMPTYSET
BORDERS
THRILL JOCKEY

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London/Berlin-based duo Emptyset epitomize intellectual electronic music. Past works were commissioned for London’s Ambika P3, Tate Britain’s Performing Architecture program, and Deutschland Radio. Borders was borne out of a self-made stringed instrument and homemade drum, producing sounds processed through various electronic instruments. The final sound is confusing, bludgeoning, and brutal, as if you’re being repeatedly smashed to a pulp by massive cylinders. Each song works the same brittle, bestial terrain, from the Alien-like howl of “Descent” to the shuddering “Retrieve.”
KEN MICALLEF

DIRTY PROJECTORS
DIRTY PROJECTORS
DOMINO

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The first release from David Longstreth since 2012, Dirty Projectors’ eighth full-length is made from formant-shifting, cold-riveted beats; and pitched and pinched vocals. A production-built breakup record (hence the absence of guitarist/ backup vocalist Amber Coffman), these nine tracks concentrate idiosyncratic spiritual turbulence through a signal chain of collaborators and modular synthesis. Brass choirs, string quartets, live percussion, lurching samples, and dilating harmonies are nudged and refinished into collective, reflective isolation.
TONY WARE

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RICHARD PINHAS AND BARRY CLEVELAND
MU
CUNEIFORM

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These four tracks began as improvisations featuring Heldon-guitarist Pinhas, and were later transformed by Cleveland into elegant soundscapes that slowly evolve, yet never settle into predictability. The two guitarists, masters at phrase looping, deftly navigate the time and mood changes along with the killer rhythm section of drummer Celso Alberti and bassist Michael Manring. The playing on Mu is solid and imaginative throughout, and the album’s high production quality lets the array of colors from each musician shine brightly.
GINO ROBAIR

NINE INCH NAILS
NOT THE ACTUAL EVENTS
THE NULL CORPORATION

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The first new NIN studio release since 2013, this five-song EP, featuring Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross—with guest cameos by Dave Grohl, Dave Navarro, and Maraqueen Maandig (Reznor’s wife)—has a darkness reminiscent of the band’s ’90s heyday. Reznor calls the album “unfriendly” and “fairly impenetrable,” but its songs are captivating in a gritty way. Distorted vocals, machine-like synth and drum lines, and punky rhythm guitars abound—all condensed in a low-fi, imaginatively panned mix.
MIKE LEVINE

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THE MICRONAUT
FORMS
ACKER

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German sonic traveler The Micronaut (Stefan Streck) crafts bouncing, jugular-draining, big-beat mini-symphonies touched by sincerity, but existing somewhere in Alpha Centauri. Forms is quite nostalgic and sentimental, as if The Orb and Mixmaster Morris had a baby and crowned it forever the boy in the plastic bubble. Songs with such curiously plainspoken titles as “Rhombus,” “Triangel,” “Kite,” and “Oval” propel us into outer space comforted by sensual soul sensitivity.
KEN MICALLEF