CAROLINA EYCK WITH AMERICAN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC ENSEMBLE (ACME)
FANTASIAS FOR THEREMI N AND STRING QUARTET
Theremin charmer Carolina Eyck composes for her native instrument and string quartet; the resulting music sounds like an unruly schoolgirl toying with a band of steely-eyed schoolmarms. Moody and reeling, the strings rage a la Steve Reich, providing a thematic bed over which Eyck revs her spooky Harley engines (“Metsa Happa”), calls out like a lost whale (Oakunar Lynntuja), and whistles like humming sonar (“Dappa Solarjos”). More than anything, Eyck modernizes the Theremin, merging it within classical tradition like child’s play.
SHAPE SHIFT WITH ME
One year after a live album, Against Me! roll the collective momentum into this 12-track follow-up to 2014’s achingly personal Transgender Dysphoria Blues. Recorded by Marc Jacob Hudson, the band’s longtime front-of-house engineer, Shape Shift is immediate without being sonically raw. Staunch drums, husky bass, and densely coiled power chords brace gnashing sociopolitical commentary and rousing shanties, but the dominant crux is, love and heartbreak can be rowdy, bruising, dizzying, brutal, and imperative.
Real-time computer processing and improvisation are a tricky combination, but violinist Thea Farhadian handles both with exceptional skill and musicality. Serving up a suite of works that combine improv with compositional structures, Farhadian uses Max/MSP to extend her instrument’s timbral and rhythmic palette. The results are an exciting mix of traditional bowedstring tones, extended techniques, layered clusters, glitchy chaos, and even the occasional folk-like fragment. Simultaneously challenging and beautiful, this record reveals more with repeated listenings.
Dex Romweber fights the good musical fight year after year, making the coolest, toughest, most dark and trashy rock ‘n’ roll records around. On Carrboro, Romweber is at the crossroads of ’50s rock and soul and Crampsesque surf-punk. On a few songs, he fronts masters of distortion the New Romans; but many tracks are all Romweber—every hard-rocking instrument, every monster vocal part. One of the purest pleasures is a cover of Crazy Heart soundtrack song "I Don't Know." Fans of early rock ‘n’ roll and garage punk: Carrboro will make your month.
BIRDSONG AT MORNING
A SLIGHT DEPARTURE
Sweeping strings, gorgeous sonics, and soulful singing—Birdsong at Morning is the greatest act you’ve never heard of. Folkie/conjurer Alan Williams is this trio’s driving force, his yearning vocals leading arrangements that recall Alan Parsons and Dan Fogelberg, recorded within a lush soundfield. “The Great Escape” recalls a muscular outtake from Prefab Sprout, “Midnight Vespers” a Yes-like choir madrigal, and “Pages,” a hearth-ready acoustic finger-picker swooning with intimacy and grace.
COW/CHILL OUT, WORLD!
The Orb’s Alex Paterson has a long history with psychedelic collage LPs, reaching back to his late-’80s contributions to the KLF’s Chill Out. However, early ambient house’s spartan, utopian comedown flow was best described as pastoral, whereas The Orb’s latest field recordings, found sounds, and prepared sonics are even more spatial and sprawling. Paterson, with Orb partner Thomas Fehlmann, captures celestial apogees as easily as lazy rivers: diffuse and spectral but inevitably exhibiting blissful, heliotropic tendencies.
EMOTIONS AND MATH
Alt-rock singer/songwriter Margaret Glaspy’s unusual phrasing has that same Brokaw-esque slurred “R” that Americana phenom Parker Millsap uses; natural or not, it’s quite arresting. Glaspy also grabs listeners with an almost harsh, sometimes trashy bass-heavy sound—very cool in contrast to her pretty voice. There’s intense beauty in these super-smart love (and hate) songs; Glaspy’s developed an original garage-meets-avant-garde sound that seems artful but hits listeners where they live.