September Music Reviews: Booker T, Jon Hopkins, Mayer Hawthorne, and More!

Based out of a studio in Hackney, East London, Jon Hopkins grafts analog synthesis and electroacoustic sound design into expertly paced vignettes teeming with ambient detail.

Booker T
Sound the Alarm

Grammy winner Booker T. Jones dishes up generous helpings of funk, soul, and R&B, with help from his production partners the Avila brothers (Usher, Mary J. Blige). The B3 master co-wrote 12 new tracks, which feature guest appearances by Luke James, Anthony Hamilton, Sheila E., and more. As he’s been for 50 years, Booker T remains a beautiful player and an inspiration, and the high points are truly the tracks that highlight his B3: instrumentals like “Austin City Blues,” where he trades licks with blues guitar phenom Gary Clark Jr.

The Ecstasy of Gold
22 Killer Bullets from the Spaghetti West Vols. 1 & 2
Standing in the shadow of Ennio Morricone, the ’60s and ’70s produced a handful of successors who remixed the basic ingredients of the Italian Western soundtrack into something new but very familiar. This double CD/LP set is a deadly sauce of galloping beats, mournful trumpets, jumping castanets, and flamenco guitars, created by such skilled craftsmen as Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, and Riz Ortolani. Morricone’s iconic soundtracks may have created the genre; Ecstasy keeps the saddles blazing.

Mayer Hawthorne
Where Does This Door Go
Mayer Hawthorne is known for break-up songs. The crooner’s third long-player flips the Motown revivalist script to focus on coming-of-age high school years with 20/20 hindsight and humor. Hitmaking producers Pharrell Williams, Jack Splash, Oak, and Greg Wells mold “Her Favorite Song (featuring Jessie Ware)” into R&B-lite punctured by flatulent horns while “The Stars Are Ours” is a bouncy what-happened-last- night story and “The Innocent” is Outkast revisited.

Jon Hopkins

Based out of a studio in Hackney, East London, Jon Hopkins grafts analog synthesis and electroacoustic sound design into expertly paced vignettes teeming with ambient detail. Spiritual kin to producers Apparat, Underworld, Boards of Canada, and James Holden, Hopkins crafts melodies that evolve and dissolve through pitch-bent sidechains into systolic grooves and interstitial harmonics. Saturated with Korg MS-20 crispiness, tracks build to a climax with “Collider,” then unfurl into beds of fuzzy warmth and haunting resonance.

Chris Thile
Bach: Sonatas and Partitas, Vol. 1
Best known for his virtuosic and inventive bluegrass work in Nickel Creek and then the Punch Brothers, mandolin player Chris Thile brings an equally sensitive and fluid approach to this collection of classical Bach pieces. As always, Thile has the skill and delicacy to coax great emotional depth from his instrument, and from complicated compositions. This labor of love should be enjoyed by fans of any genre, and with luck, the title means that there is more to come.


The self-titled, self-released sixth album from Pepper starts with unexpected bite. The Hawai’ian reggae trio grinds on “Deep Country” leading the listener to think island vibes have been forsaken for hardcore ones. Song by song the sounds become softer and more perfumed (“Hunny Girl”) until they are downright caressing (“Stole My Bike”). Halfway through, it is party time with the undulating, hands-in- the-air, aptly titled “Party of Your Life.” The moods continue to vary, but the energy is all happy.

Chewed Corners
The first album from Mike Paradinas in more than five years, Chewed Corners embodies all that μ-Ziq has been and that Paradinas’ label Planet Mu has become. Producing and/or promoting synthpop, electro, IDM, drill ‘n’ bass, grime, dubstep, and footwork over the years, Paradinas can do serotonin-spiking acid-funk as easily as pensive orchestral melodies, and he skillfully mixes both through articulated filters. Retrofuturistic soundtracking, euphoric chords, and glitchy, ambient house coexist among other pleasing bass-anchored tics and trills.