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1. Jenny Hval – Apocalypse, girl (Sacred Bones)
I won’t say which ‘90s alt-stars this reminds me of, because I wouldn’t know if I was trying to name Hval to some pantheon or to delimit her expressiveness, or both. And I won’t describe Apocalypse, girl as a symphony of words and ambient passages designed to enhance the impact of its most worked out “song,” “Sabbath” (like Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead did for “Never Catch Me”), because the album had me from its spoken word introduction. I know what not to say about the album, much less what to say about it, but I love it. Hval takes the words right from me. Her subject is the body, her audience somewhat more numerous than just herself, somewhat less numerous than all those who’ve ever regarded their flesh as a strange prison, sometimes fun, sometimes not, sometimes cruelly arbitrary.
2. The Orange Peels – Begin The Begone (Minty Fresh)
I remembered 2001’s “Back in San Francisco,” formerly a new and sparkling pop gem, now a lovely postcard from its indie-rock era toned only slightly sepia, but never heard what The Orange Peels had been up to since. I guess I hoped their song had preserved them in its amber and they’d stopped aging, perfect forever. Instead, they diverged from youth roughly to the extent that nature dictates and in 2013 released their fifth album, Sun Moon, which found them staying the course as a solid power pop act. Two years (their shortest gap between records) and a life-changing car accident later, Begin the Begone is not entirely different and yet something else entirely, a fully vital and imaginative work from a band that might have remained comfortable in its obscurity. Picking up where Guided By Voices’ Isolation Drills left off, opening track “Head Cleaner” reinterprets the elegiac “Privately” as a bouncy pace setter for the rest of the album and brings me full circle back to 2001.
3. Vaadat Charigim – Sinking as a Stone (Burger)
Brain balm. Israeli shoegaze trio doesn’t do much to distinguish itself from its global competition, but there’s a lot of exciting melodic material buried in the music’s somnolent glaze. Like death metal or Beatles-y pop, this kind of music always finds its audience, somewhere. It’s as good as silence, and has some of the same qualities.
4. Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Multi-Love (Jagjaguwar)
Three years ago they reminded me of Kula Shaker, apparently, but even if they’ve been listening to nothing but records from regional ‘70s R&B labels in the time since, that still wouldn’t explain how far they’ve drifted from the atmosphere of “Hush.” I prefer the material richness of U.M.O.’s sources over their own carefully engineered approximations of a fractured, tactile sound, but often the melodies pull through. The title track aches, two notes at a time.
5. Joanna Gruesome – Peanut Butter (Slumberland)
I’m late. Bands are born and die, scenes come and go, in the time it takes for me to cursorily reflect on the music. Singer Alanna McArdle left Joanna Gruesome shortly after the release of this second album, and though the band continues without her, the departure reaffirms the fleeting nature of… everything, especially bands that sound like bottled lightning. So, praise the writers who captured this band in its original form three months ago, when it had no peers because Exlovers and Veronica Falls hadn’t released albums in a couple of years, and anyway neither of those bands ever interlaced noise so beautifully with its hooks.
6. Expert Alterations – EP (Slumberland)
It’s America’s answer to The Stevens. Any online reference to these guys is no more permeable than a catalog listing. They’re fully bound to the physical realm, and that makes them elusive, innocent. Naturally the music is lost in time: jangle and the punk rock of ringing melodic bass lines, via ca. ’86 Feelies and ca. ’82 Television Personalities and The Clean.
7. Linden – Rest And Be Thankful (Slumberland)
In lieu of any Teenage Fanclub news, here’s one Joe McAlinden with dispatches from the Scottish countryside. With drama in the hush of his voice and a certain Bryter Layter pallor to some of the songs, his Rest and Be Thankful is, contrary to the name, not a straight idyll. But even when he’s referencing “a thing I’ve got goin’ on inside me,” the music’s generally attuned to the weather rather than any inner turbulence.
8. Jacco Gardner – Hypnophobia (Polyvinyl)
Everyone currently making this kind of helium-voiced ‘60s psychedelic rock seems eager to disappear (into the past? into themselves?), but there’s nothing willful about Gardner’s version of a disappearing act. He really must be as delicate as he sounds; the high-pitched voice doesn’t sound put on. And however abstracted or distant he becomes, there’s always an organ or guitar ticking along at a brisk pace. The groove of “Before the Dawn” sustains and even builds interest for eight full minutes. Here’s a guy worth following on his journey to nowhere or the center of the mind.
9. Jimmy Whispers – Summer In Pain (Moniker)
Painless. Like Daniel Johnston on Yip/Jump Music, Jimmy Whispers immediately tells us where he’s calling from on Summer in Pain (the “tri-state area”) but, with little other identifying information to be found in 24 minutes, save a character named Michael, Jimmy expects the listener to accept the significance of his heartbeats on faith. He takes the hallowed, fragile form of the lo-fi home recording artist, for whom available technology (drum machine, organ, iPhone) shapes form and content, but it’s not enough. Anymore, I crave names and details from my bedroom poppers. On an EP last year, ILoveMakonnen only needed 25 minutes to create a catalog of shelter-seeking so specific that my colleague was able to list its forms. Jimmy’s catalog is vague: love, heart, pain, lost, high.
a. El Perro Del Mar – El Perro Del Mar (Deluxe Edition) (Control Group)
El Perro Del Mar’s debut, a classic I’ve primarily experienced in its 2006 U.S. version, doesn’t need a lot of help, but a reissue from earlier this year more than doubles its length and extols its virtues with corroborating evidence: a few unheard tracks alongside the familiar “Hello Goodbye,” which tells an intricate love story with only its title words, “a boy” and “a girl,” and so efficiently encapsulates a lyrical approach that it might have sat awkwardly among songs that benefit, at greater length, from its groundwork. But if already sparse songwriting can shed words and still retain its essence and power, so too can already quiet songs shed volume and still captivate (see: an acoustic version of “Dog”).
b. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll (Dust-to-Digital)
The soundtrack to a recent documentary of the same name. Tracking the very active Cambodian music scene from the 1950s through the early ‘70s and bookended by Phnom Penh anthems before and after the Khmer Rouge, the soundtrack has a narrative of its own, albeit one that could prove elusive to anyone unfamiliar with the subject. Instead, hearing the music on its own terms is an opportunity to appreciate it not as artifact or prelude to tragedy but for its remarkable creative wealth. This is habit-supplanting music; the instrumental bridge of “Heaven’s Song” makes Del Shannon’s “Runaway” presently irrelevant.
c. Lone – Lemurian (R&S)
Five years before the stunning “Airglow Fires,” Lone debuted with the confident but not entirely unique Lemurian in 2008. Like early Boards of Canada, Lone fades out his best tracks within two minutes, and extends the ones that could plausibly support a vocal. For every shimmering interlude, there’s a bit of empty air.
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