Last year, My Bloody Valentine released its first album since 1991, and the result sounded as if not a minute had passed in the intervening 22 years. Every bleary, bended note of m b v sounded immaculately crafted, as if Kevin Shields and company had been toiling away in pursuit of perfection since the release of Loveless and merely lost track of time.
Now, it's Pixies' turn to follow such an impossibly long delay — the band's last album, Trompe Le Monde, also came out in '91 — but the rollouts of Indie Cindy and m b v perfectly mirror the many differences between the groups themselves. My Bloody Valentine maintained complete control over its own resurrection: The existence of m b v was kept a closely guarded secret, unspoiled until the band announced with a few days' notice that fans could buy it online. Everything about its unveiling was as precise as the music itself.
Indie Cindy, on the other hand, is the product of blurts and bite-size doses and false starts: the release of a single that no one saw coming, the early departure of Kim Deal that everyone saw coming, the steady trickle of songs and EPs that would eventually congeal into an album fans started receiving piece by piece back in June 2013. Taken in its entirety, in this order, Indie Cindy functions as a surprisingly coherent album, with disarming beauty nestled against dissonant snarls. Songs like "Bagboy," the caustic track fans first heard when Pixies' rebirth was announced last summer, were not delayed for years because they took so long to refine. But Indie Cindy still captures the band's alchemic mixture of abrasion, muscle and grace, even when the edges are left ragged or sanded down more than usual.
None of the three bassists most prominently employed by the band in the past year — Kim Deal, Kim Shattuck and Paz Lenchantin — perform on Indie Cindy, leaving singer Frank Black, guitarist Joey Santiago, drummer David Lovering and longtime producer Gil Norton to work with bassist Simon "Dingo" Archer. Deal's absence, in particular, has already helped make Indie Cindy polarizing to Pixies fans. (See also: that title.) But as it's assembled here, the album is a worthwhile, frequently terrific document of a band forever in transition, even in middle age. It's music born out of chaos, same as it ever was.
He's widely acknowledged as one of the best jazz drummers in the world. But he's also a singer-songwriter; a session man for Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell; the son of a singing preacher man from Louisiana. And though a man of such experiences is, as you might expect, quite busy, he's also keeps his own signature band: Brian Blade & The Fellowship Band.
In the way that a jazzman's life often goes into his music, you might expect that a Brian-Blade-led band would reflect and merge all of his overlapping vocabularies. You'd be right, but — this is crucial — not in the overwrought, kitchen sink, jam band kind of way. His is music beloved by the jazz community, distilled to high potency, executed by a frontline (Myron Walden and Melvin Butler on woodwinds) which has committed for well over 15 years and a rhythm section (Chris Thomas, bass and Jon Cowherd, piano) that dates back to college, over two decades ago.
Landmarks is the Fellowship Band's new album, the fourth in its catalog. To the extent that the Fellowship has a characteristic aesthetic, you might call it rural, and this is no deviation. There are trademark slow-moving pastoral dirges, with faux-naive rhythms which bloom into ecstatic saxophone testifyin' and firecracker drum fills. There's the signifying twang of country and folk music cadences, note inflections and guitar overtones (courtesy of Jeff Parker or Marvin Sewell). There are melodies that surge and ebb, harmonium drones and dark bass clarinet lines. It's music tinged by juke joints and black churches, but better placed in wind-swept open fields and porch sits on summer evenings. One 11-minute swell of a song is even called "Ark.La.Tex." as in the three Southern states — exactly.
You hear a lot of "growers" from the Fellowship, songs that build to climaxes, and when you have a drummer like Brian Blade, who can break off a brilliant kinetic flash at just about any moment, the tension is delicious. But it's also telling that he takes "Ark.La.Tex" right into an arrangement of "Shenandoah," the American folk song. Blade lays out almost entirely, and the band offers it up as a chorale, an act of secular worship. It's under two minutes, all devastating. And it's one of many ways he knows how to make a song stick.
An interesting temporal phenomenon takes place while listening to Diploid Love, the first solo album from Distillers and Spinnerette frontwoman Brody Dalle. The album feels like a time capsule buried in the backyard of the punk and grunge-drenched early '90s and only unearthed today. But precisely because it's a product of 2014, not 1994, the record gets retroactively imbued with a sort of "older and wiser" gravitas — that is to say, anything that sounds so solidly like music from the past must have some evolutionary advantage to have found a habitat decades later.
Yet there is no evolutionary advantage at work, only evolution. This is Dalle's first solo album, and she was young enough in the early '90s that Nirvana and Hole, her closest sonic relatives, would have been influences, not contemporaries. What she's grasped with Diploid Love is the universal motivator of rock music, the same one Kurt Cobain, Courtney Love, Corin Tucker, and Kathleen Hanna tapped into 20 years ago: to interrupt the musical modus operandi of the day, to deconstruct it entirely, to reveal its superficiality by creating unavoidably un-superficial responses to it. In the last decade of the last century, space opened up — starting in Washington, D.C. basements and Olympia dorm rooms and Aberdeen garages in Washington state — for a new kind of voice. Androgynous, powerful, emotive, not conventionally pretty vocals attained massive mainstream cultural capital. Drawing on this '90s-influenced vocabulary, but incorporating contemporary patois (listen for an undeniably millennial horn breakdown on "Underworld"), Brody Dalle is cashing in.
The earnestness created by Dalle's voice, inherent to Diploid Love, and to all good rock music, is what ultimately renders this record timeless. It's a throwback but doesn't cover old ground. Dalle's raw guitar work and distinctly Cobain-adjacent vocals are familiar but tell a unique story. The angst is honest ("Don't Mess With Me," which is a shoe-in for theme song to whatever the next generation's Freaks and Geeks will be), the joy is honest ("I Don't Need Your Love") and the confidence Dalle exercises in releasing an album rife with sweeping tonal shifts is also honest. Gender-bending screaming gives way to contralto singing so quickly it borders on shocking, as do electric guitars making room for tambourines, violins, piano and even a recording of a gleeful toddler. What all of it has in common, both on this album and with the grunge albums it references, is that every song sounds exactly like the truth.
In their newest album, 9 Dead Alive, Rodrigo y Gabriela return to their roots, reminding listeners why they fell in love with the Mexican duo in the first place. The album finds them at the peak of their musical flexibility, dexterously weaving elements of heavy metal with flamenco.
These Mexico City natives are an if-at-first-you-don't-succeed parable. As heavy metal musicians, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quintero had trouble launching their careers. Making it in one of the biggest music scenes in the Spanish speaking world is as pivotal as it is nightmarish: if you break through in Mexico, you've made it in Latin America, but succeeding in an environment that is frequently reluctant to take risks can also be an impossible task. So they picked up to go busk in Ireland, where they perfected the guitar licks that have made them famous.
The band has a loyal fan base that has followed them as they experiment with more orchestral and cinematic sounds (they famously put music to Shrek, Pirates of the Caribbean and Puss In Boots.) But this new album is extremely stripped down and minimalistic, a treat both for those who've been following the duo since the beginning, and also for those who recently discovered them: letting listeners eavesdrop on a private conversation spoken between two friends, in the universal language of the guitar.
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger is Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl. Lennon, as you may know, is the only child of John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Muhl is a successful fashion model and Lennon's significant other of eight years. Midnight Sun is their second proper album together.
Try this while listening: Imagine what your opinion would be if you didn't know these basic facts - if it was just another band on the Internet with a strange name. You might think it was some kindred spirit of Tame Impala or the Flaming Lips, soft psychedelia made for sunny summer weekends. Not so druggy that it erases the day, yet weird enough to start conversations about the kidnapping of John Paul Getty III.
Now, listen again, and imagine what it must be like for John Lennon's son to make music. With his girlfriend, no less. This has been the younger Lennon's greatest obstacle since his debut, 1998's Into the Sun - the prejudice against genetic good fortune and the presumption that he sounds, and maybe acts, like his famous father because it's the easiest way to his own fame. In the past, he hasn't done himself any favors by sometimes sounding eerily like the legendary Beatle, but that seems an unfair measurement. If people are willing to believe that "there's something in the water" in any given music scene, then surely the same allowance can be made for actual shared DNA. What son is not heavily influenced by his father, even one he may have only known for a short while?
Midnight Sun should go some way in dispelling those presumptions and prejudices. In places, it still sounds fairly Beatles-esque, but no more than many other bands of the last half century, and much less than Sean Lennon has before. Muhl's influence and contribution pulls him out of his own history and to places that he did not go in previous solo work, like the gloomy "Last Call" or twee "Johannesburg." The two have a natural and obvious chemistry, especially on the songs where her honeyed voice gives direction to his nasal searching.
So, although it may have taken him thirty-eight years to do it, Sean Lennon may finally be moving on with his music. He has always made a fairly valiant effort to carry his legacy forward in interesting ways, to explore his very personal relationship with his near-mythical father in a very public manner. But Midnight Sun is his own musical statement, in his own voice, and one of the best recordings he's ever made.