Hedvig Mollestad Trio – Smells Funny
(February 1st on Rune Grammofon Records)
The worst thing about fusion has always been how seriously it’s practitioners take it. It’s basically all the power of both jazz and rock ‘n’ roll put into a tuxedo and made to look for respectability among the moneyed classes of the world. The Hedvig Mollestad Trio, however, wants no such respectability. Their fusion is haunted by the ghost of Jimi Hendrix, and as such it’s explosive, heavy, and outfitted with guitar lines that whip and strangle as much as they slither and caress.
Beirut – Gallipoli
(February 1st on 4AD Records)
Zach Condon grew up in New Mexico but has built his career on wishing that it had been Europe. Enamoured with melodies and instrumentation from the pre-WW2 era Continent and possessed of a love of indie folk, Beirut made a splash in 2006 but grew muddled shortly thereafter. Gallipoli is the closest return to form they’ve managed yet, which is a promising sign.
Girlpool – What Chaos Is Imaginary
(February 1st on Anti- Records)
Girlpool was a standout act from 2017 that combined heavy, borderline slowcore songwriting with a whimsical sense of melody and the rare ability to make virtually anything catchy. The centrepiece was the interplay between singers Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad, and when I went into this record blind I wondered who they’d added when a much deeper, more traditionally male-ranged voice floated gorgeously across some trademark slow chording.
As it turns out, Cleo Tucker transitioned between 2017 and now, and part of the transition’s testosterone therapy lowered the register of his voice. There are now two very distinct singers for Girlpool and I feel like it really draws out how good both of them are at playing off of each other even if they no longer sort of blend together into one buttery whole. The only regrettable part of What Chaos Is Imaginary is the tendency to get lost in slacker-no wave jamming mid-song from time to time; given that the average song length is still only 3 minutes, the deviations seem sometimes more like padding than anything else, as though they weren’t entirely confident about the ability of the original sketch to stand on it’s own.
Cherry Glazzer – Stuffed & Ready
(February 1st on Secretly Canadian Records)
The subversive L.A. band has a shiny new bottom end to show off, and so it’s a more ponderous Cherry Glazerr, but maybe a harder-hitting one too.
Rustin Man – Drift Code
(February 1st on Domino Recording Company)
Appropriates old-man Bowie without the sense of sly self-reflection and grace. Disappointing, considering the elements of Talk Talk and Portishead that went into it.
The Specials – Encore
(February 1st on Island Records)
Politically their heart is in the right place, but the music just doesn’t seem to capture the magic of early Specials records. The deluxe version has a live set from le Bataclan and The Troxy, though, so that might be worth the price of admission.
Nina Nesbitt – The Sun Will Come Up, The Seasons Will Change
(February 1st on Cooking Vinyl Records)
Nesbitt has really great melodic instincts and a flair for contemporary songwriting but the production does her absolutely no favours. It’s fine, it just plays it completely safe, like they just picked the same choices as all of the midlist of Disney Radio and called it good enough.
Tiny Ruins – Olympic Girls
(February 1st on Ba Da Bing Records)
Hazy New Zealand indie folk that pushes very few envelopes but also makes very few mistakes.
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba – Miri
(February 1st on Out Here Records)
Traditional West African folk brought forward into modern production and centered on a vision of finding peace and harmony. Less political than they were, which is a disappointment, but still one of the most relaxing albums you’ll come across this year.
Ian Brown – Ripples
(February 1st on Polydor Records)
Muddled production, marijuanaut philosophizing, and /r/conspiracy bullshit combine to just make you wish for an alternate reality where the Stone Roses never died or got old or sucked.
White Lies – Five
(February 1st on PIAS Records)
Like early Tears For Fears hooked up with later Pet Shop Boys, which is to say it tries hard but there’s a certain flair missing. “Tokyo” is a pretty good late-80s synth pop tune, though, FWIW.
Spielbergs – This Is Not The End
(February 1st on By The Time It Gets Dark Records)
Spielbergs are like PUP, if you think mayonnaise is spicy.