Hold on! Hold on! Don't stop reading! Yes, I know Shearwater's been around for some time now, and yes, I realize you may find them boring or repetitive or whatever, but Animal Life is different. Way different. Like, imagine all those other Shearwater records, but turned into a high-energy Broadway musical starring… you'll definitely stop reading if I say Meatloaf, right? How 'bout Antony? Let's go with Antony, a singer Shearwater's Jonathan Meiburg has always had a fair amount in common with. Only now, though, has the accompanying music been equipped with the energy to bring it to life.
Most famous for the irresistible 1971 hit "Brand New Key" (also known commonly as "The Rollerskate Song"), Queens-born folk-singer Melanie Safka has been something of a revelation for me of late. I picked up her album Gather Me for $2 the other day, and I'm just endlessly fond of it. Her voice is big and booming when it needs to be, with a range and a rasp that anyone would kill for—flirty enough for shuffling country, but deep and soulful enough for hard-hitting blues. And yet the album's actually at its best when the understated string arrangements take over. I don't know if the vinyl I got is just a little dusty or if the vocals were actually recorded a little too loudly, but they're always on the verge of blowing out, and it makes for a thrilling listening experience.
There's something nice about Upstate, New York songwriter A.A. Bondy calling his new album Believers, given the degree to which it remains committed to a darkly southern, guitar-driven brand of rock music that's fallen so far out of favor in recent years. Though it's more of a full-band effort than any of his previous outings, Believers is in its own way just as subtle—the songs unfold slowly and are still built around Bondy's sweet, soulful voice, which somehow always seems to be hitting high and low notes at the same time. This one hasn't gotten a lot of attention, a fact that should mean precisely nothing to you.
Tim Berne, Nels Cline and Jim Black—The Veil
During a brief freakout I had on Twitter last week over the fact that the internet wouldn't stop talking about ridiculous bullshit like M.I.A. giving the finger at the Superbowl, I asked if anyone had by any chance heard any actual fucking records they felt like talking about. Local writer Seth Colter Walls dutifully responded with a list that included Snakeoil by jazz saxophonist Tim Berne. I still have't been able to find that record, weirdly, but I've now spent a ton of time with The Veil, an album from last year that features Berne on sax, Wilco's Nels Cline on guitar and Jim Black on drums. It's a dizzying and at times punishing 58-minute collection that repeatedly pulls you into its many near empty spaces, only to fill them up around you, quickly and loudly and never quite in the way you'd expect.
Archers of Loaf—Vee Vee Reissue
See, my big secret from last year, back when Merge reissued Archers of Loaf's landmark debut, Icky Mettle, was that I don't actually listen to that record very much and I never really have. I've always preferred their second album, Vee Vee, which is being reissued by Merge on February 21st, along with 16 bonus tracks and new liner notes by Magnet editor Eric Miller (Icky Mettle got Christgau… eek). It's a more fully-formed version of Mettle—the Crooked Rain to Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted, basically. The melodies shine more proudly, but then so does everything else: drums, bass and vocals engage in an album-length fight for your attention, and there's not a single loser among them. (Also, the sound of the match being lit at the beginning of "Let the Loser Melt" is one of my favorite moments on any album ever.)
Produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno, the new album from long-running and long-rootsy Cincinnati band The Heartless Bastards is a pleasantly robust and masterfully recorded collection of sprawling, bluesy rock and roll that benefits endlessly from the career-defining vocal performance of Erika Wennerstrom.
Wendy Rene—After Laughter Comes Tears: Complete Stax and Volt Singles + Rarities/i>
The good people at Light in the Attic Records bring us this 2xLP collection featuring pretty much everything ever recorded by legendary Memphis soul singer Wendy Rene, including her early work with The Drapels. Her most famous song is "After Laughter," which was sampled by the Wu-Tang Clan on 36 Chambers track "Tearz," but the quality is staggeringly high for most of the 22 tracks you get here.
Local retro-pop obsessed songwriter Frankie Rose (do we really need to do the resumé thing at this point?) stays retro on her new album, but focuses on airy synths rather than echoey guitars, and the result is an easy, pleasant listen.
Bon Iver's Justin Vernon Wearing That Dope-Ass Tweed Suit While Accepting the Grammy for Best New Artist
After his (perfectly reasonable) rant about telling the people at the Grammys to fuck off for asking that they perform with some other artist rather than on their own, Bon Iver's Justin Vernon handled himself about as gracefully as anyone could have hoped when he was summoned to the stage to accept the award for Best New Artist. He thanked his hometown, he name-checked Jagjaguwar, he said the words "sweet hookup" in reference to the people who voted for him, and he closed with a heartfelt but drama-free nod to his parents. And he did all of it while decked out in brown tweed and a tie with birds on it. This round definitely went to us.
This Thing Where Sleigh Bells' People Continue to Say They Aren't Sending Out Any Promos of the New Album Until After It Comes Out
I'm actually pretty into this. Good for them, I say. Even though, you know... ahem
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