Gram Parsons called his blend of country, rock, and soul "Cosmic American Music," a phrase that captured his hippie ethos: it was American music but it was mystic, an unnamable, unmistakable connective vibe that held together these 50 states...Unlike some of the other entries in Numero's Wayfaring Strangers, the fidelity on Cosmic American Music is better -- not as cheap and grungy -- but that suits the mellow sensibilities of these troubadours. Occasionally, there's a bit of kick to the rhythms -- Kenny Knight's "Baby's Back" grooves along nicely, Allan Wachs conjures a spooky highway anthem, Jeff Cowell's "Not Down This Low" feels sprightly, especially compared to its competition -- but usually these tunes float, feeling as if they were designed to soundtrack a vivid sunset. Such cinematic associations underscores how Cosmic American Music excels on vibe, not necessarily songs. This isn't damning with faint praise: the songs are often nice -- earnest, tuneful and well constructed, respecting the traditions they learned from the Byrds and Dylan -- but this isn't a collection of overlooked compositions, it's a bit of pop archeology, excavating records that feel right. Every one of these 19 cuts certainly does feel right, sounding sun-burned and blissed-out, embodying the hangover of the hippie dream." - Allmusic
"...And that’s what The Wilderness represents: In searching into the unknown, more possibilities have been uncovered. This is most exciting in the album’s briefer moments. Anyone who’s seen the band live knows that EITS refuse to do encores, blaming the time needed to get into the zone impossible to replicate within the confines of an abbreviated set. But on songs like “The Ecstatics,” which uses synthesized percussion and guitar strum textures as an evocative tool, and “Disintegration Anxiety,” which relies on the rhythm of the guitar leads, rather than the drums, to move it along, EITS prove its mastery of this new aim. Huge emotional payoffs are reached without requiring long songs to do it. With attention spans waning, and listeners’ need for instant gratification ever more real, the band doesn’t fight the times.
Explosions In The Sky have crafted an updated version of themselves that’s ready for 2016 ears without sacrificing the band’s identity. The record might divide some longtime fans, but it’s a necessary risk to take to ensure the band’s continued relevance." - AV Club
"Like so many of their peers, The Feelies made a stab at wider commercial appeal in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Fortunately for us, this move didn’t result in watered-down music. The band’s last two LPs (before a triumphant 21st century reunion), 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time For A Witness are classics — perhaps not quite as heralded as Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, but classics nonetheless, showcasing The Feelies at their most locked-in and tuneful. Bar/None Records’ fresh CD/vinyl reissues of both (with some excellent studio/live bonus material added on as digital downloads) are great reminders of their lasting power...The Feelies saved their most infectious pop song for Time For A Witness: “Doin’ It Again” is a delight every time you hear it, riding a “Roadrunner”-y riff to the heavens. The rest of the album sees the band moving in somewhat more mainstream rock direction — The Feelies had done time as Lou Reed’s opening act, sure, but you can almost imagine them in this era winning over a Tom Petty crowd. But there was still room for exploration: one Witness‘ high point is the lengthy “Find A Way,” a slo-mo, psychedelic wonder that’s both pleasingly spacey and tightly wound. And the closing cover of The Stooges’ “Real Cool Time” is a righteous blast, the seemingly mild-mannered Feelies getting wild and loose in a way that even Iggy would approve of." - Aquarium Drunkard
"As time moves on and the genuine bluesmen slip into historical archives, it is a cause for celebration when someone makes the effort to reconstruct the music of one of the true innovators in the blues genre. Produced by Jeffrey Gaskill, God Don't Never Change: The Songs Of Blind Willie Johnson, is a contemporary tribute to this seminal slide guitarist who was also unique in his imaginative vocal interpretations and compositions of gospel blues. Blind Willie Johnson (1897-1945) recorded thirty tracks for the Columbia label between 1927 and 1930 in sessions done in Dallas, New Orleans and Atlanta, preceding the heralded recordings of blues guitarist/composer Robert Johnson in San Antonio, by nine years. Though his songs have not had the influence and impact of Robert, Blind Willie has left an enduring legacy which is carried on by modern slide guitarists and gospel singers.
It is of course the job of the producer to get the right people for such an undertaking, and this project is no exception. Tom Waits opens with "The Soul of a Man," a raucous holy roller that brings to mind the fire and brimstone preachers who know how to shake up the congregation. "Nobody's Fault But Mine," possibly Johnson's best known and most covered song is given the royal treatment by Lucinda Williams, who possesses one of the most distinctive voices in music. Derek Trucks is widely recognized as a brilliant slide player, and he is joined by his wife Susan Tedeschi handling the vocals on "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning," which eases into "Jesus Is Coming Soon," by the Cowboy Junkies. The Blind Boys of Alabama, were the obvious choice for "Motherless Children Have A Hard Time," and they deliver a soul shaking rendition." - All About Jazz
"Mould’s marriage of fury and melody harks back as far as the Hüsker Dü days, but he sounds far past the point of letting his anger control him the way that band used to. Patch The Sky sounds like a healthier release, the work of someone with a better handle on his dark forces. The new romantic lean of “Losing Sleep” might grimly ponder the cosmos, but it’s also one of the purest pop songs he’s written in years. The fire-and-brimstone approach works as well here for Mould as ever, but he’s not completely fenced in by his noisy pedigree.
More than 35 years into the game, Mould is still hard at work on the tense, dynamic soundscapes some would argue he perfected long ago. But it’s his refusal to rest on his laurels that still makes his songs worth the listen. It’s fair to wonder how many more runs through the alternative-rock mill one guy will get, but ifPatch The Sky is any indication, Mould’s still a long way away from being on the clock." - AV Club
It's never too late to discover a great record, so jump into this reissue of one of our favourite songwriters, Kiwi indie giant and leader of the legendary Clean: it's David Kilgour's killer 1994 LP, Sugar Mouth!
"Some songs capture some of the gauzier feeling of Here Come the Cars thanks to the mixing and soft motorik chug ("Filter" in particular). "Crazy," meanwhile, bears hints of Kilgour's time in Snapper, loud and brash but similarly indebted to a refracted Krautrock drive. Others have an air that can only be described as clear and cool -- not cold, but there's something about the way the acoustic guitars and piano sound on "Beached," Kilgour's singing coming down through echo, or the concluding flow of "Never End" that suggests blue skies, deep oceans, and high peaks. Whether it's the acoustic-based strum and shimmer of "Fallaway," an anthem that never has to strain or sound oppressively big even in the slightest or the heart-tugging semi-waltzes of "Nail in My Foot" or "Recollection," Sugar Mouth is just plain fantastic, full stop." - All Music
Bold, adventurous, and surprisingly touching, this is the kind of LP that could win over everyone from a Prince nut, a Joni Mitchell devotee, a Miles lover, and a Spotify-surfer omnivore. Spalding closes her eyes, takes a massive leap forward, and lands it.
"The album focuses on her vocals, with their wily melodic turns, personal poetry, spoken-word chatters and skewed R&B hooks. But even if they are pop songs, a few could have been composed by Wayne Shorter, and Spalding’s voice has never sounded so assured in its dizzying ascents from mid-range murmurs to falsetto swoops. Her singing variously suggests Kate Bush, Janelle Monae or even a female Jack Bruce with a 21st-century Cream. Unconditional Love is an unconditionally terrific pop ballad (intensified by her thunderous bass guitar), while the weaving Earth to Heaven is a testament to how powerful that voice has become, and the unison bass and guitar ostinato of Funk the Fear is almost as compelling on record as it was live – but for the fact that Matthew Stevens’ exciting guitar playing gets faded much too early." - Guardian
"Like other hugely popular musicians before her who felt commercial pressures beginning to stunt their growth, Spalding has found an alter ego to speak to her more extroverted, creative side. Spalding sings through a muse named Emily, her middle name, though her reasons for doing so aren’t clear-cut. As a character, Emily wants you to buck the system, to fight for peace and tranquility. She wants you to reconnect with your spiritual center, to avoid facades. Emily "is a spirit, or a being, or an aspect who I met, or became aware of," Spalding recently told NPR. "I recognize that my job … is to be her arms and ears and voice and body." As a child, Spalding was curious about acting and created scenarios using movement and dance. So "in a sense," the musician recalled, "I see it as a flashlight into the future."
The theatrical D+Evolution plays like the culmination of those childhood performances. Spalding's voice retains its warmth and nuance, but she’s thrown herself into these songs with a new gusto. Each song has its own identity, from the unbroken spoken-word flow preceding "Ebony and Ivy," the fist-pumping call-and-response of "Funk the Fear," and the opera-infused histrionics of "I Want It Now." Recorded in front of a small studio audience in Los Angeles, you can almost see Spalding act out these songs as the band—comprised of guitarist and Christian Scott collaborator Matthew Stevens, producer/drummer Karriem Riggins, and others—create thick textures that provide plenty of space for her." - Pitchfork
The latest from the Italian modern classical composer, Elements is spare and daring — an excellent partner to directions explored by Max Richter.
"Elements is as breathtakingly beautiful and poignantly polarised as one would expect from one of this generation’s finest classical talents. While much of Ludovico Einaudi’s piano-heavy back catalogue is known by many from Shane Meadow’s This is England franchise, his more experimental material receives little exposure in comparison. An ever-growing presence in more recent releases, the Italian maestro continues his movement into the sphere of electronica with his latest 12-track offering – and with great effect.
Providing the perfect juxtaposition to the likes of the classically classical “ABC” and the all-enveloping opener “Petrichor”, tracks like “Numbers” show Einaudi’s other side, creating a tension that breeds a sense of depth and movement throughout. Nowhere is this more apparent than the emotive “Four Dimensions” – arguably one of the LP’s pinnacles – which is followed immediately by a bassline more suited to a certain Fleetwood Mac banger, forming the backbone of "Elements"." - Line Of Best Fit
No sophomore slump in sight on the second LP from Tuttle, a gorgeous nugget of understated psych guitar pop.
"There are lush, airy employments of guitar interplay throughout It Calls On Me that make it immediately listenable, full as it is of dueling octaves like an arpeggiated fencing match refereed by Peter Buck. Tuttle’s deft sense of classic melodies and textural experimentation lend a purposeful air to songs like the title track, itself a kind of possessed meditation in the strictest psychedelic sense. Meandering guitar leads and solos travel trippy sonic thoroughfares and wind in and out of structure but always land on their feet.
Tuttle’s rich, hushed vocals come in multi-layered harmonies, too, calling to mind a little more than a passing homage to the easy-breezy, paisley-swathed guitar-pop of groups like The Byrds, The Moon and other similarly heavy-lidded psychsters of yesteryear. Pronounced, plucky bass lines, strings and keys add to the mystique, as Tuttle’s compositions more often than not occupy zone-out realms." - Paste Magazine
"Leaving the noise and relentless energy of the city behind, TEEN retreated into the nurturing stillness of Nova Scotia, the Lieberson sisters’ childhood home. Situated on the La Have River, the studio was hidden in a perpetual mist while the band recorded day and night. Fueled by new material, a change of place, and creative collaboration, the lull of the winter lifted and the band came together in a new way. Teaming up once again with producer Daniel Schlett, TEEN wanted to capture the energy of full band recording. Rather than multi-tracking, Schlett worked with the band as they played the songs relentlessly, waiting to achieve the right energy and take as a group.
The result is a beautiful, detailed album about womanhood and the embodiment of the sensual, played by a group fully in step with one another. Love Yes bursts into the static air with a vibrancy recognized by its confidence and power." - Carpark
"Certain artists raise a simple question: Can you blame someone for making the same album over and over again if that album is always really good? AC/DC, The Ramones, and Motörhead have all implored listeners to ask that question, and there’s a strong case to be made that M. Ward does as well. For over 15 years, he’s been giving the world reliably beautiful, thoughtful folk music that seems like it was transported to present day from, say, 1939. His latest album, More Rain, is no exception to the rule. But while listeners know what they’re getting with M. Ward by now, that doesn’t make the results any less enthralling...To be clear, More Rain is far from identical to Ward’s previous releases. While his signature sound is undoubtedly intact, little flourishes separate it from the pack. Namely, this album is a bit more willing to embrace electronic instruments than past efforts. “I’m Going Higher” features an enthralling guitar solo, while “Girl From Conejo Valley” is quite possibly the first M. Ward song to use a synth. None of this would be quite enough to get Ward’s fans to yell “Judas!” when he busts these songs out live, but they do represent a rare willingness from Ward to leave his comfort zone." AV Club
"Ace's 2016 compilation Saint Etienne Present: Songs for the Carnegie Deli is a pop music lover's Valentine to their imagined New York City: what Londoners Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs always dreamed the Big Apple to be. Aficionados of '60s singles that they are, the pair rely heavily on Brill Building pop and uptown soul for their 24-track compilation. Heavy on girl groups and grooving soul, this collection moves along and if there are some familiar names here -- Chuck Jackson, Little Anthony & the Imperials, Lesley Gore, and the Shirelles are among the featured acts -- Stanley and Wiggs rely on deep cuts, so this winds up having a familiar feel but a fresh kick: it stays true to the ideals of a sophisticated, swinging city." - All Music Guide
"Known for having an impeccable knowledge and contagious enthusiasm for music, a collector and fan through and through, Bobby has compiled an album for Ace based on mood and atmosphere, building something both incredibly personal and totally universal. He finds the sadness in the sunshine pop of the Beach Boys and isn’t afraid to have three of their tracks in a row, to enjoy that melancholy. He finds the 1970s punk attitude in one-time cleancut doo wopper Dion, the politics in Link Wray and the sex in Kris Kristofferson. It’s as much a reappraisal of these artists as a love letter to them, putting them in a new context and holding a different mirror to their faces.
His sleeve-notes take you on a mapped journey, from him as a young punk gig-goer in Glasgow, seeing Suicide supporting the Clash where they had an axe thrown at them, to meeting his heroes on an equal footing both on and off stage, through to gazing at the fragile people gone too soon. It’s a paean to loving music." - Ace Records
"Though these albums were recorded in the space of less than two years, they sounded very different from each other. The Very Special World of Lee Hazlewood, one of the most straightforward albums in his career, serves as a primer on his style and showcases all of his contradictory impulses. It’s Hazlewood at his most maximalist, building a wall of sound to rival Phil Spector’s. Most of the tracks on The Very Special World feature full orchestras passing ideas back and forth in flowery counterpoint, choirs instead of backup singers, and contributions from the in-demand studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew.
Of all the MGM recordings, the songwriting on The Very Special World is by far the most consistent, and features a handful of the most subtle and sensitive songs Hazlewood ever wrote. "I’m Not the Lovin' Kind" is a beautiful bossa nova with unusually sensitive singing, a triumphant string and horns call-and-response from arranger Billy Strange that manages to anchor just off the coast of faux-Jobim parody while retaining its humor. "I Move Around" is a travelogue Lee would re-record several times later in his career, most notably on his 1972 classic 13. Here, in a simple folk arrangement, it explodes into the kind of sweeping, cinematic climax Hazlewood seemed unable to talk himself down from during this time. His vocal performance is controlled and wistful instead of bitter and stoic—as his renditions of so many songs would become when left to his own devices. But the album’s most important contribution to the Hazlewood songbook is the lethargic, lounge ballad "My Autumn’s Done Come," which embodies his ethos as well as any standalone recording ever has. With its hypnotic pacing, odd chord changes, and dreamy but crystalline production, it’s easy to see how it would influence Galaxie 500’s Dean Wareham, who sang the song’s particular praises in a 2015 interview." - Pitchfork
"Still In A Dream: A Story Of Shoegaze 1988-1995 collects a mammoth 87 artists across five CDs in one glorious compilation, housed in a book-style box set that also includes a 12,000-word essay by esteemed music writer Neil Taylor, rare memorabilia and photographs from the era, biographies of each participating band and an American perspective of the genre by Springhouse drummer and editor of The Big Takeover fanzine Jack Rabid. It represents the most definitive document yet of a scene that was much-maligned at the time, but has since gone on to be one of the most pivotal and influential in the development of modern music.
So where did all start? While many commentators cite The Jesus & Mary Chain's Psychocandy as being the first shoegaze record, its origins start two decades beforehand. Bands like The Yardbirds and The Pretty Things were using distortion as an art form in the mid-Sixties, while The Byrds' off kilter melodies where David Crosby's rhythm guitar chimed and weaved a melody of its own beneath the main body of the song also played a part. As did the first incarnation of Pink Floyd, undoubtedly the catalysts for taking songs way beyond the traditional three-minutes structure. Fast forward a decade to the late David Bowie's 'Heroes' and you'll hear Robert Fripp's echo-laden guitar driving through the song's heart. A completely unique sound at the time - remember this was 1977 - and surely something that didn't go amiss with the main protagonists of shoegaze several years later." - Drowned In Sound
Living legend Mavis Staples delivers yet again with a testimony to positivity as a weapon against even the bleakest, more frustrating times.
"It might seem like an odd time for an upbeat message, but Livin’ on a High Note is as well timed as her 2008 live album, Hope at the Hideout, released just a week before Obama was elected the country’s first African American president. Eight years later, we’re deep into a confounding election cycle that has already defined itself by blatant concession to voters’ basest prejudices. At the same time, some of our best artists—D’Angelo, Kendrick, and Beyoncé—are making race and class dominant subjects in pop music, with songs like "Alright" and "Formation" prompting heated discussions about black identity and police brutality.
High Note complements rather than contradicts those bleaker depictions of 21st century America and casually argues for Staples’ legacy as an agitgospel singer. Would we have Beyoncé singing, "I like my Negro nose and my Jackson 5 nostrils" in 2016 without the Staples singing, "I like the things about me that I once despised," at Wattstax in '72? In that regard, the most crucial song on here is also the shortest: "What do we do with all of this history now?" Staples asks on "History Now," penned by Neko Case. Bearing all this weight can’t be easy for anyone, but with that divine voice of hers, in fact, Staples seems uniquely suited for it. And Livin’ on a High Note suggests she may even be happy to have that responsibility, if only because it reminds her that happy doesn’t have to mean complacent." - Pitchfork
Pop/art savants Animal Collective keep on with their wild ways. Dizzy, intuitive, sticky, and super fun.
"So, for their 10th studio album ‘Painting With’, it’s all change. Deakin is sitting this one out (nothing sinister, just the way Animal Collective do business) and the band have returned to basic principles they never had. That means ‘jamming’. Luckily, this hasn’t resulted in an album of prog-rock atrocities. Instead, by sticking to Avey’s pre-album promise of “no BS”, they’ve reconnected with their pop smarts and come up with a concise and warm album.
America’s Sunshine State is celebrated as a “mystical place” on the toytown stomp of single ‘FloriDada’, and potential hit ‘Golden Gal’ bounces along prettily in a toast to gender equality (“You’re so strong/You should hold your head above them”). Of course it wouldn’t be Animal Collective without Avey and Panda Bear’s overlapping vocals valuing sound over meaning, or the acres of electronic noise everywhere. ‘Hocus Pocus’ disorientates with drone effects courtesy of ex-Velvet Underground guitarist John Cale, before surging into a sticky, psychedelic rush. ‘On Delay’ is busier still as its commanding two-note synth riff gives way to slammed beats and a rave break." - NME
A release wherein the bedroom dream pop project of Jack Tatum looks to grow even further beyond the widescreen ambitions of 2012's lovely Nocturne.
"Structure and connection seem to have become an increased priority for Tatum. The track sequencing is impeccable, and another element of Life of Pause that feels distinctly ‘album era’: the building opener, taking the energy up a step, then slowing it down with the third song, and so forth. Meticulously dissecting and reconstructing the familiar has been one of Wild Nothing’s strengths from the start. A chemistry built on a fine balance can be easily tipped, however, and it would be fair to wonder if the act of opening up the floor to more influences might leave less room for Tatum’s own voice.
A response might be found in “Adore”, which strums and tumbles together in vintage late ‘60s psych pop fashion, but glides above the realm of mere tribute. If Wild Nothing’s deepening playbook of new wave and half-remembered era staples ring familiar, filtering them through Tatum’s refined sensibility brings out something distinct. Getting the conspicuous but good-spirited nick from Talk Talk’s “It’s My Life” in “To Know You” out in the open early was for the best. The more covert operation at hand is to get people listening to Haircut 100 and Altered Images with fresh ears. Plus, if the marimba-surfing “Reichpop” (a titular nod to the minimalist composer Steve Reich) that kicks off Life of Pause is any indication, further change is already coming." - Popmatters
"It’s not always the case when a singer/songwriter makes the transition from folk-rock to keyboard pop that you say “Finally” and “All right!” But Basia Bulat’s shift – or transcendence, really – from guitar, autoharp and charango to all sorts of instrumentation on fourth album Good Advice seems destined and natural. That’s thanks in part to her bright, full, soulful voice, which is big enough to cut through the album’s wall of sound.
Produced by Jim James (My Morning Jacket), Good Advice finds Bulat in motion: breaking up, moving cities (Toronto to Montreal), looking ahead, processing stuff. It’s very sad, with tender, vulnerable vocal performances that are also immensely enjoyable to listen (and dance) to." - NOW Magazine
Paired up with a stellar backing band featuring Bill Frisell and Greg Leisz, this is Williams' 12th album — a double record companion to 2014's Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone that finds her in trademark fighting form.
"Her new set mixes country influences with gospel and blues, and is notable both for the strength of her highly personal songwriting, her weathered, slurred and defiant vocals, and the inventive arrangements, featuring atmospheric, brooding guitar textures from Greg Leisz and the ever-adventurous Bill Frisell." - The Guardian
"Williams addresses the passing of her father, renowned poet Miller Williams, using his own words on forlorn opener "Dust." Thirteen songs later, the set bookends with the nearly 13-minute-long meditation "Faith & Grace," a call to the spirits for a sense of peace that recalls similar rambles from Van Morrison. She also borrows from Woody Guthrie and Bruce Springsteen. "House of Earth," the former's words applied to her music, describes a den of sin presented languorously and without inhibition. Springsteen's "Factory," from Darkness on the Edge of Town, adds some human desperation to the ghost stories. The Ghosts of Highway 20 finds Lucinda Williams bending Americana with jazz phrasing, lush grooves, and unrestrained spirit." - The Austin Chronicle