Dig These Discs :: Morrissey, Bob Mould, Guided By Voices, Nenah Cherry, The Jezabels, Lake Street Dive
Neneh Cherry is back and taking some risks with her first full-length solo album since 1996, and former Hüsker Dü frontman Bob Mould releases an extended and extremely rocking album that ranges in style from folk to heavy metal. Ohio-based lo-fi indie rock outfit Guided by Voices releases their fifth ’reunion’ album since getting back together, and Morrissey rips out your heart and puts it on his sleeve with the digitally remastered version of his breakout album, "Your Arsenal." The Aussie alt-rock quartet The Jezabels drop their second album, a likeable piece of work, and unlikely soul singers Lake Street Dive release what may be the very best album of the year.
"Blank Project" (Neneh Cherry)
Neneh Cherry drops her first full-length solo album since 1996, and critics are already calling it the comeback album of the season. With the help of Ben and Tom Page from RocketNumberNine and Four Tet, the album is a likeable collection of avant-garde pop songs with great synthesizers. She sashays slowly out of the gate with an ode to the Big Apple, the spoken-word track, "Across the Water," with hand drums and rainsticks, and plenty of time to realize that her fine, honeyed voice is just as addictive as it was in the ’80s, when she hooked us with her hit, "Buffalo Stance." A similar sound runs through "Dossier." Her title track is heavily mudded with bass, synth and the odd tambourine as she sings about her period and its effect on her man, with the lyrics, "28th day, he is my victim." She employs an ululation sound in "Naked" with electronic drums keeping the beat. Cherry gets dark in "Spit Three Times," with its "Terminator"-era reverb line and lyrics like, "monkey’s on my back holding me down, black dogs’ in the corner looking up at me/I’m superstitious, spit three times over my shoulder." The grind goes on in the power-chord track "Weightless," which simmers with sparks of cowbell. The song comes across as an odd meeting of soul and metal. "Cynical" is another amalgam of sounds, with a fast drum cadence laid over a soulful vocal line. At first blush, "422/Bullshit" seems like a sleeper, but it is more profound than one would think. Cherry teams up with Swedish pop star Robyn in "Out of the Black," a tune with a great disco undertone. This is one of the best cuts of the album. Cherry ends with "Everything," a bouncy tune with cutting lyrics like, "crack-smoking hussy getting in my way" and a very avant-garde ending. The music is interesting, but unlike her early hits, probably won’t make it to radio play. But Cherry takes risks with the album, and for a woman who is already in her 50s, that takes real guts.
"Motivational Jumpsuit" (Guided by Voices)
What’s round at the ends and high in the middle? Ohio-based lo-fi indie rock outfit Guided by Voices. GBV is known for throwing everything but the kitchen sink into their mixes, and this remains true in their fifth ’reunion’ album, "Motivational Jumpsuit." Fans will be thrilled that the band kept going past their 2013 release, "English Little League," but after all, they are extremely prodigious -- this new album alone has 20 tracks. Robert Pollard is known for his ability to throw down a melody, and follows up their so-called "final album," with a self-reflexive look at his fan base and the amazing breadth of his work, asking in their first track "Littlest League Possible," why they are doing all of this. In "Writer’s Block," they quip, "the last recording nearly killed me." This new album is more of a midtempo pop/jam album than the more experimental stuff in previous GBV records. Most of the tracks are short, straightforward guitar jams, and with the exception of a few duds in the middle of the lineup, are solid tunes. A garage sound pops up in "Child Activist," pop dominates "Planet Score," while a more somber sound rules "Save the Company." Guitarist Tobin Sprout makes his mark in "Jupiter Spin," and thrills the fans with their video for the song, featuring comedian Rob Corddry and Badger from "Breaking Bad." Some songs are a bit stiff in the legs, like "Go Without Packing," and "I Am Columbus." A comically upbeat feeling pervades "Difficult Outburst and Breakthrough," and "Calling Up Washington," with its chorus of "ring ring." The grinding rock sound in "Zero Elasticity" is gritty and enjoyable, and the band channels America’s "A Horse With No Name" in "A Bird With No Name." Their limp "Some Things are Big and Some Things are Small" seems to be a message about consumerism, and "Alex and the Omegas" is a power chord free-for-all.
"Workbook 25" (Bob Mould)
Former Hüsker Dü and Sugar frontman Bob Mould drops his eleventh solo album this month, joined by Jason Narducy on bass and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster on the drums. Mould is a self-identified bear (he appeared in the movie "Bear Nation") who helped raised funds at Freedom to Marry’s "WedRock" charity event, and who plays lead guitar in the house band of John Cameron Mitchell’s film "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." "Workbook 25" is crammed with more than 15 cuts for your listening pleasure, and opens up with the enrapturing "Sunspots," with its complex picking intro reminiscent of classic rock greats. It segues into "Wishing Well," a hard-rocking tune. Mould slows things down a bit in the mid-range rockers "Heartbreak a Stranger" and "See a Little Light." In some songs, like "Brasilia Crossed with Trenton," Mould has a pub-rock vibe going on. In others, like "Whichever Way the Wind Blows," there’s a real heavy metal feel. Where a song like "Dreaming I Am" comes across like a Phil Collins’ tune, a track like "All Those People Know" has a classic rock meets beach bum feel. Like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’ forehead, Mould’s brand-new songs are instant classics. You will find yourself singing along to tunes like "Poison Years" even though it’s the first time you’ve heard them. For example, "Sinners and Their Repentances" shares a familiar riff with a Led Zeppelin song. "Workbook 25" also includes some versions of tunes that sound as if they are performed live before a concert audience, with the crowd singing the refrain in "Makes No Sense At All." A few extras are thrown into that batch, including the resonant sounds of "Shoot Out the Lights" and the folksie strummer about grandma’s death, "Hardly Getting Over It." Mould is as diverse and varied as he is talented.
"Your Arsenal" (Morrissey)
Go back to the salad days of young Morrissey with the digital remastering of his breakout album, "Your Arsenal," originally released in 1992. The album has a grit and swagger lacking in his later, more emo stuff. It launches with the hard-core surf rock intro of "You’re Gonna Need Someone On Your Side," before merging into the glue sniffers anthem, "Glamorous Glue," with the repeat chorus, "Everyone lies... where’s the man you respect, and where’s the woman you love?" His repeated mantra of "London is dead" is echoed in "We’ll Let You Know," when he sings, "we’re the last true British people that you’ll ever know." The album is blessed with a real rock ’n’ roll sound, with muscular riffs, a substantial sound and the help of Spiders from Mars guitarist Mick Ronson in the producer’s chair. Ronson also contributes guitar to the melancholy "Seasick, Yet Still Docked." Morrissey’s wit and intellect are on display, but so is the youthful enthusiasm that pushed four of these tracks to the hit charts, as seen in such humorous songs as "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful," with quips like "and if they’re Northern, that makes it even worse." Morrissey lays down the roots of future political leanings in tunes like "The National Front Disco," and even gets a rockabilly sound in "Certain People." Among the best songs is the likeable, "You’re the One For Me, Fatty"; it is the perfect intersection of Morrissey’s English vocals and his irascible sense of self. The CD also includes "I Know It’s Gonna Happen Someday," a song later covered by David Bowie. He ends the album with the heartbreaking "Tomorrow," singing, "all I ask of you is one thing that you’ll never do/ would you put your arms around me? I won’t tell anybody tomorrow." Although the Smith’s frontman continues to be cagey about his sexuality, anyone who’s ever loved someone they probably shouldn’t will fully relate to this sentiment. The ten-song CD is paired with a DVD of Morrissey singing at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View, California, in 1991. The 18-song concert includes two encores. This is a real treat for both diehard Morrissey fans and those who were too young to remember the man during his early days.
"The Brink" (The Jezabels)
The Aussie alt-rock quartet The Jezabels are back with their second album, "The Brink." The crew of Nik Kaloper on drums, Samuel Lockwood on lead guitar, Haylely Mary on lead vocals and Heather Shannon on piano and keyboard call themselves "intensindie," and the disco/pop edge does serve to lighten up the alt-rock indie vibe. They launch with "The Brink," a haunting song with lyrics like, "You hear her in your dreams hey you want to get out of here," and "she’ll suck you up and spit you out and bring you back again." Critics have compared Mary’s voice to Fiona Apple and Bjork, and you can really see her shine in slower songs like "Time To Dance." In the track "No Country," they look at the male experience from a feminist viewpoint -- all just part of their push to move their music to a more serious point. "Look of Love" is a far cry from the Burt Bacharach song performed by Dusty Springfield, but the high notes further showcase Mary’s voice, and the upbeat message of love is comforting. The Jezabels kick ass on "Beat to Beat," a hard-rocking but slower song that is defiant and lovely. An interesting lo-fi clap track sound meshes with high-tech synth in "Angels of Fire" and Don Henley-esque "The End." The whole world is in chains in "No Country," and pipes and chimes bring you into another reality in "Psychotherapy." Mary sings of pride right before the fall in "No Velvet": "When baby it was you and me, one step forward, two step fighting infidelity, which always is velvet covered." The best track of the bunch is the last, "All You Need," a slow-rocking piece of genius. It’s easy to see why the unique sound of The Jezabels would appeal to a world caught between the nostalgia of the ’80s and the allure of the futuristic tech rock. Check them out now, so you can say you liked them way back when.
(Play It Again Sam)
"Bad Self Portrait" (Lake Street Dive)
The hottest thing to come out of Boston since the baked bean is the indie jazz and soul quartet Lake Street Dive. Comprised of Mike "McDuck" Olson on guitar, Bridget Kearney on upright bass, Mike Calabrese on drums and Rachael Price on lead vocals is the funkiest band of white nerds I’ve ever seen. Hailing from the New England Conservatory of Music, these musicians are led by the soulful vocals of Price, whose voice seems mismatched with her square demeanor, as though she were a lady version Rick Astley. She sings out full and proud in "Bad Self Portraits," about buying a camera to take selfies, but ending up painting and drawing herself, a lonely woman. Her friends all shake their heads with good intention over a woman waylaid by love in "Stop Your Crying," and the spare instrumentals in "Better Than" do more to strike a mood of loneliness than any words ever could. The snare brush provides locomotion to the teens-in-love story of "Rabid Animal." They swing in "You Go Down Smooth," a song the band performed live on "The Colbert Report" last month. It moves quick and smooth, with lyrics like, "And I am too sober not to know that you may be my problem not my love, but you go down smooth." They sample the intro from The Cure’s "The Head on the Door" to usher in "Use Me Up," with a ’50s-era girl band sound in the vocals. The guitar intro in "Bobby Tanqueray" adds a nice edge to a song about a bad boy, and the deep funk of "Just Ask" is heartbreaking to listen to. Regret comes into play in "Seventeen," a song that is by turns dramatic and lighthearted, imbued with a lovers’ wish that they’d have met when they were younger and less damaged. "A king will choose his queen over his crown," they sing in "What About Me," before finishing up the album with "Rental Love," a song about wanting it all. All hyperbole aside, Lake Street Dive is quite possibly the best new band of the year.