On a Day Like This
Meklit Hadero’s debut full-length album showcased the San Francisco-based singer-songwriter’s beguiling mix of experimentalism and tradition, taking in leftfield bossa nova, soul, scratchy improv, Ethiopian pop, and the kind of meandering songcraft that recalled the early 1970s work of Van Morrison and Joni Mitchell. Poetic beauty abounded in Hadero’s lyrics, sometimes complex, sometimes achingly, elegantly simple. There were also notable cover versions—Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”, Mahmoud Ahmed’s “Abbay Mado”—that proved Hadero could take convincing ownership of material associated with others. Whatever the influences and comparisons that sprang to mind, the clearest message of On a Day Like This was that Hadero was a singular talent and one to watch.
I Will Love You at All
“Time heals” can seem like an ineffectual response to hurt. To know that all things pass, does not always fix the sting of the present. Darren Hanlon’s I Will Love You at All wrestles with time from just about every imaginable angle, attempting to repair a broken heart and overcome loss. Yet thanks to the droll Hanlon’s endlessly imaginative folk songwriting, the album spends very little time feeling sorry. Musical inventories of personal histories are often self-indulgent, but Hanlon is downright generous in the connection he provides to the listener. His songs invite us to appreciate the objects, spaces and persons that make up our own memories. In doing so, I Will Love You at All could be said to give solace to those mourning the passing of life’s treasures. As popular music of all types becomes increasingly concerned with youth and the present moment, it is the rarest of albums that rewardingly takes stock of things lost and hope of the future ahead. “Folk Insomnia” offers the album’s most potent and clear-eyed embrace of the march of time: “Hair it turns grey and skin it turns to leather, but the best thing about growing old is we all do it together”. Thomas Britt
Robyn Hitchcock could net a gang of chimpanzees to play on his next album, and he would still make melodiously arcane song out of it all. Luckily his Rolodex can do better: backed by three-fifths of the touring R.E.M., Mr. Sex-and-Insects continues his late-career arc that began with 2006’s Ole Tarantula!. Propellor Time is less rocking and more meditative than both Tarantula and its superb successor, Goodnight Oslo, as Hitchcock stares down age 60. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as this clairvoyant collection proves. Looser than ever, he sings about The Giver-style population control (“Sickie Boy”), the best bar in heaven (“The Afterlight”) and ordinary millionaires (“Ordinary Millionaire”). The 24-hour-media-conflictonator continues to blur the line between politics and reality TV, but alone on that shore pictured on Propellor‘s cover, Hitchcock has never sounded more at peace with the most bizarre show of all: real life. Alex Bahler
Love Remains plays out its 38 minutes like the distant, murmured echo of 1980s and ‘90s R&B, suggesting, in the words of Pitchfork‘s Mark Richardson, “how sounds wear down and fade over time.” That’s one attempt to get at this unique record; here’s another: if Guided by Voices produced a D’Angelo album underwater on some horribly battered four-track, it might sound distantly akin to this—but even that only vaguely conveys how weirdly, hazily alluring this album is, sincere hooks and infectious loops emerging after multiple listens from the swamp of clipped reverb and endlessly tracked vocals. Somehow, this works. By day, How to Dress Well’s Tom Krell is a graduate student in philosophy, splitting his time between Brooklyn and Germany. Go figure. Zach Schonfeld
Not since the likes of Frank Zappa has a group managed to create such a virtuosic pop album, presenting highly orchestrated psychedelic works laced with a equal parts humor and sci-fi absurdity, albeit less abrasive and surreal than Zappa. Manned by nine stalwart Norwegians under the guiding vision of one Lars Horntveth, the good ship Jaga Jazzist set sail for an epic journey far beyond that which was hinted at by the now-legendary soundscapes heard on their earlier, more electronic-based albums. With a helicopter sample bookending a progression from raunchy horn-laden funk to hard hitting techno to fuzzed-out hard rock and back, “Touch of Evil” sounds like a Karlheinz Stockhausen dropping in on a recording session of Pepe Deluxé and James Holden. The title track from One-Armed Bandit sounds like a reimagining of Roy Budd’s legendary theme to the 1971 Michael Caine film Get Carter with a Japanese game-show interlude. At once imaginative and evocative, many of the songs from this album will be played for generations to come. They’re that good. Alan Ranta