The Return of Bob Mould
Plus, great albums by First Aid Kit, José James and Gabriel Kahane.
Last month, I wrote that I crave astonishment when I listen to new music. This month, I will note I also crave variety. I want my monthly five-spot of fine records to reflect the second craving just as much as it reflects the first, and I hope this list satisfies some of your cravings as well.
June was a pretty good month. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention assorted runners-up, including Mary Gauthier’s immensely rewarding heartbreak disc Trouble & Love, Carsie Blanton’s American-songbook romance Not Old, Not New and Baraboo’s own PHOX on a self-titled debut LP that does right by the word “eclectic.”
Not the spice of life but the very pith of it, Jeeves:
The Best Five
1. First Aid Kit, Stay Gold (Columbia). Johanna and Klara Söderberg are from Sweden, a nation so musically inclined (from ABBA to the Hives) that the sisterly duo’s command of cowboy-movie twang and Lee Hazlewood sadness is not startling. It doesn’t have to be when that command results in something as gorgeous as this major-label transition.
2. José James, While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note). No Beginning No End, the fourth LP from José James, was a masterful meld of the singer’s jazz skills and his boundless musical curiosity. While You Were Sleeping is equally masterful, perhaps more diverse and as sensuous as Al Green’s most amorous works—a point slid home by a dapper cover of Green’s “Simply Beautiful.”
3. Gabriel Kahane, The Ambassador (Sony Music Masterworks). An L.A.-history song cycle pegged to buildings and street addresses might make Kahane seem more pretentious than Van Dyke Parks, but his compositional intelligence and ease with shifting locations and orchestral-pop styles give gold-threaded wings to what could have been a leaden endeavor.
4. Bob Mould, Beauty & Ruin (Merge). A peak album in Mould’s catalog, which has many—solo and in bands like Hüsker Dü and Sugar—also epitomizes the singer, songwriter and guitarist’s best methods of articulating his thoughts and feelings: crescendos of noise and sheets of melody.
5. Priests, Bodies and Control and Money and Power (Don Giovanni). Washington, D.C. had—note the past tense—one of the liveliest punk-rock scenes in the country: Fugazi and Bad Brains are two exemplars. A band like Priests and charismatic, belting lead screamer Katie Alice Greer could change past tense to present intensity.
…And One to Shun
1. The Orwells, Disgraceland (Canvasback/Atlantic). By all means, let every new generation “rediscover” garage-rock amusements. And also let the post-pubescent snot-noses steal riffs and attitudes from the Black Lips and the Strokes. Just so long as they stay off my lawn and speakers…and don’t name themselves after a dead writer whose pen they aren’t worthy to polish.