Matthew Dear has crafted a sound­scape that feels like Man­hat­tan in Au­gust, if you can imag­ine the city as a loud, clang­ing ma­chine.

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MATTHEW DEAR Black City (Ghostly In­ter­na­tional)

The word is sexy. As you lis­ten to Black City, those four letters ap­pear be­fore you as if ma­te­ri­al­iz­ing out of the smoke of a back al­ley or the fog on a win­dow­pane. Pro­ducer and band­leader Matthew Dear has crafted a sound­scape that feels like Man­hat­tan in Au­gust, if you can imag­ine the city as a loud, clang­ing ma­chine — one that gives off steam and sweats in the hu­mid­ity — and the only respite is slip­ping into a neon-lit night­club. With a back­drop of throb­bing elec­tronic beats that al­ter­nately re­mind lis­ten­ers of Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails, and Ber­lin-era David Bowie, Dear sings in a mas­cu­line, com­puter-tinged bari­tone that evokes the Thin White Duke at his most se­duc­tive. On the open­ing track, “Honey,” I al­most sensed a pol­ished ver­sion of Tom Waits’ strange, smoky jazz. That’s a high­light, as is “You Put a Smell on Me,” in which the bass buzzes like power tools and key­board squig­gles rise and fall while Dear takes a lover on a date that ends with him sing­ing “lit­tle red night­gown” over and over. Even when he delves into self-loathing (on “More Surgery”) and ab­sur­dism (“Mon­key”), it’s sul­try stuff — about sex, even when it’s not. But then, much of the time, so is life, and this al­bum is alive. — Robert B. Ker

VI­VALDI Gods, Em­per­ors & An­gels (Avie)

Lis­ten­ing to Vi­valdi con­cer­tos is rather like watch­ing episodes of Law & Or­der — af­ter a few hun­dred, you may have trou­ble re­call­ing whether you’ve en­coun­tered a given in­stall­ment or not, but at least you can sit back and en­joy the thing know­ing that the ba­sic for­mu­las will be manipulated with con­sid­er­able in­ge­nu­ity. For years Vi­valdi seemed blandly pre­dictable, but in the past decade groups like the Venice Baroque Or­ches­tra and the Con­certo Ital­iano started show­ing that Vi­valdi con­cer­tos could siz­zle and even shock. The Bri­tish pe­riod-in­stru­ment or­ches­tra La Serenis­sima me­di­ates be­tween the ex­tremes in this win­ning hand­ful of Vi­valdi con­cer­tos (plus a sonata) for an ar­ray of in­stru­men­tal group­ings. Un­usu­ally good pro­gram notes by vi­o­lin­ist Adrian Chan­dler, the group’s di­rec­tor, alert us to quirks of these pieces, some of which were in­deed writ­ten to evoke gods (Apollo, for in­stance), en­ter­tain em­per­ors (es­pe­cially the Holy Ro­man Em­peror Charles VI, king of Bo­hemia), and in­spire an­gels (say, one of Vi­valdi’s pupils in Venice of whom it was said, “She plays the vi­o­lin in such a way that any­one hear­ing her is trans­ported to Par­adise, if in­deed it is true that up there the an­gels play like that”). Spe­cial ap­plause goes to bas­soon­ist Peter Whe­lan and recorder-player Pamela Thorby; when the lat­ter plays strato­spheric tones on her so­pranino recorder, your neigh­bors’ dogs may come run­ning to join in the ad­mi­ra­tion.

— James M. Keller

THE THER­MALS Per­sonal Life (Kill Rock Stars)

The Ther­mals’ 2006 al­bum, The Body, The Blood, The Ma­chine, is a hard record to fol­low. Recorded in the mid­dle of the Bush years, the dystopian con­cept al­bum mixed Old Tes­ta­ment im­agery with blis­ter­ing melodic punk chords to nar­rate what the band said was “the story of a young cou­ple who must flee a United States gov­erned by fas­cist faux-Chris­tians.” Now four years later, the Port­land, Ore­gon, trio re­turns with an al­bum of pop punk, more per­sonal than po­lit­i­cal, with throb­bing riffs as catchy and an­gry as any­thing Fugazi or Black Flag put out dur­ing their hey­day. “Only for You” uses Hutch Har­ris’ nasal snarls to bril­liant ef­fect against the band’s grimy garage gui­tar sound. “I Don’t Be­lieve You” is a char­ac­ter­is­tic fist-pump­ing tour through a young, trou­bled re­la­tion­ship: “Say you’re go­ing through a phase/You’re just act­ing your age.” The same could be said of the band. While it’s usu­ally a slam to say a group hasn’t up­dated its sound, in this case it’s a com­pli­ment. Five al­bums into it, the band still makes brash, ex­u­ber­ant, three-chord jams, and its ap­pro­pri­a­tion of ’80s punk lacks even a drop of irony. Yes, we’ve heard this sound be­fore, but just like pre­vi­ously wit­ness­ing slam dunks, skate­board flips, and snow­board tricks, it doesn’t make a new stunt any less as­ton­ish­ing. — Casey Sanchez


The first time I wit­nessed John McLaugh­lin’s fu­sion band Ma­hav­ishnu Or­ches­tra live, it was play­ing “Birds of Fire”; the gui­tarist’s com­plex, ma­chine-gun play­ing sounded like an awakening dragon. It’s hard to be­lieve the ol’ Ma­hav­ishnu ma­gi­cian will be 70 the Jan­uary af­ter next. He has cov­ered a lot of ground, but he has been stead­fast in his spir­i­tual at­ti­tude to­ward mu­sic and in his de­vo­tion to the one who brought that di­men­sion to jazz: John Coltrane (McLaugh­lin cites “A Love Supreme” as in­spi­ra­tion for this al­bum). First up is “Dis­cov­ery.” The quar­tet starts off in pow­er­house jazz-rock form: ec­static drum­ming by Mark Mon­de­sir, thrum­ming bass gui­tar by Eti­enne M’Bappe, and sear­ing dec­la­ra­tions by one of the most ath­letic and in­ven­tive gui­tarists ever. The band’s fourth mem­ber, key­boardist Gary Hus­band, delivers a hot mid­song solo. The mood soft­ens a mite for “Spe­cial Be­ings,” the sec­ond of McLaugh­lin’s six new com­po­si­tions here. The steam­ing “Re­cov­ery” is book­marked by two tunes on which the leader switches to gui­tar syn­the­sizer: the mys­ti­cal-tinted “Lost and Found” and the bright ti­tle song, which fea­tures McLaugh­lin en­tranc­ingly quot­ing “Lila’s Dance” from the 1974 Ma­hav­ishnu Or­ches­tra al­bum Vi­sions of the Emer­ald Be­yond. Here’s a great gui­tar al­bum and a great band al­bum. — Paul Wei­de­man

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